Saturday, May 31, 2014


There is a rueful joke told among seminarians, which is essentially to ask the question "How many times have you lost your faith so far?"  Being in seminary, one is forced confront the presuppositions and inconsistencies in one's own belief system.  One has to dwell upon Biblical passages that were previously glossed over, peeling back the waxy yellow build-up of 2,000 years of theology to try to peer into the bare underpinnings.  One also gets taken into the back room to see how the sausage of church doctrine is made.  The historical church councils that produced the creeds of Christendom tended to be ugly and unspiritual affairs.  In seminary one is also confronted by the reality that there are lots of really smart and amazing and devout people who believe in very different ways.

My faith is based in the experience of the abiding sense of God's loving presence that I have been aware of for the past 30 years.  This has given me a freedom to push some boundaries to see what would happen and to ask some uncomfortable questions to see what the implications might be.  I also credit my Quaker faith and my Quaker community with giving me a sense of safety and freedom from which I can push and probe and poke and prod. 

A fundamentalist pastor that I sat under for a few years early in my Christian walk liked to refer disparagingly to seminary as "cemetery"--the clear inference being that becoming educated about one's faith would kill it.  He was right.  But, as my all-time favorite teacher once said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

"To have faith is to trust Christ to transform us in unforeseeable ways rather than to predetermine what kinds of changes will be allowable."

--John Cobb, David Griffin: Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Isla Vista massacre has reinvigorated calls for sane gun laws in the U.S.  In response, the same old counter-arguments against gun control have come out.  Those in favor of (apparently unrestricted) gun rights seem to have cottoned on that their "we need to defend ourselves against the government" argument sounds paranoid and ludicrous to the average thinking person, so instead the talking point du jour is that since the killer also stabbed people and hit people with his car, why not restrict "knife rights" and "automobile rights."  The argument is intentionally absurd.  Those who make it hope to point out how silly it would be to regulate guns, since bad people would just kill with cars and carving knives.  But it doesn't take more than a cursory examination to see that the argument is absurd for an entirely different set of reasons.

The argument commits the fallacy of false equivalency. A semi-automatic gun, a knife and a car are very, very different things. They do share the commonality (along with a bowling ball and a hammer and a 2x4 and a length of rope and a piece of pipe and a rock and a vast array of other material objects) they they can be used to kill or injure someone. But it is the differences that are more significant.

A car and a knife serve fundamental utilitarian purposes that have nothing to do with harming people, whereas a handgun is designed specifically to kill or wound people--that is its purpose.

It is not easy to kill a large number of people with a car or a knife. It can be done, but it is not easy, as people have a far better chance of getting out of the way of a speeding car or a slashing knife than they do a spray of bullets travelling at thousands of feet per second (dodging bullets only works in the movies). You may recall that a month ago a troubled teen in Pennsylvania went on a stabbing rampage in the crowded hallway of his school. He managed to stab 21 people before being subdued. No one died. Most of the injuries were minor. How different would the results have been if he had had a pair of semi-automatic handguns rather than a pair of knives?

Also about a month ago a young man drove a vehicle into a large crowd of people on a closed-off street at the SXSW festival in Austin, TX. Although he was accused of doing it intentionally, that has not been proven. He was drunk and fleeing from the police when he turned into the cordoned-off street filled with festival-goers, so it was quite possibly an act of drunken recklessness rathen than a premeditated mass killing attempt. However, 4 people died and 24 were injured. He then crashed the car and was subdued with a stungun and is currently incarcerated awaiting trial. How different would the results have been if he had fired into that crowd with semi-automatic handguns or assault rifles with high capacity magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition?

Additionally, at the SXSW event, there were in fact "controls" in the form of police-manned barracades intended to block someone from driving onto the closed-off streets. Obviously that didn't work well against this particular young man. I wouldn't be surprised if next year they employ concrete barriers.   I'm sure no one will complain that the barriers are impinging upon their rights.

The point is that people will kill other people, unintentionally or intentionally. Someone who is determined to murder others has a fair chance of succeeding, even if all they have to do it with is a good sized rock. But the "success" of their endeavor will be limited by their choice of weapon. Semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles radically change the equation, making it possible for that murderous individual to do exponentially greater damage to more people in a very short amount of time and from a safe distance.  It also makes it much more dangerous for those who attempt to intervene.

