Posts Tagged ‘theology’

[A chapter selection from  Quakering Theology]

The most penetrating sound of September 2001 came not on Tuesday the 11th but on Sunday the 16th.

In November of 1963, only two days after Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, gridiron warriors assembled on one hundred yard fields and pushed, and tackled, and punted, and passed. Near capacity crowds were somber, but nevertheless cheered on seven NFL games; Pittsburgh tied Chicago 17-17, Cleveland trounced the Cowboys by ten points. On a Sunday afternoon in late January 1991, while soldiers were engaged in a Storm in the Desert, the most creative television commercials of the season were shown during breaks from Super Bowl XXV. Allied troops fought Saddam; the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19.

The most penetrating sound of September 2001 came not on Tuesday the 11th but on Sunday the 16th; in stadiums across the country there was no football, there was only silence. The silent stadium was a more truthful witness to the moment than were the immediate demands for war; the silent stadium spoke more poignantly than the immediate calls for peace.

It was the simple-minded naiveté of both the hawks and the doves that first made me uneasy. It was all so simple. Too simple. “Steer clear, dear Odysseus, steer clear and save your life!”

On one hand, there was the immediate response to “kill them,” “retaliate with everything we have,” “unleash the dogs of war.” We are victims, they are the enemy! On the day after, Lance Morrow wrote in Time magazine, “A day cannot live in infamy without the nourishment of rage. Let’s have rage. What’s needed is a unified, unifying, Pearl Harbor sort of purple American fury—a ruthless indignation.”[1]

At the same time, another chorus of voices sang a dirge of national self-loathing. Here the model of blame is inverted…they are the victims and we are the enemy. “Our foreign policy has alienated and disenfranchised and, therefore, the actions of the terrorists, while horrible, were certainly understandable.”

It was all so simple.

But it was precisely the simplicity of the solutions that convinced me of their impossibility. From the “war on them” to the “war on us” everything had the ring of sanctimoniousness and superficiality.

Blaming clogged the internet, but empty football stadiums spoke more truthfully.

Each year in the liturgical rhythm of the Christian calendar a little noted day is lodged between two more celebrated days—Holy Saturday. It is often neglected, but it speaks to this moment in our history. Our time is a Holy Saturday. The horror of the crucifixion is over; the image of the embodiment of our hopes broken and bleeding and dead still lingers fresh and raw. In the liturgy, Holy Saturday reenacts a waiting for something we know has come. Our waiting is different. In agony and in fear we want to rush into the tomb and rescue Jesus, to save him from the chill of the tomb. But when we remove Jesus on Saturday we have nothing but a corpse. Easter has not yet come. And who knows, maybe Easter will never come. But, if it does, who can know what form it will take?

Plato spoke of metaxy as an in-between place, a place where humans meet God. We are standing now between horror and hope in a chasm of betweenness, uncertain, messy, dangerous, ambiguous. Yet, this metaxy is the place where God is. On the lengthy Holy Saturday following September 11th I did not stand with chattering academics nor with military advisors nor with spin doctors nor with resolute pacifists; I chose to stand in-between, beside the padded shoulders of a silent line backer.

[1] Lance Morrow, “The Case for Rage and Retribution,” Time (September 12, 2001). http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/ 0,8599,174641,00.html (accessed January 5, 2011).


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I watched with gratitude and no small amount of nervousness, as thirty-three miners (thirty-two Chilean – one Bolivian) were hoisted more than two thousand feet to the surface. After sixty-nine days they were each stepping foot again on the earth under which they had been buried since August 5.

There are many examples of heroism, creativity, raw determination that are part of this story. I’m quite taken by Luis Urzua, the fifty-four year old shift leader who was, at his insistence, the last of the thirty-three men to be rescued. Urzua was the first to contact those on the surface, seventeen days after the mine’s collapse. He divided cans of tuna fish that helped keep the men alive while they waited supplies from the surface. He organized the workers into three work shifts, and he poured over diagrams that helped the rescuers in their plans for assisting the thirty-three.

