Sunday, April 15, 2018

Reading “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Today

Early this month the news media and the Internet were replete with articles about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s tragic assassination on April 4, 1968. This article is about King’s powerful “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written five years earlier.
King Arrested
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded (with a slightly different name) in February 1957. MLK, Jr., one of the co-founders, was its first president. 
SCLC was a regional expansion of the local work, primarily the bus boycott, that King and his associates had begun earlier in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
In April 1963, SCLC joined with anti-segregation activities in Birmingham, Alabama. The ensuing “Birmingham Campaign” included mass meetings, marches, lunch counter sit-ins, and other nonviolent activities. In response/reaction, on Apil 10 the city officials obtained a state circuit court injunction against the protests.
Two days later, on Good Friday, King was arrested for violating the anti-protest injunction and was placed in solitary confinement in the Birmingham city jail.
King Writes
On the day King was arrested, eight Birmingham clergymen (and they were all men) published a statement in the local newspapers criticizing the protests led by King. In many ways, it seems to have been a good and reasonable statement. (Read it here.)
Those clergymen were the “white moderates” of the city, a cut above the abundant bigots of Birmingham. But still . . . .
In response, using the margins of the newspaper and even toilet paper, King penned what became one of his most powerful writings, his nearly 7,000-word “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
King's lengthy letter was made public on April 16, 1963, and now 55 years later it is still well worth reading—and considering thoughtfully. (Here is a link to it.)
MLK’s letter was included in his book Why We Can’t Wait, first published in 1964—and it was Birmingham's religious leaders' appeal for patience that King objected to the most. After all, the Civil War had been over for nearly a century—and most African-Americans were still by no means fully free.
Here are some of the most important statements in King’s letter:
  • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
  • Lamentably,  . . . it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.
  • Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
  • Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
  • We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
  • . . . nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. 
King Challenges
Now, 55 years after King first penned his letter, we who bask in the “blessing” of “majority privilege”—the advantages those of us who are white, and/or male, and/or Christian enjoy in this country—need to take MLK’s words to heart.
We need, for example, to listen to the challenge of the Black Lives Matter movement. And we must not excuse present injustices felt/suffered by people of minority by pointing out (’splaining) how things are much better than they used to be.
In many ways, certainly, things are better for people of color now than they were in 1963. But that doesn’t make the injustices of the present any less painful, and those who suffer injustices now won’t be encouraged by hearing that perhaps in another 55 years there may well be full equality, racial and otherwise.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TTT #9 Christians Must Be Careful When They Call Jesus “Lord”

Once again I am sharing content only from the first part of a chapter in my unpublished book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT). (Readers who have the time and interest are invited to click here in order to read the entire chapter.)
Confessing Jesus as Lord
“Jesus is Lord” is the first and oldest confession of faith by Christians. To present times, that has been a common declaration of faith—and one wonders how different things would be if Christian believers had stuck with that concise confession rather than crafting more complicated creeds.
Back in 1960 when I was a seminary student, June and I became the proud owners of a 1958 Hillman Minx, a British car that looked a lot better than it started in the wintertime. At some point, we pasted a Jesus is Lord sticker on the trunk (or I guess I should say the boot) of our pretty little red and grey car.
In addition to being a seminary student, I was also pastor of the Ekron Baptist Church in Meade County, south of Louisville, and I was happy to witness to Jesus as I drove around the Ekron community.
I had no idea then, and have not realized until fairly recently, that proclaiming that Jesus is Lord can be offensive to some people. But now I understand that Christians must be careful when they call Jesus Lord.
Objecting to Calling Jesus Lord
"Tink" Tinker (b. 1944)
American Indian Liberation (2008) is a challenging book by George E. (“Tink”) Tinker, a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Colorado. Dr. Tinker specifically objects to calling Jesus Lord
While the original meaning of that term was an indication of a believer’s commitment to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, it came to be experienced by American Indians, as well as by aboriginal people in other countries around the world, as a term of conquest and colonization.
What was meant to be a term designating, among other things, the humble submission of believers to Christ eventually came to be a term even Christian missionaries used to lord it over other people.
Proclaiming Jesus as Lord led an imperialistic church to exude triumphalism in contact with American Indians and with many ethnic groups around the world.
That triumphalistic spirit is seen in hymns such as “Jesus Shall Reign” (1719). The first verse of that hymn by Isaac Watts says, “Jesus shall reign where'er the sun / does its successive journeys run; / his kingdom spread from shore to shore, / till moons shall wax and wane no more.”
And then the third verse of Watts’s hymn, one that is not usually found in modern hymnals, proclaims, “There Persia, glorious to behold, / There India shines in eastern gold; / And barb’rous nations at His word / Submit, and bow, and own their Lord.”
The triumphalism of the hymn becomes more problematic when one considers how Persia at that time was ruled by a Shi’a Islamic dynasty.
Confessing Jesus as Lord Today
The preaching of Paul and the early missionaries was clearly about the lordship of Christ. But as Christianity then was a small movement without power or prestige, there was no way that it could lord it over other people the way some missionaries and other Christians did later when Christianity was linked to imperialistic activities of powerful Western nations.
Because of that misuse of the concept of lordship, Christians today need to be careful how they use the words “Jesus is Lord.” That confession must be only a statement of one’s faith in and personal commitment to Christ and never as suggesting or approving domination of others.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Winning a Hearing / Losing a Hearing

