Saturday, December 31, 2016

I just learned that Huston Smith passed away yesterday, at age 97. Smith was a renowned scholar of religion. He was a Christian who spent his life studying, understanding, appreciating and participating in not only his own faith but also Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam/Sufism, Taoism, Native American and African religions, etc. His work has had a profound impact on me because of his emphasis on appreciating what religions aspire to, rather than merely critiquing where they have fallen short. "Others will be interested in weighing the virtues of religion against its atrocities.  That has not been my concern," he wrote in the introduction to his best-selling book The Illustrated World's Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions.  He continued:

"Religion alive confronts the individual with the most momentous option life can present. It calls the soul to the highest adventure it can undertake, a projected journey across the jungles, peaks, and deserts of the human spirit. The call is to confront reality, to master the self. Those who dare to hear and follow that secret call soon learn the dangers and difficulties of its lonely journey--'the sharp edge of a razor, hard to traverse / A difficult path is this, the poets declare....' (Katha Upanishad). But they know its deliverances, too. When a lone spirit triumphs in this domain, it becomes more than a ruler. It becomes a world redeemer. Its impact stretches for millennia, blessing the tangled course of history for centuries. 'Who are the greatest benefactors of the living generation of mankind?' Toynbee asked; and answered: 'Confucius and Laotze, the Buddha, the Prophets of Israel and Judah, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed and Socrates.' The answer should not surprise, for authentic religion is the clearest opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human life."

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion--its message becomes meaningless.”

-- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

Friday, December 30, 2016

"That best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love."

-- William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks--we will also find our path of authentic service in the world."

-- Parker J. Palmer

"You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture; Just get people to stop reading them."

-- Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture..."

― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985

"If you're not a Buddhist you think there are Buddhists and non-Buddhists, but if you're a Buddhist you realize everybody's a Buddhist--even the bugs."

-- Suzuki Roshi

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

-- Howard Thurman

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Flushing Remonstrance, one of the earliest appeals for religious tolerance in American history. In the 1600's in New Netherlands (now New York), the practice of any faith other than the Christianity of the Dutch Reformed Church was forbidden. Adherents to other religions ("Jews, Turks...Egyptians") or denominations ("Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker") were persecuted, imprisoned and banished.

In response, a group of citizens in the town of Vlishing (now known as Flushing) signed a petition of remonstrance (protest), written by town clerk Edward Hart, and submitted it to the governor. Some of the signees of the petition were arrested, but citizens of conscience continued to oppose the government's stance against religious freedom.  Some citizens engaged in acts of civil disobedience (for example, by welcoming people of banned faiths into their homes).  Gradually, religious persecution in the colony came to an end.

The Flushing Remonstrance is considered a precursor to the Freedom of Religion clause (the First Amendment) in the U.S. Constitution.

According to the Bowne House Historical Society:
"Their letter not only defied the laws of one of the most powerful, religious governors of the colonial age, it challenged the very idea of state-enforced religion. The belief that religion was an affair of state lay at the core of the bloody religious persecutions that had plagued Europe throughout the Reformation age. Even in the more lenient American colonies, the words of the Remonstrance expressed a concept of religious freedom that extended beyond the principles of any other contemporary document.  The Remonstrance presented a raw version of the radical ideals later solidified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

The Flushing Remonstrance reads, in part: "The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour sayeth this is the law and the prophets.

Therefore if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man. And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Silent Night, the Quaker version

Last night I read a Buddhist teacher describe his understanding of the meaning of Christmas as "to be in the places that need you." Upon reflection, I think he nailed it.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Gets me every time... 

Tom Waits, "Silent Night/Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis"


Friday, December 23, 2016

"Yesterday I was clever and tried to change the world. Today I am wise and try to change myself."

— Rumi

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson

"Deep religious and moral values have been the backbone of every great progressive movement; prophetic imagination must come before we see political implementation. When the social gospel looked at children dying from child labor and people dying without labor rights and people in slums and poverty and not having a minimum wage and they asked, 'What would Jesus do?'”

