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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blue Plum Festival Tomorrow


Here is an article from the Johnson City Press about the Blue Plum Festival in Johnson City. Looking for a big crowd, nice weather, good tunes, and a great time! 11-11 Friday and Saturday.


I am finding a number of great theology blogs. Check out my blogroll on the right. I use bloglines which tells me when a blog is updated. Holy Vignettes by Heather Reichgott is a good one. Heather just posted an article about G-6.0106b entitled, "The End of Don't Ask Don't Tell?" For Non-Presbyterians who wonder what G-6whatever is, the article will tell you. More Light Presbyterians has a great list of welcoming congregations (that are Presbyterian). Just four of us in Tennessee. Hopefully, more churches will come out of the closet and extend a welcome.

Mission Trip to Pine Ridge, South Dakota

Next Thursday, June 7th, seventeen folks affiliated with our congregation will journey to Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Here is the article:

Seventeen people will be representing First Presbyterian Church on a mission trip to Pine Ridge, SD! The caravan will leave on Thursday, June 7th and return on Sunday, June 17th. A few will fly, the others will have a wonderful cross country drive, but all will enjoy learning more about our friends in Pine Ridge, their culture, their history and their goals. Cultural education is part of the trip, so half the day will be spent working and half learning and sharing. Gary Barrigar and his grandson Sloan, Lee Herrin and her sons Ian and Pat, Susan Allen, Devonna Coleman, Ed Speer, Lynn Williams and daughter Alison, Glynda Ramsey and daughter Merideth, Rebecca Nunley and daughter Kirby, Pat Buck and Donna and Robert Schwind will be making the journey. It’s a nice mix of people and ages!

The trip is organized through Re-Member, non-profit group dedicated to cultural education and material assistance to the Lakota Nation. Re-Member was organized in 1998 and hosts individuals, mission groups, school groups and corporate groups who choose to spend a work/vacation at the Pine Ridge Reservation. They host workers for 34 weeks a year, from the first of March through the end of October.

The goal is to create positive change in one of the nation’s poorest areas through relationship-building. Volunteers participate in a variety of projects from renovation of homes to transportation of material goods. They also tour the reservation with visits to the badlands, Red Cloud Museum and Cemetery, the Wounded Knee Memorial and the Singing Horse Trading Post. Volunteers also spend time with the Lakota people, learning about their spirituality and their culture. Wish these 17 well as they travel 1500 miles to share with and learn from the Lakota people.


What is a Soul?


We are going to be asking that question and learning how various cultures and religions understood the soul in our Thursdays with Jesus group. Beginning June 7th, we will be discussing a book written by one of our church members, John Nash, entitled Quest for the Soul: The Age-Old Search for Our Inner Spiritual Nature. John will lead the study himself. John is the editor in chief of Esoteric Quarterly that you can read electronically.

You can read more about Quest for the Soul here and browse the table of contents. Please read chapters 1 & 2 for Thursday, June 7th.

Following John's book we will read John Dominic Crossan's latest, God and Empire.

Dancing the Lord's Prayer and Other Things




(Cornelia Heath turns 100 on June 6th!)













This Sunday we honor two of our saints, Cornelia Heath (above) who turns 100 and Grace Broome (left) who has served as the coordinator of our hospitality committee for years and is now retiring from that role. After worship, we will have a reception in their honor.











Sunday night at 7 pm, we are going to dance the Lord's Prayer.

Aramaic Lord’s Prayer and Dance

Sunday, June 3, at 7:00 pm

First Presbyterian Church Elizabethton, TN

119 West F Street

The cycle of dances known as The Aramaic Prayer of Jesus , originated by Saadi Neil Douglas-Klotz, is 25 years old this year! Join us to share our experience of this cycle. No

previous experience necessary as each line is taught whether for the first, second, or however many more times you have done this extraordinary meditation of movement, chanting, and silence.

$5-10 donation suggested

Thanks to Sandra of ConcernedTNCitizens for alerting me to Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" read to music, sound effects and animation.

Finally, spend two minutes with the Arkansas Samba by our own Jim Miller!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Jesus, Paul, and Empire

Having been inspired by John Dominic Crossan's God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, I thought I would offer some of my conclusions regarding his book and where I personally think Christian witness should assert itself in the coming decades. Crossan has given me a renewed appreciation for Paul. Part of that appreciation comes from distinguishing the various "Pauls" in the New Testament differentiating the historical Paul from those who diluted and even reversed his message in the New Testament itself, particularly the Pastoral Epistles (1&2 Timothy and Titus), and to a lesser extent Colossians and Ephesians.

More importantly, Crossan has demonstrated that Paul and Jesus (and the Gospel witness to Jesus) were united on the most important thing: peace through justice (kingdom of God) vs. peace through violence (Empire).

