Secular Rants from a Christian Conservative

No matter how this Christian wants to stay away from politics, it seems as if politics refuses to stay away from him and leave him alone! I should either stop reading papers, political blogs, watching news on TV, reading news in the Internet and be a totally “fool on the hill” (as if I am not a fool everywhere else), by simply avoiding current affairs or, I have to engage lest I will be as a man with a terrible bowel discomfort who cannot find a bathroom nearby! The comparison may be crass but it is exactly the picture of me, in view of all these political things going around, attempting to stay silent and aloof.

The events of this weekend in Nevada where functionaries of the Government oppressed for whatever reason, just, unjust, fair or not, a family of cow ranchers are really something that more than butterflies in my stomach, cause me to see imaginary gigantic vultures swooping over the head of the freedom loving people of this country (the few of us, I guess) just waiting for them to die and degust on their carcasses. Tortoise or not, revenge from Mr. Reid for the opposition these cattle ranchers demonstrated toward him in the last election, the secret dealings of the government with environmentalists while still negotiating with a certain solar panel manufacturer to “donate” the piece of land in question so they can build  their factory, or for whatever reason, the government is not supposed to treat citizens who, for ages, have been doing the same thing all over again, through generations, and were never bothered by the government which passes laws creating crimes that weren’t crimes ere the current public figures were elevated to high levels of government office. No, the government simple does not create an army-like force, with snipers, heavy weaponry to collect a civil debt from a cattle rancher who reasonably questions the debt in the first place and disputes about who the genuine owner of that land is. No sir! The government cannot treat its citizens that way no matter how long it has negotiated with the citizenry! As much as I try to shut up, we have due process, a Constitution to which to resort to find out who is on the right without leaving to activist judges and agencies of the government who work against the constitutionally prescribed citizen’s rights under the guise of environmental issues.

Besides all that, we keep hearing of the National Security Agency spying on its citizens, the proposition, or even the mentioning that immigration laws, although in the books are not to be enforced, that no one sent the a Bureau Land Management like force to defend the ambassador in Benghazi, but were quick to send it to harass cattle ranchers, and that the IRS has worked as a Gestapo kind of force persecuting citizens and abridging their right to have a voice in the electoral process, that the conscience of religious people is being trampled, and that the “gay-stapo” is now deciding who has a job and who does not based upon their opinion which has only one alternative: submit or else.

Have I listed enough items? Man, should I continue to speak about the impunity on the issue of Fast and Furious, of the Black Panther voter suppression and aggression, that were never investigated, or better, it was not something that the Justice Department saw fit to investigate? May I add the lies told by our own president about his trademark program, which are still being told under the guise of 7 million people who no one know whether were uninsured who became insured or insured who became uninsured thus resorting to buying some that they prefer not to have but had no choice in having? Why my government is bragging of reaching an unproven goal when it passed a law that everyone had to signup for its product under the penalty of a fine? Is it not easy to be the government, compel people to signup for something and then brag that the people who was compelled to signup signed up? Why are they bragging if they promised to insure 30 million people and only 7 million signed up, many who had insurance before, and still 30 million people continue without health care?

In Brazil there is this story about a Pentecostal, a very poor man who after moving out of his town, could not find a Pentecostal church and the only Church he could find to attend was a Presbyterian one with a formal and purely liturgical service where every line and every word was planned and orchestrated to the level of a Broadway act and this man could not hold his shouts, better shrieks, of Hallelujah Praise the Lord thus breaking the formality of the service and waking up some pew warmers. One day the minister of the Presbyterian Church noting the man was so poor that had no shoes, and at the same time worried about the frequent disruptions from this poor man approached him and asked him please not to scream at Church anymore and that next Sunday they would have a distinguished guest preacher and if he should be quiet just for that Sunday the congregation would give him a pair of shoes. The man agreed and Sunday came. The man tried to shut up and control himself the best he could, exactly was I was trying to do with my political issues, and in the middle of the sermon upon hearing the guest preacher mentioning the oceans and the seas, this poor man could no longer control himself and shouted: “I may go home barefooted, but Hallelujah, Praise the Lord; the preacher said Oceans, and I just happened to remember that my sins are in the bottom of the oceans, so, tough on your shoes, Hallelujah Praise the Lord”. That’s exactly the way I feel today; I may not lose a pair of shoes because I don’t need one and have none promised to me, but I may lose a lot of friends, but, I can no longer be quiet! Hallelujah, Praise the Lord the Constitution gives me the right to say these things!

