I LOVE comments. Please leave some even if they are brief half-formed ideas
that you aren't even sure you really believe. I just love comments.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

recent reading

While riding the local from Mesa to Tempe, I finished the Adam Smith selection, read the Communist Manefesto and Ibsen's Master Builder, and have started Schroedinger's What Is Life?. The latter is put in context here. I found that article while sitting in a waiting room and wondering if Schroedinger's guess about the number or atoms per gene still held up. (It does for his purposes, although obviously in 1944 his understanding was lacking.) Meanwhile, I'm writing this post on my smart phone on the bus, which is not even really noteworthy. We live in a cool world.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is Newt Gingrich a Liar

Newt Gingrich says that there were no Palestinians until 1977. The article points out that "[t]he Palestine Liberation Organization was in fact founded in 1964, capping off years of Palestinian cultural development from both before and after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War." Also there is this from two hundred years before 1977.

The Jews of Palestine, who had fondly expected a temporal deliverer, gave so cold a reception to the miracles of the divine prophet, that it was found unnecessary to publish, or at least to preserve, any Hebrew gospel. Edward Gibbon, Ch. 15, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (circa 1776).
(Emphasis added)(Footnote omitted).

I think I just answered my own question.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

John the Baptist as Anti-Corporatist

The Gospel of Mark does not open with a nativity. Instead, we learn about how Jesus was the One for whom the Israelites were waiting for. Mark reaches back to the Prophet who wrote told of either a wilderness voice crying out about making a straight path for the Lord or a voice crying out in the wilderness about making a straight path in the wilderness.
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
Mark 1:3. Compare with Isaiah 40:3.
A voice of one calling:“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Regardless of where the punctuation should go, the important point for the author of Mark is that Jesus has someone doing his advance work. And that guy is described thusly.
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
What was John doing in the wilderness? Why does it matter that he ate locusts and wild honey? This passage reminded me of something that Adam Smith wrote.
Among civilized and thriving nations, on the contrary, though a great number of people do not labour at all, many of whom consume the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times more labour than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is so great, that all are often abundantly supplied, and a workman, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniencies of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire.
Wealth of Nations, Bk I, Ch.I, para 4. Adam Smith makes the point that in advanced nations there is a structure wherein the labor of many go into producing goods for everyone. Which in turn makes the individual beholden to the system. Although not a primary point for Smith, such systems also enable "a great number of people [to] not labour at all."

By contrasts, eating wild honey and locusts does not require the support of that social matrix. Furthermore, while John is hanging around the capital city, he is doing his baptizing out in the wilderness. Makes me think of a militia man or off-the-grid organic farmer of ancient Palestine. Is this an accident that Mark opens this way?

Marcus Borg probably doesn't think it is. He writes, "[Jesus] was a voice of peasant social protest against the economic inequity and violence of the imperial domination system, mediated in the Jewish homeland by client rulers of the Roman Empire." In his book, plainly titled Jesus, Borg notes that Jesus' ministry comes in a time when the relatively new economic system, a system that Adam Smith would describe as civilized, is causing significant injustice.

I buy it. I think this economically efficient system presented injustice. I also think that Jesus' coming was about challenging that system. What do you think? Is this too much of a stretch?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Last Ride on 532

I put down my copy of Wealth of Nations as we began our descent into Phoenix. I decided to drink in the last bit of what was likely my last ride on the Route 532 Express Bus from Mesa to downtown. I resituated myself on the back bench, which seats five but rarely actually seats more than three, and took note of my fellow passengers.

My guess is that the median age was just north of fifty. At least two men had been asleep for most of the ride. One leaned precariously close to me several times, each time straightening up just before I was about to wake him. Even though there were thirty of us spread out over about 70 seats on the double bus, I like the back bench and this guy likes the side facing back seat, so we were closer than necessary.

Almost everyone had something to read. The guys who chat about "the game" and "the market" were not riding today. It is pretty common to see the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Paperback novels make up a good share of the selection as well. Newspapers and the occasional lawyer reviewing briefs make up the rest. Some just listen to music.

I will drive in tomorrow and am meeting some folks for drinks tonight. I start a new job on Monday that is not serviced by this Express Bus route. I'm planning to try riding a Local, but we'll have to see. Also, today was a rare overcast day in Phoenix, Arizona. And maybe that added to my sentimentality, but I have to confess to mild feelings of melancholy over saying good bye to Route 532.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Disciples of Christ Are Anti-Exclusion Part II: Founding Principles

UPDATED 11/27/11 to correct typos and make some adjustments in response to comments on Romans.

Part I

At the heart of the Stone-Campbell movement was a calling "to restore Christianity to its original purity and power," in which Disciples historians have recognized "the significant role of American religious liberty." [1] This section explores how this calling led the church founders to believe that (1) church doctrine and human tradition had crowded out the simple, true Gospel of Jesus Christ and (2) a particularly destructive manifestation of this perversion of the faith was the exclusion of some from the Body of Christ. These themes are evident not only in the works of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, but also in the work of John Locke, a particularly influential philosopher for the church founders. [2] In Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration he wrote,
Whosoever requires those things in order to ecclesiastical communion, which Christ does not require in order to life eternal, he may, perhaps, indeed constitute a society accommodated to his own opinion and his own advantage; but how that can be called the Church of Christ which is established upon laws that are not His, and which excludes such person from its communion as He will one day receive into the Kingdom of Heaven, I understand not.
Note both the notion that human doctrine could corrupt the teachings of Christ and that the corruption leads to exclusion.

The Stone Movement's important Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytery addressed the corruption of the Gospel with human tradition. Stone's Christians willed "that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the holy scripture with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or rudiments of the world." Even more graphically, at the beginning of the Observations written to accompany the Last Will & Testament, the Christians asked, "How often even among us, has he been crucified afresh, and put to an open shame; pronounced powerless, dead, and buried among the rubbish of human tradition?" This sentiment was not held only by the Christians. In Alexander Campbell's Declaration and Address, the first declaration is that the Disciples were forming a religious association "for the sole purpose of promoting simple evangelical Christianity, free from all mixture of human opinions and inventions of men." A pithy summary can be found in the popular slogan: in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. [3]

In place of human tradition and creeds, the founders encouraged adherents to read Scripture for themselves. In the Appendix to the Declaration and Address, Campbell explains that the Reformers "propose to patronize nothing but the inculcation of the express word of God--either as to matter of faith or practice;--but every one that has a Bible, and can read it, can read this for himself.--Therefore we have nothing new." Likewise, the Christians willed in the Last Will & Testament "that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus." Indeed, as mentioned above, when Barton W. Stone was required to accept the Westminster Confession as a part of his ordination into the Presbytery of Transylvania, Kentucky he would not accept the creed without qualification. [4] Stone records in his autobiography, "I went into the Presbytery, and when the question was proposed, 'Do you receive and adopt the Confession of Faith, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Bible?' I answered aloud, so that the whole congregation might hear, 'I do, as far as I see it consistent with the word of God.' No objection being made, I was ordained." [5] Or, as another slogan goes, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." [6]

As a natural consequence of rejecting creeds, Stone and the Campbells both rejected tests of membership. [7] In the introduction to the Declaration, Campbell put it this way.
We are also persuaded that as no man can be judged for his brother, so no man can judge for his brother: but that every man must be allowed to judge for himself, as every man must bear his own judgment;--must give account of himself to God--We are also of opinion that as the divine word is equally binding upon all so all lie under an equal obligation to be bound by it, and it alone; and not by any human interpretation of it: and that therefore no man has a right to judge his brother, except in so far as he manifestly violates the express letter of the law.
It is perhaps its direct link to rejecting exclusion that makes the story of the Communion token so popular. It is undisputed that the Seceder church to which Campbell belonged in Scotland required that before receiving Communion members must first qualify for a Communion token. [8] Some have suggested that when the plate came to Campbell he threw his token upon the plate and compared "[t]he ring of that token, as it fell from his hands [to] the ring of Martin Luther's hammer on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral." [9] Others report the incident more as an internal moment in which Campbell quietly refused Communion in personal protest. [10] In either case, rejecting exclusion was an essential part of Campbell's vision.

