Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Health care?

I read a Wall Street Journal article yesterday (and my details may be fuzzy) about a woman with limited health insurance who had to pay $105,000 up front to get life-saving treatments for acute leukemia. The Texas medical center where her local hospital sent her (the local hospital didn't have the equipment to treat her safely) wouldn't serve her without getting the money immediately, on that same day (it did relent, apparently, on the last 30K of the $105,000, giving her and her husband a couple of days to find the cash.) She still owes the hospital $145,000. Some of the hospital's billing has been called into question, eg, $20 for a pair of latex gloves. She has also been charged at a higher rate for some procedures than insurance companies pay (the hospital explained that insurance companies get lower prices because they bring in "volume.")

The article pointed that the hospital has had a spike in non-payments by people without health insurance, so it has become more vigilant about collecting money, including sending billing department representatives to hospital rooms with doctors to demand payment before medical procedures begin. The hospital calls this a "team approach" to delivering health care. The article also noted that the hospital is a non-profit, meaning it pays no taxes, is very well-endowed, financially solvent and often the only place people in the area can go for complicated cancer treatments.

The woman, who left a job as a bus driver, could have purchased better insurance, though it's possible she couldn't have afforded that. However, I wonder what have happened to her if she hadn't been able to come up with the cash. She and her husband weren't indigent or poor, but they weren't rich either. She apparently had a stark choice: pay the hospital whatever it asked in cash or die.

What do you think of this story? Should the ethic of payment trump every other? Should our mental health (adding financial stress to emotional stress) be traded for our physical health? Are our priorities out of whack?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Bill points out that eight of us attended Bible study Sunday, not seven.
That's a robust number that bodes well for the group. Thanks for the correction!

I have much going on and hope to be able to start blogging about it soon.

Claiborne: demonic suburbs?

In the Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne continues to argue for seeing the entire human family as our family, without national borders or genetic borders. To me, this is the true Christian universalism: not accepting everyone's religion as the "same," but serving others regardless of their faith or ethnicity.

Shane goes to Iraq and witnesses the war first hand. When he comes back, a woman criticizes him for being "careless" with his life and putting his mother through terrible anxiety. She goes on to say that Jesus himself would scold Shane for this.

What Jesus is she talking about? Shane wonders. This becomes a launching point for discussing Christianity as a dangerous faith, not a safe faith. We're asked to take risks, and those risks can include dying or making our families uncomfortable.

He talks about safety as a possibly demonic force: "the suburbs are the home of the more subtle demonic forces -- numbness, complacency, comfort--and it is these things that can eat away at our souls."

Is that true?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bible study: woe to the hypocrites

Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisees! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate that the outside may also be clean.
Matthew 23: 25-26

We had a lively discussion of Jesus' excoriations of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 and Luke 11 at last night's Bible study. Jesus condemns them for being hypocrites with misplaced priorities. But underlying that is a sense that they really are unable to see beyond the physical world to the spiritual realm all around them. Thus they get caught up in trying to appear good and in demanding petty adherence to the rules, while missing the bigger picture of compassion and mercy to all people. And because they can't perceive the spiritual, they lack faith in it: thus they grab material goods and honors. Jesus condemns the way they mislead the people and misrepresent the kingdom of God. Nothing is worse to him than leading people astray about the loving heart of faith.

We talked about the bit of Pharisee in all of us and examples of Phariseeism in our culture. David mentioned that these passage reminded him of the Old Testament prophets and their excoriations of injustice. Ken "illuminated" us from a exegesis he'd brought along, and Jean, as always, kept us in tea and good conversation. Bill made sure we stayed on track while Johanna, as usual, was able to personalize the Bible passages.

Kathy came for the first time in a long time and looked quite well and cheerful. We were glad to have her back after her bout with cancer. There were seven of us around Jean's table, an indication of the continued robustness of the group. We missed Michelle, Lisa and Alan.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Claiborne: Theology of Enough

As we move though the center of The Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne repeats a recurring argument of his book: that to be a Christian means to live in contact with the poor. He critiques the current church as "a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff." This is not the best model, he argues, because until rich and poor come into real contact, neither can be transformed. When Jesus says the poor will always be with us, this is not resignation about poverty. Instead, Claiborne, says, Jesus is pointing to the church's identity as a body of people who live close to the poor and suffering.

Shane goes on to talk about a subject dear to Quaker hearts: simplicity, and he has some interesting things to say. He sees many of the problems with contemporary Christianity rooted in bad theology, not bad people, and sees a life's work in replacing bad theology with good. And he talks about what he calls "theology of enough:" Embracing neither poverty nor wealth but instead embracing and sharing the abundance of God's earth.

"So I would suggest we need a third way, neither the prosperity gospel nor the poverty gospel, but the gospel of abundance rooted in a theology of enough. As Proverbs says, 'Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say "Who is the Lord?"' (Prov. 30:8,9). After seeing plenty of poor folks forced into economic crimes by their poverty and after seeing plenty of rich folks so content in their riches that they forget they need God or anyone else, I think we are all ready for something new."

God's economy relies on mutual interdependence and is exemplified in the miracles of the loaves and the fishes, the creation of abundance through sharing, faith and generosity.

I agree with Shane that much of the fear that leads us to make economic choices that lead to stressed-out lives comes from buying into the secular culture's theology of scarcity. This theology of scarcity is self-fulfilling: as some hoard to stave off scarcity, others starve. I agree that the more we can lean into God's abundance, the more we can make decisions that contribute to that abundance.

Yet much of Claiborne's rhetoric in these central chapters focuses on play, on a sort of childlike irreverence towards institutional authority that strongly echoes the "flower power" ethos of the 1960s. It can seem more style than substance. I think there is substance undergirding Shane's more antic-like actions, such as distributing money on Wall Street. But how do we navigate building a culture of enough while not careening into naivete?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shane Claiborne: Comfort becomes Uncomfortable

In Chapter 4 of The Irresistible Revolution, Shane returns from India to work and study at Wheaton and Willow Creek Church. He experiences culture shock as he makes an abrupt transition from lepers and the dying to wealthy white Americans. In this chapter, he "longs" for more contact between the rich and the poor, and for each to see the face of Christ in the other. He believes more interaction between rich and poor will end poverty.