The Roman Empire was not an evil empire. Compared to many before and since, one could consider it quite benevolent (view the scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian--"What have the Romans ever done for us?") To use a phrase from Crossan, the Roman Empire was the "normalcy of civilization." It exercised its influence through military might in order to keep the peace. Yet Rome was resisted in the Jewish homeland in various ways, from violent resistance (Maccabees, Jewish War), to accomodation (Temple authorities), to non-violent resistance (Jesus, Paul, and the Jesus Movement). The Empire of Rome was not simply a backdrop for the New Testament, it was and is its matrix.

Terms such as Son of God, Lord, Savior, etc. were terms Rome used for its Emperor, who was the son of God. Early Christian writers used those same terms for Jesus. That was treason. Jesus and many of his followers were executed by Rome.

Paul introduced his letters with the salutation, "Grace and peace." That was not simply "Have a nice day" but it was Paul's commitment to an alternative reality--grace and peace through justice, not through violence.

The various writers of the New Testament understood this present reality of peace through justice in different ways. Crossan makes a quick summation:


  • For the historical Jesus, the Kingdom of God is already here.
  • For the Pauline tradition, the general resurrection is already begun.
  • For the Synoptic Gospels, the Son of Man is already present.
  • For John's gospel, the Logos of God is already incarnate. (p. 188)

I might add here that other writers (Letter of James, Q (material common to Luke and Matthew not found in Mark), the Didache, and perhaps early Gospel of Thomas) used different theology in describing the resistance to Empire. James Tabor has done fine work with this.

The theological terms were different, but the message in essence was the same: Peace through justice in direct opposition to peace through violence. Followers of Jesus could participate in that reality in the present. Thus was the power of the Spirit.

Crossan opened my eyes to bodily resurrection as a Maccabean martyr theology (God would raise physically the bodies of martyrs slain for God first at the beginning of the general resurrection) in which the bodily resurrection of Jesus was the first fruits of general resurrection. In the meantime we live this bodily resurrection in the present as we witness with our minds and bodies to peace through justice.

What do we do with all of this? Nearly 2000 years after Jesus and Paul, many things have changed, much has stayed the same. Obviously, our conception of the universe has changed. Earth and humanity have moved away from the center toward the periphery of the Universe. We have achieved incredible advances in learning and technology. Civilization has virtually covered the globe. Yet, what has remained the same is the matrix of Empire or the "normalcy of civilization" (peace through violence) and the witness of the Spirit against it and for peace through justice.

A theology for the 21st century may need to use different theological expressions for this present reality (God at work through peace and justice) than our 1st century forebears, but the essence of the message is still the same. What is the character of our God and how do we witness to that God?

We need, therefore, to consider our present context.

1) Our house is Earth. We earthlings share it. We are, however, destroying it. If this is not obvious to you, I won't belabor the point.

2) We are on the verge of a world-wide resource war--that resource being fossil fuels. We have used up about half of the world's oil supply. Review Hubbert's Peak. Yup, we have about 500 years of coal left, but man is that stuff dirty. We are blowing up the mountains of West Virginia to get it. People now think the Smoky Mountains earned its name because of the haze that has reduced visibility from 75 miles to 15 on a typical day. Here is how the Smoky Mountains really got its name.

3) America is an Empire--the new Rome. We make up 4% of Earth's population yet consume 25% of Earth's oil. We have 700 military bases in 30 countries. We spend more on our military than the next 20 nations combined. Yet, our military is underfunded and underresourced to carry on our imperial dreams.

4) In Crossan's prologue, he quotes Ronald Wright from A Short History of Progress. "From the first chipped stone to the first smelted iron took nearly three million years; from the first iron to the hydrogen bomb took only 3,000 years." Take a moment to watch this video.

5) Here is the key. We are still using war and the threat of war to solve problems. That is no way to share a house. Unless we raise our level of consciousness regarding war, we will perish. War must be considered unnatural. That moves me toward theological considerations for the 21st century.

The Christian witness of peace through justice:

1) We can draw from our biblical and theological resources that the reality is that we share one house, Earth, that no one owns it or any part of it. The equitable distribution of resources, and care for the house for future generations is our primary responsibility. This will require a raising of consciousness about who we are (one global family) and whose we are (God who calls us and moves us toward peace through justice).

2) Fossil fuels have been an incredible boon to the quality of human life. They are limited. It is now time to use our remaining resources, cooperatively and creatively to move us to sustainable and renewable resources. We have the technology to move toward wind and solar power. We need the will to do so. This is the role of the church, to educate and to inspire.

3) Empires fall. Every empire has fallen. An empire rules by coercion. It seeks peace through violence. The biblical witness including Jesus and Paul is peace through justice. I don't think I can use that phrase enough. The U.S. does not need to be the military big brother for peace. First, it is impractical. It cannot be sustained. Second, it creates situations of injustice. All nations must work together to deal with our environmental and energy problems together. This requires constant dialogue, especially with those who we consider to be enemies.

4) We have the technology to destroy all life. The biblical witness is to turn swords into plowshares. This will require dismantling nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. should take the lead as it has the most.

5) War is unnatural. Slavery was once considered natural. No longer. This same level of consciousness must be embraced in regards to war. Peace is natural. We know this. We have experienced peace and we act with peace everyday of our lives. Everyday, we solve our conflicts peacefully with negotiation and concern for the well-being of all involved. Again, our biblical and theological resources can be an aid in proclaiming the gospel of peace.

