Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Sand Creek Massacre, a National Disgrace

Earlier this month I wrote about sometimes feeling embarrassed to identify a Christian. But I am embarrassed not only because of things some Christian leaders as and do in the present but also because of what some have done in the past. The Sand Creek Massacre is one sad example.  
Established in April 2007
The Bare Facts
There are background events that I don’t have the space to elucidate here, but here are the bare facts of the Sand Creek Massacre, which occurred 155 years ago yesterday, on November 29, 1864.
The Third Colorado Cavalry commanded by Colonel John Chivington attacked a settlement of Cheyenne/Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek, about 175 miles southeast of Denver. At Chivington’s insistence, they murdered around 200 Native Americans, most of them women and children.
Prior to the massacre, Chivington reportedly said, “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! ... I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians. ... Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”
This was all done with the approval of Colorado Governor John Evans, who was also the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Colorado.
The Embarrassing Facts
John Milton Chivington was born in 1821 into an Ohio farm family. In 1844 he was ordained as a Methodist minister, serving in that capacity in Illinois, Missouri, and then assisting in a Methodist missionary expedition to the Wyandot Indians in Kansas in 1853. (The church I now attend is in Wyandotte County.)
Gov. Evans was also a Methodist. He had joined with other Methodists in 1850 to found Northwestern University in Illinois. Then two years after becoming governor of Colorado in 1862, he and Chivington founded Colorado Seminary, which later became the University of Denver.
The Sand Creek Massacre has, indeed, been an embarrassment for the United Methodist Church, and five years ago they sought repentance for that national disgrace (see here).
There were two Cavalrymen with the Third Regiment, Silas Soule and Joseph Cramer, who refused to join in the massacre and testified against Chivington—and Soule was shot in the back and killed in April 1865 because of his testimony against Chivington.
It is also embarrassing to us Christians that in contrast to Evans and Chivington, Soule was described as a “healthy skeptic” rather than a religious believer.
Repenting of the Facts
This past Sunday Sarah Neher, the Director of Faith Formation and Youth Ministries at Rainbow Mennonite Church, preached on “Deconstructing Thanksgiving.” It was a bold, fitting sermon for the Sunday before the national holiday and for the last week of National American Indian Heritage Month (here is a link to more about that).
Sarah said in her sermon,
This simple narrative [of the traditional Thanksgiving] sets the story like a fairytale. Casting Colonization as beneficial for everyone and that it was relatively peaceful. When in reality over the centuries since Europeans invaded Indigenous land, Natives have experienced genocide, the theft of their lands, and the attempted extinction of their culture.
Yes, the Sand Creek Massacre was simply the continuation of the “whites’” treatment of Native Americans from the beginning—starting with the Pequot War of 1636~38 and the Mystic Massacre of May 1637.
It was the continuation of words about “the merciless Indian Savages” included in the Declaration of Independence of 1776.
Perhaps rather than observing the day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday,” those of us in the dominant culture should rather observe the days following Thanksgiving as Repentance Weekend for the way our ancestors treated the Native Americans.
That treatment has, indeed, been a national disgrace.
For Further Information
Here is the link to an article about the 21st annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk, currently in progress.
“Who is the Savage” is an excellent 14-minute video about Black Kettle, the “peace chief” head of the Sand Creek Native Americans in 1864.
And here is the link to a Rocky Mountain PBS documentary on the Sand Creek Massacre.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Transcending Fundamentalism