-- Reverend William J. Barber, II

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On Stupidity, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison, 1943-45

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice.  One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force.  Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.  Against stupidity we are defenseless.  Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one's prejudgment simply need not be believed--in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical--and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.  In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.  For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one.  Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature.  This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one.  There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid.  We discover this to our surprise in particular situations.  The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them.  We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability.  And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem.  It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.  Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.  It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law.  The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.  The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail.  Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.  The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent.  In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him.  He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being.  Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.  This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity.  Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it.  Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person.  This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what "the people" really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly.  The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance.  It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from people's stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who actively spoke out against Hitler, and ran an underground seminary.  His books include The Cost of Discipleship.  He was imprisoned and ultimately executed by the Nazis.)

"Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world."
-- John Burroughs 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." 

--Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

"To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell."

--Thomas Merton

Monday, December 19, 2016

"To hold our tongues when everyone is gossiping, to smile without hostility at people and institutions, to compensate for the shortage of love in the world with more love in small, private matters; to be more faithful in our work, to show greater patience, to forgo the cheap revenge obtainable from mockery and criticism: all these are things we can do." 

--Hermann Hesse, (1887-1962), Novelist and poet

"People may say I couldn't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

-- Florence Foster Jenkins

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Peaceful protest in Sacramento tonight...

Here's why I, as a Christian, intentionally say "Happy Holidays"...

We no longer live in a provincial land where one culture or religion dominates and dictates. The reality is that the world is becoming more diverse and mixed and multicultural. It's a beautiful thing; not a reason to retreat into monocultural ghettos. The more I learn about other faiths and other cultures the more I appreciate them and my own as pieces of a wonderful mosaic of human aspiration. 

My neighbors come from various Asian backgrounds, are African-American, are Middle Eastern, originate from south of the border, emigrated from India, are Native American, and--like me--are descended from European immigrants. We're all in this together.
So I respect their holy days and appreciate when they respect mine.

Here are some of the holy days, in addition to the various Christian ones, which occur in December and January:

Ashura (Sunni Muslim)
Bodhi Day (Buddhist)
Pancha Ganapati (Hindu)
Saturnalia (Pagan)
Yule (Scandinavian/Pagan)
Winter Solstice (Pagan)
Hanukkah (Jewish)
Kwanzaa (African-American)
Guru Gobindh Singh’s Birthday (Sikh)
Lunar New Year (Asian)
Eid Milad UnNabi (Islam)
Sadeh (Zoroastrian/Persian)
Chahar Shanbeth Suri (Zoroastrian/Persian)
Gantan Sai/Shogatu (Shinto)
Magahi (Sikh)
Makar Sankranti (Hindu)


Saturday, December 17, 2016

This election truly has been like no other election in our lives or, for that matter, in U.S. history. Trump lost the popular vote by a record margin of nearly 3 million votes (five times greater a losing margin than any previous U.S. President in history). Meanwhile his Electoral College victory was not substantial by historical standards. At the end of the day, Trump is President because of a total of about 100,000 votes which put him ever so slightly over in three key states. And his victory is deeply tainted by his crass appeals to the worst in American values, by Russian interference, by the injection of "fake news" and by a coordinated Republican campaign to disenfranchise minority voters.
Based on that, you might think Trump would try to earn legitimacy by acknowledging the facts and seeking to conduct himself in a conciliatory, unifying manner, But he continues to make outrageous statements, to issue inflammatory denials of the facts and is signalling through his cabinet appointments a governmental agenda that will be extremely right-wing.
And so a great many Americans, including many Christians (including yours truly) are struggling to accept the legitimacy of his election based on these factors (that's in addition to his demonstrated lack of character and lack of qualification). He is dangerous. That's not a view ginned up by conspiracy theories; that's a stone-faced assessment based primarily on his own words and actions. We Americans tend to think we're immune from having happen to us what happened in the 20th century to Germany or Italy or Russia or Spain or Japan or many African and Middle Eastern nations. We tend to think we're immune to having done to us what we did to Chile and Iran. We're not immune.
History also shows us with painful clarity how often Christians have gone along with injustice, corruption and even tyranny if it suited their agenda or gave them advantage or kept them out of trouble. But there have also always been those dissenting minority Christians who (in the spirit of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus) engaged the culture by speaking truth to power and (nonviolently) challenging unjust leaders and oppressive systems.
Time to go read Bonhoeffer...
-- DC 