According to an article on CNN.com, the rescue ended “a saga that gripped a nation that never gave up hope.” When Luis Urzua emerged from the red, white and blue steel tube that hoisted him to the surface he said: “ I hope this will never happen again.” (“Everyone out of the mine in Chile” accessed 10/13/10 CNN.com)

The wife of one of the miners, Lillian Ramirez (sixty-three year old, Mario Gomez) echoed the Hebrew Bible – Daniel Chapter three when the fiery furnace contained more than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Ramirez told reporters: “To say there were thirty-three trapped in the mine is wrong. There were thirty-three men – and God.”

Hope is a kind of confidence that does not give up – even when perhaps we think it should. Even when circumstances might warrant despair, hope is the unseemly response that something awaits that we cannot fully anticipate or name.

“Hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God.”

This is what grants hope its audacity. “Faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when this truth shall be manifest.” (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 20) Audacity is made possible because hope is rooted in the promise of God whom we have through the centuries known to be faithful – even when humans have forgotten, turned away, crafted idols, and done everything in our power to extinguish the hope of the world.

One theological problem haunts us constantly, whether we are doing theology as an academic subject or whether we are living it in the day to dayness of life in the trying-to-be-faithful community called church – this is the problem of the future. We do not know the future and are not yet there – but this is not the problem – it is not a lack of knowing nor a limitation of location. Rather, the problem of the future – theologically speaking – is the struggle for what remains after all else passes away…the struggle for hope.

We have possessed since the beginning of time the capacity to extinguish the future. Cain’s slaughter of his brother marked the human family’s first mythic entry into the destruction of hope. Each act of violence robs someone of the future – and to live under the threat of violence steels from us hope that a future can be. Cain’s sin was murder – yes – but the sons and daughters of Cain – you and me – do more than take a life when/if we slaughter Abel. We destroy hope in concentric circles around Abel and fuel the growth of despair and cynicism, of anxiety and of hopelessness.

The pain of hope’s demise is sharp. In fact, what burns so deeply in despair is its close proximity to hope. Despair sees hope and can almost grasp it, but it is frustrated, or its grasp of hope forbidden or refused or suppressed or delayed.

This is so true with violence as well. From the beginning violence – the destruction of a future – has always rested side by side with life – it has been literally “in the space” of the future. But Cain killed his brother not far from life and clearly “in the space” of the future. “Cain said to Abel his brother, ‘let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8 RSV)

The field is a space of the future – it is the context of life and promise, sustenance, and hope. By inviting his brother there he invited him into the space of the future. By murdering him there, Cain took the gift of God, the promise of life, hope, and the future, and he desecrated it – making the promise of life a lure toward destruction – making the future collapse in upon him burying him under its weight.

A simple and tragic story – one repeated hourly in one of a thousand forms – each version, in its own way, extinguishes the future, smashes hope, and replaces it with despair, or with what Gustavo Gutiérrez calls “submissive resignation in the face of historical events.” (God of Life, 107)

From the beginning, faith has been rooted in today but a today textured with promise – held up and drawn into the future of God – whether it was the command to press into the future with confidence: “be fruitful and multiply,” or whether it was the parting words of Jesus: “I will be with you even until the end of the age.” Present action, and grounded ness is built upon the promise of a future which, if God can be trusted to be faithful, would be a “behold it is very good” even as was each day of creation.

Hope is essential for all – but such an essential reality can be and has been trivialized, as have its companions: faith and love. It is a promise of life and future, but it is rooted in the faithfulness of God – call to press into life abundant in God’s future of justice. It is not a neo liberal economic promise, nor a support to capitalistic visions of a better tomorrow; it is a righteousness, and peace.

It is rooted in the kingdom of God, which is breaking into history in every moment when love is permitted to trump hate, and in every moment when violence is overwhelmed by peace.

