Archive for May, 2006

Karen Armstrong Explains It All To You

May 30, 2006

You all may remember from previous posts (or maybe this came up in a discussion) that I am a huge fan of Karen Armstrong and find her ideas about religion to be refreshing, inspiring, and closer to truth than anything else I’ve encountered so far. I actually think that she and Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, a highly inflammatory book about Why (Organized) Religion Is Bad, are coming from exactly the same place, notwithstanding that she denounces some of his ideas in this interview, which is a MUST READ. Where Armstrong and Harris differ is that he says we have to scrap these old books, and she says we have to become educated enough to read and use them wisely. He’s cynical about the capability of humans to do that, while she’s hopeful. But their understandings about values and the need for the spiritual are precisely the same (as each other, and as mine). Hers is obviously the more publicly palatable position, but I read them as much more similar than do the critics. In any case, just a little light reading for your Tuesday morning. 🙂

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Abortion, Continued…

May 29, 2006

[Note: Since I think Joe is busy flying back to the mainland, I’ll post the first set of remarks from Hauerwas following the sermon posted below for the possibility of continued discussion…]

AN ETHICAL COMMENTARY

I wanted to read that sermon because I suspect that most of you ministers have not preached about abortion. You have not preached about abortion because you have not had the slightest idea about how to do it in a way that would not make everyone in your congregation mad. And the reason that you have not known how to preach a sermon on abortion is that you thought that you would have to sake up the terms that are given by the wider society.

Here you see a young minister who knew how to cut through the kind of pro-choice and pro-life rhetoric that is given in the wider society. She preached a sermon on abortion that derives directly from the Gospel. Her sermon is a reminder about what the church is to be about when addressing this issue in a Christian way. That is the primary thing that I want to underline this evening: the church’s refusal to use society’s terms for the abortion debate, and the church’s willingness to take on the abortion problem as church. This sermon suggests that abortion is not a question about the law, but about what kind of people we are to be as the church and as Christians.

Abortion forces the church to recognize the fallacy of a key presumption of many Christians in this society–namely, that what Christians believe about the moral life is what any right-thinking person, whether he or she is Christian or not, also believes. Again, that presumption is false. I want to underwrite what I call the Tonto Principle of Christian Ethics. The Tonto Principle is based on the Lone Ranger and Tonto finding themselves surrounded by 20,000 Sioux. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “What do you think we ought to do, Tonto. Tonto replies, “What do you mean we, white man?” We Christians have thought that when we address the issue of abortion and when we say “we,” we are talking about anybody who is a good, decent American. But that is not who “we” Christians are. If any issue is going to help us discover that, it is going to be the issue of abortion.

Beyond Rights

Christians in America are tempted to think of issues like abortion primarily in legal terms such as “rights.” This is because the legal mode, as de Tocqueville pointed out long ago, provides the constituting morality in liberal societies. In other words, when you live in a liberal society like ours, the fundamental problem is how you can achieve cooperative agreements between individuals who share nothing in common other than their fear of death. In liberal society the law has the function of securing such agreements. That is the reason why lawyers are to America what priests were to the medieval world. The law is our way of negotiating safe agreements between autonomous individuals who have nothing else in common other than their fear of death and their mutual desire for protection.

Therefore, rights language is fundamental in our political and moral context. In America, we oftentimes pride ourselves, as Americans, on being a pragmatic people that is not ideological. But that is absolutely false. No country has ever been more theory dependent on a public philosophy than America.

Indeed I want to argue that America is the only country that has the misfortune of being founded on a philosophical mistake–namely, the notion of inalienable rights. We Christians do not believe that we have inalienable rights. That is the false presumption of Enlightenment individualism, and it opposes everything that Christians believe about what it means to be a creature. Notice that the issue is inalienable rights. Rights make a certain sense as correlative to duties and goods, but they are not inalienable. For example, when the lords protested against the king in the Magna Charta, they did so in the name of their duties to their underlings. Duties, not rights, were primary. The rights were simply ways of remembering what the duties were.

Christians, to be more specific, do not believe that we have a right to do with our bodies whatever we want. We do not believe that we have a right to our bodies because when we are baptized we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what it is that we should, and should not, do with our bodies. I had a colleague at the University of Notre Dame who taught Judaica. He was Jewish and always said that any religion that does not tell you what to do with your genitals and pots and pans cannot be interesting. That is exactly true. In the church we tell you what you can and cannot do with your genitals. They are not your own. They are not private. That means that you cannot commit adultery. If you do, you are no longer a member of “us.” Of course pots and pans are equally important.