"I hold all sorts of heresies, and feel myself to have got out into a limitless ocean of the love of God that overflows all things. My theology is complete, if you but grant me an omnipotent and just Creator I need nothing more. All the tempests in the various religious teapots around me do seem so far off, so young, so green, so petty! I know I was there once, it must have been ages ago, and it seems impossible. 'God is love,' comprises my whole system of ethics. And, as thou says, it seems to take in all. There is certainly a very grave defect in any doctrine that universally makes its holders narrow and uncharitable, and this is always the case with strict so-called orthodoxy. Whereas, as soon as Christian love comes in, the bounds widen infinitely. I find that every soul that has traveled on this highway of holiness for any length of time, has invariably cut loose from its old moorings. I bring out my heresies to such, expecting reproof, when lo! I find sympathy. We are 'out on the ocean sailing,' that is certain. And if it is the ocean of God's love, as I believe, it is grand."

Hannah Whitall Smith, Quaker and author of The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life (quote taken from a letter to Mrs. Anna Shipley, Aug. 8, 1876)

Friday, December 16, 2016

I've been pondering this question this morning: What is a Christian?

If you define "being a Christian" to mean mentally assenting to a creed and a set of doctrines, making a proclamation of faith, and believing that you have been granted inclusion into a salvific cosmic transaction--then pretty much anyone can claim to be a Christian, and who are we to say someone is not?

On the other hand, if you define "being a Christian" more along the lines of how Jesus, Paul, James, John, et al. seemed to define it--as a disciple of Jesus who lives a fruitful life evident by compassion, kindness, humility, patience, generosity, self-control, concern for those in need, joy, peace and love--then it becomes much harder to claim to be a Christian and much easier to spot those who are.



Thursday, December 15, 2016

"Life is available only in the present moment."

-- Thích Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"It is the purpose of Buddhism, and of religion in general, to reunite one with the Reality one has thus lost sight of due to one’s ignorance in seeking the happiness for which one thirsts where it is not to be found—in the shadows and illusions of one’s own mind." 

-  Bhikkhu Mangalo, The Practice of Recollection

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end."

--  Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself."

-- Desiderius Erasmus

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Oblivion Hymns by Hammock

"As to the life and substance of it, there never was but one true religion; nothing has ever been such, but the immediate inward work of God in man."

-- Job Scott, 18th century Quaker

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Coming in July 2017 from Barclay Press...

Presence and Process, by Daniel P. (Danny) Coleman

"Intellectually solid and spiritually insightful, Coleman's text captures the heart of the Buddhist and Christian mystical traditions in ways that respond to the needs of spiritual seekers of our time."
- DR. BRUCE EPPERLY, author of Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians and The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh

"After three decades in Quaker ministry, I've noticed how religious traditions I once believed to be separate pursuits now merge as one.  Truth, as it turns out, is happy to share the road with others.  Daniel Coleman's helpful book, Presence and Process, marries Christianity and Buddhism for contemporary seekers.   Both traditions are honored, both enriched, and both made better by Coleman's thoughtful union."
- PHILIP GULLEY, author of Living the Quaker Way, The Evolution of Faith, If Grace is True and If God is Love

"Daniel Coleman is a spiritual explorer.  In this provocative and wide-ranging book you will journey with him as he navigates both ancient pathways and explores new and untraveled territory for many Quakers and Christians of all stripes. . . .  This book will stimulate you to experiment with new and differing forms of contemplative spiritual practice to nurture, enhance and reinvigorate your spiritual life.  For those who love to explore 'big ideas' and are open to alternative ways of thinking theologically, this book will be an adventure and a delight."
- DR. CAROLE SPENCER, author of Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism: An Historical Analysis of the Theology of Holiness in the Quaker Tradition

More info:

"Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures."

