Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This is what's wrong with our society

Here is a t-shirt for kids. I want my son and daughter to be anything but famous. Unless it's fame for a scientific breakthrough or something for the common good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Confusion of Christian Capitalism

If anything, being 2/3 the way through the Master of Divinity degree at a mainline protestant theological seminary has given me many opportunities to rethink what I believe. In all honesty, few things have changed drastically for me albeit for one: economics.

Strange to think that a religious program at a christian seminary would alter my view of economics, but I believe economics is an ethical and moral issue anyway - so it's not that much of a stretch for me.

What I have realized is a certain disconnect between the anti-wealth messages from Jesus of the gospels and certain prescribed beliefs or assumptions with modern, western Christianity: that it's actually okay (more to the point, predestined) to be super wealthy and a hardcore believer. The Jesus I read doesn't agree.

Atheist and social scientist Gregory Paul lays it out fairly clearly, as to how the social-minded Jesus got altered to the pro-capitalism religion of conservative America:
Many conservative Christians, mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics, have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling, deregulated, union busting, minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors, plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations. And many of these Christian capitalists are ardent followers of Ayn Rand, who was one of - and many of whose followers are -- the most hard-line anti-Christian atheist/s you can get. Meanwhile many Christians who support the capitalist policies associated with social Darwinistic strenuously denounce Darwin’s evolutionary science because it supposedly leads to, well, social Darwinism!

My view, and that of many outspoken celebrities is that if I have enough to provide for myself, then I also have enough to help provide for another person. Actor Zach Braff (of Scrubs TV) recently tweeted about being blessed with enough money and being willing to share it with others who are in need. And we've all read or heard about investor Warren Buffett's proclamation for the federal government to stop coddling the super rich with tax breaks and loopholes (pointing a finger to "trickle-down" economics not really working).

Some call it socialism, but that term wasn't in Jesus' vocabulary, and neither was the economic structure of socialism in the minds of anyone of the first century. Application of the term "socialism" backward onto the ideals of Jesus' Way is is problematic in that we are ignoring a very basic understanding of 1st century Palestine - that Jesus wasn't a socialist, that's out term. He was driven by the imperial reign of God to teach a way of living that uplifted the poor, outcast and marginalized in society. He wasn't egalitarian either, because he had no love for the wealthy or powerful.

The "socialist" view of Jesus really comes (at least as far as Gregory Paul is concerned) from the book of Acts. That's not Jesus, that's Luke - writing decades after the time of Jesus when groups of believers were solidly formed into religious sects.

The other view, that is greatly espoused by conservative believers and politicians is that God awards those who work hard with riches upon riches. And by work hard I mean trample on the lives of low and middle-class Americans while building a corporate empire that is heralded as another "American Dream" come true. That view is actually counter to the reality of Jesus' teachings and the tradition of the early church in Acts. Capitalism is in no way egalitarian either, even with the advent of trickle-down. It's a system that is proving more and more to be flawed - in favor of the rich at the expense of the poor.

The more we as a country do away with Keynesian economics, the more we also move away from the ideas of Jesus and the early church, where it is the responsibility of those with means to care for and nurture those without.

But what does all this mean? Either we have confused religious and government leaders who do not understand the meaning of "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the kingdom of God", or, well there is no or. That's just it - we have a mainstream religious system that takes cues from a capitalistic republic that claims to be based on Christian principles and morality, all for the purpose of the maintenance of said capitalist republic.

If anything, the church should be celebrating and remembering a Jesus who stripped the wealthy of their changing tables, mocked the treasury scribes and basically told the powerful rich elites to go to hell.

That's a Jesus I'd like to meet.

Charity and Justice: Part 1

This summer I led a group of youth and adults to inner-city St. Louis for a week of service projects. From a church perspective, we call it "missions". Anybody else calls it "service projects" or simply "volunteering".

"Mission Trip" just rolls off the tongue easier than "Service Project Trip" - though I could go for "Work Trip".

Most of the work we did during the week was related in one way or another to urban community outreach. Think painting & cleaning projects, food and clothing distribution etc. When a group comes and does a good work for the benefit of someone else, there is immediate positive results. Like giving someone a bag of groceries. Both the giver and the receiver know that some good has been done, and that its effect is nearly immediate. That is charity.

Churches love doing charity work because it is often easily organized and is often short-lived, meaning, the planning and execution of the work is defined in hours or days. Also, charity is something that hats can easily be hung on. "Our church did this or that" you might have said or heard being said. Churches can easily point to annual service and charity projects and pat themselves on the back while saying, "See? We're doing God's work!"

Charity is good and needs to be done. Food, clothing, medicine, school supplies, housing all are near immediate needs that more individuals than ever are in need of in this country. Churches ought to be involved heavily in charity work, especially for those members of society who are most vulnerable - children, elderly and those with different abilities. Churches have the means to do for others what they cannot do for themselves. That is the job, in part, of the church.

