Saturday, November 16, 2013

Is America Weak Internationally?

Is America "weak" internationally?

A friend thinks so.

But I beg to differ.

It goes something like this: America is surely one of the greatest powers in the world today - economically, politically, culturally and militarily. 

That said, it must also be noted: We're not the only power. 

China, the EU, Russia, India and a host of other nations and alliances have their own power and constantly seek their place in the sun as America does. 

While American military moves around the world demonstrate a great deal of power, it's not absolute. No nation posses absolute power, and to suggest that limits on American power is an expression of weakness misconstrues reality. 

Not sure what my friend would want, but I suspect it might be an unrestrained hand militarily … constantly punishing those who would harm us, or threaten us or stand in our way when it comes to national interests.

No nation has ever achieved absolute world dominance, and woe to those who have tried - history makes it clear that such dominance cannot long survive. 

So, while America is incredibly strong and can impress its will upon much of the world, ours is not an absolute strength, and when challenged, we can only, and it's a good thing, enter into negotiations. To some, I know, this appears weak. But in reality, it's the only reality we can ever know. In one way or the other, we have to get along with our neighbors, even those neighbors whom we might love to eliminate.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ten Thousand Graves - Normandy

Ten Thousand Graves - Normandy

Ten thousand graves ... 
Tended with care ... lush grass precisely trimmed.
Crosses mostly ... and Stars of David ...
Young men and women cut down in the prime of life.
They were brave and they were afraid ...
Their pictures reveal that haunted look ...
Of soldiers too tired to be afraid, 
And too frightened to find sleep.

Seasick and wet, 
They hit the beach …
Under the cover of …
Steel and smoke.
Death and tears abound …
Ahead, my friends, ahead.
There’s no going back now.
No stopping for any of us.

A continent enslaved awaits the charge.
Nations, yes, and then some, to be unshackled …

And the years pass us by quickly …
Memories roll beyond the reach of words …
Silent tears still shed …
By those who made it home.

Slowly, now, they join their comrades,
As we all do … with the passage of time.
Hand-in-hand; arm-in-arm … a band of brothers …
A chorus of sisters …

Smoke and steel … 
And a victory in hand.
And may those 
Ten thousand graves remain ever well-tended!

© Tom Eggebeen, 2010

Monday, March 25, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions About Correcting the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions

1. Why is the Heidelberg Catechism so important to More Light Presbyterians?

The Heidelberg Catechism is important to More Light Presbyterians because the inaccurate 1967 translation of the answer to Question 87 is the only reference to homosexuality in the whole Book of Confessions. Restoring the Heidelberg Catechism is important to the entire PCUSA because, as Presbyterians, we pride ourselves on our history, and placing a faithful English translation of the original German into our Book of Confessions is the best way to honor our tradition and the wisdom of our forbears.

2. What are the other four flaws in the Heidelberg Catechism and how can they be fixed?

First, in Question 19, the literal translation reads “ceremonies of the law” rather than “rites of the Old Covenant,” which inserts a theology of old and new covenants that was not present in the original passage.

Second, Question 33 asks, “Why is he called God’s only begotten son, since we also are God’s children?” The translation of the answer currently contained in our Book of Confessions reads, “Because Christ alone is God’s own eternal Son, whereas we are accepted for his sake as children of God by grace.” A literal translation of the German would describe Jesus as God’s “eternal, natural Son” and all believers as “adopted” instead of merely “accepted.” The inaccuracy in this translation loses the important theological and Biblical richness in the original German.

Third, Question 55 asks, “What do you understand by the ‘communion of saints’?” Our Book of Confessions currently translates the first part of the answer this way: “First, that believers one and all, as partakers of the Lord Christ, and all his treasures and gifts, shall share in one fellowship.” The tense of the verb “share” makes a very real theological difference here. The present translation is “shall share,” which places it in the future. The original German is in the present tense, “share,” which means that all believers are in fellowship with one another now.

