Saturday, September 02, 2017

Trump is a corporation in human form.

Spot on. Trump is a corporation in human form, and the conflation of business and state is just as toxic as the conflation of religion and state

Saturday, August 26, 2017

There are three people in particular that I have been praying for to choose church...but I have found peace in the knowledge that Christ has chosen us even before we choose Him:

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly bodythrough death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel."

--Col. 1:15-23

Choosing Church

There are lots of reasons to avoid church, but here are the reasons to look again.
Appears in Fall 2017 Issue: A Church for the World
September 1st, 2017

Some of us remember Enid Strict, the infamous and wildly popular "church lady" played by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live. Enid was a caricature of the busybody finger-shaking moralist no one would want to share a pew with. Her routines included condemnations of all things sexual, judgments on the rich and famous, and a little "superior dance" she performed to music played by an organist named Pearl. Perhaps I shouldn't admit to having watched SNL, let alone laughed at the antics of the church lady. But I did. I have also shared Jane Austen's wry amusement at the Reverend Mr. Collins's obsequious panderings and laughed out loud at Stella Gibbons's portrayal of Amos Starkadder, pastor of the Church of the Quivering Brethren in Cold Comfort Farm, who delivers stock hellfire sermons in Scottish brogue. Figures like these continue to amuse readers and viewers by exposing the false pieties and self-serving practices of Christians at their worst.

Caricatures of Christians and their churches go back to Chaucer and beyond, some finding their inspiration in the Gospels themselves, where Jesus not only rebukes the Pharisees but also makes them look ridiculous. We're an easy target. Churches have never occupied an altogether comfortable place in culture, even where they have borne the state's imprimatur. North American churches, shaped by settlers who imported their own, sometimes unorthodox versions of ecclesial practices, have been home to outliers, autodidacts, and undisciplined zealots. Frontier congregations found their relationship to Rome, Wittenberg, and Canterbury stretched and thinned by distance and the unceremonious necessities of survival. American churches bear the shame of having sanctioned slavery and even genocide.

Yet churches have survived the potshots of satirists and, more consequential, internal disorders and diseases that have afflicted them for centuries: pride, envy, anger, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth—just to review the short list. A lot of them not only survive, but also thrive. Many are repositories of great spiritual wealth hidden behind flaking paint and dated amber windows. They are a last resort for people who have tried bars, bowling leagues, service clubs, and block parties and still find themselves lonely and directionless. They offer surprises to people who come as pallbearers to their mother's funeral only to find themselves wanting, for reasons they can't quite name, to return the following week. They preserve language that lifts the mind out of the muddy waters of media-speak and into unnerving encounter with the Word that was in the beginning. Some of them. Not all of them.

By virtue of moving around a good bit, I've had occasion over the years to visit churches, choose among them, and change my mind occasionally. What I want and need from church now isn't at all what I hoped for at fifteen, when I spent Sunday evenings in earnest Bible study with the youth group, or at twenty, when I emerged from years of camp songs into the quiet dignities of liturgical worship, or at thirty, when I found deep respite in the sturdy silence and simple practices of Quakers. There were stretches of time when, afflicted with church fatigue, I didn't go at all. I was a cradle churchgoer, child of missionary parents, and the very idea of sleeping in, reading the Times in my pyjamas, and heading out for a Sunday morning bike ride was both tempting and unsettling. Ultimately, it was unsatisfying, so I returned, but my stretch of churchless Sundays did give me some understanding of and sympathy for the inertias that keep people away from church.

There are a number of reasons not to go to church. At risk of stating the obvious, here are a few:
Some churches are clubby and exclusionary. They have a house style. Long-time parishioners know all the moves, liturgical and social. They refer to their favourite person of the Trinity in a socially correct way. There appears to be a dress code. They shake hands with visitors at the "coffee hour," but don't exhibit much real curiosity about what might have brought them there. The dominant demographic is painfully apparent. Those who don't fit the profile might consider going elsewhere.
Some churches offer easy, oversimplified preachments that provide scant help to those grappling with the complexities of contemporary life. Sermons tend to reiterate familiar condensations of the gospel message, but only the parts of it that pertain to a rather insular range of concerns, with a heavy emphasis on comfort rather than challenge. The intention seems to be that people leave feeling affirmed, though it also seems likely that some leave feeling hungry, restless, and unsatisfied.