 

What I learned at the egg hunt

At my church, as in many churches I suspect, there is an Easter egg hunt. It occurred last Saturday. I’m rather happy to say that before the hunt, the story of Easter is told so that the children and their parent s get to hear it. It’s always a delight to hear the story. I freely admit that I am not normally a fan of the church Easter egg hunt, but this year was a bit different.

The eggs were placed in separate areas outside for differing age groups. My step son was in the kindergarten group. The kids were lined up behind the streamer, and before long it was cut and they were set loose upon the unsuspecting plastic eggs. The kids all took off running to get their sugary surprises…except Thaddeus. He just strolled casually picking up the eggs that the kids running had left behind them.  After all the eggs had been discovered and the kids were going over their haul, Thaddeus was walking around and giving eggs to those who did not get as many as he had.  Of course after all this there were cookies, kids running, playing and doing those things that children are wont to do.

It’s Lent and time for thought and reflection. At the Easter egg hunt I reflected and learned that while some of us are busy arguing about what to have for Easter dinner, stressing over what to wear to church, worrying over who will cause the family fight this year, etc. that there are five year old boys who are not worried about such things and are just busy living out faith as best as they understand it. That is something worth reflecting on.

Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana (NASA, International Sp...

New Orleans, Louisiana (NASA, International Space Station Science, 11/18/06) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

I am in Louisiana for a few days and then to a rather special place in Alabama.

Traveling always puts me into a sort of reflective mood, or mind-set. Maybe it is the destination. After all, I left Louisiana years ago. I left for a variety of reasons and excuses, but more than anything, I just wanted to get away from all that Louisiana was and is in my life. Bad family, bad religion, and just bad.

Leaving West Virginia, the place and I am unnaturally attached too… if you aren’t attached to a geographical locale, I cannot tell you what I mean. But West Virginia represents more than just an unexplainable attached to the land…but good family, good faith, and (believe it not) progressive change.

I got to see the same roads and the same places as I once did. But, they aren’t the same. Things change. Things grow. Cities grow. White people move. What was once pasture is now a hotel and McDonalds. What was one the first “mountain” we saw leaving Louisiana is now a Sam’s Club and a parking lot.

It is a good time to reflect on where I am and where I am going. When I left, I never thought I would be able to return. It is an expensive trip. I’m not saying I can go every week, but I am able to go at least once a year. I have become much closer to my Great Aunts – and great in every sense of the word. Other things, as you know, have changed.

Still, the only thing I really miss here is the food… and I’m not even sure that is the case anymore. Last night, we stopped at Don’s Seafood, a local eatery who I have only later found out has been purchased way from the family owners. The food was… less than stellar. It tasted plastic. It was…boring. But, I still get my Community Coffee – shipped up from Amazon.

And this morning…I get to go to a Southern Baptist Church.

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Hope

OnceYouChooseHopeThis Sunday is Palm Sunday and also the Sunday that I will join my local UMC. It is technically a transfer as I have moved, but that does not make it any less momentous for me. It is really the perfect day to join the church I think. Palm Sunday is, of course the day that we celebrate Christ riding into Jerusalem to set into motion the events that would change everything. It is the Sunday that we are reminded that our purpose is to continue to change ourselves through the continuing conforming to the likeness of Christ and also through our service to a world in need. This Sunday, it is also the reminder of hope.

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. That is, I think, what the local church is at its best. The expectation and desire for our own transformation, for the transformation of our neighborhoods because of our transformation and so on and so on. The expectation and desire for the return of Christ and the new heaven and earth that we are all desperately in need of. The expectation and desire of the unity of the body. The expectation and desire that not only can it be better, that it will be better so long as we remain in that perfect hope that Christ brings. 

In the world today we are constantly reminded of all the reasons that we should lose hope. The 24/7 news cycle making sure we are aware of every evil that exists, of the conflicts in the protestant and catholic church. The personal struggles and failings of pastors played out on a national stage, etc. The local church and its reminder of the hope in Christ seems to be the best, and perhaps only option, to not be consumed by all the other things we see and hear.