6) Most importantly, we need to believe that God is at work in us. We need to point to signs of God's peace being enacted in our lives. We need to listen for and to the Holy Spirit. I have faith and hope in a new era. For now, I must love.

Here are some practical considerations:

1) Legislation comes before congress again and again to establish a Department of Peace. Here is a letter the peacemaking committee and I presented to our representative David Davis. Creating a culture of peace by teaching children and adults to solve conflicts non-violently and solving international conflicts through negotiation is the key to humanity's survival and I think this is where the Spirit is leading us.

2) In addition to a Department of Peace, requiring national service for all Americans upon reaching the age of 18 could be the way to raising the level of consciousness for Americans. 18 year-olds could choose from options such as the Peace Corps or another form of peaceful, humanitarian service or the military. We could make an army of non-violent peacemakers.

Those are big ticket items. But I think promoting them and other large dreams is part of the Christian witness. Churches could make a huge impact on creating a culture of biblical peace. In addition, here are smaller ways for congregations to make an impact in their communities:

3) Take a Green audit for your home and for your church. Go through your own church building and see how energy is used, recycling is done, etc. This is a process our congregation has begun and it will both educational and make a difference. Supporting farmer's markets, the use of "Just Coffee" using socially responsible investments can all be part of it. Showing the film, "Kilowatt Ours" can be a great start.

4) Establish a peacemaking committee and take on issues of peace, the environment, energy, social justice and so forth.

5) Get involved in your local community for hunger and housing relief. Have a mission committee that gets its hands dirty.

6) In a recent post I talked about churches paying taxes. Here is an idea. Calculate how much your church saves because it does not pay property or sales tax. Use that money to purchase green power or promote peacemaking initiatives. Here is a challenge for clergy. What do you say we calculate how much we save by not paying income tax on our housing allowance and give that to a Federal program that supports peace with justice? I will put my money where my mouth is on this one. Join me?

I don't think what I have proposed is do-gooder stuff. I think it is directly linked to Jesus and Paul and other theological witnesses in the early Christian movements. This isn't simply idle speculation. I think our future depends upon peace through justice.


Grace and Peace,
john

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Paul and Resurrection

Continuing my report of God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now by John Dominic Crossan leads us to Paul and the Resurrection. Crossan writes:

Three historical questions guide this section. What did pre-Christian Jews mean by the general bodily resurrection? What did Christian Jews mean by Jesus's bodily resurrection? And how did any Jew ever comeup with so anti-intuitive a concept as bodily resurrection? In what follows, the term "resurrection" always means "bodily resurrection." (p. 183)

Crossan writes that in the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Wisdom literature there is no belief in an afterlife. This idea didn't come until late in the construction of what Christians call "The Old Testament." In Crossan's words:

"...after death, all individuals, good and bad alike, went down to Sheol, which was, quite simply, the Grave writ large, the End with emphasis. It was neither hell nor heaven; it was simply never-no-more." (p. 184)

Where did the idea of resurrection (bodily resurrection) come from and how did it start? It comes from the Maccabean martyrs. I quote at length from Crossan:

"In the 160s BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes launched a program to integrate Jerusalem and the Jewish homeland politically and economically into his Greco-Syrian Empire. Finding that opposition to his plans by some Jews was founded on and fueled by their faith, he turned to religious persecution and decreed that those who refused to deny God and negate Torah by eating pork would die under torture, while those who did so would be spared. Even though military resistance by the Maccabees had defeated Antiochus and led to the founding of the Jewish dynasty of the Hasmoneas, the question of those martyrs still haunted the religious faith of many Jews." (p. 184)

Where is the justice for those who have died? Enter Resurrection as a solution for injustice.

"Where, some Jewish writers asked, was God's justice when martyrs were being brutalized, tortured, and murdered?...There would have to be, some Jewish writers answered, a day of global reckoning, a tribunal of cosmic justiece, a general bodily resurrection in which those who had suffered in the flesh could be openly, publicly, officially vindicated by the just God for whom they had died. In other words, the general bodily resurrection was not about the survival of the individual but about the justice of God. The chant was this: God will overcome someday. And soon!" (p. 184-5)

But this just couldn't be justice for those in the present. There is a "backlog" of injustice. Since martyrdom happened to bodies, not just souls, the bodies needed to be resurrected
"as the first order of divine business at the eschatological transfiguration of the earth." (p. 185)

Here is a text from 2 Maccabees (In the Roman Catholic but not the Protestant Bible):

And when he was at his last breath, he said, "You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws."...[The third victim] quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched for his hands, and said nobly, "I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again." (7:9-11)

That is how the idea of bodily resurrection started. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees
"demanded a general bodily resurrection in which the just, especially the martyrs, would be vindicated and the unjust, especially the persecutors, would be punished." (p. 186)

What about Jesus and resurrection? From Crossan:

