Friday, October 31, 2008

On the economic crisis:

From The Rules of Discipline of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), 1806:

"We warn our members against a pernicious practice amongst the trading part of the community, which has often issued in the ruin of those concerned therein, viz. That of raising and circulating a kind of paper credit, with indorsements, to give it an appearance of value, without an intrinsic reality; a practice which, as it appears to be inconsistent with the truth we profess, we declare our disapprobation of, and entreat every member of our society to avoid and discourage."

It was bound to happen...

Courtesy of Cafe Press

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Astute Aussie discovers cause of global warming...

A concerned citizen sent the following letter to the The Border Mail Newspaper in Albury Wodonga, Victoria, Australia.

Not only does this explain the increase of droughts, but it could be the cause of Global Warming. We need to act now! Before its too late!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peace and conflict

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." - Jesus (as quoted in Matthew 10:34)

Which, I think, is another way of saying, "Love really pisses some people off."

I'm amazed sometimes at the angry responses I get from fellow Christians when I mention certain beliefs of mine which, it seems to me, are consistent with God's loving character, as revealed in Jesus. For example:

- I don't believe in Hell (in the sense of a place of eternal conscious torment).
- I do believe that gay people ought to be allowed to do anything that straight people do (including marry and serve in the military).
- I believe that terrible injustices have been, and continue to be, perpetrated against the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, which has resulted in some of them committing atrocious acts of retaliation.

What these--and other beliefs I hold--have in common is that they are born out of a desire to be inclusive rather than exclusive. If I err, I would rather err on the side of loving too much than loving too little. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." (13:8)

It's in our carnal nature to want to exclude. It's in God's nature to include. Jesus scandalized the religious establishment of His day by hanging out with drunks, crooks, prostitutes, lepers, half-breeds and gentiles--all of whom were supposed to be on God's blacklist. It became apparent to the earliest Christians that to accept Jesus was to reject the premise that only the Jews were God's chosen people. It also meant letting go of prejudices based on class or gender. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

M. Scott Peck referred to tribalism as "the great sin". I think he was onto something. Tribalism says "Our tribe/race/nation/church/denomination/team is favored by God over yours." Exclusion is at the heart of it. We speak for God by claiming we're in with Him and if you're not one of us, you're out with Him. In doing so, we commit blasphemy by invoking God to further our own selfish agendas. But the God we are invoking is really a personification of our own interests. This is the height of blasphemy.

The way of Jesus is the way of inclusion. It is to seek justice for the oppressed, freedom for those in bondage, light to the blind, love to those who hate. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and He said "Blessed are the peacemakers", which He immediately followed with "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness" and "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me." It's a paradox that, by bringing peace, we also bring the rage of those who can't handle the idea of God's love being extended to those people.

One other, only tangentially related thought on peace:

I've noticed for the last couple of weeks a hand-made sign hung on a fence facing the highway. The sign says, "PEACE". Today I noticed that someone else had added a sign below it which says, "THROUGH STRENGTH". I want to add another sign below that one which says, "IS NOT PEACE, BUT INTIMIDATION".

A Thousand Questions...

This beautiful and powerful video was featured at our Meeting for Worship this morning:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dred Scott smiles...

I thought this was an amazing photograph. It was taken at an Obama rally today in Missouri. The white building in the background is the courthouse which was the site of the Dred Scott trial. In the Dred Scott trial, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that African slaves and the descendants of slaves could never be citizens of the United States, that slaves could not sue in court and that slavery would continue to be permitted in federal territories. This decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme court, which upheld it. These events precipitated the Civil War.

Whether you are an Obama supporter or not, you can't deny the power and poignancy of this photo.

"When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


For the past few weeks our church has been featuring the art of Melanie Weidner via our overhead projector. I particularly liked the piece today, entitled "Fill":

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Today we see in every religion an inherent danger whereby the faithful are allowed to settle for the trappings...instead of continuing to grow through an intensive searching in one's heart for the wild God of the desert who cannot be put into convenient boxes of concepts and doctrines. Western theology by and large has become reduced to a static form of objectifying God's transcendence." - George A. Maloney, SJ

Monday, October 06, 2008

Biblical Inerrency Revisited

In my post entitled " Things that make me a heretic..." I stated that "I don't need the Bible to be inerrant or infallible." I'd like to say a bit more about the whole "inerrancy" thing. The trouble with words is that people can use the same word but have vastly different definitions of what the word means. It's important to define terms. When I say "inerrancy" I think of the definition given in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, which was written in 1978 and is generally considered the rubric for Evangelical inerrantists.

You can read the entire Chicago Statement here.

The Chicago Statement contains 19 "articles" or points. Here is the article which I consider to be the crux of the statement:

Article XII.

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Of course it is quite easy to find discrepancies and errors in the Bible, particularly in the historical and scientific realms. This does not render the Bible unreliable or uninspired or suspect or flawed. It does, however, point out that our expectations about the Bible might be flawed. The Bible does not claim inerrancy for itself. The closest we come is Paul's statement in 2 Tim. 3:16–17 that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” There is a big difference between profitable and inerrant.

The Biblical texts were written by pre-scientific people. They did not know what we now know about cosmology, physics, biology, astronomy, etc. They did not have reliable means of communication or fact-checking. Why then would we expect the texts that they wrote to be accurate on such matters? To hold such an expectation is to completely miss the point of what scripture is for and about. It is about a revelation of God to (and through) an ancient people.

