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.]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Japan: 1868, 1945, and Now

It can easily be argued that 1868 and 1945 were the two most significant years in Japanese history. The events of 1945 are widely known, but let’s consider what happened 150 years ago in 1868.
The Significance of the Meiji Restoration
The beginning of Japan goes back to February 11, 660 B.C.E., when Jimmu, a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu (according to Shinto mythology), became the first emperor. Even now February 11 is observed as National Foundation Day, a national holiday.
As an island country, Japan long existed with minimal “foreign” influence, developing as a unique country and accepting only what it wanted from near-by Korea and China—and much later from distant European countries.
In the 16th century, merchants and missionaries from Europe arrived in Japan, but in the 1630s most Westerners and their influence (including Christianity) were expelled and kept out of Japan until the 1850s.
In 1853 American Commodore Matthew Perry and his “black ships” arrived, and soon Japan was forced to open to the West.
Only fifteen years later, the country that had been virtually closed for nearly 220 years made major changes, “modernizing” in order to compete with Western countries as an equal.
The pivotal year was 1868 when drastic domestic changes resulted from what is called the Meiji Restoration.  
In February 1867, 14-year-old Prince Mutsuhito succeeded his father, becoming the 122nd emperor of Japan. Since 1192 Japan had been under the political control of a shogun (military dictator), but in November 1867 the shogun resigned and in January 1868 the new emperor ceremoniously proclaimed the “restoration” of Imperial rule.
Then in April 1868, Emperor Meiji promulgated the “Charter Oath,” which dissolved Japan’s traditional feudal structure and established the legal stage for Japan’s modernization.
Kyoto (meaning “capital") had been the home of the Japanese emperor since 794, but the shogun had resided in Edo Castle since 1603. In September 1868, the Emperor announced that the name of the city Edo was being changed to Tokyo, or “eastern capital.” Emperor Meiji moved there the next year. 

The Rise and Fall of Japan
The modernization/industrialization of Meiji Japan was rapid and thoroughgoing, at least in its outward manifestations. The sweeping changes to become more like the Western (imperial) countries led to increasing expansion of Japanese territory.
Hokkaido, the large northern island of present-day Japan, was consolidated in 1869. Ten years later the Ryukyu Islands (including Okinawa) were annexed. Then at the conclusion of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan.
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was the first modern war in which an Asian country defeated a European power—and that war ended with Japan gaining control over Korea, which it fully annexed in 1910. Control over various southeast Asian countries followed.
What in Japan is called the Fifteen-Year War began in 1931, but the Meiji Restoration which had achieved so much for 75 years, came to a tragic end in August 1945. The changes of that fateful year were more dramatic and of more significance than those of 1868.
What about Japan Now?
After Japan’s remarkable recovery from the devastation of World War II and “miraculous” economic growth into a leading country of the world, Japan faces an uncertain future on this 150th anniversary year of the Meiji Restoration.
Economic conditions have been stagnant for many years now; the population is aging—and declining in number; and now there is understandable anxiety in the land because of the proximity to an unpredictable and potentially destructive North Korea.

Let us hope and pray that 2018 won’t become as significant, and as catastrophic, as 1945.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

TTT #4 The Holy Spirit is God’s Universal Presence in the World and is Not Limited to Those Who Know Jesus

