Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jeremiah Wright

The most cogent and intelligent thing I've heard said about the recent Jeremiah Wright brouhaha came from Mychal Massie, chairman of the Project 21 black leadership network:

"There is no black church. There is no white church. There's only the Christian church."


Monday, April 28, 2008

Ekklesia Salon

I'm in Dallas, Texas this week and happened to drive by a hair salon called Ekklesia. I wonder what the story is behind them choosing that name? Ekklesia is a Greek word which literally means "a gathering of the elect". Wherever you see the word church in the New Testament, the original Greek word was ekklesia. In fact, in my Bible I've scratched out the word church whenever I've come across it and written in ekklesia instead, because I think the word church carries too much baggage. When we say "church", we think of buildings and steeples and priests and rituals. The ekklesia in the New Testament had none of these things. It was simply a group of people gathered together (typically in a house) to worship God and edify one-another. I don't know if they styled each other's hair or not.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I've been reading a lengthy and outstanding essay by Jonathan Dymond (1798-1828) entitled An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity,
and an Examination of the Philosophical Reasoning by which it is Defended, with Observations on some of the Causes of War and on some of its Effects
[They were into long essay titles in the 19th century!]

Here is an excerpt:

The economy of war requires of every soldier an implicit submission to his superior; and this submission is required of every gradation of rank to that above it. This system may be necessary to hostile operations, but I think it is unquestionably adverse to intellectual and moral excellence.

The very nature of unconditional obedience implies the relinquishment of the use of the reasoning powers. Little more is required of the soldier than that he be obedient and brave. His obedience is that of an animal, which is moved by a goad or a bit, without judgment or volition of his own; and his bravery is that of a mastiff [dog], which fights whatever mastiff others put before him. - It is obvious that in such agency, the intellect and the understanding have little part. Now I think that this is important. He who, with whatever motive, resigns the direction of his conduct implicitly to another, surely cannot retain that erectness and independence of mind, that manly consciousness of mental freedom, which is one of the highest privileges of our nature. The rational being becomes reduced in the intellectual scale: an encroachment is made upon the integrity of its independence. God has given us, individually, capacities for the regulation of our individual conduct. To resign its direction, therefore, to the despotism of another, appears to be an unmanly and unjustifiable relinquishment of the privileges which He has granted to us. Referring simply to the conclusions of reason, I think those conclusions would be, that military obedience must be pernicious to the mind. And if we proceed from reasoning to facts, I believe that our conclusions will be confirmed. Is the military character distinguished by intellectual eminence? Is it not distinguished by intellectual inferiority? I speak of course of the exercise of intellect, and I believe that if we look around us, we shall find that no class of men, in a parallel rank in society, exercise it less, or less honorably to human nature, than the military profession.10 I do not, however, attribute the want of intellectual excellence solely to the implicit submissions of a military life. Nor do I say that this want is so much the fault of the soldier, and of the circumstances to which he is subjected. We attribute this evil, also, to its rightful parent. The resignation of our actions to the direction of a foreign will, is made so familiar to us by war, and is mingled with so many associations which reconcile it, that I am afraid lest the reader should not contemplate it with sufficient abstraction. - Let him remember that in nothing but in war do we submit to it.

It becomes a subject yet more serious, if military obedience requires the relinquishment of our moral agency, - if it requires us to do, not only what may be opposed to our will, but what is opposed to our consciences. And it does require this; a soldier must obey, how criminal soever the command, and how criminal soever he knows it to be. It is certain that of those who compose armies many commit actions which they believe to be wicked, and which they would not commit but for the obligations of a military life. Although a soldier determinately believes that the war is unjust, although he is convinced that his particular part of the service is atrociously criminal, still he must proceed - he must prosecute the purposes of injustice or robbery; he must participate in the guilt, and be himself a robber. When we have sacrificed thus much of principle, what do we retain? If we abandon all use of our perceptions of good and evil, to what purpose has the capacity of perception been given? It were as well to possess no sense of right and wrong, as to prevent ourselves from the pursuit or rejection of them. To abandon some of the most exalted privileges which Heaven has granted to mankind, to refuse the acceptance of them, and to throw them back, as it were, upon the Donor, is surely little other than profane. He who hid a talent was of old punished for his wickedness; what then is the offence of him who refuses to receive it? Such a resignation of our moral agency is not contended for or tolerated in any one other circumstance of life. War stands upon this pinnacle of human depravity alone. She, only, in the supremacy of crime, has told us that she has abolished even the obligation to be virtuous.