Some churches' efforts to be relevant lure them into imitating popular culture in language, music, and technology, all rather less effectually than their secular counterparts. Sometimes this involves screens and electric guitars. Sometimes it involves adults attempting awkwardly to sing along with swaying high school vocalists. Sometimes it involves banners and slogans. Some notion of a common denominator appears to determine worship style, but the result is a confused mix of media and a diluted message.

Some churches are boring. Their sermons, websites, and congregational enterprises tend toward the predictable. They play it so safe, seeking not to offend anyone anywhere on the political or theological spectrum, that they become lukewarm. And we know what Jesus does to the lukewarm.

Some churches are partisan. They support candidates and single-issue voting. Rather than nuanced reflection on doctrine they become doctrinaire.

The list is depressing. I edited it down. But here's the thing: the list of reasons to go to church is longer and more interesting. Compelling, even. It's a list I'd be glad to share with the cynical, the indifferent, and the uninformed. It's not an indiscriminate invitation to hasten out next Sunday seeking the nearest steeple, but a challenge to find, even if it takes some church-hopping, those places where the Spirit is working quiet wonders among ordinary people. Here are five reasons, not necessarily in order of importance, I would give the reluctant and the skeptical to check out church, despite their reservations:

A healthy church will help you get over yourself. One of the primary aims of good preaching is to invite us into a story much larger than our own. In a healthy church, conversation about what the privileged owe the poor will be made local and urgent every time the story of the rich young ruler is read. Personal wealth and the wealth of the nation will be re-examined with a critical eye every time the parable of "bigger barns" comes up, or the camel squeezing through the eye of a needle. Shared prayers of thanksgiving will not only reflect but also awaken gratitude. In a healthy church people's needs are made known and other people organized to help meet those needs—deacons, elders, volunteers who take food to the housebound or take people who can't drive to doctors' appointments. In a healthy church you begin to recognize yourself as someone with gifts to give—time, money, energy, expertise—and you begin to want to give them, because the grace that comes with giving is suddenly so startlingly apparent. You find a compassionate curiosity growing in you that leads you into conversation with people you might otherwise have avoided. You take a second look at them as you reach out to exchange with them a peace that sometimes passes understanding.

In an urban church we attended for a time homeless people came regularly to worship. Some were disruptive; one mumbled, one snored, one wandered around the back of the sanctuary. They were familiar folks who weren't getting nearly the help they needed. One was unwashed, and smelled. Sharing a pew with him was challenging, but when he happened to sit close by the thought never failed to occur to me that next to him is exactly where Jesus would be. By choice.

God loves you with infinite, unconditional love, we learn in church, but to experience that love fully, you have to get over yourself—excessive concern with your own welfare, your own family, your own ambitions or failures. When you enter into the life of a church, you are freed to be a servant. It is true that you can discover the joy of generosity and service elsewhere. But healthy churches are reliable places to find those opportunities, every week at the back of the bulletin or in the newsletter or on the website, to witness the fruits of the Spirit, who brings humble efforts to fruition, and to be reminded by story, song, and your neighbour's example what Christlike looks like.

A healthy church will allow you to acknowledge guilt and experience forgiveness. As Toni Morrison's wonderful character Baby Suggs puts it to her congregation, here you can come to "lay it all down." It may not seem that acknowledging guilt would be a particularly attractive reason to attend church, but you find, if you do it, that it's amazingly restorative. Most of us carry around guilt like a stone in a pocket. Sometimes you get so used to its weight you stop even noticing it. So it can take a long time, if you're leading what seems to be a decent and innocuous life, to get to a place where guilt becomes pain and you long for forgiveness.

When you do get there, a healthy church is a good place to go. Of course, the first place to go might be to those you've offended, to ask directly for forgiveness or make amends. Jesus endorses that bit of common sense, as does every Twelve-Step program. But if those you have offended have died, or are unavailable, or if your guilt has metastasized into pervasive unease or a troubling awareness of complicity in culture-wide injustice, it requires a different kind of healing—one pastors and priests are trained to help with. In churches one may discover how significantly pastoral care differs from psychotherapy, and why one might need both.

Guilt is hard to release on your own. I'm often puzzled when I hear well-intentioned advice to "forgive yourself," since in my experience that would be a lot like pulling myself up by my own bootstraps. When I do manage to "forgive myself," it looks suspiciously like rationalization. I can shift the stone from one pocket to the other and relieve the stress on one aching muscle, but it's not the same as "laying it all down."