I was recently giving a talk at a very conservative university, Houston Baptist University. Since its business school has an ethics program, I called my talk, “Why Business Ethics Is a Bad Idea.” When I had finished, one of the business-school people asked, “Well goodness, what then can we Christians do about business ethics?” I said, “A place to start would be the local church. It might be established that before anyone joins a Baptist church in Houston, he or she would have to declare in public his or her annual income.” The only people whose incomes are known in The United Methodist Church today are ordained ministers. Why should we make the ministers’ salaries public and not the laity’s? Most people would rather tell you what they do in the bedroom than how much they make. With these things in mind, you can see how the church is being destroyed by the privatization of individual lives, by the American ethos. If you want to know who is destroying the babies of this country through abortion, look at privatization, which is learned in the economic arena.

Under the veil of American privatization, we are encouraging people to believe in the same way that Andrew Carnegie believed. He thought that he had a right to his steel mills. In the same sense, people think that they have a right to their bodies The body is then a piece of property in a capitalist sense. Unfortunately, that is antithetical to the way we Christians think that we have to share as members of the same body of Christ.

So, you cannot separate these issues. If you think that you can be very concerned about abortion and not concerned about the privatization of American life generally, you are making a mistake. So the problem is: how, as Christians, should we think about abortion without the rights rhetoric that we have been given–right to my body, right to life, pro-choice, pro-life, and so on? In this respect, we Christians must try to make the abortion issue our issue.

A Sermon on Abortion

May 28, 2006

Note: Since I’m on a Hauerwas kick, I thought I’d reopen the abortion topic with this sermon delivered by one of his former students. Hauerwas used this to open a lecture at a conference and followed it with some very interesting remarks, some of which I may post in subsequent Sundays (depending on how this goes). With our eclectic group here, I thought reaction to this sermon might prove interesting all by itself.

TEXT AND SERMON

The text for the sermon is Matthew 25:31-46. I will be reading from the Revised Standard Version. “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or n stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'”

“As a Christian and a woman, I find abortion a most difficult subject to address. Even so, I believe that it is essential that the church face the issue of abortion in a distinctly Christian manner. Because of that, I am hereby addressing not society in general, but those of us who call ourselves Christians. I also want to be clear that I am not addressing abortion as a legal issue. I believe the issue, for the church, must be framed not around the banners of ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life,’ but around God’s call to care for the least among us whom Jesus calls his sisters and brothers.

“So, in this sermon, I will make three points. The first point is that the Gospel favors women and children. The second point is that the customary framing of the abortion issue by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ultimately responsible for both herself and for any child she might carry. The third point is that a Christian response must reframe the issue to focus on responsibility rather than rights.”

Gospel, Women, and Children

“Point number one: the Gospel favors women and children. The Gospel is feminist. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus treats women as thinking people who are worthy of respect. This was not, of course, the usual attitude of that time. In addition, it is to the women among Jesus’ followers, not to the men, that he entrusts the initial proclamation of his resurrection. It isn’t only Jesus himself who sees the Gospel making all people equal, for Saint Paul wrote, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).”

“And yet, women have been oppressed through recorded history and continue to be oppressed today. So when Jesus says, ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40), I have to believe that Jesus includes women among ‘the least of these.’ Anything that helps women, therefore, helps Jesus. When Jesus says, ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,’ he is also talking about children, because children are literally ‘the least of these.’ Children lack the three things the world values most– power, wealth, and influence. If we concern ourselves with people who are powerless, then children should obviously be at the top of our list. The irony of the abortion debate, as it now stands in our church and society, is that it frames these two groups, women and children, as enemies of one another.”

The Woman Alone

“This brings me to my second point: the issue as it is generally framed by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ultimately responsible both for herself and for any child she might carry. Why is it that women have abortions? Women I know, and those I know about, have had abortions for two basic reasons: the fear that they cannot handle the financial and physical demands of the child, and the fear that having the child will destroy relationships that are important to them.”