Fourth, in Question 74, the distinction is being made between the sign of God’s covenant in circumcision and baptism. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism placed circumcision in the Old “Testament” and baptism in the New “Testament,” while the 1962 translators used “Covenant,” not “Testament.” For scholars, this is the most debatable section under scrutiny. Some go one way, others another on this translation.

3. How can we respond to the argument that the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism left out “homosexual perversion” because the catechism was for children and it’s mention would have been inappropriate for them?

The Preface of The Book of Confessions instructs us that “each confessional statement should be respected in its historical particularity; none should be altered to conform to current theological, ethical, or linguistic norms.” Therefore, we must not change the Heidelberg Catechism based on our current beliefs about childhood. As Jack Rogers testified at the 2008 General Assembly in San Jose, the sixteenth-century concept of “childhood” was very different from ours. Projecting
our modern interpretation of what is “appropriate for children” onto the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism disrespects the choices the actual writers made.

4. How can we respond to the argument that the Bible and the tradition of the church now and always has been that homosexuality is a perversion and therefore it is fine to include it in the Heidelberg Catechism?

The Book of Confessions was created to preserve the wisdom of our ancestors. To be true to that purpose, we must respect the decisions the actual writers of the Heidelberg Catechism made. Who are we to second-guess the wisdom and intentions of those German divines, the architects of the Heidelberg Catechism?

5. How can we respond to the argument that the General Assembly and confirming presbyteries in 1967 chose this translation of the Heidelberg Catechism and we need to honor their choice by retaining this translation?

Each generation of Christian believers has the opportunity to express and preserve their faith in confessional statements. When the United Presbyterian Church voted to include the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions, the purpose was to preserve the wisdom and faithfulness of the people of Heidelberg in 1563 for future generations to learn from, not to express their faith in 1967. The Confession of 1967 is the statement of faith of that generation, and it is helpful to recall that it does bring up sexual relations in section 9.47 without mentioning homosexuality.

6. How can we respond to the argument that removing “homosexual perversion” from the Book of Confessions will start us down a slippery slope into sexual chaos?

The greatest threat facing the Presbyterian Church USA, indeed Christianity, is that we turn away the faithful from Christ’s love. The inaccurate version of the Heidelberg Catechism has done just that by placing false witness against GLBT people into our Book of Confessions.

7. What is the full process for changing the Book of Confessions?

The process began with the overtures to the 2008 General Assembly asking for the correction. Upon approval by the GA, the Moderator appointed a Special Committee, which is currently reviewing the situation and will recommend an action to the next General Assembly, in 2010. If that second Assembly approves the correction, their decision must be ratified by two-thirds of the presbyteries to go into effect.

8. Where do things stand now in this ongoing process to correct the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions?

As of September 2009, the Special Committee appointed by the Moderator in 2008 has met and agreed that action to correct the Heidelberg Catechism is necessary. But rather than simply fix the five specific sections that contain inaccuracies, this committee is inclined to replace the entire 1962 translation with the English translation that is currently in use by our sister Reformed Churches. This may require an additional cycle of General Assembly approvals since it was not the solution presented to the committee by the 2008 GA.

9. Why is it so important to begin now to educate ourselves and others about why we must correct the flaws in the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions?

Correcting the Book of Confessions requires a two-thirds vote in the presbyteries. Despite the sound theological and ethical reasons to make this correction, the restoration of the answer to Question 87 rouses strong feelings within the church. Therefore, in preparation for the presbytery vote, we cannot repeat too many times in our presbyteries how many good reasons there are to restore the original meaning of the Heidelberg Catechism.

For more information, Contact MLP Field Organizer Michael Adee, (505) 820-7082,

“Frequently Asked Questions About Correcting the Heidelberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions” is a publication of More Light Presbyterians.
Permission to copy and distribute is granted.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Recent Reading - Aristocracy, Empire, War, England

When my son entered the Peace Corps in 2010 and went to Africa - Swaziland - for 2.5 years, I read Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader (1997). Reader's work begins "in the beginning" - what is Africa as a continent, and its weather, and human origins. It's a "big" book, as I say, ranging far and wide over this remarkable landmass and its diverse peoples, much of it with a tragic history.