Until you've tried it, it's hard to imagine the complete release that can come with full, open-hearted confession. And though the act of corporate confession repeated weekly in many churches may seem rote, speaking it creates an opening in the heart that widens over time into willingness, even eagerness to be "cleansed," released, forgiven, and to find that energy begins to flow again that has been tied up in the arduous business of ego-protection and self-deception.

It's certainly possible to give and receive forgiveness without benefit of church. But within the church a dimension of forgiveness is taught and practiced that is peculiar to Christian worship. Forgiveness, as the church understands it, is a mystery: we are, as Luther put it, simul justus et peccator—completely justified, and completely sinful. The forgiveness Christ offered and the church makes available is absolute. Though there may be work to do on a human level, once we are "clothed" in Christ's righteousness, we can walk in freedom, straight to those places where we have amends to make, and make them with lighter and more hopeful hearts. We can afford to confess because confession doesn't mire us in shame, but lifts us into sure and certain hope and a life of gratitude.
These are theological truths that can only be grasped in faith, but they're worth exploring even for the unbeliever, especially when therapy has worn thin and relationships are frayed and you find yourself pretty sick of your own addictive habits. Kneeling in a healthy church and reading with others that we have sinned "in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone" may both reframe the pain of guilt and relieve it.

One form of confession seems to me an especially rich reflection on the nature of sin (a word we're unlikely these days to hear spoken without irony anywhere outside the church). It includes these lines:

We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. 

The first time I heard it, I thought of the drone strikes, white-collar crime, and shady corporate practices I like to condemn, and took instant account of my own complicity. One dimension of sin is the general pollution we all live with. I look at smokestacks spewing toxins into industrial communities or at contaminated rivers or orchards where pesticides leave residues on human skin and realize that the "goods" I take for granted involve me in evils I need to recognize—not with personal shame, perhaps, but with determination to work, once I am "forgiven, restored, and strengthened," to help stop the harm and heal the earth we share. These concerns are large and weighty. A healthy church equips us to tolerate an awareness that could be crushing if we tried to sustain it all alone and then to act.

A healthy church will invite you into countercultural community. It won't be an extension program in civil religion. It won't (and I know there are faithful folk who disagree) fly the national flag in the sanctuary. It won't stamp its seal of approval on "our way of life," whatever that has come to mean to comfortable North Americans. It will "afflict" the comfortable. It won't offer cheap grace. It will help you share—and want to share—accountability for practices that affect the vulnerable. It will expand the repertoire of questions you raise about what is "normal" in the culture you inhabit. A healthy church will look at norms with a critical eye, holding them up to the light of Christ, which involves deep reading of Scripture and deep engagement with biblical ethics. It will lift you out of your cultural landscape enough to take a long, even transcendent, view of it. It will lead you to identify with and act on behalf of the disempowered—migrant workers, prisoners, people with no health insurance, people whose lands and water have been expropriated or contaminated, underpaid labourers, victims of domestic abuse. The list goes on. A healthy church will have the conversation and invite you into it. It will provide you with dates and local leaders and action plans. It will teach you to pray as you go.

Some churches are sanctuaries where immigrants and undocumented workers can find safety and compassionate help while they figure out survival strategies. Some churches participate in projects organized by Habitat for Humanity or the International Rescue Committee or local homeless shelters. Some organize their own versions of such endeavours. One example of imaginative, humble service is our church's taking over a laundromat once a month, arriving with stacks of quarters, letting it be known that homeless folks can get two loads of laundry washed and folded while they wait. Some pack lunches. Some repair and distribute bikes. Some supplement medical care through parish nursing. The list is long. Many of these things are being done outside churches, of course, but when church people do them, even if they say nothing about Jesus, and often they don't, the love, humility, convicted consciences, and real joy in service that animates their efforts rarely goes unnoticed.
Where government falls short, the church often steps in. If you look into the "breach," wherever it gapes, you're likely to find church people who have leapt into it once more.

A healthy church will give you access to a treasury of words and music. It will bring you into a centuries-old conversation that includes the whole "communion of saints." Where else are you likely to encounter words like "blessing" or "grace" or "parable" or "holy" or, for that matter, "shibboleth" or "Sabaoth"? Where else are you likely to encounter a conversation that takes you to the ancient world and back, bearing gifts for the present, sometimes wrapped in antique language?

Among the most memorable sermons I've heard are a few that focused on a single word or phrase from Hebrew or Greek. One drew attention to the word schizomeno—meaning in Greek "ripped open." It occurs twice in the Gospels: once when the temple veil is torn the day of Christ's crucifixion. The other is when "the heavens opened" upon Christ's baptism. But they didn't just "open." They were ripped open. God broke into history with a voice and an act of salvation unlike any other. The drama of that moment would be easy to overlook without the guidance of someone who struggled through seminary Greek in order to help us read more deeply the challenging, mysterious, much-maligned text we call holy.