Certainly many groups, such as the Church of the Savior, have organized, in part, around putting rich and poor together. Claiborne yearns for the peaceable kingdom, a yearning that permeates the Bible.

One "comfort" he discusses is Willow Creek's refusal to hang crosses because crosses are not "seeker sensitive" or comfortable to people who may have been wounded by earlier church experiences.

He writes: "I fear that when we remove the cross, we remove the central symbol of the nonviolence and grace of our Lover. If we remove the cross, we are in danger of promoting a very cheap grace. Perhaps it should make us uncomfortable." In light of the Quakers' shedding of earthly symbols, what do you think of Claiborne's comments?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hillary for President?

Hillary Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary and people seem mad at her. How come she can't "get out of the way?" Off the playground?

Am I the only one bothered by the fact that we set up an electoral process, a method of doing things, and then get mad at Clinton for wanting to follow the rules? Shouldn't voters in places like Pennsylvania and Indiana get the same chance to have their voices heard as voters in Iowa or New Hampshire? If the primary process is so bad, why do we have it? And if we have it, why do we get angry at a candidate for using it? Why not simply change it for the next election and have all the primaries within, say, a four-week period? It seems hypocritical to have a process and then want to circumvent it when it becomes inconvenient. And it seems typical to me of how women so often get kicked for trying to follow the rules.

Clinton has been criticized by, among others, Maureen Dowd, for scratching Obama's reputation. But isn't she doing him a good service in preparing him for the the general election should he get the nomination? I'm sure what she's thrown at him is nothing compared to what he will get should he be the nominee.

One of the more bizarre columns I read complained that the white world was putting Obama in his place for daring to be too uppity. Hello universe. Who is putting him "in his place?" A woman. Hasn't this same woman been endlessly punished for daring to step out away from the edges of the playground and take a place in the center of it?

My money is still on Clinton getting the nomination, odd as that may seem. And I think she would be a good president. What do you think of all this?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Love and Freedom ... and Kindness

Have I mentioned how much I like Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed web site?

Below is part of one of his posts:

Spirit, freedom, and love. I begin by quoting all of Galatians 5:13ff. Now here’s my question: Can you spell freedom without including Spirit and love? Can you spell Spirit without it meaning love and freedom? Can you spell love without it meaning Spirit and freedom?

13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command [here Paul quotes the second half of the Jesus Creed: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. ...

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self‑control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

This reminded me that at the Seton Hill Worship Group we sing a song by Brian McLaren about being kind. A song about kindness may seem silly, but don't we ridicule what makes us most uncomfortable as a way to distance ourselves from it?

When I hear that song, it seems so simple just to be kind. And it also seems to sum up the gospel message. But it's probably the hardest thing to do. Is it?

Shane Claiborne and Mother Teresa

Now that he's helped the women living in the abandoned church of St. Edwards, Shane calls Mother Teresa. He's amazed when she herself answers the phone in Calcutta. She invites him to 'come and see" her work. Shane and a friend head for India, where they help at her Home for the Destitute and Dying, bathing, massaging, bandaging and comforting the people brought in from the streets. Later, Shane visits a leper colony in India.

Shane describes these encounters as transformative but what they seem to be doing is reinforcing a transformation that has already begun. Shane would not have sought out Mother Teresa had his view of Christianity not already changed in radical ways, from consumerism and personal salvation to service and the "upside-down" notion that we find God most alive in the outcast places.

Shane learns from Mother Teresa that we are called "not to be successful but to be faithful." This, he writes, "was the beginning of my years of struggling with the tension between efficiency and faithfulness. I remembered Ghandi's saying that what we do may seem insignificant but it is most important that we do it. So we did."

Some quibbles: I know Shane is the coolest dude in the world, but do we have to call Mother Teresa "Momma T?" Should we be calling Shane "Brother S?"

On a much less trivial note, I looked at the Simple Way website, the site for Shane's intentional Christian community in Philadelphia. There I found a disconnect between Shane's fervent approval of Mother Teresa's radical hospitality, which welcomed him, a stranger, with open arms to join her in her work, and the Web site's warning: Don't hitchhike across the country and drop in us, because we may not welcome you. I can understand the community wanting to have boundaries and wanting to keep from being overwhelmed, but I also believe they need to find ways to embrace physical visitors with same kind of hospitality Mother Teresa showed Shane. This is particularly important in this culture, where, as Mother Teresa said (and Shane alludes to somewhere in his book I believe), the great poverty is loneliness. But more importantly, if you are staking your claim on living the faith, it's important to live the faith, even when it's inconvenient. If it is important to do insignificant things, such as welcoming a hitchhiker or a hundred hitchhikers, shouldn't the community find a way to do them? Not only would this be a practice of integrity, it would show others how hospitality can be enacted. Does not doing so --being standoffish as a community -- throws up a red flag that says the community may be more talk than walk?

I also wondered if Shane, like Mother Teresa, would pick up a ringing phone at his home or if he shields himself from the public. The experiment would be to call and see who answers ... if anyone answers, but I'm not there yet.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Brother S?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Christ-centered workshop will happen

This from Georgia Fuller:

I shared last evening my concern that the workshop I had proposed on and for Christian Friends at Annual Session was rejected and I didn't know how to respond, especially since there had been workshops by and for non-theist Friends in previous Annual Sessions. Well, because of your suggestion, I contacted the co-clerk of workshops for Program Committee with the questions you wanted asked and was quite immediately told that the re-written proposal had been accepted and the letter should be in the mail any time now. My first proposal was a little too provocative for the committee. This is how the workshop reads now:

Christian Quakers: A redundancy, an oxymoron, or an exotic anachronism?"

This is an experiential, participatory workshop. We will alternate between small group and large group sharing. Our first question will be, "What have been our experiences—good or bad—as a Quaker among Christians?" The second
question is, "What have been our experiences—good or bad—as a Christian among Quakers?" From this sharing, we will consider our unique gifts as well as our individual needs.

I'm glad BYM is allowing this workshop.

It sounds like an interesting workshop!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Seton Hill Worship Group

The Christ-centered worship group, now called the Seton Hill Worship Group, met for the first time in the Metropolitan Church near Kevin-Douglas's house. Ken and I got there late and missed the silent meeting. We participated in singing led by Rachel and in sharing of joys and concerns.

