Monday, September 22, 2008

Jesus and the Money Changers

Temple practices that hooked the poor on high interest credit and drove them into debt were the target of Jesus' anger. I knew that his cleansing wasn't simply a reaction to monied interests too close to the Holy of Holies. It makes more sense to understand his tirade as giving Sabbath a "fighting chance." Rev. Thistlewaite's development of this idea is an excellent interpretation that should never be avoided when preaching this Gospel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Formula for Fun-damn-mentalisn*

In an excellent critique of Gov. Palin's stumble following Charlie Gibson's question about the Bush Doctrine, James Fallows provides the basic formula for the current crop of hard right conservatives and religious right believers in America. Episcopalians would call this the three-legged-stool of fundamentalism.

  1. Ignorance
  2. Lack of curiosity
  3. "Decisiveness"

Palin's and Bush's "ignorances" are equal to each other and analogous to those of any "believer" who doesn't know how the collection of writings called the Bible came together, for instance.  In both political and religious veins the result is a fallacy of "unitary" authority.  Loyalty, sincerity and zeal replace wisdom and knowledge as first requirements for membership.  One rises to ceremonial leadership by exposing their own emptiness. (Don't forget who really pulls the strings.)

It takes about one second of inspection to recognize fundamentalism's lack of curiosity.  It has all kinds of expressions .  One is the striking similarity between fundies disdain for an "educated clergy" and the folksiness of Bush and Palin.  

Check here and click on the FAQ link (you'll need a flash player) to marvel at what Palin's church's Masters Commission graduates call a curriculum.   NO Greek, NO Hebrew, NO documentary hypothesis, NO historic criticism, NO multiple translations, NO church history.  Yet from this training are sent men into their version of ordained leadership. I can't find any evidence that women graduates are allowed the same authority status.  Apparently, study is not meant to cultivate or even allow curiosity but to limit it to a pre-ordained simplification that is repeated in a one size fits all mantra.  In this world Palin's folksiness becomes MC Crew with spray paint and laptops.  

Fallow's three part formula becomes a three cornered web as "Decisiveness" describes the balancing between real experience and doctrine.  It is an imitation of resolve which "doesn't blink."  It answers back before the questions are finished with a mantra or a snicker.  It maintains the ignorance so important to daily management in a world that once expected and in some more liberal circles still expects knowledge and wisdom of its leaders.  Decisiveness asserts itself before all the answers are in, holding at bay the curiosity that is so cumbersome and even dangerous to the unitary character of authority.  In the end both fundies and conservatives have to keep repeating themselves whether what they are saying is true or makes any sense at all. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Jesus was a Community Organizer

The recent events orchestrated in St. Paul, MN to mock Barack Obama's pre-law school work in Chicago's Southside to help unemployed steel workers to find jobs, to set up childcare for poor families so they can work, or to find healthcare for the uninsured were offensive to many of my fellow Athenians, especially those who have performed similar acts of community service here in one of Georgia's poorest counties. 

Why the snide and cynical remarks from Mayor Giuliani and Govenor Palin?  Except to lower the bar for themselves and those who would vote for their candidate, there is no good reason.  Rovian scoffing that turns shrill from the lips of Governor Palin and just plain disingenuous when Giuliani asks "what's that?" has lost its currency along with the US dollar.  It will not work for much longer to keep acting like the world is too bad to be helped by the good done by teachers, coaches, "Y" directors, social workers of all stripes, legal services providers, pregnancy counselors, drug counselors, CASA workers, visitation supervisors. 

Saying that "Jesus was a community organizer" makes no claims to Obama being a Messiah or the One as those same cynics have tried to box him and his supporters.  (The Charlton Heston image was ironic at best if not plain offensive.)  Instead, the reminder of the work of the first century rabbi  properly recognizes and claims for many voters the very hope that gets us to do things like vote in the first place.  

Plus, trying to get most voters to laugh at Obama's excellent resume and its emergent hope is a failure at framing.  It fails because of who has been chosen to deliver the remarks, so far they've all claimed to be followers of the very one whose "community organizing" is world renowned.  It fails because the facts -- both those that confirm the quality of Obama's work along with those that confirm how well protected from their individual failings the speakers have been -- can be checked too easily.  Finally it fails because Obama actually was a community organizer and too many voters know how good a thing that has been.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Worshipping the Constitution

This was tucked into W's news while in China for the Olympics.  

