Tuesday, October 30, 2018

TTT #29 We Should Always Go Easy on Judging Others—Or Ourselves

The bulk of this article is taken from the next to last chapter of my as yet unpublished book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT). The final section of that chapter is included here, but I encourage you to click this link and also read the first three sections of the chapter.
The Case for Kindness
Christians have not always been kind to one another. The Catholic inquisitions of the Middle Ages, in which people designated as heretics were hunted down and executed, are infamous. Enmity and strife between Protestants and Catholics existed from the beginning of the Reformation, and Protestants began killing other Protestants as early as 1527.
Although there have not been religious wars in this country, still among Christian denominations and even within national and local churches often there has been harshness, incivility, and unkindness.
All of this is woefully contradictory to a challenging Biblical admonition: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Instead of being tough-minded and tender-hearted, too many Christians have too often been tender-minded and hard-hearted.
One of my favorite contemporary Christian authors has written a book titled Generous Orthodoxy. That is a good emphasis when it comes to theology; Christian thinkers need to be accepting and magnanimous rather than being mean-spirited and unkind.
The same is true for Christian believers of all kinds—and for adherents of others religions as well—as we seek to live out our faith. We need to be generous and open-minded in our evaluation of others rather than being critical and judgmental.
In a recent translation, 1 Peter 3:8 admonishes, “Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions.” These are good words to consider, and hard words to put into practice consistently.
But when we are tempted to say, or even think, critical words about other people, we need to recall this injunction to be sympathetic, loving, and compassionate.
When I was a freshman in college, I bought a little book titled Everyday Religion. I profited from reading that book then as a young man and I found it delightfully helpful when I read through it again a few years ago.
The first chapter is “When We Really Live,” and I have remembered through the years how the author says that we really live when, among other things, we know how to be “a little kinder than necessary every day.”
So when we start to be harsh and judgmental in evaluation of others, or ourselves, let’s remember these words and try, indeed, to be a little kinder than necessary. If we can do that, we will find that everyone will be better off.  
Denouncing Anti-Semitism
Although not a part of the 29th chapter of TTT, last Saturday’s mass murder of Jews in Pittsburgh prompts me to reflect on how Christians, among others, have often not been kind, to say the least, toward Jewish people.
Although religious differences are real—and important—nothing can justify mistreatment of other people because of their religion or ethnicity.
This article is being posted on the morning before Reformation Day, which commemorates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther. Sadly, though, Luther’s judgmental and condemnatory words about the Jewish people have had a lasting negative impact on many Protestant Christians.
Please join me in sending condolences to those who are grieving in Pittsburgh, in denouncing all forms of anti-Semitism, and in pledging to be as kind as possible to all people, regardless of their religion (or lack thereof) or ethnicity.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

TTT #28 We Should Never Let the Good Become an Enemy of the Best

Not long after June and I married in 1957, I remember having the following words posted above my desk in our two-room apartment: “Don’t let the good become the enemy of the best.” I still think those are good and important words.
Seeking the Best
John Wesley, the outstanding 18th century British Christian, sought to live by the compelling slogan: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
Those words certainly call people to positive action toward being and doing the best they possibly can rather than being complacent. Just because we are doing something good, that doesn’t mean we are doing all we should be doing.
The good becomes an enemy of the best whenever engaging in some good activity becomes an excuse for not doing more when that is possible. Similarly, the good becomes an enemy of the best when making contributions to some good cause becomes an excuse for not giving more when we are able to do that. 
On the Other Hand
I first heard the words “Don’t let the good become an enemy of the best” in the 1950s, but I don’t remember hearing this balancing statement until around 2010: “Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
Perhaps I was so early and so long influenced by the wisdom of the former warning that I sometimes (or many times) made the mistake the latter statement warns against.
Sometimes I have been called a perfectionist—although I insist that I am not a perfectionist, I just want things to be done right! But my desire to do things right, or as nearly perfect as possible, has sometimes kept me from doing much of anything at all.
As always, the goal is seeking balance or a position in the middle, between the extremes. Satisfaction with the good can, indeed, be an enemy of the best. But preoccupation with being or doing the best can also, certainly, keep one from doing good.
Always striving for the best can lead to procrastination and to engaging in over-analysis that leads to paralysis. Both of those unhealthy characteristics, procrastination and over-analysis, are largely based on fear of falling short of the best.
So while maintaining that the good should never be an enemy of the best, we should, on the other hand, also never allow the best to be an enemy of the good. It certainly is counter-productive if our desire to do the best ends up keeping us from doing much good at all. 
Seeking the Best without Being a Perfectionist
Being or doing the best we possibly can without falling into the trap of perfectionism is the goal we should strive for.
Perfectionism is a debilitating psychological weakness, and my insistence that we should never allow the good to become an enemy of the best should not be interpreted in such a way as to foster perfectionism.
We need to take seriously the suggestions in books by clinical psychologists, such as Steven Hendlin’s When Good Enough is Never Enough: Escaping the Perfection Trap (1992) and Monica Ramirez Basco’s Never Good Enough: Freeing Yourself from the Chains of Perfectionism (1999).
So this is the goal we should yearn for: never letting the good become an enemy of the best—but always seeking to be and to do the best without falling into debilitating perfectionism.