Georgia Fuller, who attended for the first time, shared that the BYM programs committee turned down her proposal for a Christ-centered workshop on Christian Quakers who feel caught between being alienated by fundamentalist Christians and alienated by Quaker meetings that may be offended if they use language that is too "Christ centered." The committee, if I remember, believed the workshop would be too divisive(?). I'm not sure that's the word. Too confrontational? Something along those lines. Georgia then submitted a more toned-down proposal but has yet to hear back and was feeling pessimistic last night about getting approval. I hope the workshop will be allowed to go on. What do you think of Christ-centered workshops being turned down?

As usual at the Seton Hill meeting, I felt a very strong, palpable sense of the presence of Christ. It manifests as an almost overwhelming sense of love.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shane Claiborne and St. Edwards

I think I understand why churches as institutions evict homeless people who have set up housekeeping in their abandoned buildings. The churches run along the same principles as secular institutions, as businesses, so to speak, and the people in charge adhere to business principles, albeit in some cases reluctantly. So churches want to protect their material assets. They don't want a property hurt and moreover, they don't want to be liable for a person being injured on their property and then suing the denomination for a lot of money, They also don't want to be associated with scandal.

All the same, there's something supremely ironic about a church evicting the homeless, when one of the church's main missions is to care for the poor.

When Shane and his friends discovered that the Catholic church was about to evict a group of homeless women and children from St. Edwards, an abandoned church in a poor area of Philadelphia, they jumped into action, alongside the women. They visited daily with the women, stood in unity with the women to prevent their eviction and drew attention to their plight. The irony of a church evicting the homeless was not lost on them.

In the end, the group of women and helpers developed a sense of community that transcended a building, and the women and children eventually all found housing. Shane felt reinvigorated and reborn. He felt that God was on the side of these women.

"The body of Christ was alive, no longer trapped in stained glass windows or books of systemic theology. The body of Christ was literal, living, hungry, thirsting, bleeding."

One thing that interests me -- and Shane is not the first to bring this up -- is the concept that churches are not meant to be buildings. Certainly, the early Quakers believed that the church is the body of believers. Further, God's first home among the early Jews was in a tent. Some scholars contend that Solomon was never meant to build a physical temple in Jerusalem. When David--and later Solomon--received the message from God to build his house, God was talking not about a physical home but a spiritual community devoted to him with all its heart, mind and soul. Centuries and centuries later, Francis of Assisi got a similar call from God, so clear and powerful that he couldn't ignore it: Repair my church. Francis initially thought God meant a particular church at San Damiano. He took money from his wealthy father and restored the church. Only gradually did he realize that God's command was much larger, more difficult and more metaphysical: God wanted him not to repair a physical building but the repair the broken spirit of a body of believers.

What do you think? Should the church build churches? Or are they a diversion?

First Baseball game

The boys had their first baseball game of the season Saturday evening. This is a fifth season of baseball for our family, and a long way for all the team members from the 8 year olds who could barely field a ball.

St. Tim's stays pretty much the same, an old stone church and bell tower with a school attached. The parking lot always needs to be repaved. They've put in a big square of concrete for skateboarders. It's always weedy around the edges of the fields. A log has fallen across the grassy drainage ditch, great fun for kids to walk across.

The old bleachers are in place, as is the old concessions stand. The playground is closed and gated, getting overgrown with weeds. I liked the old-fashioned equipment there, the metal jungle gym, the metal sliding boards, the flat swings with their metal chains, the seesaws. I imagine it all got to be too dangerous.

Linda, Bill and Emma joined us to watch the game and go out for pizza afterwards.

The boys both did well, but their team lost. Last year, they also lost the first game of the season and then won the rest of the games, including the championship.

St. Tim's has been a part of our lives since Will began playing on the little field near the playground the spring of third grade. At that time, the coaches pitched and the kids couldn't field at all, so a hit at least meant a base and often a run. At the end of his first season, Will made the run that won his team the championship. That was an exciting moment.

From the start, Will adored playing league baseball. It was like a dream come true. He loved the uniforms, the team, the field, the idea of being part of an organization and the game itself. I think it was--and still is--magical for him. I don't think he could be any happier were he in the majors.

In fifth grade, Nick joined the league. Baseball has never been a passion for him as it has for Will, but I think he enjoys it and he has steadily improved. This year he's doing well.

Shane Claiborne: from saved to unsafe

In the first chapter of The Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne talks about how he went from a safe, "saved" Christianity to a Christianity that, in his words, wrecked his life.

When he converted to Christianity in high school, he was popular, wanted a life of upward mobility and planned to go to medical school. The "pop Christianity" he was exposed to didn't challenge those aspirations. In fact, he says, a lot of his Christianity was about buying: the Jesus t-shirt, bumper sticker, books, movies, candy, etc. He was, he says, a spiritual bulimic, gorging on spirituality but vomiting it all up before it could digest. Really, he says, "all I had was a lot of Christian clutter, in my bedroom and in my soul."

He uses a great image to describe that kind of spirituality: "It's what always happens to the saints and prophets who are dangerous: we bronze them, we drain them of their passion and life and trap them in stained glass windows and icons ..."

Then something happened. He began to take seriously the gospel message, such as that the last will be first. That God blesses the poor more than the rich. That we should love our enemies. As he puts it: "What if [Jesus] really meant it? It could turn the world upside down. It was a shame Christians had become so normal."

He had a true conversion. He started looking at the world through a different set of lenses. He slept out with the homeless and began to experience ordinary miracles: people with nothing feeding each other, people who were abused seeing the good in others. He began to realize the transcendent was all around him, if he only had eyes to see it.

Have you had a similar conversion? What was it like?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Catholicism: Defender of the rational?

Below are excerpts from two intriguing Washington Post op-ed pieces today about the Pope. (Note: For all that I write about Catholicism, I am not and never have been Catholic.) It sounds to me as if the Pope, Shane Claiborne and Quakers might have a lot in common:

"Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted," [the Pople] told the country's Catholic bishops on Wednesday. "Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel."

That is a demanding and unsettling standard for the right and the left alike. Benedict asked a pointed question: "Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?"

