Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Listening to Life from both Sides Now

For the past year or so, some very interesting reading has been appearing in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference (United Methodist) bi-weekly newspaper, The Witness.

I would characterize the letters to the editor, by Dan Adams and J. David Trawick as examples of progressive and evangelical theology. Dan is a retired minister and a member of our conference. David is pastor of Northwest Hills United Methodist Church in San Antonio.

Recently Dan Adams posted a letter calling for the "desacralization" of the Bible and a deeper consideration of what the Bible says. David countered with a letter which said that the view of desacralizing the Bible was flawed reasoning.

I have just concluded a class based on "progressive" ideas and was privileged to have one-third of the class of a conservative, even fundamental mind set. The other two-thirds could have been labelled moderate and progressive. And the class went very well because a spirit of listening and understanding was followed by all.

Dan and David do us all a great service by their discussions. A great difficulty of polemical thinking is the tendency to circle up the wagons and kill off all the "heathen" out there. That concern prompted the following letter to the editor of The Witness, published last week.

Thanks to Dan Adams (“We should desacralize, critically consider what Bible says,” Sept. 28), J. David Trawick (“View on desacralized Bible follows flawed reasoning,” Oct. 12) and many others for keeping the dialogue going between the progressive and evangelical views in our great body.

Our church can learn from both, so long as we invest time in listening and understanding all sides. One thing I learned from John Wesley and Albert Outler was that Wesley was a conjunctive theologian, not a disjunctive one. Wesley saw value in all sides of a discussion and tried not to eliminate one at the expense of the other. Oh, he had his polemical causes, but for the most part he was very inclusive.

The risk we all face with our passionate disagreements is that we will cease to love one another. The risk is that our common love might turn into uncommon pride and self-righteousness. When the focus becomes “my-way-or-the-highway,” we risk finding ourselves categorized as “sounding brass or tinkling cymbals.”

And that tendency to self-righteousness (to which all sides are vulnerable) is one of the most threatening factors in church unity. It is a function of the Holy Spirit to promote unity in the church. To be outside of the spirit of unity, is to be outside the movmement of the Holy Spirit, it seems to me. I cannot for the life of me find Jesus desiring to be separated from the unclean or the demonized. Even the Pharises and Temple leaders were welcome in his presence when they came to him in a congenial spirit.
Let us listen. Let us strive to understand. Let us reach out, rather than push away; and thus be enveloped by the spirit of God.

A Progressive Bibliography

Here are some materials and books which have been helpful along the way:

Altizer, Thomas JJ and William Hamilton. Radical Theology and
the death of god
. Indianapolis:
Bobbs-Merril Company, 1966.

Published in the mid-1960s, this thinking, following Neitzsche, proclaims the actual death of God, as a historical event in our time. Much analysis of subjective/objective faith is done. Altizer finds much compatibility with many contemporary progressives in saying, "Jesus is himself the exact opposite of Christianity."

Bultmann, Rudolf. Primitive Christianity.
Cleveland: World Publishing, Meridian Books,1956.

This work is primariy a look at the various factors that impacted the formation of the fundmental doctrines of the Christian faith during the first two centuries of its development.

__________. Theology of the New Testament.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951,1953,

A two-volumn study on the meaning and message of the Christian message. Comprehensive, classic Bultmann.

__________. Jesus and the Word. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons,1958.

Groundbreaking work on a number of Xn topics: Scripture's authority, the god of the future, prayer, faith, God the Father. To understand where progressive theology is today, one must have some knowledge of Bultmann--not always an easy read.
__________. Jesus Christ and Mythology,
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.

One of the greatest Christian scholars of the mid-twentieth century, Bultmann's name is almost a synonym for "demytholigizing" the Scriptures. He was constantly and sometimes visciously attacked by the fundamentalists. Here he clearly spells out his teaching and defends it brilliantly.

Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible Again for the First
. San Francisco,HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

One of the most readable and understandable biblical scholars of our time, who says the Bible is not a divine product, but a human product, telling the stories and testimonies of those individuals and communities who have had, and continue to have encounters with the living Christ. The Bible is "history remembered" and metaphorically recorded. Borg is among those progressive theologians who will become known as those who made the Bible relevant again to modern man.