Reader's book introduced me to the colonial world in Africa, beginning with the Portuguese in the 15th Century, and from there, we know the rest of the story, so to speak, with the Dutch, British, French and Germans quickly laying claim to huge territories.

It was then that I began to think: to understand today's world, one has to begin with Africa and the European nations that fought for its resources, and the most important colonial need: cheap labor.

What with my son in Swaziland (NE part of South Africa), I read Into the Silence: the Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis. While Davis' book focuses on the English (and it was English, not British) to scale the mountain, Davis begins in South Africa and the Boer War, and then moves to Europe for WW1 - the men, and it was men, who were involved in the effort to climb Everest, were all veterans of the War in the Trenches, more horrible than I previously had understood - this experience, along with the English character shaped in boys' schools, sports, militarism, and Empire, made these men unbelievably tough, self-confident and often arrogant.

I then found in a used book store The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith (1953), an exploration of 19th English Aristocracy - their sense of place and power, ordained by God, and their right to rule the world - and their role in the Crimean War (1853-56) - mostly a series of bungled efforts led by men who loved to play military games at home, with commands purchased rather than won. From this war, Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, his poem celebrating and questioning a tragedy of misunderstood commands and a willingness to send men and horses into the jaws of death for Britain's glory.

For me, the Crimean War is essential background to Russian's current interests in Syria (Russia, the defender of the Orthodox Church), World War 1 and the break up of the Ottoman Empire after WW1.

Then, Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 by Ann Hagedorn, one of the most profound and disturbing books I've ever read - America was a mess in 1919 - the fear of Red Agitators, unions (Communist inspired thought America's powerful people) and foreigners "determined to undermine America's democracy," the rise of Edgar J. Hoover, and racism (lynchings and burnings) - fueled in strange ways by President Wilson and his idealism in international relations and his conventional views at home. I learned about the Michigan Regiment left in Russia to "fight Communism" after the Great War ended and the troops were recalled. There were left there for nearly a year - often referred to as the "Polar Bear Expedition.

I have recently purchased:

The Destruction of Lord Raglan: A Tragedy of the Crimean War (1962) by Christopher Hibbert.

Empire by Mandate by Campbell L. Upthegrove (1954), exploring Great Britain and the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations which created the Middle East as we know it today.

Heaven's Command: An Imperial Progress (1992) by James Morris, vol. 1 - the Victorian Years, years of Empire. I am presently reading chapter 16: "Ain't the Pentateuch Queer?" - the role of religion, and specifically, Christianity, in Empire thinking and behavior - a very disturbing read.

I've come to believe:

1. To understand today's world, we have to understand the Colonial Experience in Africa.
2. To understand the pretentions of America's self-anointed "aristocracy," we have to undertand the English Aristocracy.
3. To understand WW1, we begin with Crimean, and then to WW2 - it was the Great Powers struggling for hegemony that racked the world with war and bathed it in blood, directed by men, often of limited education, but filthy rich and imbued with strong views of themselves, their position and privilege, handsome faces and strong bodies - and their love of horses and military hoohah.

Friday, February 15, 2013


I think, for much of my adult life, I've had a sense of fairness - what it looks like, and what it's like when it's missing. So much of my current interests and work with CLUE, for example, are all about fairness for people who are otherwise targets of those who would strip away what's fair and replace it with a system that degrades the worker, humiliates them in front of fellow-workers, threatens them with termination, decreases or takes away benefits and job-security, reduces wages, and cuts back on full-time work and substitutes part-time work instead. There's something about all of this that smells to high heaven; it's unfair, and that means it's wrong, contrary to our creation as fellow-creatures, one to the other, and sharing the image of God with one another. And it's all driven by money, the God Mammon, the god of greed. How weird it is that these days the takers are not the poor, but the rich, and the companies they control, and the government agencies they have populated with their own kind, and the rich have convinced millions of Americans to praise greed and condemn the poor. I love America, and we've always loved money, but there was some restraint, even shame. But these days, starting with Mr. Reagan, greed has become good, kindness a waste of time, social justice defined by "I'll keep mine, and you and you can keep yours, and generosity limited to charity, which can mitigate suffering, of course, but does nothing to alter the system that perpetually creates suffering. More than anything, I'm saddened by huge segments of American Christianity that closes its eyes to the growing unfairness of American labor practices and environmental degradation, while singing praise songs and doing Bible study, "to know Jesus all the more." To which Jesus says, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers" (Matthew 7.23).