If cars were outlawed it would (obviously) prevent us from using cars for their intended purpose. The loss of intended use would far outweigh the mitigation of threat, especially considering that we do not have an epidemic of car violence in this country in the way that we do with gun violence. Most knives are likewise utilitarian tools used for cutting fruit and bread and steak and whatnot. If semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles were outlawed and if ownership of ammunition was limited and regulated, what day-to-day activities would be impinged upon? Target shooting? Maintaining the fantasy of overthrowing the government? Even forms of hunting that "require" semi-automatic rifles could continue to be allowed but access to the weapons and ammunition controlled.

One last thing worth considering: Automobiles are already far more regulated than guns in this country. Think about all of the regulations one has to follow in order to purchase and legally drive a car. We regulate the snot out of cars and even more so large trucks; from mandatory driving tests to licensing to insurance to registration to required vehicle inspections to diligent police enforcement of the many driving laws, etc., etc. Guns? Not so much. Why don't we at least regulate gun ownership and usage to the same degree that we do automobiles?
"To summarize quickly, open theism is, at root, a belief about the nature of the future. Open theism is not, as open theists repeatedly point out, a belief about God’s omniscience. Crudely stated, according to open theism God does not know the future because the future does not yet exist. This does not limit God’s omniscience because if the future does not exist then there is nothing for God to know. In short, the future is 'yet to be,' the future is 'open' and unfolding. The openness of the future in open theism is generally rooted in a libertarian account of human free will. Because humans have free will God does not know what exact future will unfold in the face of human choices. Thus, open theism is described as a relational view of God as God is waiting upon and responsive toward the free choices of individuals. God, being infinitely powerful and resourceful, will bring about God’s purposes for the world, but how exactly that future will unfold is to be determined. God is playing, so the metaphor goes, a chess game with humanity. God will win the game, that outcome is 'predetermined,' but the exact course of the game is an unfolding and relational process given the moves humans will make and how God opts to respond as a consequence."
(via AZSpot)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"There are two positions Vines’ book hinges on: 1, that celibacy has never been forced on Christians but instead has always been a choice, seen as a 'gift' that some have but that most do not, and, 2, that orientation cannot be changed. This second point is helped by the fact that Exodus International, the last major organization promising that orientation could be changed, closed its doors while Vines was writing his book — with the closing of Exodus and the thorough debunking of Mark Regnerus’ problematic research there is no longer any institutional level of support for the idea that orientation can be changed.  While many among the oldest generations of conservative Americans will not accept this in their lifetime, younger generations are already living in a world where the status quo regarding orientation is that it cannot be altered. Thus, the checkmate – if you believe orientation cannot be changed and you are also persuaded by Vines that celibacy has never been forced on Christians, it follows that there must be a Christian expression of sexuality for gay people. There must be and, according to Vines, there is: covenantal marriage."


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Today, evangelicals make up the backbone of the pro-life movement, but it hasn’t always been so. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a 'Catholic issue.' In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing 'individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility' as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging 'Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.'"

Source: Politico, The Real Origins of the Religious Right

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Monday, May 26, 2014

"As Memorial Day is celebrated, is memory really what is encouraged or is it just an exercise in imagining? In other words, can we tell the truth on Memorial Day? ... Right remembering of the dead is a moral undertaking. It shows respect for the departed and displays sympathy for family members and friends left behind. But untruthful memorials serve other purposes, sometimes masking truth and glorifying that which should not be glorified. I think there are some questions we should ask as Memorial Day approaches."

Source:  Red Letter Christians,

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"The missions of the higher religions are not competitive; they are complementary. We can believe in our own religion without having to feel that it is the sole repository of truth."
-- Arnold J. Toynbee
"What I believe and practice as part of my faith stems from the foundation of expectant worship. On Sundays, I sit with my meeting members in silence, enter into our hearts, and commune with the divine. We hope that in that time together, we will feel the presence of God moving through us and feel transformed. Sometimes, a person will feel compelled by a powerful need to stand and speak a particular message. Other times, the hour we spend is completely silent.  This form of worship helps us to recognize the spark of the divine in every person, every individual’s inherent worth and equality. Even though we all have different gifts and are given different opportunities in life, we are all a unique representation of the power and creativity of God."