-- Lao Tzu

Thursday, December 08, 2016

"Love is the whole thing.
We are only pieces."

-- Rumi

"...there is a creative tendency in the universe to produce worthwhile things, and moments come when we can work with it and it can work through us. But the tendency in the universe to produce worthwhile things is by no means omnipotent. Other forces work against it. This creative principle is everywhere. It is a continuing process. Insofar as you partake of this creative process you partake of the divine...."

-- Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician, logician, philosopher, theologian

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I grew up under the impression--based mostly upon movies--that this was an unprovoked, surprise attack. As an adult, I began studying World Wars I and II more closely, with a particular interest in trying to understand why they occurred. What I learned about the Pearl Harbor attack was that it was neither unexpected or unprovoked.

There was a history of escalating tensions between the U.S. and Japan that went back a decade or more prior to the attack. When Roosevelt moved the U.S. Pacific Fleet from the West coast of the U.S. and concentrated it far out into the Pacific at Hawaii (which was at that time a U.S. territory) it was perceived by the Japanese as a direct threat and provocation. Roosevelt knew that this would be the effect, having stated, "Sooner or later the Japanese will commit an overt act against the United States and the nation will be willing to enter the war." Roosevelt was following the recommendations of an intelligence document now called "The McCollum Memo" which was created a year prior to Pearl Harbor and outlined eight steps to thwart Japanese Imperial expansion in Asia by goading them into a war.

The movement and concentration of U.S. naval forces to Pearl Harbor was opposed by Admiral James O. Richardson, who was then Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He was overruled by Roosevelt and relieved of his command. Admiral Nimitz was offered the command of the Pacific Fleet and turned it down, stating to his son (also an Admiral), "It is my guess that the Japanese are going to attack us in a surprise attack. There will be a revulsion in the country against all those in command at sea, and they will be replaced by people in positions of prominence ashore, and I want to be ashore, and not at sea, when that happens."

An attack by the Japanese was not only expected, it was provoked.

Pearl Harbor was a tragedy. 2,402 U.S. and 65 Japanese servicemen were killed. 68 civilians were killed (mostly by errant U.S. anti-aircraft fire). None of those who died (or the many who were injured and maimed) were privy to the geopolitical machinations of Hirohito, Roosevelt, Churchill, et al.

Even more tragic is that the attack on Pearl Harbor was used as a justification to escalate a global war which ultimately killed 60 million people, the majority of whom were civilians.

So, December 7th is a day to remember, but what we ought to remember is that war is stupid, futile and utterly evil and that men in high places will wager human lives (by the millions) for their grand geopolitical aspirations.

"We do not receive wisdom. We must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us."
-- Marcel Proust

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

"Knocked-up, teen-aged, not yet married Mary was the first punk singer and the first rock & roller. When she learned that she would bear the Christ-child, she sang a song. It was a song of praise. It was a song of protest. And it wasn’t timid, it was raucous."

--Roger Wolsey, Jesus’ Mom was a Punk

My friend Kathy Baldock, an Evangelical Christian, did a tremendous job in her book Walking the Bridgeless Canyon of explaining the historical, cultural, medical, political and theological factors that have shaped how our society (and especially the church) came to view people who are LGBTQ.

Since the book's release (and 5 star reviews on Amazon) she has been giving workshops called Untangling the Mess which present the book's material in a timeline format. She has just made available for free a compressed 90 minute version of her presentation on video. I highly recommend it.

"I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine."

-- Bruce Lee

Monday, December 05, 2016

"People aren’t just rethinking Christianity. They are rethinking the entire message of Jesus.... This shift to a new kind of faith is corporate, in that it’s reshaping Christianity as a whole, but it’s not organized. It’s not the work of an institution. Something very personal is happening to young Christians around the world. And once it takes hold in a person, it changes everything."