These principles strongly argue against discriminating against Christians based on sexual orientation or gender identity. First, having the same sexual orientation and gender identity as the majority of Christians in a particular congregation is not an essential. Walter Scott identified what was essential for membership as the "golden oracle" recorded in Matthew 16:16, namely to confess that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God." [11] And even if Scott's formulation is too narrow, the absence of any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in Scripture demonstrates that these traits are not essential to being a follower of Christ.

This leads to the second point; the Bible is entirely silent on sexual orientation and gender identity. There is literally nothing addressing same sex couples getting married or adopting children. To be sure, the Bible references acts of sex between people of the same physical sex. However, the Scriptures do not consider the notion of a loving relationship between two people of the same physical sex. Consider Romans 1:26-27.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Paul describes abandoning natural relations and being inflamed with lust. Nothing in this description seems remotely related to the couples at Chalice Christian Church raising children together in committed lifetime relationships. More importantly, that it was in fact unnatural for some women to have relations with men--that people have sexual orientations that are not necessarily determined by their physical bodies--was an entirely foreign idea to the authors and the early readers of the Scripture. Thus, the Scripture is silent on sexual orientation. The silence of the Scripture on this topic argues for accepting Christians of all sexual orientations and gender identity.

Third, exclusion of Christians based on sexual orientation or gender identity is a mixture of human opinions and inventions of men with Christianity. As discussed above, one's sexual orientation and gender identity is not a topic of Scripture. Rejecting people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered has become a creed proposed by some Christian churches. It is a social issue--like whether a man may take multiple women as his wife--but is not a Christian issue.

Finally, the principle of religious liberty supports accepting Christians without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, the principle supports being public about the church's acceptance. Perhaps at sometime in the future a congregation's declaration of being open to and affirming of Christians regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity will be as proforma as an employer's declaration of being an Equal Opportunity Employer. Until that time comes, however, the absence of such a declaration amounts to de facto exclusion. Such a membership test cannot be harmonized with the principles of the Stone-Campbell movement.

Of course, this is not to say that the movement's founders would have literally accepted gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered Christians. How the movement's principles have directed the evolution of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is the topic of the next section.

[1] M. Blowers, Douglas A. Foster, and D. Newell Williams, Stone-Campbell History Over Three Centuries, in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement at xxii (2004 ed.).
[2] See, e.g., D. Duane Cummins, The Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation (2009 paperback ed.) (noting the significance of Locke for the Disciples founders and that Alexander Campbell referred to Locke as "The Christian Philosopher").
[3] For a thorough investigation of the origins of this slogan see Hans Rollmann, "In Essentials Unity": The Pre-History and History of a Restoration Movement Slogan, available at http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/unitas/essrev.html
[4] Paul M. Blowers, Creeds and Confessions, in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement at 252.
[5] Barton W. Stone, A Short History of the Life of Barton W. Stone, in The Cane Ridge Reader at 30 (1972 ed.)
[6] Cummins at 119.
[7] Id. at 68.
[8] See, e.g., Leroy Garrett, Campbell, Alexander, in The Encylopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement at 118; Cummins at 52.
[9] Al Maxey, Tale of the Tossed Token: Campbell's Last Communion Coin, available at http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx148.htm
[10] Garrett at 118; Cummins at 52.
[11] Blowers at 254.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adam Smith, Really?

So, I've just started Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations when I come to this at the end of the first chapter.
yet it may be true, perhaps, that the accommodation of an European prince does not always so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accommodation of the latter exceeds that of many an African king, the absolute masters of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.
Book I, Ch. I. To be sure, there is plenty of careful economic analysis--specifically the division of labor--and there is the beginnings of the idea that economic advances happen as a result of everyone looking out for their own self interest. But this little gem caught my attention.

I think it is worth recognizing the brutal racism toward African nations. Locke had this, too. Although, with Locke it was more about the American Indian nations. It doesn't necessarily discount his analysis, but I think it should be in the back of ones mind while reading these authors.

I think it is also worth noting the underlying assumption about productivity necessarily improving ones life. Surely one would rather be "absolute master" of "ten thousand nake savages" then a peasant wearing a jacket that much division of labor went into creating. Again, not to say that Smith's observations should be disregarded, but I do think it is worthwhile to keep his biases in mind. Curiously, he later writes, "Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life." Book I, Ch. V. Does this contradict his observation about the "savages"?

Is the ability to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life of those in what Smith calls civilised, but what we call industrialized, nations always greater than those in less industrialized nations? Was it in Adam Smith's time?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh . . .

I had a pretty good Veterans' Day this year. (BTW, where exactly does the apostrophe go? It is the day of several veterans, right?) The highlight was marching in the parade with Kate, pictured above. I guess I don't really have much more. Oh, and here's a CNN Link to a story about submarines. I like the part where they sub vet says that he guesses they all thought they were better than everyone else. That really is pretty much true.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Dia de Muertos

I know that I am a couple days late for Day of the Dead, but as Michael Scott says, "Fall is the most contemplative of seasons," so I've been thinking about Dad and Jaysen quite a bit recently. This picture pretty much captures who Dad is. I miss him.

As for Jaysen, here he is sporting what I believe Dad would describe as a "shit eating grin," a facial expression that Jaysen probably did not invent, but certainly perfected.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Disciples of Christ are Anti-Exclusion: Part I: Introduction

Note: This is the first section of an essay I am writing. I would appreciate any and all feedback, from typos to organizational suggestions to objections to the premise.

This essay outlines why the history and heritage of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) leads naturally to being Open and Affirming--accepting into full membership all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It demonstrates that the theological underpinnings of the original movements that led to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)'s formation militate an Open and Affirming stance. Next, it briefly traces the Church's admittedly inconsistent history of removing cultural barriers to participation in the Church. Finally, it applies to the question of whether to be Open and Affirming the Church's modern vision of bringing wholeness to a fragmented world. Of course, one does not develop an impression of his or her church through academic inquiry, but through experience. And for that reason, this piece begins with a story from a First Christian Church in southern Indiana in the 1980s.

Jeff was older than most when he began membership classes. it is possible that since Jeff was a person with Down Syndrome others had not considered him capable of knowingly making his Good Confession, but the new pastor knew better. The new pastor had grown up as a rough and tumble neighborhood kid in Indianapolis. As a troublemaker who didn't fit in with organized sports, who under performed in school, and who skirted close to the edge of the law from time to time, he had nonetheless been unconditionally accepted by the Christian Church. He knew that it was his job to likewise accept all those in his new community.

And so, he welcomed Jeff to the front of the church and asked, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jeff answered thunderously and unequivocally, "I DO." His proud and full throated declaration compared favorably to Barton W. Stone's carefully worded response in a similar situation. Over a century earlier, this founding father had accepted a long list of man made creeds presented to him, but only "[a]s far as it is consistent with the word of God." Having stripped away the man-made limits on the Gospel, the Christian Church movement enable Jeff to say "I do" without any such hedging.

