Friday, November 30, 2012

My Mind Churns

My mind churns with so many thoughts these days.
Can't keep track of 'em.
But like planets around a sun.
They swirl around a central idea.
Some call it justice.
Others fairness.
The world could do better on so many fronts.
The powerful could be less afraid of losing some power.
The wealthy less afraid of helping others.
And less afraid if they have a million or two less at the end of the year with a better taxation structure to benefit the common good.
If only the pulpits of the land could speak a greater wisdom.
Salvation is for here and now and this good earth.
Whatever eternity means, it ought not to be the only interest of preachers.
God takes care of eternity just fine.
It's here and now that concerns God.
And should concern us, too.
Heaven talk is meaningless without earth talk.
Earth talk is all we need; it will take care of heaven just fine.
Grow up church.
And the same to the powerful and the wealthy.
Grow up.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Devout Christian of Unfailing Good Humor

Howard Somervell, an Everest Team Member, 1922, is described as "the gentlest of souls, decent and compassionate, a devout Christian of unfailing good humor."*

What a delightful description, and in so many ways, as it should be.

I am reminded of too many "devout Christians" who are anything but gentle, ready to dismiss those with whom they disagree, hardly compassionate and decidedly missing anything remotely resembling good humor.

Sourpuss demeanor and argumentative temperament characterize too many "devout Christians."

Having said that, the above description of Somervell stands as a model for me.

As for gentleness, years ago I had a small banner in my office that read: "gentleness is true strength" or something like that.

As for decent and compassionate, I think of folks I've had the pleasure of knowing who've embodied these virtues rather fully, in such a way that the whole of their life is colored by these sturdy characteristics, and sturdy they are. There's nothing weak-kneed about them.

And unfailing good humor - there's something about that that calls to me. In a world where bad news is abundant, unfailing good humor sustains the soul, lest it decay into darkness, and such humor encourages others to keep up the good work and stay the course.

Good humor acknowledges all the sadness of the world, but retains a deep connection to something the Psalmist describes as "the rock higher than I am."

A man or woman who embodies these qualities is likely to practice a deep presence with others, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.

And as a friend once described a mutual friend, "When they enter the room, lights are turned on."

May it be so for us all.

To either be such a light for others, or when the dark edges of life creep upon our soul with their shadows, there will be another light to stand beside us, gentle and decent.

*p. 380, Into the Silence by Wade Davis.

Friday, September 28, 2012

John Winthrop's City upon a Hill, 1630

Much is said about the City Upon a Hill - here's the source of that remarkable phrase, and what Winthrop believes to be the essence of a City on a Hill.
May it be so!

John Winthrop's City upon a Hill, 1630
Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going: And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortacion of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell Deut. 30. Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it;
Therefore lett us choose life,
that wee, and our Seede,
may live; by obeyeing his
voyce, and cleaveing to him,
for hee is our life, and
our prosperity.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Faith and Politics - My Journey

Some of my earliest memories are of God.

God was there for me, and I was never afraid of God.

That carried through high school (Grand Rapids Christian High School).

And Calvin College.

And then to Seminary, and all the years since.

Sometime in 9th or 10th grade, I subscribed to U.S. News and World Report.

I read every issue.

Slowly, the world of mice and men merged with my sense of God and Bible reading.

In high school, I bought a huge Thompson's Chain Reference Bible, and I loved it. I found my verses, underlined them, memorized them, and made them mine, but the best was yet to come.

In seminary, I began to read the whole Bible, and that's pretty much continued over the years.

My teaching mantra: "Read lots of the Bible in single settings, and read often."

Out of this mix of reading and personal history, I made my political decision when I turned 21 and was able to vote.

But was it just Bible and then politics?


The whole of my life - for whatever reason, I very much felt like the outsider, and that gave me sympathy for the outsider. I was sick a lot as a child - bad allergies and lots of colds and coughs. I was overweight much of the time. My family moved often. My mother had great difficulties with most of the family and some of their friends. My father was on the fringe of things. My older brother was gone off to college when I was 9, and we didn't see much of each other thereafter.

I've always had feelings for those who are shunned by others, who don't belong, who are looked down upon.

Wasn't always consistent, that's for sure. I was a terrible racist.

It was in college where the debris of racism was finally gathered up and swept away by Dr. Roger Rice who had us read Michael Harrington's "The Other America." This professor will always be enshrined in my memories.

Slowly, my world came together.

Theologically, what mattered was grace.

No one has better understanding of grace than the Apostle Paul.

And then Calvin.

My Presbyterian story.