Migrating Faith: New studies show that millennials are moving away from Christianity, but does that tell the full story?

"So Jesus seemed more concerned with shattering assurances and rupturing securities than he did with making sure everyone agreed on theories of atonement or what exact behaviors or beliefs were sinful and heretical and what ones weren’t. Jesus was constantly breaking social barriers, challenging cultural customs, and subverting empire. So how does this Jesus fit into the modern Christian religious world that has become obsessed with determining who’s in and whose out?"

-- Lance Baker, Myth, Parable, and Subversive Community

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it."

-- Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, December 04, 2016

"William Penn remains one of early Quakerism’s most vibrant thinkers. He not only applied Quaker principles to the tricky business of statecraft but synthesized the charismatic spirituality of the early 1640s with the intellectual impulses of the Restoration’s cultural elite. Among the most influential ingredients of this fusion was the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism. Rooted in the rich intellectual melting-pot of 4th century Athens, the Stoic School taught that the path to greatest happiness involved a life of contemplation, simplicity, and sobriety. At the heart of these commitments was a firm belief that deep within each person there subsisted a divine spark of Reason which connected each creature to a Supreme Being."

-- William Penn Among the Stoics, The Armchair Theologian

I've been reading Shinzen Young's fantastic new book, The Science of Enlightenment: How Meditation Works, and so found this podcast interview with him to be very interesting:

Jim Rigby: How Degenerate Christianity Helped Begat Trumpism

As a Christian pastor I feel a need to confess.

While I don’t believe there was any one cause that elected Donald Trump, I do think the support he received from so many Christians deserves some serious reflection. How have some Christians through history felt their faith led them to support the intolerance of the inquisition, the anti-Semitism of the Nazis? We need to ask these questions.

When we studied Martin Luther in seminary, we were given a cherry picked compilation of his best writings. We were not taught about his diatribes against Jews, or witches, or astronomers. We can still learn many good things from Luther without white washing the fact that he was also softening the German mind for the horrific anti-Semitism and irrationalism to come centuries later.

There was a time in the early church where the word “gospel” referred to Jesus’ humble call to love as summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus about abortion, homosexuality, or condemning non-Christians.

Over time, as the church grew in power, it began to use the word “gospel” to refer not to Jesus' message of love, but to its own message ABOUT Jesus. It began to persecute others using rules and beliefs found nowhere in the actual words of Jesus. The church had begun to use itself as the measuring rod instead of love.

Here are ten ways I believe an immature American Church culture helped unreflecting Christians support Donald Trump.

1. Too many churches have developed a culture of scapegoating and blame. Jesus taught that religion should focus on being self-critical, not on criticizing others. He said we shouldn’t try to take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye until we have dealt with what is keeping us from perceiving clearly. True kindness requires regular and radical questioning of one’s assumptions about everything, including one's understanding of Christianity itself.

2. Too many churches have developed a culture of hypochondrianical martyrdom. Demagogues have an easy task if they can convince the majority, which is resentful at sharing power, that the vulnerable minority population is actually laughing at and persecuting them behind their backs. Christians in this nation have always had unrivaled vested power. If Christians are constantly bombarded by stories where a Christian was persecuted in another country, if every insult against us is repeated endlessly, we can feel mortally attacked by a Starbucks cup that does not speak in our jargon it is easy to feel under attack. WE CHRISTIANS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE WILLING TO SUFFER FOR KINDNESS! When we prevent others from getting their rights and needs, we are not the persecuted but the persecutors.

3. Too many churches have developed a culture of exceptionalism. Jesus summarized his teachings in the story of a good neighbor. Our Jewish roots demand that we judge all claims by a common scale. Jesus called us to be examples not exceptions. We have no real ethical standard if we consider ourselves unique.

4. Too many churches have confused blessings with material prosperity. Jesus' Beatitudes were a redefinition of what it means to be happy. To be ethical often means to share the suffering of the oppressed. The Beatitudes remind us there is an exquisite joy in living that way. Too many pulpits present a theology of capitalism with theological concepts stuck on like refrigerator magnets. The prosperity message isn’t the gospel, it is Adam Smith in a Jesus beard.