Gutiérrez writes:  “If the church breaks its link with the Kingdom, it will by that very act lose its transcendent purpose and its ability to be critical of the present.” (God of Life, 107)

I think of the many who are, like Abel, lured “into the space” of the future only to find that future taken away – lured into places of promise and life only to find that they have been seduced into a place of destruction.

The most vulnerable among us, the poor, the immigrant, they are literally tending fields of promise, serving the food of life, caring for the children who are the future of families. These settings, however, have become places where hope is visible and the future in view. Yet, this hope and this future are for many crushed, forbidden, suppressed. “But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted be crushed forever.” (Psalm 9:18)

Hope is audacious not because it is too stupid to know when to give up. Hope is audacious because it is grounded in God who is too faithful to ever let go. We cannot give hope or be hope by promising what we cannot. We can have hope and be hope when we live into the life and promise of the Kingdom of God.  (Today is lived in the reality of God’s presence today and tomorrow.)

As the church became more and more indistinguishable from the Empire, such hope was cast into Chrono’s future, not God’s. Chrono’s future was another time, another realm. The Kingdom of Empire tended to one’s needs and the justice, peace and order of God’s Kingdom was erased and displaced – “come back in tomorrow’s tomorrow.”

It is, as we are reminded in liberation theology “aquí y ahora” – here and now. It is a future of Jubilee. But the future of God is a future that is today as well as tomorrow – and it is a future that does not play well with those who seduce the hopeful into a space of life only to crush them and steal from them the future God has promised.

As I watched the miners lifted from a tomb in which they had been buried sixty-nine days, I felt as though I was celebrating Easter – the day of the resurrection. In the end, the news report announced: “The last rescuer has surfaced. The mine is empty.” I felt I could reply with integrity – “He is risen, indeed.”

Imagination, ingenuity, determination, and hope brought to a miraculous conclusion a threat to a future – to many futures.

We have had since the beginning the capacity to extinguish hope. But we have had since the beginning the capacity to walk along side God into God’s future – and we have had since the beginning the capacity to do this together.

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I serve on a committee at my meeting/church that I hope will soon come to an end. Some committees are “standing” committees, that means their work is ongoing and thus the committee is needed for a long stretch–years, possibly forever. Other committees are ad hoc, or temporary and are formed to take care of a particular task that will come to a close after a certain period of time. I am on the Pastoral Search Committee. Thus, when we discern the right person to serve as pastor and we issue a call (and that call is accepted) this committee will be dissolved.

This is as it should be.

However, it is sometimes not so easy. Occasionally we expect the committees (and let’s add here, organizations, meetings, churches, programs, etc.) we form to last, if not forever, for a very long time. How do we know when something has served its purpose? How do we know when it is time to move on? How do we know when it is time, as Quakers like to say, to “lay it down.”

This is a difficult question. When do we let go of an organization or program? Often our identity is wrapped up in it, or it has been (or continues to be) meaningful to a person, a family, or a group. Thus, letting go is wrapped up in emotional and historical issues as much if not more than in the conviction that its role is still relevant and vibrant.

I am wondering about this because in the past few years two local Friends meetings have been “laid down.” These decisions were not easy and it resulted in some feeling displaced. I am wondering about it also because there are probably a lot of other meetings (and committees and organizations and programs, et al.) that need to follow suit.

However, as difficult as these decisions are, I think it is important that we consider the matter of “laying down.” Why? Because generally, when something is discontinued it is at the end of a long process of decline, decay, and death.

Ok, that seems obvious enough. Yet, I think the time to let go is BEFORE the last breath of life is drawn, before we are writhing on the ground in an extended public demise. In other words, groups that come to a close can and should do so from a position of confidence, life, and some strength. I am not advocating laying down organizations that are thriving. Of course not. However, if we are more attentive to the signs of life and the movement of the Spirit, and if we are less attached to our programs (and committees and meetings and organizations) then perhaps we can reshape, renew, and when it is time, release.

