This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Celtic.

I have been interested in Celtic Christianity for a long time.  Over a thousand years ago these amazing Christians gave us powerful models of how to follow Jesus, respect creation, do faithful scholarship, spread the good news, build communities, and deepen our spirituality.  For those frustrated by the standard Western — Catholic and Protestant — ways of doing theology and church, discovering these remarkable Christians is an astonishing and life-giving revelation.  
But Celtic Christianity has to move beyond a kind of romantic immersion in the  ways of 7th century Irish monastics.  As important as it is to learn about them, we have to do more than merely transplant some “Celtic” music and language styles into our worship.  There is a huge gap between the final dying out of a distinctively Celtic Christianity in the 12th century and now.  We have no ongoing tradition to connect with.  What might a fuller Celtic approach to faith look like today?  
The word in Greek, Keltoi, refers to the peoples who lived mainly to the north and west of the “civilized,” that is, Mediterranean, world.  Keltoi more or less meant “barbarian,” “foreigner,” and “other.”  Might we not, therefore, use the word “Celtic” today to talk about theology and spirituality outside the boundaries, margins, fringes, and control of the centralized powers of the world?  Might Celtic not be a way to embrace a non-imperialist, indigenous way of being Christian?    
Celts do actually show up in the New Testament.  Rome fought a protracted war with these people; Celts even sacked Rome in 390 BCE.  The Romans called them Galatai, or “Galatians.”  When the Romans finally prevailed, they published a lot of propaganda across the Empire denigrating and mocking the defeated Galatai.  The people of Galatia, in central Anatolia, were members of Celtic tribes whose ancestors migrated across the Black Sea.  Indeed, the Apostle Paul probably extended his ministry to that region intentionally to take advantage of the people’s famous hatred for Rome.  He expected the message about a Judean man whom Rome crucified for sedition, but who then didn’t stay dead, thus exposing Rome’s powerlessness, to resonate with them.  And it did.
So add to the outsider identity the fact that they were defeated by the Empire, and we have a model for what it might mean to talk about being “Celtic” today.  I am suggesting that “Celtic” may be a way to describe a Christianity of the vanquished, indigenous, marginalized, exploited, and disenfranchised peoples of the world.  Celtic Christianity looks at things from the perspective of the people at the bottom, the ones who do the work and are victimized by the wealthy and powerful.
Actually, as we see in Mary’s hymn and in Jesus’ whole approach to his mission, this preferential option for the poor is the foundation of Christianity generally.  Hopefully, the attention we give to the Celtic Christianity of long ago will lead us to a better appreciation of how we need to be a church of the marginalized in our own time.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

OVT-050.


There is an overture to the PCUSA General Assembly from the Presbytery of New York City that expresses our complicity and remorse as a denomination for the persecution and victimization over the years of Gay and Lesbian people.  I believe it is an attempt to spark a process of reconciliation.  I believe it is an honest and heartfelt initiative intended to do a good thing.  I favor the principle of such a confession.  
In its present form, however, it doesn’t do anything like that.
This is because, unfortunately, it has to accommodate itself to, and make its way through, our parliamentary process, which is emphatically not designed for reconciliation.  Rather, our process, basically Robert’s Rules of Order (“RONR”), is more about artificially dividing a group into two adversarial parties and pressing towards an up or down decision by majority vote.  This process turns such an overture against itself, rendering it not about reconciliation at all, but a tool of antagonism, hostility, and division.  Using RONR to do reconciliation is like trying to cultivate flowers with a lawnmower. 
Now, I have been on the progressive side of this set of issues my whole career.  I always advocated and voted for inclusion and equality.  But I have to oppose this initiative.  In its present form it serves mainly to rub salt in the wounds of those who lost the 40 year ecclesiastical war over Gays in the church.  Rather than express love for those LGBT people whom we victimized and ask them and God for forgiveness, due to the RONR format, this overture comes across as self-righteous posturing by a smug and victorious majority.  It feels just plain mean.  It is not an adequate answer to centuries of meanness against LGBT people. 
We really do need to begin a process of truth and reconciliation.  But we will need to do it by means of some better process than RONR.  Using that process has left us crippled, polarized, and splitting apart already.  Healing those who were abused will have to include healing all of us from a fundamentally and intentionally abusive parliamentary process.  In short, we cannot use an inherently violent and antagonistic process to accomplish a reconciliatory task.

  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Give Us a King."

In 1 Samuel 8:4-18, the people of Israel clamor for a king.  The prophet Samuel reminds them that God is their king.  But this isn’t good enough for the people.  They want a human king so they can be like the other nations.

Here we meet the most perverse and rotten core of human ego-centricity: the desire to give up our freedom and turn our responsibility over to a Leader.  The German word for “leader” is most appropriate here: Fuehrer.  

There is in many of us a strong vein of authoritarianism.  That is, we value conformity, crave order, want to protect social norms and traditions, and are suspicious of outsiders.  When we are convinced to perceive some kind of threat, we are particularly hysterical about this.  And authoritarian leaders usually insist there is some kind of threat.

God spits out a warning to the people concerning exactly what they are bringing down on themselves.  It is a catalogue of abuse and exploitation that ends with God saying: “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

In other words, God says: “If you in your fear and anger insist on placing over yourselves an authoritarian Fuehrer, you’re on your own.  I will not save you.  You will have to suffer through to the end.  Only then, when you have fully experienced the dregs of destruction you have chosen to bring down on yourselves, will I relate to you again.”  After their 12-year infatuation with a strong leader, Germany was reduced to a pile of smoking ruins.     

The consequences of “strong leaders” are massive and catastrophic.  The Bible knows this.  That’s why strong leaders are generally viewed with disgust and aversion.  Think of Pharaoh, the prototypical strong leader who drives the Israelites into slavery, and brings ecological disasters down on Egypt.  Think of almost all the kings of Israel and Judah, those strong leaders whose self-serving corruption destroyed the people and sent them into exile.  Think of the emperors of Assyria and Babylon, who used the terror of gratuitous mass murder for conquest.  Think of Antiochus Epiphanies.  Think of Pontius Pilate.  Even when a strong leader does emerge who receives a generally good grade, they usually have some fatal hubristic flaw for which the people have to pay dearly, like David and Solomon.  

God hates strong leaders.  Clearly.  God gives the people a system that diffuses leadership among landless priests and local elders.  Leadership in the church begins and ends with Jesus Christ; politics in the church begins and ends with discerning his will.  The New Testament knows nothing of strong leaders, only good and persuasive examples of discipleship.