Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Shuck at Westar


Being a non-laptop owner, I am going to relax without the computer. I am attending the Westar Spring Meeting in Miami. So no shuckin and jivin for a week or so (unless of course there is some kind of computer set up--but I hope not) as I need a break from this addiction. There is a world out there!

Peace,
John

P.S. Here is a pic--something to remember me by

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Democracy Now! Tri-Cities


I found out about this website today. It is called Democracy Now! Tri-Cities. Read this post, What is Democracy Now! Tri-Cities? to find out more about this blog and this effort to connect its listeners and to keep this show on WETS.

Tomorrow, I am going to preach about the Bible in my series of sermons regarding beliefs to give up in order to grow. I am going to focus on the dogma of divine inspiration of the Bible and the authority that doctrine presupposes. I will speak about the damage that dogma is creating in our nation. We are in danger of losing democracy in this country because this doctrine about the Bible is empowering the right wing in its lust for power and control. We are in danger of giving up our democracy for a theocracy. Don't think it can't happen. It already is happening. Read my last post on the IRD and their goals (purely social and political and based on the Bible as divinely inspired). That is just a small part of a larger well-organized and well-financed effort. Little by little, precinct by precinct, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, the fundamentalist theocrats with Bibles in hand are moving into positions of power.

Last week, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed Chris Hedges. I reported on that here. Since then I purchased his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and it is a sobering work. Here is a passage regarding the Bible:

Mainstream Christians can also cherry-pick the Bible to create a Jesus and God who are always loving and compassionate. Such Christians often fail to acknowledge that there are hateful passages in the Bible that give sacred authority to the rage, self-aggrandizement and intolerance of the Christian Right. Church leaders must denounce the biblical passages that champion apocalyptic violence and hateful political creeds. They must do so in the light of other biblical passages that teach a compassion and tolerance, often exemplified in the life of Christ, which stands opposed to bigotry and violence. Until this happens, unil the Christian churches wade into the debate, these biblical passages will be used by bigots and despots to give sacred authority to their calls to subjugate or eradicate the enemies of God. This literature in the biblical canon keeps alive the virus of hatred, whether dormant or active, and the possibility of apocalyptic terror in the name of God. And the steady refusal by churches to challenge the canonical authority of these passages means these churches share some of the blame. "Unless the churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, come together on this, they will continue to make it legitimate to believe in the end as a time when there will be no non-Christians or infidels," theologian Richard Fenn wrote. "Silent complicity with apocalyptic rhetoric soon becomes collusion with plans for religiously inspired genocide." p. 6

A friend of mine reminded me of another good book, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love by John Shelby Spong. I enjoy reading Spong's work. In fact, I even named my dog, Shelby, for him.

I suggest reading Hedges and Spong. They aren't simply talking about quaint religious ideas. The issue is not the Bible itself or its texts. The issue is the dogma attached to it. You may not know much about the Bible or care about it at all.

But you should.

What you don't know can and will be used against you.

Winifred takes on the IRD

Here is a letter from my good friend, Winifred. She is an advocate for justice in the Methodist church. I met Winifred in Montana at a PFLAG meeting. She and I both moved to warmer climes about the same time. She has been a feisty fighter for justice for many years. I always appreciate the e-mails "From WK." You can get on her e-mail list by sending her an e-mail to WKeefer1@cs.com. This last e-mail is about UMAction, which is the Methodist branch of IRD, an organization that spends over $1 million per year to target three denominations, United Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian USA with their right-wing political agenda.

I wrote about the IRD earlier, here and here. The IRD's biggest chunk of change is aimed at the Methodist Church. Winifred has been reporting on these folks for some time.


Friends of justice:

Before I summarize the latest information from the IRD, let me just mention one news item that I set aside to send to you. From the Arizona Daily Star, February 19, 2007, section "Around the Nation" from South Carolina comes this information: Spartanburg, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Sunday that the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion should be over-turned. McCain also vowed that if elected, he would appoint judges who "strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and not legislate from the bench." (not all of article quoted)

Since some of the group receiving this e-mail are new to "From WK," I will give an introduction to "UM Action."

UMAction briefing is the communication bulletin sent by the IRD to United Methodists. The IRD is The Institute on Religion & Democracy's means of activating UMs to communicate with people and agencies of the UMC that differ from the goals of the IRD. There are two books you can read about this group whose goal is to bring the UMC, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Episcopal Church into the fundamentalist fold. One is UM @RISK by Leon Howell, 2003, ISBN:0-615-12399-6, and the other is Hard Ball on Holy Ground by edited by Stephen Swecker, 2005, ISBN:0-9711146-2-5. Both detail the conservative foundations who fund the IRD with the "goal of furthering public policy that favors the wealthy and the use of government power to support corporate interests." (p9, Hard Ball…) Their web site is
www.ird-renew.org. That will take you to the general site. For the UMC only try www.ird-renew/umaction. I have found that the reports of our more liberal celebrations are well summarized on this site. If one ignores the conservative comments, the summaries are quite good. They often have reporters at these gatherings. Sometimes they are identified by their well-dressed look.

The method of operation for these briefings is to encourage conservative Christians to write (and now to e-mail) the objects of their concern telling them the viewpoint of the conservatives. I have sent letters to the persons attacked saying that I agree with the action of the person attacked. One response I received was that the person was glad to know why the negative letters were coming. I would suggest that you pick at least one article to respond to; be sure to state that you are responding to the UMAction briefing of fall/winter 2007 and you disagree with their stand.

Now to the eight articles in this trifold 8X11 "briefing." I will be as succinct as I can be.

The first article asks that the UMs learn from the Episcopal Church. You may be aware that the international church is unhappy with the freedom in the USA to ordain gays and lesbians and to elevate them to Bishop. One of the leaders in the attempt to bring all the US churches in conformity with the "right reading of Scripture" is Bishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria who leads the huge number of African Anglicans. This information is from the TIME magazine of February 10, 2007. I mention this because the Methodist Church is also finding that there are more members in the "South", Africa, Latin America, and Asia than in the countries above the equator. African Anglicans number 44 million while the Episcopal Church USA has 2.2 million. There may be similar numbers for other Christian churches. The ACTION suggested for this article is to elect delegates to the UMC General Conference who will support the conservative views on sexual ethics. We know that the GLBT issue is a hot button "wedge issue" that can divert us from their objectives.

Skipping ahead to a similar theme the last article is "Good News: African UM is Growing" This echoes my comments on the first article. The list of growth in three conferences in Africa is given. In contrast, the US has lost 3 million members and is declining at about 70,000 members per year. I would like to step aside and mention that the voting delegates in General Conference is based on the membership. We in the west have already lost delegates to about 45 out of the 1000 permitted. If the African Conferences gain delegates equal to their growth, we will be even more marginalized. This is one reason I support the Western Jurisdiction MFSA. We must stick together.