To what a situation is a rational and responsible being reduced, who commits actions, good or bad, mischievous or beneficial, at the word of another? I can conceive no greater degradation. It is the lowest, the final abjectness of the moral nature. It is this if we abate the glitter of war, and if we add this glitter it is nothing more. Surely the dignity of reason, and the light of revelation, and our responsibility to God, should make us pause before we become the voluntary subjects of this monstrous system.

I do not know, indeed, under what circumstances of responsibility a man supposes himself to be placed, who thus abandons and violates his own sense of rectitude and of his duties. Either he is responsible for his actions or he is not; and the question is a serious one to determine. Christianity has certainly never stated any cases in which personal responsibility ceases. If she admits such cases, she has at least not told us so; but she has told us, explicitly and repeatedly, that she does require individual obedience and impose individual responsibility. She has made no exceptions to the imperativeness of her obligations, whether we are required to neglect them or not; and I can discover in her sanctions, no reasons to suppose that in her final adjudications she admits the plea that another required us to do that which she required us to forbear. - But it may be feared, it may be believed, that how little soever religion will abate of the responsibility of those who obey, she will impose not a little upon those who command. They, at least, are answerable for the enormities of war; unless, indeed, any one shall tell me that responsibility attaches nowhere; that that which would be wickedness in another man, is innocence in a soldier; and that Heaven has granted to the directors of war a privileged immunity, by virtue of which crime incurs no guilt and receives no punishment.

Friday, April 25, 2008


The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Anthem, by Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Homosexuality, Part 3

I recently came across two outstanding essays by Walter Wink regarding homosexuality and the Bible. Wink is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City and is a theologian and author of note.

His in-depth analysis on Biblical sexual mores provides a great deal of food for thought on how Christians in the 21st Century might view homosexuality. I thought the following paragraphs were particularly insightful:

"Approached from the point of view of love rather than of law, the issue is at once transformed. Now the question is not "What is permitted?" but rather "What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?" Approached from the point of view of faith rather than works, the question ceases to be "What constitutes a breach of divine law in the sexual realm?" and becomes instead "What constitutes integrity before the God revealed in the cosmic lover, Jesus Christ?" Approached from the point of view of the Spirit rather than the letter, the question ceases to be "What does Scripture command?" and becomes "What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, and yes, psychology, genetics, anthropology, and biology?"

"The fact is that there is, behind the legal tenor of Scripture, an even deeper tenor, articulated by Israel out of the experience of the Exodus and brought to sublime embodiment in Jesus' identification with harlots, tax collectors, the diseased and maimed and outcast and poor. It is that God sides with the powerless, God liberates the oppressed, God suffers with the suffering and groans toward the reconciliation of all things. In the light of that supernatural compassion, whatever our position on gays, the gospel's imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear."

Here are the links to Wink's essays:
Homosexuality and the Bible`
Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quote of the Day

"A society that tolerates misery, a religion that tolerates Hell, a humanity that tolerates war, is to me an inferior one. With all of the strength of my being I want to destroy this human depravation. I damn the slavery, I chase away the misery, I heal the sickness, I brighten the darkness, I hate the hatred."
- Victor Hugo, from the Introduction to Les Misérables

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pastor donates kidney to parishioner

Now here's a guy who walks the talk.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Simple songs

We had a great chapel service at the jail today. Our normal modus operandi is to sing worship songs for about 30 minutes and then have an interactive Bible study for an hour or so. We've been going through the Gospel of Matthew together.