This is the thinking of a communitarian counseling against radical individualism. "In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy," he said, "it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. . . . We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love -- for God and for our neighbor." It is this attitude that Benedict described as "countercultural." Dionne, April 18, 2007

I think it can't be said too often that radical individualism is NOT countercultural. It may have been in 1970, but not any more.

And more:

First, despite charges of dogmatism, the church is the main defender of reason in the modern world. It teaches the possibility that moral truth can be known through reflection and argument. It criticizes what Pope Benedict XVI has called the "dictatorship of relativism" -- a belief "that does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." "Being an adult," says Benedict, "means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties."

Secularism has traditionally taught that human beings will eventually outgrow religious conviction and moral absolutism -- that skepticism is evidence of maturity. Benedict contends that modern men and women, unguided by reasoned moral beliefs, turn toward adolescent self-involvement. Their intellectual growth is stunted. In a world where all moral claims are seen as equally true and equally false -- the world, for example, of the modern university -- human conscience is reduced to biology or prejudice. Moral behavior may continue to ride in grooves of socialization or genetics, but moral assertions are fundamentally arbitrary -- always trumped by a two-word response: "Says you."

By asserting that the human mind can grasp moral truth, Catholicism also defends the reliability of reason against the superstitions of our time.

And this is important for a very practical reason: because a belief in human rights is also a moral conviction. Catholicism teaches that relativism and a purely material view of man have disturbing social consequences. "The criterion of personal dignity," wrote Pope John Paul II, "which demands respect, generosity and service -- is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they 'are,' but for what they 'have, do and produce.' This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak."

Gerson, April 18, 2008

What do you think?

Shane Claiborne: Intro to Irresistible Revolution

In his introduction to Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne lays out a familiar dualism or stereotype: on the one hand the Christian who focuses on the afterlife with little interest in addressing the suffering of this world, and, on the other hand, the social activist who is only interested in changing the material world, with little concern for the life of the spirit.

Claiborne identifies himself with what we might call the third or emerging church way: as a deeply faith-filled Christian whose faith motivates him to help build the Kingdom of God in this world.

“Many of us are refusing to allow distorted images of our faith to define us,” he writes. That's a terrific line, I think.

He says he doesn’t fit into old liberal/conservative boxes. He doesn’t like labels. He does, however, identify himself with postmoderns, who are interested in religious experiences and stories, rather than religious doctrine or political ideology.

“The time has come ... for a new kind of Christianity, a new kind of revolution,” he says.

What this might look like gets spelled out in the rest of the book.

An aside: In his author’s note he writes that his goal is to speak truth in love. He teases us with his struggle over whether to write this book and why he chose Zondervan as his publisher, but never explains this.

Claiborne understands that he is speaking to an audience for whom the word “Christian” may be tainted. He wants to wrest back the term from the zealots, the rule makers, the heaven-only-after-death crowd.

This interests me. I’ve certainly known people who see how some (not all) Christians behave (narrow-minded, judgmental, and hypocritical) and thus recoil from calling themselves Christians because they don’t want to be identified with that group. Others, like Claiborne, assert: I’m a Christian and I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of Christian, and people like me are out there and growing in numbers.

The question: Should we move away from calling ourselves Christians because over time different groups have hijacked the term and abused it or should we claim the term (and the rich tradition of good behind it that includes Francis of Assisi, John Woolman and other selfless followers of Christ) and try to rightly represent it to the world? Would Claiborne resonate with you more if he didn’t identify himself, boldly, as a Christian? Is he OK because he calls himself not only a Christian but a radical? Would he lose credibility if he tried to deny his Christian heritage?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Israel's Gospel II

We are slowly working our way through John Goldingay's "Old Testament Theology, Israel's Gospel."

I was planning to blog about the book chapter by chapter, then realized chapter 2 is 88 pages long.

OK. We will break this up into pieces.

Chapter 2 talks about creation.

Some points thus far:

While societies surrounding the ancient Israelites had elaborate pre-creation myths that explained how their gods came into being, Israel's God--Yhwh--just is. While God might be likened to an artist, a mother or a king, he is none of these things. "God is way beyond any such comparisons," Goldingay writes. "God is wholly other. God is -- God."

However, God does have attributes. He creates the earth with insight (for this, Goldingay cites Proverbs 8). Because God creates with insight, God creates after careful planning and deliberation. He creates (or births) the earth in a thoughtful and purposeful way.

And God's insight is "rejoicing in the inhabited world and full of delight in human beings." (Proverbs 8)

To the Israelites (as with people in the time of Galileo, as we saw), God is behind empirical processes. The order and beauty of nature are a text, which like scripture, reveal God to humans. "The earth is obviously a majestic and precious place and therefore ... its creator is a great artist."

Goldingay brings some green thinking to this equation: Because God is a great artist, his creation demands our reverence.

Humankind is good; the earth is good. How can we enter into this narrative of goodness, rejoicing and delight?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Irresistible Revolution: Step by Step I

Let's first examine the cover of my paperback copy--actually the library's--of Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution: Living as an ordinary radical. About 80 percent of the cover looks like a brown paper lunchbag with two pieces of duct tape on the left side wrapping around the spine. On the 20 percent of the cover remaining, we see a black and white photograph of almost half of Shane Claiborne's face. We glimpse his kerchief covering all but a few strands of his hair, one lens of his glasses, his wispy goatee and almost half of his Mona Lisa smile.

On the front and back inside covers are montages of black and white photos of Shane and his friends. We see Shane and his cohorts in front of a mural painted on a brick wall, Shane hanging out with his friends in a living room, two children at a table, and a woman doing something I can't figure out in a room where Bible verses seem to be painted on the walls. On the back inside cover, Shane sits around a table eating with friends, tends a city garden and sits on a stoop barefoot and in shorts.

Inside, the brown paper bag motif continues. The first page of each chapter is 80 percent covered by an image of a paper bag, with only the ragged right edge of the words showing. Then the page is reprinted without the bag on top. I suppose the idea is that what Shane is saying is so subversive you have to hide it in a brown paper bag. Cute.

Chapter titles and subtitles are sort of raggy and faded out, as if done on some sort of homemade press. Again cute.

I have to say that these sorts of clever presentations are a pet peeve of mine. I'd rather have the book unadorned, without all the visual reminders of how cool I am to be reading it. How do you feel about this issue? However, I did find the photos straightforward and helpful.

