Friday, November 30, 2018

1848 -- What a Year!

What are the most important years in world history over the last 200 years? For those of us in the U.S., no doubt 1941 and 1945, the beginning and ending of World War II, would be at the top of the list—and also the war years of 1917 and 1918 as well as 1861 and 1865 for USAmericans. But 1848 was also a year of great significance.
The U.S. in 1848
** In January, gold found in California led to the Gold Rush. Approximately 300,000 prospectors and others trekked to California—and in 1850 California became a state. But, sorrowfully, in those two years perhaps as many as 100,000 Native people were killed.
** On February 2, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American War and ceding to the United States virtually all of what became the southwestern US. (Click here to see what a huge section of the country that was.)
(That war had been opposed by Abraham Lincoln, as seen, for example, in his January 1848 speech, linked to here.)
** In July, the Seneca Falls Convention was held in New York. It was the first ever woman’s rights convention held in the U.S. That significant gathering was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (My 11/10/15 blog article about Stanton mentions the 1848 convention.)
Europe in 1848 
** The year 1848 is well-treated in Mike Rapport’s 2009 book 1848: Year of Revolution. The abstract (here) for the University of Glasgow professor’s book begins, “In 1848, Europe was engulfed in a firestorm of revolution.”  
According to Rapport, three of the intertwining issues in the European revolutions of 1848 were nationalism; “bitter, often violent, political polarisation”; and the “social question,” that is, the “abject misery of both urban and rural people” (p. x).
In his conclusion, Rapport writes, “The revolutions were seen subsequently as failures, but one should not be too pessimistic. . . . Perhaps the most important achievement was the abolition of serfdom” (p. 400).
** As a precursor to some of the 1848 revolutions and instigator of later revolutions in the world, Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels was published in February 1848. It was a 23-page pamphlet written in German. (The first English translation was published in 1850, and a more recent English translation is available here ).
Marx and Engels were only 30 and 28 years old at the time, and their thinking and activities leading up to the writing of the Manifesto are interestingly portrayed in the 2017 movie “The Young Karl Marx.”
As has been broadly cited, the preamble of the Manifesto begins, “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.” And then the first paragraph of the first chapter, “Bourgeois and Proletarians,”  is brief and to the point: “The history of all hitherto existing society [that is, all written history] is the history of class struggles.”
Ongoing Issues since 1848
The class struggles Marx and Engels alluded to were seen in the 1848 revolutions—and have been evident, at least to many people, in countries around the world up to the present.
Rapport states that the 1848 revolutions “witnessed the fatal consequences of the perennial tension between . . . the [classical] liberal emphasis on political freedom and civil liberty and . . . the socialist stress on social justice” (p. 407).
While the expressions of the polar tension are not as extreme today, 170 years later, aren’t we still witnessing the same tension in the rhetoric and actions of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Questioning Salvation History

Last month (here) I made reference to the second chapter of Miguel De La Torre’s disturbing book Embracing Hopelessness (2017). This article is about a theological problem I encountered in that same chapter.
Accepting Salvation History
One of the first theological German words I learned in seminary was Heilsgeschichte; I never understood why it was so often used in place of the English equivalent: salvation history. Then, the year I finished my basic seminary degree and entered graduate school (1962), Dr. Eric Rust, my major professor, published a book titled simply Salvation History.
While I mainly wanted to study Christian philosophy under Dr. Rust, I also studied Old Testament theology under him—and at that time I had no trouble accepting the basic ideas presented about salvation history—which still seem to be used in Christian colleges/seminaries, as is seen in the following diagram: 
(This diagram is copyrighted by Marion G. Bontrager (b. 1936), retired professor at Hesston College, a Mennonite school in Kansas.) 