A couple of weeks before Easter, a friend sent a link to an Easter sermon to me and others on his mailing list. He said it was one of the best Easter sermons he had ever heard. I listened to it, and it was all right—but I was unable to appreciate the sermon fully because of the preacher’s public political stance.
Winning a Hearing
Among “progressive” Christians, there seems to be minimal desire to share the “good news” of the Christian faith with those who are not Christians. That is a real problem, I think, and I am growing increasingly weary of progressive Christians eschewing anything thought to smack of evangelism.
For much of my ministry as a pastor and then as a missionary, one of my ongoing concerns was trying to win a hearing. By that I mean the desire to engage other people in such a way that they would give some active attention to what I wanted to share about the Christian faith, which I thought of as “good news,” literally. 
Winning a hearing was a real challenge in Japan where most people were reared with a worldview that was definitely non-Christian. Some were even anti-Christian, although most didn’t have what could be called a personal religious faith.
The majority of the students I taught in a Japanese university were negative not only toward Christianity but to all religion—and quite often more negative toward Shinto and Buddhism than toward Christianity.
My constant challenge was to win a hearing, to spark people’s interest and desire to learn more about Jesus Christ and his life and teachings. Such matters were, I thought, for their personal benefit and for the benefit of the society/world in which they lived.
Losing a Hearing
Back in the late 1960s and early ’70s, more than winning a hearing for the Gospel, some of my missionary colleagues in Japan lost a hearing for the “good news” of Jesus because of their support for the Vietnam War.
There were student protests against that war in Japan just as there were in the States, and missionaries who were vocal in their support of the U.S. war efforts in Vietnam mostly lost any possibility of sharing about Jesus to the many Japanese students who strongly opposed the war. Their political position destroyed their opportunity for Christian witness.
As a pacifist, it was not hard for me to agree with the students in opposing the war in Indochina. My anti-war stance was not a ruse to curry favor among the students but a position I took because of my belief in Jesus.
That position, happily, made it possible for me to win a hearing from many of the students I taught and talked with on campus.
The Case of the Preacher
The preacher of the Resurrection sermon mentioned in the beginning was one of the earliest widely-known Christian pastors publicly to endorse Donald Trump for President. 
I first thought that was probably because of his choosing the “lesser of two evils.” As a strong conservative Christian, he was/is adamantly opposed to abortion and LGBT rights, so he doubtlessly thought he had to oppose Hillary.
But this pastor has continued to be one of DJT’s most vocal supporters in spite of all the charges of political, financial, and moral charges of impropriety. Since his continuing support has given him access to the White House, perhaps an underlying motive is a desire for power and prestige.
So, sadly, while the noted pastor’s sermon on the Resurrection may have been a good one, it is not likely to be heard with appreciation by those who strongly disagree with his blatant political stance.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Interpreting the Resurrection of Jesus