The president worshipped at a Beijing church and declared China has nothing to fear from expressions of faith. Later, he met with Chinese leaders and again voiced concern about the jailing of dissidents and religious activists, aides reported.

"As you know, I feel very strongly about religion," he told President Hu Jintao in a meeting at the Zhongnanhai government compound while reporters were present.

Whether or not the "current occupant" feels “strongly about religion” is irrelevant to his being in China.  It is not his job to advocate for religion even where the practice of religion suffers the kind of establishment unique to China.

If there is any creed the President should be indicating it is the one he has twice pledged in his inaugurations:  

"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Nothing about religion but a whole lot about freedom all bound up in the one word, "constitution."   Bush's remarks do not make any sense except that, like China, under this administration we have drifted into our own version of the establishment of religion.   

Religion doesn't require presidential endorsement to be freely exercised.  Instead, whether in China or at home W should be professing his love for the Constitution.  

Whither Goeth Lambeth 2008?

I like Mark Harris'  take on Lambeth's "trajectory."  With the reaction to retired Bishop Spong's explosive 1998 publication of 12 thesis in "Why Christianity must change or die" fundamentalists began a replacement of traditional Anglican theology continuing to the current Windsor "process" and border crossings in the name of orthodoxy. Spong always was a rabid anti-fundamentalist and sensitive to the "theology" that haunted his life inside the religion of the southern U.S.  Spong's early, vocal arguments became the whipping boy against which power hungry Wantlands, Duncans, and Schofields struck as if defending all Episcopalians from the monster of heresy.  I'll do more on what constitutes heresy later.  

Harris sees GAFCON, the current border crossings of Venebles and some African bishops and the devolution of American provincial pretenders like AMIA, AAC, CANA etc. as continuing the trajectory now with Lambeth's stumbling to help it along.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Where NOT to buy the "emperor's new clothes."

As of August 4, 2008 these closings just begin to tell how good our chances are of "consuming" our way out of recession.  BTW, where did you spend your tax rebate?  Probably not at Starbuck's!  Thanks to for the info.

  • Ann Taylor closing 117 stores nationwide.
  • Eddie Bauer to close more stores after closing 27 stores in the first quarter.
  • Cache, a women’s retailer is closing 20 to 23 stores this year.
  • Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Catherines closing 150 stores nationwide
  • Talbots, J. Jill closing stores. Talbots will close all 78 of its kids and men's stores plus another 22 underperforming stores. The 22 stores will be a mix of Talbots women's and J. Jill.
  • Gap Inc. closing 85 stores
  • Foot Locker to close 140 stores
  • Wickes Furniture is going out of business and closing all of its stores. The 37-year-old retailer that targets middle-income customers, filed for bankruptcy protection last month.
  • Levitz - the furniture retailer, announced it was going out of business and closing all 76 of its stores in December. The retailer dates back to 1910.
  • Zales, Piercing Pagoda plans to close 82 stores by July 31 followed by closing another 23 underperforming stores.
  • Disney Store owner has the right to close 98 stores.
  • Home Depot store closings 15 of them amid a slumping US economy and housing market. The move will affect 1,300 employees. It is the first time the world's largest home improvement store chain has ever closed a flagship store.
  • CompUSA (CLOSED).
  • Macy's - 9 stores closed
  • Movie Gallery – video rental company plans to close 400 of 3,500 Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video stores in addition to the 520 locations the video rental chain closed last fall as part of bankruptcy.
  • Pacific Sunwear - 153 Demo stores closing
  • Pep Boys - 33 stores of auto parts supplier closing
  • Sprint Nextel - 125 retail locations to close with 4,000 employees following 5,000 layoffs last year.
  • J. C. Penney, Lowe's and Office Depot are all scaling back
  • Ethan Allen Interiors: plans to close 12 of 300 stores to cut costs.
  • Wilsons the Leather Experts – closing 158 stores
  • Bombay Company: to close all 384 U.S.-based Bombay Company stores.
  • KB Toys closing 356 stores around the United States as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.
  • Dillard's Inc. will close another six stores this year.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bless Her Heart!