"Those who proclaimed Jesus's resurrection were not simply proclaiming his exaltation to the right hand of God. That would have been a stunning enough climax to Jesus's destiny as Messiah, Son of God, and Lord, based, for example, on Psalm 110. Going much further than that, however, they proclaimed that the general bodily resurrection had already begun with Jesus's bodily resurrection, and that of course was why "resurrection" was the only proper and adequate word for what happened to Jesus. Not assumption, not exaltation, but precisely resurrection. That meant that Jesus's resurrection was not just an individual privilege but a communal process--and a communal process for past, present, and future, with Jesus's resurrection as the heart of that process. Similarly, the general bodily resurection was not a future and instantaneous flash of divine time, but an event with a past beginning, a present continuation, and a future consummation in human time. Of course, they thought that future conclusion was still rather imminent." (p. 187)
Those who proclaimed the bodily resurrection of Jesus were claiming that the great transfiguration had begun. It was not about living forever. It was about restoring divine justice for those who suffered injustice--bodily injustice becomes bodily justice. What about now? If the end had already begun, what are Christians to do in the present? Crossan writes:

"...the present was an in-between period in which Christian believers were called to a resurrected life with, in, and through the resurrected Jesus. It was not as if there is a start (the Christ resurrection), a yawning gap, and then an end (the general resurrection)--like two bookends but with no books in between. We Christians are the books in between. The challenge for Christian believers was and is to live lives of bodily resurrection in that in-between period--which at first, by the way, was thought to be but a very short period of time." (p. 187)

Yes. Now is when we live it. It has begun, we are part of it. How do we live it? We live for God's justice now, here on Earth, boldly and bodily confronting injustice and bearing witness to the Risen Christ. What does Paul do with the idea of Resurrection?

"For Paul, such lives could only be lived in the Body of Christ or in the Spirit of Christ, expressions we should take as organically and corporately as possible. In Galatians 6:15, Paul claims that "a new creation is everything." In 2 Corinthians 5:17, he claims that, "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, he claims that "the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." To understand Paul's theology, we must never take these sentences as rhetorical hyperbole but as precise description." (p. 187)

For Crossan, Paul and Jesus were about the same thing.

  • For the historical Jesus, the Kingdom of God is already here.
  • For the Pauline traditin, the general resurrection is already begun.
  • For the Synoptic Gospels, the Son of Man is already present.
  • For John's gospel, the Logos of God is already incarnate. (p. 188)

What living
in the Body of Christ means for us next time as we consider Paul and Empire.

Should Churches Pay Taxes?

A conversation has been going over at Presbyterian Bloggers that has taken an interesting turn. The question initially had to do with the involvement of churches in political campaigns. A few cases have come up in which churches have been threatened with losing their tax-exempt status for involvement in one way or another.

I think that threat is what keeps churches from being prophetic and speaking truth to power. The best way to counter that threat is to give up the tax-exemption. Perhaps it is time for churches to stop feeding off of the government.

When I look at huge buildings being constructed I think either that it must be a bank or a church. Churches are more like businesses today. They operate on business principles, they should be treated as businesses.

Churches do not pay property tax or sales tax. Donations to churches provide a tax break to those who donate. Clergy, while considered self-employed, do not pay income tax on their housing allowance. Yet churches expect fire and police protection and other services a local government may provide. At the federal level, these church businesses siphon off billions of dollars that could go to government programs that would benefit all Americans rather than simply church going ones.

One may argue that churches do good things for communities. That may or may not be true. One could argue that businesses do good things as well. Great. That is beside the point. The only difference between churches and businesses is that businesses pay taxes. Churches would do far more for their communities by paying their fair share of taxes and not expecting a free ride.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In Remembrance...

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army



IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Paul and Homosexuality

Paul, in particular Romans 1:26-27, has been used as the central and defining text against justice for gay and lesbian people. Here it is:
26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
You should read it first in the entire context of Romans 1. O.K. There it is. I can't blame it on "liberal Paul" or "conservative/reactionary" Paul. It is the historical Paul, as far as I know. So, what do we make of it?

I wish this passage was not in the Bible. I wish Paul had not used this example to make his larger point in Romans 1 that we have all fallen short of God's will. But, nevertheless, it is there.

Paul makes the claim that both women and men gave up what was "natural" for what was "unnatural." What is natural and what is unnatural and how is that determined?

I do not think these verses are the "Word of God" especially as they have been used ruthlessly against lesbian and gay people.
I think that these two verses provide an illustration by Paul of his larger point. Paul's illustration is in error. He thinks that homosexuality is unnatural, when we know that it is natural.

This isn't the first time a writer whose work made it into the canon of scripture is in error. The Bible is filled with errors. This particular error has been a damaging one. But let's see what
John Dominic Crossan has to say in his book, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. Remember, Paul's judgement is that this behavior is "unnatural."
That judgment is echoed, by the way, in all other Jewish writers who mentioned that same subject in Paul's time. Indeed, along with idolatry, it was a standard Jewish accusation against paganism.