The pastor then presented the second question, "And do you, Jeff, take Him as your personal Savior?" Again Jeff proclaimed, "I DO." The ceremony, of course, only provided for a public display of what was already true. God accepted Jeff completely and and surely as Jeff accepted God. Alexander Campbell would have been proud. For, like Campbell, he had protested efforts by the Church to exclude those who were unworthy. Campbell would tell of the time he had qualified for the communion token that authorized him to take communion, but when the time came, he recognized that token to be a symbol of unchristian exclusion, and, thus, rather than participate, he simply dropped the token in the plate and chose not to receive communion that day. If the table was not open to all, he would not participate.

Stone's defiance and Campbell's quiet protest bore fruit that Spring day in southern Indiana. The faith of one who might have been rejected was unleashed into the work. And, it transformed all who were there. Such are the ripples created by those founders who rejected exclusion.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Sentence: Three Points

The Jews of Palestine, who had fondly expected a temporal deliverer, gave so cold a reception to the miracles of the divine prophet, that it was found unnecessary to publish, or at least to preserve, any Hebrew gospel. Edward Gibbon, Ch. 15, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (circa 1776).
(Emphasis added)(Footnote omitted).

Palestine: I have heard from extreme supporters of Israel that there is no such place as Palestine, like it is some sort of a made up term. It struck me to see something that was written before the United States was a country use the term. I wonder on what the no-such-thing-as-Palestine movement bases its claim.

so cold a reception : For such a careful historian, it is shocking that Gibbon so completely subcumbs to the narrative of his culture. Cold reception? Every follower of Jesus in the Bible is a Jew. Paul may have not been considered a Palestinian, but he was ceratinly a Jew. It is kind of obnoxious to read that the people who are responsible for the entire Christian movement be brushed aside.

Hebrew gospel: Gibbon adds a note that some say Matthew was written in Hebrew, but the evidence suggests otherwise, hence the hedging with "or at least preserve." Now we know that none of the Gospels were written contemporaneously with the life of Jesus and none in Hebrew. The Q source was also written in Greek.

Is it significant that the Gospels were not written until after Paul's letter and they were written in the common language--Greek--rather than the language of the Jewish people?

Matthew and Luke were both written after the fall of Jerusalem, but I think both Mark and the Q were written before. Does that matter?

Friday, October 14, 2011

LDS Church: the perfect Evangelist Church?

According to Gibbon, the spread of Christianity within the Roman Empire was
assisted by the five following causes: I. The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses. II. The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth. III. The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive church. IV. The pure and austere morals of the Christians. V. The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman empire.
It occurs to me that the division of Christianity that most emulates these qualities today is the LDS Church, which just happens to also be one of the fastest growing churches in the nation.

My thoughts are based on my interactions with members of the LDS church rather than an academic study into the topic. For that reason I hope that members of the church will provide their thoughts in the comment section below. Anonymous posting is fine, as always.

Cause I: Exclusive zeal and abhorrence for idolatry. In my last post, I characterized this as being a spritual separatist, but today I am reading this as strictly adhering to one's belief in the public sphere. My friends who are Mormon would not, for example, go see rated R movies. They would politely decline an offer of alcohol or cafeinated beverage. It is clear that Mormonism transforms one and causes one to be in the world but not of it.

Casuse II: Certainty of Life After. I was discussing theology with a Mormon friend and explained that my church did not tell people what to believe but suggested that they seek their own truth in Scripture. She said, "That's because your church doesn't know for sure, right?" She was right. I think absolute conviction about afterlife, and prelife, is a quality to fairly attribute to LDS members.

Cause III: Miracles. The truth is that my recent interactions with friends in the LDS church have not addressed healing ceremonies. Although, growing up in Indiana I was riding with a father and son who were both active in the local LDS church and they talked about the power of healing ceremonies. I am not sure if physical healing brought on by Mormon Elders goes on today much.

Cause IV: Being Good People. Frankly, this is what I think is the biggest distinction between devout Mormons and devout Christian Fundamentalists. Many fundamentalists are super nice people, obviously, but there are a good number who are vicious in the judgmentalism. The first word that anyone uses to describe Mormons as a group is how friendly and kind they are.

Cause V: United & Disciplined. As a person who thrives on curiousity, I see the uniformity of theology expressed by members of the LDS church to be a drawback. But, that's for me personally. I don't think one could deny that the Mormon Church puts forward a united front on matters theological and social.

Is this a fair assessment of the characteristics of the LDS Church? Does it make sense that these same causes were present in the early church movement which spread through the ancient super power that was Rome? Should other movements consider emulating these characteristics?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Extreme Faith

I bristle at applying "extremist" to terrorist who justify their actions with religion. Violence in the name of God, I contend, displays a lack of faith, not a surplus. [note 1] I have a similar distaste for those who would withdraw from society as an act of faith, but find it less easy to condemn that behavior as a perversion of faith. In Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon gives me fresh reason to question my distaste for such social separatists.

Chapter XV of Gibbon's work deals with the nature of early Christianity. He notes that during the first century of the common era "the disciples of the Messiah were indulged in a freer latitude both of faith and practice than has ever been allowed in succeeding ages." [note 2] According to Gibbon, the movement split into three major components: those who adhered completely to "Mosaic law," Ebionites; those who completely reject Hebrew tradition and other doctrines, e.g., bodily resurrection, Gnostics; and the less discussed Orthodox.
But whatever difference of opinion might subsist between the Orthodox, the Ebionites, and the Gnostics, concerning the divinity or the obligation of the Mosaic law, they were all equally animated by the same exclusive zeal, and by the same abhorrence for idolatry, which had distinguished the Jews from the other nations of the ancient world.

Gibbon goes on to describe the early Christian experience as one of constant concern over the possibility of cultural interface with the pagans. Pagan ritual was present in everything from wedding ceremonies to the currency. If someone responded to a sneeze with "Jupiter bless you," according to Gibbon, the ancient Christian would be compelled to take the occasion to condemn Jupiter. "Such was the anxious diligence which was required to guard the chastity of the Gospel from the infectious breath of idolatry."

I cringe at the notion of such isolationist behavior and Christians focusing on every trivial custom. It reminds me of the annual War on Tolerance waged by Christianists who are offended by the "Happy Holidays" greeting. But, I reading this passage gives rise to my own anxiety. Is my tolerance, my integration into mainstream society at odds with what it means to be Christian? How much credence should I give the behavior of Christians so shortly after the formation of the Church?

[note 1] For an opposing view see Sam Harris's The End of Faith. A book that intensely frustrated my Sunday morning study group at Chalice Christian Church, but at the same time inspired some amazing conversations about faith.

[note 2] This lines up nicely with Harvey Cox's thesis in The Future of Faith. Cox explains that Christianity went through three phases. First the Age of Faith, which was free of dogma for the first 300-400 years. Then the Age of Belief, which was all about dogma and lasted for 1500 years or so. And finally, we are in the Age of Spirit, which nicely coincides with Cox's youth in the 1960's. Our group was less offended by but more suspicious of Cox's work on Faith as compared to Harris's.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, Locke & Rousseau on Private Property

Elizabeth Warren made a bit of splash recently by identifying the role infrastructure paid for by all of us played in facilitating commerce. Her point, as related to the topic of this post, is that for you to be able to efficiently contribute your labor to your property, and thus enhance its value, you rely on the benefits received from being a part of society. Hence, it is right that the social contract should require you to fund similar benefits for the next generation. Pretty compelling in my book. I wonder if one can take it a step further and say that the very existence of private property is a convention that springs from the social contract.

John Locke says no. Locke's essay Concerning Civil Government ("CCG") largely concerns private property because Locke sees the preservation of private property as the primary function of government. See, e.g., CCG ¶ 88 (the power of the commonwealth to punish is "for the preservation of the property of all members of society"); ¶ 120 (assuming men "enter into society with others for the securing and regulating of property"); ¶ 138 ("the preservation of property being the end of government"); cf ¶ 123 ("all being kings . . . the enjoyment of the property he has in this [natural] state is very unsafe, very insecure"). By contrast, Jean Rousseau writes more generally in The Social Contract ("TSC") that "all being born free and equal, alienate their liberty only for their own advantage." TSC Book I, Section 2, para. 3.