For my whole life I've heard the phrase "Bless Her Heart" applied in case after case like the one dear Senator Clinton seems to have found herself in right now.  Saying BHH meant that when something went wrong you gave some credit to the person, usually measured by their sincerity or courage.  It's very 19th century.  One can easily imagine Kierkegaard or Flaubert dropping such a line at those grand occasions that found some socially fragile person's makeup smudged or worse, when the news came that a romantic affair had been exposed by some clumsy coachman.  Two would get the BHH at that point.  

In my experience I've seen BHH acknowledge sincerity as a means to the end of ridicule or as some now say "truth-telling."  Like this, "BHH, she needs to be in jail."   

It often went with what has been for me a particularly southern habit of ogling politicians, preachers and salesmen.  Especially the ones that hadn't quite fallen and still had a full supply of vim and vigor.  We'd say, "BHH, I sure don't want to be there when __________ (insert appropriate embarrassment) happens. 

But I've had a hard time saying this about Senator Clinton.  Not everything she did seemed born of sincerity and courage.  There was some spoilage there and it just didn't smell good.  But the end is near.  Senator Obama needs less that 43 delegates to come his way and HRC is leaking her plans to call it quits.  Nowadays candidates just suspend their campaigns.  I think that has more to do with their money than with their chances.   Of course, she has $20 million owed to her by own campaign. BHH.

Friday, May 30, 2008

First Amendment and Bad Theology

This may take a while so bear with me. Another of my constant peeves is the misrepresentation of the first amendment by hard right fun-damn-mentalists and those of the political right using religion to seize power not meant for them by our constitution. One of the consequenses of this manipulation is that a soldier in Iraq hands out coins embosed on one side with John 3:16 translated into arabic in answer to the question posed on the other side, "Where will you spend eternity?"
After I stop screaming I screamed some more because I remembered that this methodolgy masquerading as a theology has been the musak of my life of southern religion. John 3:16 which promises salvation based on God's love of the world has been spun for decades as if it only contained its latter half, the part that says "whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (KJV) Believing gets elevated to a position at least equal to God's love and becomes the guarantee of one's eternal habitation. Believe first and then you can say you are saved.
Over the years two scripturally based correctives have grown in my understanding since those naive days of my childhood when John 3:16 was as commonplace in its assurance of safety as knowing one's phone number. The first is the reminder spoken by Jesus himself in each of the synoptics:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:25
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”Mark 8:35
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Luke 9:24, KJV.

I have come to understand this caution to be against basing one's faith/belief/religion on getting one's life saved. Indeed it is more than a caution. It is clearly saying that the appeal made by that young soldier was at least misguided, probably a waste of time, certainly suspect. Nothing thwarts salvation better than trying to cover one's a**.
The other corrective is the idea found in Ephesians:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace ye are saved; And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:4-9, KJV. 
In short, faith is not the work that earns eternal life, because there is no "work" that can save us. So why hand out coins with John 3:16 on the "answer" side? Except that this young soldier believes that belief saves. Not God in mercy but belief in Jesus.
I'll admit this is too fine a matter for this simplification. Indeed, salvation -- whatever it really is -- deserves better discourse than my diatribe or a soldier's coin. But it is not enough for me to complain simply on the basis of constitutional concerns. As far as the first amendment is concerned things have been handled properly. Something much larger than a misguided soldier is amuck here.
One of the consequences of what I call "first amendment abuse," is that actions like this coin evangelization will give another undeserved public hearing to what is always and sadly so just very bad theology.
Its bad theology to worry about the salvation of your own life when the world is starving and thirsty and oppressed and imprisoned.
Its bad theology to get others to believe like you so that they can be saved. Unless the world becomes a better place you have to ask, "saved from what?" Its bad theology to try to save your own life, especially if that effort thwarts another's salvation. Its bad theology to turn faith into a righteous work, to turn human believing into an eternal guarantee.
No wonder the religious right wants to undermine first amendment protections, it allows for propagation of bad theology.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ascension to Pentecost Artwork

But you will have power, when the Holy Spirit has come on you; and you will be my witnesses
in Jerusalem and all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

I just love this photo. It was our homepage artwork for the 10 days from the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord to the Feast of Pentecost. The woman is actor Heather Graham. It must be from some film promo. I think it exemplifies the themes of God's power in us gained by way of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as it is sustained for us by the Holy Spirit. That's what I think!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

One More Reason to Cheer Against the Gators

This is incredible (pun intended.) The Florida legislature has begun to consider production of a vanity plate that would look like this.