Now that we've entered cool world, what does Shane have to say? That's for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Shane Claiborne: A Quaker

I've finished Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution. Claiborne's Christianity looks almost identical to Christ-centered Quakerism. He embodies the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, equality, community and integrity.

Claiborne lives among the poor in a community called the Simple Way. Part of his mission is to spread an anti-consumerist, anti-materialist message. His is the gospel message that we can live simply because God provides abundantly.

Claiborne was part of a peacekeeping group that went to Iraq. Like the early Quakers, he understands that Jesus modeled peace and forgiveness by not fighting back with physical weapons against his oppressors. Claiborne urges us to beat our swords into ploughshares.

He is passionate to keep the community he is part of equal, and rather than seeing it as having layers, which could be interpreted as hierarchical, he likens it to an onion--you can peel the layers away but no layer is "better" than the others.

He is passionate about community and finds living in community essential. He argues in favor of small communities. He writes about the importance of entering into relationships with people rather than fighting for "issues." Our political actions should, he argues, should arise from our experiences with real people, not from ideas or what the early Quakers might call "airy notions." Above all, he calls for loving people. All people. He keeps a poster of Bush on the ceiling above his bed.

He lives out his beliefs.

He wants to find, live out and promote authentic, early church Christianity, which is what the early Quakers wanted to do.

My question: Why are liberal Quakers so reluctant to claim and proclaim this rich Christian heritage?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bible Study

"And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, 'How can the scribes say the Christ is the son of David?' David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under they feet.' David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?"'

And the great throng heard him gladly."

Mark 12:35-37

We discussed the above passage (and its equivalents in Matthew and Luke) in the parallel text Bible study last night. In the passage, Jesus uses Psalm 110 (the source of the quote) to establish himself as a greater authority than King David. The psalm, which we also looked at,hints at Jesus as a different, priestly kind of king, saying "you are a priest forever." The psalm does, however, surround this kingship with violent military metaphors. A key point, if we see the psalm as part of a biblical story that involves an unfolding understanding of God as loving and nonviolent, is to understand the language of the psalm as metaphoric and not literal.

We examined what "enemies" God might be putting under Jesus' feet if Jesus loved his enemies. We decided the enemies being crushed would be the principalities and powers, the forces of violence and coercion in the world.

We then moved to Jesus' discourse in which he excoriates the scribes and the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on the poor and devouring widows' houses while at the same time wanting praise and honor. We spent some time discussing examples of how this is true today, not just among people "out there," but in terms of our own group, the Quakers.

Seven of us gathered, which made for a lively discussion. We greeted a new (to us) attender, David Williams.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Race or Gender II

I have been thinking about the New York Times piece on race and gender, which argues that it is much easier to overcome race than it is to overcome gender.

I have long thought about this. It's easier (not easy!) to overcome race because race, at least as we understand it in this culture, is simply a cultural construct. We arbitrarily decided at some point that people with darker skin would be treated as an underclass.

Studies of the human genome have underscored how culturally constructed race is. While there are some genes that lead to superficial differences in appearance, I understand that a random white person is as likely as not to have more genetic similarity to a random black person than to another random white person. And vice versa. In other words, I may have more genetic similarities to a sister in Cameroon than a sister in Norway.

Gender, on the other hand, is not merely socially constructed. Men and women really do have pronounced genetic differences. Women can have babies, men can't. There are anatomical differences and hormonal differences between men and women. There are also culturally constructed differences. The problem becomes eradicating the culturally constructed differences that hurt women while valuing and taking into account the genetic differences.

For this reason, I worry that placing the grid of the civil rights over the women's movement, while a politically very potent tool for gaining rights, has been a false fit in many ways. While there is a one-to-one identity between black males and white males, black females and white females, that same one-to-one doesn't work between males and females.

I think we need to construct a better paradigm. But how?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Upcoming articles

I have a "Dream House" story coming out in the Baltimore Sun, probably in May, and a longer feature on the Seton Hill neighborhood of Baltimore appearing in Rise Up magazine. Rise Up, a new publication that will drop on May 24, is a Parade-type magazine focusing on diversity. It will be bundled with national newspapers, such as the Washington Post, much as Parade is. My article is supposed to appear in the fifth issue, which will mean around the end of June.

My story on Seton Hill focuses on the neighborhood as a historically integrated community within a largely segregated city. I loved meeting people in the neighborhood and getting to know the enclave better. Everyone I spoke to in the community was warm and helpful. I also loved having the chance to do a longer piece.

I have an article on Nancy Drew appearing in the May issue of Whispered Watchword.

I am currently working on a Washington Post story and have agreed to do a Maryland Family story for the summer issue of the magazine. Keeping busy on these projects makes me happy, and I am thankful to have the work.

Wifi Woes

I was out of the house yesterday and hit with some wifi woes as I tried to use the Internet, first at the Riverside cafe and then at the public library. So no blog yesterday ... I'm becoming as dependent on the Internet as I am on my car, with the attendant level of frustration when the mechanism fails.

One of issues interfering with my computer use was not Internet technology but an alarm going off at the American City Building, home to the Riverside. We were evacuated. Why? I never did find out. All in a normal day ... Which got me to thinking, how many mini crises do we all blithely sail through in our day-to-day lives?

Race or Gender

“We can make categorization by race go away, but we could never make gender categorization go away,” said John Tooby, a scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who ran the experiment. Looking at the challenges that black and female candidates face in overcoming unconscious bias, he added, “Based on the underlying psychology and anthropology, I think it’s more difficult for a woman, though not impossible.”

Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, agrees: “In general, gender trumps race. ... Race may be easier to overcome.”

The challenge for women competing in politics or business is less misogyny than unconscious sexism: Americans don’t hate women, but they do frequently stereotype them as warm and friendly, creating a mismatch with the stereotype we hold of leaders as tough and strong. So voters (women as well as men, though a bit less so) may feel that a female candidate is not the right person for the job because of biases they’re not even aware of.