Locke recognizes that laws regarding private property are conventions, but if the purpose of civil government is the protection of private property, private property must predate civil government. For this, Locke turns to Natural Law. Locke describes the state of nature as "a state of liberty" but not "a state of license," because "[t]he state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it." CCG ¶ 6. Pursuant to Natural law, for any man, "[t]he 'labour' of his body ad the 'work' of his hands, we may say are properly his." ¶ 26. Thus, private property rights spring from one's labor under the precepts of Natural law. As demonstrated above, men give up certain rights, such as the right to punish, in exchange for security in the property rights they already possessed. For Rousseau,
What a man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses.
TSC Book I, Section 8, para. 2. Thus, for Rousseau, proprietorship, or the right to property, doesn't exist until one enters into the social contract.

Because Locke sees private property as a product of Natural law, he sounds almost like a member of the modern TEA Party when discussing legislation that infringes on it: "Whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery, they put themselves into a state of war with the people." CCG ¶ 222. I happen to agree with Rousseau. I don't think property rights exist without a government to enforce, or at least declare, them. This informs my assessment of the modern discussion because I see complaints of slavery or oppression associated with taxation not only as wrong for the reasons listed by Warren, but because they are nonsensical since without the government supported by taxes no such right to property exists.

Does society merely make it possible to utilize our property, or is society responsible for all property rights?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Today's post is about posting.

I am an extreme extrovert. And I mean that not in the life-of-the-party sense, but in the Myers Briggs personality test sense. I really crave interaction with people. A day full of phone calls from clients and hearings and emails that require responses is roughly a thousand times more fulfilling for me than a day spent in my office researching a topic and drafting something based on the research.

In the world of blogging, my extreme extrovertism manifests itself in a strong desire to receive responses to what I write. Getting a notice that someone has left a comment on my blog is such a pick-me-up. It is like getting a handwritten envelop in the mail.

Often times to encourage comments, I will email an entry to someone and specifically ask for a response. I am a bit surprised, obviously based on my own inclinations, at how seldom people accept my invitation--plea--to comment.

So, I will ask a question, one which any reasonable person would understand is very likely to go unanswered, why don't those who read this blog more often leave comments? I'll even provide some choices:
A. The posts are too long.
B. The topics of the posts are uninteresting.
C. The poor grammar and excessive typographical errors make the blog unreadable.
D. The posts are interesting enough, but not the type to cause one to form an opinion.
E. It actually takes a significant amount of effort to crystalize thoughts such that they can be conveyed in a few sentences in a sentence.
F. Other - please specify.

[Note: I actually think the number of comments left on my blog is larger than would be expected for my readership. Other blogs with thousands of times the traffic as mine do not generate thousands of times the comments. But that only makes me more curious about the behavior that is so different from mine.]

Monday, October 03, 2011

Biblical Marriage

I suppose to this graphic, we should add psuedo Paul's language from Ephesians.
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind--yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
Consistent throughout the Old and New Testament is the notion that marriage is an institution of male dominance. But, you see cracks in this at the end of the passage from Ephesians. And indeed, it is quoting Genesis 2:24. I wonder if the creation myths found in Gensis were more widely repeated among the population at large. I wonder if the hiearchy that is assumed in the passage from Ephesians, and made explicit in the various laws, was more a product of the power brokers in society. It would make me happy if the notion of love-based marriage co-existed among the people at-large with the explicit rule of domination-based marriage.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Help vrs. To Kill a Mockingbird

I did not read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. Not only is the book often listed as the greatest work of legal fiction ever produced in any medium, many of my lawyer friends were disgusted that I had not read the book. So, I read it.

I related to one of my friends who was a great fan of the book that I found it to be a pleasant read, an appropriate novel for high school students, but not particularly interesting, largely due to how much it hits you over the head with its anti-racism message. A message I agree with, but did not find especially enlightening. She felt my assessment was off and pointed to The Help as an example of a pleasant read with a hit-you-over-the-head anti-racism message. As it happened, someone had just loaned me The Help, so I gave it a read. My lawyer friend was right, I had sold To Kill a Mockingbird short. Although it is not a particularly literary novel, it is great in a way that The Help is not.

Given my skepticism going into reading both of these novels, I want to be clear that I in fact liked them both quite a bit. I cared about the characters; I was interested in the plot. I read both while riding the bus to and from work, and missed my stop twice, once while being caught up in each novel. It is just that I generally like fiction that makes you think, and I didn't see that in these books--in To Kill a Mockingbird at least in part due to the over hype from my friends, and in The Help because I don't think it was there.

Both novels share the theme that the segregated South was evil, but not everyone within the segregated South was evil. To Kill a Mockingbird, however, tells a much more complex and organic story. Consider the villains in each story. The primary villain in The Help is a privileged bitch who you are happy to see get hers at various times in the book. Although the author takes a shot at the very end to show that the villain is pitiful, you never feel any pity for her. By contrast, the worst of the worst in To Kill a Mockingbird are the ultra poor white trash, one an abusive father and the other an abused daughter who allows her lover to be charged with rape. Are they evil? Hell, yes. But your feelings toward them are more complex. Like the real villains we meet in the world, you recognize that they are a product of their environment.

Similarly, both novels have heroes who are themselves a product of the South. But, the hero in The Help seems to not belong there. Here hair is abused by the atmosphere; she's too independent; she doesn't fit in. To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch, by contrast, is a good shot with a rifle and a good father. He raises his children to respect others in accordance with Southern mores, even the bigots. He simply does his job with quiet integrity. Likewise, the revelation toward the end of To Kill a Mockingbird of other sympathetic Southerners is more organic than the counterpart in The Help.

In the end, the story in To Kill a Mockingbird is nuanced enough that I can understand the desire to read it a second time. On the other hand, while I enjoyed reading The Help, to reread it, I suspect, would be akin to watching a rerun.

NOTE: I think that it is fair to compare the two books given their similar themes and the multiple references to To Kill a Mockingbird in The Help.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I have a group of friends that is reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We recently read Chapter 15, The Hiddenness of Prayer, which can be viewed here, if you are willing to sign up for a trial offer. It appears there is no free Bonhoeffer on the web.

Bonhoeffer emphasizes the importance of not being too public with your praying. He focuses on Mathew 6:5-6, which provides, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen." Bonheoffer emphasizes that prayer is a time for you to be present with God, and notes that if you are showing off, or even allowing yourself to be distracted by your own pride at how good a pray-er you are, you will blow it and miss the whole point of prayer.

I am also reading The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. (The chapter is available on line, without a free trial offer here.) A friend from Chalice gave me the book and I am really enjoying it. Gibran gives this advice on prayer. "You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance. For what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether?" Not to knock Jesus or anything, but I really like this definition of prayer.

Then both texts provide example prayer. I'll start with Jesus and then quote Gibran.
This, then, is how you should pray:

'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

I cannot teach you how to pray in words. . . [but] if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,

"Our God, who art our winged self,
it is thy will in us that willeth.
It is thy desire in us that desireth.
It is thy urge in us that would turn our nights,
which are thine, into days which are thine also.
We cannot ask thee for aught,
for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us:
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself
thou givest us all."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shakespear & the Psalmist

From Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2, we have:
I have of late-but wherefore I know not-lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire- why, it appeareth no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!
From Psalm 8, we have:
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than Elohim and crowned them with glory and honor.
Elohim is translated as "angel" in this passage, and this passage alone, by the NIV. Everywhere else it is translated as God. In fact, there is a passage is Exodus, I believe, explaining how Elohim and YHWH are the same entity by different names.