The ACTION for the next article is to ask Bishop Ann Sherer to uphold the clear UM and Christian stand opposing same-sex unions. She is targeted because she approved a Nebraska church’s plan to evade the UMC’s prohibition against same-sex unions by UM clergy and churches. I find this article hitting close to my new home in Arizona. The Reconciling Committee of St. Francis in the Foothills recently met with our bishop (Desert Southwest Conference) about a similar action being considered by our church with the same goal of not violating The Book of Discipline. Bishop Sherer’s address is 2641 N 49th Street, Lincoln, NE 68504 or Bishopsherer@umcneb.org. I met Bishop Sherer in Brazil and appreciate the friendship we have. I know she would appreciate your support.

Bishop Will Willimon is the next target. His speechfor Christian Century magazine is on the IRD web site and the suggestion is to study it in your Sunday School class. The title states "Bishop Willimon Criticizes Conservatives and Liberals."

The next target is the General Board of Church and Society which is targeted by IRD to be disbanded by the general church. This time they sponsored a conference titled "Building a Wesleyan Theology of Peace for the 21st Century." Retired Bishop Roy Sano (from the Western Jurisdiction) and others spoke. Sano admitted that John Wesley believed in traditional Christian teaching of just war. He "implied that Wesley’s alleged belief was wrong" by stating that JW appeals to a certain ethnicity, namely white world and male. The briefing states that the speakers addressed The Book of Discipline (para 165 C) that war would be only a last resort in the prevention of evils and ignored the part about last resort by stating all war was unacceptable. Bishop Sano address in 100 Maryland Ave., NE, Washington, D.C., 20002 or bishopsano@umc-cob.org. The complaint the briefing wants the readers to make is why did the GB of C&S fund a conference that promoted one half of the UMC’s position on war but ignored the other half.

The UM affiliated Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta is the next article. The seminary was hit for sponsoring a conference that "mostly espoused liberal political themes." The list of speakers is impressive. Jim Wallis, Andrew Young, Minerva Carcaño, Cynthia Tucker, and Riverside pastor James Forbes. (go to the web site for more detail on these folk.) Bishop Carcaño denounced Arizona’s Proposition 200 "which would require the state to withhold benefits from illegal aliens and verify citizenship of voters." The action is to ask Candler School of Theology Dean Russell Richey why this conference was so one-sided. Candler School of Theology, 202 Bishops Hall, Atlanta, GA 30322 or rrichey@emory.edu.

The IRD is unhappy with the General Board of Global Ministries because it appointed a "missions" person to work for Planned Parenthood. "ACTION: Respectfully ask GBGM General Secretary Randy Day why his agency has commissioned a Planned Parenthood employee as a missionary." GBGM, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115 or rday@gbgm-umc.org.

The UMC is the largest church contributor to the National Council of Churches. There is a list of several activities of the NCC, all rather "liberal." The action is to ask the local church’s Board or Council to discuss and take a stand on whether the UMC should continue giving to the NCC.

Well, that’s all for this issue. I recommend that you surf the site for further understanding of the IRD.


Friday, February 23, 2007

A New New Testament

Here is an informative article by Roy Hoover on the formation of the New Testament Canon, How the Canon was Formed. It doesn't take long to see that the formation of the canon itself is the result of a historical process. Which means of course, that human beings chose the documents that would be in the canon. If human beings made choices then, what is to stop us from making different choices today? Many scholars and (radical reverends) advocate a New New Testament. This NNT would order the documents from a historical perspective and include all the voices of early Christianity. Early Christian Writings is a good starting point.


Bob Price has put together the Pre-Nicene New Testament that contains 54 (double your value in comparison to the orthodox brand!) writings from the pre-Nicene period.








Of course there is the Complete Gospels by Robert Miller





and Lost Scriptures by Bart Ehrman that can help you on your quest.






Last year in a sermon Theology is Earth Science I spoke about this and advocated for a Loose-Leaf Bible. The text was saying #3 from the Gospel of Thomas. Here is how I began the sermon:

Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.” Gospel of Thomas, 3


I have to say up front that I like the Gospel of Thomas. I have been fantasizing about sending an overture to the Holston Presbytery to include the Gospel of Thomas in the Bible. Think that would go over?


New Testament scholar, Charles Hedrick, has suggested that our Scripture ought to be a loose-leaf notebook. Add some pages; remove some. Let people decide on their own those texts that are authoritative and those that are not. It would force us to give up our idolatry of the Bible in which we see it as some kind of magical book that came down from heaven on a golden platter. It would keep us from putting a halo around bad texts. It would keep us from thinking and declaring and acting as though we possess the truth because we have the right book.


The loose-leaf scripture makes it impossible to justify one person’s oppression of another because of what “the Bible says”. If someone tells you that you cannot receive communion, or can’t speak in church, or can’t be a minister, or can’t go to heaven, or have to cry and weep and repent all day, because of some passage in the Bible, then, you can pull out your three ring binder and say, “Well, gee, I have already removed that page and I have replaced it with up to date information!”


Wouldn’t that be great?!!


No one could appeal to the authority of scripture because in the end each person’s three-ring binder contains or potentially could contain different scriptures. What would this mean? This would mean that every argument, opinion, proposition or plan of action would have to stand on its own merit.


So, for example, if you wanted to convince the community that women should have their heads covered when they are in worship, you could appeal to I Corinthians chapter 11. But others in the community may have already removed that chapter from their loose-leaf notebook. Your appeal to divine revelation and its authority will have little effect. If you want to convince people of your proposition, you will have to convince them that it is reasonable. If you want to convince the women of the church that they need to have their heads covered, you will need to do better than say, “The Bible says”. In a loose-leaf Bible church, your argument will stand or fall on its own. (Read More)

I was speaking somewhat metaphorically, but not long after that sermon someone in the church showed me her own Loose-Leaf Bible filled with quotes, poetry, and other writings that she had collected over the years that had helped her create life's meaning. I thought to myself (to quote Jesus) now there is a person who is not far from the kingdom of God.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Channeling God

I am a skeptic by nature. I am especially skeptical of religious groups or individuals who have special access to the divine realms. Whether they be fundamentalist preachers or new age gurus, anyone whose views are predicated upon divine revelation is simply full of _______. Muhammed is said to have channeled the revelations in the Qur'an. Many believe the biblical writers "channeled" the Holy Spirit. Many spiritualist groups claim their revelation is a channeling of someone or some thing on the other side.

I have two criticisms of the whole "channeling" enterprise.

1) If what you say (or what has been said) is not good enough on its own merit--that it needs divine authorship to be true--then it is likely not worth the time it takes to read it. If you want to say something that is pretty lame, then just say, "God said it."

2) If something is quite good, then claiming divine authorship for it cheapens humanity. Give Shakespeare credit for writing well. Give the Apostle Paul credit for the things he wrote that were good and true. Give him the blame as well for his bonehead comments.

The dogma of the divine inspiration of the Bible is nothing more than channeling God. It is unbelievable and unnecessary.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Harm of Divine Inspiration

There are a number of reasons to leave behind the belief that the Bible is supernaturally inspired. Bob Price points some of them out in his essay, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible: A Critique. Moderate Christians know that divine inspiration is at best a sentimental belief. It is nice to think that the Holy Spirit "breathed" on the biblical writers. The Holy Bible is a cultural icon. We don't read it. We admire it like a nice piece of antique furniture. Because Grandma read it we treat it with respect and call it God's Word.