Christians have traditionally understood God as being “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The first two chapters of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now [TTT] were about the “Father,” and the previous one was about Jesus Christ, the “Son.” Now we turn our attention to the enigmatic “Holy Spirit.”
Grasping at the Wind
Trying to understand the Holy Spirit is like grasping at the wind—and, indeed, the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma can be translated “breath” or “wind” as well as “spirit.”
Some Christians tend to think of the Holy Spirit being active in the world only after the resurrection of Jesus. This is largely because of Jesus’ promise of the coming Spirit (such as in John 15:26) and the events recorded in the second chapter of Acts.
There are many references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, however, and some even think that the first reference to the Spirit is in Genesis 1:2. (Is it the Spirit, or just the wind, moving over the waters in the creation story?) 
The Church’s creed of A.D. 381 spoke of the Holy Spirit proceeding “from the Father.” But in the sixth century, the Church in the West added one (Latin) word: filioque (“and the Son”).
That word became a point of division between the Church in the West (Roman Catholicism) and the Church in the East (Eastern Orthodox). But the eminent German Lutheran theologian Jϋrgen Moltmann rejects the addition of filioque—and for good reason (see his The Spirit of Life, 1992).
The Holy Spirit is linked from the beginning to the eternal Word (Logos), and not just to Jesus.
The Go-Between God
John V. Taylor, a distinguished Anglican missionary and theologian, was the author of the seminal book The Go-Between God (1963). Taylor convincingly contends that all of creation is a result of the movement of the Spirit and everything is related to God because of the Spirit.
That certainly doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of their relationship to the Spirit. But the Spirit is aware of everyone!
Here again we are confronted with the problem of the universal and the particular—and again I agree with Taylor when he avers that “the Holy Spirit is universally present through the whole fabric of the world, and yet uniquely present in Christ and, by extension, in the fellowship of his disciples” (pp. 180-1; italics in the original).
The Holy Spirit, we might say, leaves footprints of God all over the world, and people from all ages and in all parts of the world, to varying degrees, see those tracks.
The Spirit of Truth and of Freedom
Three times in the Gospel of John we find the words “the Spirit of truth,” and also according to John, Jesus declared that “the truth shall set you free.” Further, the Apostle Paul also declares that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (1 Cor. 3:17).
In the first chapter, I indicated that “all truth is God’s truth.” It can also be asserted that because of the Spirit, all freedom is God’s freedom. Thus, the work of the Spirit can be linked to the core assertions of the theologians of liberation.
Black theologian James Cone, for example, avers that “God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is identical with the presence of his Spirit in the slave community in struggle for the liberation of humanity” (God of the Oppressed, rev. ed., p. 181).
Thank God that the Spirit, known uniquely through Jesus Christ, can also be known universally throughout the whole world!

[Please click here to read the entire fourth chapter of TTT.]

Sunday, February 4, 2018

On Not Watching the Super Bowl or (Much of) the Olympics

While I have no desire to put a damper anyone’s enjoyment of today’s Super Bowl or this month’s Olympic Games, let me share with you some reasons why I won’t be watching the Super Bowl or much of the Olympics.
What’s Wrong with the Super Bowl?
In January 2015, I posted an article titled “Super Bowl Idolatry.” I don’t need to repeat what I wrote then, although I would be happy for you to read (or re-read) that here. I still think about the same as I did three years ago—although now I am having serious thoughts about not watching any NFL games next season. 
One major reason for giving up watching football is the “violence” that is part of the game. In the first half of their last game of the season, it was painful to see Travis Kelce, the Kansas City Chiefs’ star tight end, get up wobbly and helped off the field after a hard hit caused his second concussion in three months.
So, in addition to my objection to the over-hyped, over-commercialized, “idolatrous” nature of the Super Bowl, also because of the violent nature of the game that injuries skillful athletes such as Kelce, who is just one of many, I will not be watching again this year.
What’s Wrong with the Olympics?
But what's wrong with the Olympics, whose participants are amateurs rather than over-paid professionals? Well, I’ve written some about that before, too, and I invite you to read “Questioning the Olympics,” the article I posted (here) on Feb. 15, 2010.
Added to the misgivings I had then, there is now the sordid story of the sexual abuse of U.S. Olympic female gymnasts by the team physician. More than 150 women accused the doctor of sexual abuse, but he was not sentenced until this year although charges against him go back to 1997.
And then there is the Tonya Harding story. I haven’t seen the new movie about her, but I do remember the sordid events involving her prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics. It seems that she was psychologically abused by her mother, partly to get her into the Olympics.
The pressure on (especially?) girls to get into the Olympics and to win a medal is so strong that psychological abuse is largely overlooked, and even the response to sexual abuse has been shamefully slow.
Isn’t North Korea’s Participation Good?
One of the noteworthy aspects of this month’s Olympic Games is the participation of North Korea. For athletes from both North and South Korea to march in together under one flag and for the Korean women’s ice hockey team to have players from both countries is remarkable and perhaps a sign of hope. But maybe not.
I would like to be as positive about this as the college student who wrote “The Olympic Truce: Giving peace a chance,” a Jan. 31 piece posted on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Sadly, I think that North Korea’s “Olympics rapprochement” is likely to be a “global scam,” as explained in this Jan. 24 article on The American Conservative website.
As you regular readers know, I don’t usually cite TAC (or agree with most of their articles), but I’m afraid the author may be right in this case: Kim’s action is likely “a ruse . . . designed to give North Korea more time to get to the only thing it really does want: a nuclear weapon.”

So, sadly, these are some of the reasons I won’t be watching the Super Bowl today or (much of) the Olympics this month.