__________ The Heart of Christianity. Rediscovering
a Life of Faith. San Francisco,
Harper-SanFrancisco, 2003

Vital Christianity is not about "belief". We can believe many wonderful things yet still behave scandalously. In other words, whether one believes in the literalness of Scriptures is fruitless unless there is this a transforming relationship with the living God. And at the heart of that relationship is dynamic love for truth and justice.

Borg, Marcus J. and Dominic Crosson, The Last Week.
the Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.

I have only read the first chapter, but this book looks to be an excellent read for Lent, or Holy Week. The authors lay out the conflict between the Roman Empire and the young Christian movement in a way not often considered.

Borg, Marcus, J. and Dominic Crosson, The First Christmas.
What the gospels really teach about Jesus' birth.
New York: Harper One, 2007.

This book strips away the sentamentalism that has gathered around the nativity story for two thousand years, and gives fresh new meaning to the birth of Jesus. A great Advent read.

Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. 502 pp.

In the field of studies about the
historical Jesus, this book stands out. It is readable, scholarly, fair
and clear. Painstaking in detail. Continues in the tradition of Albet Schweitzer. Crossan is a member of the Jesus Seminar.

Davies, J.G. The Early Christian Church. A history of its
first five centuries. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1967.

Published 42 years ago, this book remains a foundational text of early Church history. This book was one of my textbooks in seminary.

Ehrman, Bart. D. Misquoting Jesus. The Story
behind who changed the Bible and why.
San Francisco: Harber Collins, 2005.

I have misplaced my copy of this book, but I remember it as being an
excellent study on the way differing manuscripts of the gospels have come
to be. Scribal interjections, deletion of offensive
passages, harmonizing various verses to fit the understanding of the church,
etc. Ehrman is beginning to make his mark as a top-notch scholar.

Fox, Matthew. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1980.

It has been many years since I first picked up this
book. I remember Fox making a case for the Christ to be an
appelation that transcends Jesus, perhaps even incorporation other earthly
religions. If you remember differently, pleaso commet.

Funk, Robert W. and Roy W. Hoover & the Jesus Seminar.
The Five Gospels. What Did Jesus Really Say? New York:
New York: Macmillan Publishing, Polebridge Press 1993.

A truly marvelous and ground-breaking book in which .c 150
modern biblical scholars opine on the four gospels---considering which verses
are authentically Jesus. It also includes a copy of the Gospel of
Thomas. Not for the more conservative reader.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience.
New York: Collier Books, 1961

Mitchell, Stephen. The Gospel According to Jesus.
New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy.
London: Oxford University Press, 1923

Ricker, George M. What You Don't Have to Believe to
be a Christian
. Austin: Sunbelt-Eakin, 2002.

Robinson, James M. The Gospel of Jesus. In
Search of the Original Good News. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Robinson, John A.T. Honest to God.
Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963.

__________. The Human Face of God. Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1973.

Sanders, James A. From Sacred Story to Sacred Text.
Philadelphia: Fortress Press,1987.

Spong, John Shelby . Rescuing the Bible from
San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

__________. Born of a Woman. A Bishop Rethinks
the birth of Jesus. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.

__________. This Hebrew Lord. San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

__________. A New Christianity for a New World.
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Spong, Christine M. Ed. The Bishop's Voice.
New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1999.

Tillich, Paul. The New Being. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955.

__________. The Shaking of the Foundations.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948.

__________. The Eternal Now. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

Ward, Keith. What the Bible Really Teaches.
New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2004.

Ward's thesis is that many of those who most loudly proclaim Bible truths, do not actually know the Bible. Rather, they have memorized key verses which support their peculiar perspective, and use those verses over an over in polemical argument. In this book, Ward lays out what the Bible actually teaches about a wide range of doctrinal statements.

[currently working on this list. ca]

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Progressive Sustenance

I just finished last night, a ten-week study at our church called "Saving Jesus from the Radical Right and the Secular Left". I wish I had had the courage and the audience to teach it to some twenty years ago. Impediments, sadly, were my fear and the perception that no one wanted to hear what progressive Christianity (Xnty) had to say.