So again, how do we know when something has served its purpose? How do we know when it is time to move on? How do we know when it is time to “lay it down?”

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(At the request of BY I’ve moved this Facebook discussion here to Theography where we can continue it and perhaps expand it differently than we might in the other context.)

David Johns is wondering a lot about seminary education, ministerial formation, and the movement from modernity to postmodernity (as well as the emerging church phenomenon). Are seminaries, his own included, so wedded to modernity that they are unable to imagine (and prepare for) ministry in living and birthing contexts?

LisaJoy Zillgitt-Stowers good queries to explore…I have to admit that what I learned about ministry I learned in CPE and other ‘real life’ situations…some things just can’t be taught in seminaries no matter how ‘good’ they may be. I, and other seminary grads, …have thought of writing a book to be given to incoming seminary students, “What to expect in ministry that Seminary does not have a class for”…you’d be in seminary for a lifetime if there was a class on everything you might encounter. CPE is an action/reflection from of education/ministry and thus you learn quickly how to use the framework from classes/education and build it into a real life experience. I learned quickly not to say, “God is always with you and working in your life” to a patient in the state hospital in Indpls when she said, “So YOUR God was there when I was abused and is working through my borderline personality?”…you also learn to be careful what scripture you share as well because it can be used to ‘harm’ in the midst of profound mental illness….just my thoughts.

Erin McDougall David, I am really interested in this query but would love to hear more from you about what you mean by “living and birthing contexts” …

David Johns

‎@Erin: I mean by that the realities of our moment in history and the ones coming into being. Some of the theological discussions we rehearse repeatedly have either been resolved or they are weighted by cultural dynamics, epistemological as…sumptions, et al., that are not overwhelming present concerns and understandings.

Likewise, much of our formation is oriented toward helping keep alive institutions and organizations (movements, denominations, et al.) that have largely run their course. (Some of these, perhaps many, are structured appropriately for the 1940’s or 50’s and are speaking to cultural realities and religious sensibilities of such eras–and if our intention is to preserve them, then preaching, pastoral care, theology, leadership, spirituality, religious education, et al., will take on a particular tone, and it will not be one of new life). When do we offer thanks for the long run of our religious organizations and then allow them to pass away or to be reborn into something completely new? How do we imagine new ways of being the people of God that speak grace and gospel in our time?

This is, of course, a deep concern of mine with regard to Quakerism (and anyone who has walked with me in class has heard this before)…even the wonderfully energetic renewal movements within Friends (such as YAF), will simply reinvent the institution of Quakerism (complete with our oddities and two centuries old debates) if they do not allow Quakerism itself to break open into something very different (this is what I have begun discussing (see the most recent Quaker Religious Thought issue) as a postQuaker Christianity).

I think a lot about my vocation as a seminary prof. Am I preparing people to preserve the structures of what has been rather than to prepare people to move into the new things that God is doing (that look little like the familiar shapes of church and denomination and seminary and and and)? I can not prepare my students for yesterday and I’m not even sure that it is wise to prepare them for today. How, on the other hand, can I press into the future of God and enliven imaginations to join in those edges?

Thanks for the question, Erin. It’s just another Saturday of wondering for me.

David Johns ‎@Erin: I have to say also that I am co-clerk of our Meeting’s pastoral search committee. So, ministry, leadership, and risky (vs. tame) vision are very much on my mind.

John Price David, did not the early Quakers strip Christianity down to its very bones? If Christ is with me at all times then how am I to live? It seems to me that this simple premise and query are immutable, that terms like post-modern, modern, eva…ngelical, liberal, and conservative are irrelevant. Forms and rituals presuppose that Christ is not immediately available to me. Why do I need a water baptism or a communion ritual when I am bathed in the breath of Christ every minute of every day? These are symbols, not reality, just as wearing gray clothing today would be a symbol, not an actual act of faith or conscience, so they are irrelevant as well.