Amazing Grace.

These are the bits and pieces of who I am, from little on.

This is my story.

And why I see the world as I see it, and think about politics as I do.

I've been reading the Prophets as of late.

Strong reading.

Confirmation, I think,

What God despises is military might and the pride that goes with it.

Wealth without restraint.

Mistreatment of the vulnerable - the failure of the nation to care for its weakest citizens, and even the alien within its boundaries.

And false gods.

False gods are always present and evident in the above: the love of military might, and reliance upon it. Love of wealth and the accumulation of more and more. Contempt for the poor, ignoring their needs, taking advantage of them, impoverishing them even further.

No matter the pretense of faith, behavior reveals the false gods.

So ...

All greatness is of God.

All greatness becomes arrogant.

God brings down all arrogance.

How do I vote?

I vote for the politicians that have the larger grasp of what justice is all about. A big vision of the world, and our place within it. Those who proclaim "America the greatest" are just plain wrong, sadly mistaken, and need to immerse themselves in the Bible before they yammer on like some silly potentate of old.

I vote for those who have a sense of the underdog, the vulnerable - who look upon them and their plight with compassion rather than contempt. Who see them as people, not parasites. Who see them as victims of big systems that serve the wealthy. Who understand that it's the job of priest and prophet and king to address these needs and maintain balance for all citizens.

I vote for those who understand the manna principle: that those who have much won't have too much, and those who have little won't have too little.

I have no time for Ayn Rand and her blighted view of things.

She's to be pitied.

Not believed.

How strange that anyone who professes faith in Christ would shape her bitterness and bile into a political vision.

But so it goes in this world of cabbages and kings.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Racist Debris

I hate it


Racist debris floats to

The surface of

My mind.

Those murky paradigms of

A time long ago.

They rise unbidden.

To sink again.

But a stench they leave

Behind in the mind.

I hate it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Christianity After Religion" - book review

Posted at Amazon

A review of Christianity after Religion by Diana Butler Bass.
By Tom Eggebeen

Two words come to mind: honest and hopeful.

Diana Butler Bass is an honest writer - no punches pulled on her descriptions of the changing times in which Christianity finds itself, and her descriptions of the many deformities of the Christian Church in the West, and especially in America with its sense of "exceptionalism" (an inordinate pride in our religious landscape) and no punches pulled, either, on the dangers confronting the Spiritual Awakening emerging in these times.

If any reader here wishes to get some handles on the monumental changes occurring throughout the world, in all religions, no better place to begin than with this book.

But let me move to the next word: hopeful.

While the author's comments on Jonathan Edwards are most helpful - i.e. human beings, fervent and faithful, cannot, of themselves, bring about Spiritual Awakening. That belongs only to God. Yet, there is one thing the faithful, the hopeful, can do, and that's to pray!

And adopt a variety of other behaviors, disciplines, described in detail, to engage the world with eyes that see and ears that hear and hands that do.

The author reflects upon her own efforts to see and hear the world with an appreciative, loving, heart. To see people, hear them, and walk with them.

Will this bring about the Awakening?

In one sense, the Awakening is already upon us ... the world as we knew it is disappearing, and though various nativist groups and ideologies seek to return us to the past, the world moves in only one direction, and that's forward.

The character of the Awakening is known to us - much of the book offers detailed analysis of it - and even if we lament what is lost, we can join hands with those who seek a better world.

And honest book full of solid, scholarly, analysis, and, as well, a hopeful book, outlining ways and means that we can embrace right now and the emergent Awakening.

This book deserves the widest possible reading - by those who love the church and those who have rejected it, often times for very good reasons. Religion plays an enormous role in human history, for good and for ill, and to understand religion a bit more can only help all of us.

Thanks to Diana Butler Bass for this remarkable contribution.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Catholic Boys "Respect" Girls in Phoenix

One of the more surprising pieces of news in recent days comes out of Phoenix:
An Arizona Catholic high school forfeited a shot at a state baseball championship on Thursday rather than compete against an opponent that had a 15-year-old girl on its team.
Our Lady of Sorrows Academy in Phoenix had been due to play Mesa Preparatory Academy in the Arizona Charter Athletic Association state championship.

But the team pulled out rather than face the Mesa squad, which fielded 15-year-old Paige Sultzbach at second base.

A school official noted:
Teaching our boys to treat ladies with deference, we choose not to place them in an athletic competition where proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty.
Our school aims to instill in our boys a profound respect for women and girls.

