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Reading James Through an American Lens

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A Reading of James 2: 14-17 with a 21st Century,

United States Gun Violence Hermeneutic:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t act on it? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is a victim in a mass shooting, or has had a child shot to death at school, and one of you says to them, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” and you do nothing to oppose the senseless madness of such horrific violence, allowing more madmen to easily acquire weapons of mass destruction, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it doesn’t lead to action, is dead.

Barna: Youth Leaving Church After High School is a RECENT Trend

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So says the Barna Group, in its report, “Five Myths About Young Adult Church Dropouts.”     What some have decided is a normative part of transitioning to adulthood is actually a myth, the Barna Group says.  Instead, they trace this trend of youth leaving church to become prodigals, exiles or nomads back to the Boomer Generation:

Evidence exists that during the first half of the 1900s, young adults were not less churched than were older adults. In fact, Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s….Today’s young adults who drop out of faith are continuing something the Boomers began as a generation of spiritual free agents. Yet, today’s dropout phenomenon is a more intractable, complex problem.

Why the Boomers?  I’ve had a few thoughts on this. 

Another issue Barna addresses is the explosion in communications technology and its widespread availability.   As was the case in the Reformation, people have discovered that they’re able to bypass established channels of communication with new, internet based, wireless technology.  On the big-ticket issues and news of the day people can now  engage in two-way communication rather than remain the recipients of one-way communication.  Also resembling the Reformation is the widespread awareness that institutions have become so corrupted that they no longer behave in ways that reflect the best interests of the citizenry, whether it be a branch of government, a financial institution, an established media channel for news, or an institutional incarnation of church.   Combine these two trends and you quickly realize that the Church can’t continue to stake out the same old ground.  The Church can’t continue to operate under the assumption that people will come to the building and want to join the group there, trusting that this is the best way of finding some higher spiritual truth.   Nor can the Church assume that youth are destined to leave after high school, or that they won’t find any meaningful spiritual growth after they do.

Some Christians Believe Jesus Wants Armed Insurrection in U.S. (But What Calibre Would He Choose?)

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Michael Leon, writing in Veterans Today, pulls together an interesting read on the latest obtrusion from the extreme-right Dominionist  movement, “Christian Reconstuctionism.”   Dominionists have been working to replace secular government and society with a government and society defined by their rigid understanding of Biblical law.  Now we have the “Christian Reconstuctionists,”  adding their flavor to that  roiling, boiling,  Tea Party soup.

Herb Titus, a lawyer for the far-right Gun Owners of America, is jubilant over last week’s Supreme Court decision in the case McDonald v. City of Chicago, finding that state and local regulation of gun ownership must comport with the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The decision has also pleased the National Rifle Association, which sees it as ammunition for challenging gun control laws across the country. But for Titus, who thinks the NRA “compromises” on gun rights, the Second Amendment isn’t solely about “firepower,” he says. “You have to see it in its spiritual and providential perspective.”

The militia movement and Christian Reconstructionism both contend that our current civil government, most especially the federal government, is illegitimate: that it has overreached the limits of its divinely ordained authority, and that it continues to do so. At this intersection of the religious right and the militia movement, gun ownership is portrayed as a religious issue. “When we’re talking about firearms,” GOA executive director Larry Pratt told RD, “we’re not really talking about a right but an obligation, as creatures of God, to protect the life that was given them.”

The view that gun ownership is a Christian duty, rooted in the overlap between Reconstructionism and the survivalist/militia movement, has become common in both. In his “Bring Your Pieces to Church” Sunday event, Reconstructionist Joel McDurmon makes this point, suggesting that believers should organize target practice after church:

Christians should be aware that the use of force in preservation of life is a biblical doctrine (Ex. 22:2–3; Prov. 24:10–12; Est. 8–9; Neh. 4; cp. John 15:13–14). Likewise, those who possessed weapons in Scripture are often said to be well skilled in the use of them (Judg. 20:15–16; 1 Chron. 12:1–2, 21–22). We can only surmise that 1) God gave them talent in this regard, and that 2) they engaged in target practice regularly. Further, under biblical law, to be disarmed was to be enslaved and led to a disruption of the economic order due to government regulations and monopolies (1 Sam 13:19–22).