The problem, however, is that the natural and the unnatural are open to social and cultural interpretation, so that what once was accepted as natural can later be judged as unnatural and vice versa. For example, Aristotle judged slavery to be natural, but Philo, as we saw in chapter 1, judged it unnatural. So also here, but in reverse. First-century Jewish writers considered homosexuality unnatural because they judged from organs and biology. Many of us today consider it natural because we judge from hormones and chemistry. Similarly, of course, we think war is natural, but if our species has a future, later generations will deem it unnatural. We can all agree not to do what is unnatural, but we still have to negotiate what is or is not unnatural. Is capital punishment, for example, natural or unnatural retribution?

Furthermore, in a section from I Corinthians to which I return in much greater detail later, Paul makes another judgment about what is natural and unnatural. "Does not nature itself teach you," he asks, "that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering" (11:14-15). We would surely judge today that short male hair and long female hair are simply time-relative customs or place-relative habits at best, not irrevocable decrees of human nature. This is not to deny the existence of natural human rights or our ability to recognize and even legislate them, but nature neither commands hairstyle nor forbids homosexuality. (p. 144-5)
Paul, like all preachers, uses illustrations. This particular one, in which he stated that same-sex intercourse is unnatural, comes from his own prejudice and misunderstanding. There is no reason to belittle, to blame, or to condemn Paul for what that little sermon illustration has done to gay and lesbian people. But we must not regard it as a word from God and continue the harm and false witness against gay and lesbian people. Paul got it wrong. Let's get it right and move ahead.









Nice Press for Pluralism Sunday

We received a nice write-up today in the Johnson City Press: Churches to Participate in Pluralism Sunday.

(Except that the article said First Presbyterian Church of Johnson City rather than First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton!)

The Elizabethon Star gave us a
nice plug as well (scroll down). And the Elizabethton Star did a feature on our wonderful administrator/treasurer, Beth Hodges. She will be getting a raise for that!

Here is the article about Beth, written by Greg Miller of the Star:


"I am very thankful for my connection to the church of the open arms in Elizabethton and all those that I have grown to know and love in my church family," said Beth Hodges.

"...I am proud to be the secretary of First Presbyterian Church. I have a fabulous family and many great friends which I have enjoyed sharing life with through the years.

"The secretary of the church is often the connection between the congregation, the elders, and the pastor," said Hodges.

"I find that one of the most challenging aspects of the position is maintaining the trust of all who find a spiritual home here. It is vital to the work of the pastor and the church that anyone seeking counsel or help can do so with full confidence that only the information they wish to share will be given out. And when a situation, or event in a person's life occurs that they wish to share with others who will celebrate, understand and support them, it will be given in a loving and positive manner. People see the pastor and the secretary as representative of the whole church and therefore I am mindful to conduct my life in a manner that reflects positively on the church."

In addition to spiritual growth, Hodges says it is a privilege "getting to know and work with the intelligent and talented people who attend this church. This is definitely one of the benefits. Another benefit is the way the members of our church treat me with kindness and respect. That gives me a wonderful sense of value. In addition, the elders of the church have given me the flexibility to change my schedule when needed..."

Pastor John Shuck, Hodges says, is a great boss. "He does all that he can to make my job easier, and is constantly looking for ways to help me complete the tasks at hand," she said.

Hodges says working at First Presbyterian has given her "a feeling of being in God's will and I strive to find my place in the big picture of the church while keeping up with all the aspects of being the office manager here."

Hodges, who grew up in a small community in Virginia's coalfields, graduated valedictorian in her class of 36 students. She has gained her skills through personal study and hands-on experience. She believes that "to stay interested in life, you have to continue to learn new things and remain open and ready for growth."

Hodges has worked as the office manager of a construction company, and as a bank teller and administrative assistant. She has worked as a bookkeeper and assistant in the Johnson City School System.



Friday, May 25, 2007

The Pluralism Project

Many churches, including ours will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday on May 27th. A good resource is the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Diana Eck gives a helpful definition of pluralism. Here it is in full:

The plurality of religious traditions and cultures has come to characterize every part of the world today. But what is pluralism? Here are four points to begin our thinking:

  • First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
  • Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.
  • Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
  • Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table -- with one’s commitments.
I quoted Diana Eck in a newspaper article I wrote several years ago, Respond with Hospitality to Growing Diversity. That is the best one-word definition of pluralism I can offer--hospitality. This is most certainly a "Jesus value."

Paul and Gender

On my last post on Paul, Paul and Slavery, I briefly summarized John Dominic Crossan's work in his book God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. His fourth chapter is on Paul, and it is a summary of his larger work In Search of Paul that he co-authored with Jonathan Reed.

Scholarship on Paul has demonstrated that not everything attributed to the historical Paul was written by him. Six of the 13 letters of Paul are disputed. This simply means that not all scholars agree on whether all, some or none of these letters are by Paul. The consensus by scholars is that seven are authentically Paul:

Romans
I Corinthians
II Corinthians
Galatians
Philippians
I Thessalonians
Philemon.