“An example of the first fear, the inability to handle the child financially or physically, is the divorced mother of two children, the younger of whom has Down’s syndrome. This woman recently discovered that she was pregnant. She believed abortion was wrong. However, the father of the child would not commit himself to help raise this child, and she was afraid she could not handle raising another child on her own.”

“An example of the second fear, the fear of destroying relationships, is the woman who became pregnant and was told by her husband that he would leave her if she did not have an abortion. She did not want to lose her husband, so she had the abortion. Later, her husband left her anyway.”

“In both of these cases, and in others I have known, the woman has had an abortion not because she was exercising her free choice but because she felt she had no choice. In each case the responsibility for caring for the child, had she had the child, would have rested squarely and solely on the woman.”

Reframing With Responsibility

“Which brings me to my third point the Christian response to abortion must reframe the issue to focus on responsibility rather than rights. The pro-choice/pro-life debate presently pits the right of the mother to choose against the right of the fetus to live. The Christian response, on the other hand, centers on the responsibility of the whole Christian community to care for ‘the least of these.'”

“According to the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order, when a person is baptized, the congregation answers this question: ‘Do you, the members of this congregation, in the name of the whole Church of Christ, undertake the responsibility for the continued Christian nurture of this person, promising to be an example of the new life in Christ and to pray for him or her in this new life?’ We make this promise because we know that no adult belongs to himself or herself, and that no child belongs to his or her parents, but that every person is a child of God. Because of that, every young one is our child, the church’s child to care for. This is not an option. It is a responsibility.”

“Let me tell you two stories about what it is like when the church takes this responsibility seriously. The first is a story that Will Willimon, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, tells about a black church. In this church, when a teen-ager has a baby that she cannot care for, the church baptizes the baby and gives him/her to an older couple in the church that has the time and wisdom to raise the child. That way, says the pastor, the couple can raise the teen-age mother along with the baby. ‘That,’ the pastor says, ‘is how we do it.'”

“The second story involves something that happened to Deborah Campbell. A member of her church, a divorced woman, became pregnant, and the father dropped out of the picture. The woman decided to keep the child. But as the pregnancy progressed and began to show, she became upset because she felt she could not go to church anymore. After all, here she was, a Sunday School teacher, unmarried and pregnant. So she called Deborah. Deborah told her to come to church and sit in the pew with the Campbell family, and, no matter how the church reacted, the family would support her. Well, the church rallied around when the woman’s doctor told her at her six-month checkup that she owed him the remaining balance of fifteen hundred dollars by the next month; otherwise, he would not deliver the baby. The church held a baby shower and raised the money. When the time came for her to deliver, Deborah was her labor coach. When the woman’s mother refused to come and help after the baby was born, the church brought food and helped clean her house while she recovered from the birth. Now the woman’s little girl is the child of the parish.”

“This is what the church looks like when it takes seriously its call to care for ‘the least of these.’ These two churches differ in certain ways: one is Methodist, the other Roman Catholic; one has a carefully planned strategy for supporting women and babies, the other simply reacted spontaneously to a particular woman and her baby. But in each case the church acted with creativity and compassion to live out the Gospel.”

“In our scripture lesson today, Jesus gives a preview of the Last Judgment. ‘Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to men (Matthew 25:34-40).”

“We cannot simply throw the issue of abortion in the faces of women and say, ‘You decide and you bear the consequences of your decision.’ As the church, our response to the abortion issue must be to shoulder the responsibility to care for women and children. We cannot do otherwise and still be the church. If we close our doors in the faces of women and children, then we close our doors in the face of Christ.”

From Aunt Jenny’s Restaurant

May 27, 2006

My daughter, Hillary, took this picture last evening!

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by alsturgeon

Sports Debate

May 26, 2006

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, nba.com is running a series on the greatest playoff moments in history. They have a top 10, complete with video, and they are encouraging us to cast our vote.

I looked through the top 10, took out the “oldies” including “Havlicek stole the ball!” and Willis Reed’s dramatic entrance in Madison Square Garden, and I ended up with five I remember myself. These five featured three players: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

I wanted to ask our readers a couple of questions:
#1: Of these three players, who is the best “money” player of all-time?
#2: Of the following “top three” games (my opinion), which was the greatest game performance?