Sentiment more than truth is what keeps moderates from admitting and stating clearly that the Bible is a human product. If the sentiment was harmless, then I wouldn't bother writing what I am about to write. However, the sentiment that the Bible is God's Word is not harmless. It is not true and it is not harmless. The harm is that the belief that the Bible is the Word of God harbors extremists. Because moderates are not critical of this belief about the Bible, the extremists under the protection of the moderates, are able to do great damage.

Think of how the Bible is used to justify the oppression of gays. Of course, moderate Christians don't use the Bible to oppress gays. Instead we try to engage in painstaking exegesis of Romans chapter 1 or the superstitions in Leviticus in attempt to show that the Bible isn't as anti-gay as the extremists make it out to be. We miss the entire point. The Bible is wrong. It is wrong about gays, women, slaves, ethnic cleansing, the origin of humankind, the future, the character of God, and the person of Jesus. The Bible--all of it--was written by human beings. Some of it is brilliant and some of it is bad, bad news.

Because moderates are either not willing, are too frightenened, or too overcome by sentiment to state the obvious, the extremists always have the upper hand. We have no answer to "The Bible says..." or "You don't believe the Bible...."

If we just admitted the truth, that the Bible, like every other book on the face of Earth, is a human product, filled with human genius and folly, then the extremists would have no authority for their outrageous views.
Moderate Christians are lazy and irresponsible. We are letting the atheists do our dirty work for us. They are saying (and good for them) what we won't about the Bible and about the terror that is being done in its and in our name. It is time for critical Christians to come clean about the Bible--what it is and what it is not. We blame the moderate Muslims for not dealing with their extremists, it is time for moderate Christians to take our own advice.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

News Flash! Brewster and Bono in Tennessee!

It appears that Brewster and Bono are just about to cross the Kentucky/Tennessee border at Cumberland Gap. They have been Walking Across America for some time. Be on the watch for them. They might be tired and hungry. Let's show them some southern hospitality. Click the pics to enlarge or go to the website.




Ash Wednesday at First Presbyterian

Today is Fat Tuesday, so party hearty. Tomorrow you can repent. First Pres. is a full service church. We will help you with your sinning and your repenting. We really are going to have an Ash Wednesday service tomorrow night from 6:30 - 7:15. The theme is preparing for peace. Jim Benelisha, owner of the Acoustic Coffeehouse is going to play cello for us. We will have ashes and everything. Plus, a tune by Kansas. Guess which one. Afterward if you would like to hang around, we have yoga meditation from 7:30 to 8:45 every Wednesday night. We are an eclectic little bunch.

I think of Ash Wednesday as Reality Day. No delusions or illusions. Get real and get with life while you got life.




"Remember, man, that you are dust
And unto dust you shall return."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chris Hedges on Democracy Now


Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviewed Chris Hedges tonight. He is the former New York Times Middle East bureau chief and author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Hedges is the son of a Presbyterian minister and has a master's degree in theology from Harvard. His latest book is entitled, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America.
“American Fascists” argues that dominionism seeks absolute power in a Christian state. According to Hedges, the movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s.

Here is the transcript of the interview.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Why did you write this book?

CHRIS HEDGES: Anger. I mean, I grew up in the Church and, of course, as you mentioned, graduated from seminary, and I think these people have completely perverted and distorted and manipulated the Christian message into something that is the very antithesis of certainly what Jesus preached in the Gospels.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are “these people”?

CHRIS HEDGES: These are -- you know, they’re not -- we use terms like “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” to describe them, and I think that those are incorrect terms. Traditional fundamentalists always called on believers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society, shun involvement in politics. Evangelical leaders like Billy Graham's always warned followers to keep their distance from political power. He, of course, was burned by Richard Nixon, came to Nixon’s defense and then when it publicly came out that Nixon lied, it taught a lesson to Graham.

This is a new movement, as embodied by people like James Dobson or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, who call for the creation of a Christian state, who talk about attaining secular power. And they are more properly called dominionists or Christian reconstructionists, although it’s not a widespread term, but they're certainly not traditional fundamentalists and not traditional evangelicals. They fused the language and iconography of the Christian religion with the worst forms of American nationalism and then created this sort of radical mutation, which has built alliances with powerful rightwing interests, including corporate interests, and made tremendous inroads over the last two decades into the corridors of power. Read More

Check out this part of the interview where Amy Goodman asks him about the "Evangelical Explosion":

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about some of the meetings you attended, from the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation to the Evangelism Explosion that was a seminar taught by Dr. D. James Kennedy?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the Evangelism Explosion was a one-week seminar taught by Kennedy, was about certifying people to be able to go out and teach this conversion technique. And what was fascinating about it is how manipulative and dishonest it was. You know, what they do is essentially they cook the testimonies. They promise people that if they commit themselves to Christ, they can get rid of the deepest existential dreads of human existence: the fear of mortality, you know, grief, one of the -- we were supposed to read testimonies. We would turn them into the teachers, and they would send them back. And it was always about, you know, I have 100% certainty that I know that if I die tomorrow, I will go to heaven. Or, I lost my son -- one of the examples was -- in the war in Vietnam, but I don’t grieve, because I know I’m going to meet him in heaven.

And they talked about targeting people who are vulnerable. They used a technique very common to cults. It’s called love-bombing -- it’s a term taken from Margaret Singer -- where you -- three or four people go and you sort of focus intently on the person and are fascinated by everything that they say. You build false friendships. And eventually, of course, the goal is to draw them into these megachurches.

This movement talks about family, but it is the great destroyer of family. And I would stand up in these -- or I would be in these meetings and see people stand up weeping, and they would be weeping for unsaved spouses or children, because once you get sucked into these organizations, your leisure time, your religious worship time, you end up becoming involved in groups, you’re essentially removed from your old community and placed into this authoritarian community, where there is no questioning of those above you. You’re often assigned -- you’re called a baby Christian when you first come, and you’re assigned spiritual guides to teach you to think and act in the appropriate manner.

When I went to the National Religious Broadcasters Association in California, the most interesting thing about it was how these radical dominionists, these people who have built an alliance around the drive to create a Christian state, have taken over virtually all Christian radio and television stations. And there are traditional evangelicals who would like to step back from this political agenda, and they have been very ruthlessly brushed aside.

You saw it in the purging of the Southern Baptist Convention, when essentially dominionists like Richard Land took it over in 1980. There were many ministers who were very conservative and thought abortion was murder, were no friends to sort of gays and lesbians, but they didn’t buy into that political agenda, which of course has been fused with rapacious capitalism.