These seven are written between 50-60CE. Crossan calls these seven authentic letters "The Radical" Paul.

Crossan takes the position that the other six are not by Paul. Three letters,
Colossians 50-80 CE
Ephesians 80-100 CE
II Thessalonians 80-100 CE

are "The Liberal" Paul.

Three,
I Timothy
II Timothy
Titus

are "The Conservative/Reactionary" Paul. These are written between 100-150 CE. You can dispute this information of course. A handy chart and description of these works and their dates can be found at Earliest Christian Writings. Paul is dead around 60, so anything after 60 wouldn't be Paul. Obviously, none of these works has dates attached. Scholars using various tools and methods try to make their best guess. I am not so worried about the dating, except to suggest that there is a time progression. This should come as no surprise. There are many works attributed to folks who did not write them and legends about figures that did not make it into the canon. For instance, there is the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Apocalypse of Paul.

To illustrate, what are Paul's views regarding women (ie. in relation to who should be master of the house and in regards to women's participation and leadership in the community?)

If you look at the practice of the vast majority of the Christian church today, with some notable exceptions, you find that women do not serve the church with equity. You find also that much teaching that comes from many churches suggests that men are or should be the head of the household. Much of this practice is due to an interpretation of Paul. Paul gets either credit or blame, depending upon your point of view, for the position of women in church and society today.

Crossan's view and I agree with him is that the earliest communities were far more egalitarian than what they turned out to be. You can witness this change within the New Testament itself. You can witness it in the letters attributed to Paul. The later letters especially reflect the views of the second century church when patriarchal norms asserted influence. Crossan writes:

We have already seen how Colossians 3:22-4:1 and Ephesians 6:5-9 contradict Philemon on the subject of Christian owners and their Christians slaves. We now see a similar but even more complicated situation with regard to patriarchy. In all of this --be it slavery, patronage,, or patriarchy--you will recognize the drag of Roman normalcy pulling hard against the vision of intra-Christian equality. Watch, then , hwo the radical Paul is once again changed before our eyes, first into the liberal Paul, and then into the conservative or, better, reactionary Paul. (p. 172)

The authentic Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28:

28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
This is radical egalitarianism. This subverts the oppressive systems of the Roman world. Crossan writes that the place to start is with the list of names in Romans 16:1-15. Of the 27 names, 10 are women and 17 are men. Five women (Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, and the unnamed mother) and six men are singled out for special praise.

Paul's word for dedicated apostolic activity is kopiao, meaning "to work hard." He uses it of himself twice, in Galatians 4:11 and I Corinthians 15:10, but four times in Romans, an exclusively for women (Mary, Tyrphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis). (p. 173)

The first person mentioned in the list is a woman, Phoebe, of whom Crossan writes: "A Pauline letter carrier would also have had to circulate, read, and explain the letter among the Christian communities at Rome." (p. 173).

Crossan gives an example of two other women (Prisca and Junia) who with apparently their husbands, are apostles:

Two couples (presumably married) are singled out for extraordinary praise: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles" (16:3-4); and "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives [fellow Jews] who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was" (16:7). (p. 173)
In other words, for Paul, women were not to keep silence in church. They held community leadership with the full authority of and in full partnership with Paul.

Ephesians and Colossians represent the liberal Paul, according to Crossan. Here there are separate (and hierarchical) roles for wives and husbands. However, there is a concern reciprocity and mutuality. Colossians is brief:

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19
Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. (3:18-19)
We certainly have a theological problem. Let it not be missed that for the "liberal" Paul of Colossians and Ephesians, wives are to be subject to their husbands.

Ephesians is a bit more lengthy and there seems to be a larger concern for husbands to act correctly than wives. Wives are to be subject to husbands as the "church is subject to Christ." Yet more admonitions are given to husbands to care for and love their wives than there are for wives. It would be a huge improvement for husbands to do this much.

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (5:22-33)


This is the liberal Paul. Less radical than the authentic Paul but more egalitarian than the Roman culture at large. Crossan writes:
A Roman paterfamilias, for example, would probably have been willing to accept the instruction for wives, but not those for husbands--even absent the Christian language. But of course, these instructions from the liberal Paul, directed specifically at Christian couples, are ver much couched in Christan language. (p. 174)
Now we move to the conservative or reactionary Paul of I Timothy 2:8-15:

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Did you get that? Obviously, women were teaching in the church. Crossan writes:

Clearly, of course, pseudo-Paul would not bother to forbid what never happened. That prohibition therefore tells us that women were praying and teaching within the community's catechetical practice and liturgical worship. But this text dismisses women from those functions and relegates them to home, silence, and childbearing. (p. 177)
Now, there is a passage in I Corinthians (14:33b-36) that is a later insertion into the original authentic letter of Paul. In the NRSV the text is bracketed to show that there are manuscript problems. This section was considered a problem very early. Crossan writes:

It was probably inserted by a copyist who approved strongly of I Timothy 2:8-15 and included it first in the margin of I Corinthians 14, whence it was later copied, by another scribe into the text itself.