Here's one example of a point of errancy: The ancient Hebrews, like the Egyptians and Babylonians of that time, believed that the earth was flat. Scripture reflects this belief. One should expect that scripture reflects this belief, since scripture was written from the viewpoint of these people. That does not make the scriptures any less inspired, or "profitable". It does not make the revelation of God to (and through) these people any less true. (Here's an interesting and detailed article about the flat-earth beliefs of the ancient Hebrews.)

"But," some would protest, "if the Bible is in error about scientific matters, how can it be trusted on theological matters?" An analogy I often use is this: Are you familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf? It is a story that has been around for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Is the story true? That all depends on what you mean by "true". If you mean "Does the story convey an historical event that actually occurred?", then the answer would have to be "Nobody knows". But if you mean "Does the story convey truth?", then the answer is absolutely "Yes." In fact, it is because of the truth that the story conveys that it has endured through times and cultures. Likewise the Bible.

Chris Tilling wrote an excellent series of blogs on the topic of Biblical Inerrancy a couple of years ago. His writings on the matter are insightful and thought-provoking. The comments and discussions that follow each blog are fantastic.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

One last point I want to make on the topic: If all of one's stock is in the Bible as the revelation of God to mankind, with little or no revelation beyond that, then the felt need to protect the Bible from any form of aspersion is more acute. Such an emphasis on the Bible as the sole source of revelation about God can (and often does) twist into bibliolatry. Steve Falkenberg defines what he calls "the heresy of Bibliolatry" here. What I've experienced is that we can drink directly from the same fountain of revelation and inspiration that the Bible came from. It is the same Lord and God, the same Spirit. We have direct access to hear the voice of God. The caveat is that we must be wary about our own vulnerability to self-delusion and Satanic deception. Our two bulwarks against stumbling off into revelatory error are scripture and community.

The Bible stands as our plumbline. The Bible is often referred to as the "Canon of Scripture". The word "canon" comes from the Greek word kanon, which was a measuring line or a rule or a model. Because of the trustworthiness of the revelation of God that the Bible contains, we measure any direct revelation we receive by the Canon of Scripture and reject anything that comes to us which is contrary. What the Bible reveals to us is that God is love, is gracious, is all-powerful, is kind, is faithful, is patient, is merciful, is self-giving and unselfish, and that God hates how we hurt ourselves and each other. Any supposed revelation from God that does not reflect God's character--that is unloving, unkind, graceless, merciless, oppressive, exploitative, self-aggrandizing, exclusionary--is to be considered highly suspect. The greatest revelation of who God is and what God is like is the person of Jesus Christ. This is why the Gospels are so valuable: They give us a eyewitness accounts of what Jesus was like and what He taught. We know that we are truly hearing directly from God when what we hear is consistent with who Jesus was (and is) and what Jesus taught.

Of course, just saying the Bible is our measure ("The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.") is not enough. The Bible is a collection of historical documents in addition to being God-inspired texts. As such, the responsibility is upon us to correctly interpret the scriptures by being proficient in the languages, cultures, world-views and religious ideas from which the scriptures came. To untether the Bible from it's historical/grammatical/cultural contexts is fly into the wild, wind-blown skies of subjectivism, error and heresy. That's how cults get started.

When we are a part of a God-listening community, we can submit any revelation we have received to the discernment of our community. We serve as checks and balances to one-another. When we err, our brothers and sisters gently restore us to the truth. It is very telling that every cult was started by and revolved around a single charismatic individual who claimed to receive revelations from God which were not to be questioned by his or her followers.

So revelation, whether contained in scripture or received directly, carries with it danger and responsibility. In order to avoid the danger we must accept the responsibility to be diligent, humble, equipped (as in, educated), submitted--not to a leader--but to a supportive, discerning community, and willing to take the risk of faith. This is all much more nuanced and challenging than a simplistic appeal to Biblical inerrancy, but things of value in life tend to be challenging.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Warning: This post contains political content

Although I've considered myself politically Independent for many years, I have tended to vote for Republican candidates. This will be the first time in my life that I vote for a Democrat for president. I only hope that Obama lives up to the potential and promise and that it does not all turn out to be cynical political hype.

Speaking of cynical politics, I've become disgusted at the tactics of the McCain/Palin campaign. These are people who claim to represent Evangelical Christians in America and many of my Evangelical Christian friends support McCain/Palin hook, line and sinker. Yet I continue to be amazed at how low the McCain/Palin campaign will go with it's campaign rhetoric. It seems as if John McCain and Sarah Palin are more than willing to sacrifice truth, integrity and their personal honor if it will gain them the Presidency. This "win, no matter what it takes" approach is ugly and disheartening and most un-Christian.

Yesterday, in two separate speeches, Sarah Palin accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists". This was a reference to an alleged close relationship with former Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers. This rumor has been thoroughly investigated by the media and has been proven false.

Elvis Costello once sang, "I used to be disgusted, but now I'm just amused." For me, it's the other way around.

Here's a video clip of Palin's claim that Obama is "palling around with terrorists".

Click here for the CNN "Fact Check" on Palin's allegation.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Glósóli by Sigur Rós

Here's a hauntingly beautiful video by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. The song is entitled Glósóli. The meaning of the video is open to interpretation. To me it speaks of community--journeying through life (and beyond) together.