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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.

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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.

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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.)