Questioning Salvation History
I first began to question the validity of the concept of salvation history I had learned and accepted when I read books by Taiwan theologian C.S. Song, whose writings I studied and wrote essays about in the 1980s and ’90s.
In his seminal 1975 work Christian Mission in Reconstruction, Song (b. 1929) proposed the doctrine of creation rather than salvation history as the starting point for doing theology in Asia.
Japanese theologian Ken Miyamoto has a helpful section in his book God’s Mission in Asia (2007) titled “The Problem of Salvation History” (pp. 168~170). (My review of Miyamoto’s book was published in the January 2010 issue of Missiology: An International Review.)
Much more recently, as mentioned above, I read De La Torre’s rejection of salvation history. That stringent criticism is largely based on how he sees that idea linked to the notion of “manifest destiny,” which was so disastrous for American Indians.
In relating the horrific story of the Sand Creek Massacre, which occurred on November 29, 1864, De La Torre declares: “Sand Creek marked the start of a catastrophic collapse of the Plains Indians’ way of life, an unavoidable consequence of the reigning salvation history of the era known as Manifest Destiny” (p. 40).
In a way, the ideas of salvation history, American exceptionalism, and manifest destiny have been intertwined from the beginnings of the British “invasion” in the 17th century of what is now North America —even though those connections have seldom been sufficiently recognized.
Thanksgiving Day, which most Americans have just celebrated and during which many recalled the so-called “first Thanksgiving” of 1621, is by no means a time for remembering a glorious past for those who are not white.
A few days ago I read the following hard-hitting article written by Glen Ford, the Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. It is titled, “American Thanksgiving: A Pure Glorification of Racist Barbarity”—and it is quite different from what we usually read about the beginnings of Thanksgiving Day in this country.
Read it here, if you dare.
Affirming Salvation History
Questioning salvation history has led me to the following conclusions:
** The concept of salvation history has sometimes led to a destructive triumphalism among some Christians, and that is unacceptable. De La Torre’s criticism must be taken seriously. But that misuse of the concept doesn’t call for rejection of the idea. Rightly understood it can still be affirmed.
** Salvation history recounts important matters regarding God’s work in the world—but not all of God’s work. C.S. Song’s criticism must also be taken seriously. Affirming salvation history does not necessitate denying God’s grace that has operated and is operating outside the confines of that framework.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Solidarity with the Poor

Pope Francis designated this past Sunday as World Day of the Poor. It was the second of what will likely be an ongoing, and expanding, observance by the Roman Catholic Church. But the plight of the poor—and solidarity with the poor, which the Pope has often emphasized—is something all of us need to think about seriously.
The Poor
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report issued in Sept. 2018, there are nearly 40 million people in the U.S. living in poverty. That is 12.3% of the total population. For African-Americans the percentage is much higher: 21.7%. Sadly, the report also indicates that 17.5% of all children under 18 are living in poverty.
Worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where it is the worst, the percentage of people living in poverty is much higher. True, the poverty rates have been steadily declining in recent decades. But there are still vast segments of society, at home and especially abroad, that suffer daily from the effects of being poor.
Surely, people of goodwill must become more fully aware that domestic and international poverty is a shameful reality and be inclined to act to alleviate as much of that poverty as possible.
The Challenge
The Pope has, as have many other religious and also some civic leaders, been challenging people to be more aware of and compassionate toward the poor of the world. 
In his message for World Day of the Poor (you can read that message here), he used the word “solidarity” four times this year, as he did last year, and during his papacy he has often spoken of solidarity with or for the poor.
For example, in July (here) the Pope said,
"The proclamation of Christ, bread of eternal life, requires a generous commitment of solidarity for the poor, the weak, the least important, the defenseless. This action of proximity and charity is the best verification of the quality of our faith, both on a personal level and on a community level."
To make a generous commitment of solidarity with the poor is a difficult challenge. It is much easier to talk about being/living in solidarity than actually doing so.   
The Difficulties
To be in solidarity with the poor means, among other things, to be committed to “simple living,” as I have written about previously (see here and here). But living in such a manner is not easy.
It is easy, though, to rationalize, to quickly come up with reasons why we should buy or spend money for this or that, which would be out of the question for those who are poor.
Further, it is easy to engage in tokenism, claiming that such and such is done in solidarity with the poor when it is just a rather insignificant part of the totality of what we spend for things the poor cannot purchase or experience.
Part of the problem in trying to live in solidarity with the poor is that those around such a person, especially those who are closest, will likely not appreciate the emphasis on solidarity—and it is hard to talk about living in solidarity with the poor without sounding “holier than thou.”
In spite of the attendant difficulties, people who profess to be followers of Jesus—and all people of goodwill—must surely seek to live and to think more and more in solidarity with the poor.
And among other things, this also calls for supporting the politicians who are, and whichever political party is, conscientiously seeking to enact legislation that will be of greatest benefit to the poor people of our nation and of the world.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Happy Birthday, Ed!