The exercise of my faith is fluid, not cast in concrete. The question is constantly in my mind and heart: What would Christ have me do in this situation? The answers that flow from these simple, yet powerful questions guide my actions and my words. They cannot be codified, compiled, nor extrapolated to someone else’s life. These questions and answers are uniquely mine. I cannot look for comfort and reassurance through conformity to a doctrine or creed, nor agreement from my neighbor. Each one is a decision I make in consultation with Christ and I must be strong enough in my faith to bear the consequences. If I am not then I will need and crave the approval of men because I am not in touch with Christ. It seems to me that the argument is how best to be reassured by other men, which is also an irrelevant argument.

Eden Grace Very interesting discussion. I can say several things from my own experience — Firstly, I was schooled in “post-modernity” twenty years ago. It did a lot of damage to my faith. Whatever we’re looking to emerge now, hopefully it isn’t that…. Secondly, while my seminary education was deeply formative for me as a Christian and as a leader, the content of my education has been almost completely irrelevant to my ministry in Kenya. I would have been much better served if I’d done an MBA or economics degree. Thirdly, the more I grow in the present reality of a living faith, the more I yearn to be steeped in the living Tradition. I worry about the utter subjectivity of the comment from John Price. I don’t know if I am representative of my generation or not, but I am not particularly comfortable with framing things as post-anything. Maybe I’d rather the pre-something. Mostly I want to stand in the living stream of 2000 years of faithfulness to Christ, and allow myself to be shaped and corrected by that Tradition.

Raymond Ontko is wondering whether the unity we seek as Quakers and modernists is in fundamental conflict with post-modernism.

Al Dodson David, I think you are struggling with a hugely important set of ideas. Might I suggest a conversation between you and Russell Haitch on the role of the Spirit in education? Both you and Russell have outstanding minds and sensitivities and seem to be thinking in related directions on this topic.

Erin McDougall David,

These are ideas that I have struggled with for some time now and continue to struggle with and I am glad to hear of your struggles with them. Personally, I am at a place where I feel that institutions are essentially un-Quaker. Afte…r all, the meeting structure was invented by G. F. after some time when he was concerned about Quakerism becoming something he didn’t think it was. (I know it’s more complicated than that, but there is some truth to that.)

Our meetings themselves are also institutions. How do we allow for enough risk and freshness in a movement if we must follow a certain way of being? A very simple example is one of ministry given in a unprogrammed meeting. When I lived at PH, I had a dear friend who sometimes danced for his ministry and discomfort with that by others was very interesting. Why would that kind of ministry be uncomfortable except that it is not “normal” and a regular part of how we experience the institution of Meeting?

I have been convinced (at times) that institutions are also important for passing along information. I think this is true and so am not sure that I would get rid of institutions altogether. But I do think that our isms get in the way of thinking freshly about issues. For example, I think ageism is a HUGE reason why institutions become stable – and stagnant. If you look at the history of Quakerism, it is often the YAFs who shake things up and make new exciting things happen. But how many Quaker institutions are headed up by YAFs? Or even have YAFs in positions of power? How many institutions are even taking the YAFs seriously that are among them?? (Including meetings?)

Would a seminary be a more vibrant place if they allowed for young (and I don’t mean 40 – I mean mid-20s) people to teach there or to head it up?? Would a meeting be more vital if they took a giant leap of faith and asked someone to minister who was one of the people-on-fire who was a YF or YAF and didn’t have any formal training? (Of course, one would have to have a strong pastoral care committee and a strong meeting who was putting it’s own energy into the Meeting, not just waiting for a leader to pull them along …)

This is an issue close to my heart these days – and I appreciate being able to “talk” about it with you … Thanks for taking the risky step in asking the difficult/hard questions out in the open.

