Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Wish I'd Written This

Pondering Pastor Earl Janssen has written a thoughtful Open Letter to Lutheran CORE as they are about to form the new North American Lutheran Church. Here's the teaser:

Please, don’t offer the extreme examples of what you find offensive in the ELCA as normative.  You know that great variety exists within the ELCA and will exist even within NALC in a relatively short period of time.  Remember Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment and make that the cornerstone of of your public and private comments.

Please keep in mind that you are not the only faithful Christians with the name Lutheran.  Ryan Schwartz is quoted in the August edition of “CORE Connections” saying, “Lutheran CORE will seek to help faithful members of the ELCA and ELCIC to continue to uphold the authority of scripture in an increasingly challenging environment …”  Many faithful (to Christ) members of the ELCA uphold the authority of scripture in a way different than you.  I consider myself one of those, and will not need your help.  In fact, your rhetoric is part of my increasingly challenging environment.

The entire post is worth reading. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Friday, August 20, 2010

This Just In: Obama is NOT a Muslim


The news broke yesterday that 18% of Americans believe that President Barak Obama is a Muslim. Read about it here. Why do people believe this patent falsehood? It is at least partly because it has been insinuated by fear mongering pundits. The insinuations do not have to be true, they just have to scare people. And why do the pundits traffick in fear? Because it works. It keeps the troops on alert. It gets frightened people off the couch and into the voting booths where they will help elect candidates who will promote the pundits' interests.

Click the cartoon to enlarge.

It seems to me that the charge of universalism that is leveled, falsely, against the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a scare tactic. Pastors, who should know better, use it to stir up their congregations to leave the ELCA. The sexuality issue by itself may not be enough to motivate some of the laity to vote with their feet. After all, the '09 Churchwide Assembly allowed for a "local option" which means that no congregation will be forced to call a same-sex partnered pastor...or any other pastor for that matter. I know that some bishops have promoted the local option heavily, even offering assistance to congregations that want to append a "no gay clergy" resolution to their constitutions. So, the trumped up charge of heretical universalism is used to scare people who do not bother to check further.

Mnphysicist's theological blog has a nicely written post refuting the charge of universalism in the ELCA. Read it. And if you still think that the ELCA promotes universalism, read it again.

In the meantime, I am left to ponder just what is it about universalism that frightens people? Is it the idea that Barak Obama might get to go to heaven?

I "borrowed" the cartoon from the Progressive Involvement blog, here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Apostle Paul Kissed a Boy


If the title of this blog post offends you, then you will probably do well to avoid reading  R.W. (Obie) Holmen's book A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle. If, on the other hand, you find the title of this post intriguing, then you will find a lot to like in this fictional portrayal of Paul, or I should say "Paulos." Holmen does not anglicize the names of his characters. Instead he gives them their proper Greek and Hebrew names. Paul is Paulos. James is Ya'akov. And so on.

Holmen gives flesh to his characters. They eat, drink (sometimes too much) and void waste. They feel love, anger, jealousy, joy and sorrow. They fight and make up. Or not. These Apostles are not Sunday School flannel-graph cut-outs, but  complex, three-dimensional human beings. Paulos is portrayed as a "rigidly controlled gay man" (quoting from Bishop Spong whom Holmen cites in the book's  epilogue) who by tireless effort and strength of personality brings his Gospel of God's grace apart from Torah to the Gentile world. His arguments with Ya'akov and difficult relationship with Cephas (Peter) are believably motivated.

It is clear that Holmen has done his homework. Everyday life in the first century Mediterranean world is evoked with detail and description. The author has also digested a great deal of current New Testament scholarship and woven it seamlessly into his narrative.

Most importantly, Holmen spins a good yarn.

No doubt some readers will take offense at  Obie Holmen's speculative portrayal of the personalities who shaped the Christian faith. But if you, like me, are not offended by the idea that the Apostle Paul kissed a boy, then I can recommend A Wreteched Man. You're in for a good read.

Regular readers of this blog will already know that I am a fan of Obie Holmen's blog "Spirit of a Liberal." Observers of popular culture will recognize that the title and subtitle of this blog are lifted from Katy Perry's song "I Kissed a Girl.

Monday, August 16, 2010

In Memoriam


My first Bible was a small, gilt-edged King James Version (KJV) with a white "imitation leather" cover. It was given to me in June, 1957, a Baptismal gift from my godparents. This was before my godfather got religion, left his wife and went to live in a commune in Texas. So I am told. I have never known my godparents except by name. I still have the Bible, barely used, in its original box. The cover is yellow with age. I keep it as a memento of what was, arguably, the most important event of my life.

My second Bible was a  Revised Standard Version (RSV) in a black bonded leather cover with gold lettering on the spine that says "Helps." This is the Bible I used in Confirmation classes. I still have this one, too. It is falling apart. (It looks a lot like the Bible in the picture above. Said picture was found at this website). The RSV is the Bible version that I heard read in church when I was young. It was based on better textual evidence than the KJV but maintained much of the earlier version's non-standard English usage. The RSV also kept the "thees" and "thous" of Jacobean English in its poetic passages. When I hear the RSV read, it sounds like the Bible to me.