I mean, this movement talks about acculturating the society with a Christian religion. In fact, it’s the inverse. What they’ve done is acculturate the Christian religion with the worst aspects of American imperialism and American capitalism. And there’s that kind of uneasy alliance with many of these corporate interests. But it serves their turn. I mean, when you’re creating the corporate state, it’s very convenient to have an ideology that says, “Don’t worry. You don’t need health insurance, because if you have enough faith, Jesus will cure you. It doesn’t matter if all of your jobs are outsourced and there are no labor unions, because, you know, God takes care of his own. And not only that, but God will make you materially wealthy.” This is, you know, the gospel of prosperity. So, essentially, what we’ve seen is that fusion between those who want to build a corporate state and this ideological movement that thrusts believers who come out of deep despair into a world of magic and miracles and angels.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are the corporations that are part of this?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, DeVos, a guy who founded Amway; Target; Sam's Club. You know, they bring in -- a lot of these corporations like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club and others bring in these sort of dominionist or evangelical ministers into the plants as a way to mollify workers. Subscribing to this belief system is essentially about disempowerment.


On the local front, ConcernedTNCitizens made page three of Sunday's Johnson City Press with the following pic and caption:

Members of ConcernedTN citizens.org staged a protest over the Iraq war Saturday afternoon on Roan Street near the Mall. The group has held regular protests at the site recently.

It was a cold day, too. Here are some more pics thanks to Amanda Finley. Every Saturday at two you are invited to join them (and sometimes me) on the corner of Roan and Mountcastle in Johnson City. Check ConcernedTNCitizens for the schedule of other events and to read and comment.

Also, several of us are going to DC on March 16-17 for the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. We are making final plans this week. If you wish to go e-mail me!

1973: The Year the Kingdom Died


I just finished Don Cupitt's little book, The Great Questions of Life. Cupitt writes philosophy/theology from a non-realist perspective and from the perspective of ordinary people. He listens for phrases that people make in ordinary conversations about the meaning of life. He suggests that the word Life has replaced God for ultimate meaning.

He talks about this in particular in his book, Life, Life. That book is a compilation of the phrases regarding life that people use. Here are a few examples:


That's Life. Life is what you make it. Live your life. Life sucks. Life is good. Get a life.
He has catalogued 250 of these phrases we use that have replaced the language formerly in the domain of religious traditions. His ethic is to devote oneself to Life--to this Life in all of its contingency, suffering, and joy. Live your life.



In The Great Questions of Life he tackles the great questions of philosophy and religion. He writes:

"I have here attempted something that, I think, has not been done before: I have tried to list and classify all the great questions of life, citing them in the formulations that you are most likely to have heard people use. Please write and tell me of any glaring omissions or errors that strike you." (p, 95)
These are listed in his appendix:

A. Questions about the meaning point, purpose, or worth of It All

1) Why are we here?
Why were we put on this Earth?
What are we here for?

2) What is the meaning of life?
What is the point of it all?
What's it all supposed to mean?
What's it all about?

3) Does it matter?
What's the point?
Does anything matter?
What does it all matter?
'In the long run we are all dead'. (J.M. Keynes)
'If Darwin's right, we are just accidental by-products of a meaningless universe, and nothing we do makes any real difference'. (Popular evangelical apologetics)

B. Speculative questions in metaphysics and cosmology

4) Is there a God?
Does God exist?

5) Is death the end?
Are we, or do we have, souls?

6) How did everything begin?
How did life begin?
Who are we? Who made us?
How did consciousness begin? 'Can machines think?'

C. Questions about Be-ing, or finite being: questions, that is, about coming-to-be and passing-away; about temporality, contingency and finitude

7) Why is it that anything at all exists: why is there not just nothing?
It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists. (Wittgenstein, TLP 6.44)

8) Is the past real?
Where are the snows of yesteryear?

9) What does it all mean?
It doesn't mean anything in particular, it just happens.
What am I meant to be doing/What am I cut out for?
If it has go your number on it, that's it.
That's it. (But see 13, below)

D. Supplementaries

10) What is ultimately real?
What is the nature of ultimate reality?

11) Who am I?
What is the great question of my life?/ 'What has been my own personal take on the great questions of life?'

12) Are we alone?
Is there anybody out there?
'The truth is out there'.

13) Is that it?
Is that all?
Was that it?

14) ...till kingdom come
Where will it all end?
Where are we going?
What will become of us?
What is the world coming to?

15) Whence is evil?
Where has evil come from?
Why do we suffer?

16) How can I know for sure whether I am awake or dreaming?
Are we all dreaming?
Is someone else--God, perhaps--dreaming us?

He provides his own answer to each of them. I would not answer all of these questions in the same way. I am not sure I wholeheartedly agree with non-realism. But you don't need to in order to benefit from this book. That is I think, part of the point. Each of us has to answer them for ourselves. We can ignore them or defer them. But we are faced with them. He suggests, and I agree, that each of us does need to wrestle with them and to find our answers to them for the purpose of finding our own peace with them and with Life.

I found his answer to question 14 the most disturbing of all. Perhaps that is because question 14 is the one that most haunts me. It is the question I have asked since I was an adolescent and probably the question that led me into the ministry and is the guiding force for what I worry about and do.

14) ...till kingdom come
Where will it all end?

Where are we going?

What will become of us?

What is the world coming to?


Cupitt writes that this question is one that no longer concerns us. He offers a date at which we stopped asking it, 1973:

"I have mentioned the year 1973 because I recall that it was in the mid-seventies that I first noticed that the belief in progress and 'the perfectibility of man' had just died, and because 1973 is sometimes cited as the year when the standard of living of American blue-collar workers finally stopped rising. The year 1973 was the year when the tide turned. It was also, of course, the year when Western consumers were forcefully reminded of the finitude of the earth's natural resources, such as oil. Today, the picture of a future glorious consummation of the whole world-historical process has finally faded from people's minds. The question of human destiny has ceased to be one of the great questions." p. 90


He writes further:

"We face instead a dull prospect: in a few centuries we will very probably have the earth uninhabitable, and we will die out. It might be possible to avert this fate if we could find and cultivate some motive or value strong enough to override the competitive nationalism and the concern for economic growth that rule us at present, but there seems little likelihood of that. The big coming nations, China, India, Russia, and Brazil, will simply race on unstoppably until global disaster overtakes us all. Predictively, the future is death; and as a topic of serious religious thought, the future is dead." p. 90

Wow. The kingdom is still a great question for me. When I sent out my Personal Information Form for congregations to see if I was a match for them, I wrote in answer to the most pressing theological questions facing us, the following:

“I am 42 and my great-nephew, Hunter, is 1. The biggest theological issue for me is this: what will the world be like for Hunter when he is 42?”
I am not ready to give up on the kingdom. I am not ready to say, the hell with it all, let's just get stoned, play video games, and follow the advice of Job's wife, "Curse God and die." Nor am I interested in retreating into the dangerous fundamentalist world-denying philosophy of waiting (and even seeking to bring on) an apocalyptic Armageddon that concludes with Jesus the Divine Superman magically returning to save the true believers.