So what is a sensible sort of Christian to make of all this?  Is this another reason to hide one’s Christian identity, for fear that it will brand you as a similar whack-a-nut?  In the words of former football coach-turned entertainer Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

A sensible Christian alternative to all this American Neo-Calvinism shows up quite a few places in that part of the Bible we tend to call “The New Testament,” the part of the Bible that speaks to living under the New Covenant made by Jesus through his life, death and resurrection.

This New Covenant doesn’t say a whole lot about taking over the government in order to apply ancient Jewish law codes.  It does speak quite a bit about how one lives in the awareness that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” The books and letters written under the New Covenant also describe a life where those ancient Levitical codes are re-interpreted by the codes of daily life set forth by Jesus in the gospels.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

And then there is this: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (Jn. 13:34-35)

Lutheran theology recognizes that throughout the 66 books that make up the canonical Protestant Bible, there exists a “canon within the canon.”

This little canon contains the essential message of God’s gracious love as revealed in the Crucified and Risen Christ.  This is the canon that sets the benchmark by which all other scripture is measured.  It says absolutely nothing about the value of target practice immediately after church.


Monday Miscellany: Hedges, Sabbath, Oil Spill and Rapture

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Scattershooting, while wondering if the Rockies just got themselves back a vintage Jeff Francis, even though he’s not old enough to conjure the notion of “vintage” yet…………*

Two blog buddies both recently referenced a recent Chris Hedges column, found with different headlines on AlterNet and Truthdig.  Hedges isn’t just your average outside-looking-in church critic.  He knows of what he speaks; he’s a PK who attended a mainline seminary before his movement toward atheism.  His column reveals what I’ve found in his other writings, that he’s a somewhat reluctant atheist, and without the sort of bombastic, egocentric rhetoric of  atheistic contemporaries like Chris Hitchens and Bill Maher.  His theological training shines through this article, in which he wrestles with the conjoined issues of organized religion’s apparent demise and the troubling void its deconstruction is creating.  On the one hand, the insidious, perfidious rot that has fully set in throughout the institutional church is bringing about a very justifiable end to the institution.  On the other hand, once it’s gone where does civilization find a moral ethic rooted in the awareness that individual responsibility is to be fused with compassion?   As I noted in a previous Holy Week post, it wasn’t institutional religion that created and then dropped the atomic bomb, nor did Joe Stalin or Mao Zedong bother even to pay lip service to religion in their mass exterminations of people back in the late, great 20th century (perhaps the most barbarous century in recorded history).   Go here for a good take on Hedges’ piece by another progressive pastor.   Like him, I find it interesting that my defense of organized religion has made me a contrarian……………………………………….

This contrarian finds himself in a bit of a sabbatical these days, in large part due to the issues just mentioned.  It’s been a good time away and a time I didn’t know I needed until it was thrust upon me.  I’ve already found myself–put myself, actually–in places where I’ve had an opportunity to reconsider those classic Lutheran notions like simul justus et peccator (both saint and sinner),  and the many ways this condition plays out for good and for ill in our relationships.   Then there’s Grace–our need to receive it and then also to give it–and again, how this plays out most powerfully in the midst of our relationships.  I also recently had the opportunity to sit at table with a group of folks who all work at one of those superstores where the boxes are stacked high and deep, and where customers are promised the lowest possible prices.  I was intrigued to hear them talk of all the mean-spirited backbiting and conniving behaviors found in their workplace, and left the experience feeling a whole lot better about the culture of the church……it was a good reminder that despite criticism to the contrary, it’s not like the church cornered the market on such behaviors………………………….

Consider that one barrel of oil contains 42 gallons.  Then consider the government’s original estimate of the BP spill was roughly 5000 barrels a day.  Hang with me as I do the math………….210,000 gallons per day, and this is day 28.   Hang on, more math…………5,880,000 gallons by day’s end.  Now the New York Times reports that the government may well have underestimated the spill–it may be 4 or 5 times bigger than these numbers.