“I don’t have to be conscious of this,” said Nilanjana Dasgupta, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “All I think is that this person isn’t a good fit for a tough leadership job.”

from NYT April 7, 2008 My Racist, Sexist Self, Nicholas Kristof

What do you think? Is gender prejudice harder to overcome that racial prejudice?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Thoughts on the news

I wanted to share a story I read today in the New York Times:

It's about a group of cliff dwelling Indians out west who suddenly left their homes in the late 1200s and never returned. Nobody knows why. For years, the speculation was a drought or colder weather or the combination of the two driving them away. Now, the experts are looking deeper and theorizing it might have been ... religion. Interesting on more than one level, but to me, another sign that the scientific community is beginning to take faith more seriously.

Yesterday, the NYTimes had a story about inflation in Asia driving up the cost of cheap imports. The angle of the story was that this was a bad thing for Americans ... but is it? Wouldn't it be wonderfully green if all that stuff from China and Viet Nam became so expensive that we had to buy mindfully and take care of our possessions? Wouldn't it be great not to be choking on so much stuff? And not to get too deliriously carried away with wild dreams, but what if the combination of rising fuel prices, a falling dollar and inflation in Asia meant it made sense to reopen our factories in this country ... and employ Americans at good wages ... and ship goods only a few miles ... Or maybe if not factories, home-based cottage industries owned by ordinary people ... wealth dispersed among all of us ...

Am I crazy?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On Shane Claiborne

I'm racing through Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution (note, I'm not making it so quickly through John Goldingay's Israel's Theology, and for the record, I'm also rereading The Shipping News and some Flannery O'Connor short stories, so as not to shortchange the fiction world.)

I want to get back in future posts to Claiborne's book itself, but today I am wondering why I feel defensive about Shane Claiborne. I applaud, I approve, I'm with love with what he's doing in living in friendship with the poor in the Simple Way community in Philadephia.

Yet I find myself thinking, but but but but ... He can do it because he started so young, because he "got it" so young. He was working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta as a college student while I was wandering around cluelessly. When I "got it," I was already on the path of the suburban, materialist life. I also find myself thinking, but, but, but ... Shane is apparently an extrovert. I'm an introvert. I love people, but derive my energy from being alone. Shane, at least as he portrays himself, seems to thrive when he's around people. So, I think, it's easier for him to be out there, tending the dying in India or dancing in the park with the poor kids of Philadelphia.

All my thoughts are true: A person who "gets it" later than life is going to have a harder time living the faith with the transparent purity of a Claiborne. A person who is more introverted is going to be a somewhat different part of the body of Christ.

Claiborne follows the Way, as he calls it, so classically, so purely, so as we --or I --want the script to look that one wonders: Why am I not doing that? Obviously that's the question he wants to raise in people's mind.

What the book needs to become, at least for me, is an encouragement to throw out all the scripts, even THAT script. A script is often about trying to work things out from the outside in, whereas as the unique (and I use that word deliberately) script for each of our lives grows from the inside out. A script is about getting to right place on the stage to meet God: but God meets us where we are (even if sometimes where we are is moving to a new place, physically or otherwise). So my question to myself --and others-- is how do we take the message of living into a new culture that's healthier and more compassionate than the dominant culture and work it out from where we are?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Too much blogging?

See the above article in the New York Times about the blogging sweatshop culture. People have died! Are we spending too much time in cyberspace?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Quaker Writing Group

Last year, I felt led to start a "writing as worship" group and strongly drawn to holding it at Vantage House, a local retirement community.

As with most leadings, I questioned whether it was real, but fortunately it was easy to implement (unlike those vague leadings about giving up all one's money to live amongst the poor) so I went ahead.

At the group, after 20 minutes of silent worship, we all write (or draw or create) anything we want. Memoirs have emerged as a theme, as has writing about a current issue in one's life. People write about anything and everything.

Last night, I returned from the monthly meeting feeling lifted. Vantage House is home to three Quakers who attend the group: Ruth, David and Lynada. Rosemary, a member of my meeting who is on the board at Vantage House, also has started attending.

Why does this group feel like a leading fulfilled? 1. It fills a need for three who live in Vantage House, two of whom I didn't know. 2. I feel grateful after our meetings, as if I am getting far more than I give. 3. I began it with the focus on writing: instead, it has become as much about relationship as writing. I am beginning to believe that all true leadings lead to unexpected relationship.

Last night, Deb also attended after a hiatus, and so did my friend Alice, who is not a Quaker.

For me, it's a remarkable experience getting to know the other members of the group better. Having Ruth join us for the silence reminds me of how powerful and needed this form of worship is.

Have you had a time when you followed a leading? What happened?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More on the Golden Compass books

Mary Linda writes of the books:

Many people seem to confuse The Authority with God. The Authority is The Church. God is Spirit, Life, Love, Truth. I understand the confusion. The Church speaks with authority saying it speaks for God, saying it knows the will of God. But it doesn't. The Church speaks for it's own power. God speaks quietly to the hearts of us all, letting us listen and hear in our own time, when we are ready. God is best represented in these books as the daemons which each character has, the spirit of each person. The Authority is no more God than mulefa can fly.

What do you think?


Often, it can be hard for me to reach out but I have and I want to thank Martin Kelly, for posting my emerging article and a link to this blog on his Web site. Thanks Martin for this and for all you do in the Quaker community!

I also have to thank Scot McKnight for putting a link to the article on the Jesus Creed blog. Have I mentioned how much I love Jesus Creed....?

Irresistible Revolution

Not another book!

Well, as usual, I have several book going at once. Last night, I began Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution.

While so far agreeing with most of what he said, I was also skeptical, thinking, yeah, yeah, yeah, he's a cool skinny young guy with a kerchief on his head living in an intentional Christian community in a big city ... have we not been there and done that before? Is this a new story? And I thought, this is worthy, worthy work and I support it ... but does it warrant another book?

The jury is still out on that, though perhaps each mini-generation needs to hear this story anew. And I'm just at the beginning ...

However, the book already reveals some things I really like about Claiborne: He's giving away all his proceeds, advances and royalties. Also, during the 1990s, he and a friend went and helped Mother Teresa in Calcutta. That's amazing and had to be life-transforming.