I think it is interesting to read the conflicting views of human exceptionalism expressed in both passages. Hamlet's laments often remind me a bit of Ecclesiastes as well.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Repost: Economics of a Progressive Tax Rate

INTRO: The following post from November 3, 2008, has been getting lots of hits (well lots of hits for me) recently, so I thought I would bring it up to the front of the blog and see if there is any discussion. The essential theory is that a progressive tax policy is necessary to put money in the hands of consumers, drive demand and create jobs. President Obama, unlike President Clinton, has been unable to get Congress to go along with a progressive tax policy. His job numbers are closer to flat taxers like President Bush. And, when I say flat tax, I don't me a flat rate, I mean people who pay taxes generally pay the same rate, because higher income earners are able to avail themselves of legal ways of reducing their taxes. As always, comments are welcome.

A significant money cycle in our economy is employers paying employees who become consumers. Consumers buy things from service providers who become employers. So, you have this question we've examined before about whether it makes sense to make sure the employers have money to spend, which will in turn lead to expansion and therefore more employees to become consumers OR to make sure consumers have more money to spend, which will in turn lead to more buying and therefore more money for service providers.

It makes sense to me that the latter is the best way to go because consumers will spend money more quickly and drive demand, which is necessary before a business can expand. In other words, you can give my wife more money through tax breaks, but she can't hire new teachers until there are more students who can afford to attend her school.

I believe this makes a lot of sense, but I also believe it is borne out by history. Consider the following chart that provides the maximum income tax rate in the United States.

So you can see that we have basically lowered the top tax rate from over 90% during Roosevelt to something like 37.5% under W. Bush. Now, let’s take a look at job creation. You will see a pretty dramatic trend if you consider party affiliation.

The final chart is my creation. It is pretty rough, but I think it fairly captures the change in tax rates associated with each President and the job creation during the same period.
So, Roosevelt and Clinton both significantly increased the top tax bracket—made the tax structure more progressive—and saw large job creation. (In fact, if you look at the detailed chart, you’ll see Johnson did the same thing and he also had good job creation.) Reagan and Bush reduced the top tax bracket--made the structure more flat--and saw much lower job creation than, in Reagan’s case on either side of his presidency and in Bush’s case than before his presidency. Reagan and Bush also saw a dramatic explosion of the deficit.

It’s from 10,000 feet for sure, but this evidence seems to support my notion that a more progressive tax policy is a better economic policy. Particularly with the top brackets being so low when compared to our history or to other countries.


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Do we measure truth by our own capacity?

After finishing Montaigne's lengthy essay on education, I discovered that my Great Books reading list included his short essay "It is folly to measure the true and false by our won capacity" and decided to finish it too, in my effort to catch up. I think it to be a much better conversation starter.

Montaigne talks about the dangerous habit of those "who think they have more than common ability" to attribute "belief and conviction to simplicity and ignorance." He confesses that although he was once guilty of this himself, he is now reformed writing,
I presently pitied the poor people that were abused by these follies. Whereas I now find, that I myself was to be pitied as much, at least, as they; not that experience has taught me anything to alter my former opinions, though my curiosity has endeavoured that way; but reason has instructed me, that thus resolutely to condemn anything for false and impossible, is arrogantly and impiously to circumscribe and limit the will of God, and the power of our mother nature, within the bounds of my own capacity, than which no folly can be greater.
In our modern context it is easy to generate a list of beliefs that are generally attribute to simplicity and ignorance, at lease by the Prius-driving, NPR-listening, espresso-drinking liberal crowd to which I belong. Creationism, Virgin Birth, Bodily Resurrection, Intercessory Prayer, Physical Afterlife.

Montaigne, as it turns out, may be thinking of a pretty similar list. The direction he takes it, however, is different than I would go. Montaigne issues another of his condemnations of the Reformation and defenses of the Catholic church, including this, which likely sounds familiar to modern readers, "We are either wholly and absolutely to submit ourselves to the authority of our ecclesiastical polity, or totally throw off all obedience to it: 'tis not for us to determine what and how much obedience we owe to it."

In contrast, I am wary of my own certitude, despite the frequency with which I am certain. Nonetheless, my wariness is not generated by the notion that I should submit to authority, but that perhaps I am missing value tucked away in these believes held by those who I belittle with the tag of simple or ignorant. Perhaps the Truth lies somewhere in between prayer is valuable as a breathing exercise and prayer is a way to call on God to remove a tumor or heal a liver. Perhaps the inability to access the Truth is a measure of the limits of my own capacity.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Montaigne the Multiculturalst

Habituation puts to sleep the eye of our judgment. This is from Montaigne's essay Of Custom and not easily cahnging an accepted law. The point of the essay is that we don't realize how much of what we do is a matter of custom. In the beginning, he seems to suggest that this is a bad thing, writing that
the principal effect of its power is, so to seize and ensnare us, that it is hardly in us to disengage ourselves from its gripe, or so to come to ourselves, as to consider of and to weigh the things it enjoins. To say the truth, by reason that we suck it in with our milk, and that the face of the world presents itself in this posture to our first sight, it seems as if we were born upon condition to follow on this track; and the common fancies that we find in repute everywhere about us, and infused into our minds with the seed of our fathers, appear to be the most universal and genuine; from whence it comes to pass, that whatever is off the hinges of custom, is believed to be also off the hinges of reason; how unreasonably for the most part, God knows.
What follows is a litany of crazy customs from other lands. The lists include a lot about sex and eating. Then he turns to the Church. I thought to myself, "Wow, is this guy going to recognize the cultural impact on religion in the 1580's?" Uh, no. On the Reformation he writes,
For my own part, I have a great aversion from novelty, what face or what pretence soever it may carry along with it, and have reason, having been an eyewitness of the great evils it has produced. For those which for so many years have lain so heavy upon us, it is not wholly accountable; but one may say, with color enough, that it has accidentally produced and begotten the mischiefs and ruin that have since happened, both without and against it; it, principally, we are to accuse for these disorders:—
He then further disappoints me with this interpretation of Christianity:
The Christian religion has all the marks of the utmost utility and justice: but none more manifest than the severe injunction it lays indifferently upon all to yield absolute obedience to the civil magistrate, and to maintain and defend the laws.
Absolute obedience to the civil magistrates don't get you hung on cross, my friend.

So, Montaigne recognizes that so much of what we do and believe is the result of custom, and that it is difficult to change such things, even if we perceive them; but then he concludes that this is probably okay. In fact, he prefers to leave things alone, unlike those dirty Protestants. Fair enough.

UPDATE: English Major's Junk Food also has some things to say about Montaigne. I think the words of an English major are infinitely more trustworthy than those of a lawyer.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Greed is Bad

I have just finished Michel de Montaigne's essay That the taste of good and evil depends in large part on the opinion we have of them. (clunky Google Books version here.) Montaigne sets out to show that "what we call evil is not evil in itself--or at least, whatever it is, that it depends on us to give it a different savor and a different complexion." He examines three topics in the essay. The first is death. He notes that many people are willing accept death, writing, "Most philosophers have either deliberately anticipated or hastened and abetted their own death." He also provides some examples of literally gallows humor, to show commoners are also capable of not fearing or respecting looming death. Next, he turns to pain and provides a similar list of people famously enduring pain. For example, he explains that "[a] simple Spartan boy, after stealing a fox and putting it under his cape, endured its gnawing his stomach rather that betray himself [as a thief]." After this we get what is the primary thesis, I think.
That our opinion gives value to things is seen by many things that we do not think about even to appraise them, preferring to think about ourselves instead. We consider neither their qualities nor their uses, but only the cost to us of getting them, as if it were some part of their substance; and we call value in them not what they bring, but what we bring to them. At which point I note that we are great economizers of our expenditure. According as it weights, it serves by the fact that it weighs. Our opinion never lets it run at a false valuation. Purchase gives value to the diamond, and difficulty to virtue, and pain to piety, and harshness to medicine.