Our Lady of Sorrows is run by traditionalist, conservative priests who do not agree with Roman Catholic Church reforms enacted by the Vatican II Council in the 1960s and who broke from the Church in the 1980s. 

The girl's mother noted: "It wasn't that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it's that (they believe) that a girl's place is not on a field."

That's right.

Because a girl's place is to get ready to have babies!

Lots of babies.

And out of respect, of course, these girls, when married, will be denied birth control.
And, heaven forbid, access to abortion.
Because a woman's purpose in this life is nothing more than having babies.

Athletic pursuit? Don't think so.
Careers? Don't think so.
Write books and climb mountains? Don't think so.
Do research? Don't think so.

Lay flat on your back and let some eager Catholic Boy, who respects you, have a go at ya'. Yup, for sure ... that's what God wants, that's what the Bible says, that's what the "real" Catholic Church teaches - just like Mary, "our Mother of Sorrows," compliant and ready to open her body to the only purpose a woman's body has - bearing children.

And if she doesn't want babies, then no marriage either - off to a Convent, to be trained as a nun, a teacher, removed from life and married to the church for a life of service to the priests of the church.
This version of the Roman Catholic Church, rocked as it is with sexual scandal, is trying to recover its balance by trying to recover the heart of its traditional sexual ethics: women bear children! 

If only the Church can return to this purpose, if only women would pay attention to how God created their bodies, if only women would hush up (and all those uppity nuns, for crying out loud, shut them down, please) then everything else will work out - or, at least, maybe the world won't pay so much attention to what these horrible men are doing if only the women of the church stand up, I mean, lay down, and have tons of babies.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wal-Mart Blessings

Walmart has single-handedly put tens of thousands of small family-owned businesses out of business.

Sure, selling things at discount prices, but all across America, small towns lost their downtowns and much of their social structure, not to mention Bill and Fran and Sammy and Lydia, who sold the underwear, the wrenches, the TVs and washers in the small stores, and they knew you, and you knew them and you both loved your community. 

Walmart is a monster, as is the 1% - and there is no pay-back whatsoever, except a little more junk in everyone's home, miserable jobs, oh yeah, and ya' get to wear a Walmart vest!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Culture of Rape

Reflections on the rape of disabled girl recorded on a cellphone video - in South Africa.

The culture of rape, which is alive and well here in the US, too - wherever women are denied their rights because of gender. Just watch what's happening in the GOP right now, the systematic reduction of women's rights. 

Yet some of the comments seem less interested in understand the cultural role of rape and more interested in expression racist junk.

But all that aside, the culture of rape is rooted deeply in much of Africa, too - some of it rooted in Christian missions aligned with the brutality of the Colonial era, where whites regularly rapped African women who "worked" for them. Christian mission repeatedly stressed the "sinful" nature of the woman and her secondary status as God's punishment for Eve's "original sin."

Islam, as well, has generally considered women secondary human beings.

Rape is always a function of power, and the Colonial powers repeatedly demonstrated their superiority with rape as well as the machine gun. The plight of South Africa today is the culmination of Apartheid, the Boer Wars and Britain's systematic denial of human rights. Unemployment is rampant, and as SA sorts itself out, all of sorts of tragedies and social dislocation are occurring.

Rape is also rooted in the deep structures of the world itself - men have always tried to prove themselves superior with sexual dominance.

Just some thoughts - racial stereotyping doesn't help, nor does wishing violence on the perpetrators - we can, and we must, find ways to make a better world. And men everywhere need to think deeply on their attitudes toward women.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Church Advertising

Driving by a non-denominational church the other day, with its typical slogans of “welcome” and “enjoy,” “casual and contemporary,” “a church for people who don’t have a church,” it occurred to me that “non-denominational” churches have to advertise, and all advertising has to appeal to the worst within us - our self-serving instincts.
Places like Willow Creek (at least in the past) refused to advertise, relying only on word of mouth and the personal lives of its members.
In the past, denominational churches didn’t have to advertise, either. Yet, here we can say, they relied on “cultural connections” as much as on word-of-mouth and the personal lives of their members.
Whatever the situation, how much better if all churches quit advertising, other than a name out front, and perhaps a simple word of hope or praise. 
The church in America has to cease appealing to the worst instincts of self-help, self-aggrandizement, self-love and America’s endless quest for personal satisfaction, achievement, youth, beautiful hair and shiny white teeth. 
Infantile at best, demonic at worst, these instincts can never produce a healthy Christian, but only those who claim the name of Jesus for their own personal journey, to maximize the gains of this life and to finally get to heaven when it’s all done, leaving behind an changed world, a world that has been shopped and used, but never loved, and never once given the care mandated by Genesis 1 & 2 and Genesis 12 … not to mention the call of the prophets for justice, kindness and humility. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Presbyterian Schismatic Behavior

I’m not worried!