In 1966 the American Bible Society published a paperback new testament in "Today's English Version" (TEV). The cover sported a newsprint design. This was my third Bible. I have at least one dog-eared copy of it around. In those days before Bible translators concerned themselves with gender in language, the New Testament was titled "Good News for Modern Man."  A decade later the entire "Good News Bible" (the abbreviation GNB has replaced TEV) was published in a gold hardcover edition.  Read aloud, the GNB does not sound like the Bible. It sounds like plain, written English, like a novel or a newspaper. This is a good thing.

Although it has gotten a bit long in the tooth, and even though I rarely use it anymore, I admire the Good News Bible.

Until this week, I did not know the name of Robert Bratcher, the editor who oversaw the translation of the GNB. In the August 10 edition of Christian Century magazine, I read an article, pulled from the Associated Baptist Press, reporting Bratcher's death, at age 90, on July 10.

Bratcher was, apparently, something of a controversialist. A paragraph from the Christian Century article:

"Brachter drew the ire of Southern Baptist fundamentalists in 1981 over his critical remarks at a seminar in Dallas. 'Only willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible,' Bratcher said. 'No truth-loving, God-respecting, Christ-honoring believer should be guilty of such heresy. To invest the Bible with the qualities of inerrancy and infallibility is to idolatrize it, to transform it into a false god.'"

Bratcher was not pulling any punches. The Bible Researcher website includes a fuller verson of Bratcher's words, which ends with a particularly Lutheran sounding statement. "The locus of scriptural authority is not the words themselves. It is Jesus Christ as THE Word of God who is the authority for us to be and to do."

Though I do not think I would call it "heresy," I agree with Robert Bratcher that a doctrine of biblical inerrancy is intellectually untenable. Rest eternal grant him, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him.

Dear Godparents, if you are reading this, thank you for the Bible. It means more to me than you can know. Even though you were largely absentee godparents, it's okay. I think I turned out all right. I pray that you have both known God's grace in your life.

God bless.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

God Has A Grammatical Gender...


God is neither male nor female. In spite of the picture many of us carry in our heads, God is not an old man in the sky. God is not a woman in the sky, either.

Human beings are the image of God. Human beings are female and male. The image of God is male and female.

God encompasses the categories of male and female. God transcends the categories of female and male.

The Bible is a product of a patriarchal culture. It uses mostly masculine images for God. Still, there are a few, scattered, feminine images for God to be found in Scripture. Recognizing the limitations of human language in describing the divine, it is legitimate to use both feminine and masculine images for God.

We can have a personal relationship with God. That is, we can relate to God as we relate to another person. God is not an object. God is not an "it."

We have no experience of persons who transcend the categories of male and female. The English language has no third person singular personal pronoun that encompasses and transcends the categories of female and male.

It is awkward, and nearly impossible to avoid the use of third person singular personal pronouns when speaking about a person, even when that person is God.

I was born and brought up in a time when humankind was collectively refered to as "man" as a matter of routine. The assumption underlying such a use is that maleness is the normal condition of humanity. The corollary to that assumption is that femaleness is a lesser or defective human state. Think about that. It's nuts.

In those distant days, God was refered to exclusively in masculine terms. Old habits die hard. I still sometimes call God "he." When I get called on it, my almost reflexive response is the title of this post: "God has a grammatical gender, not a phyiscal sex." That's pure banana oil, of course, but it usually buys me enough time to finish my thought without getting sidetracked by a discussion of gender language.

Forgive me.

I am writing this post on the second day of a three day symposium in Chicago called "Language Matters." Hosted by the National Council of Churches, the symposium deals with inclusive (or "expansive") language concerns. When it is all over, I am sure that there will be head-shaking, finger-wagging and tongue-clucking from some quarters. But as for me, I applaud the intent of the symposium, pray for its success, and look forward to hearing about its proceedings.

Thirty-five or forty years ago, this clever, though amateurish bit of animation introduced me to inclusive language concerns. Take two minutes to enjoy a blast from the past.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Apparently the Lord WAS in the whirlwind...


In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott says many good things. Among them:

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

I really do not know how I overlooked it before, but a former ELCA pastor named Mark Herringshaw blogged an angry rant in response to the ELCA's Rite of Reconciliation welcoming 7 LGBTQ pastors on July 25.

Herringshaw says that the tornado that hit downtown Minneapolis last August was God's judgment against the ELCA's sexuality policies. He also says the fact that nothing happened in San Francisco at the reconciliation service was a sign of God's judgment.

Methinks perhaps Pastor Herringshaw is projecting.

On a more positive note, you might want to read a smart blogpost by Marvin Lindsay that provides an interesting historical perspective on our current sexuality debates.

And to further provoke your thoughts, over at Magdalene's Egg, Father Anonymous does a nice job refuting those who would quote one of my old theology profs as "proof" that the ELCA is a universalist organization.

Happy reading!

If the title and subtitle of this post elude you, read 1 Kings 19. "Sheer silence" is the the New Revised Standard Version's translation of the words rendered "still, small voice" in the KJV.