Montaigne then concludes his point by examining should be a positive, wealth. Ironically, he explains, just as pain does not always lead to suffering, wealth does not always lead to pleasure. Or as he writes, "In truth, it is not want, but rather abundance, that breeds avarice." Or as Paul writes in his letter to Timothy, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." 1 Tim. 6:10. Or as Jesus told his disciples after the rich man could not give up his wealth, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Or, as Robert Reich explains in this video, greed is killing the American economy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

ALL are welcome at the Table

We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As a part of the Body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord's Table, as God has welcomed us. ~ Disciples of Christ Statement of Identity

This statement seems quite consistent with Campbell's rejection of exclusion. It seems consistent with the priesthood of all believers concept in the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. And it seems to unambigously call Disciple congregations to welcome people into the Body of Christ regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I recently read an trascript from a pastor stating his objection to accepting gay people into full membership and leadership in the church. The pastor took pains to demonstrate that he did not hate gay people, and in fact apologized for his Christian brothers who had caused such harm to gay people. He structured his talk by focussing on truth and grace. The truth part was an effort to justify opposition to the GLBT community with Biblical citation. The grace part was about the need for Christians to have an attitude of love toward gay people.

Surely there were similar good people who could not accept the role of women in leadership. Surely there were similar good people who could not accept interracial marriage. But eventually, the real truth broke through. And now, Christians are ashamed of Biblical justifications of oppressing women and racial minorities.

It is time for all Disciple churches to read this statement of identity, to search their hearts, and to stand up for the radical inclusion called for by our church tradition and, indeed, the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Christian Libertarianism

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was formed by the union of two movements. One headed by the Thomas & Alexander Campbell. The other by Barton W. Stone. (Which was always a cool name to me because I had Grandma & Grandpa Barton and a Grandma & Grandpa Stone.) My last post concerned a story from the Campbells. This one examines a key document to the folks in Stone's movement--The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. The main body of the document begins with a call for an end to divisions within the Christian Church Universal:
We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.
Of course, I suspect many churches would agree that Christians should be one, which can be easily accomplished if everyone would just shut up and accept the one true theology that the particular church preaches. That was not the path suggested by Stone's followers. Instead, they hoped,
that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
that preachers and people cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up, and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.
that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.
There are several other stanzas, although I closed with the final one. There are two basic ideas that one can pull from this document. One, the Bible and not tradition is the authority that should drive our thinking, and, two, each person, church and pastor is empowered and required to decern the meaning of the Bible for themselves.

Driving for unity this way, not by demanding one theology but by empowering all to find their own theology, is what I am call Christian Libertarianism. I think the notion is captured well in the motto, "In essentials unity, in nonessential liberty, in all things charity."

I believe this Christian Libertarianism in which the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is so deeply rooted is yet another reason why it is natural for Disciple churches to open to people who are other than heterosexual and affirming of those same people. One's sexuality is certainly not an essential to being Christian. It is a topic not mentioned by Jesus. Indeed the notion of being gay or straight or bi, that is the idea that one has a sexuality, must post-dates the Bible.

And, liberty in this nonessential is to allow full participation in the church without regard to it. Those who believe it is a sin to get divorced, to have sex with a member of your own sex, or to have sex for reason other than reproduction, should also be allowed full membership in the church.

And, we should direct charity toward those who disagree with us, whatever our belief.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rejecting Exclusion

Inclusiveness is at the core of Disciple theology. A story nicely illustrating this is that of Alexander Campbell and the communion token. Although many traditions celebrate the Lord's Supper with every meeting, the Presbyterian Church, to which Campbell belonged, only did so once a quarter or less. Shortly before the church held its communion service, the minister would examine members of the parish and issue them a communion token, often with his initials on it, to ensure acts and beliefs were acceptable.

In May 1809, Campbell's church in Glasgow prepared for a communion service. The minister and elders visited the various members to determine who among them could receive a communion token. Campbell found it difficult to accept that which appeared to be "man-made judgments fostering divisions among Christians." He believed that no human could sit in judgment of another's spiritual worthiness.

A plate was passed around the table to receive the communicants' tokens. After providing the token, they could partake of the Lord's Supper. When the plate came to Campbell, "he threw his token upon the plate handed round!" He then stood up and walked out of the church.
The ring of that token, as it fell from his hands, like the ring of Martin Luther's hammer on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, announced the renunciation of the old church ties, and marks the moment of which he forever ceased to recognize the claims or authority of a human creed to bind upon men the conditions of their acceptance with God.
Thomas W. Grafton, Life of Alexander Campbell, p. 40-41). [What I've written so far, is just a sample of the well cited piece by Author Al Maxey. His essay, which includes much more detail, including a discussion of U.S. State governments minting communion tokes, can be found at: http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx148.htm]

This story has always meant to me that radical inclusion is in the DNA of Disciples. I don't know if Campbell objected to the particular criteria required to receive a communion token. I suspect he did not. But the notion that we mere mortals should deny someone access to the Table was intolerable for Campbell. It is easy for me to extend this notion of inclusion to embrace those who fall in love with members of their sex. It is easy for me to extend this notion to those who were born with the sex organs of one gender, but are, in their hearts, members of the opposite gender.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Two demons worked in concert to derail my Great Book reading schedule. Reblais and Solitare for my iPod. I have decided to give up on Reblais and move on to his countryman Montaigne. I am now woefully behind on this year's schedule, but not so much so as to give up. And, Montaigne actually dabbles close to work relevance.

* * *

I am also writing a 3-5 page essay arguing that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) should welcome non-straight people into full participation in the church, and without asking them to mask or change their sexual identity. The paper is intended to argue that this is natural extension of what it means to be an Disciple, as in an adherent to this particularly branch of the Campbellite movement.

* * *

I am also working on five little keynote addresses I will be giving to church campers the last week in June. The topics are provided to me. I know the short excercises and the stories I intend to tell. Now it is just a matter of how much detail work to do ahead of time on fleshing out the stories and how much room to leave for the spirit to move. (That's Jesus-speak for wininging it.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

On the margins

Am I right that the two solutions to the national budget crisis most often suggested are (1) eliminate services to the poor and (2) raise taxes on the rich. If democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, I suppose it is not surprising to see two non-middle class groups targeted. And, since there is no constitutional right to government services or low taxes, budgets it would seem would directly reflect the will of the majority.

When presented with scriptures about the treatment of the poor, perhaps most graphically in Matthew 25:31-46 although it is far from a unique scripture on the topic, I am perplexed by those who profess to be Christians that advocate for option (1).

Of course, this opens me up to a charge like, "Then how can you be in favor of no-fault divorce laws given Matthew 5:31-32's requirement that divorce only be granted in the case of infidelity." But, the thing is, the prohibition on divorce suggests that followers of Jesus should not get divorced, but for limited circumstances. The position on the poor says that followers of Jesus should take care of the poor. I can vote for a supporter of a no-fault divorce law and not get divorced. I don't know if I can vote for a supporter of kicking people off AHCCCS and still claim to care for the poor. Also, I'm pretty comfortable with the fact that the institution of marriage is radically different now than in Jesus' time--most people recognize that this command was directed at helping women who previously could be cast out for no reason. By contrast, I think poverty is still poverty.