First, my fear. My impression is that 80% of United Methodist people in southwest Texas are conservative, meaning that a sizable portion are active fundamentalists, a larger portion are involved evangelicals and the rest of that 80% are passive, status quo conservatives. Of these folks, I have been confronted by some

  • with disbelief ["You don't listen to Focus on the Family!"],

  • with outrage ["If you don't believe in demons, you don't believe the Bible".] and

  • with condemnation [You can't be a Xn if you don't believe the Bible is literally true and infallible.]

In my younger days, I was saddled with Jesus saying that it would be better to have a large stone tied around my neck and that I be cast into the lake than for me to tear down the faith of the little ones. I used that teaching to defend my unwillingness to challenge any of the "little ones".

I was wrong; and now at the age of 66 and now standing on the edge of retirement I have come to understand that my fear had more to do with my own need to be "acceptable" and the ill-founded concern for the advancement of my "career", than the fear of being thrown in the lake.

In 1 John 2 the writer delineates three stages of Xn growth: (1) little children, (2) young adults, and (3) mature Xns. So often I and a vast number of educated United Methodist ministers (who ought to know better) have opted to retard the growth of our "faithful" by preaching a harmless, self-centered, salvation gospel to the static congregations in our charge. When the struggles of the"young adults" have arisen, we, for the most part, have smoothed them over and put the children back into their beds. We have ignored the yearning of so many of our faithful to understand the "mysteries of our faith" that are reserved for those who are mature.

My fear to share my understanding of the "mysteries" is rooted in my own cowardice; and perhaps for my own selfish concern for my "career". So much for fear.

Is there an audience in our churches for dialog concerning progressive theology? I think there is. In my just-finished class of 15, at least five of the student were "conservative to fundamentalist", three t0 five were moderate and the others hopelessly liberal or progressive.

I recruited this class by stating my intention to teach a class of "progressive theology"---or for the unsophisticated, "liberal" theology. Perhaps 25 folks expressed an interest. I asked each of them to read the first chapter of Marcus Borg's book, "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time". (see Blog Archives, May and the above title) then, if they wanted to take the course, to email me. Fifteen or so did, and we had a great class.

Admittedly, if I had offered this class at some of my smaller, rural churches the class might have been very small, and there might have been even more criticism. But the effort is definitely worth it. We must ask ourselves, how many members of our churches have drifted away because they needed a theology of more substance than what was being offered? How many members of our church have become static and bored with their church relationship, because they are being fed milk, when they need a more substantive food?

In this great church of ours, founded by a man who asked only "Is your heart like my heart?" surely there is a place for our progressive members, within the fold.

[See the blog, Progressive Bibliography, for resources.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Greasy, Smelly, Selfish, Hard-hearted . . .

One of the most grievous things this Bush administration ever did occurred when VP Cheney invited the heads of the major oil companies to his office and secretly drew up the energy plan for the country---secretly. And it's still a secret, but the results are floating to the surface, as gasoline prices hit $3.00 a gallon (on the way to $4.00?). Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Toyota Have announced they will oppose a fuel economy stardard of 35 mpg this year. Honda and Nissan support it. Why are the four largest auto makers in the world opposed to this fuel-saving standard?Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Oil tankers are required to be double-hulled so as to help prevent spillage of their cargos. Freighters are single-hulled, so when the Cosco Busan scraped into a bridge in the San Francisco bay, 58,000 gallons of "bunker" oil (whatever that is) spilled into the bay. The fuel tanks could be double-hulled like tankers,but they are not. Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Any person with any heart for animals must find deeply felt emotion at looking at what this oil spill has done to this poor creature. And it will happen again


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

President Bush vetoed a plan to provide insurance to the poorest children in our nation. He said it would be too costly primarily because congress intended to fund the cost by taxing cigarettes (impacting the tobacco corporations). This cost assessment from the man who will spend a trillion dollars [$1,000,000,000,000) on the war in Iraq. The man who spends millions of dollars trying to support a dictatorship in Pakistan. The man who cherishes the tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet, health care for the children is too costly? Why?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One word tells us why: Greed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A few years ago, there was a movie, Wall Street which starred Michael Douglas. At one point he is giving a speech to the tycoons of finance and he says, "Greed is good." The only greater example of this self-justification, this ethical distortion is exhibited by many of the "wealthy elite" in our culture today.
The dictionary definition of greed is "wanting excessively to have or acquire; desiring more than one needs or deserves; avarice, cupidity (strong desire).
I would contend that greed is not good, rather it is evil. To want to possess more than we need is to "build up treasure here on earth". And one no less than Jesus condemned such behavior. And yet, greed is a prime mover in the motivations of this "richest nation on earth".