Some thoughts after walking a picket line at the LAX Hilton Hotel, February 15, 20123

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Is Marriage?

Marriage isn't about children or genitals, 
it's about love, companionship, support in hard times, friendship and going on trips together; 

eating out in a nice restaurant, and cooking chili on a winter evening, 
when the snow lays heavy on the earth; 

going to the movies, doing some gardening together, adopting a child perhaps, visiting a nursing home, changing a flat tire for the other, wearing sexy aftershave, pinching one another, telling crazy jokes, singing together after two drinks, 

planning a dinner party, going to the movies, reading books together, 
having a spat now and then, and sometimes a first-class argument, 
and working it through and making up to one another with apologies for hardheadedness;

it's all about life together, the long-haul, the journey of days and nights, 
wonderful times and terrible times ... life and death ... 
to love and to cherish, in the best and worst of times. 

This is a human thing, something grand and beautiful, that always tries and tests the best in us, bringing us to a better place than yesterday, and sometimes revealing to us how crappy we are and how lousy we can be. 

So it is in the world of cabbages and kings ... to travel with the companion of our life, our best friend and oftentimes counselor, our spouse! To the glory of God and the wonder of life.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Prayers of the People, January 27, 2013

Prayers of the People, January 27, 2013

God of grace and God of glory,
On Your people pour Your pow'r;
Crown Your ancient Church’s story;
Bring its bud to glorious flow'r.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour …

O LORD our God, great is your name.
And greatly to be praised.

All glory, worship and honor to you.
Forever and forever.
World without end.

To you, dear God, we turn in praise and prayer.
Because every prayer offered is well-received at heaven’s gate:
Every tear and every fear.
Every shattered dream and every dim hope.
Our lives, just as they are.
Torn and tattered though they be.
Full of confusion and sorrow.
Uncertain about the day and fearful of the night.
But in your light, we see light.
By your mercy, all is made new. 
In your grace, love abounds and life goes on.

As always, LORD, we pray for those near and dear to us … our children … our grandchildren … brothers and sisters … aunts and uncles … nephews and nieces ...

We pray for friends and neighbors …

For the sick, O LORD, we pray for healing.
For the the dying, O LORD, we pray for peace.

For those troubled by their past, we pray for release.
For those burdened with hatred and animosity, we pray for brighter days and and better feelings.
For those who have suffered great loss, we pray for encouragement and opportunity.

For those who want to be more than they are, we pray for courage and determination.
For those who dream of a better world, we pray for their blessing.

For those who lead nations, we pray for wisdom.
We pray for President Zuma of South Africa …
For King Mswati of Swaziland …
For President Nieto of Mexico …

O LORD our God, we pray for people of faith and vision … who dream the dreams of peace and prosperity … who dream of a world set free from tyranny and the gods of mammon and desire.

Bless us, we pray, with kindness of heart … and gentleness of spirit …

Where our love is weak, O God, give us the greater love of Jesus …

Where courage fails us, grant us the courage of others to inspire us to try again …

Where we are frightened, dear God, remind us that we are yours, that nothing can separate us from your love given so freely in Christ Jesus our LORD.

Bless us, we pray, that we might be the salt of the earth and the light of the world …

That our words might build up and point the way to life …

That our deeds might outlive us because of their goodness …

That our faithfulness would be pleasing in your sight, O LORD our God …

All of this, and more, we pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray, saying … Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name ...