Nope. None of that. I see some small signs of hope. The movement to end the Iraqi war is one. The movement (by some evangelicals) to preserve the environment is another. I also have a hope in the creativity of the human spirit, the phoenix that rises from the ashes, the intensity of the desire for Life as seen in Evolution itself to motivate us and to turn us toward a sustainable, hopeful, future. I am not ready to give up on the kingdom. I am not sure that Cupitt is either. He writes, perhaps wistfully:

"Such is the present position: but it leaves me with a doubt. Is it possible, at this very late date, to talk about reviving a religious concern for the course and outcome of the human project as a whole? It has proved possible to persuade people to take a great deal of trouble and pay a substantial premium in order to rescue and preserve portions of the natural envionment and some animal species. Might it be possible along similar lines to get people interested in a hugely costly effort to preserve the environment as a whole, and the human species?" p. 90




Might it be possible?
What do you think?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Divine Inspiration of the Bible: Spurious, Pernicious, and Moot

I offer here an excellent article by Robert M. Price, that was originally published in the Fourth R and is chapter 23 or 24 of his book A Reason Driven Life. It is called The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible: A Critique. He begins:

I love the Bible. I have devoted my life to the study of it. I wrote one Ph.D. dissertation on the various evangelical theories of Biblical authority, and a second one focusing on themes in Luke and Acts. None of this means my views must be correct. But it does show I do not approach this sensitive topic as an opponent of the Bible. Just the reverse. I disagree sharply with many Bible devotees, but we both love it and want to know it better. I want to suggest that, first, the claim that the Bible is divinely inspired is spurious; second, that it is pernicious; and, third, that it is moot. The Bible and our study of it will be better off without that claim. Read More
I think this article nails it. The point is not to diss the Bible. The point is to understand it better without making false claims about it. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs:

The claim to inspiration is pernicious. First, it implicitly insults the very book it seeks to praise, as if one need not take the Bible seriously unless one could be persuaded that a superhuman entity wrote it. Much of the Bible is so profound, so wise, so beautiful, so edifying that any claim of miraculous inspiration adds absolutely nothing to the inherent force of its words. As Father Abraham said to Dives, those who already have Moses and the Prophets and remain deaf to them will not start listening if one rises from the dead (Luke 16:31). And claims to divine inspiration will make no more difference. Conversely, some of the Bible, such as its vengeful commands to genocide, its threats of eternal torture, its easy toleration of slavery and the oppression of women, are so defective that no claim to inspiration can make them better and only places a halo over bad texts. Such claims to plenary inspiration corrupt biblical morality itself by teaching us to call the bad good. Such claims debase the Bible by making us pretend that it is all on the same level when in fact any sensitive reader, until bullied by theologians, can see that it is not. If Isaiah’s ringing oracles and the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount do not command your conscience by their own merit, claims of divine inspiration are not going to help. Nor should they make the superstitious scare stories of Leviticus sound any better to us. The good parts of the Bible do not need your help, nor do you have the right to become a disingenuous spin-doctor for the bad ones.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Bible: Word of God?

Moving on to my third topic in my theology for the twenty-first century. How is the Bible a source or resource for theology? We will need to spend some time on this. I begin with a critique of the metaphor commonly used for the Bible--Word of God. For many, even asking this question is the height of blasphemy. For those who will quote the Bible itself or some confession to prove that I am an in grievous error and in danger of losing my salvation, quote away. To do so further illustrates my point that our view (our idolatry) of the Bible keeps us from actually understanding it in its great variance.

Don Cupitt in his 2005 book, The Great Questions of Life, writes about the problem in the churches today regarding religious beliefs (about the Bible and other doctrines). Belief keeps us from thinking. Cupitt is still on the rolls as an Anglican priest. He writes eloquently here about what has become of the Church in England. This is what is happening in the mainline churches in the United States as well.

"...I should also admit that the whole vocabulary of Christian dogmatics...has long been hijacked for use in the spiritual power games of the various sorts of neoconservatives, traditionalists, and fundamentalists. For them, the phrases of standard Christian doctrine are now simply laws that they want to see enforced, and passwords to be used as loyalty tests. Doctrine is law. It defines the community: it has a disciplinary function. For the neoconservatives, this objectified and legalistic understanding of 'belief' is sufficient." pp. 24-5

Cupitt has left the church for all practical purposes and has conceded the language to the neocons. I am not ready to take that step. My experience as a pastor has shown that there are many, many people who see what he sees as well and are not willing to give up the language and our heritage to the self-proclaimed keepers of the keys to the kingdom. However, this will require some work. It will require us to be willing to smash our own idols. The biggest idol of all, is the way we have been taught, drilled, hammered, brainwashed, browbeaten, and lied to, about what the Bible is.

I repost here a section of an essay I delivered to the Literacy and Liturgy Seminar (formerly Westar Leaders' Seminar) in the Fall of 2005. The essay regarded the challenge of preaching in the church today. I will say more about this in future posts. In the meantime, I invite you to ask yourself the question I posed: "If the Bible is the Word of God, what makes it so?"

I believe that many clergy are overdue for a heart to heart with their congregations about the metaphor “Word of God” especially as it applies to the Bible. I have found that this metaphor more often stops creative thought than inspires it. The question we might ask our congregations is, “If the Bible is the Word of God, what makes it so?”

Modern scholarship has eroded the foundations for this metaphor. We have come to a time in which it is incredible to assert that our canon of scripture is objectively true or authoritative for all of humanity. Appeals to the Bible’s historical or scientific accuracy are naive. The claim that our canon has been dictated or inspired by supernatural revelation amounts to little more than special pleading. There is no magic power that makes the Bible or any text within it superior, truer, or more divinely inspired that any other human writing, religious or secular. The hands of human beings through their own imaginative power made every jot and tittle of carving and of script. The Bible is a collection of the writings of humans for humans. Once we dismiss the assumption that our book or library of books is more authoritative than any other collection, we can finally take our seat around the table of humanity.

When faith communities begin demythologizing the Bible, some interesting things will happen. The Bible’s authority will shift away from the text and toward the individual interpreter or community of interpreters. No longer will the Bible be considered an authoritative source of truth that contains infallible propositions about God or the human condition. Rather, it will become a resource for wisdom. Since authority is earned by the truth it tells, the Bible will have whatever authority the individual or community gives to it. People may find through its narratives, poetry, and song, an oasis of spiritual refreshment. Or they may not. It will be up to the people (both collectively and individually) to draw out what is meaningful and good and to discard what is not meaningful and good.

The preacher’s task will be to offer permission and encouragement for the congregation to engage in this discipline of freedom. The preacher can no longer assume that within a biblical text is a Word from God that needs to be teased out through exegesis and delivered to the waiting faithful. The preacher can no longer assume that just because a text is in the Bible that it is from God or is even valuable. A preacher can, however, provide information about a text using such tools as literary and historical criticism. The preacher can also provide an opinion regarding the text’s value for the community of faith. The preacher may even use the text as an impetus to speak about a contemporary concern. But I believe it is unethical for a preacher to make the claim that what s/he is saying is true, good or of God because it is based on his or her interpretation of a biblical text. In other words, a preacher cannot use a biblical text to prove a point. Anything a preacher says must stand on its own terms. This ethic will free both the biblical text and the preacher. The text will be freed from the preacher’s misuse of it. The preacher will be freed from the constraints of needing to “preach from the Bible” or to have everything s/he says to be backed by scripture.