In that text the church is guardian of a cultural treasure like no other. There are sacred texts in other traditions, to be sure, worth study and reflection. But this one is unique in its multiplicity of sources, its rich, ragged stories, sometimes riddled with gaps, its many literary genres, in the way it gives access to a God who will not be reduced to human dimensions and in the simple fact that it's a taproot of Western culture. It is the source of archetypes, conceptual structures, metaphors, and mythic symbols that give our psychological and social lives shape and depth. Seventy-five translations of the Bible still exist in English. One can spend many months in Bible study considering what difference the differences among them make.

To study the Bible with people of faith is to see it not only as an object of academic or antiquarian interest but also as a living word, a source of intellectual challenge, inspiration, comfort, uncomfortable ambiguities, and endless insights for people who gather in willingness to accept what seems to be God's invitation: Wrestle with this. Healthy churches wrestle, working out their salvation over coffee and concordances, knowing there is nothing pat or simple about the living Word, but that it invites us into subtle, supple, resilient relationship with the Word made flesh who dwells, still, among us.

Healthy churches are places of divine encounter. The disenchanted who have suffered from warped pieties and the skeptical who haven't met a believer who meets their standards of intellectual integrity may simply not believe this. Nor might a person who has a thriving meditation practice rooted in non-Christian tradition: it's become distressingly easy to point to churches that don't, in fact, foster the silence, contemplative practices, or sustained, unstinting prayer that deepens and widens awareness beyond rationality or convention. But a healthy church does those things. It provides a place, a way, an invitation, and a sacred space in which, if you come with an open heart, you may find yourself, in spite of yourself, practicing the presence of God.
Singing is one way to "enter into God's courts." Few places are left where people gather and sing. Yet neuroscientists say that singing together promotes integration of brain functions, alleviates depression, and promotes mental health. When we sing we learn viscerally and audibly what it means to be "one in the Spirit."

Hearing sacred texts read aloud also brings us into alignment with others who inhabit the same story. It is our story—all of ours—available to be entered and explored like a great territorial preserve. I have sometimes found that hearing a familiar phrase read aloud—"Be not afraid," or "Come and see," for instance—suddenly emerges in the context of a service as personal address. We gather in church because private, silent reading is not enough: we need to hear the living word breathed by a human voice.

And the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion—whatever name it is given in a particular denominational tradition—has become, for me, Protestant that I am, the moment of encounter I most eagerly await when I go to church. When I walk forward and kneel at the Communion rail, though other ways of receiving the sacrament have their logic and legitimacy, I make, each time, a new act of consent to God's invitation to participate in divine life. I am reminded again of the shocking intimacy expressed in the words "This is my body. Take. Eat." The message each time seems to me something like, "Do you get it now? How utterly I enter into your very being, your body and breath, to make you a Christ-bearer?"

I know a number of people who hesitate to talk about Jesus or Christ, but are comfortable with the term "Christ-consciousness," meaning a higher state of awareness and awakedness to divine presence within and all around. Many mystics have testified to extraordinary moments of vision, transport, being subsumed in the Light, filled with the Spirit, empowered in sudden, inexplicable ways. As far as I know, none of them, Christian or non-Christian, has experienced the benefit of such experiences without two prerequisites: humility and community. We gather in churches because our combined will and willingness, our collective energy, our voices attuned and our attention directed toward God, enable something to happen that is far less likely to happen alone or at random.

Distracted, reluctant, confused, or apathetic you may be on any given Sunday, but if you go, something will happen. A word, a phrase, a flicker of candlelight, a gesture, an image, an extended moment of silence—all these have their effects. On Sundays, and they are not infrequent, when I don't really feel like getting dressed and going to church, but do it anyway, I invariably leave with a gift I could not have foreseen. It's not always the sermon—a good sermon is hard to find. And sometimes the readers read poorly or the person behind me can't stop coughing or someone won't take the crying baby outside. But underneath the distractions and irritations runs a current so strong it carries me in spite of myself. I float in mighty waters.