While most of us are appropriately horrified, there is that one segment of the populace that is no doubt doing some gleeful hand wringing–the rapture folks.  They no doubt look to that part of the Biblical book, Revelation, where the sea is poisoned by the second bowl of divine wrath.   They of course miss the key issue in the spill, the reality that we don’t need God or God’s angels to kill off and destroy all the life in the sea or on the earth; we’re very, very capable of doing this ourselves.   They also miss the key issue regarding Revelation, that this book which reads like a bad acid trip was actually carefully crafted to read like a bad acid trip.  I often find myself in agreement with Young Martin Luther, that this book should have been cut out of the canon a long time ago, mainly because of all the addle-brained mischief that comes from the careless and bone-headed ways this book is read and interpreted….mainline seminaries do a good job of steering people away from such lunacy, btw….but then I encounter Revelation’s enduring words of hope for a New Creation brought about by the Creator, where there is good life for the multitudes throughout the world; where the triumphant symbol isn’t some warlike or violent creature, but the Lamb whose love has conquered all hatred and fear.  I’m drawn into a vision where the pain and fear of death and disease is no more, and where the tree of life offers leaves of healing for all the nations of the world.  That’s the vision that wraps up John the Seer’s book, and that’s the vision that can help a person get up and out the door in the morning, in the awareness that our history may just have a direction toward a future that isn’t wholly dependent on us and our abilities–or lack thereof.

*Scattershooting is the style employed by the late, great sportswriter, Blackie Sherrod.

What’s So Great About The ELCA

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1.  We’re finally beginning to make those connections between brand identity and evangelism.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Television – Evangelical Lutheran Chu…“, posted with vodpod

2.  Pastor Bob just had a nifty article published in “The Lutheran.”  Here’s an excerpt:

Lutheranism was the flagship of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, which opened the gates of exodus from the Roman Catholic Church. As millions of people left Catholicism, they embarked on a road away from what they disliked about religion. But not all were so sure where they were going. Some became as legalistic and controlling as Catholicism by prohibiting the use of statues, icons and stained-glass windows because they feared divine status would be given to these images. They proclaimed infant baptism ineffective, claiming true baptism can only occur when a person is old enough to choose Christ as Lord and Savior. Martin Luther wasn’t impressed and referred to these people as “radical reformers,” saying they had “swallowed the Holy Spirit feathers and all!”

Today Lutheranism calls this “decision theology” — where the act of deciding for Christ is viewed as a “good work” or “works righteousness.” Decision theology puts God’s grace under the power of human decision.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.  I had forgotten (maybe missed completely!) the quote from Luther about the Holy Spirit.  It will be hard now to be in conversation with modern proponents of decision theology without imagining a few feathers sticking out of their mouths.   Of course, I might also want to check and see exactly what might be tickling under my own nose from time to time!  Thanks, Bob.

The Importance of Good Theology, Part 2

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Another title might be, “How Good Theology Gives People Life.”

Millard Fuller (January 3, 1935-February 3, 2009), co-founder of Habitat for Humanity, was someone steeped in the  Christian theology expressed through daily life at Koinonia Farm,  a Christian community co-founded by Clarence Jordan.

Thanks again, John.

Post-Synod Assembly Reflections

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El Paso, Tx and Ciudad Juarez

This was the most powerful experience that many attendees have experienced at a Synod Assembly; it’s the first assembly in memory where the most energetic buzz wasn’t about some controversial resolution or memorial.  Instead the buzz mostly came from the cultural immersion into the social dynamics of daily life on the U.S.-Mexican border in El Paso/Juarez, with a special emphasis on our connections to the family in Christ that is found on both sides of the border.

Lutheran guests share in the meal provided at Annunication House

Lutheran guests share in the meal provided at Annunication House

I’ve been turning this experience over in my mind for more than a week now.  I will post my own experiences shortly.  But for now it’s time to go share some pizza with my dad.  Sorry to be away so long.  It’s good to be back.