Another word has been tarnished and cracked because it hides behind greed: politics. Our political system is broken. Yet the front-runners in both parties have political machines that are masters at manipulating the people. Through the use of false patriotism and fear, the Bush administration herded us into their corral, until, in the last year the American people began to wake up and think for themselves. And we are begining to see that corporations with their super-millonaire CEOs and their armies of lobbyists, control the politicians.

The propoganda mills of the political system are beginning to crank up again. Watch out for the fear words, beware of the "socialized medicine" scare (when you hear that phrase, think "insurance profits" and "pre-existing conditions"), beware of the great danger of the military-industrial complex. Hang on for "swift-boat" type campaigning which no party will claim responsibility for. All this "Limbaugh" type skewed truth is already beginning to surface. It's all coming around again.

To break the power of greed and to turn the page on political dynasties, to support real change . . .

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Support Barack Obama!

this Saturday: Countdown to Change: Barack at the Backyard,

Austin, Texas (see website above)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Michael Bloomberg

I viewed an MSNBC interview of Michael Bloomberg (mayor of NY City), done by John Meacham yesterday. I was impressed [I admit I am easily impressed; and also hungry for a presidential candidate who can win and do the job well].

Bloomberg seems to be an inclusive centrist with the ability to pull people together. Imagine that! People pulling together. He says he is not running for president; however, he resigned from the Republican party a couple of months ago. That act enables him to run a "third party" campaign as an independent. He grew up a Democrat and has good social values (not the same as "social conservative" values).

He is a billionaire with a conscience. He could finance his own campaign. He is fascinating to listen to (meaning he can talk in complete sentences with wit). He has a good vision as to how a president should function.

He will be on the cover of Newsweek this weekend. He may not run as an independent; but, some are saying a Bloomberg/Hagel (Republican anti-war Senator from Nebraska) ticket would be unbeatable.

I have just about given up on the Democrats. I am convinced that Hillary would be crucified by the Republicans. Obama would not stand up to Guiliani (at least, the general public would not think so: intellectual vs. bully). [Yes, I wrote this before Obama came out of his shell Saturday (11-10) in Iowa at the Jefferson/Jackson dinner. So long as he continues to speak to the issues and do battle with Hillary, I will support him. --CA 11-13]
Edwards is too cute. Biden might have great ideas but is unelectable (he really does talk too much; and then there is that perjury thing from the past). What to do. Not a single Republican candidate really is presidential.

So I wait and watch. Bloomberg?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Out Sourcing Frustrations

It's cheaper in the short run, this off-shore customer service project. But I feel certain that it will prove to be more costly in the long run.

Three days ago I called Time Warner customer service because I was not able to connect with the internet. I waited twenty-five minutes, all the time being assured that "all agents are busy but I would be taken care of shortly". Finally an agent came on the line.

I suspect the fellow I was talking to ("Francis") was in India or some other place far away. He spent ten minutes attempting to verify that I was a TW customer. "I don't find you in either of our customer data bases." Reading off my latest bill all sorts of identifying numbers did no good. Finally, he used the serial number of my modem to determine that my modem belonged to someone named "Polanski".

Another ten minutes or so of mystifying instructions (turn off your modem, turn it on, click the standby button, turn off your computer, turn it back on) and the verdict was rendered: I needed a new modem. Francis would transfer me to a local number and they would tell me how to get my new modem.

Okay, Harry came on the line (he sounded like a Texan) and told me I did not need a new modem. He said he could tell by looking at some dials on his computer that my modem was working fine. I thought, "why couldn't I have talked to Harry first?" but then he told me that my router was the problem, and he could not help me since Time-Warner does not issue routers.

Frustrated to the core, I went into the living room and drank a Coke. Fifteen minutes later I returned to my computer, and lo and behold! I had internet.