Not all churches are alike. Not all churches are healthy. The troubles that afflict unhealthy churches are nothing new: they are dishevelled or diseased or fatigued or torn by infighting. But even those churches contain within themselves the seeds of renewal. They aren't simply dying institutions, irrelevant and poorly run; they are cell and tissue of the body of Christ. Within them people we may not enjoy but must engage with are, in very fact, brothers and sisters who belong to us and to whom we belong by a tie stronger than blood. All of us who labour and are heavy laden come to receive "the gifts of God for the people of God" and find that God's people are also ours.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Inconsistent parenting; inconsistent governing


Kids who experience inconsistent parenting wind up having big problems.
Nations who experience inconsistent leadership also wind up having big problems: confusion and insecurity; fear and anxiety; rebellion; and parentification. Substitute "president" for parent, and "America" for "child" in the article below.

Charlotte was a perfect example of the first three problems; Phoenix was a perfect example of the parentification of Donald Trump.

What Are the Effects of Inconsistency in the Home Environment on Kids?

by Kathryn Hatter

A child may worry and feel confused with inconsistent parenting.
Children usually thrive in a secure environment where they feel safe and loved. Inconsistent parenting might occur in a variety of situations, including illness or simply a lack of understanding about the importance of creating a stable home environment for children. If inconsistent parenting occurs, expect some common effects in children.

Confusion and Insecurity

When a child cannot predict how a parent will respond in a situation or the child does not know that a parent will be there to support and guide him, confusion and insecurity often results, warns the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line. The youngster who does not have this security realizes that he cannot trust and count on his parents to meet his needs. If a daily routine lacks consistency, a child often feels confused and insecure because the schedule of activities such as meals, playing and bedtime will be different and unknown every day.

Fear and Anxiety

Parents who fail to raise children with consistent expectations, rules and consequences can create fear and anxiety in the youngsters, warns HEARD Alliance, a health care alliance for adolescent depression. The lack of consistency about rules and consequences makes it difficult for children to know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. This mystery often leads to fear and anxiety because a child does not know whether to expect praise or punishment for actions. A child might also expect a specific consequence for an action, but if it does not occur, the child feels anxious due to the confusion.


If inconsistent parenting continues over time, a child might develop ambivalent feelings toward the parent, warns marriage and family therapist Joe Jardine. Mistrust from broken promises and lack of follow-through often breeds rebellious behavior in the child. The child rejects the parent and angrily pursues negative risk-taking behaviors designed to communicate hurt, fear and anger stemming from the inconsistent parenting.


With inconsistency in a home environment, parentification often occurs. Parentification involves a role reversal of a parent and child, with the child taking on the parent’s role in caring for or nurturing the parent, states psychotherapist Samuel Lopez De Victoria, writing for the PsychCentral website. A child may sacrifice her own needs in an attempt to care for the parent’s emotional needs or to perform the parent’s role in the family. A distracted or emotionally removed parent might lead to a child attempting to compensate with parentification.
(See also, " How your Attachment Style Affects your Parenting"

Brene Brown on Charlottesville

Brene Brown has a powerful video responding to Charlottesville. Watch it here:

She's spot on in saying that Americans have not owned the story of white supremacy, so it owns us. But the question is, how do we all agree to own this story, so that we can write a different ending, when our very DNA as a nation is to idolize disagreement? That is, the Declaration of Independence guarantees each individual "liberty," and the freedom to define and pursue happiness individually. If each individual is autonomous- (a law unto himself or herself) we will never be able to own any story in common.I have long said that Americans (and especially American evangelicals) need to admit the story of our nominalism and repent of it. That will help us not only with the problem of race relations, but with our economy and the way we treat the environment.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The eclipse in Salem 2017; Alaska Airlines Eclipse flight

Salem goes dark as total solar eclipse dazzles crowds in Oregon

Solar eclipse totality casts darkness over Salem

Alaska Airlines Solar Eclipse Flight #870

Eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017

THoughts upon the Eclipse, August 21, 2917

Holy, Holy, Holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man, Thy glory may not see:
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise Thy name in earth, and sky, and sea;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty,
God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Kenneth Tanner summed up his experience on Facebook:

Kenneth Tanner
The totality—in Cookeville, TN, ours lasted two and half minutes—exceeded any imagined expectation. I just had no idea how beautiful it would be.
For those few moments the moon was transfigured, a black hole in the sky, surrounded by an intensely white garland radiating out from the lunar circle in the narrowest petals of flickering brightness.

Before the totality the light gradually faded but not like a sunset. There were still dark shadows from trees on the ground as if at midday and yet a kind of grey gauze hung in the air.
At the moment of totality it was as if someone switched a light off in a room and it was dark except at all edges of the atmosphere, which were aglow with fire as though the sun had just fallen below the horizon in a 360 sunset.