Even though today is Good Friday, this article is about the Easter story and how Jesus’ resurrection can be affirmed by contemporary people.
A Novel Interpretation
The writing of this article was spurred by my reading of a novel: Martin Gardner’s The Flight of Peter Fromm (1973, 1994). After finishing it in 2012, I wrote this in my “books read” record: “One of the most challenging theological novels I ever read. A book of great profundity and erudition.”
Last month I finished reading Gardner’s book for the second time—and I was impressed and disturbed by it again.
If you haven’t read the novel, I don’t necessarily recommend it. Why? Because debunking the resurrection of Jesus is one of the main themes of the book.
At the beginning of the novel, Peter Fromm is a precocious, fundamentalist, Pentecostal Christian boy from Oklahoma who chooses to go to the University of Chicago Divinity School. There he is “slowly but surely” led by Homer Wilson, his mentor who is a part-time professor and a Unitarian minister, to question and then to reject many of his Christian beliefs, including the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
On Easter Sunday, shortly before he is scheduled to receive his doctor’s degree, to marry, and to be ordained and assume a full-time church position, Peter preaches at his mentor’s church—and has a dramatic psychological breakdown.
Questionable Interpretations
In spite of being a minister and seminary professor, early in the book Wilson acknowledges, “I do not consider myself a Christian except in the widest, most humanistic sense. I do not, for example, believe in God.”
Homer Wilson spends considerable time discussing theological ideas with Peter, who gradually begins to discard belief in the reality of the resurrection—along with ideas about the transcendence of God. So Peter comes largely to adopt what Wilson calls “secular humanism.”
Wilson tells Peter that one who preaches to modern people has “to choose between being a truthful traitor or a loyal liar.” In order to serve in a paid church position, he believes, it is necessary to choose the latter: that seems clearly to have been Homer’s choice, and Peter also apparently comes to accept that position. The duplicity of that choice, however, leads to Peter’s breakdown.
Much of the problem in accepting the reality of the Easter story centers on the interpretation of Jesus’ resurrection as being the resuscitation of his physical body. Peter assumes that that is the view of resurrection found in the New Testament.
Of course, Peter also considers, and rejects, Jesus’ resurrection as simply the spirit or idea of Jesus being “resurrected” in the minds of his disciples.
Recommended Interpretation
My interpretation of, and belief in, the resurrection is based on firm belief in the reality of God and in transcendence. Thus, my affirmation of the reality of Easter is grounded in a worldview quite different from that of secular humanism.
If one believes, as Homer Wilson and then Peter Fromm did, that the physical world, which can be fully examined by science, is the totality of reality, then resurrection cannot be affirmed in any historical sense.
My views are in general agreement with those of the eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright as summarily presented in his book Surprised by Hope (2008), which I highly recommend.
For me, and for Wright, Jesus’ resurrection can be, and must be, understood as something other than literal resuscitation and certainly as something other than a metaphorical, completely non-historical story.
Firm belief in God and transcendence, however, makes affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection possible, understandable, and a matter of great joy and hope.
Happy Easter!


Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Let's Get Drunk!"

