Well, it is about a year away from the 2016 elections, and the political machine is in full swing. I am now "middle aged", and I can say that I weary of the absurdist political theater that the election cycle has become. I'm tired of the demonizing. I'm tired of the lack of solutions. I'm tired of the feeling that the entire thing is a distraction from the real issues at stake.
As an example: Recently, someone close to me sent me the following (somewhat) funny warning about a disease he calls "PIST AWF". As he describes it in his cut-and-pasted email:
Recently one of my ex-students contacted me about Satanism. This student has never been a big fan of "organized religion", but enjoys reading widely in philosophy and religion. They are now in college, and have found out about Anton Levey's Non-Theistic Satanism, and its philosophy of hedonism and self-fulfillment, and they wanted to know what I thought. So, here is what I shared with them:
Tonight, as the media was broadcasting the terrible news of today's terror attacks in Paris, one of my students emailed me this question:
"As I come back home from a long day... [I am] watching the news about the shootings and bombings in Paris. NPR, the TV, and all my social media are swarming with the news. Everywhere I am seeing #PrayforParis, and it makes me wonder, does it really matter if we pray for these things? Prayer alone will not mobilize action, and although it is a nice gesture, what is the purpose? Is this because it is more convenient or commonplace for us to pray about something than to go and send money, or take reactive measures? Surely many more people will know about this news than the amount of people that will do something to actually help the situation."
And so I replied, summarizing some points I made in some previous essays on prayer here and here:
As I write this, there is an epic lunar eclipse and blood moon appearing over my house. Based on this, a prosperity preacher and prophecy guru at a local McMegachurch has predicted that the end of the ages has come upon us (conveniently after his Sunday collection was taken this morning!). With this auspicious sign, I thought it might be worthwhile to publish a primer on prophecy that I created in 2008 for a college group I was pastoring. While some of the material here is in rough shape and not as well explained as I might want, I hope to give the reader a life-giving alternative to understanding Biblical prophecy beyond the crazy end-times fads that constantly sweep across American Christianity.
1Peter 5:2-3 Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.
This short passage gives some really good advice to elders about how to pastor, and when to get out. If you unpack the three coupled concepts in these two verses, they offer a concise roadmap to the essential motives and methods of pastoral leadership.
For many, the greatest possible objection to belief in God-- and often the most painfully personal-- is the existence of immense amounts of pain and suffering in the universe. From Christian apologist CS Lewis, to Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, to Jewish Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, to "new atheist" Christopher Hitchens, to conservative Evangelical Alvin Plantinga, to liberal physicist-cum-theologian John Polkinghorne *, there is a wide swath of agreement that this very problem forms the key objection to theism in general, and Christianity in particular. It can be stated in many ways: "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" "Why would a good God allow evil to destroy his creation?" "How could God allow [insert name of tragedy] to happen to [insert name(s) of victim(s)]?"
While I have a deep and abiding hope in the ultimate purposes of God to restore all of creation through Jesus Christ, when I ponder the near future I tend to be a bit more cynical. We have wars and rumors of war. We have warnings of ecological apocalypse. We face a rampant consumerism that turns people in the developed world into little more than zombies, and turns laborers in the developing world into little more than slaves. The mainline religious establishment which values social justice, civil society and education seems to shrink, while more fundamentalist religious movements that promote exclusion, anger and fear seem to grow. And all the while our government seems to be bogged down in an intractable partisan quagmire.
The near future can seem bleak indeed.
So, it is rather odd for me to encounter a week's events that bring optimism. First off, the Affordable Healthcare Act was upheld. And while it is pretty horrible compromise legislation that was heavily neutered, it is better than nothing for millions of uninsured, and a step toward the National Healthcare system that any reasonably civilized country should have. Next, Marriage Equality was upheld. In the words of one man I talked to: "This means I am fully human now!" Then the President sang Amazing Grace at a funeral and acted as our "Pastor in Chief". And then, to top off an incredible week, the Episcopal Church elected Michael Curry as our 27th Presiding Bishop.
Suddenly it feels like the tectonic plates of cultural gridlock might be shifting. Maybe just a little.
A friend of mine recently sent me an editorial attributed to Rick Mathes, a Christian minister who works with prison populations. In the editorial, Rick reports a conversation with a Muslim cleric in which he basically causes the Muslim cleric to admit that Islam, as a religion, has an INHERENT duty to wage violent war with "infidels" who are not Muslim. As a religion teacher and Episcopal priest, my friend was wondering what my take on this was. So I wrote the following:
Today I wrote a short letter to my Texas State governor, senator and representative about the "Open Carry" legislation making its way through Austin. If enacted, such legislation will make swaths of Texas look like some suburban caricature of an Old West boomtown with every insecure, over-anxious, under-prepared redneck thug packing and scaring the hell out of my children "becuz the law seyz we can!". There's a whole Star Trek episode dedicated to this proposition in fact. Well worth watching.
This will probably wind up being one of my more hokey blog posts, and it will probably bear the stamp of staying up too late at night watching videos about aliens on youtube (oh the things we do when insomnia strikes!). But, then again, perhaps this needs to be said. And on the off chance it might need to be said, I guess I will say it.
Recently, in applying for a program of graduate studies in educational leadership, it became clear that I have a rather glaring lacuna in my training and education up to this point: In depth reflection on the goals and processes of leadership. It occurs to me that, while I have read fairly widely and written on many aspects of pastoral life, from Biblical studies to Liturgy, from Systematic theology to Systems theory in Congregational Development, from Ecumenical Councils to Crisis Counseling, I have never focused on leadership as such.
Leadership is something I do every day, and something I teach others about. But I have never delved deeply into the theoretical foundations of leadership, and I would characterize my own understanding and practice of leadership as largely mentor-based, intuitive, and "caught rather than taught". So, with that said, I would like to express both systemically and yet somewhat naively what leadership is to me, why I think leadership is important, how I have seen leadership practiced and mis-practiced, and most importantly, how leadership reflects the nature and purposes of the Triune God.
A colleague of mine recently sent me an article from the Atlantic entitled "The Science of Superstition", which appears to be a précis of a book by the same name. This article claims to do something that very badly needs to be done here in the buckle of the Bible-Belt: Open our eyes to the dangers of the superstition and magical thinking that cloud our everyday lives and judgements.
However, I will admit that my first reaction to this article is one of minor disdain, as if the author is quite naive about all of the assumptions he is making about "the way things really are", and the fact that there are myriads of PhDs in every field of research who would question his basic assumptions. There are many, in fact, who might call his assumptions mere "superstitions" made without reference to empirical observation, nor without reference to the background assumptions that make science itself work.
I just read the Eichenwald Newsweek article on the Bible. It starts out swirling the toilet bowl of scholarship, but is at least floating by the end of the essay. It begins as Erhman fundamentalism, as if someone deified the works of Bart Ehrman* (and his ilk) and then parroted all his talking points, but without his nuance or scholarship to back it. Large swaths of this article lend itself to a line by line refutation, but that comes across as petty and defensive. While I have great sympathies with his take on right-wing culture, I was very saddened by his scholarly naivety. And it alarms me that he plays that loose with the facts (and his editors let him get away with it). If you want me to get specific, ask me about almost any point of scholarship made in the beginning of that article (and much of it later), and I can direct you to historical evidence which substantially modifies or altogether refutes the points he is making.