Coming up is Palm Sunday, then holy week and eventually Easter. The promises of this time are many. The promise of resurrection, the promise of salvation, and the promise that there will come a time when the world is as it should be. Those promises are for the future and are wonderful and comforting to hold on to, but don’t forget the gift of hope. That gift is what allows us to all hold on until the promises are fulfilled.

 

Nuance and Theology

I find it interesting how theological issues are so divisive. Often issues are framed in very stark black and white terms and only one position is presented as the only viable option. I saw this often in my younger years with the Landmark Baptists when it came to the concept of the “church.” Landmarkers essentially argued that for Catholics the church was the “universal, visible church,” while for most Protestants the church was the “universal, invisible church,” and for Baptists the church was the “local, visible church.” For them the word “ecclesia” always meant a local body of believers and they believed that they were the “true” body of believers. The problem is that “church” isn’t limited to a specific word, but to many words and concepts in the New Testament. Hence “church” can have a broad meaning and interpreted differently depending on context. This is called nuance.

Another example is the doctrine of justification. For Calvinists the principle meaning is that of forensic justification, while other’s there are moral and ethical aspects to it. Permitting the various words and concepts to have their say in their respective contexts allows for the various shades of meaning to come out – nuance.

This doesn’t mean people won’t run to their favorite verses to argue for their specific theological preferences, but recognizing nuance should allow for more openness in dialog and less dogmatism.

Review: Bonhoeffer Works Vol 14 @fortresspress

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14: Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937

Author: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Editor: H. Gaylon Barker and Mark S. Brocker

Hardcover: 1258 pages

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8006-9835-3

Fortress Press

Amazon

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Bonhoeffer’s works. So, it should surprise anyone that I received a review copy of Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14 from Augsburg Fortress.

The book is split into three parts. Part 1 contains 154 letters and documents, both to and from Bonhoeffer. Part 2 contains exercises, lectures, and essays written by Bonhoeffer f. Part 3 contains sermons and meditations written by Bonhoeffer. The books is pretty evenly divided between letters and other writings (about half the book is letters with the other half being the other writings.)

The piece that I found most interesting was Bonhoeffer’s Lecture and Discussion on the Power of the Keys and Church Discipline (beginning on page 825). I found this piece to be interesting because of its proximity in writing to my favorite of Bonhoeffer’s works, Discipleship. One of the things that drew me to this particular piece is that we can see Bonhoeffer formulating pieces of Discipleship. This also allows us to see the development of Bonhoeffer’s ideas that later became a part of Discipleship.

There is a lot in this volume, but one aspect that I liked about this volume was the incorporation of the student notes found in Part 2.  For example, there are notes on Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession (337). From the footnotes, we know that these notes were taken by a student maned Joachim Kanitz. And Eberhard Bethge’s corresponding notes have this lecture given on July 15, 1935. It should come as little surprise that most of the student notes found in this volume are from Eberhard Bethge; however, if you spend some time looking through the different student notes, you will come across the names of other students. I personally thought this was interesting because it adds a new dimension to Bonhoeffer’s works, especially during his time teaching at the seminary. It’s not just Bonhoeffer’s words that we have here, but also the words of his students.

This is an excellent resource for those studying Bonhoeffer. There are a plethora footnotes that cross-reference other letters/papers/documents in this volume as well as other volumes in the series. My only complaint with the volume is there are several items that were published in the Nachlaß Dietrich Bonhoeffer that are not included in the English edition. Those items not included can be found in Apendix 6 (1043). All told, this is another excellent volume in the series!

Disclaimer:
I received this book free from Fortress Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expresses in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

To the conservative church leaders…whomever you are

The news has broken that several conservative church leaders met, via conference call, to discuss many matters. I don’t suspect that any of them will actually read this, but this is my letter to them…will it do any good? Probably not, but it will make me feel better and maybe some who do read it will understand.

I am concerned over those who have chosen to act outside of the discipline. I am also concerned that there has been no consistent action taken. I agree that these actions have caused some damage to the church and it’s witness in the world. Something needs to be addressed and I am glad that you are meeting to try and do just that. I hope that your discussions were fruitful and Spirit led as this is a difficult time and place for the church.