Riding in tandem with charity is the work of justice. I am not speaking about justice in a judicial or law enforcement sense, or even a "he got what was coming to him" karma kind of way. But rather, justice in an equality or "doing what's right" kind of way. Some might call this way "fairness", but we know that the world isn't fair - but the work of what we do can and probably should lean toward a fairness created by society. This way occupies the realms of social justice, and is heavily involved in public policy and governing. Perhaps this is one reason why social justice as an issue has become somewhat of a taboo subject among political circles. The anxiety that people will discover social justice and get involved in public policy could be worrisome for the elected.

One aspect of public justice that the church can engage is equal access to resources for all people. Resources such as adequate and appropriate healthcare, transportation, housing and education are all works that churches can take on for a long-term ministries.

Even bolder ways of seeking justice would be to work for equal rights and protections for the LGBTQ community. But on more than the theological level; in the public policy sphere through legislation and rights amendments.

Justice seeks to provide an equal playing field for everyone, from access to quality education and job training to basic human rights and protections. The door to working for justice is charity, providing for those in need for the hope of justice making in their lives. A child cannot easily rise up out of poverty without access to proper educational materials and supplies. A gay couple cannot see to one another's health concerns without the basic rights to care for loved ones.

The church is called to reconciliation, justice-seeking and hope-giving, all rooted in the love of God. In our work to be charitable, might we also discover inroads to working for justice.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Historical Jesus Action Figure

Earlier tonight I posted that I'd be hopefully writing some about my summer class. Well I decided to not wait but unload right now!

The class I took was called "The Historical Jesus" and was a survey of the methods and findings from decades of scholarly research that attempts to identify who Jesus was historically. It was really interesting because from the very start, all assumptions of faith were put aside. There was no need for personal beliefs, just the willingness to explore what can be discovered from exploring the bible with a historians cap, rather than a theologians.

So the essence of the quest for the historical Jesus (sounds like the title of a lame Jesus-y 'Indiana Jones' knock off) is in determining what sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels can be identified with high probability were actually his.

Needless to say I found this pretty intriguing. The point being not to discredit the texts, or to reshape ones ideas of biblical actuality, meaning that history happened exactly as it is recorded in the bible. Instead the quest is about drawing conclusions based on certain criteria, and using biblical texts as the basis for research - all to identify a snapshot of what Jesus was all about.

Some say Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. Apocalyptic in the sense that he discussed the end of an age (not necessarily the "end times" as we understand it. That "belief" didn't come about until the mid 1800's and was born in America, not 1st century Palestine.)

Others say Jesus was a wisdom teacher and healer of sorts. Think tribal medicine man/soothsayer. This image is difficult for western Christians to imagine because it conjures up pictures of African dudes with weird bones sticking through noses and lips and whatnot. But remember that Jesus was Jewish and grew up in a highly roman-ized area of Judea. He probably worked building scaffolding or cutting stone for Roman construction projects (reference his knowledge of corner and cap stones).

Still others suggest that Jesus was a prophet of judgement, in the line of say - Jonah. This position is much more difficult to defend, due to the overwhelming evidence for the other 2 positions. But it is interesting nonetheless.

Given all of that, plus 40 hours with a professor who has literally given 40 years of his life to this study, I say Jesus was a soccer champion. 

What say you? What scriptures need to be in your basket to piece together the Jesus you believe in (if you swing that way)?

Weather Update

Because no one has cable news, the weather channel, access to the internet or smartphones with weather apps, I bring you:

Screenshots of Local Weather Radar! 

You see, just like when I run out of things to talk to my dad about I turn to weather, I've run out of things to talk about on the blog. There are several reasons for this:
1) I'm trying to dial back the political posts, so that I can rant without hindrance come primary adn general election time next year
2) our garden is toast - almost literally, actually. Nearly 6 weeks of 100+ temps absolutely roasted our remaining pepper plants and watermelon vines.
3) I'm gearing up for another semester of seminary and will hopefully be posting some thoughts from my summer class soon.

So there ya have it. And here's your weather update:
It was really hot for a long time, then it started raining every day for a week. Here's proof!
We're the blue dot in the middle. Green band is the "gust front", probably 50-60 MPH. 
Big rain getting closer!

Zoomed in of previous image, rain almost at our house. 

Here's how this conversation goes. We've had some good periods of rain lately. The city has dropped odd/even days outdoor watering schedule, the burn ban has been lifted and the ponds and lakes aren't as dry as they were. They're still super low, just not as bad. Like gas prices at $4. When it goes down to $3.85 you think HOORAY! But then you remember that gas is $3.85!! 

If I can think of anything non-Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry related I'll write about that.