Here they are:

#1: MAGIC FILLS IN AT CENTER

Magic Johnson began his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers by leaping into the arms of team captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar following a last-second victory over the Clippers on opening night. The Lakers’ center had to tell the exuberant rookie to calm down, there were still 81 games to go–and that was only the regular season. By the time the playoffs came, Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Lakers had caught Johnson’s enthusiasm, and they rode it to a Finals date against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The teams split the first four games before Abdul-Jabbar suffered a sprained ankle in Game 5, which the Lakers somehow managed to win anyway 108-103. Abdul-Jabbar limped his way to 14 points down the stretch. Game 6 looked like it would be a different story. When the team gathered at the airport for the flight to Philadelphia, Abdul-Jabbar stayed home. Not to worry, said Johnson, who boarded the plane and planted himself into Abdul-Jabbar’s customary front-row seat. He winked to coach Paul Westhead and then playfully announced to his teammates: “Never fear, E.J. is here!” Johnson’s confidence lifted his team’s spirits, and then he backed it up with one of the most remarkable games in NBA Playoff history. He began by jumping the opening tap in Abdul-Jabbar’s place, then went on to play every position on the floor at one time or another, from his customary point guard role to Abdul-Jabbar’s pivot spot. Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out 7 assists as the Lakers stunned the 76ers 123-107 to clinch the first of his five NBA championships. After the game, he looked into the TV cameras and sent a message to Abdul-Jabbar back in his Bel-Air home: “This one’s for you, Big Fella!”

#2: JORDAN JOLTS JAZZ IN GAME 6

With Game 6 of the NBA Finals on the line, everyone in the Delta Center — Utah Jazz coaches and players included — knew the ball would end up in his hands. For the Chicago Bulls, too, it was another no-brainer. There was no play to call, no screens to set. It was simple: Get it to ’23’. That Michael Jordan is the go-to guy in the last seconds of any close Bulls game is the worst secret in basketball — and still it makes no difference. Further, the Jazz learned in heartbreaking fashion that the more there is at stake, the more pressure-packed the moment, the more unstoppable Jordan becomes. With Chicago trailing by three points in the final minute, Jordan first scored on a drive. Then he stripped the ball from Karl Malone at the defensive end. Finally, he buried the game-winning shot, a 20-footer with 5.2 seconds left, that gave the Bulls an 87-86 victory and their sixth championship in eight years. Jordan had overcome fatigue and finished with 45 points as he won his sixth Finals Most Valuable Player award, while reaffirming his status as the NBA’s best player. “Let’s face it,” said Bulls guard Steve Kerr. “We all hopped on Michael’s back. He just carried us. It was his game tonight. That guy was ridiculous. He is so good it’s scary.” Jordan shot 15-of-35 from the field and 12-of-15 from the line. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, including Chicago’s final eight over the last 2:06, carrying the offense as Scottie Pippen — hampered by a back injury — struggled. Jordan’s critical steal from Malone set in motion the Bulls’ climactic rally. “We’ve been trying to double-team (Malone),” Jordan said. “And (Utah’s Jeff) Hornacek was trying to, I guess, pick Karl Malone, and he never really cleared, which gave me an opportunity to go back. Karl never saw me coming, and I was able to knock the ball away.” Moments later, Jordan finished off the Jazz with a simple swish. With the clock ticking below 10 seconds, Jazz swingman Bryon Russell occupied Jordan’s path to the basket with tight one-on-one defense. But in an instant, Russell fell for a fake, slipped to the floor, and allowed an essentially wide-open Jordan to bury the shot and play the role of hero once again. “As soon as Russell reached, he gave me a clear lane. I made my initial drive, and he bit on it, and I stopped, pulled up and I had an easy jump shot,” Jordan said. “I had a great look, and it went in. Once it went in I knew from that point on, we’ve been hanging around long enough, it was the game-winning basket, and it was a matter of playing solid defense. Our defense has held us strong all series, we wouldn’t be in this scenario without the defense. All we had to do was play defense for 5.8 seconds, and I knew we could do that.” Said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan: “You can’t afford to give them second chances, with Michael Jordan out there, he was going to make the plays, he was able to do that and you live with that.”