Here is the text inserted into a larger argument regarding prophecy and interpretation:

(As in all the churches of the saints, 34women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)
In two cases (slavery and gender), we have seen how the radical egalitarian message of Paul is tamed and finally reversed within the New Testament itself.












Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Would Jesus DU?

***UPDATE 5/19 Go to ConcernedTNCitizens for an invitation to meet the Christian Peacemaker Team!***


Depleted Uranium (DU) is the topic of conversation in East Tennessee. Depleted Uranium is the by-product of a nuclear reaction. What du yu du with this stuff? Well, make weapons of course. The Christian Peacemaker Teams don't think that is such a great idea. And they have been outside Aeorjet in Jonesborough this week to let people know about it. You can read about that here. Here is an article from May 19th in the Press by religion columnist Jim Dahlman. I wrote about DU earlier here. The Tennessee Independent Media wrote about it on May 22nd.

This is from the Johnson City Press today.


Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams from Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Indiana, Toronto and one from Chattanooga gathered across the road from Aerojet Ordnance near Jonesborough Wednesday to hold a news conference and to release balloons.
Linda Modica, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Radiation Committee and Cliff Kindy of CPT, led the news conference, which stressed the potential of environmental damage from the manufacture of weapons containing depleted uranium at Aerojet.

Modica said many former DU weapons plants are now Superfund sites where former workers “experience high rates of cancer and other health problems — our soldiers are experiencing unusual and severe health problems.”
DU penetrators fired by M1A1 Abrams tanks destroyed more than 200 Russian-built battle tanks in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom without the loss of a single Abrams in battle.
Kindy said his visit to Iraq during those early days of the shock and awe stage of the war taught him that U.S. soldiers were directed to stay away from the burned-out hulks of enemy tanks and vehicles due to the atomized radiation in the air from being struck by DU penetrators.
He charged that 23,000 veterans of the first Gulf War are now dead, and that the cancer, leukemia and birth defect rate or returning veterans skyrocketed, and said DU was one of the major factors.
He pointed to an empty chair and said the Aerojet plant manager declined to join the news conference and discuss the potential health issue.
“Some of the equipment that was decommissioned by Aerojet, and supposedly decontaminated of its radioactivity, is being stored out in the open along U.S. Highway 11E where thousands of people drive past each day,” Modica said. “At this time we do not know if that equipment emits any radioactivity — but do ask that it be tested.”
When asked what evidence the group had of radioactivity releases at the plant that would justify the balloon releases, Modica said, “We don’t know if they are still using their incinerator. However there are many ways to avoid emission-testing equipment by venting rather than sending it up the smokestack.”
Aerojet officials have consistently declined to comment on the charges of the Peacemaker Group, referring questions to a public affairs officer at parent company Gencorp in California. Gencorp said that any product questions need to be directed to the Army.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Paul and Slavery

John Dominic Crossan in his latest book God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now demonstrates that there were at least three "Pauls" in the New Testament, four if you count the Paul of Acts. This is from the fourth chapter of Crossan's book, "Paul and the Justice of Equality."

Of the 13 letters attributed to Paul, seven are authentic by scholarly consensus. Three are disputed, probably not Paul. Three are certainly not Paul. Crossan labels them in order, radical, liberal, conservative (reactionary):

The seven authentic, certainly Paul letters (Radical)
Romans
I Corinthians (except I Corinthians 14:33b-36)
II Corinthians
Galatians
Philippians
I Thessalonians
Philemon

The three disputed letters, probably not Paul (liberal):
Ephesians
Colossians
II Thessalonians

The three certainly not Paul, even anti-Paul (conservative/reactionary):
I Timothy
II Timothy
Titus

To illustrate, here is a passage from the authentic Paul (Galatians 3:28)

28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Paul's letter to Philemon, the slave-holder of Onesimus, is another authentic letter. Paul exhorts Philemon to take back his slave as a free person. For Paul, the authentic Paul that is, slavery is an anathema to oneness in Christ. For Paul, to be a Christian is to have no slaves. That is the radical Paul.

When we move to the disputed letters (probably not) of Paul, we have a different take on slavery. We are moving from the radical egalitarian message of Paul (no slavery in Christ) to a compromise with culture (in which slavery was an accepted part of Roman culture). Here are the texts, first from Ephesians:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. 9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality. (Ephesians 6:5-9)

And from Colossians:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, 24since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. 25For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. 41Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:22-4:1)


This is the liberal Paul, or the authentic Paul liberalized by the culture. This is not Paul, but people writing in his name. Here "Paul" accepts slavery but there is mutuality. There are responsibilities for slaves and masters. "Paul" does not do away with slavery, however, or suggest that you cannot be a Christian and own slaves. He suggests that there are responsibilities for both slaves and masters.

Finally, the conservative or reactionary Paul. This is from Titus:

9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to answer back, 10not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)

This is not Paul either, but an imposter writing in his name. There is certainly no condemnation of slavery, nor is there even mutuality (own slaves but treat them with respect). In Titus, the admonition is to slaves alone with no admonition to the masters.