Preaching can do a great deal of good in a community of faith. It can inspire, comfort, challenge, and inform for the betterment of humanity. Preaching can also do a great deal of harm. The harm results not so much on the content of the message or its style of delivery as on the implied authority of the preacher because s/he supposedly preaches the Word of God. I believe that Word of God is not only a meaningless metaphor; it is also a harmful metaphor for both the Bible and the preaching act. I recommend that preachers discontinue its use and have this conversation with their congregations.

What approach, lens, angle of vision, or metaphor might we take toward the Bible that will make it a helpful resource in the Sunday morning experience? I consider the Bible to be the family history of our spiritual ancestors. It is a collection of the record of human experiences canonized by various family historians. Our family history gives us rooted-ness. We have a story. We have a past. Our ancestors do have wisdom. I believe that they caught a glimpse of the fire. If we are wise, humble, and courageous, we can see that fire as well. It is out of respect for our ancestors, our need for rooted-ness, and our need to listen to the wisdom of the ancients that we “open and read.”

The advantage of this metaphor is that it allows us to appreciate that there are other families on this earth. They have family histories as well. Telling our stories to one another (without the competition about whose is more objectively authoritative) will enable us to engage more positively and peacefully with those of other faith traditions. Also, family histories are never complete. Like the genealogist who discovers great Uncle Albert, who for some reason was not mentioned in the family history, so too, scholars of Christian origins have found remnants of communities whose stories were not told, or at least told positively, in the canon of accepted lore. These “Uncle Alberts” include communities reflected in the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and numerous others. As we discover the great diversity of our Christian past, we who are charged with adding to the family history for our descendants, will now be obligated to include these voices as well.

Careful thought must be employed regarding the use of texts from the Bible and other non-canonical literature during the Sunday Morning experience. It would help level the playing field by not elevating the canonical literature over any other reading. Also, preachers must come clean with their congregants regarding the type of literature the text they have selected represents. Simply determining if it is history or fiction is a good start. Particularly with Jesus material, the preacher needs to be honest as to whether the material is historical, legendary or if it fits some other typology.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Way of Letting Go


I had a wild dream last night. I dreamed that our congregation was connected with the ministry of John Hagee. He is the dispensationalist who figures out the end of time for us. The basic gist of my dream is that part of my job at First Pres. is to fill in for Rev. Hagee on his TV program when he is on vacation. Shocked, I couldn't believe my church was really in to this guy and that I was expected to continue his ministry. Apparently, his organization donated to the church. My duty as chaplain to the institution was to carry this out. My dilemma was how to do this. What do I say? Do I preach the Hagee line or what I really think? Either way I lose something, either my integrity or my position. Thankfully, before my first show I woke up.

My dream gave me the idea for my series of sermons on Lent. Here is the heading: "Beliefs Worth Giving Up in Order to Grow." It starts off this Sunday. Once per season (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer) we devote a service to one of the four spiritual paths of Creation Spirituality. This coming Sunday is the celebration of Winter and the spiritual path of letting go. My sermon is entitled, "Why Negative Theology Matters." This will be a nice kick off to Lent.

What are some beliefs worth letting go in order to grow? I suggest that one of the beliefs worth letting go is that the Bible is of supernatural origin. Don't misunderstand. I am not advocating letting go of the Bible, but letting go of a view of the Bible that stunts our growth. I love the Bible. I have read it since I was a child. Still do. I no longer read it through the lens of divine inspiration. To do so clouds our view of it and misrepresents the writers of it. Here is a quote from Robert Ingersoll in his book Some Mistakes of Moses:

Too great praise challenges attention, and often brings to light a thousand faults that otherwise the general eye would never see. Were we allowed to read the Bible as we do all other books, we would admire its beauties, treasure its worthy thoughts, and account for all its absurd, grotesque and cruel things, by saying that its authors lived in rude, barbaric times. But we are told that it was written by inspired men; that it contains the will of God; that it is perfect, pure and true in all its parts; the source and standard of all religious truth; that it is the star and anchor of all human hope; the only guide for man, the only torch in Nature's night. These claims are so at variance with every known recorded fact, so palpably absurd, that every free, unbiased soul is foced to raise the standards of revolt.

I found this quote in a book I recommend for your Lenten devotion, The Reason Driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? by Robert M. Price. Price's book is a critique of Rev. Rick Warren's bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life. But much more than a critique, Price with wit and grace offers another way of creating meaning and joy in this life. For those who are becoming disenchanted with fundamentalism/evangelicalism, this one is a winner. The book is divided into 40 chapters (like Warren's book) and in each he responds to some bizarre and non-sensical statement Warren makes (like the doctrine of hell for example, or that the Bible is infallible) and offers a view that makes more sense of the Bible and of life itself.




Robert M. Price is one of the smartest and funniest guys I have ever met. To top it off he was a Baptist preacher. Do yourself a favor for Lent. Get this book and check out his web page. Click on his pic to see him in action in an interview.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

God and Non-Realism



I am ready for topic three in my theology for the 21st century. To wit, I am going stop here with God and check back in on her later. But before taking leave of God I wish to introduce radical theologian, Don Cupitt.

In the tradition of the French Post-modernists a la Jacques Derrida, Cupitt is a non-realist. Here is a helpful description:






Realists think that scientists discover 'the laws of Nature', whereas non-realists think that scientists invent theories that help us to tell stories about why things go the way they do, and to predict outcomes successfully.

Today, a realist is the sort of person who, when his ship crosses the Equator, looks overboard, expecting to see a big black line across the ocean. Realism tries to turn cultural fictions into objective facts. A non-realist sees the whole system of lines of latitude and longitude as a valuable fiction, imposed upon the Earth by us, that helps us to define locations and to find our way around. For a realist Truth exists ready-made out there; for a non-realist we are the only makers of truth, and truth is only the current consensus.

In brief, we don't know and we cannot know THE world, absolutely. We know only OUR world, a world shaped by our ideas, seen from our perspective, and built by us with our needs in view. Such is Cupitt's non-realist philosophy. It implies, by the way, that we have no privileged knowledge of ourselves either, hence Cupitt's phrase "Empty radical humanism". It means "We alone improvise our knowledge about everything - including even ourselves". There is no absolute or perspectiveless vision of the world: the best we can have is a slowly-evolving human consensus.

In religion, the move to non-realism implies the recognition that all religious and ethical ideas are human, with a human history. We give up the old metaphysical and cosmological way of understanding religious belief, and translate dogma into spirituality. We understand all religious doctrines in practical terms, as guiding myths to live by, in the way that Kant, Kierkegaard and Bultmann began to map out. We abandon ideas of objective and eternal truth, and instead see all truth as a human improvisation. We should give up all ideas of a heavenly or supernatural world-beyond. Yet, despite our seeming scepticism, we insist that non-realist religion can work very well as religion, and can deliver (a form of) eternal happiness. Cupitt sees his religion of ordinary human life as the "Kingdom theology" that historic Christianity always knew it must eventually move to, after the end of the age of the Church and the arrival of a religion of immediate commitment to this world and this life only.