#3: BIRD PICKS PISTONS’ POCKETS

The defending champion Boston Celtics were down and almost out. Playing the young, tough-as-nails Detroit Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, the aging Celtics were in danger of losing Game 5, which would have given the Pistons a chance to clinch the series at home in Game 6. With Boston down by a point and Detroit in possession of the ball in the closing seconds of the game, those famed Celtic leprechauns decided to make an appearance. As Detroit’s Isiah Thomas prepared to toss the ball inbounds from the sideline, Boston’s Larry Bird looked away from his man and stole a glance at Thomas. He saw the Pistons’ captain look toward center Bill Laimbeer in the low post an instant before releasing the ball. So Bird cut into the passing lane and stole the ball before it could reach Laimbeer’s hands. His momentum looked like it would carry him out of bounds, but Bird somehow managed to gather his balance at the baseline and turn toward the court, where he spotted teammate Dennis Johnson beginning his cut from the foul line toward the basket. Bird whipped a crisp pass to DJ who laid it in with one second remaining for a 108-107 victory. The steal was remarkable. Bird’s instinct and ability to turn it into the winning basket only compounded the greatness of the play. “Larry’s mind takes an instant picture of the whole court,” noted Bill Fitch, Bird’s first coach with the Celtics. “He sees creative possibilities.” The Celtics went on to win the series in seven games and advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row, where they would surrender their title to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

Breaking Down a Seminar

May 25, 2006

It would be quite an understatement to say the seminar in Rochester was an interesting experience. Around 190 people from 30 states & provinces and 20 or so Christian fellowships gathered together to consider the question, “Dare we live in the world imagined in the Sermon on the Mount?” The featured speaker was Stanley Hauerwas from Duke’s School of Divinity, but we were also treated to the vast intellects of Chuck Campell, professor of homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary, and Warren Carter, professor of New Testament at the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. There were others, but these formed the intellectual center of the attempt to address the question.

Hauerwas was, without a doubt, his anticipated cantankerous self. He only delivered one lecture (which was hard for most of us to follow and seemed a bit scattered), but he was in top form seated on a panel discussion the first evening. At one point he laid it on Churches of Christ, though his rapid-fire academic attack was so far over everyone’s head that no one could really understand what he said (the only word I understood was Constantinian), but without a doubt, we all knew we had been given what for. After the laughter, he countered with, “Hey, I’m from Texas. I’ve seen you at your worst!”

During his solitary lecture, he shot harder. Hauerwas was raised a Methodist, and he offered that Methodists today seem to have as their maxim, “God is nice,” to which they offer a necessary corollary, “We ought to be nice, too.” Hauerwas countered that following Jesus will produce enemies, to which he added, “You Church of Christ folks have an advantage since most of you aren’t very nice people. Mean, mean, mean, mean, mean…”

It was interesting to watch many of the seminar participants squirm in their seats. It was my opinion that most of the conference participants were of the Church of Christ persuasion that like to view themselves as “progressives,” meaning primarily, “We like all those denominational people, and we have a praise team, and we want to be mega-churched evangelicals.” Still, many seemed a bit uncomfortable with the women at the microphone directing the liturgy and offering prayers. But much greater than that, I found cruel pleasure in watching the squirms while lecture after lecture railed against war & violence and American imperialism and promoted Christian pacifism time after time after time.

No, that last statement is inaccurate. It would be better to say that each lecture “assumed” (not promoted) Christian pacifism, much to the chagrin of much of the audience I’m sure.

I should start with Chuck Campbell and his lecture on the “principalities and powers” mentioned in the New Testament. He opened with a selection from chapter five of The Grapes of Wrath which refers to the “bank” as “the monster,” and from there he developed the idea that the forces that rule this world (e.g. government/politics, economies, “busy-ness” life, religious institutions), the things that are larger than people (to recall the Civil Rights Era phrase, “the man”), are powers that were created good, but have fallen and become aggressive and relentless in their selfish pursuits. Humanity is simply a pawn for these world powers, ending up helpless before the violence prompted by the powers’ thirst. His conclusion, however, was that Jesus engaged, exposed, and overcame these “powers” through his life, and that he rejected their tactic of violence for a new, creative way. He argued that the Sermon on the Mount was in essence Jesus’ way of offering an imagining of a world free from the control of the “powers” of this world, both in the present and the future. Campbell later explained his conclusion that Jesus in fact lampooned world powers in the sermon, serving as almost a court jester who saw the world from a completely different vantage point.