Of course, there's the romance of Mother Teresa, and then the glam of doing the wild communal thing in the heart of a U.S. city ... and I have to remember that there's so much to be said for we suburbanites simply reaching out prosaically to the people all around us, who can be hurting or needing help in many ways that are not as dramatic but just as real. Cedar Ridge pounds on that all the time, and I'm glad they do, because as simple as all this is, the reminders help. We don't need to travel to India (though that's admirable) but we can invite our neighbors over, give them a call, pick up trash on the side of the street ... One of the things I did a few months ago was not to simply blow off a hispanic man who called me as a wrong number. I was able, dimly and by a thread, (and I attribute that dim seeing to years of spiritual work) to recognize he was distressed, and so I didn't hang up. As it happened, because he was at a computer, I was able to help him use the Internet to find the phone number he needed. He was intensely grateful and though it was only maybe three minutes out of my day, I felt I had genuinely helped. And I was very grateful that I could help.

Anyway, I will leave with one Claiborne quote. I've heard it before (I've written it before!) but it still resonates:

"But there is another movement stirring, a revolution of sorts. Many of us our refusing to allow distorted images of our faith to define us. ... There is ... a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of. And this revolution is irresistible. It is a contagious revolution that dances, laughs and loves."

What do you think?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Blogging through Goldingay

As I read through John Goldingay's "Old Testament Theology: Israel's Gospel" I will be blogging about it. It's a long book (more than 800 pages) and not a quick read, so this could take awhile. It won't be a daily blog item, but it will keep coming up.

I first heard of the book when Scot McKnight blogged about it on Jesus Creed. I'm not looking back at those blogs, because I want this to be fresh, but you are welcome to if interested.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Postmodern theology: Israel's Gospel, part 1

Understanding the Bible as story rather than as a set formulas and accepting that our own understanding of the Bible is limited by the culture in which we live are key parts of postmodern theology.

In chapter 1 of "Old Testament Theology," John Goldingay, a postmodern theologian, discusses Old (or what he calls "First") Testament theology as narrative. He notes that the narrative--or story--of the First Testament is much longer than it needs to be if it were merely concerned to get the facts down. On the contrary, it is discursive, sprawling and uneven. He says that there are several reasons for this:

1. God takes humanity seriously. He works through humans, rather than forcing his will on humans. However, this is a slow approach, with a lot of backwards and forwards action that can be best understood through specific stories.

2. The Bible portrays the specificity of life with God. By hearing specific stories about specific people with specific challenges, demands, successes, failures, questions etc, we are encouraged to reflect on equivalent specificities in our own lives. Mostly, but not entirely, the narratives avoid proclaiming a set of unambiguous rules. Such "universal principle-based" proclamations can not offer the breath and nuance of narrative we need to help us to understand how God interacts with humans. Narrative is a way to capture these complex truths on many levels and from many perspectives.

3. The writers of the First Testament don't claim to know everything about their subjects, which reminds us that our own knowledge is fragmentary, be it about Abraham or about ourselves.

What do you think of this approach?

The Golden Compass Books: Propaganda

Propaganda, as defined by Wikipedia:

Propaganda is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of large numbers of people. Instead of impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense presents information in order to influence its audience. The most effective propaganda is often completely truthful, but some propaganda presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the cognitive narrative of the subject in the target audience.

In Book III of the Golden Compass Trilogy, Pullman becomes explicit in blaming and naming Christianity (and most particularly Roman Catholicism) as evil. I want to point out that he could easily have written enjoyable fantasy books about good versus evil without naming Christianity. I think we could all agree that it's evil to rob people of their humanity, to force them into mindless obedience, to use authority to crush reason, to lie, to torture and to murder. I think we also could agree that it's good to find the best in humanity, to sacrifice for others, to pursue truth, to free people to live abundant lives, to give people choices and autonomy, to accept people's flaws, and to allow people to love and to build vibrant communities.

But Pullman crosses the line into propaganda when he explicitly aligns Christianity with evil. He does this in several ways:

1. He distorts reality by showing only one the dark side of the Christian church. Yes, the church has done some terrible things and too often used its power in repressive ways. However, the church has also engaged in stunning works of good. There have been inquisitors and crusaders, but also Francis of Assisi and his followers, George Fox and his followers, Brother Lawrence, Mother Teresa and countless others who devoted their lives to bringing freedom, physical help and hope to many people. Yet none of Christianity's good works are ever mentioned in the books. If the books were your only guide, you would believe Christianity to be wholly about carnal power and wholly evil.

2. All the good characters reject and oppose Christianity. A case in point is the scientist, Mary Malone. She is a wonderful, caring person and a dedicated, ethical scientist but also an ex-nun (actually she was a sister, as she was never cloistered, but the book refers to her as a nun). She leaves the sisterhood when she realizes she doesn't want to sacrifice the part of herself that can love and be loved by a man. The church is posited as a force that is willing to rob her of that part of her humanity in order to use her, with no mention of the idea that the Catholic church might discourage people who are not called to the celibate life from entering orders. Further, the book never acknowledges that some ARE called to this celibate life. Mary is a very sympathetic character and a moral center of the book and when she declares there is no God, we are influenced to believe this is true. When she uses I Ching sticks, we are encouraged to see this as a positive spiritual path.

Further, the witches are depicted as strong, caring, independent beings (they are very positive characters)but also as persecuted by the church. Shamanism is depicted as good (Will's extremely good father is a shaman) and as having true spiritual power. If you identify with any of these characters (which it is difficult not to do) you will be inspired not only to reject evil but to reject Christianity in favor, essentially, of anything else be it Eastern religion, Western atheism, Wiccanism or New Age earth religion. In fact, it's not spirituality that is bad, but Christianity.

3. The Christian characters are uniformly bad and usually one-dimensional caricatures. A case in point is a young priest who enters the peaceful, ecologically balanced planet/universe where Mary Malone has escaped. He brings a gun and relishes how he will frighten everybody into obedience. The church tortures witches, cuts the souls away from children, and ruthlessly pursues killing innocent Lyra to protect its power. There's no room for a John Woolman or any compassionate, peaceful Christian in this book. Characters on the side of "the Authority" are often aged, ugly, weak-willed or sadistic.

4.Pullman rehashes the old "Christianity versus rationalism" argument, playing on an unexamined cultural assumption that Christianity opposes rational inquiry and free thought. The assumption is accepted as fact, when a closer examination would show this dualism to be flawed. Christianity has, more often than not, been on the side of reason.