If you know me, you surely recognize that the words of the title are not mine. Rather, they are the words in a wonderful (pun intended) movie that was unnecessarily marred by those words.
Carl’s Recommendation
June and I have two fine grandsons (as well as five fine granddaughters). Carl Joseph Seat Daoust is our younger grandson, and we greatly enjoyed being with him and his parents last month in Tucson, Arizona, where they live.
Prior to our visit, Carl and his mother (Karen) read together the children’s novel Wonder (2012) by Raquel Jaramillo, who published her book under the pen name R.J. Palacio. They then saw the 2017 movie based on that novel.
Carl, who will turn 11 in August, was very favorably impressed by the book and the movie—and he highly recommended both. He also strongly suggested that we read the book before seeing the movie.
June did, but I failed to get that done before we watched the movie earlier this month. I greatly enjoyed the movie anyway.
Auggie’s Determination
The central character of “Wonder” is August, whom everyone calls Auggie. He is a boy just Carl’s age—but he was unfortunately born with serious facial deformities, which even multiple plastic surgeries were not able to fix very well. 
Auggie, who reportedly looks better in the movie than as he was portrayed in the novel.
Auggie has a good and supporting family: very loving, understanding parents and an outstanding big sister. His mother largely gives up her own work in order to help Auggie in his early years, and then she home-schools him. When he is ready for the fifth grade, they decide it is time for Auggie to start public school.
Fortunately, Auggie’s classroom teacher and school principal are very understanding and supportive. (I wish every kid could have as good a teacher as Mr. Browne and as wise a principal as Mr. Tushman.)
Unfortunately, Auggie experiences negative attitudes from most of the other kids at school—and most hurtful of all is the betrayal of the first friend he had among his classmates. But in spite of all the snubs, hurts, and active rejection, Auggie hangs in there with remarkable determination and fortitude.
My Consternation
Near the end of Auggie’s school year, his mother, admirably played by Julia Roberts, finally is able to finish her long-neglected master’s dissertation. When she shows the finished copy to her husband, he rejoices with her. That is when she exclaims, “Let’s get drunk!”
Why was that brief scene with those words inserted, for Pete’s sake?
It seems so unnecessary to have that line in such a heart-warming children’s movie. Why did the filmmakers want to leave the impression with the kids watching the movie that that is the way adults celebrate when they are happy?
Perhaps I am not qualified to write about getting drunk, since I never did and never intend to. But have seen the antics of drunk people, and, on occasion, have tried to engage in conversation with people who were drunk.
And I have known, and especially known of, people who killed themselves or were killed by others because of driving drunk. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation reports that in 2016 there were 10,497 “alcohol-impaired crash fatalities.”
That is more than 27 a day every day of the year—and a sizeable percentage of those were school-age kids. We are upset when 17 students get shot and killed–as, certainly, we should be. But that many die every week because of drunk drivers!
So why do some people think getting drunk is a great way to celebrate? And why should “Let’s get drunk!” be included in a heart-warming, inspiring children’s movie?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

TTT #8 God Loves All of Creation

Everyone has heard much about God’s love. But do we sufficiently comprehend the extent of that love? Probably not. This article about God’s love is adapted from the first section of the eighth chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs To Know Now (TTT), available in its entirety by clicking this link.
God’s Love Is Not Just for Humans
To begin with, it is important for us to realize that God’s love is not just for human beings. Perhaps Christianity through the centuries has been the most anthropocentric of all of the world’s religions.
There are, however, many references to God’s concern for nature in the Hebrew Bible that Christians call the Old Testament, and Christian environmentalists have increasingly called attention to those passages. For example, Psalm 145:9 declares, “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” But have we really thought what it means for God to love all creation? Probably not sufficiently. 
Emphasis on God’s Beloved Creation
To address the lack of adequate concern for the natural world, back in 1983 at the Vancouver Assembly, the World Council of Churches (WCC) encouraged member churches to commit publicly to addressing environmental concerns as part of a common effort to promote Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation. That became known as the JPIC process. (The image below was the logo of that Assembly.) 
Then in 1990, the WCC sponsored the World Convocation on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation in Seoul, Korea. One study unit in this program was called “Creation as Beloved of God.”
Creation, the physical universe in its entirety and not just human beings, is loved by God. That was the important emphasis of the WCC in the 1980s and 1990s.
There has been a similar emphasis in the Catholic Church: Pope John Paul II’s message for New Year’s Day 1990 was titled “Peace With God the Creator, Peace With All of Creation.” Reflecting upon that important message, Elisabeth A. Johnson, a noted Catholic theologian, wrote in 2001 about “God’s Beloved Creation.”
God’s Love and Our Love for Creation
Most people seem to have long thought that the purpose of the natural world—the purpose of all the plants, animals, and minerals in the world of nature—is primarily to supply the needs of human beings.
The creation story found in the first chapter of Genesis certainly does sound as if humans are the “crown of creation.” When the first human couple was created, “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28).
The English words subdue and have dominion, however, may not be the best to convey what the Biblical writer really had in mind. To grasp that maybe we need to consider more fully the implication of these words: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (1:27).
The idea of humans created in the image of God has nothing to do with how we look; it has everything to do with our capacity to be loving and caring as God is. If God loves the physical world—and certainly God does—then we humans created in the image of God must love and care for the world also.
Since God loves all of creation—which includes the physical world, the world of sticks and stones, of plants and animals, the whole world of nature—it is incumbent on us human creatures to love/care for the natural world also.
My fear is that we are failing in that sacred task.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

