Saturday, October 31, 2009


I have been an American Baptist since seminary in the mid 70's. I am committed to the Baptist understanding of the church in what I would call, its best expressions. At the same time, I have little hope for the denomination... for any of the denominations.

Here's a fun video made about the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America but with a few changes in text it certainly could apply to the ABC or to any other current denomination.

We spend soooo much time fighting over issues, writing reports, and forming committees, all the while forgetting to do real ministry or even to take prophetic stands. I worry that none of the mainline churches will make it through the next century.

I don't have any more hope for the fundamentalists, evangelicals, or megachurch movements. They spend too much time and energy on what they perceive to be hot sins and fighting against positive changes in culture, often dress the gospel in the dress of self-help, and in any cases have bought int the most pernicious parts of the current culture - faith as a consumer product, that I don't expect they will make it through the century either.

A few years ago I had hope for the emerging church. I saw a bunch of fearless, committed, young men and women struggling with post modern questions while at the same time being committed to hands on mission in their contexts. They were neither conservatives nor liberals, but had by-passed those energy wasting battles. And they were starting little churches, mostly in urban neighborhoods, and getting on with the work of the church. Unfortunately, the movement seems to have taken a serious turn to the right. Most of the true post-moderns have given up on any institutional expressions of faith. Like many young adults, they seem to have been a bit impatient and overly optimistic about their little movement. It didn't change the world and they got frustrated and gave up or the realities of institutional life were too much. In the meantime, the face of the emerging church has been co-opted by the mega-church movement who treat it as one more franchise through which they can sell a old fashioned conservative gospel. Add some tables, get a bit artsy fartsy, play some techno in the background and maybe even have some litanies from the 12th century church and images of celtic crosses and you can catch a few college students and get them saved and teach them about the evils of homosexuality, women's rights, abortion, etc. It ain't the same movement, friends.

I want to have hope. I am still committed to the institution of the "church," indeed, I don't think it is possible to be a follower of Jesus outside of a community of faith worshiping, serving, and struggling together. I want to have hope... more later.

Friday, October 09, 2009

what's good for the goose

I am absolutely and completely against organizations or corporations defrauding the government. I don't know enough about the complaints against ACORN to have an opinion as to whether they are justified or not. I know there is a lot of ideological stuff going on, but that doesn't tell us anything about the conduct of ACORN.

We do know, beyond a doubt, that a number of large corporations have defrauded the people of the United States. A number were even prosecuted by the Bush administration, not an administration known for being anti-large corporations. Why not hold them to at least the standard being proposed for ACORN. If a company defrauds the government, they are no longer eligible to receive government contracts.

political contributions

Here's a very interesting page with some useful graphics that show how different companies contribute to the Democratic and/or Republican parties.

It will help me decide how I spend my money.

Monday, October 05, 2009

More about being Biblical

I have read that Christianity is the only major religion where the scriptures do not need to be read in the language of the founder. Think of Islam as an example. The Koran is only the word of Allah if it is read in Arabic... and indeed, it should be read aloud to be it's holiest. If it is translated into English or any other language, it is no longer the unadulterated Word of Allah.

That makes sense to me. Language is a way of conceptualizing the universe. The structure of the language both describes the universe and defines the way the individual can experience it. Last year I even heard a story on NPR about disappearing languages that mentioned a language that counts in both base 12 and base 20. Living in a culture that sees numbers in base 10, I automatically translate that idea into one that is completely foreign to them... or am just puzzled that "they" don't see the universe as it really is... base 10.

The semantic range of a word almost never exactly corresponds from one language to another. There is a reference that many pastors have on their shelves called The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament which tries to take important words in the Bible and show their semantic range. The word we translate as "salvation" from the Greek has an article some 70 pages long, explaining what it meant to those who used that term and thought in the original language. And you thought the Amplified Bible was tedious? The Muslims know, and rightly so, that once you translate the text is is not and cannot be the same. Translation requires interpretation. Let me give an example of that. There is a Greek word that is often translated servant - "diaconos." In the early church the term became a technical term, referring to a church officer. We transliterated it to "deacon." When translating, any time the translator comes across that word, s/he has to decide whether the word is referring to a servant or to a church officer. The translators of the KJV had a theological position that helped them. "Women cannot be deacons," they thought, so any time the word clearly referred to a woman, they always translated it as "servant." Their theology dictated the translation.

There were theological decisions made regarding which books would be included and which left out of the Bible. And different traditions disagreed as to which books belonged in which categories.

Finally, even if we agree which books are in and which are out and can make a "perfect" translation, we have literally thousands of manuscripts of the scriptural texts which often do not agree with one another. Those who say that the scriptures are "inerrant in their original autographs" are simply hedging their bets... they want to make a theological statement but it is meaningless. We do not and never will have the original autographs. Some fundamentalists have seen this for what it is and claim that God would not allow us to not have an inerrant word... so it must be the KJV!

OK, so what does this say to those of us who want to be "Biblical?" It tells us that the Christian scriptures are not documents written by the finger of God on stone. They are living words, meant to wrestled with in the context of the community of faith. They are not, God's instruction manual for human beings. They are the history of God's people struggling with their experience of God and trying to live lives of authentic faith in their times and cultures, reflecting both the best and the worst of human nature.

So, do I believe the Bible is true? Absolutely. Do I believe it is historical? Sometimes, but usually I think that is an irrelevant question. Do I believe it is inspired of/by God? Absolutely, but that never means dictated by God. Do I believe the Bible is central to Christian faith? Absolutely, but the Bible is not the object of our faith or devotion, that is Jesus, the Word.

pass it on

then read Paul Krugman's editorial on the politics of spite...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Are we a "Biblical" church?

this is a slightly edited version of a short article I just wrote for our church newsletter, also called Thin Places.