I understand that there will be a smaller working group formed to bring suggestions to the larger group. This is also not a bad idea, and I hope it will prove fruitful. Included in said discussions are to be the idea of withholding funds. I pray this discussion goes something like this: “Should we hold funds back?” “No, it only further damages the church and only serves to hurt those who need those funds most.” As to the discussion of forming two or more denominations I pray the discussion goes like this: “Should we split?” “No, our greatest strength, save for God Himself, is our diversity. By splitting we limit that diversity and we discourage any deviation. That is stagnation and stagnation leads to death.” The third part of the discussion I see some hope in. Please ask and suggest not only a greater enforcement from the bishops, but establishing a set penalty so that it is known to all and can be enforced upon all equally.

When this discussion group is done, I pray that you will meet with those on the other side of the issue at hand. I pray that you will present your ideas clearly, concisely and lovingly. I pray that they are presented as idea and not an ultimatum. I pray that after, the more liberal groups will consider them and follow a process similar to the one that you have begun.

You, those who have met via the conference call, are people we look to to lead. That is a big part of what ‘the connection’ means to us lay people. You are the people we look to model faith to us, to show what a life lived out is to look like. We know this is a difficult, frustrating and confusing time for all of us who claim to be United Methodists. As this is Lent though perhaps the lesson here is that even Christ, on the night he was to be betrayed, welcomed His betrayer to the table. He welcomed him into fellowship and to share a meal. If Christ can welcome the man who would betray Him, can we not welcome those with who we disagree, no matter how fervently we disagree, to the table to work it out? Speaking of the table of communion, aren’t we instructed to work out our issues with our brother before we come? Let’s first be reconciled to our brothers before we try to discern what would be a proper offering so to speak in this difficult time. No matter the outcome and future of the UMC, in this one thing let us follow the teachings of scripture and be reconciled to each other before we make any decisions.

Signed,
A hopeful layperson

Review of @Steve_Runge’s “High Definition Commentary: Romans” @academiclogos

high-definition-commentary-romans

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There is at once among Protestants a supreme knowledge of Romans and yet a depth of ignorance. We read it as if we know what Paul is saying, and sometimes we do, but in the end we are going? to miss a lot of the meaning behind Paul’s letter. Why? Because we are reading Paul, looking for words rather than looking for structure. We assign meaning to the words, but Paul has carefully chosen his wording based on a structure.

But, there is a move to fix that. Stanley Stowers proposed a different reading of Romans, based on rhetorical apostrophes. Douglas Campbell recently proposed reading Romans, using rhetoric, but as if the whole piece is deeply entrenched in rhetoric. And I cannot help but mention the New Perspective(s) on Paul. With all of these “new” readings of Romans, one would think we could know just about every angle there is, to read Romans in every way possible. There is still room, however, in exploring Romans. I believe Steve Runge’s new commentary will help to moderate some modern stances while enlivening more traditional ones.

The High Definition Romans Commentary works with the methodology Runge laid down in his Discourse series and exampled in the High Definition New Testament. More than that, it attempts to connect the academy to the Church, from the literary to the literological. Runge accomplishes his task, not just “well enough,” but in a grand fashion wherein this reviewer at times wanted to show some measure of physical excitement at what he was reading.

The commentary is written with you in mind. Rather than modify that statement, to surround “you” with either the academic or the lay, or other, qualifiers, just know: this commentary is written to you. In that regards, there are no footnotes to vast amounts of data you most likely either know or wouldn’t read anyway. Rather, you are able to read the commentary based on what the structure provides, albeit with Runge’s voice in the foreground.

As the author states, the commentary is not about what is said, but how it is said. Thus, he guides us through Paul’s structuring of Romans as the definitive way of reading Romans. We do not have to wait long for Runge to dive deep into this. He opens up with Paul’s purpose, easily identified in the first few lines of Romans — he wants to introduce himself to the Roman church. He wants to build a relationship. Thus, he must carefully detail his theology. He stresses how each point serves a purpose in Paul’s rhetoric. Indeed, not much in Romans, if anything, is written on a whim. Every word, given the appropriate structure, is given purpose.

I have written before on Romans 1.18-32. I simply feel that of all the passages in Paul’s writings, deutero­– or otherwise, this passage is the most misused. In fact, I will judge a commentary on Romans by how this singular passage is presented. Perhaps this is why I am drawn so heavily into Douglas Campbell’s viewpoint. So that is why I am going to use my review and interaction with this passage as a way to show you why I accept this commentary as valid and the methodology of Runge as important.

