Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Church Confessing? To what?

The Diaspora is a “Journal of the Missions and Faith Communities that have evolved from the Church of the Savior” located in our nation’s capitol. A lead article in the Summer 2008 had this to say.

The famous German leader, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, came back to his homeland [from the US where he was safe] at the request of some in the German church who saw the awful rise to evil power of Hitler and his minions. He and they struggled to bring into being what he called the ‘confessing church’ to recall the biblical prophetic challenges to the wrongs they perceived in the state. Also to confess that the church had been quiet too long in coming to grips with this issue. “A time comes when silence is betrayal” is the way Dr. Martin Luther King put it.

In addressing this issue, Bonhoeffer asked “are we still of any use?” The same question must be asked of today’s churches. In his efforts to be faithful, Bonhoeffer was arrested, and died in prison before the end of WW II. If the institutional churches cannot speak out against torture and unnecessary war, what good is it to have pulpits? The elements of atrocity, manipulation, and indifference add up to a spiritual crisis.

In his response to my previous blog, Hubbie shared the quote from Judaism: “…anger at the sight of wrong done is holy. If the anger kindles into passion, it will become conducive to strife.” He later adds: “perhaps what that quote means is that anger can be a good thing, but that you need to wait to act upon that anger until it has matured into reasoned action rather than raw passion.” [Emphasis is mine.]

One of our tasks as preachers is to assist in the maturation of anger into reasoned action. We lead our people in prayer, often highlighting the evils in our world. We will be guiding our people in the ELCA initiative Book of Faith, a five year process with the goal of heightening the awareness of Lutherans regards Scriptures.

Each of the above are ways for the maturation of anger. However – the pulpit is a vital element that we must not waste! The maturation of anger requires that our anger be identified, made relevant, and defined as our response to wrongs.
  • It was/is wrong to manufacture evidence to support a war against the sovereign people of Iraq.
  • It was/is wrong to torture.
  • It was/is wrong to direct so much of our budget towards that war, while allowing our neighbors to go hungry.
“Are we still of any use?”, to ask the question of Bonhoeffer. Is our silence “betrayal” ala MLK?
Speaking out from the pulpit can be a scary action for any preacher. That fear, however, can be assuaged when we know we are not alone. When our sisters and brothers in other pulpits are also speaking out.

Seems to me a fairly strong rationale for joining colleagues in the weekly scripture studies!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

ANGER Revisited

A colleague/friend [thanks, Hub] commented that my previous Blog about anger might well leave folks the thought that I was saying/implying that anger is either bad or wrong. To whatever degree his observations are correct, I apologize.

ANGER is a gift with which we are created! Placing any moral judgment on it is extremely inappropiate - as it would be to so judge breathing or hunger or any other natural aspect of our created selves.

ANGER's purpose is very basic - protection. Watch a newborn baby. If hungry or suffering from wet diaper or being hurt - the baby's anger is automatically activated. As a newborn this gets commuicated with a lusty howl, a red face, and extreme action. No one claims that such reaction is "wrong". [Uncomfortable, perhaps, for the care-giver - but not wrong!]

ANGER, however, that is NOT acted upon - and as I said in the Blog is "nurtured" - opens the door to becoming a victim.

And VICTIMHOOD is a deadly state of being.

Vicktor Frankl, in his book "From Death Camp to Existentialism", told the story of a Jew incarcerated in one of the death camps of WW II. As he was being marched towards the gas house the prisoner said to the guard: "You're not taking my life. I'm giving it to you!"
This made the guard furious. One of those "No you're not!" / "Yes I am!" type exchanges took place.

Finally, the guard pulled the prisoner out of line and sent him back to the camp!
Frankl pointed out the man's refusal to being a victim. He was able to utilize his anger to claim, even in the face of being killed, that he was a human being with the ability to decide how he would die.

(Frankl's book, incidentally, might be a good place to begin our dialogues with out Jewish friends as we seek answers to the conflicts with the Palestinians. Has the Holocaust become more a source of maintaining "victimhood" rather than a call to action?)

The changes that need to occur in our nation these next months, regardless of whom is elected, will provoke many feelings - fear and anger amongst the most dominate. We in the churches, synagogues and mosques need to remind our people that "feelings" are not sinful. The issues are always what we do with them. Let us help them explore ways to use their feelings as "calls to action" rather than invitations to being victims.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Preachers, Prophets and Polemics

Throughout history prophets and preachers have made direct references to requests for The Divine to cause ruin and destruction on peoples deemed to be living and/or acting in ways contrary to the Commandments of The Divine. There are even instances of The Divine making such pronouncements.
“God saw that human evil was out of control…God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep.” [Genesis 6:5-7]
“Here’s what will happen if you don’t obediently listen to the commandments and guidelines that I am commanding you today. All these curses will come down hard on you:
- God’s curse in the city.
- God’s curse in the country
- God’s curse on your basket and bread bowl
- God’s curse on your children, the crops of your land, the young of your livestock, the calves of your herds, the lambs of your flocks.
- God’s curse in your coming in,
- God’s curse in your going out.” [Deuteronomy 28:13-19]
“This is a Message that the God of Israel gave me; “Take this cup filled with wine of my wrath that I’m handing to you. Make all the nations where I send you drink it down. They’ll drink it and get drunk, staggering in delirium because of the killing that I’m going to unleash among them.” [Jeremiah 25:15-16]
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” [Matthew 23:27-28]
There are similar examples from most of the great religious leaders of history. That is what
Prophets and preachers do. Sometimes they are on target. Often they are not. But they serve a
passionate God – and passion has to be part of their assets.
Why then are so many seemingly scandalized by Barack Obama’s pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright? He is a black man who served his country as a Marine. He is a servant of God, ministering to thousands of women and men, adults and children, who daily experience the consequences of centuries of racial segregation, bias and opprobrium.
In that context, it is not a challenge to understand Pastor Weight’s rhetoric. How dare we ask our black brothers and sisters to serve their country, endure the many ways of racial bias that rule in our society - and then join in saying “God bless America!” Does it not make greater sense to hear him, as a modern Jeremiah, proclaim “God damn America”?
We can use his remarks as an excuse to reject Barack Obama. But such use, at the least, suggests we are hypocrites- and, at the worst, racists.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Palm/Passion Sunday and Eliot Spitzer

This week's Pericope study focused on the Palm Sunday-Passion dichotomy - and the usual comments on the fickleness of the "crowd". On Sunday they welcomed Jesus and wanted healing & life - and, by Friday they wanted his life.
On my way home, listening to NPR, the discussions were on the radical "fall from grace" of Eliot Spitzer. Hailed as the "Sheriff of Wall Street" and now vilified as a "john" - a user of high priced prostitutes.
One of the NPR discussants talked about the trouble humans have with heroes who are not perfect. As soon as any crack in the persona is identified the crowd shouts "crucify him".
This is not to suggest that Jesus fell from grace because he used a Call Girl business! But, the crowd turned on him because he failed to fulfill "their" agenda.
As Lutheran Christians we affirm that, by nature, we are sinful; we agree with Paul when he claims that he too often does the bad he wants to avoid.
An affirmation and an agreement easily forgotten when judging others.
Perhaps some reference to the Spitzer saga will aid some folks in attendance this Sunday see that our observance is not just a "nice" trip down memory lane!
We're really not any different than the crowds in Jerusalem during that fateful Passover.