In Appreciation of Walter Brueggemann

The most quoted contemporary Old Testament scholar is, arguably, Walter Brueggemann, and I am happy to be writing, finally, an article about this superlative scholar and articulate author, who celebrated his 85th birthday this past Sunday.
A Bit about Brueggemann
Born in Nebraska on March 11, 1933, Walter Brueggemann (WB) graduated from Eden Theological Seminary in Missouri—as did Reinhold Niebuhr before him. Then WB earned doctorates from both Union Theological Seminary and Saint Louis University. He was ordained in the United Church of Christ.
After 25 years as a professor at Eden, in 1986 WB moved to Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia where he served as a professor until his retirement in 2003—but he has continued to write and to speak profusely.
WB has authored some 60 books, including commentaries on several Old Testament books. His slim book Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out was published in February, and his newest book A Gospel of Hope will be released the end of this month.
In addition to his steady stream of books, WB is already scheduled to be a “keynote presenter” at the American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ triennial meeting in Philadelphia this November—and he has at least nine scheduled speaking engagements between now and then, some for two or three days.
(I am looking forward to hearing him speak at Asbury UMC in Prairie Village, Kan., on April 6.)
A Bit about a Brueggemann Book
One of WB’s best-known books is The Prophetic Imagination. He wrote the preface to that book’s first edition during Lent in 1978; I recently read the second edition that was published in 2001.
In the preface of the latter, WB mentions that for him Abraham Heschel is “definingly important” (p. xv). But unlike Rabbi Heschel, the author of The Prophets whom I wrote about (here) in December, as a Christian scholar WB sees Jesus as “the fulfillment and quintessence of the prophetic tradition” (p. 102).
The purpose of WB’s The Prophetic Imagination is not just to help his readers understand the past. It is even more to help them see what prophetic ministry means in the present. Thus, he asserts,
The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us (p. 3).
The first chapter is mostly about the “alternative consciousness” that was fostered by Moses. That is contrasted in the second chapter with the “royal consciousness” of King Solomon. The latter largely became the “dominant consciousness”—and the target of the Old Testament prophets.
WB contends that “Solomon was able to counter completely the counterculture of Moses.” He did this partly by countering “the economics of equality with the economics of affluence” and “the politics of justice with the politics of oppression(p. 31).
The royal consciousness—then or now—doesn’t talk about anything new, so there is no hope for the future other than as an extension of the present, which is the continuation of the past. In contrast, WB emphasizes the “hope-filled language of prophecy” (p. 67). 

A Bit about BHO and DJT
As I was reading WB’s book, it seemed quite clear to me that the “Make America Great Again” slogan is an expression of the royal consciousness (emphasis on past glory and recovery of that past), which the prophets (including Jesus) opposed.
On the other hand, Obama emphasized newness and the “audacity of hope.” Although harshly criticized by the far right (because of his talk about “fundamental transformation”), at least to some extent BHO seems to have exhibited the prophetic imagination that still is so badly needed in the world today.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