This is the eleventh and last blog posting this year related to my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism. I am working to get the updated and (slightly) revised edition published before the end of the year—and am hoping many of you will obtain a copy for yourself or give as a present to someone you care about (or both!).
The Necessity of Transcending Fundamentalism
Some Christians who have grown increasingly dissatisfied with fundamentalism have given up on Christianity altogether. I find that quite sad—and also unnecessary.
There are many other Christians, though, who are quite unhappy with fundamentalism, much like I am, but who have sought and found an expression of the Christian faith that seems decidedly superior to that manifested by fundamentalism and is worthy of wholehearted allegiance.
The latter is what I have been advocating in this book, and this final chapter emphasizes the necessity of transcending fundamentalism and finding a form of faith that fully honors God, is loyal to the Lord Jesus, and is invigorated by the Holy Spirit.
Rising above fundamentalism is important for Christian believers: much of the current rejection of Christianity by those raised as Christians is because of their negative reaction toward fundamentalism.  
Transcending fundamentalism is also important for Christians in their relationship with people who are not Christians. Earlier this month (see here) Pope Francis declared, “We must beware of fundamentalist groups . . . . Fundamentalism is a plague.”
Partly for creating a more peaceful society, it is necessary for Christians, as well as people in other religions, to go beyond fundamentalism.  
Help for Transcending Fundamentalism
There are numerous books, and organizations, seeking to help people who are or have been in fundamentalist churches to leave the clutches of such detrimental ways of thinking.
Through the years there have even been several different Fundamentalist(s) Anonymous groups, treating fundamentalism as a kind of addiction that people need to be freed from.
Unfortunately, many of those books and organizations were largely encouraging people to leave Christianity altogether—and certainly many have done that.
But there are also many books, such as Fed Up . . ., and new church organizations that have shown ways to reject fundamentalism and still remain in the Christian faith. Indeed, the 18th chapter of my newest book, Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT), is “One Doesn’t Have To Be A Fundamentalist To Be A Good Christian.”
That, I firmly believe, is manifestly true. And in fact, it might even be true that Christians need to transcend fundamentalism in order to be a good Christian.
The Limits of Liberalism
Speaking of (TTT), the 19th chapter of that book is “One Doesn’t Have To Be A Liberal To Reject Fundamentalism.” I reiterate that important point here.  
While many conservative evangelicals, as present-day fundamentalists are generally called now, tend to label my theological position as liberal, many true liberals likely would see me as fairly conservative from their point of view.
Indeed, soon after completing the first edition of Fed Up . . . I started working on the companion volume: The Limits of Liberalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Liberalism (2010). Beginning in January, I am planning to begin updating and slightly revising that book also to re-publish by the end of 2020.
As I say at the end of the last paragraph of Fed Up . . .,
There is a valid form of the Christian faith that steers between the dangers of fundamentalism on the right and the dangers of liberalism on the left. It is that expression of the faith that I urge my Christian readers to join me in seeking, finding, and following as we try to be true to Christ.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Thinking about Bohemians

The word Bohemian has two distinctly different meanings. The two parts of this blog posting are about the word used in those disparate ways. Originally, Bohemian referred to a resident of Bohemia, now a region of the Czech Republic. For the last two centuries, though, Bohemian has often been used to denote “a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts.”
The Bohemians in “La Bohème
Most of you, I assume, are familiar with “Babette’s Feast,” the short story by Karen Blixen and the 1987 Danish film by the same name. Recently, I have called my daughter Karen Babette, for she, too, was lavish in her birthday gift to me.
This past weekend, Karen made a special trip to Kansas City for the main purpose of taking me to see a performance of Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” at the magnificent Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City. We thoroughly enjoyed it.  
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (opened 2011)

The original opera premiered in 1896 and the first American performance took place the next year. It has become one of the most popular operas of all time.
Earlier this year, a website describing the ten most popular operas said this about “La Bohème”:
Puccini’s masterpiece perfectly captures the pleasures, pains, and sheer over-the-top hugeness of love in the first flush of youth. The story is so simple, it’s almost a joke: the Parisian poet Rodolfo falls for the quiet seamstress Mimi, and then she gets ill and dies. But around that framework Puccini creates arias (solos) and duets of ravishing beauty.
The opera’s name is simply the French word for Bohemia (or Bohemian). Early in the 19th century the Romani people (called Gypsies in the past) in western Europe were thought to be from Bohemia and inaccurately given that name.
The opera begins with four “Bohemian” men (in the second sense of the word) in their shabby garret in Paris on Christmas Eve in 1830 or so—and it ends after more than two hours of beautifully sung arias in the same place with the sad death of Mimi.
Jan Hus, a Real Bohemian
In thinking about the 19th (or 20th) century “Bohemians,” I couldn’t help but think of one of my “heroes” of church history, Jan Hus (aka John Huss), the Bohemian reformer who was burnt at the stake in 1415.
Long before the Reformation led by Martin Luther in the first third of the 16th century, the “Bohemian Reformation” began in the last third of the 14th century. Hus is the best-known representative of that Reformation. 
Born around 1369, Hus became a prominent preacher and educator in Prague. He became the leader of those who deplored what they considered the current corruption of the Church and emphasized that Christ rather than the pope was the head of the Church. That led to his martyrdom.
As he was perishing in the flames, Hus, whose name means “goose,” reportedly declared to his executioners, "You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil."
It was 102 years later that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door as the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.
The Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren Church was founded in 1457 by Bohemian followers of Hus who were greatly disappointed by the wars that followed Hus’s martyrdom.
About two hundred fifty years later some of those followers in Moravia, which borders Bohemia, migrated to Saxony and found refuge in Nicholas von Zinzendorf’s Herrnhut, and there the Moravian Church was born in 1727.
I greatly enjoyed the “Bohemians” singing on the opera stage, but even more I remain grateful to the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus and those who carried on his legacy.

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Remarkable Man, a Remarkable Church: Howard Thurman and Fellowship Church

Howard Thurman was a remarkable man and 75 years ago he founded a remarkable church. This article is about him, the church he founded, and a remarkable co-pastor of that church today.  

