27 May 2009

answering the bell of Belhar

“We know that such an act of confession and process of reconciliation will necessarily involve much pain and sadness. It demands the pain of repentance, remorse, and confession; the pain of individual and collective renewal and a changed way of life. It places us on a road whose end we can neither foresee nor manipulate to our own desire.”

I went to my first presbytery meeting yesterday since we came to the Presbytery of Geneva. This presbytery has been incorporating the study of the Belhar Confession into its meetings as worship. Yesterday was session four. Belhar emerged from the South African church’s struggle with apartheid—within itself and within the nation. At the General Assembly last year in San Jose, the Presbyterian Church (USA) proposed adding the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

The quote above is taken from the Accompanying Letter to the Belhar Confession. Certainly, the South African church’s “act of confession and process of reconciliation” doesn’t precisely match the conditions in America. Their context isn’t identical to our context. But that’s the case with every confession of faith. That’s the case with the scriptures!

Still, as I listened to that letter being read yesterday, images of what we in this country are going through kept filling my mind. The courage of South African Christians—as well as those of other faiths and no faith—to grapple with the legacy of apartheid has indeed placed them “on a road whose end we can neither foresee nor manipulate to our own desire.”

In America, we have our own grab bag of issues: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. We also have the troubling issue of torture. My prayer, using the words of the letter, is that the church can address torture in a spirit that says, “We do not wish to serve any group interests, advance the cause of any factions, promote any theologies, or achieve any ulterior purposes…Our earnest desire is to lay no false stumbling blocks in the way, but to point to the true stumbling block, Jesus Christ the rock.”

(The image is “I Heard the Cry of My People” by Margrit Roussos, South Africa.)

25 May 2009

prayer for memorial day

Gracious God, to whom we belong in both life and in death,
it is on days like this
when we need to be reminded of some things.
For others like me,
sons and daughters of those buried in military cemeteries,
and for all of us, those left standing when wars that never end finally do,
it seems it isn't the subject matter of easy speeches--
nor is it the content of commercials that promise
"super savings, because it's Memorial Day,
and we're having a blowout sale!"
And it isn't the word of those who, in whatever way, great or small,
profit from war,
but it is the silence.
We need to be reminded of the silence--
the silence of those who truly honor the fallen,
they who have made the greatest sacrifice.
God of glory,
teach us how to speak words filled with that silence.

23 May 2009

Exorcising Children in Congo

Here’s what happens when prosperity theology (American superstition) meets African superstition. Add shameless pastors to the “witches brew” and stir. The result is some pretty vile swill.

18 May 2009

here's a good idea for a Bible

"This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in the modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible..." So reads part of the editorial blurb of the American Patriot's Bible, the New King James Version published this month by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

When I first saw this new version of the Bible on Greg Boyd's blog, I honestly thought it was a joke. He was reminded of a bit that Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler did during Weekend Update on SNL.

I wonder how people can fail to see the idolatrous nature of tying the scriptures to America--or to any other nation, for that matter. But if it makes money, maybe that's all that Thomas Nelson is concerned about!

(Hey, maybe I should pitch my idea about seeing Shetland Sheepdogs intertwined into the Biblical story...)

17 May 2009

I made the trek

I finally got around to seeing Star Trek (2009) this afternoon. Director J. J. Abram's fingerprints are all over it. As the executive producer of the TV show Lost, he's fond of inserting time travel into the plot. I would imagine that, if there are any sequels with this new crop of young actors, the destruction of Vulcan will somehow be relegated to an alternate timeline!

Zachary Quinto, who plays the deliciously evil Sylar on Heroes, stands out as the young Spock. The love interest with Zoe Saldana as Uhura is a nice twist on what we'd otherwise expect!

16 May 2009

we can agree on something!


Here's a case in which I actually agree with Rush Limbaugh! I've been so dismayed with his (as I see it) mean-spiritedness, but here's a lesson to me: don't count anyone out!
Rush Limbaugh on Animals & Religion
Audio-Only Clip

Click to watch the video
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09 May 2009

honor your mother's day

In her Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, Julia Ward Howe (the Unitarian author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) began by saying:

“Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”

Whoa! Hold on! That sounds like she actually intended Mother’s Day to mean something! At least, she intended it to mean something more than buying candy and flowers. She continues:

“From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.”

As should be painfully apparent, Julia’s vision of Mother’s Day never caught on. A few decades later, Anna Jarvis came on the scene, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for the observance of the day. Unfortunately, Anna came to regret her life’s work in promoting the holiday. She became disgusted with the rampant commercialism surrounding it. “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit,” Jarvis complained, dismissing greeting cards as “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.”

A story is told about Jarvis’ “going to the tea room at [the Philadelphia] Wanamaker’s store one year at Mother’s Day. When Jarvis noticed a ‘Mother’s Day Salad’ on the menu, she ordered it, dumped it on the floor, got up and left.” (I sometimes joke with my wife that I’ll tell a restaurant’s staff that I’m refusing a certain dish for “political reasons.” I guess that’s what Anna Jarvis did—unless the people thought she had a grudge against her mother!)

(The image is Picasso’s Mother and Child.)

01 May 2009

a national dark night of the soul?

In the title of his article, “America’s Necessary Dark Night of the Soul,” Gary Kamiya uses a phrase that has a long history in spirituality. I included it in a sermon a few months ago on Psalms 42 and 43. In a previous blog post, I said something about it.

The psalmist is someone who feels abandoned by God. And yet, all hope is not lost. There’s a fragment—a scrap hung onto—and it appears three times in this combined psalm: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (42:5, 11, 43:5). A. A. Anderson says it’s a source of inspiration to one experiencing the “dark night of the soul.”

That phrase goes back to a poem written in the 16th century by St. John of the Cross. As he advanced deeper in his life of prayer, he began to experience periods of extreme loneliness and emptiness. The light and joy and peace he first received from God began to wither away. This was his “dark night.” In 2007, when some of Mother Teresa’s letters were made public, we saw how she also spoke of feeling abandoned by God. Her dark night of the soul was a dry wilderness of pain that lasted for many years.

The thing about these experiences “on a dark night” is that they aren’t signs of God’s displeasure: very far from it! Our psalmist, St. John of the Cross, Mother Teresa—and many other people—aren’t being punished by God, even though it may feel like it. I think we can agree that we’re not talking about slackers in the spiritual life! These unpleasant experiences are instead a sign of God’s love; they’re a sign of purification.

Kamiya, in reflecting on our national political (and I would add, spiritual) ambivalence regarding the prosecution of torture, he compares it to this “dark night.” “Those opposed to reopening the book on the Bush years argue that doing so would tear the country apart. [Those opposed would seem to include President Obama.] They’re right—but they forget that the country is already torn apart.”

How can we hope to be healed…how can we hope to have any semblance of unity—though admittedly, it will take time—if we don’t face up to what has been done in our name? The icon of today’s conservatives, Ronald Reagan himself, said in his signing statement of the UN Convention against Torture, “The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

Kamiya adds, “Ever since 9/11 we have been living in a twilight country, one where it is not clear whether laws apply or not, a morally relativist place in which unembarrassed emotionalism has replaced adherence to ethical and legal principles.”

Shining the light on torture is something that must be done. It must be done as carefully, and with the least amount of bias, as possible. Both American and international law require it.

Can we honestly say we respect ourselves as a nation without first enduring this darkness?