TTT #7 The Kingdom of God is More about Society than about Individuals

Consider with me one more article concerning the Kingdom of God before we move to a different topic in the next/eighth chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT).
Who Is “You”?
Unlike many (most?) languages of the world, in English there is no difference between the singular and plural second person pronoun. That is, you can refer to one person or to two—or many more—people.
Partly for that reason, there has been some misunderstanding of the Bible for those who read it exclusively (or even primarily) in English. In spite of being able after seminary to read the New Testament in Greek, to a degree, I usually just read the English translation for devotional use and even for sermon preparation before going to Japan.
As I began to prepare sermons in Japanese, however, over and over again I noticed that passages I had always thought of as speaking to individuals were, indeed, speaking to multiple people, to a community, for you was plural in Japanese just as it is in Greek.
“You” in the KoG
Western Christianity has usually placed far more emphasis on individuals than upon society. Accordingly, individualistic interpretation of the Bible emphasizes that God loves me, Jesus died for me, I can be saved through faith in Jesus, and when I die I will go to Heaven.
To be sure, that is an important part of the Gospel message—but it is certainly not the only, or maybe in the larger scheme of things, the most important.
Emergent church leader Brian D. McLaren has importantly emphasized this point in recent years—but, unfortunately, many Christians don’t seem to have gotten the point yet.
One of McLaren’s books is The Secret Message of Jesus (2006). That “secret message” he elucidated shouldn’t have been so secret, for it was, after all, a central teaching of Jesus.
What was that teaching? It was primarily not about isolated individuals but about the kingdom of God, a new society populated by people who form a community of faith.  
“You” and the KoG Here and Now
Not only has the Western understanding of the kingdom of God often been individualistic, it has also often been other-worldly. By “other-worldly” I mean, of course, that it has been more about life after death rather than about life now on earth.
The “pie in the sky by and by” sort of thinking was used by some, and perhaps many, slaveholders in the nineteenth century to mollify their slaves. And to some degree the same kind of thinking was utilized by white Christians to keep African-Americans satisfied with their inferior status for a century, and more, following the end of the Civil War.
Martin Luther King, Jr., alludes to that sad situation in his powerful book Why We Can’t Wait (1963). He writes, “To the ministers I stressed the need for a social gospel to supplement the gospel of individual salvation.”
King says that he also rejected religion which “prompts a minister to extol the glories of Heaven while ignoring the social conditions that cause men an earthly hell.”
Throughout his book introduced above, McLaren emphasizes that "the secret message of Jesus isn’t primarily about ‘heaven after you die.’ It doesn’t give us an exit ramp or escape hatch from this world; rather it thrusts us back into the here and now so we can be part of God’s dreams for planet Earth coming true" (p. 183).
So surely, one of the true things that everyone needs to know now is that the kingdom of God is more about society than about individuals and is about now as well as the future.
_____
[In the seventh chapter of TTT, which you can read by clicking here, there is much more to read regarding this important matter.]

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Best of Times, or the Worst of Times?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . .” So began Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859), the historical novel set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. That was then, but what about now?
Pinker’s Rosy Picture
Steven Pinker is a psychology professor at Harvard University. His latest book was released last month under the title “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.
Pinker, born in Canada in 1954, is also the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011). In that book as well as in his new one, Pinker writes how in spite of all the “doom and gloom” talk that surrounds us, the world is getting better in almost every way.
“A perfect future,” a review of Pinker’s new book, was published in the Feb. 24 issue of The Economist. It concluded, “Mr Pinker’s broad point is surely right. Things are not falling apart. And barring a cataclysmic asteroid strike or nuclear war, it is likely that they will continue to get better.”
The chances of an asteroid strike are completely unknown, but nuclear warfare is seemingly a distinct possibility in the near future—and that certainly would obliterate Pinker’s rosy picture of the present state of the world.
Picturing a Nuclear Arms Race
“Making America Nuclear Again” was the title of the cover story of the Feb. 12 issue of Time magazine. The lead article, posted online on Feb. 1, is “Donald Trump Is Playing a Dangerous Game of Nuclear Poker.”  
Author W.J. Hennigan contends that the Trump Administration “is convinced that the best way to limit the spreading nuclear danger is to expand and advertise its ability to annihilate its enemies.” In addition, DJT “has signed off on a $1.2 trillion plan to overhaul the entire nuclear-weapons complex.”
Citing the Trump Administration’s “Nuclear Posture Review” as one of its reasons, in January the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced movement of the Doomsday Clock hands 30 seconds closer to midnight—the closest to ”doomsday” it has been since 1953. (See this article.)
Since then, just last Thursday President Putin of Russia claimed that Russia was developing new nuclear weapons that could overcome any U.S. missile defenses. This Washington Post article pictures what clearly seems to be a new nuclear arms race.
Picturing a Nuclear Free World
Do you remember ICAN? It seems not to be widely known, but it is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons—and it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2017.
Perhaps it can be said that ICAN is seeking to use “reason, science, humanism, and progress,” which Pinker emphasizes in his new book, to picture a world much different than the one now developing because of the belligerence—and fear—of the political leaders of North Korea, Russia, and the United States.

Partly as a result of ICAN’s advocacy, in July 2016 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was approved by the United Nations with affirmative votes by 122 (out of 193) member nations (with 71 not voting). (Here is a link to the treaty’s full text.)

When, or if, the TPNW is ratified by fifty UN members, it will become international law—with nuclear weapons being outlawed just as chemical and biological weapons have been in the past.

To date, only five nations (Cuba, Guyana, the Holy See, Mexico, and Thailand) have ratified the TPNW, but 56 have signed it.