Now, I personally think the best solution to the budget crisis is to raise everyone's taxes. Certainly before we start eliminating/modifying by elimination Medicare. I support a progressive tax rate, but it makes more sense to me that we all should bear a relatively higher burden in order to support our priorities. But if we are going to pick on one group on the margins, it is hard for me to see how Christians can advocate for picking on those at the bottom.

As Bill O'Reilly says, "Tell me why I'm wrong."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering the Fallen

Reflecting on those who died while serving our country in uniform reminded me of something I saw on CNN about President Obama considering a change in policy for those who killed themselves. Apparently, it has been the policy for some time for the President to not send condolence letter to the family of those who service members who kill themselves. Then I found this opinion piece. The author concludes, "I think by changing the policy, President Obama would send a powerful message that we cannot tolerate what is happening to our troops."

First, a condolence letter is not an honor. It isn't a posthumous award for valor. It is an expression of compassion to those who have lost a family member. Is the loss suffered by the family members of those who kill themselves less than that of those who are killed in a car accident or an IED?

Second, do we seriously believe that suicides are an unpredictable result of sending young men and women off to kill people? Is a soldier exposed to the horrors of war, and dies as a result of PTSD less a combat casualty than my dad who was exposed to agent orange and died of cancer?

This policy needs to be changed.

Monday, May 09, 2011

2011 Mother's Day Message

Here is a video of the Mother's Day message I delivered at Chalice Christian Church yesterday. As with all things, comments and critique are welcome.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Rabelais: Challenging

I am currently reading Gargantua by Rabelais. Gargantua is the story of a giant and his various adventures, starting from his birth. The language is quite challenging, which is weird because it is a translation. Here is a passage about Gargantua being excited to tell his father about wiping his butt. To give you a taste of this stuff, here is a poem from the work, introduced with "I wiped myself with hay, with straw, with thatch-rushes, with flax, with wool, with paper, but,"

Who his foul tail with paper wipes,
Shall at his ballocks leave some chips.

What, said Grangousier, my little rogue, hast thou been at the pot, that thou dost rhyme already? Yes, yes, my lord the king, answered Gargantua, I can rhyme gallantly, and rhyme till I become hoarse with rheum. Hark, what our privy says to the skiters:

Thy bung
Hath flung
Some dung
On us:
St. Antony's fire seize on thy toane (bone?),
If thy
Thou do not wipe, ere thou be gone.

Will you have any more of it? Yes, yes, answered Grangousier. Then, said Gargantua,

A Roundelay.

In shitting yes'day I did know
The sess I to my arse did owe:
The smell was such came from that slunk,
That I was with it all bestunk:
O had but then some brave Signor
Brought her to me I waited for,
In shitting!

I would have cleft her watergap,
And join'd it close to my flipflap,
Whilst she had with her fingers guarded
My foul nockandrow, all bemerded
In shitting.
Now, just as I'm about to put it down and give up, there is something of the satire that seems to maybe get through. Also, it is fun to read a Paul Bunyon story from the 1500's. Still, I'm not convinced that this book is "great."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Problems with Mothers' Day Preaching

One problem that we run into as an enlightened community addressing celebrations like Mothers' Day is that not everyone has a mother in anything other than a biological sense. And, perhaps worse, some have been abused by their mothers.

This leads me to the question of whether this day is celebrating our individual mothers, or the notion of motherhood. Surely as the holiday stands today, we are doing both. I think for purposes of my sermon, I will want to focus on the latter.

Josh notes in his comment to the last post that the phrase "ideal mother" is cringe-worthy. I can't argue with that, particularly in as much as the phrase suggests to a ranking. What I was trying to get to was the idea that there is an ideal of motherhood, as something that Plato or Aristotle would acknowledge.

Which brings me to the second big problem. I believe that fathers are nurturing and kind and strong enough to make tough decisions. So, can we celebrate motherhood without dismissing fatherhood? I hope so.

The final problem is that the Bible does not always shine a bright light on mothers. Think about Sarah sending Hagar away. Think about Rebekkah as so strongly favoring Jacob over Esau.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Next Speaking Engagement

I will be preaching at Chalice Christian Church on Mother's Day. I would like to use this in the service:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice."

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of
Mothers' Day Proclamation: Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870. I am also interested in using the story of Hagar and Ishmael found here. The theme of the sermon will be that strength, particularly in the face of tragedy, is a characteristic of the ideal mother.

Any thoughts?

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Makes Me Sad

Nate Silver is one of the people I trust when it comes to statistics. He has announced recently that it is fair to say a majority of Americans support marriage equality. Story here.

"But, Jim," you may ask, " are you not on the leadership council of the Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples (GLAD) Alliance and of Chalice Christian Church (an O&A congregation, really since its inception)?" "And, by the way, don't both these organizations have exciting new webpages?" you might add as a shameless plug.

Yes, to both I would respond. The reason this information makes me sad is that it makes me feel the Church Universal lost a crucial opportunity to be a leader for Justice in the way that Jesus was a leader for Justice. In one of the two civil rights struggles of our age, it is only fair to say that the church for the most part sat on the sidelines. Frankly, GLAD's work will be to help Disciple churches catch up with the more Christ-like position that secular society has already staked out.

Of course, this was true back when the trend lines were moving this direction. And 50% in support of justice is 50% shy of the target and whatnot. I just wish the church could have been more a part of this as it was the 1960's civil rights movement.

So, let's do the clean up work of purging archaic anti-Christian views of people based on orientation. And let's get in front of immigrant rights and maybe the environment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Everyone has a 168 hours per week to spend on whatever they like. Like most people, I schedule much of my week ahead. So, for example, I schedule 45 hours of work and 10 hours of commute every week. I schedule about 50 hours a week for sleep. That still leaves a very impressive 63 hours at my disposal. And with that in mind, I tend to pack more planning into the week. I often have one or two two-hour meeting either for church or charity board or professional organization. I've been trying to do four hours a week of walking. I usually eat breakfast and dinner in the same room if not at the same time as my family. And, Sunday is church followed by youth group followed by dinner at the in-laws.

I am generally very pleased with living a happy full life. But the problem comes when something suddenly takes more time than budgetted to it. The problem I constantly struggle with is how to have enough stuff in my life during non-disaster periods that I'm not bored without having so much stuff that when the disaster comes I am completely overwhelmed. I have not mastered it.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Celebrating Forty

Because I am only three and a half months older than Pat, we get to enjoy milestone birthdays together. Closing in on forty, we decided not to do anything too grand for the big birthday, but wait until 12/12/2012, our twentieth wedding anniversary, for the lavish celebrations. That said, the low key celebrations matched up pretty nicely with our personal inclinations: happy hour at a pub for me, a museum and excellent eatery for her.

Pat's choice of museum was superb. We went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale--well, I guess it is technically Phoenix at Tatum & the 101. We have been to Seattle's Experience Music Project, which is also amazing. I think the major difference between the two is that the MIM is much more directed at showcasing the world's instruments. Yesterday, we made it through Asia and Latin America. Pat had been before and made it through Africa and Europe. You can easily spend 1-1/2 to 2 hours per region. It is a fun way to consider other cultures because in music there is so much we share (every culture has a lute of some kind, for example) and so much easily comprehended variety. As a college freshmen, a poster with Andy Warhol's painting of Moa and the caption, "I am a world citizen" hung in Pat's dorm room. Today, she replaces Halloween with International Day at her Montessori school. Still representing for multiculturalism.

We took our fancy lunch at the Farm Kitchen, one of the restaurants at The Farm at South Mountain. By using fresh incredients, including artisan bread, they pack a ton of flavor into a simple sandwich. Even with some little sprinkles of rain, it was delightful to eat outside on tables set up not to far from the source of some of our food.