Is Cambridge Drive Community Church a Bible believing church? That is a question that is often asked, but it usually carries with it considerable baggage. Generally, the question really being asked is something like, "Are you fundamentalists?" or "Do you take the Bible literally?" or possibly, "Are you conservative, like me?" or "Does your pastor use lot of proof texts in his sermons?" or maybe even, "Do you read the King James Version of the Bible?"

When we were visiting Phoenix some time back and looking for a church to attend, we came across the Shadow Rock UCC Church that addressed this question in a way that inspired me. They answered, "We take the Bible seriously but not literally." I think that is a good start, but I want to go a bit further. Taking the Bible literally is not being Biblical. Indeed, I have never met anyone who takes the entire thing literally - check out the wonderful book, The Year of Living Biblically to see what I mean. So to make that claim is to be dishonest at the start. Worse than that, it does violence to the text of the scripture. The Bible is composed of a wide variety of types of literature, written in different times, for different purposes, to different audiences, in different languages that reflect different paradigms of reality. We live in a very different world from theirs and face wildly different issues. Indeed, through the centuries covered by the Biblical text, the writers reflected different cultures and times and issues and answered them in ways that were often contradictory. To be "Biblical" requires that we take all of this into account when we come to the text and form our faith.

So, what does it mean to be a Bible believing church? First, we must look at the scripture for what it is. We do not believe that our scripture was lowered from heaven on a golden cord nor do we believe that a founder discovered golden tablets hidden under a stone which were translated by an angel. We don't believe that God dictated each word to a scribe who copied what he or she wrote. We have a scripture that reflects the differing experiences of men and women through the centuries, wrestling with faith in their contexts, and sharing their experiences. We have a scripture that includes a wide variety of types of literature which are meant to be handled and understood in different ways. And as Howard Moody, pastor emeritus of Judson Memorial Church in NYC, reminds us, the Bible is not the Word of God... Jesus is.

We must remember that truth and historicity are not the same. Whether or not a story took place the way it is reported has little to do with the truth embedded in that story.

Harry Emerson Fosdick spoke of the effective preacher having a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. It is a good metaphor for the task of Biblical interpretation (and we always interpret the Bible - just translating it requires interpretation). It is not enough to even understand all of the setting of the scripture, the original intent of the authors, or the message that was conveyed to the original hearers. We must also ask the question, "how does this word translate to our situation?" knowing that answer may be different today than it was 10 years ago and is likely different than it was 2000 years ago.

So, is CDCC a Biblical church? I hope so... Unfortunately, many of those that claim to be are anything but...

Thursday, October 01, 2009


A judge ruled a short while ago that the the US tortured a man whom they knew was innocent but tortured him anyway so they could justify what they had already done.

This action cries out for justice and for anyone involved to be prosecuted.

You can read the entire story here and the actual judgment is here.

I am ashamed that my country participated in this and continues to cover it up...

what is success

When we visited England some years back, thoughtful folk were concerned about some changes they were seeing in their society. Being "on the dole" was a common experience. Jobs were not always easy to find and many people ended up on public assistance at one time or another. For working class people, it was seen as a part of life. Then, US television began to change the image. A person without a job wasn't in that situation because of social forces, they were there because they were lazy. And new tension began to rise and people began to see themselves and one another in very dysfunctional ways.

The reality is that even in the US economy we need to have a certain number of people unemployed for the system to work as it is designed to work. If nobody is looking for a job, productivity goes down, wages go up, and workers' demands increase. But we still bame people for fulfilling a role that we require somebody to fulfill!

this wonderful talk on Ted by Alain de Botton helps us to think a little more about the way we see one another and the way we see ourselves as we look for a kinder and gentler view of success...

Don't fix it?

I've been more attuned to health care recently and have been seeing more disasters. Three quick stories that have taken place in the last couple of months. I'll leave the names out but all three are people I know.

1. a care giver to an elderly woman dropped dead one day. She developed an abscess from a bad tooth. Because of no insurance, she took pain killers and waited. The infection spread to her brain and she died.

2. A young single mother of 2, found a lump in her breast. She works full time in a chain restaurant and has no insurance and no spare cash. Still she was worried enough to scrape together enough to see a physician who sent her straight to an oncologist who felt it was likely cancer and she needed surgery immediately. She went to a surgeon who told her what it would cost and told her to come back when she could pay the bill.

3. a young man, working day jobs and receiving a room in a house in return for work around the property was riding his scooter and hit by a woman in an SUV. He broke both legs and a hip in addition to being pretty generally bruised. In spite of no insurance, the hospital did the surgery on the hip and treated him, allowing him to stay a day longer than would have been typical... because without being able to work, he had lost his place to live. And even though he will likely receive an insurance settlement from the driver's company, no physical therapy facilities will take him without paying up front. Being a young single man, who used to be able bodied, he is not eligible for any government help. He was driven by a friend from the hospital to a county clinic to get pain killers and then to a homeless shelter in his wheel chair. There he had to prove to them that he could get out of the wheel chair to use the bathroom before they would accept him. Presumably, if he couldn't, they would have left him in his wheel chair on the sidewalk.

Yeah... leave the system as it is. Don't fix it. It is too late for these three and for the 45,000 deaths each year due to lack of health insurance. But don't fix it for the 45,000 who will die next year and the year after that...