Last night Carla and I spent the evening with some very good friends who we used to have a house-church with. We hope to someday start another church together; when the time is right. These friends have also been visiting the same Quaker church as Carla and I, and so we've been discussing our impressions. Over dinner, we talked about the kind of church gatherings we would like to someday start. Our consensus seemed to be that we would have a time of interactive Bible study; very much like what we're doing at the jail and what the Quaker church we've been visiting calls "Meeting for Learning". A separate "Meeting for Worship" would begin with worship music, followed by silent waiting in the manner of Quakers; with the expectation that the Holy Spirit would move and bring forth ministry.

Isaac Penington (1617-1679) described how early Quakers met in just such a manner (sans the worship music):

"And this is the manner of their worship. They are to wait upon the Lord, to meet in the silence of the flesh, and to watch for the stirrings of his life, and the breaking forth of his power amongst them. And in the breakings forth of that power they may pray, speak, exhort, rebuke, sing or mourn, and so on, according as the spirit teaches, requires and gives utterance. But if the spirit do not require to speak, and give to utter, then everyone is to sit stiff in his place (in his heavenly place I mean) feeling his own measure, feeding thereupon, receiving therefrom (into his spirit) what the Lord giveth. Now in this is edifying, pure edifying, precious edifying; his soul who thus waits is hereby particularly edified by the spirit of the Lord at every meeting. And then also there is the life of the whole felt in every vessel that is turned to its measure, insomuch as the warmth of life in each vessel doth not only warm the particular, but they are like a heap of fresh and living coals, warming one another, insomuch as a great strength, freshness, and vigor of life flows into all. And if any be burdened, tempted buffeted by Satan, bowed down, overborne, languishing, afflicted, distressed and so on, the estate of such is felt in spirit, and secret cries, or open (as the Lord pleaseth), ascend up to the Lord for them, and they many times find ease and relief, in a few words spoken, or without words, if it be the season of the help and relief with the Lord.... We wait on the Lord, either to feel him in words, or in silence of spirit without words, as he pleaseth..."

The reason we would want to add worship music to the beginning of such a meeting is that it is a marvelous tool to help the gathered people focus their attention on Christ. We discussed at length that any worship music we used must be very simple and unobtrusive; much like the early Vineyard songs. It must also always be kept in perspective that the music is merely an aid and not an essential. I'm praying now that the Lord will enable me to write and/or find very simple and deep worship songs.

I had this in mind when putting together the songs for today's chapel service at the jail. I decided to pull out and dust off some of the really old Vineyard songs (such as Allelu and Jesus, Name Above All Names). The impact of these songs on the inmates today was noticeable. They were able to quickly join in singing and enter into worship. They were deeply touched. The presence of the Lord was palpable.

Our Bible study was on the Beatitudes. We read and discussed them. Two of the inmates sobbed throughout the entire study time. Others, myself included, were teary-eyed. These simple songs had played a part in softening us and opening us up to the Holy Spirit.

These inmates aren't ready for a Quaker-style "unprogrammed" meeting, but I seem to have found a way, by emphasizing simple and heartfelt songs, to help them encounter the Living God. This is not a new discovery, but somehow we lost sight of it. I'm also excited at the possibility of incorporating simple worship songs into a Quaker meeting. I have a sense that the mixture of pouring our hearts out to God collectively in song, followed by waiting upon Him with listening hearts, could result in a profound experience with God of the type that the early Quakers wrote about.

Homosexuality, Part 2

Romans 1:26-27 is generally considered to be the text that settles the matter of whether homosexual people can be accepted as Christians or not. In my own journey of seeking to grasp God's view towards homosexual people and their place in the Body of Christ, I have come to see this verse as the only true and unambiguous scriptural condemnation of modern-day homosexuality. I wrote in an earlier blog entry that "What holds me in check [of affirming homosexual Christians]is Romans 1:18-32." The other 4 or 5 scriptures that refer in some form or other to homosexuality can be pretty easily seen, with a modicum of honest exegesis, to not be relevant to the current debate.

The more I dig into Romans 1:26-27, however, the more I have my doubts that it can justifiably be used to exclude people of homosexual orientation from Christian fellowship (or leadership).

I've read some pretty lame and disingenuous interpretations of Romans 1:26-27, both from those who oppose and those who support homosexual Christians, but one of the most balanced, honest and (I believe) accurate treatments I've come across is by Beverly Roberts Gaventa, a professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary. You can read her short essay entitled "What does Romans 1 teach about homosexuality, and how should we live in response?" by clicking here.

