Archive for October, 2006

The Latest Evangelical Panic

October 6, 2006

This article, and the entire concept of the four-percent panic, is further proof that some Christians have a strong desire to view themselves as beleaguered and marginalized when in reality they are nothing of the sort. I do not understand this persecution complex. The five-percent number cited later in the article was not true even in my high school, which I think (in terms of my peers) did not particularly embrace open religious behavior at school. The other factor that these adults seem to overlook is that, as I understand it, plenty of folks drift away from or at least question religion during their teen and early adult years, but return to it as they get older and especially after they have their own children. I really don’t think the evangelicals have anything to worry about. Since the admitted goal of many of them is to take over the world and install a theocracy, if anything it’s people like me who should be worried.

Walter Camp

October 5, 2006

(No, not that one. Walter, as in Walter Wink, The Powers That Be)

SUMMARY OF CHAPTERS 1-8:
· God wars against unseen world forces (i.e. “principalities and powers”) both through the life of Jesus and his followers.
· Jesus rejected violence as his weapon of war and instructs his followers to do likewise. (Note: There is a difference between “force” and “violence.” Wink defines force as a “legitimate, socially authorized, and morally defensible use of restraint to prevent harm being done to innocent people,” thus permitting police actions and self-defense. Violence, on the other hand, is “a morally illegitimate or excessive use of force.”)
· He also rejects pacifism as commonly understood.
· Instead, he proposes war against “the powers that be” by a third way: nonviolent, creative resistance.

CHAPTER NINE

Jesus instructs his students to love their enemies.

Why? For one, God loves our enemies. For another, we are related to our enemies in what Wink terms “our common evil.” He writes, “We would like to identify ourselves as just and good, but we are a mix of just and unjust, good and evil… As we begin to acknowledge our own inner shadow, we become more tolerant of the shadow in others. As we begin to love the enemy within, we develop the compassion we need to love the enemy without.”

There is little talk of loving enemies in today’s Christianity.

Wink turns back to the Sermon on the Mount to examine the words of Jesus. The instruction to love enemies concludes with the dramatic call to “be perfect” like God. He writes, “It may come as immediate relief to learn that Jesus could not have said, ‘Be perfect.’ There was no such word, or even concept, in his native Aramaic or Hebrew. And for good reason. The second commandment had forbidden the making of graven images (Exod. 20:4). Israel consequently never developed the visual arts. The word used by Matthew, teleios, was, however, a Greek aesthetic term. It described the perfect geometric form, or the perfect sculpture. The Greeks seldom used it in ethical discussion, since moral perfection is not within the grasp of human beings, and would even have been regarded, in Greek piety, as a form of hubris. Placed in its context within the rest of the paragraph, Jesus’ saying about behaving like God becomes abundantly clear. We are not to be perfect, but, like God, all-encompassing, loving even those who have least claim or right to our love… We are to be compassionate, as God is compassionate. Or, following Luke’s excellent version of the saying, we are to ‘Be merciful, just as your divine Parent is merciful’ (6:36).”

So the call to love our enemies is a call to follow God’s lead (seasoned with a dash of humility).

THE GIFT OF THE ENEMY

Okay, we suck at loving our enemies, but that does not excuse us from the instruction. Part of the good news is that Jesus knows whereby we suck. He asks why we are so intent on removing a splinter from the eye of our enemy while a pine log protrudes from our own eye? Now Jesus continues his thought by allowing that we may very well have a role to play in helping remove that splinter, but before we do so, we have some inner surgery to consider first.

What’s his point? Wink claims that our enemies may be of great value to us. In many cases (not all), our enemy may be useful in revealing to us (if we pause to notice) unacceptable parts of ourselves that need to be redeemed. “How wonderfully humiliating: we not only may have a role in transforming our enemies, but our enemies can play a role in transforming us!” (Wink, 171)

So we love our enemies, not just because God does, and not just because we aren’t so different, but also because we cannot be whole without them. When we learn to look at our enemies this way (objectively and introspectively), we find rage no longer necessary.