And there in the sky like a round onyx the illusion of a still moon with a diamond-like corona ablaze with bright white light the quality of which I am sure I have never before seen in nature.
It was like seeing the world that's coming to this world for a brief moment, seeing what a halo might look like circling the head of a saint, or what the verges of a tree might look like in the kingdom.
The eclipse itself was exceedingly clear unlike the photos I've seen from today, and the corona not at all fiery red like photos I've seen from past eclipses.

I've been driving back to Michigan the last three hours (Debbie is driving now) so I've not been able to see what kind of captures the best video people were able to record but I doubt anyone mirrored the live experience.

A physicist at Tennessee Tech told me this morning that there has not been an eclipse of this magnitude on North America since 1485 and that there won't be one quite like it again until 2485. I told Arthur we just witnessed something very few humans see in their lifetimes.
 I can see why people might chase these around the world. I already have a deep longing to go back to that moment. I'm going to try to carry it with me. Always. So glad Deb got us on the road (I don't like to leave my routines, especially for nature) but this was such an awe-inspiring moment to share with her and Arthur.

View of a lifetime

Photographs from the 2017 total solar eclipse above Oregon

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Greek Thinking vs. Hebrew Thinking

My friend Heather posted this for discussion on Facebook: 
Greek thinking / Hebrew thinking
A lot of times in theological discussion I see people argue that what they consider a "wrong" viewpoint was based on "Greek thinking" and then go on to say that a Hebrew perspective would be more like this or that. The only thing is, I think this Greek / Hebrew thinking argument is often used in very inconsistent ways - and - not necessarily based on how Greeks or Hebrews even really think! Somewhere along the way we got a caricature of what "greek thinking" and "hebrew thinking" actually is.
So let's explore this. What is "Greek" or "Hebrew" thinking as you conceive of it, and where do you get the idea for what you construe Greek or Hebrew thinking to be?

There were a lot of responses, many like this one:

It's not just language as a factor but also cultural nuances. Greek thinking is primarily a linear logic whereas Hebrew thinking used block logic. They are very different and have a big impact on interpretative analysis....Ancient eastern cultures thought in blocks of concepts and were ok with some mystery and paradox. Greek logic primarily thinks in a this or that rather than being open to the possibility of both.
Then there were others that spoke about the differences between the two languages, and either tried to pit Greeks and Hebrews against each other semantically, or deny that there were semantic differences.  Here is my response:
I find it interesting that a lot of the conversation here has focused on language. But language reveals as well as constructs metaphysics. If we are serious about comparing the Hebrew and Greek minds, we need to examine their metaphysics. Both are Realist, rather than Nominalist. That is, both affirm the existence of universals, and thus affirm relationship and participation; "both- and" thinking. Medieval Christian philosophy united BOTH the Hebrew AND Greek perspectives, providing Christians with a model for the Christian mind and warrant for "thinking God's thoughts after Him" in order to lead virtuous lives. BOTH Intellect AND will were essential for following Christ. We can thus see the foundation for the Pre-Reformation affirmation of synergism.

On the other hand, we have the modernist perspective: nominalism, which denies the reality of universals, and affirms only the existence of particulars. This eliminates the possibility of real relationship and participation, and instead exults autonomy and voluntarism. For nominalists, the only possibility is either-or thinking, and then the choice becomes even starker: EITHER will OR intellect. God becomes inscrutable; all that matters for Christian life is His will. Thus, nominalism provides the basis for the Reformation's obsession with monergism, election and predestination.

Often, contemporary Christians caricature Greeks as only concerned with the intellect, and Hebrews as concerned with the will. The idea then is that either we must choose to be "intellectual" Greeks or "faithful" Hebrews. But we make this error because we live and breathe in an atmosphere polluted by nominalism, which forces us to think in an either/or manner, pitting Greeks against Hebrews, and Hebrews against Greeks; intellect against will, and will against intellect.