If you are intrigued by non-realism and/or the philosophy of Don Cupitt, I recommend one of his books, Reforming Christianity, Way to Happiness, Radical Theology, Life, Life, The Great Questions of Life, or Emptiness and Brightness. It doesn't matter with which you begin. Just pick a title that looks interesting. He has written over 20 books. I have found his approach quite helpful. This is not over your head philosophy. Rather, it is practical life philosophy for those who dare to think that this life is worth living.

You may also be interested in the Sea of Faith Network.

Not sure if non-realism is really the real thing?
Take the Quiz to see if you are a candidate for non-realism.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thursdays With Jesus






OK, one final plug for the Marcus Borg study. I found a title for our gathering, "Thursdays With Jesus." I just put together the syllabus. Any and all are invited to participate. Even if you must miss the first week, see you next time. Here is the reading schedule:









Thursdays With Jesus
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
10:30 - noon
Martin Hall
Syllabus



February 15:
Ch. 1. “Jesus Today: Telling His Story”

February 22:
Ch. 2. “The Gospels: Memory and Testimony”

February 29:
Ch. 3. “The Gospels: Memory, Metaphor, and Method”

March 1: SKIP

March 8:
Ch. 4. “The Shaping of Jesus: Jewish Tradition in an Imperial World”
Ch. 5. “The Shaping of Jesus: His Experience of God”

March 15:
Ch. 6. “The Big Picture: The Synoptic Profile of Jesus”
Ch. 7. “God: Gods Character and Passion”

March 22:
Ch. 8. “Wisdom: The Broad Way and the Narrow Way”
Ch. 9. “Resistance: The Kingdom and the Domination System”

March 29:
Ch. 10. “Executed by Rome, Vindicated by God”
Epilogue: “Jesus and American Christianity Today”

In addition to Borg’s book, I will distribute other articles to supplement the themes, provide an alternate viewpoint, or respond to questions and comments of the group. Our conversation may lean toward understanding Jesus from a faith perspective, the historical person of Jesus, the development of early Christianity, God, the church, faith and politics, and so forth. I will let you lead the way by your questions, comments, and passions. Marcus Borg is an excellent author and teacher who cares about scholarship and the church. He provides a good starting point for wherever our muses might take us. I am looking forward to an engaging conversation about Jesus, a figure who remains as intriguing and controversial today as when he first walked the dusty roads of Palestine.

Friends of Tweetsie

Have you heard about Friends of Tweetsie? Dan Reese sent me this bit of news. It sounds like a great idea to me. This is from Dan:

We are planning another Walk on the Tweetsie Trail on Sunday, February 25th at 1:45pm and ending around 4:00pm. Gathering in front of Nelson Fine Art, 324 East Main Street we will walk from downtown Johnson City to the Sycamore Shoals Park area in Elizabethton. Jeans, good shoes, and water are recommended. Individuals are encouraged to team up and park an auto at the parking lot at Sycamore Shoals Park for the shuttle back to downtown Johnson City. Parking in Johnson City is available on Main Street and in the Cherry Street parking lot at the corner of South Roan St. and State of Franklin Dr. In case of very inclimate weather I will send out a cancellation notice on the prior Saturday. Please pass this along to those you know and invite anyone interested in this unique feature of our area to join us. Questions can be forwarded to me at: dreese_52@hotmail.com


Here is the deal:
Proposal for the Organization of the “Friends of the Tweetsie Trail”

A group of citizens excited by the possibility of developing a biking and hiking path from Johnson City to Elizabethton using the old ET & WNC rail line. This group would be advocates for the acquisition of a planned use trail. The Tweetsie Trail would enhance the quality of life of our area by the building of an accessible route that would provide opportunities for exercise, enjoyment of the beauty of nature, and a place to find peace in a metropolitan area.

This group would meet openly with community groups and local governments to raise support for this issue. It would be open to any individual interested in investing time and talent in making the Tweetsie Trail happen.

Taking from the success of the Creeper Trail in Southwest Virginia the group would show the positive economic impact such a project would produce. Clearly the positive appeal of such a regional asset would attract visitors to the area from other areas of the Southeast.

The group would show how this project would positively impact the quality of life of the citizens of our area by providing a healthy recreational opportunity that would be accessible to our children, seniors, bikers, hikers, and many other groups.

The group would promote conservation of this as a ten mile long green space whose positive environmental impact would be another justification for the expenditure of public funds to develop the trail.

The group would lobby local legislators to support the trail and its benefits to the people of Northeast Tennessee.

Contact: daniel reese
dreese_52@hotmail.com
Here is an article in the Johnson City Press about this a couple of weeks ago:

Will area see its own version of Creeper? - Friends of Tweetsie hope so





Dan Reese walks the tracks of the East Tennessee Railway in Johnson City. Reese is part of a group called “Friends of the Tweetsie Trail” that hopes to turn a section of the line into a recreation trail. (Gregg Powers / Johnson City Press)





In the future, the Friends of the Tweetsie Trail, a group of local hikers, bikers and outdoors enthusiasts, envisions the railway on which Tweetsie once operated as a much smaller version of the Virginia Creeper Trail.

“My family comes from a railroad background and I understand the love and the lore of railroads. I appreciate that and even as a kid I rode on the Tweetsie up in Blowing Rock, N.C.,” FTT member Dan Reese said. “My thought was that the trail would make a wonderful space for people to use to walk on, bike ride, to exercise in our metropolitan area and it would provide a venue for a good, healthy outdoor experience for a lot of people.”

Reese calls the section of railway a hidden treasure.

“When you walk the line between here and Elizabethton, it’s grown up with trees and is actually secluded as you walk it,” he said. “It goes through some nice pasture land, horse farms and crosses pretty Buffalo Creek.

The portion of the railway Reese and others are interested in runs from Legion Street in Johnson City to near Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton.

“We are encouraging folks to write letters, send e-mails and sign petitions to local government officials advocating that someone pursue the acquisition of this piece of property for a greenspace,” Reese said. “We have contacted the Johnson City commissioners and I’ve been in contact with individuals in Elizabethton. There is a strong group of individuals in Elizabethton who view this as not just a possible excursion railway, but as a possible greenspace. So, there’s a base of support there too.”

Reese said at last count there were about 450 signatures on a petition for the move.

“In Johnson City, we are trying to drum up support for local money to be used along with private foundation or local government money to purchase it for the betterment of the citizens of the area,” Reese said. “The railroad has apparently received offers from several groups. The railroad is looking at its options for the best release of the property.”

For more information about the Friends of the Tweetsie Trail, contact Reese via e-mail at dreese_52@hotmail.com. (Read More)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Borg in Elizabethton


Our hero, controlled by the Borg

Here is a final plug for the book study on Marcus Borg's latest, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.

The study will begin this Thursday in Martin Hall from 10:30 until noon. We will meet every Thursday until March 29th, skipping March 1st when I will be in Miami for Westar's Spring Meeting. Come join us. Bring a friend.

While Borg's book will be the focus text, I will introduce other material regarding the historical Jesus quest. Any serious quester will at some point need to read Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer's book is a century old, yet the church as a whole has not caught up with him.