John Price While the application of Christ’s teachings to my particular life situations must of necessity be subjective, Christ’s teachings are not. To the extent that we hear the same message from Christ concerning our universal questions, so we com…e together as a denomination, affirming that we have all heard that one voice in matters of shared concern. The forms and rituals adopted by that denomination are an expression of that commonality of understanding, but they are not essential. And once they become more an end in themselves than an expression of common understanding they too are irrelevant.

Josie HermioneGranger Tolton Over the past decade I have worshiped across the continuum of ritual with people who gather for Buddhist meditation without instruction on how to do it and unprogrammed Quakers on one end Greek Orthodox, Anglican Catholic and old style Cath…olic on the other. I have found myself settling on an approach to ritual that requires detachment (in the Buddhist sense).

Ritual allows us to connect with our community both in the present and ancestors in the faith. Ritual is a way of acting out our relationship with God. Ritual serves to create meaning. The community recognizes the important moments of our lives, both joyful and sorrowful.

If ritual does not serve a community then it should be discarded. The emergent movement has reminded us that neither abandoning ritual entirely nor holding to it too tightly serves us well.

I am also a bit of a moderate on the absolutist vs. subjectivist controversy. I believe that there is truth out there, reality out there even if we cannot determine it. By training I am a social constructivist. In my communication training I was taught that communication creates reality and that you cannot avoid communicating (even your avoidance is, in fact, communication). In a similar sense it is impossible to have no ritual for whatever you do that you/your community finds important and whenever/wherever you/your community finds meaning there is ritual. Thus, the modernist rejection of sacred actions is ineffectual.

We cannot reject the concept of sacred space and, thus, be wholly modernist. Despite our attempts and rational arguments, having sacred space seems to be part of the way humanity functions. In the US we have had the illusion of having no sacred space because the ancestors of many present residents left sacred spaces behind in Europe, etc. while those who had sacred spaces here were by and large killed leaving few descendants to remember. Over time we are still building up our own collective memory. Again, what we must learn is how to do this rather than focusing on rejection. What stories will we tell and how will we choose/create sacred space.

Oh, and you wanted to know about seminary 😀 People do need to know themselves and be able to communicate that with others. I think this is seminary at its best. Yes, knowing resources like what our ancestors in the faith did is important too, but claiming our own identity and knowing how to live in community with others is the key.

Kimberly Rochelle Hampton hey David…
I’m wondering what are we considering post-modern and when the post-modern era started. Look at who the “post-modernists” reference…Hegel and Schleiermacher. So haven’t we been in the post-modern world for a while now? 🙂

Brian C Young David–any chance you could move this to your blog, or re-start it there? I’d like to read the whole thread and comment later, but FB makes it hard to find stuff once it falls off the news feed… thx.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about poverty and the responses I hear from time to time in my work as a professor and in my life as a member of the trying-to-be-faithful community of Jesus’ followers.

Two responses from students over the past few years have made quite an impact on me. Both were very honest statements, but both troubled me deeply. In responses to study abroad trips I led to Latin America, I received responses I hadn’t anticipated (this often happens!)

The first: the student told us (the class) and me (the prof) that for years s/he had desired to work among the poor and to be  an advocate for them, living with them. However, as a result of our trip and after having actually spent time with people who were poor (not the most desperately poor, I might add), s/he concluded there was no way s/he could do it. How could they live the way they do? How could they dress, act, smell, the way they do? And why do they beg and ask me for money?

S/he confessed to feeling shocked and horrified by his/her reactions. Nevertheless, they were real responses, very honest, and I have no doubt that this student returned home having learned something about the world and about his/her own self that was quite unexpected…and troubling.

Secondly, another student, after returning from a study abroad trip I led, came to the conclusion that in the face of poverty and the “underdevelopedness” we saw, s/he was ” glad  to be an American” where we enjoy certain physical comforts and social benefits.

Again, this was some honest reflection, but not what I would have hoped.