If we recall that the Bible is a premodern document, rather than a modern one, we will realize that we need to read it as Realists, rather than Nominalists. Once we do that, the whole issue of "Hebrew" vs. "Greek" perspective evaporates, and we can agree with Paul that "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Best Thing I've Read about Evangelicals and Trump, Hands Down

'How can Christians support Donald Trump?' is the wrong question

July 27th, 2017

Eighty-one percent.
Like old gum on the bottom of your shoe, it’s a number that will cling to everything American evangelicalism does till the end of its days.
On November 8, 2016, eighty-one percent of white evangelical Americans who cast their ballot for President of the United States voted for Donald Trump, an unrepentent, thrice-divorced, self-professed sexual predator and gambling mogul with a penchant for pathological lying who ran a campaign of unbridled hate, fear mongering, bigotry, racism…and more lying.
One question that immediately rose in the aftermath of one of the most shocking election upsets in American political history was: how could so many Christians support someone like Donald Trump?
How could people who confess a poor, enemy-loving, radically inclusive, former refugee as Lord and Savior embrace someone so radically anti-Christ in nearly every way as their chosen leader?
Admittedly, it’s a question that boggles the mind.
But it’s the wrong question.
This is partly due to the fact that the question is actually fairly easy to answer: human beings are complicated, inconsistent, and sometimes brazenly hypocritical creatures. Ascribe it to the fall, simple human nature, or whatever you want. As human beings, we are constantly and consistently doing things that are simply inconsistent, that don’t make sense, and which are clearly opposed both to our best interests and to the values we profess to hold dear.
That doesn’t justify Christians supporting someone like Donald Trump, but it is what makes the question “how can Christians support Donald Trump” ultimately the wrong question because such a question only addresses the symptom of an underlying, far more important issue.
A better question to ask is “How could so many Christians support someone so radically anti-Christ in every way — and not think see any problem in doing so?
This sort of question gets closer to the root of the real problem facing Christianity in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election and his continued support from so many self-professed followers of Jesus.
Some may argue (and indeed many have) that white evangelical support for Donald Trump stems at least in part from the never-ending culture wars. With his promises of everything from anti-abortion Supreme Court justices to forcing Target to say “Merry Christmas” during the holidays, Trump stands as a conquering hero, if not a new Messiah, in the eyes of some who believe Christianity is under attack in the United States. Electing him President, they believe, will restore Christianity and its accompanying values to its rightful place at the center of American life.
There is more than a grain truth in this explanation. Abortion in particular has become such a wedge issue in recent decades that it has compelled countless Christians — including those who did not vote for Trump — to vote for numerous candidates of dubious moral standing regardless of where they stand on other issues, so long as they oppose abortion and promise to do all they can to appoint Supreme Court justices who will somehow, someway overturn Roe v. Wade. There can be little doubt that many Christian Trump supporters cast their ballot for the former gambling mogul because they saw a good bet to be made on the future nomination of a conservative Supreme Court justice. As recent months have proven, it’s a bet they won — at least in regards to the appointment of Neil Gorsuch.
But the roots of the evangelical-Trump conundrum go down even deeper than that, down to the very foundation of Protestant evangelicalism itself, down to a doctrine that too often today serves as a trump card in the balance between ideology and practice. I’m talking about the cry of the Reformation: “sola fide” or “salvation by faith alone.” It may seem like an unlikely suspect on which to cast blame for Donald Trump’s election. Though the doctrine’s progenitor, Martin Luther, certainly emphasized a particular way of life alongside his declaration that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, the concept of sole fide has been reduced in recent generations to a crude notion that simply agreeing to the right list of ideas or believing in the right God or saying the right prayer will alone secure one’s place in heaven. As a result, the hard work of actually living like Christ hasn’t simply been reduced to a secondary matter; it has become an irrelevant matter as all that ultimately matters is belief.
Christianity in many corners of our country (and no doubt throughout many parts of the rest of the world) has become a zero sum equation. Say the Sinner’s prayer, confess your faith in Jesus, and you’ll go to heaven when you die. How you live in the mean time is all but irrelevant — not simply because God will forgive you anyway, but because “works” have become so taboo (and misunderstood) in our understanding of the Christian life in general and the process of salvation in particular.
Where this leads us is a reality in which living the sort of radical life of self-denial, inclusivity, and enemy-love that Jesus embodied isn’t just unnecessary, it’s almost an affront to the very idea that faith in Christ alone saves us, as if the work of loving our enemies and caring for the poor somehow undermines the notion that faith alone saves us. And maybe it does. Maybe those living an authentically Christ-like life expose an emptiness behind our own confessions of faith we’d rather not see light of day.
That’s not to say that living like Christ isn’t still a point of emphasis in American Christianity. It is; but if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, it’s an emphasis that often dies the moment it passes our lips. Take living like Christ “too far” or too literally and people become uncomfortable, outraged even. They become offended at the implication that their faith — that is to say their verbal confession, intellectual assent, and weekly visits to church — are somehow lacking. It’s then that the name-calling and denial begins. Names like “social justice warriors” and “snowflakes” are heaped on those who have the audacity to take Christ’s command to “go and do likewise” seriously. It's as if saying “no” to injustice, “yes” to inclusivity,” and caring for the least of these no matter what is somehow part of an insidious leftwing socialist agenda and not the very heart of the gospel Jesus lived and preached every day of his life.
When Christianity gets flipped upside down in the cauldron of political partisanship, when saying we believe in Jesus exhausts the extent of our faith and actually living like Jesus is a bridge too far, then the time Paul warned us about has arrived — a time when people will have stopped putting up with sound doctrine, but have itching ears, have accumulated for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and have turned away from listening to the truth in favor of “alternative facts.”
When this happens, when we become a people who hold to an outward form of godliness but deny its power, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise to see American Christianity absolve itself of even the most glaring hypocrisy in supporting someone like Donald Trump. After all, Trump professed to be a Christian and that’s all that matters in a world of salvation by intellectual assent alone.
When this becomes the world in which we live and move and have our being, when faith — not faithfulness — alone is all that matters, when saying we agree with the “right” list of things and are a member of the “right” team exhausts the meaning of being a Christian, then not only is faithful practice ultimately rendered irrelevant, so, conveniently, is the possibility of hypocrisy. Because when Christianity is defined by intellectual assent and verbal confession, a Christian’s otherwise un-Christlike actions can’t be hypocritical since actually living like Christ wasn’t ever a part of the Christian faith to begin with. This is how Christians, without being guilty of hypocrisy, can support Donald Trump no matter how antithetical his words and actions are to the life of Christ.
And therein lies the real question Christian support of Donald Trump should compel the American Church to wrestle with: What does it actually mean to be a Christian?
Is Christianity simply a belief system to be defended at all costs? A set of magic words to be prayed at an altar in order to avoid hell? Is all that matters our agreement to the right list of doctrines while condemning everyone who disagrees?
Or is there more to being a Christian than that?
Have we perhaps misunderstood what Paul meant by “works”? Have we conflated his criticism of pharisaical legalism and religious ritual with a call to radical discipleship? In our righteous zeal to throw open the doors of salvation to all, have we perhaps forgotten that grace is costly? Not that we have to pay a price to receive it, but rather it is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ, which means living like Christ — and living like Christ is anything but cheap and easy.
All of this begs the question: in crying out “Sole fide!” for the past 500 hundreds years, have we somehow forgotten the equally important call to “Go and do likewise?”
Is a particular way of life essential to Christianity — and perhaps even to salvation itself — as Jesus seems to imply in Matthew 25? Or are the things we say we believe all that really matter both in the here and now and at the end of all things?
How we answer this question, how we understand the nature of Christianity and the demands Christ’s life does or does not place on our own, will determine not just the Church’s relationship to American politics, but the future of the Christianity itself for generations to come.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lost Tables: St. Louis Restaurants of my youth