I could go on, but will leave it at that for now. I can only speculate as to why Pullman didn't simply write books depicting good versus evil. He apparently has an animosity towards Christianity. I find it disturbing that these one-sided books are aimed at an adolescent audience. I also find it disturbing that they have won several awards. If Muslims, gay people, Jews or some group other than Christians had been painted as so wholly evil, I wonder if the literary world would have reacted in the same way. Coming soon: violence and power in the books.

O come all ye faithful

Because my list of articles seems to have disappeared, I'll note that my story on the emerging church appeared in the April 2 edition of the Baltimore City Paper. It's called "O come all ye faithful." Two annual real estate roundup articles I wrote for the Washington Post--one on Howard County's and one on Frederick County's housing markets, appeared in the Post's Sunday, March 30, real estate section.

Sticks and Bones

Kay Weeks of Ellicott City has published a children's book, illustrated by Margaret Scott, called "Sticks and Stones, Skin and Bones" which uses the analogy of the human body to help children understand the structure of a house. The illustrations are charming. The text is easy to understand. Though the book is self-published, it is professional quality.

I have never met Kay Weeks, but I do like to support small local enterprise. I try to eat at locally-owned restaurants rather than chains, and when I can, buy handmade gifts at crafts shows. Mostly, I do purchase from large corporations, so this is an edge movement, but why not support it when possible?

Alas, probably because of losing the advantage of a large print run, the book's price is $12.00. However, the book is a labor of love, and would make an educational and entertaining gift for a child from 2 or 8. If you would be interested, you can contact Kay at 443-414-7774 or
I don't profit or benefit in any way from this endorsement.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Golden Compass, part III

In The Amber Spyglass, book three of the Golden Compass Trilogy, we get enmeshed in another complicated plot that I will try to summarize as quickly as possible. The two protagonists, Lyra and Will, age 12, are caught in a showdown between the forces of good and evil. In this twisted retelling of a quasi-Biblical story, the forces of good are the angels who initially rebelled against "the Authority," which by book three is explicitly named as Adonai, the God of the Bible. Others forces of good are witches, shamans, armored bears and free-thinking humans. The Authority, represented by the powerful and evil angel Megatron and supported by institutional Christian churches across the universe, wants to snuff out the human spirit: joy, free will, autonomy, love, truth, etc. The Authority and its followers lie to people and are interested in control, obedience and fear. Herein lies one of my problems with the book: the very attributes of God and Satan are flipped: God is given the attributes of Satan. God is the Prince of Lies, the great deceiver, the threat to humanity.

Because of a prophecy that she will be their undoing, the forces of the Authority want to kill Lyra. For the same reason, good wants to protect her, so across the universe, good and evil mobilize.

Will, Lyra's constant companion, has a magic knife that can cut windows into alternate universes. Lyra's feels compelled to visit the land of the dead to make amends to her friend Roger, whose death she caused.

Will and Lyra are the first in thousands of years to visit the underworld. They find that the Authority has trapped the dead in a gray, misty, cold, horrible world without joy or hope because it has lied to people and gotten them to believe this is heaven. (Even though it is clearly hell.) Repulsive harpies torture people incessantly, wrecking their sleep by tormenting them with whispered tales of all they did wrong in their lives.

Lyra and Will liberate the dead, who with great joy, experience the dissolution of their ghostly bodies into millions of atoms that reintegrate with nature.

Lyra's flawed parents sacrifice their lives to destroy Megatron and save their daughter. Meanwhile, an ex-nun and scientist, Mary Malone, who is studying "Dust"--which is the conscious spirit of the universe -- has traveled through a window to another universe. With the help of gentle, sentient beings tied closely to the earth, Mary constructs an amber spyglass and for the first time can see the sparkling golden Dust. She's alarmed to find that it is fast vacating the planet (and the universe). Without it, all sentient, thinking, conscious life will end. Needless to say, the Authority wants Dust to go.

With the help of the good witch Serafina Pekkala and a good angel, Mary discovers that Dust is disappearing through the windows Will and others have cut through the universe with the magic knife. All the windows have to be sealed up. Further, people who move to a world not their own sicken and die within a decade.

This creates a problem for Lyra and Will, who come from different planets. They have just entered adolescence and fallen deeply in love. But they must each return to their own worlds or die. Needless to say, they follow the path of duty and go home to spread the word about the true nature of the universe, which includes the knowledge that there is no God.

Tomorrow: more on the books' perplexing, upside down view of Christianity.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What is Yhwh?

This is from Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog about John Goldingay's "The Old Testament: Israel's Theology." One of the things I love about Scot's blog is the chance to participate in scholarly discussion. I am (thanks to Scot) on the brink of working my way through Goldingay's first 800-page book on the Old Testament. Here goes Scot on the second volume. There are some wonderful points here to ponder from Goldingay, a scholar who has made the Old (or First) Testament his life's work:

"The assumption of the First Testament is that there is one God and that God’s name is YHWH. The often-made point that God is unknowable — apophatic theology and its variants — is not quite the way we find it in the Bible: this God is knowable and becomes known in what is said and what is done. Holiness in the FT [=First Testament] does not create dread so much as does God’s majesty. Majesty is the outward expression of God’s holiness.

The “eternality” of God is about God spanning history more than speculation about foreverness. God as “Creator” is more about God’s ongoing creation than just about God making things all at once long, long ago.

Monotheism is Enlightenment stuff; the FT teaches Mono-Yahwism. Yhwh alone is the deliverer and liberator. The big issue is not arithmetical — there is only one God — but “Whom are you treating as God?” (40).

Anyone who reads the FT carefully will see Yhwh’s aides and representatives and rivals, and this is one of the only books you will find that deals with this theme — doesn’t Goldingay like that which cuts across the grain? — as thoroughly, interestingly, honestly, and carefully as does Goldingay. These other deities, he says, exist but they don’t count as God. Deut 32:8-9 teaches the reality, sees these lesser deities as appointed by God, and sees them as governing other nations. [For our readers, Gerry McDermott’s book, God’s Rivals, dealt with this in the context of world religions.]

God’s gender? “The FT avoids bringing sexuality into its portrait of Yhwh. ‘He’ is neither ‘man’ nor ‘woman’ (Deut 4:6) [citing Gerstenberger]” (47).

Yhwh frequently is embodied in representatives."

What do you think of these points?