We Presbyterians are behaving as we always have, rooted as we are in the Reformation: from time-to-time, someone gets a bee in her or his bonnet and strikes forth to “reform” the church, make it better, restore it, recover it, renew it and generally rescue it from spiritual miscreants and all the other usual suspects.

The latest flap over ordination is just one short chapter in a very long book.

I suppose a thoughtful reader of our story might well ask the question: Do we ever learn from our behavior?

Do we learn, for example, that whatever “reform” we’re after will be realized in a substantially reduced form, occasioning the need for further reform somewhere down the line?

Do we learn, for example, that the very things we now are fighting against are likely to be resolved, if not by the church, then by society, as was the case for emancipation and women’s ordination (though, for some, the issue of women’s ordination remains a debatable matter)?

Do we learn, for example, that evil is not external, but within - that what defiles us is not what we might eat, but rather what issues from the heart? Jesus offers this advice to temper both those who would identify “evil” as residing “out there” somewhere, either in food or in people and those who would claim an inner purity greater than someone else’s inner purity.

There is much to learn from our story, and most it is that we don’t learn much at all and are likely to repeat the story at least twice every century. Right now, we’re on target for a new Presbyterian group, and before this century draws to a close (I won’t be here to see it, and chances are, many of you reading this right now won’t be here either), we’ll likely see another group emerge, with the same hopes of restoring, renewing, recovering and reforming.

I’m grateful for the new ordination standards - for me and my house, it’s been a long 35-year struggle, and when it comes to marriage equality for LGBTQ persons and related matters, the struggle remains, even as the struggles of environmental degradation, corporate predation, and war remain.

I wish we could find better ways of witnessing to the world, but such doesn’t seem to be an option.

In the meantime, I hope we can maintain some lines of communication, with none of us committing “the unforgivable sin” - that of demonizing one another, attributing motives to the Beelzebub.

I’m not worried.

We will find our way, and the Kingdom of God will continue to emerge from within our ranks, mostly in spite of us, I suppose, though we often like to think that it’s emergence is because of us.

I’m not worried, but saddened that we Presbyterians learn so little from our story.

But I’m not worried about that either.

God prevails … God always does … and stones get rolled away, even as we show up with our spices, ready to finish the burial.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Does God Love?

Heard this hymn on radio yesterday ...

Impacted me ...

The first verse ...

Breath on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love
What thou does love,
And do what
Thou wouldst do.

I've sung that hymn ten thousand times.

But yesterday, I heard the words.

That I may love what thou does love ...

And what is it that God loves?

And yesterday, it was Bible Study.

The first 5 Chapters of Isaiah.

What is it that God loves?

The justice proclaimed by Isaiah?

Help the oppressed.
     Defend the orphan.
          Plead for the widow.

Or the glorious Year of the Lord.
Proclaimed by Jesus in his home-town sermon?

And, then:

That I may do what thou wouldst do ...

And what is that God does?
     God creates and empowers?
          God saves and makes new?
               God raises the dead?
And makes life where none previously existed?

Is this what God does, among other things?

Isaiah offers it clear:

God will judge between the nations.
     And settle disputes
          Of mighty nations.

Then they will beat 
     Their swords into iron plows
          And their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword
     Against nation:
          They will no longer learn how to make war.

Is this what God does?

Paul says, He's the one who comforts us in all our trouble.
So that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble.
We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God.

I want the breath of God, for sure.
     I want life.
          For myself, my family, my friends.

Like Miss American, I want world peace and everyone to love one another.

But do I love what God loves?

Do I do what God does?

Big questions?

Yeah ... big questions.

And they hurt.

If I let them roll around in me, bumping up against my
     Carefully placed spiritual furniture.

Big questions, for sure.

They cry out for some answers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Preaching for Commitment???

42 years of ministry ... did some preaching ...

Some of it on commitment ... like, get with the program ... decide.

Maybe a lot of preaching on commitment ... don't be spiritually ineffective.

Lazy ... sloppy ... self-serving ...

It's not about convenience, it's about commitment.

But I wonder ... did my preaching sound like a commercial?

Self-serving ... after all, without commitment, no congregation.

Without a congregation, no job.

Without a job ...

As of late, I think: maybe all this preaching for commitment is an act of "little faith."

Does not God create the heart and shape it?