So which is it? Is this the best of times or the worst of times? With ratification of the TPNW perhaps it could be the former.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

TTT #6 The Main Characteristic of the Kingdom of God is Shalom

If God’s desire is the realization of the kingdom of God, as I contended in the fifth chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT), there are ample grounds for claiming that the main characteristic of that kingdom is shalom.
What is Shalom?
The Hebrew word shalom, as seen below (and read from right to left), is popularly used as a greeting meaning hello or goodbye—as is the similar term salaam in Arabic. This is an excellent greeting when it includes the desire for all that is encompassed in the original concept of shalom.  
Shalom is generally translated peace, and it certainly means that—but it also includes the idea of harmony, justice, and well-being for all.
The harmony of shalom is all-embracing: it means the harmony of human beings with God (what has popularly been called peace with God), harmony of all individuals and all groups (communities, ethnic groups, and nations) with each other (what is usually referred to as world peace), and harmony among all parts of creation (which we might call ecological peace).
Two of the greatest twentieth-century advocates of shalom were Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is noteworthy that they were both assassinated; Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was also executed. Peacemakers are not always popular.
Seekers of shalom often are not appreciated by those who profit from an inequitable status quo; there are always some who enjoy the fruits of injustice. But shalom always requires justice and is possible only where justice is a present reality.
Shalom and Justice
Shalom means societal harmony, and such harmony is possible only where there is social justice, which is quite different from the common idea of punitive justice.
Social justice envisions a society where all the hungry are fed, all the sick are cared for, and everyone is treated with respect. Further, social justice requires that exploitation and all forms of prejudice and discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, or sexual orientation be eradicated.
Social justice recognizes the inherent equality and worth of all persons. If everyone really has equal value, then there is insufficient justice if some people have too much food to eat while others are starving.
There is also inadequate justice if some people have luxurious houses or multiple dwellings while many people are homeless and living on the streets, sleeping under cardboard boxes.
The lack of justice often leads to violence and at times even to war. For that reason, one of the most important statements of a Pope in the twentieth century was made by Pope Paul VI on New Year’s Day in 1972: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
Probably everyone who hears those words wants peace. But here’s the rub: do we want peace bad enough to work actively for justice?
Waging Peace / Working for Shalom
In the previous chapter, I emphasized that people are called on to work for and also to wait for the coming of the kingdom of God. The same can be said about shalom, the chief characteristic of that kingdom.
Just as the kingdom of God is never going to be completely realized on this earth, at least not by human efforts, neither are we humans ever going to be able to create a world completely characterized by shalom. But that shouldn’t keep us from working earnestly to that end.
In Chapter Six of TTT (see here), I give examples of people/groups who are seeking to wage peace and who are working for shalom—and some examples of how some real progress has been made. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Impeachment of the President

It was 150 years ago tomorrow, on February 24, 1868, that Andrew Johnson became the first President of the United States to be impeached. The last President to be impeached was Bill Clinton, and that was less than 20 years ago, in December 1998. When will the next impeachment be? Perhaps in 2019?
The Rise of Andrew Johnson
As you know, Johnson became the 17th POTUS following Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865.
Johnson was born in 1808, about six weeks before Lincoln, into an economically deprived home in Tennessee. The “upper crust” of his hometown of Raleigh probably considered the Johnson family “white trash,” especially after Andrew’s father died when he was three.
Although he had no formal schooling, Andrew was a gifted speaker, and through the years he kept rising to higher and higher political offices: from alderman to mayor, to state representative, to the U.S. House of Representatives, to governor, to U.S. Senator, and then to Vice-President (even though he was a Democrat and Lincoln was a Republican).
The Fall of Andrew Johnson
Becoming President shortly after the end of the Civil War, Johnson faced the unparalleled challenge of how to deal with the former Confederate states and how to reconstruct the South. He soon came into direct conflict with the Radical Republican faction in Congress, led by Rep. Thaddeus Stephens.
The ensuing struggle for power between the executive and legislative branches of the government resulted in Johnson’s fall. Congress wanted the freed slaves to be full citizens of the nation and thought freedmen should have the right to vote.
Johnson wanted the whites to remain dominant and the blacks to remain subservient.
The showdown came over the somewhat unrelated Tenure of Office Act legislated in March 1867. As a result of Johnson’s violation of that act, he was impeached by the House—but remained in office as the Senate fell one vote short of removing him.  
February 24, 1868
The Rise and Fall (?) of DJT
There are both stark differences and strong similarities between the 17th and 45th POTUS. Whereas Johnson was born into an economically poor home in Tennessee (the westernmost state at the time), DJT was the son of a rather affluent businessman in New York City.
And whereas DJT never held a political office before becoming President, Johnson served in various political offices for most of his adult life.
There seems, however, to be considerable similarity between the two presidents in their racist attitudes. In her book Andrew Johnson (2011), Annette Gordon-Reed avers that “to say that Andrew Johnson was a racist and sought to maintain and extend white supremacy in America is a statement of incontrovertible fact, not merely a judgment” (p. 11).
DJT’s racist and xenophobic attitudes may not be incontrovertible at this point, but his statements (and tweets) over the past couple of years give good grounds for labeling him as a racist.
And it goes without saying that DJT’s rise to his election as the 45th POTUS was completely unexpected to most people in the U.S.—and probably even by Trump himself.
Given the likelihood of DJT’s people colluding with Russia and his attempting to obstruct that investigation as well as the likelihood of his having violated the “Emoluments Clause,” there is probably far more reason for DJT to be impeached than there was for Johnson.
What will happen depends on two things: the final findings of Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation and the congressional election this November.
If the Republicans maintain control of the House, impeachment of DJT is unlikely—and removal from office by the Senate, regardless of the election (since a 2/3 vote would be necessary), seems quite unlikely even if the House does impeach him.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