And finally, because we have learned to recognize “the powers that be,” we also learn to see our personal rifts as not so personal, and may be able to find ourselves praying with Jesus for forgiveness because, on a deeper level, our enemies (like us) “know not what they do.”

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?

So we learn to love our enemies. Who cares? Am I simply glad that my blood pressure is lowered? Am I simply relieved that I can save a few bucks by taking the hit man off of retainer?

No, I love my enemies because I hope to transform them, freeing them from the grasp of the “powers that be.” I practice creative, nonviolent resistance toward my enemies because maiming and/or killing them makes personal transformation of the enemy borderline impossible. I also shun passivity because it ignores the problem and fuels the monster’s thirst for power, along with failing to expose the monster for what it is and making possible the transformation I pray for in my enemy.

And I love my enemies because I believe in miracles.

As Wink concludes, “If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing one’s oppressors through the prism of the reign of God – not only as they now are but also as they can become: transformed by the power of God.”

(Next post is the last chapter, “Prayer and the Powers.”)

Band Camp

October 4, 2006

So what’s the deal with the House leadership and this Mark Foley scandal? Majority Leader John Boehner told the Washington Post he had told Speaker Hastert about the problem. Then Hastert said he didn’t know anything about it until last Friday. Then Boehner called the Post back and said he definitely hadn’t told Hastert about it. Then he told another paper he was “99% sure” he had.

Now Hastert and some others on the right are putting out the idea this was an “October surprise” by the Democrats. I wouldn’t put it past them, but I don’t really find it credible, either. I mean, how would the Democrats even know about it? We’re talking about misbehavior by a member of the Republican caucus, which was or wasn’t reported to various Republican members of the House leadership. It seems unlikely the Republicans would inform their opposition of this kind of thing; it’s not clear they even informed each other. Besides which, ABC, who broke the story, says they got it from the former pages, themselves.

I haven’t reached any conclusions about it all at this point, other than that, however it turns out, Hastert and Boehner haven’t exactly clothed themselves in glory over it. I just thought I’d provide a place for everybody to discuss it, if they’re so inclined.

Bob Camp

October 3, 2006

No, not that one.

Bob Woodward. I don’t know if anyone’s been following the rhubarb over Bob’s new book. If you have, are you as confused as I am? I haven’t read the book and don’t plan to (Bob’s writing couldn’t be more dull), so my confusion is really over the rhubarb, not the book.

Bob’s book apparently makes several claims about what the Bush administration knew, when it knew it, what its public statements were at those times, etc. and so forth, all of which paints a pretty unflattering portrait of the administration. (Recall that Woodward’s first book on the Bush admin. was very flattering.) The nice thing about the book, apparently, is that it doesn’t base all this on anonymous sources. People actually went on the record in Woodward’s interviews. Very highly placed people. On the record. Maybe.

See, the thing is, now those people are going on the news and claiming they never said what Woodward claims they said in those interviews. Condi never said Rummy wouldn’t return her calls. Andy Card never advocated that the president find a new Secretary of Defense. Laura Bush never said she thought Rummy was hurting the president. Gen. Abizaid never said Iraq was snafu.

So where does that leave us? Woodward says they said it. On the record. He has The Notes, as the journalists say. But now they say they didn’t say it. The possible axe-grinding scenarios quickly spin out of control, and all of them — that I can think of, anyway — contain some number of absurdities.

Who are we supposed to believe? And, given what he reports they said, how is it possible that Woodward didn’t see this coming? Would he not have recorded all the interviews to prevent these he said-he said conflicts?

I don’t know enough about how journalists work, I guess, but I can’t figure out how Woodward could have let himself get into this entirely predictable situation. And more importantly: who are we to believe?

Jesus Camp

October 2, 2006

I thought you guys might find this interview with the filmmakers of the new documentary Jesus Camp interesting. A couple of issues I thought of that this interview brings up but that I don’t have any answers for:

1. The idea that indoctrination is child abuse.

2. The idea that looking at something going on in the present from an anthropological perspective is inherently degrading or condescending.

3. The fact that a lot of the people in the movie are political but claim not to be.

4. Pastor Ted Haggard’s rejection of the movie, while the other participants embraced it. In particular, his explanation of why he rejects it.