30 September 2010

talk talk

Twenty seven years ago, Leonard Swidler (from Temple University in Philly), published “The Dialogue Decalogue.” That would also be known as the Ten Commandments of Dialogue, since “decalogue” means “ten commandments” or “ten words,” just like in Exodus and Deuteronomy. With its reference to Christian-Marxist dialogue as an ongoing process, it looks like it was written twenty seven years ago. However, the principles it espouses are as relevant and badly-needed now (if not more so) as they were then. Last year, I preached a sermon on dialogue which barely scratched the surface of it.

Dialogue is a way of paying respect to another human being. Ultimately, it opens oneself to God. If we’re willing to enter into dialogue, we first must be willing to listen. Swidler’s first commandment of dialogue is to recognize that its “primary purpose…is to learn…and then to act accordingly.” I won’t deal with all of his “commandments.” The document is well worth reading for that.

Dialogue can deal with religious, political, or any number of other aspects of life. Whichever of these we’re engaging, an honesty—indeed, a brutal honesty—needs to be present. That is, it needs to be present if we want to get beyond the false fronts that we too often, and often unknowingly, present to the world. Actually, that’s what Swidler addresses in his third commandment: “Each participant must come to the dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity.”

Some people shun dialogue, because they imagine that it requires selling short who they are and what they believe. But if that is what’s happening, then it isn’t dialogue. It’s yet another way of avoiding opening ourselves to the other.

Dialogue is difficult; maybe that’s why so little of it actually happens. We talk (and shout!) past each other.

Here’s hoping our talk can be a little more fruitful!

27 September 2010

this calls for wisdom

In our Keukabiblia Bible study, we’re approaching the part of the book of Revelation that has probably been scrutinized the most, with varying levels of soundness.

“This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six” (Revelation 13:18). In his book, Principalities and Powers in the New Testament, Heinrich Schlier says, “It is clear that today we have not the wisdom which the Apocalypse [that is, the book of Revelation] takes for granted.” (89)

That isn’t meant as an insult. (Though, with some of the crazy theories about the number of the beast, it might be well-deserved.) Rather, it’s a reminder that what we’re reading takes place in a series of visions. And visions have rules of their own.

In Bruce Metzger’s Breaking the Code, he says, “In the last analysis, it is always a choice between the power that operates through inflicting suffering, that is, the power of the beast, and the power that operates through accepting suffering, namely, the power of the Lamb.” (77) That speaks to the essential orientation within the human heart of fear versus love.

Elsewhere, John shows how fear and love exist as opposites: how one hinders and twists faith and the other edifies and enlivens it. In 1 John 4 we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (v. 18). Without the love that inspires from within, we are left with only “brute” force. We summon nothing more from ourselves than the beast.

This calls for wisdom!

(The top image is from www.flickr.com/photos/philipcdavis/4772209210/sizes/l/in/pool-725307@N25/)

16 September 2010

honoring a soldier

Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of the death of Specialist Alyssa Peterson. As The Nation reports, she was one of the first female soldiers to die in Iraq. The official Army report was that her death on September 15, 2003 was caused by a “non-hostile weapons discharge.” That isn’t unusual in a war zone. Officials volunteered nothing more than some possible scenarios, “including Peterson’s own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian.”

It took the dogged insistence of a radio station reporter from her hometown in Flagstaff, Arizona, to get to the truth. She committed suicide, rather than participate in torturing detainees. Documents describing the interrogation procedures had been destroyed.

For two years, even her parents were kept in the dark.

Her fellow soldiers told her “the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war.” I wonder where they got that? Could it be that they were taking their cues from the very top of our leadership? When we had Vice President Cheney talking about “working the dark side,” we shouldn’t have expected anything but dishonorable results.

Clearly, more than one factor goes into suicide, but when we put people into the position of torturing other human beings, we dehumanize them just as surely as they dehumanize their prisoners.

02 September 2010

sweet sixteen

The two images presented speak volumes about Banu and me on our 16th wedding anniversary, which is tomorrow. They were scanned from photos I took when we were students at Eastern Baptist Seminary. (Since then, its name has been changed to Palmer Seminary.)

The first is a reaction she frequently had then—and now. I often give her grief about…well, many things. If she had to present her own version of Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!,” this might be it. Thanks to me, she’s had plenty of opportunities to refine the technique.

The second image is of something that I, again, frequently witnessed: a meal lovingly prepared and waiting for me when I came home at night (sometimes quite late) from my job at Baskin-Robbins. As I remind her to this day, even sandwiches taste better when she makes them. (I really mean that; it’s not an excuse to avoid the preparation of food!)

So there’s one more reason to celebrate our marriage!

01 September 2010

choosing life

Culture of life. Choose life. That terminology is usually narrowly defined as opposition to abortion. Rarely are matters like capital punishment, war, the environment, or other questions that involve life (or the deprivation thereof) brought into the discussion. And rarely does that discussion extend beyond the political realm.

In yesterday’s daily meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society, entitled “A Choice Calling for Discipline,” we see a vastly broader and deeper framework. “When we look critically at the many thoughts and feelings that fill our minds and hearts, we may come to the horrifying discovery that we often choose death instead of life, curse instead of blessing. Jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, greed, lust, vindictiveness, revenge, hatred…they all float in that large reservoir of our inner life. Often we take them for granted and allow them to be there and do their destructive work.”

We choose death in many different ways. It’s one of the irrational constants of human existence. Clearly, that choice doesn’t always manifest itself in dramatic ways, easily visible ways. The petty squabbling that substitutes for honest and good faith dialogue about our problems seems to be one of our favorite ways of choosing death!

Referencing Deuteronomy 30:15-20, the meditation continues, “But God asks us to choose life and to choose blessing. This choice requires an immense inner discipline. It requires a great attentiveness to the death-forces within us and a great commitment to let the forces of life come to dominate our thoughts and feelings. We cannot always do this alone; often we need a caring guide or a loving community to support us. But it is important that we both make the inner effort and seek the support we need from others to help us choose life.”

Sometimes (maybe usually?) when we possess a dogged certainty that we know we are right (expletive deleted), the “death-forces” are at work. I’m trying not to sound sappily sanguine, but “a culture of life” and “choosing life” involves stuff like love and humility.