Ed Chasteen is a friend I first met over 40 years ago, and tomorrow (Nov. 16) he is celebrating his 83rd birthday. This article was written to wish Ed a happy birthday. But even more, I have written it to introduce a remarkable man to those who do not know him.
Becoming a Prof
Edgar R. Chasteen was born in Texas and lived in Huntsville from 1948 to 1958. He was baptized in a Baptist church there when he was 13. In 1954 he enrolled in Sam Houston State Teacher’s College and majored in sociology. When he was 21 he married his wife, Bobbie, and they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last year.
After earning his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, Ed was employed by William Jewell College (in Liberty, Mo.) where he taught sociology, and especially a course in race relations, from 1965 to 1995.
Two matters of great importance occurred during those years when Ed was a prof at William Jewell: he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and a few years later he founded HateBusters.
The “Peddlin’ Prof”
In 1981 Ed received the terrible news that he had MS. The doctors said he could no longer be active. But after two or three years, and against his doctor’s orders, Ed began to fight his illness by riding a bicycle.
And ride he did! In 1987 he rode over 5,100 miles in 105 days, peddling from Disney World to Disneyland. He rode alone and without any money on him—and with great success. Disney dubbed him “the pedalin’ prof from William Jewell College.”
And he has continued to ride his bicycle since then: in 2003 he rode 10,000 miles to raise funds for MS and HateBusters.
In 2004 the National Multiple Sclerosis Society named Ed an MS Achievement Award winner.
It has now been 37 years since he was first diagnosed with MS—and Ed is still active and still rides his bicycle—but earlier this year he had to give up riding outside. He now rides about 50 miles a week inside on his stationary bike.
The HateBusting Prof
About 30 years ago—soon after David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, won a seat in the Louisiana legislature—Ed and his sociology students at William Jewell College started a group, or perhaps it is better considered a movement, called HateBusters.
The name, and the logo found on their tee shirts, was taken from the popular 1984 film "Ghostbusters." The picture is several years old (taken when he was about 75), but here is a picture of Ed in a HateBuster tee shirt and his personalized bicycle: 
HateBusters has primarily worked in opposition to hate directed toward people because of their race/ethnicity or because of their religion and in support of those who have been victims of hate.
According to their website (see here), HateBusters’ first objective is “To oppose hate wherever we find it and in whatever form it takes.” And when an act of hate occurs, they seek to go “help redeem the situation.”
On Monday of this week, I had breakfast and a delightful conversation with Ed. I was impressed, again, with his mental vitality in spite of his debilitating physical illness and with his deep-seated desire to combat hate and prejudice and to create a world filled with people who live in harmony and practice mutual respect.
Happy Birthday, Ed! The world badly needs more people like you.
For further information:
** Here is the link to a May 2017 VOA article and video about Ed and HateBusters.
** Most of Ed’s books are available for downloading at the website linked to above. Some books are directly related to MS and some to HateBusters, including a 1996 book with 42 issues of “HateBusters Bulletin.”