Michael Westmoreland-White has also done some excellent blogging on this topic. Here is a link to his post regarding Romans 1:26-27.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


"All mystics insist on the use of particular methods for the attainment of their desired goal--the experience of the Presence of God. These "Children of the Light" [Quakers] are no exception to the rule. They all insist with much emphasis on the value of silence. It is a method as old as the beginning of inward religion. There must be a hush from the din of the world's noises before the soul can hear the inward Voice; there must be a closing of the eyes to the glare and dazzle of the world's sights before the inward eye can see that which is eternally Real and True... One sees at once that silence is no passive state, but that rather it is the highest activity of which the human spirit is capable, and the careful reader will note that these "Children of the Light" propose no easy way by which the soul is given a lazy holiday. All their words announce that silence is no mere absence of noise and talk, but the focusing of inner attention on the Will of God, the attuning of the human to the Divine." - Rufus M. Jones, editor, Selections from the Children of Light

For more on silence:

Friday, April 18, 2008

For The Bible Tells Me So - the movie

Carla and I just watched an excellent documentary entitled "For The Bible Tells Me So". We both found it deeply moving. I highly recommend it, with the caveat that you may be challenged; as it deals with homosexuality. But it is well worth it. It provoked Carla and I to have a great discussion about what we've been taught as Christians, not only about homosexuality, but also about what's important to God. I've come to the conclusion that the overarching message in the Bible is that God wants people to love each other; to accept each other; to seek peace and justice; to care for those who are marginalized (by poverty, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, etc.). As Evangelical Christians the focus instead has tended to be on personal behavior and exclusion of those who don't measure up. It's missing the point; sort of like missing the forest for the trees.

Lately I've been reading a lot of accounts of early Quakers and the horrible abuses they endured at the hands of the government (both English and Colonial), the church (Catholic, Anglican and Protestant), the general populace and their own families. It seems that in the late 1600's, to declare oneself a Quaker was about the same as someone in the 1950's declaring themselves gay. The general attitude against the Quakers was based largely on either ignorance or intentional mis-characterization on the part of those who opposed them.

Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that my role here on earth isn't to pass judgment on anyone. My role is to love them.

I'd love to show this movie with a gathering of friends or perhaps at church. Like the Lonnie Frisbee movie, it would surely lead to some great dialog and soul-searching; at least among those willing to give it's message consideration.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rock Bottom Riser

I love this song by Bill Callahan (aka Smog) and find the video mesmerizing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Religion itself is nothing else but Love to God and Man. He that lives in Love, lives in God. Love is above all; and when it prevails in us all, we shall all be Lovely, and in Love with God and one with another." - William Penn

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dalai Lama in Seattle

The Dalai Lama is here in Seattle this week. The events surrounding his visit are on the front page of the local newspapers each day and are also appearing in the national press. Yesterday, 50,000 people came to Qwest Field (the stadium where the Seattle Seahawks football team plays) to hear him speak. According to an Associated Press report:

"He urged people to use nonviolent dialogue to resolve problems — whether at the family, community, national or global level, saying the 21st century should be the "century of dialogue."

Nonviolence is not just the absence of violence, he said, but facing problems with determination, vision and a wider perspective, while "deliberately resisting using force."

To do that, "external disarmament" is needed, he said, advocating elimination of all nuclear weapons.

But people also need "inner disarmament" — to not let emotions like suspicion and fear take control. To achieve that, simply praying or meditating isn't enough, he said. Compassion has to be promoted."

Hmmm. This all sounds strangely familiar. Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, Jesus. And the Apostles. And Francis of Assisi. And the Anabaptists. And the Quakers. And Leo Tolstoy. And Gandhi. And Martin Luther King. And Mother Teresa. The message is tried and true.