Keep in mind, I’ve only seen the pre-publication copy. I cannot, thus, cite page numbers and will not directly cite Runge’s words. They may change during the final publication review.

Runge challenges me, but he doesn’t do it by stating, “the bible says.” Rather, Runge is showing how something is said and doing very little to add to Scripture. Indeed, even though we arrive at different conclusions, he raises points I had never seen before because, even though I pride myself on attempting to read this passage as deeply rhetorical, I still read it with a wooden structure.

For instance, what is the wrath of God revealed against? Here, Runge isn’t carefully crafting anything. There is nothing else but to show by refracting our vision to see Paul’s structure what is actually happening in this passage. Again, I don’t want to reveal too much, but I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this revealed in any critical Romans commentary. Why? Because Runge is revealing Paul’s structure and in doing so, he is revealing the central elements to Paul’s statements such as connecting words, pointing words, and framing language.

We do much the same thing when we diagram sentences in English. We strip away the pointers and other qualifiers to get to the heart of the sentence. Runge does the same thing. But in stripping away some of the elements Paul uses, he also strips away our patina, the glaze of our own theological stances, to reveal to us something we may be missing.

In the end, what Runge does in Romans 1.18-32 is to reveal Paul’s structure and then to help, ever so slightly, to define what is going on here. Yes, he and I arrive at different conclusions on this, but he has caused me to reconsider my already known and set-in-stone facts about this passage.

Another section that I think epitomizes Runge’s work on Romans is his reflection on Romans 3 after he has completed Romans 9. Other commentators often accuse Paul of having drifting thoughts. Yet, Runge shows this is not the case. In fact, I contend, the more so after reading this commentary, that Paul wants his readers to re-read Romans while they are reading it. What do I mean?

When Runge arrives to Romans 9, he is able to then refer back to Romans 3 based on the structure of Romans 9. We must assume, then, the audience after hearing Romans 9 (or rather, what is Romans 9) would immediately start to recall what had been said just a few minutes before (in Romans 3). This would then trigger their thought process to reprocess what they had heard up until that point because suddenly everything is making sense. Paul is not simply laying down a linear path, but writing as the sea billows wave — paths on top of each other.

Why would you need this book? In my opinion, every serious scholar and exegete (preaching or otherwise) needs this book. First, if you have the High Definition New Testament, you will finally get to see what Runge is doing. This is the High-Def NT in action. Second, this helps to understand Paul’s main point of Romans. I believe Stowers is correct, that this epistle is a protreptic forerunner; however, he did not have the structure laid so bare as to reveal why he felt this way. All he had was the common rhetorical clues and a good argument. Runge, while not intentionally following Stowers’ suggestion, helps to prove Paul’s thesis is one of introduction, of theology laid bare. While Stowers argues, Runge demonstrates.

A final word about Runge’s methodology. Often times, when discussing rhetoric or other structuring elements in a text, we are tempted to jump into Schweizer’s well. We see in that text more of ourselves and how we would structure something rather than allowing the ancient author his own pen. As much as I have tried, I do not see this in Runge’s work. Rather, I see a consistent methodology that only springs into a commentary. Of course Runge is operating within predetermined framework, but I do not believe this has led him to be biased against Paul’s natural structure. Rather, any reader of this commentary and Romans should be able to see how natural this commentary is based on Paul’s structure as suggested by Runge — and how natural Runge’s scaffolding is natural to the inherent Pauline text. You are not going to be told how to see it; Runge is simply pointing out important clues so that you will see what is already there.

There are other benefits to this book. In the Logos Bible Software platform, the publication will be accompanied with a plethora of teaching slides that are excellent for the classroom and the sanctuary. Further, it helps to truly bring the uniqueness of the High-def New Testament to light. It provides a clear process to follow in reading Romans. In other words, it doesn’t use a lot of confusing language to show you simply what is happening in the text. It doesn’t argue anything; rather, Runge states what he sees and tells you just a little about how this applies. As an added plus, Runge’s language helps the reader to understand the structure by carefully selected words such as “hinge,” “framing,” and “drawing out.”