[Here is the link to the entire 28th chapter in Thirty True Things . . .]

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Vote Common Good

Last Sunday afternoon I drove over to a church in Overland Park, Kansas, and attended a meeting of a group touring the country under the name Vote Common Good (VCG). It was a very small, but quite interesting, meeting.
Introduction of VCG
“Evangelical Christians against Trump are trying to 'flip Congress' with bus tour ahead of midterm elections.” That is the title of an October 9 article in Newsweek (see here) that describes the activities of the Vote Common Good (VCG) group. (Their website is here.)
Led primarily by Doug Pagitt, the founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis and a prominent emergent church leader, speakers at some of the VCG rallies also include such well known Christian authors as Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and Frank Schaeffer.
The latter was at the meeting I attended on October 14, and I enjoyed hearing him and chatting a bit with him again. (My blog articles of 9/25/11 and 8/20/14, see here and here, were mostly about Schaeffer.)  
Between October 2 and today (Oct. 20) VCG has held 17 rallies in ten different states. At least 12 more rallies, mostly in Texas and California, are scheduled between now and the midterm elections.
Appeal of VCG
In what seems to be a self-contradiction, VCG claims to be non-partisan while at the same time strenuously seeking to “flip” the control of Congress by electing Democratic candidates to the U.S. Congress.
As Schaeffer emphasized, they are not trying to make Democrats out of Republicans. Rather, they are just trying to get a Democratic Congress (or at least a Democratic House) to counter what they consider a President who is grossly acting in opposition to central Christian values.
They, most likely, agree with the October 12 Washington Post op-ed article by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.): “How a Democratic House would check this erratic president.” Here is Schiff’s opening sentence:
Our democracy is broken, and President Trump is only one reason. Congress is the other. It has failed to serve as an equal branch of government, failed to play its essential role as a check and balance and, most glaringly, completely abdicated its oversight responsibilities.

Suggestion to VCG
There are some who agree with the activities of VCG but think they are being too overtly political. I share some of those feelings. That is why at the meeting I recommended to them, and to the pastor of the church where we met, that attention be given to the “Reclaiming Jesus” document, which was drafted on Ash Wednesday this year.
That document, which was produced by people such as Walter Brueggemann, Tony Campolo, Richard Rohr, and Jim Wallis, is well worth reading and taken seriously. (Here is the link to it—and, yes, there were also women and people of color who were part of the group that drafted it.)
There are pastors, and others, who wish to stay out of the political fray and who perhaps don’t want to be identified with VCG even though they may personally agree with what they are trying to do.
Use of the Reclaiming Jesus document is one good way to emphasize the values being promoted by VCG without overt political statements or identification. I am pleased with the way my pastor has done that over the past few weeks.
Since I am not an active pastor—or on anyone’s payroll—now, I am happy to identify with the work and the goals of Vote Common Good. Many knowledgeable people are saying that next month’s election is the most important midterm election of our lifetime—and they may well be right.
That is the reason to vote and to Vote Common Good!