Two initial comments: first, neither of these students is a bafoon. Both are intelligent, thoughtful adults, both well into middle-age. Secondly, I’m glad I teach at a seminary where there is not as much peer pressure to appear pious and holy as there is in other settings. It is not institutionally dangerous for a student (or a faculty member, although a little more here) to say, “I don’t believe that just because it is in the Creeds,” or to conclude that they struggle to do what they think they’re supposed to do.

The first student’s response has caused me to think about how even the very good hearted among us often regard persons as categories (I’ve been helped here by Jeorg Reiger’s challenging book, Remember the Poor). No one wants to say out loud, “I don’t care about the poor.” Of course not. Of course we “care about the poor.” However, the social realities of many of our lives is such that most of us don’t know the name of a single person who is, in fact, poor. The poor people are: “the poor.” They are not, my friend, Dania, or even, my enemy, that nameless kid who held a pistol to my head in Cuernavaca. They are abstractions and, as such, they do not really exist.

When faced with the real opportunity to touch humanity as a person with a face and a name, the terms of the experience change dramatically. There are no longer “the gays and lesbians,” for example, but rather, my friend David and his spouse, Jeff. They are not abstractions. All those who are so easily and quickly reduced to non-existence spring to life.

However, from time to time, when we actually meet a real person who concretizes a category for us we are not always prepared. They are not saints–sometimes they are not even nice. They are people. Sometimes we like them and sometimes we don’t. But who can ever be prepared for an ideal to materialize? A romanticized (positively or negatively) vision will rarely disappoint, if we can keep it as a vision.

Many of us, for example, are unprepared for the latent racism that simmers and swells from time to time within us–and I’m not talking about “those bigoted folk.” I’m talking about those of us who, on a good day, believe we are shining examples of evolving humanity!

What do we do with this when it comes?

Of course, the easiest thing to do…and potentially the most visibly pious thing to do, is to support “the poor.” Preach/speak/teach about the value of “the poor,” “the oppressed,” “the widows and orphans,” etc., and even make them the objects and recipients of our charity and financial generosity. But for God’s sake, don’t get close.

A couple years ago a speaker came to our seminaries and spoke eloquently and inspiringly about the work his congregation was doing in the greater Washington, DC area in lobbying congress on behalf of the rights of Latino immigrants. But my level of impressedness sunk to UNimpressedness after I heard this pastor’s response to my question. I asked, is anyone in your congregation learning Spanish (or does anyone already speak Spanish) and how much direct contact does the congregation have with the Latino community? Nada.

The second student’s response has also given me much to think about.

Why was I disappointed with the “I’m glad to be an American” response? Am I hoping my American students will be ashamed of their citzenship and consider renouncing it? Do I hope they’ll be indifferent? I wonder about this about about my motivations, but I don’t believe it is shame or indifference that I’m after. However, some reflection is in order. Is it really so simple as “God has blessed us?” (we’re rightly hesitant to finish what could be a complete thought: “…and has not blessed them.”)

I’m not an economist, but have a friend who is so I’m hesitant to play in the backyard of a discipline about which I know very little. Nevertheless, a simple meditation on what is required to have some of the things which I enjoy as an American ought to give me pause.

As I write, there is still a hemorrhaging oil pipe in the Gulf of Mexico which is not only threatening US coasts, but also coasts in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz. The image of this pipe is, for me, a profane modern Crucifix. “The pipe is bleeding for you and for me. ” It is, in all the terms appropriate to some theologies, an offering for me on behalf of my actions.

I realize full well that staring into the face of poverty is painful, particularly when one meditates on the possibility of being complicit in its existence.

Where is grace and how do we think about grace in such matters?

….more to come

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God’s remarks to Job:

“My thanks are to you for releasing me
From moral bondage to the human race.
The only free will there at first was man’s,
Who could do good or evil as he chose.
I had no choice but I must follow him
With forfeits and rewards he understood–
Unless I liked to suffer loss of worship.
I had to prosper good and punish evil.
You changed all that. You set me free to reign.

You are the Emancipator of your God…”

A Masque of Reason
by Robert Frost

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