I'm pretty sure this is another wolf in sheep's clothing move by some "conservative" legislator. Pandering to people's wanting choices like that's what freedom is and using it to back door conservative christianistic power mongering into the mainstream. Want to test the freedom of choice claim? Try to imagine the state painting the symbol for an atheist vanity tag. Think also about how strained a thing it is for the legislature to "just be making this available" without crossing the no state support of religion line.

The Bill of Rights says:
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
It doesn't say "a religion" it says "religion" That seems to me to be very clearly prohibiting the State of Florida providing a service that paints a cross and stained glass window with the words "I believe" on a state required auto license.
Even worse is the argument equating belief in a religion with "belief" in a team (one assumes some of the teams are of the several athletically active institutions of "higher learning" in the state). It once again proves the point that on the spectrum of religious expression that extends from vacuous to enlightened (and you can pretty much put the religious among the founding fathers on the enlightened end) conservative is often at best one notch from vaccous. Who elects these people?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Do the Math and VOTE!

Salary in the highest tax bracket is taxed at 35 percent, but profits from stocks held long enough to be called “long-term capital gains” are taxed at 15 percent. A hedge fund manager making $100 million in a year would pay $15 million to the government if he is able to take his income as capital gains, not the $35 million he would have to pay if the income was considered salary.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Secular Sabbaths

A pet interest of mine has been the need for a cultural recovery of the "sabbath."  Not "blue laws" but a generally held and working "expectation" that would precede any civil statute and inform our definitions of things like: fair wage, fair tax, benefits, poverty, earned income, income from interest and dividends, estate income, etc.  It's important to avoid a repeat of the past and confuse this cultural sabbath keeping with the blue laws of the past.    Blue laws were forced on minority populations to support the personal - lifestyle - religious choices of the majority.  I remember when the theaters were not allowed to operate on Sunday.  I remember as a child asking my mom when the Jewish kids got to go to the movies.  We still have vestiges of that era with the fairly widely practiced bans on the Sunday sale of alcohol.  

Mind you, my interests have always been governed by a moderate libertarianism.  I don't like the "gubment" telling me what to do when those actions would impinge in no way on the rights of others.   Vestigial blue laws are not the only intrusion of the government into the free market (goods and ideas).  Our "current occupant" and his regime have so supported the upper class in this society and protected the portion of what cannot honestly be called the free market in which are vested their interests less than 10% of the population can afford to "take a day off."  

To develop a sabbath expectation in culture just start with thinking exploitation of the lower class, of minorities, of immigrants, of the environment, of the economy, then back up one step and you still have a strong case. Why do bank computers run "realtime" 24/7 but customer access to those same computers does not?  Why do public schools charge fees for required materials?  Why is access to public lands and waterways so often limited to commercial/corporate interests seeking a profit?    These are "sabbath" questions. 

Sabbath standards wouldn't allow the wealthy/powerful to force a pace onto the economic lives of lower income persons.  Heck, even the banks could afford to turn off the computers one day a week.  Once civil authorities undertake education and make attendance compulsory, required fees limit  only the access of the poor by forcing them to choose between necessities and not between options.  Sabbath standards would protect land, sea and air for all, including nature itself.