We were going to go for a walk by the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert, pictured below, but I remembered that I left the fill valve open on the pool before we left on our little Ferris Beuller meets Phoenix adventure and so we had to run home. Back to reality. (Only a little bit of the yard was flooded.)

Monday, April 04, 2011


So, I thought while in D.C. I would have been able to catch up on my blogging. Not so. Then I came back and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off up until and including through the weekend. I have finished reading the Augustine selection, and want to write something comprehensive but have not done so. I love how the Confessions is so intimate. I think it is rightfully read as an inspection of St. Augustine soul rather than a piece of theology.

I'm not waiting, though. I've moved on to Machiavelli.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is it a Homily?

I will be speaking at my brother's wedding. He has asked me to do the talk, which is maybe a homily, for 3-4 minutes. The service will be very minimalist--I don't believe there will be any other readings or spoken portion other than the vows. It is also a secular service with the officiant chosen by the wedding planner who is employed by the facility where the wedding will be held.

My brother and his bride-to-be do not attend church, although they have worked together to feed the homeless at Paz de Cristo. My brother is fiercely anti-religion. I believe his fiance is much less so.

So, everyone, but especially my clergy friends, what do you think of this as an outline.

Open: Joke about how Jeff only wants me to speak for 3-4 minutes so I don't have time for [quick comments about their past together]; nor do I have time for [quick notes about their future together]; I can only talk about today.

Body: What I can say about today is that this is a sacred event. And of course, sacred is a religious word suggesting that something is blessed by the presence of God. But religion doesn't make this, or any other wedding, sacred. That word just points to what we can all clearly see.

First, that this union is blessed. That means it is more that a good thing . . . [Talk about how great the bride and groom are, and how great their union is]

Second, that blessing is recognized by the presence of others . . . [talk about the role the family and friends play in making a marriage work]

Finally, present in this union is something more than the sum of its parts. [talk about the profound transforming effect of Love and Marriage] As they say, "To love another person is to see the face of God." Jeff and Susan are plainly privy to that today.

Thoughts? Suggested reading? Pitfalls to avoid? What do you think?

Also, any tips for speaking to non-church folks on such topics?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Augustine on Science

One thing that continues to jump out at me while reading the Great Books is how common "modern" ideas are. Augustine is writing in the fourth century, so I was interested to read what he has to say about science.

An important background point is that Augustine's Confession is not only a story about how great his conversion to Christianity was, but also how evil everything he did in the past was. He seems to hate his father for having the nerve to provide him with a top notch liberal arts education. Even his love for his mother is limited to her praying for him to become a Christian. I don't find Augustine to be particularly lovable.

Book IV, chapters 15 and 16 give his thoughts on science. For Augstine, he compares Christianity to a variety of other world views. For whatever reason, he seems to take science and Manichaeism as a pair. He basically observes that science is better at describing the natural world than the Manichaens. So, why not go with science. Then, he think Christianity is better than the scientists.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sin (Augustine)

In his Confessions Book II, St. Augustine focusses on a number of adolescent sins. He obliquely suggests that he had sex out of marriage, but is more comfortable to confess stealing pears from a tree and then throwing those pears at some pigs. He wonders why do we sin? One problem was that his bodily urges produced such a cloud in his reasoning that he could not "distinquish the clear light of love from the murk of lust." Another, he says, is that he desired to imitate God's power, although his was a perverse imitation. He also cites to peer pressure, which in his case was also pear pressure, saying that if he were alone he never would have stolen the fruit. Indeed, he even recounts claiming to have done wicked things he did not do in order to avoid ridicule or to receive praise. See Book II. It is interesting how much his confession strikes me as the text of a "hip" teenage youth group lesson.

The idea of sin is problematic when it is used to declare that someone else deviate from your cultural normal is not only different from you, but in defiance of God. On the other hand, I think the notion of sin is very helpful for those of us who wish to live the best possible life. The idea that we periodically miss the mark makes us better.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Augustine as Panentheist

I subscribe to panentheism, which means God is everything and then some. God contains all things but is contained by nothing. The "then some" for me is suggested by things like truth and beauty. Truth and beauty are real; they exist in the natural world, but they are not exactly material. (Here is a link to a nice discussion about panentheism by two of the people who introduced the idea to me.)

This notion is linked to the more common God-is-everywhere notion. Augustine broaches this topic when asking how to call to God. He writes,
And how shall I call upon my God -- my God and my Lord? For when I call on him I ask him to come into me. And what place is there in me into which my God can come? How could God, the God who made both heaven and earth, come into me? Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that can contain thee? Do even the heaven and the earth, which thou hast made, and in which thou didst make me, contain thee? Is it possible that, since without thee nothing would be which does exist, thou didst make it so that whatever exists has some capacity to receive thee? . . . Where do I call thee to, when I am already in thee? Or from whence wouldst thou come into me? Where, beyond heaven and earth, could I go that there my God might come to me -- he who hath said, 'I fill heaven and earth'?
Turning specifically to the notion of containing all but contained by none, "Since, then, thou dost fill the heaven and earth, do they contain thee? Or, dost thou fill and overflow them, because they cannot contain thee?" Of course, the entire Confession is directed toward God in a way that seems most in line with supernatural theism. And Augstine's inquiry seems to be driven by an effort to be rigorous. Still, I find it interesting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Appropriating Augustine

The first book of Augustine's Confessions is available online here. The Confessions read like prayers or psalms, which inspires me to take license with Augustine's thoughts and adapt them to my own thinking. For example, in this first chapter of the first book, consider the understanding of God as everything in the world and then some. There is an aspect of God, then, that is awe inspiring. This is an aspect of God that we acutely experience while standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or out in the open ocean, many other natural and scientific wonders. I think of this as a prayer to that God, which is all creation.
And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee. Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art. It may be that we should invoke thee in order that we may come to know thee. But "how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?" Now, "they shall praise the Lord who seek him," for "those who seek shall find him," and, finding him, shall praise him. I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.
Everything quoted is from the Bible. Citations omitted.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Closing Thoughts on Caesar

Well, I had been stalled out a bit on Plutarch, so I decided to get through Caesar and move on to Augustine. Strictly as a story, I enjoyed Caesar better than the other lives covered by Plutarch in the selections.

Plutarch gives us the famous veni, vidi, vici and he notes its potential as a slogan.
On leaving that country and traversing Asia, he learned that Domitius had been defeated by Pharnaces the son of Mithridates and had fled from Pontus with a few followers; also that Pharnaces, using his victory without stint, and occupying Bithynia and Cappadocia, was aiming to secure the country called Lesser Armenia, and was rousing to revolt all the princes and tetrarchs there. At once, therefore, Caesar marched against him with three legions, fought a great battle with him near the city of Zela, drove him in flight out of Pontus, and annihilated his army. In announcing the swiftness and fierceness of this battle to one of his friends at Rome, Amantius, Caesar wrote three words: "Came, saw, conquered." In Latin, however, the words have the same inflectional ending, and so a brevity which is most impressive.
I was under the mistaken impression that this quote was one of pure triumph and had missed its dismissive tone. Once again, reading primary sources is pretty cool.

There are other zingers. After the soothsayer predicted the Ides of March would be Caesar's downfall, Caesar saw the seer on his way to the Senate saying, "'Well, the Ides of March are come,' and the seer said to him softly: 'Ay, they are come, but they are not gone.'" Plutarch does not give us "et tu Brute," but puts this as Caesar's last words as crying out "in Latin: 'Accursed Casca, what does thou?' and the smiter, in Greek, to his brother: 'Brother, help!'" The story closes with those who betrayed Caesar, like the one who betrayed Christ, killing themselves. Cassius "with that very dagger which he had used against Caesar" and Brutus by literally falling on his sword, "while a certain friend, as they say, helped to drive the blow home."