5. To many churches confuse faith with anti-rationalism. If you read the writings of the early church, you may be stunned to find many of them held up reason as a sacred gift. The word “logos” which begins John’s gospel isn’t a call to belief, but to wisdom. Too many pulpits turn to pseudo-science when referring to issues like global warming, or fetal pain. If we have to be twist the facts to defend our truth, maybe it isn’t truth after all.

6. Too many churches worship power not love. Whereas, Jesus renounced efforts to put him in power over others and taught his followers to turn the other cheek, too many churches put a crown on Jesus' head and worship him as personification of power. The early church sometimes used the word for kindness (chrestos) and the word for “anointed one” (christos) interchangeably.

7. Too many churches are willing to bear false witness to defend what they believe. I have friends in the church that passed on rumors about Muslims, Hillary Clinton, Planned Parenthood without any sense of responsibility to verify them first. To pass on a rumor we have not personally verified is not only dishonest, it is the sin of bearing false witness.

8. Too many churches call us to return to a golden age that never really was for some people. The call to "Make America Great Again" is heard by some as a call to the days where the dominant class could exploit other people and nature without any restrictions. Prophecy is the insight that we must adapt to new information and broader ethical categories if we are to be a gift to the future. Jesus said that his wine must be constantly placed in new wineskins. Love is always open to new truths.

9. Too many churches teach that men are the heroes of our story and that women are the helpmates. Anti-choice movements within the church assume that women who become pregnant are then community property to be regulated and controlled. We can be pro-life without being anti-choice. As long as the church insists on using masculine language for everything sacred, their historic abuse of women will be hard for them to even recognize. Paul said in Christ there is neither male nor female which means the end of assigned gender hierarchies.

10. Too many churches teach that instead of loving our enemies as Jesus commanded, we should fear them. In fact, they say we should assume the wandering refugee is an enemy unless we can prove other wise. Caring for the sojourner is close to the heart of of the Jewish and Christian message. Too many churches simply lack the courage to follow Jesus when it comes to loving our enemies.

-- Jim Rigby, Pastor, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Austin, TX

"There is but a little thing (like a grain of mustard-seed), a weak thing, a foolish thing, even that which is not (to man’s eye), to overcome all this; and yet in this is the power. And here is the great deceit of man; he looks for a great, manifest power in or upon him to begin with, and doth not see how the power is in the little weak stirrings of life in the heart…"

-- Isaac Penington, 17th century Quaker

Saturday, December 03, 2016

"The night hides a world, but reveals a universe."

-- Chinese proverb

"It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime."

-- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

"There is a misconception that Buddhism is a religion, and that you worship Buddha. Buddhism is a practice, like yoga. You can be a Christian and practice Buddhism. I met a Catholic priest who lived in a Buddhist monastery in France. He told me that Buddhism makes him a better Christian. I love that."

--Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday, December 02, 2016

Louisiana sunset. Storm clouds moving in.

(photo by DC)

Looking forward to this. Enjoyed the book.

McColman: Nine Ways to Foster a Contemplative Church

"Christians need more than just moral guidance and instruction in the proper way to think about God, Christ, and salvation. To be a Christian means to be transfigured from the inside out. Of course, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job — it’s a consequence of grace, not something we achieve on our own efforts. But we consent to the healing action of the Spirit in our lives, and an essential way we offer the gesture of consent is through silent, contemplative prayer."
-- Carl McColman 

Standing Rock Report

A remarkable report on Standing Rock from a Buddhist peacemaker...

Excerpt:  "The Indigenous People are showing the way, as have many oppressed people throughout history, and for this, words of gratitude seem paltry. What one is bequeathed through the gift of Standing Rock is a clarified, strong, heart, burning with a light of commitment and hope in the face of incalculable odds. This then, is our offering of gratitude."

What I'm reading...