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014


There has been a lot of discussion among Christians about young adults leaving churches in record numbers in the U.S.  I did not realize that U.S. Muslims are wrestling with similar issues.  NPR ran a feature story today about a new documentary film entitled 'Unmosqued' that explores the issue.  Perhaps the film can provide some insight to Christians as well as to Muslims about the reasons why this trend is occurring.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What do Quakers mean by "the Light"?

"In a reflection written almost exactly four years ago, I touched on a few of the important statistics that jolted me out of my exclusivistic way of reading the scriptures and into a more open approach to the texts. I shared that only around 7% of the world’s population are 'saved' by Evangelical standards, and I wrote that people die at a rate of more than 100 people per minute. My former image of God had been sending about 100 people per minute to burn in eternal hellfire. I was disturbed by this, so I wrote that I no longer found compelling a deity who could torture 93% of his own children. In a later blog post, I wondered openly why more people weren’t astounded and offended by a theology that would have us all believe in such a god."

-Crystal St. Marie Lewis, What Theologians Wish Everyone Knew About John 14's "I am the way" Proclamation

(Source: AZSpot)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I try to read John Woolman's Journal once a year...

From American Friends Service Committee:  "Ahead of most others in his time, John Woolman took courageous ethical positions as an advocate for justice for the poor, the enslaved, and the oppressed native peoples of North America. To Quaker activists today, his writings offer a way to stand strong in one’s convictions yet work gently with others to persuade them to change. ... John Woolman’s influence extended beyond his life and beyond the Religious Society of Friends. He inspired later abolitionists, proponents of simple living and ecologically based values, advocates of war-tax resistance, and champions of social justice. A multitude of readers continues to be moved by the gentleness and striking degree of self-honesty and integrity in his 'Journal.'”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

“Following Jesus doesn’t mean believing outdated creeds or literal understandings of scripture or turning my back on science. I respect my childhood church. But God is so much bigger. I believe God is alive and as real as my next breath. God wants me to grow and explore new ideas. Now I realize that faith is a journey and not a destination, and God is with me with in all my questions and doubts. God’s love includes everyone, including people who ask questions and have doubts!”
― Bruce G. Epperly, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I heard an anecdote recently that has stuck with me: A Buddhist monk was taking a walk one night. It was very dark and he didn't have a lantern. As he walked, he stepped on something and felt it squish beneath his foot. It was too dark to see but he was sure he had stepped on a frog. This disturbed him greatly because he was a devout monk and took seriously the Buddhist precept of harming no creature. He returned to the monastery wracked with guilt. He tossed and turned all night, feeling awful that he had killed the frog--he even had a nightmare in which a crowd of frogs surrounded him and demanded his life in exchange. The next morning the monk arose early and when it was light he walked down the path to find the dead frog. Instead, he discovered that what he had stepped on was a rotten eggplant. And so he had subjected himself to a night of guilt and anxiety over something which, it turned out, had been an illusion of his own making.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

“Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.”

--Dorotheus of Gaza (6th Century monk)

Friday, May 09, 2014

Christ of the Breadlines (Fritz Eichenberg)

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Pelagius and Augustine

I have added a link, on the sidebar of my blog, to a thesis paper I recently wrote on the topic of Pelagius and Augustine.


"Pelagius has been called 'one of the most maligned figures in the history of Christianity.'  Yet, the nature of Pelagius's differences with Augustine, Jerome and the 5th century Catholic Church, which ultimately earned him the title heresiarch, have often been misunderstood or mischaracterized."

Friday, May 02, 2014

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”
--Pope Francis

Heyr Himna Smiður

The Icelandic band Árstíðir sings the 14th century hymn Heyr Himna Smiður in a German train station:

Hear, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.

God, I call on thee
to heal me.
Remember me, mild one, (or mild king. This is a pun on the word mildingur).
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
human every sorrow
from the city of the heart.

Watch over me, mild one,
Most we need thee,
truly every moment
in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin,
good causes,
all aid is from thee,
in my heart.