Saturday, November 10, 2018

TTT #30 God’s First and Last Word is Always Grace

This blog article is the 30th and last one based on my forthcoming book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT). I will be informing you later when the book becomes available, but please give consideration now to the following matters taken from the final chapter of the book.
Introducing Grace
Before writing that final chapter, I read Philip Yancey’s outstanding book What’s So Amazing About Grace? (1997) for the third time. I consider Yancey’s book one of the most significant books I have read over the last twenty years. 
In the first chapter of his book, Yancey calls grace “our last best word,” and laments the “shortage of grace within the church” (p. 14).
I fully agree with Yancey’s assessment, so I decided to write about grace for the last chapter of TTT. We need to be reminded constantly that for the Christian, or for anyone for that matter, God’s first and last word is always grace.
I have been reading and thinking about God’s grace for most of my adult life. One of the first good books about grace that I read maybe almost sixty years ago was penned by R. Lofton Hudson, a Baptist pastor and counselor. His book was titled Grace Is Not a Blue-Eyed Blond (1968).
Sometime before writing his book, the author was talking with a man who attended church only occasionally. Hudson asked him “What do you think of when I say the word grace?” The man’s quick reply, “Why, Grace is a blue-eyed blond!”
Well, probably not many people identify grace in such a manner, but many may need to have a deeper, more nearly adequate understanding of grace and the importance it has, or should have, in our lives.  
Concluding with Grace
After dealing with the issue of “grace vs. works,” sola gratia, and what some have called “grace abuse,” I concluded the last chapter in TTT when the assertion, “still, grace is God’s first and last word.”
Although probably not original with him, several years ago I read the following words boldly proclaimed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
That, truly, is the meaning of grace. And while it is necessary for us to recognize, and to beware of, grace abuse, we should always remember that the God’s first and last word is always grace.
The pivotal significance of grace is seen in the life and work of Jesus Christ.
In the first chapter of John we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth(v. 14).
And then, Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ(vv. 16-17).
Toward the end of the first chapter of his book Grace Is Not a Blue-Eyed Blond, Hudson declares, “Primarily, grace is a face, the face of Christ and of Christian acceptance.” (p. 22).
Yes, because the Christian faith begins and ends with Jesus Christ, for the Christian—and for all the people of the world— the first and last word is grace.
Let’s never forget that, for it is certainly one extremely important true thing that everyone needs to know now.

[Here is the link to the entire 30th chapter of TTT.]

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Election of 1868 (and 2018)

Since my hometown is Grant City (Mo.), I have long had an interest in, but not much knowledge of, Ulysses S. Grant. My recent reading about him, though, has convinced me that he is a man who should not be taken for granted and that his election in 1868 was one of great importance.
The Election of 1868
Even though my Oct. 30, 2016, blog article was about the presidential election of 1868 (see here), I didn’t write much about Grant, who was the winner of that election and thus became the 18th POTUS.
For whatever reason, during most of my lifetime Grant seems not to have received the attention and the accolades he has deserved. But he and his accomplishments as President should not be taken lightly.
In one of the most important elections in U.S. history, 150 years ago on November 3, 1868, Grant won a decisive victory that was of great significance to the nation.
His election was especially significant for the American Indians and for the “freedmen,” the former enslaved persons who had a new birth of freedom because of the Civil War.
The Background of the 1868 Election
Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Ohio in 1822, the son of a tanner—and a fervent abolitionist. When he was 16, Ulysses, the name by which he was called, was nominated to West Point by the district’s U.S. Representative—but his name was mistakenly given as Ulysses S., and the name stuck.
After graduation, Grant distinguished himself as a daring and competent soldier during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. He left the army in 1854 but joined again in 1861, the beginning year of the Civil War.
Grant distinguished himself as a war hero, and after being elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in 1864, he forced and then received Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865.
Results of the 1868 Election
Because of his great popularity across the nation—and it has been said that he was more popular in the 19th century then Lincoln—Grant was nominated unanimously as the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1868.
In spite of his political opponents calling Grant a drunk and accusing him of trying to “Africanize” the South, he won the 1868 election decisively: 214 to 80 electoral votes.
Among the premier accomplishments of Grant’s presidency are these:
** Organized (in April 1869) the Board of Indian Commissioners; this was Grant’s attempt to formulate a new humane policy towards Native American tribes. While not without problems, this “Peace Policy” was a great advancement in the way American Indians had been treated in the U.S. up to this time.
** Ratification (in February 1870) of the 15th Amendment giving the freed slaves the right to vote.
** Passage of the “Ku Klux Klan” Act (in April 1871) that curtailed the activities of the KKK and other white supremacy organizations; this bill is also called the Civil Rights Act of 1871.  
(Actual 1868 campaign poster with an explanation added)
And What about the Election of 2018?
While not a presidential election, U.S. voters will go to the polls tomorrow (Nov. 6) to determine whether the racist, xenophobic, pro-white supremacy policies and rhetoric of the current administration are going to remain unchecked by a supportive Congress or whether there will be a better balance of power in the U.S. government.
The election of 1868 proved greatly beneficial for people of color then, and I fervently hope and pray that tomorrow’s election will similarly turn out well for people of color, immigrants, Jews, and the poor in contemporary society.
For further reading:
Two recommended books for further study of Grant (and the election of 1868):
** Grant (2002) by Jean Edward Smith, which presents Grant much more positively than most biographies up to that time.
** Grant (2017) by Ron Chernow, the latest, highly-acclaimed, 1000-page tome about Grant.