Did not Jesus promise to build his church?

Preaching for commitment deprives the congregation of something vastly more important.

The fullness of the gospel story.

Jesus and the prophets ...

Jesus and John ...

Rewriting Israel's history.

Hebrews ... Jesus becomes the very center.

He's the Lamb and he's the Priest.

He's the Temple and the Curtain.

He's our all-in-all.

Preach that, and lives are changed.

Maybe not the big numbers big institutions need.

But real numbers.

Real vision.

Real love.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Eastwood, Detroit and GOP

Hats off to Eastwood and Detroit ... prosperity for the people is anathema to the GOP which has forgotten that everything from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Erie Canal, the coal and steel industries and the Interstate system are the product of of government and big biz working together for the welfare of the nation. The GOP has become childish and petulant - but such is the mindset of the privileged wealthy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Abortion, Roman Catholics and Conservative Christians

I've supported the rights of women to have an abortion for a long time. I'm 67, in my 43rd year of being a Presbyterian pastor, and I don't remember a time when I didn't support women's rights on this issue.

As for my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, I wonder about their pro-birth stance, and by pro-birth, I mean the general notion that once conception has occurred, the woman is merely the carrier of a new life and thus has no say-so whatsoever about it.

She is beholdin' to the gods, or to the god of the Roman Catholic Church, to carry the foetus, the child-within, to term. Period! It's the will of god, as they say, but with darker dimensions in play.

1. When I was in Detroit, working with Dr. Jack Kevorkian on physician assisted suicide, I received dozens of letters from Roman Catholics with one consistent theme: suffering in this life is good for the soul. I suspect some of this plays a role in the pro-birth position.

2. Furthermore, a generally degraded notion about women still lurks in the dark corners of the Roman Church - women are to be seen, not heard. At best, they are baby-factories. A woman is determined by her biology, her ability to get pregnant and bear a child. This is her destiny, her calling, her responsibility, and, of course, it's all determined by god.

3. Much of this notion was forged in Medieval Europe where disease and war decimated the population for centuries, so the church unwittingly played into the hands of the kings and landed nobility by promoting a pro-birth policy to help replenish the labor supply in Europe. Slavery, from the word "Slav," was a part of Europe's pagan and even Christian legacy. The need for labor spurred the turn to slavery in the 1400 and 1500s in Europe and ultimately in the Caribbean Islands and the United States for the production of sugar (the Crusades brought back sugar) and cotton. And everyone agreed, now that Africans were a steady supply of cheap labor, that it was okay for the Christian world, white, to enslave those from the "Dark Continent," providing cheap labor as well saving the slave from the pagan world of Africa. Since people of color were less than fully human, the White Man's Burden was all the important - to take care of these "children," even as they worked the fields for the White Man's Profits.

4. Hence the silly restrictions on birth-control and the edginess about sex-education. Getting pregnant is a woman's highest calling, and anything that diminishes her chances of pregnancy are to be opposed. Hence, Santorum's opposition to birth-control.

Conservative Protestants share the same views:
1. All pregnancy, whatever its origin, is of god.
2. All pregnancies, then, must be carried to term. Period.
3. The woman has no right whatsoever to any decision in any of this.
4. A woman's body is never her own - it belongs to the foetus.
5. A woman's destiny is child-bearing - she is a baby-factory.

All of this plays a huge role in the ambiguity Conservative Protestants still have toward women in the workplace, in the pulpit and in the home. Women are still very much second-class human beings in Conservative Circles, determined not by their minds, but by their wombs.

Powerful Conservative Protestant Men love to have some arm-candy at their side, and perhaps will fund abortions for their wives and daughters in private clinics, reached via private jets, but in their public persona, they maintain a pro-birth stance. Working-class Conservative Protestant Men can't afford such luxuries, so they pay a terrible price as well, as one child after another is born. Is it any wonder that conservative men are often bitter about women and cruel to them? The womb becomes the man's enemy as well, and many a poor man flees from pregnancy, abandoning the women and the future-child.

In both groups, the pro-birth mindset is mindless and bitter, driven by a pro-birth fanaticism that rarely yields to reason, compassion, or reality.

The pro-birth position is evil in its degradation of women, men, and the children it produces. 

Millions of children are doomed to a life of hardship and sorrow because of pro-birth fanaticism, which prohibits sex education, birth control and generally disregards the deeper issues of poverty, under-employment, unemployment, the lack of health-care, and the lack of good schools for the children.

In the worst-case scenario, a pro-birth position still produces cheap labor for the nobility.