Folks may be surprised to find a breadth of views regarding the historical Jesus. Contrary to popular opinion, it didn't start with the Jesus Seminar casting their red, pink, gray and black beads. Thomas Jefferson when he had time on his hands took scissors to the gospels in search of the historical Jesus. If only contemporary presidents could be so serious in regards to scholarship and faith!




Early Christian Writings has a listing of some Historical Jesus Theories along a spectrum from "Jesus the Myth" to "Jesus the Savior."

Whether or not one finds the "Jesus the Sage" of the Jesus Seminar persuasive, you have to give them (and Bob Funk) credit for nudging scholars to come clean with their views and to publish these views in langauge that non-specialists can read.

I am pleased (an understatement) that scholars such as James Tabor, April DeConick, and James Crossley are a-blogging. I particularly enjoyed this piece from Professor DeConick, The Second Principle of Historical Hermeneutics in which she writes:

"...in all our texts we must distinguish between history and theological interpretation of events, between fact and fiction. This is the second principle of historical hermeneutics.

If a scholar argues that he or she can prove from the texts that Jesus actually rose from the dead or performed miracles or was born from a virgin, we need to think twice. Is this fact or is this theology wanting to be history? If we have any questions about these types of issues, simply change the god, or change the man. In other words, if a scholar of Abraham Lincoln were to write that good old Abe rose from the dead because a letter from a soldier reported that he saw Lincoln rise from the dead, well, what would we think? What we would think if Buddhist scholars told us that the Buddha was born from a virgin, and this was historically true? Why when it comes to Jesus are we willing to suspend what we know to be true about our world? As soon as we do this, we become apologists and theologians. We leave history behind."
Praise the Lord. This was my beef when I wrote an essay for the Liturgy and Literacy Seminar in the Fall of 2005. I think the distinction between history and theology should take place in a worship setting as well. I wrote

"I have endured the preaching of even seminary professors who know the difference between the Christ of mythology and the Jesus of history and yet do not come clean in their preaching. I believe this is intellectually dishonest and does a disservice to Jesus himself. If there ever was a guy who actually said and did some of the things historical scholars think he might have said and done, we owe it to him not to turn him into a god, or at least to be honest about it when we do."

Dr. DeConick allows, of course, a place for theology. She refers to Marcus Borg as an example of a scholar who takes history seriously and allows room for texts to be understood metaphorically. She writes...

Marcus Borg's book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally (2001), is one that I have found useful in my Introduction to the New Testament course because it takes seriously the historical method and its results, while providing Christians with a metaphorical way to interpret scriptures that does not compromise the results of the historical method. Almost. In Borg's discussion of miracles (he prefers the word "spectacular") - whether a particular historical event lies behind stories that "go beyond what we commonly think to be possible" - is he really applying an uncompromising historical method? Or is there slippage?

Borg writes:

"I think that Jesus really did perform paranormal healings and that they cannot simply be explained in psychosomatic terms. I am even willing to consider that spectacular phenomena such as levitation perhaps happen. But do virgin births, multiplying loaves and fish, and changing water into wine ever happen anywhere? If I became persuaded that they do, then I would entertain the possibility that the stories about Jesus reporting such events also contain history remembered. But what I cannot do as a historian is to say that Jesus could do such things even though nobody else has ever been able to" (page 47).

Are stories like Jesus' resurrection story useful to a historian? Absolutely. What it tells me is that some of Jesus' followers had visions of Jesus after his death, a psychological phenomenon not unusual. I had vivid dreams, what I would call "visions," of my mother after she died, all suggesting that she was really alive but hidden away by the doctors. It took a couple of years for this to subside. In the ancient Jewish culture, visions of the dead could be interpreted in a couple of ways. The person has seen the deceased "spirit" or "ghost," an interpretation that some of Jesus' followers made of their visions of Jesus according to Luke 24:37. Or the person has witnessed someone's resurrected body, the theological interpretation that became the standard interpretation in the memory of the community. This interpretation was so important that it launched a series of christological questions and formulations, and ultimately led to Jesus becoming God. But how that happened is the subject of another post.

I look forward to it. Now a bee is buzzing in my bonnet. I feel the need to encourage my Jesus Seminar buds to get out among the blooming blogging field. It can only serve to pollenate our discussion. Flowery enough?

Nine Drummers Drumming


The First Presbyterian Liturgical Drummers gathered worshipers on Evolution Sunday. Click the pic to see and hear them on YouTube. (Turn it up!) Last Fall, our drummers made their own traditional African drums. We will provide another opportunity for folks to make a drum and learn to play it this year. We can expect more drumming in worship at First Pres! On Sunday, our liturgical drummers gathered us to worship with a traditional African piece entitled, Moribayassa:

"If a woman has a really big problem, such as illness in the family or childlessness, when she has exhausted all other resources, as her last hope she takes a vow: 'When this huge difficulty is over, I will dance Moribayassa.' Between this decision and the dance, years may pass.

For this dance, the woman dresses and shows herself in a way that she normally would never dare to do; she wears old, torn clothes, shows her naked legs, and behaves like a crazy woman who is allowed to break all taboos.

In this way, she circles the village three or seven times, singing and dancing, accompanied by one or more musicians. The women of the village follow her and sing, too.

After that, the dancer changes her clothes and buries the old rags under a mango tree."

--from A Life for the Djembe by Mamady Keita.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I Want to Ride My Bicycle!


Tom Dosser, 80, and Frank Knisley, 78, still commute by bicycle. (Lee Talbert / Johnson City Press)

The Johnson City Press captured one of our church members on film today. Frank Knisely is an advocate for riding bikes and creating bike paths in Johnson City. James Brooks wrote a nice article about him and his friend, Tom Dosser.

Architect Frank Knisley is Dosser’s junior at 78, and a heart condition has slowed down his riding somewhat. “That put a governor on what I can do,” he said. He is also a lifetime cyclist who went away from it during school years, but returned to daily commuting in 1957.

“They had an article about me with a photo in the Press-Chronicle because it was such a rare thing, but I notice there’s just about as few bike commuters now as there was then,” he said. “Back then I got more coverage than the death of the pope.”

Knisley keeps riding because of the joy it gives him. “It’s wonderful. I feel so free when I’m out,” he said. “It’s something that transcends ordinary living.”

He and his wife recently bought a pair of Cannondale aluminum bikes. He’s also on the bikeway committee and is lobbying for a bikeway circling Johnson City with connecting lines. The city has marked some bike lanes on Boones Creek Road and other places.

“It’s an uphill pull,” Knisley said. “The city gives us lip service and that’s about it. However there is federal highway money available, and even though that’s about .005 percent it would be enough to cover a bikeway to Jonesborough.”

Knisley rides in all weather by dressing in layers and wearing a helmet. He prefers toe clips to the modern clip-on pedals that require shoes that you cannot walk in. He uses brightly colored strobe lights, and has discovered the comfort bike with its softer saddle and wider tires.

“There are a lot of good 25-mile loops around here that are just about ideal, like Piney Flats and Watauga Flats along the river,” Knisley said. “I like to stress that just because you have a health problem it’s no reason to give up on life. It does hurt that I can’t outdrag the traffic when the light turns green anymore.” Read More