Friday, November 2, 2018

Moral Majority and Vote Common Good are not Moral Equivalents

[The following is a "letter to the editor," published (here) by Baptist News Global on Oc. 30 and is posted here as an "extra" blog article because of the significance of the Nov. 6 election.] 
In his opinion article published Oct. 26 on baptistnews.com, Jonathan Frank contends that “today’s Vote Common Good is much like yesterday’s Moral Majority.” Having attended a Vote Common Good “rally” and written a blog article about Vote Common Good, I must say, Sorry, Jonathan, but they’re not the same at all.
Further, having written a book on Christian fundamentalism, I have also spent considerable time seeking to understand the thinking and actions of the late Jerry Falwell, the primary power behind the formation of the Moral Majority. In reviewing Falwell’s activities and pronouncements in 1979 and the years following, again I must declare, Sorry, Jonathan, but the Moral Majority and the Vote Common Good movements are definitely not moral equivalents.
Vote Common Good is focused on one limited goal: flipping the control of Congress in the midterm elections on Nov. 6. This goal is rooted primarily in their strong opposition to the character and policies of President Trump and the almost unanimous support he has received from the Republican-controlled Senate and House.
At the rally I attended, Frank Schaffer declared that he is not trying to make Democrats out of Republicans and he is not saying how people ought to vote in future elections. He is merely emphasizing the critical nature of the current political situation in Washington and the need for there to be some check on the erratic and unchristian statements and policies of the President. That check depends on Congress being “flipped,” and that is what Vote Common Good is seeking to do. It is an ad hoc response to a current crisis in government.
Jonathan asserts that the “clear mission” of Vote Common Good is to “urge Christians to vote for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.” No, Jonathan, that is not what their declared mission is: it is only to flip Congress – and by that they mean primarily the House of Representatives. The only political candidate mentioned in the Kansas rally I attended was the challenger to Rep. Kevin Yoder in the 3rd District of Kansas.
Jonathan says that Vote Common Good is urging voters to oppose the GOP. Well, yes and no. They are certainly urging voters to oppose the GOP candidates for the House because of the need to have some check on the President. But that is the only GOP opposition that I have heard or read from them.
Jonathan complains the Vote Common Good group is rejecting praiseworthy Representatives such as Kathy McMorris-Rogers of Washington and Ann Wagner of Missouri. Yes, no doubt Rep. McMorris-Rogers and Rep. Wagner have done many good things and are decent people. But they are also quite loyal to President Trump. Consider, for example, their questionable support of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Near the end of his article Jonathan avers that Vote Common Good attempts “to shoehorn faith into the mold of a political party, instead of letting our faith be the mold through which we reach our political decisions.” To the contrary, Vote Common Good speakers such as Schaffer (whom I heard), Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and Brian McLaren are urging people to Vote Common Good because of their Christian faith and their firm commitment to the teachings of Jesus – not because they are Democrats.
These are just some of the reasons for this rebuttal to Jonathan Frank’s article. Today’s Vote Common Good is considerably unlike yesterday’s Moral Majority and it has a message Christians of all stripes need to consider seriously in these days before the midterm elections.