The Next Day:
I tried to reach Sears to get an automatic garage door fixed. I will spare you the details, but they did not have me in their database either. [Is this a ploy?] This time I spoke to "Aldo" who sounded just like Francis. After fifteen minutes of search around I was told that a repairman would come to my house the next day. I hung up wondering if Aldo had a garage, or if he even knew what it meant to get you garage door track bent out of shape.

Okay, the next day I get a call from someone, saying my repairman needs directions to my house. She asked me to call 800/469-4663 to give directions. If you call that number, you will get ahold of Francis, Aldo or some compatriot; and more than likely they will not have you in their database. After fifteen munutes of being unidentified, I told Aldo I would try to handle it locally.

On my cell phone, there was a "missed call" number this same morning. Suspecting it might be the repair man I called it and got lucky. However, when I told him my problem, he said he could not fix it. "But Aldo in India said you could fix it. I explained the problem very carefully to him." "Sorry but I only work on garage door openers, not garage doors." And, as in an act of consolation, he told me that if he had made it to my house, I would have been charged $65 to hear him tell me that he could not fix my problem. This smells like a racket. First Aldo assures me that the repairman can do the job; then the repairman comes and if he had had good directions he would have charged me $65 to tell me he can't help me.

Get this: in spending around two hours with Time Warner and Sears the last three days, the final word, from both of them was "we can't fix your proglem". I wrestled with their customer service on three different days and came up completely empty. Well, Aldo did say he was sorry.

If my experiences with these off-shore customer service folks is common only a third of a time, I cannot help but think it will hurt the reputation of the companies using them in order to cut costs. Some companies have already returned their call centers to the United States. Even with higher labor costs, in the long run, local help is cheaper that foreign bungling.

And now, I sit here waiting for the Dish TV man to show up. I have a scheduled appointment with him: sometime betwen 8 am and noon today. He has six more minutes to make it on time.

Service Flag

I did not know what a "service flag" was until a friend in my church brought me one to hang in my window. At the time my son was in Iraq. I understand it is tradition, going back how far I do not know, to place this flag in your front window if you have a person serving in the military in harm's way. So I proudly placed the flag in my window. Here is what it looked like while he was overseas.

More importantly is my son for which it stands. Todd Andrew Archer is a Sergeant First Class, having been in the army for 17 years. Initially he was a "tanker" in the Armored Cavalry, a crew member in our M1A2 Abrams Main Battlestation tanks. He injured his ankles three or four years ago and was transferred to a transportation batallion.

"I wish I were in my tank in Baghdad", he said. I thanked God he worked behind a computer screen routing convoys while in Iraq.

Currently he is home from Iraq, located at Fort Bragg, No Carolina. He may go back to Iraq during the coming year. I pray not. But I support him whereever he goes.

Here is a picture of my son in his dress outfit.

Isn't he splendid! I am one of those persons who do not support the war; but who definitely support and love my son. Some can't understand that. They bother me less and less.

Now here is a poem my daughter came across. It is what sparked this entry onto my blog.

by William Hartley Holcomb

The sordid roll of business wheels
Grind on the dirty streets,
Unmindful of our drafted sons
Out on the deep, in fleets;

Old gay Broadway keeps up its pace
From dark-time until light,
Unthinking of the soldier boys
Who hold the trench at night.

The careless come, the reckless go
Unhallowed on their way,
Unheeding of the wounded ones
Or Death s toll of each day;

But, down the street at a doorway drear,
There hangs a strip of red,
With its center white, and one blue star
Like azure from overhead;

And further down is another strip
With two stars shining clear,
While a third with three on its white field
Hangs in a window near;

And we know that out of the world of
The wise and thoughtless gay,
Six strong true men have heard Freedom s
And bravely marched away.

And we know three homes on that same
Where happiness used to be,
Now places keep for three vacant chairs,
Here one, there two, there three;

And we know three homes where anxious
Await the coming morn,
When street boys call out the battle news
Night s wireless wings have borne.

Then doff your hat to the Service Flags,
You man of careless mien
A nobler scroll on Honor s Roll
This world has never seen;

For first in duty, first in war,
Their valor will not cease,
And when they come marching home
They will be the first in Peace.