Warren Carter extended the argument. He effectively explained his conclusion that the Sermon on the Mount should be placed contextually into Matthew’s overall story, offering that it is a work of imagination that allows disciples to imagine life created by God’s saving presence (i.e. Jesus) and act accordingly. He described the Roman world at the time of Jesus, emphasizing the huge disparity between the powerful & wealthy 3% upper class and the poor 97% of the lower class, with nothing in between, and uses this setting to explain that Jesus offered followers an alternative vision of life, ruled not by the empire of Rome, but by God’s empire.

Tied together, all the lectures combined to offer the point that violence is the way of the “powers of this world” to get their way, whether by physical force or by coercion/manipulation, but that Jesus offers a creative path to freedom that resists the way of the world: a way that doesn’t stoop to its level. Then, as Chuck Campbell said it, “maybe even the oppressor might be redeemed – if we don’t kill him.”

This ought to be plenty to think about for now (I’ve been reading lots of Hauerwas, so I’ll throw out some fodder from him soon: let’s just say that both Campbell & Carter drink from the same fountain as he…). The “stuff” just described should lend itself to plenty for us to discuss. It, in fact, attempts to describe pacifism as something different than popularly conceived and offers a theological basis for subscribing to the idea. It offers reasons to discuss hot-button issues such as war and capital punishment and economic oppression, so I’ll just step to the side and see if anyone draws a card and opens play.

Random Question

May 25, 2006

I just remembered something that I had always wanted to ask you guys, and it’s looking more and more like it will become relevant in the near future. So here it is: Why do people hate Hillary Clinton with such a passion? I was honestly always just confused by it. Well, actually, that also begs the question of why people hated Bill so much. And I mean even before the whole Monica thing. I mean like in 1992 people already hated him. Rush Limbaugh foamed at the mouth about him every single day for eight years (and probably beyond) and I just don’t get it. I have to understand why people hated them so much during his presidency to understand how those views have evolved to whatever they are now. Can anyone enlighten me on this point? Anyone, anyone …

Christianity v. Christianists?

May 24, 2006

I don’t have too much to say this week (except that boy was I right that the feud ain’t over, now we’ve even dragged the View into it — see the New York Times and Time Magazine articles on my girls for more delightfully (or horrifically, take your pick) incendiary comments) …

But I did rather belatedly see this article by Andrew Sullivan on the Time Magazine website, and thought I would post it since the readers of this blog might find it interesting. Do any of you feel excluded by the Religious Right from a PR standpoint or otherwise? What is the solution to the problem described in the essay from a political standpoint? From a religious standpoint? Is it even really a problem? It seems to me that the various types Sullivan describes exist just as often within churches as between them. Has this led to any rifts or splits within congregations in your experience?

I promise a more substantive post soon; in the meantime, help me out here.

The Gospel According to Jimmy Buffett

May 21, 2006

Of all the places to find inspiration for a religious article, listening to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville wouldn’t make the short list. But this just goes to prove you never know. I was listening to a concert recording recently, and when he sang, But there’s booze in the blender / And soon it will render / That frozen concoction that helps me hang on, tens of thousands of parrotheads sang along with lusty conviction that sounded as if these lines connected them to the singer on a spiritual level. Which got me to thinking.

Fans of Jimmy Buffett have the reputation of being beach bums / alcoholics, and what dawned on me was that for untold numbers of people, an alcoholic beverage really is what helps them hang on. And although it may have been obvious to everyone but me, to those who share this life approach a gathering of a hundred-thousand people or so in a fun concert is a form of a worship service. I could hear it in the live concert.

At this point, most preachers would say how sad it is those poor people in the world are like that, but as you probably know by now, I’m not a typical preacher. Instead, I wonder aloud what modern-day “church” offers as an alternative. My fear is that it often offers a place of pretense where one tries to dress up and shape up and feel better than other people in the “world.” If so, compared to that, I can see how a sing-along with Jimmy Buffett with no pretense where you can just admit your failings could be more desirable.

But if this is the perception of “church,” it is not related to Jesus. Oddly enough, I can see those very same concert-goers forming the crowd that followed Jesus, and finding, instead of either alcoholism or self-righteous pretense, a love that could help them hang on in life. Wouldn’t it be something to be a part of a church like that?

It is just so sad that people rarely see Jesus when they look at church.

The Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans (December 2005)

May 20, 2006

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by alsturgeon