It's a shame that Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians are not known for promoting this message. Rather (and I'm painting with a broad brush here), the messages from Evangelicalism have tended to be about support for war (or, in the case of John Hagee and his ilk, outright promotion of war), exclusion of gay people, anger against Liberals in government, etc. Evangelical leaders in the Seattle area ("Dr." Ken Hutcherson comes to mind) are best known for anti-gay rallies and for bully tactics, not for promoting compassion, nonviolence and dialog.

Seattle supposedly has the fewest church attenders of any city in America. Yet, 50,000 people went to a stadium to hear a Tibetan Buddhist monk speak about compassion. Perhaps we Christians have been sending the wrong message.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Meaning of Music and Life

I came across an excellent post on the Sheffield Quakers site, entitled The Meaning of Music and Life, by Paul Hunt. Here it is in its entirety:

The Meaning of Music and Life

A friend asked me, some years ago, “Do you believe that life has meaning?” I said, “Yes, I do.”

“All right, then,” she said. “What does it mean?”

Wow! A tricky one. When in doubt, answer a question with another question. I said, “Do you like listening to music?” She did: Beethoven, especially the piano sonatas. “Do you like that music that goes all over the place?” I did a bit of an imitation of Schoenberg, as best I could, which sounds like a random series of sounds, notes and knockings.

She said, “No. I can’t stand it. It does my head in.”

“You can tell Beethoven from that stuff, or a random assortment of sound effects, because Beethoven’s music means something to you, right?” She agreed.

“All right, then,” I said. “What does it mean?”

Well, she got pretty cross with me. In fact, she kicked my shin, which I thought was entirely reasonable.

The thing is, if you’ve got music, music means something to you. (My cousin was tone deaf. Music didn’t mean anything to him. He just couldn’t get it, although he acknowledged that it meant something to other people; he didn’t dismiss it.) But you can’t say what music means. If Beethoven could have said it in words, he wouldn’t have had to engage a whole orchestra. He could have written a letter to a friend. “Dear Hans, Today I have understood that the real essence of life is the Brotherhood of Man,” or something.

You don’t say what music means; you play it. With life, you don’t say it or play it; you live it.

Question: Is it possible scientifically to prove the existence of music? Some scientists tell us that music is nothing but a pattern of vibrations in the air, a bye-product of mechanical events occurring in various collections of wood, metal, reeds, gut, etc. Some say that the existence of music is an outdated myth from ancient times, and that those who believe in it are credulous and naïve. Others listen to the music.

On May 27, our good Friend Maurice gave ministry. Paraphrased: Roman Catholics respect the authority of the Church, and believe in God because the Church tells them about God. Protestants respect the authority of the Bible, and believe in God because the Bible tells them about God. We Quakers respect the authenticity of the inner promptings of our hearts, and we believe in God because the inner promptings of our hearts tell us about God.

Now, extending this model to the vexed question of the existence of music: Some people believe in music because the Royal College of Music tells us about music. There wouldn’t be a Royal College of something unless that something existed, would there? Some people believe in music because they have seen it written in a book. They may not know what it means, but it’s there. But we Quakers listen to the music.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Presence in the Midst

I've been reading (and thoroughly enjoying) A Living Faith; An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs by Wilmer A. Cooper. One of many fascinating insights that Cooper points out is that Quaker worship can be viewed as a distinctly third form alongside Catholic and Protestant. Catholic worship is centered around the alter and Eucharist. Protestant worship is centered around the sermon and teaching of scripture. Quaker worship is centered around the experience of the presence of God.

To illustrate, Cooper uses the painting The Presence in the Midst, by Doyle Penrose.

Cooper describes it thusly: "...The Presence in the Midst graphically presents the historic Quaker understanding of worship. Penrose painted the famous Jordans meetinghouse outside London with the figure of Christ set in the midst of Friends gathered in silent worship. It is often remarked that the concept of worship portrayed here bears a striking resemblance to the Catholic Mass (the Eucharist), with the real presence of Christ in the midst. Because Friends historically believed that, according to George Fox, "Christ has come to reach his people himself," Penrose's painting lucidly presents the "gathered meeting" around the feet of Christ without benefit of priest or ordained minister and without the need for liturgical ceremony. Such "silent waiting upon the Lord" in an attitude of expectancy represents both the attitude and posture characteristic of traditional Quaker worship."