The Remarkable Howard Thurman
Howard Washington Thurman was born in Florida 120 years ago this month, on November 18, 1899 (although some sources say he was born in 1900) and died in 1981. Ordained as a Baptist minister in 1925, he has been characterized as “a spiritual genius who mentored MLK, Jr., and carried Gandhi’s teaching to America.”
Thurman was a part of a Student Christian Movement-sponsored four-person “Pilgrimage of Friendship” to South Asia in 1935-36That experience, including personal conversations with Gandhi, influenced Thurman greatly—and later reverberated throughout the civil rights movement in the U.S.
In 1953, Thurman became the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University (BU), the first African American to hold such a position at a majority-white university. At that time, MLK, Jr., was a graduate student at BU.
According to BU’s alumni magazine (see here), “King not only attended sermons [at Marsh Chapel] but also turned to Thurman as his mentor and spiritual advisor. Among the lessons that inspired him most were Thurman’s accounts of a visit to Mohandas Gandhi in India years earlier.”
So much more needs to be said about Thurman, but for additional information I highly recommend the superlative February 2019 PBS documentary “Backs to the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story.”
The Remarkable “Fellowship Church”
In the fall of 1943, Alfred G. Fisk, a Presbyterian clergyman, had the vision of starting a church that would welcome people of all races and creeds. Thurman, who had served as Dean of the Howard University Chapel since 1932, was asked to recommend a young black minister who might be interested in helping start such a church.
Thurman decided to volunteer himself and requested a year’s leave of absence from Howard beginning July 1, 1944. Thus, Thurman was the main one responsible for starting a new church in San Francisco with a remarkable name: The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. For short, it is often just called Fellowship Church.
On October 8 of that year, Fellowship Church held its first public meeting—and last month it celebrated its 75th Jubilee Anniversary.
Fellowship Church was unmistakably based on the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Along with that basic affirmation, though, the second of the three-paragraph “commitment” agreed to by Fellowship Church members says,
I desire to share in the spiritual growth and ethical awareness of men and women of varied national, cultural, racial, and credal heritage united in a religious fellowship.
In 1959, Thurman wrote a book titled Footprints of a Dream: The Story of The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples (reissued 2009). I finished reading it last week, and it was a fascinating read.
The Remarkable Current Co-pastor of Fellowship Church
Since 1994, Dr. Dorsey O. Blake has been co-pastor of Fellowship Church. (Currently, the other co-pastor is a white woman.) This past June, I had the opportunity of hearing/meeting Dr. Blake, for he was the speaker at the local Juneteenth banquet.   

Dr. Blake was born in 1946, and before he was a year old his father became pastor of First Baptist Church here in Liberty, a predominantly African American church from its beginning until the present. His first six years in school were at the segregated Garrison School in Liberty, established for Black students in 1877.
Fellowship Church in San Francisco, literally seeking to be a place of fellowship for all peoples, continues to thrive under the leadership of a remarkable man whose early life was spent as a Baptist PK (preacher’s kid) in the small town of Liberty, Missouri.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Embarrassed to be a Christian?

Even though 4½ years ago I posted a blog article (see here) titled “An Embarrassed Christian,” once again I am speaking to this same issue with new illustrations. Now, even more than in 2015, I must admit being embarrassed to be a Christian—at least some of the time.  
Embarrassed to be a Christian
There are many reasons why I, among many others, find myself embarrassed to be a Christian today. A bulk of that embarrassment currently comes from the widely publicized support of DJT by conservative evangelical Christians.
This matter has become an oft mentioned matter in mainstream media—and as impeachment talk intensifies, so, it seems, does the rhetoric of highly publicized Trump supporters who blatantly wear the Christian label.
On October 29, evangelical leaders met privately and prayed with DJT in the White House. Robert Jeffress, who is pastor of the historic First [Southern] Baptist Church in Dallas, was one of those leaders at that White House meeting.
Three days later on Fox Business, Jeffress said, “Evangelicals understand that the effort to impeach President Trump is really an effort to impeach our own deeply-held faith values, and we’re not going to allow that to happen.”
(For more about this, see the Nov. 1 TV interview here and also this Nov. 4 article  titled “Pro-Trump preachers on message against impeachment probe.”)
On October 31, the White House confirmed that Paula White would join the White House staff to advise President Trump's Faith and Opportunity Initiative. (So now we have White in the White House?)
White, who delivered the invocation at DJT’s inauguration in 2017, is a flamboyant, controversial, "prosperity gospel" televangelist based in Florida. She is often identified as President Trump’s “personal pastor.” White, of course, was at the Oct. 29 White House gathering, standing closest to DJT as they prayed.
(For more about White, see this NowThis video, which is a collage of disturbing things she has recently said.)
When included in the same religion as Christian leaders such as Jeffress and White, I am embarrassed to be a Christian—and they are just two of many examples that might be given.
Not Embarrassed to be a Christian
However, I am not embarrassed to be a Christian when, for example, I read Jim Wallis’s new book Christ in Crisis, based on the “Reclaiming Jesus” statement of 2018.
Wallis is critical of both the Republican and Democratic parties, and “Politically Homeless” is a subsection of the seventh chapter. Throughout his book, he is highly critical of President Trump. But it is quite clear that in his criticism of DJT, Wallis writes as he does not because he is a Democrat but because he is a Christian.
In a recent NYTimes article about Paula White, Wallis is quoted as saying that he is repeatedly asked “how can these Christians support Donald Trump when so much that he says and does is literally antithetical to the person and teachings of Jesus?”
Wallis’s response is found in his new book. The answer to “bad” Christianity is more faithful allegiance to Jesus Christ. A statement of what that allegiance means is found in the “Reclaiming Jesus” document drafted during the Lenten season of 2018, and Wallis’s book is largely based on that statement. (Here is the link to that important document.)
So, am I embarrassed to be a Christian? Yes and no.
I am embarrassed to be a Christian when lumped in with people mentioned in the first part of this article. But I am certainly not embarrassed to be a Christian when identified with people like Jim Wallis and the Christian leaders who signed—and the many Christians who agree with—the “Reclaiming Jesus” document.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Doing Things WITH Rather Than Just FOR the “Needy”