Monday, October 15, 2018

TTT #27 The New Testament Word for Success is Faithfulness

While I intend for my book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT) to be relevant for everyone and not just for Christian believers, this article taken from the first part of the 27th chapter of TTT (and found in full here) is primarily about Christians (for good or for ill). But I trust it will also be of interest and instructive to those of other faiths, or of no faith.
Disliking Failure
Failure is a word we hate to hear. During their school days, little seemed worse for most people than getting an “F” on a test or on their report card.
And in real life, failure is a fear for those who go into business for themselves as well as for those who go into non-profit service activities. Failure for either usually means loss of income as well as loss of self-esteem.
Since in the world of religion this seems to be more of an issue for Christians than those of other faiths, this article/chapter is mostly about success and failure as related to Christianity.
Liking Success
Because of the fear of failure, through the years there has been a spate of books, many from a Christian or semi-Christian perspective, written about how to succeed. Some of the most widely read are Acres of Diamonds (1915), Think and Grow Rich (1937), The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), and The Success Principles (2005).
Success, as we who live in the United States all know, is often measured either in terms of dollars or in terms of numbers of people. In the business world no one who has not become fairly wealthy would be considered a success.
In the Christian world, successful churches are generally considered those that have had considerable numerical growth and boast large attendance at their regular meetings, and the pastors of such churches are generally considered successful.
Most people in the U.S., for example, would consider Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood Church in Houston, a huge success.
The church of which Osteen (b. 1963) is pastor is the largest in the U.S. In 2017 the weekly attendance of his church was 43,500. Moreover, his ministry is said to reach over seven million broadcast media viewers weekly in over 100 nations around the world.
Not only is Osteen successful, but he seeks to help others achieve success also. He also has written several books and regularly posts articles on the Lakewood Church blog.
Some of his articles, especially in past years, were expressions of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” according to which financial success can be expected to result from proper or adequate faith—although many have serious questions about that understanding of success.
Being Faithful
Years ago I heard, and agreed, that the New Testament word for success is faithfulness. Certainly the NT does not speak about success as being defined the number of dollars one has made or the number of members attending a given church.
Many of the great Christian missionaries were quite “unsuccessful.” That is how Francis Xavier thought about his work in Japan in the years following his arrival there in 1549. (Many later missionaries, though, thought he was quite “successful.”)
For many years following his arrival in India in 1793, William Carey was “unsuccessful”—as were Adoniram and Ann Judson for years following their arrival in Burma in 1813.
But they all realized that the New Testament word for success is faithfulness—as did Mother Teresa of Calcutta. So I close this article with her oft-quoted words: 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Don't Grieve, Give Thanks

Even though I had another article ready to post today, I decided to postpone it and instead to post the following reflections about my brief trip to Japan, which ends today. (I am scheduled to arrive back in Kansas City just after noon today.)