This site is a trip down memory lane:

I remember my parents talking about Gaslight Square, Medarts, the Green Parrot Inn, Pope's, and Miss Hullings. My grandfather, Al Weinstock, loved Ruggeri's. There were lots of great restaurants on the Hill.

I have warm memories of tea rooms. My mother would take us out of school every December to go downtown to see Santa Claus, and we'd have lunch in the ladie's tearoom at Stix Baer and Fuller. The women's tea room was separate from the men's restaurant. I'd watch businessmen march past us, to the Missouri Rom at the rear. When spending the weekend at Grandma Pete and Aunt Pudgie's, I  would always order hamburger and chocolate milk for lunch during our ritual Saturday shopping excursion  at the Westroads Stix Baer and Fuller.  Later, as a preteen and teenager, Mom, Pudge, Grandma and I would go shopping on Saturdays, often to the Clayton Famous-Barr or the Crestwood Stix, and have lunch.  How many bowls of Famous' French Onion Soup did my mom and I consume? Until she was diagnosed as a Type II, she always followed the soup with apple pie, beneath a scoop of cinnamon ice cream; I would have a concrete sundae.

My dad loved Flaming Pit, and occasionally we would go there for dinner. He'd always get a Caesar salad and New York Strip Steak. We had our rehearsal dinner there, Friday evening, June 29, 1979.The guy who developed Flaming Pits also created Noah's Ark,  
Fifth Street at Highway 70, in St. Charles. We ate there a couple of times as a family, but it was so far away...just like my memories now of these lost tables.