Jean Vanier (1928~2019) and his meritorious life dedicated to living in community with people who had serious mental and/or physical “disabilities” was the topic of my Sept. 10 blog posting. This article is about one of Vanier’s main emphases: doing things with rather than just for people with serious needs.

In Harmony with Vanier
In his L’Arche homes, Vanier and those who followed his example, modeled what it means to treat people who have physical needs with respect. They chose to live with people who had serious mental and/or physical “handicaps,” not just to provide homes where they could be taken care of.
Before I learned about Vanier and L’Arche, I heard about similar institutions in Japan, institutions very much in harmony with the L’Arche movement Vanier began in France in 1964.
Two years before Vanier started the first L’Arche home, Fukui Tatsu’u (福井 達雨), a 32-year-old Japanese man, founded what became Shiyo Gakuen (止揚学園) as a home for physically challenged people.
Fukui, a 1956 graduate of the Department of Theology of the renowned Doshisha University in Kyoto, remained the head of Shiyo Gakuen until 2015.
During the years I taught at Seinan Gakuin, Fukui-sensei was invited many times to be the guest speaker during the “Christian Focus Week” special chapel services at the university and the junior-senior high school. He always emphasized doing things with the “needy,” not just doing things for them.
In 1976, Hisayama Ryoikuen (久山療育), a similar facility, was established in the outskirts of Fukuoka City. Their emphasis from the beginning has been “living with” (tomo ni, pronounced toh-moh knee, in Japanese).
Doing something for others is expressed in Japanese as tame ni (pronounced tah-meh knee). These similar words express a great difference—and the former continues to be admirably modeled by Hisayama Ryoikuen, Shiyo Gakuen, and Jean Vanier’s L’Arche homes. 
From a Hisayama Ryoikuen poster emphasizing "living with"
In the Spirit of Vanier
I don’t know if he was influenced at all by Jean Vanier, but Chris Arnade is a fascinating man who spent a considerable amount of time in the 2010s living out the spirit of Vanier by constant contact with the “underclass” of American society.
Arnade (b. 1965) earned a Ph.D. in physics and then worked with a Wall Street bank for twenty years before becoming a freelance writer and photographer. In 2012 he began visiting a neighborhood in the South Bronx where he became friends with homeless people, sex workers, and addicts.
Arnade then traveled over 150,000 miles around the U.S., spending time with “back row” people in American society. Based upon his experiences, earlier this year Arnade published a book titled Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America.
I first learned about Arnade’s book by reading Peter Mommsen’s excellent interview with Arnade published in the Summer 2019 issue of Plough Quarterly. That interview and the book are both very impressive.
The first chapter of Arnade’s book is titled, “If You Want to Understand the Country, Visit McDonald’s.” He spent countless hours in McDonald’s restaurants talking with the people who are frequent visitors there.
Arnade concluded that many of the people he found at McDonald’s felt “excluded, rejected, and, most of all, humiliated.” He recognized that society has “denied many their dignity” (p. 284)—thus the title, and thrust, of his book.
At the end of his interview with Mommsen, Arnade emphasized, “Take time to listen to people. Give them respect.”
While most of us can’t, or won’t, choose to live in a L’Arche home or a similar institution, we can choose to spend more time with “needy” people of various sorts, seeking to show them dignity and respect by doing things with them rather than just doing something for them.