Grieving What Is No More
During my first and last full days in Japan, October 3 and 8, I experienced considerable sadness at the strong likelihood that this would be my last time in Japan. Especially on Monday evening, I walked around familiar places with tears in my eyes because the next morning I was going to be leaving the place I have loved so much.
As I was jogging early Tuesday morning, though, I started thinking about the words that I had called to mind last week after visiting my good friend Otsuka Kumiko-san, who has terminal cancer: Don’t grieve over what is no more; rather, give thanks for what once was.
I began to apply those words to myself and my grieving because of leaving Japan for the last time.
Giving Thanks for What Once Was
So, yesterday morning I began to give thanks for each thing I had been feeling sad about, including the following:
** I am thankful for the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, as it was called then, for appointing June and me as missionaries to Japan in 1966 and for supporting us throughout our 38 years there. The Southen Baptist Convention has changed through the years and I am no longer able to be a Southern Baptist; nevertheless, I am deeply grateful for what once was.
** I am thankful for Seinan Gakuin, the school system in Fukuoka City that Southern Baptist missionaries founded in 1916, and for the trustees electing me to the university faculty 50 years ago. I am deeply grateful for the privilege of being able to teach there for 36 years and to serve as chancellor during my final eight years in Japan.
** I am thankful for Hirao Baptist Church, which June and I joined 50 years ago and which was our church home for twelve years. I am also thankful Hirao Church sponsored us in starting the Fukuoka International Church (FIC) and that I was able to serve for 24 years as part-time pastor of that church.
** I am thankful for many Japanese friends, mentors, and co-workers--especially Otsuka Kumiko-san (about whom I wrote, here, on Sept. 5) and Kaneko Sumio-sensei, who was the pastor of Hirao Church for most of the years we attended there. I am thankful for the good visits I had with Otsuka-san on Oct. 3-4  and with Kaneko-sensei on Oct. 4.
** I am thankful for the many former FIC congregants whom I fondly remember--and especially those I was able to visit with over a delicious meal on Oct. 6. That gathering was organized by Fukuoka Kikuko-san, who was the first person I had the privilege of baptizing as pastor of FIC.
** I am thankful for the many students that I had the privilege of teaching at Seinan Gakuin University and especially those with whom I still have contact--such as those I met with on the afternoon of Oct. 8 for a delightful two hours.
What a Difference It Makes!
At dusk on Monday when I left the gathering of former students just mentioned, I walked around familiar places for about two hours, grieving at having to leave Japan for the last time the next day. It was a sad time of thinking of what will be no more, at least of direct experience in Japan.
But Tuesday morning each time I began to have sad thoughts, I would give thanks for what has been--and what a difference that made in how I felt!
Thank you for allowing me to share some of my thoughts / experiences of the past week. In spite of this article being mostly about me, I hope many of you will remember, and profit from, the main point:
Don’t grieve over what is no more; rather, give thanks for what once was.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples' Day?

This coming Monday, October 8, is Columbus Day, a federal holiday in the United States. However, only about half of the states observe that day, and four states as well as many cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
The Issue
Columbus Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1792, and 100 years later President Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the “new world.”
Then in 1937 President Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day as a national holiday, largely as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, the Roman Catholic fraternal service organization that was founded in 1882 and named in honor of Christopher Columbus.
In recent decades, though, there has been growing opposition to Columbus’s undeniable connection to the oppression of indigenous peoples and the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade.
Beginning in 1992 (in Berkeley, Calif.), an increasing number of cities—as well as the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota—now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the place of Columbus Day. (In S.D., though, the day is called Native American Day.)
So, which holiday should be celebrated next Monday?  
The Issue Intensified
There are those who see the mistreatment of indigenous people and slavery as two aspects of “America’s original sin,” in the title words of Jim Wallis’s 2016 book.
Wallis asserts that “the near genocide and historic oppression of America’s Native American peoples and the enslavement and debasing of African peoples for profit were both sins—America’s original sin” (p. 57).
True, the activity of Columbus in the last part of the 15th century may not be directly related to what happened in British North America beginning in the first part of the 17th century—but the latter is definitely rooted in the ethos of Columbus with regards to both the treatment of indigenous people and the enslaving of both people of the new world as well as of Africa.
In a previous blog article (see here) I introduced Miguel De La Torre, an acquaintance for whom I have great respect, even though I sometimes disagree with him. One of the most challenging books I have read in many years is his book Embracing Hopelessness (2017).
In the Introduction, De La Torre makes this hard-hitting assertion:
Christians are behind all of this nation’s atrocities—the genocide of the indigenous people to steal their land, the enslavement of Africans to work the stolen land, and the stealing of cheap labor and natural resources of Latin Americans under the guise of “gunboat diplomacy” to develop the land (p. 4). 
Then in his second chapter De La Torre writes compellingly about his visit to the site of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. That tragic event was under the direction of U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington—while the Civil War was still being fought!
(When Chivington, 1821~94, was a young man, he was ordained to the Christian ministry and even served briefly as a missionary to the Wyandot Indians in Kansas—of particular interest to June and me since our church is in Wyandotte County.)
Responding to the Issue
Reading De La Torre’s chapter about the Sand Creek Massacre strengthened my resolve to push for the observance of Indigenous People’s Day in the U.S. on the second Monday of October from now on. 
People of goodwill need to work diligently to rid society of the highly detrimental results of America’s original sin, striving to combat the evil effects of white supremacy both with regard to the indigenous people of North America as well as to those who are the descendants of enslaved Africans.