Crossan concludes:

Finally, the historical Paul of the authentic letter to Philemon is not speaking about general slavery outside the Christian community. He is not speaking about pagan owners with pagan slaves. He is not talking about Christian owners with pagan slaves, or about pagan masters with Christian slaves. In that last case, he advises Christian slaves (in I Corinthians 7:21) that, if liberation is forthcoming, they should use their newfound freedom for Christ's advantage. Nevertheleess, despite Paul's very specific focus on Christian owners and Christian slaves, his belief that all people should be Christian would inevitably have included the belief that all should be free and equal. (p. 165)

In other words, to be Christian is to call slavery an anathema. You cannot own slaves if you are Christian. The radical historical Paul within the texts of the New Testament itself, by works attributed to him over time, is distorted and his message of radical egalitarianism eventually leads to compliance with the oppression and culture of Empire.

This is one reason why the historical/critical method of interpreting scripture is important. Paul and women next time...





All We Are Saying, Is Give Paul a Chance

I am so very impressed with John Dominic Crossan's God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. Crossan has not only been helpful to me in understanding Jesus and the language used to describe him by his followers, but also in understanding Paul. Crossan does a pretty good job with that:
Once, after a lecture, when I was autographing In Search of Paul, the purchaser asked me to write: "All we are asking is give Paul a chance." Exactly. (p. 146)
Thirteen letters in the New Testament are attributed to Paul. Of those, there is scholarly consensus that seven are certainly by Paul. These seven are Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, and Philemon.

Three letters are probably not from Paul: II Thessalonians, Ephesians, and Colossians.

The last three: I and II Timothy and Titus are certainly not from Paul.

Crossan writes:

The reason for these judgments is the difference in style, tone, vocabulary, and content between the latter six and former seven letters. Those six post-Pauline letters were written in his name by later tradition but are actually anti-Pauline on certain subjects, such as slavery and patriarchy. We are dealing in other words, with a series of letters in which a radical Paul is transformed first into a liberal Paul and then into a conservative or reactionary Paul as we move from the seven certainly authentic letters through the three probably not authentic letters and finally into the three certainly not authentic letters. (p. 145)
More on specifics later.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's the Big Deal About Jesus?

About seven years ago, a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Dirk Ficca gave a speech at a Presbyterian Peacemaking conference entitled, Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a Diverse World.



The Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions spoke at the Witherspoon Society luncheon. Photo by David P. Young. (May 24, 2003)



One line of that speech, "what's the big deal about Jesus" was lifted out of context and Dirk Ficca had fifteen minutes of fame. The conservatives objected. The Presbyterian Layman published several articles about Rev. Ficca and his speech.
Go to the Layman website and search "Ficca" at the bottom of the page for more articles than you can read in a week. In part, due to Ficca's speech, the Confessing Church Movement was born in the PCUSA, heavily promoted by The Layman.

You can read more about the story here.

You can read the text of his speech here: Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a Diverse World. I think his presentation touched on a number of critical issues.

Here is the portion of the text that includes the line oft repeated by the media:



Now, if I were to ask everyone in this room, "Who in here converted to Christianity?", who here would say that at one point you weren't a Christian and then either with a bolt of lightening or over a period of time you became a Christian? Some of you would raise your hands, and then if I were to ask you the question, "After you became a Christian, after you converted to Christianity, did you not look back in your life and see that God had already been at work in your life?" A hundred percent of the time, you will say "Yes." And for the rest of you who have always considered yourselves to be a Christian and were raised in a Christian family or Christian church, at some point you realized that's who you were. "Well, I'm a Christian." And after that realization, did you not look back in your life and see that God was at work in your life? And a hundred percent of the time you will have to say, "Yes." In fact, how can one convert to Christianity or be a Christian unless God is at work in one's life? Why is this so important? What it says is that God's ability to work in our lives is not determined by being a Christian. In fact, this is what we, as Reformed Presbyterians, believe when we say, "We believe in the sovereignty of God." And everything else I am going to say to you is based on that fundamental reality.

Well, if God is at work in our lives whether we're Christian or not, what's the big deal about Jesus? I want to share with you two views or readings of Jesus -- reflecting the scriptures and Christian thought over the last two thousand years. Because I am telling you, my friends, whatever we think about the Christian faith, it is an interpretation. Nobody views the scriptures of the Christian faith without interpreting them. And there have been two basic streams in Christian thought over the last two thousand years. One I'm going to call "instrumental" and one I'm going to call "revelatory." And I'm going to argue --just from my personal opinion, and nobody has to buy it -- that the instrumental view is not helpful when dealing with people of other religions. It's problematic. But there is another way, a way with integrity that can be helpful. But let's look at the instrumental view for a moment. (Read More)


We often use phrases that are so familiar that we do not reflect upon their meaning. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is savior. Jesus is the way to salvation. Jesus is the Son of God. What really do we mean when we say them? What are we proclaiming?

Despite church politics, the issue of the relationship between the Christian faith and other faiths is a complicated one. It is one that is here to stay. I, for one, am pleased about that.