Blue laws are inadequate but stripped of their religiosity and directed toward the benefit of the poor or -- even better -- the middle class they would be a start toward the sabbath our culture craves.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Little in Common with their Cause

I was poking around the news of John David Schofield's just desserts and I came across the web pages for Common Cause Patnership.  I saw a couple of things that saddened me:  college pal and fellow house church brother Norman Beale is listed among clergy members, and in their foundational documents they - I hope inadvertently - redefine Christian Communion to a new level of understanding.  Item 10.4 in their Articles of Incorporation (Confederation would be more honest) states "Communicant members of any Partner shall be received b y a congregation of another Partner on presentation of a letter of transfer."  I hope that this was only meant to establish a consistent method for movement of lay members from parish to parish.  It could just as easily be read "a letter of transfer is sufficient to establish membership in another parish." How are members of non-partner congregations to be received by a Partner parish: exam? testimony? first born?  And what role does the rector play in making a determination?  

Later I was still surfing my regular stops and remembered this wonderful recounting of Sara Miles and her introduction to Episcopal Worship a la St. Gregory of Nyssa.  I don't believe a CCP parish would accept her letter of transfer. As a rector I would. 

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chicken Doves and Waterboarding for God

I have some questions thanks to the wake-up call I received in reading Ray McGovern of Common Dreams and Matt Taibi of Rollingstone.  

Why have none of the moderated debates for either party questioned the candidates about:

  • reversing Bush's unitary executive office?
  • impeachment of Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, et al
  • reversal of No Child Left Behind
  • ending to corporate welfare
  • the false piety of the Republican Elite
  • the hypocrisy of the Evangelistic Leadership as non-questioning supporters of Bush
  • etc., etc., etc

Why wait for a debate?  Why haven't any of the candidates asked these questions of each other? By not making known what they believe on these matters and countless others that don't make the manufactured news, each of the candidates -- regardless of party --  leaves us ready to assume that come January 2009 nothing will change but the White House letterhead. 

Monday, February 4, 2008

Republicans and Biblical Justice for the Middle Class

Even Huck the Bible Thumping Bee can't pull it off with his (not so) Fair Tax but given the chance so far NONE of the Republicans have mentioned any long term direct help to the middle class in their economic plans.  And we all know the current "stimulus package" will not come so enough for most -- read April the 15th -- and be roughly equal to a "Title Pawn" as a boost to the economy.  With too many Democrats joining them they sing,  "Let's spend our way out of this recession."  

Here's what Jeremiah said,

"For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a basket full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of wickedness; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?"" Jeremiah 5:26-29, RSV. 

and before you think I'm out of line check this info from PBS' Frontline:

10 Reasons America's Two-Income Families Aren't What You Think
(According to Harvard Law professor and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren)

  1. Two-income families today make 75% more in inflation-adjusted dollars, but have less money to spend than one-income families did 30 years ago. 
  2. Two-income families today spend: 21% less on clothing, 22% less on food, and 44% less on appliances compared to one-income families a generation ago. 
  3. Every 15 seconds an American family files for bankruptcy. 
  4. This year, more kids will live through their parents' bankruptcy, than through their parents' divorce. 
  5. 1.6 million families will file for bankruptcy this year, 9 million more are already in credit counseling. 
  6. Home mortgage foreclosures are up more than three-fold over the last generation and car foreclosures have hit record levels. 
  7. More than 62% of families say that they worry about making ends meet. 
  8. The average family spends 69% more in inflation-adjusted dollars on their home mortgage than their parents spent a generation ago. 
  9. The average family spends 61% more on health insurance, than their parents spent a generation ago. 
  10. Credit card default rates are at a record high.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jesus v. the Church

From FrJake: unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity by David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons, founder of the Fermi Project. Their research project involved interviewing "outsiders" (those who are outside the Christian faith) and young Christians, focusing on the 16 - 29 age group (identified as older "Mosaics" and younger "Busters"). The perception that they discovered of how younger generations view "Christians" is a real eye opener. Here's a few of the top descriptions from the "outsider" group:

Question: Here are some words or phrases that could be used to describe a religious faith. Please indicate if you think each of these phrases describes Christianity.

91% - Antihomosexual

87% - Judgmental

85% - Hypocritical

75% - Too involved in politics

Here's some of the responses to the same question from young adults who are church members:

80% - Antihomosexual

52% - Judgmental

47% - Hypocritical

50% - Too involved in politics

Oh, to see ourselves as others see us!