TTT #5 God’s Main Desire for the World is the Realization of the Kingdom of God

Assuming that God created the world in which we live (but certainly not assuming that such creation was accomplished in six days some six thousand years ago), what was God’s reason for creating this world and what is God’s main desire for us humans who inhabit it?
God’s Purpose
In keeping with what we know of God through Jesus Christ and the witness of the Holy Spirit, we can say that God created the world because of love and only because of love. 
And God lovingly created this world with the purpose of there being a realm of existence filled with persons who would love God and each other. That realm is known as the Kingdom of God.
Yes, there are problems with the use of the word “kingdom.” It can be criticized for being “sexist” or archaic. Perhaps some other term would be better—such as “realm” or the creative word “kindom.”
But since “kingdom” has been used for so long and is still used even in most newer translations of the Bible, I have decided to stay with it—and to focus on what it means as an expression of God’s purpose for creation.
God’s Kingdom
In many Christian circles, there has been a widespread belief that the kingdom of God is mainly something coming in the future.
But I have long liked the both/and approach of Georgia Harkness in her book Understanding the Kingdom of God, published in 1974, the year of her death:
The Kingdom of God is both present and future; both a growth and a final consummation by God. It is our task and our hope—our task which we face with the power of Christ; our hope that the last word will be spoken by God and that that last word will be victory. The Kingdom means both acceptance and action, a gift and a task. We work for it and we wait for it (pp. 61-62).
This is consistent with the emphasis of Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), who placed strong emphasis on the idea that the kingdom of God is both here now and also coming in the future. “The kingdom is always but coming” is a (somewhat awkward) phrase he often used. 
Words of Walter Rauschenbusch
God’s Desire
If God’s main desire for creation is the realization of the kingdom of God, beginning now, it should be evident that God’s primary desire for us humans is not just the happiness of individuals (although that may be an important spinoff).
Much of Christianity over the centuries, perhaps especially in the United States, has been much too other-worldly and much too individualistic.
Other-worldly views of the Kingdom of God have not placed enough emphasis on life in this world and the responsibility of Christians to wrestle against sinful societal structures that harm so many people now.
Similarly, individualistic views of the kingdom of God means focusing on one’s “soul” being saved for eternal life in Heaven after death, with little concern for life in a community of love in the “here and now.
If we understand, though, that God’s main desire is the realization of the kingdom of God, beginning now and culminating in the realm beyond earthly history, then we are freed from the errors of excessive other-worldliness and of individualism.
Thus, one thing that everyone needs to know, and act upon, now is that God’s main desire for the world is the realization of the kingdom of God—beginning in this world now.
Next, we need to consider the primary characteristic of the kingdom of God, which is shalom (peace), the main topic of the next chapter.

[Click here to read the entire fifth chapter of Thirty Things Everyone Needs to Know Now.]