Saturday, September 8, 2012

Finally - politics without religion [well almost]

    In the home of my childhood there were always two topics not discussed at the dinner table – politics and religion. My parents believed that those issues were of such a nature that honest discussion was impossible unless the speakers spoke with triteness or disrespect!
    Religion was very important in my parent’s personal lives. They were active members of their Lutheran parish – serving as teachers, ushers, trustees, guild members as well as hosting bible studies in our home. They made certain that my sister and I attended regularly so that as adults we could make informed decisions as to our future involvement!
     Politics was certainly important as to make voting mandatory! But my sister and I had to look for clues as to how they thought about specific issues. An occasional joke voiced when one would ask how they voted [my memory says it came more from my Mother] was that more often than not “Our votes cancelled each other out!” But to this day I really couldn’t state who the Democrat was and who the Republican! I could make a reasoned argument giving such a label to each of them over varied issues.
    Since the 1980s, however, religion has increasingly been inserted into politics. The efforts of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and others to organize the “Religious Right” into a solid voting bloc for the Republican Party have truly been game changing! Increasingly such efforts have identified in great detail the position that should be supported if voting as a “religious Person”!
    The negative consequences are well documented. Even the ancients knew there was danger in saying out loud the name of god. Our theologies have become poorer; our understanding of scripture has deteriorated; cooperation among varied clergy and parish groups is less; and, an increasing number of young adults have opted for what Bishop Spong has referred to as “The Christian Alumni Association”.
It was a pleasant surprise for me to read/hear that for the first time in decades the Democratic Party would: a] Not mention god in their platform; and, b] Not indicate that Jerusalem should be accepted as the capital of Israel!
    Unfortunately, by late Wednesday the party platform had re-inserted both of those items.
    Wow – wow!
    We appear to forget – our ancestors fled to these shores to escape governments significantly entangled with religions.
    We seem eager to forget that at times “religion” was used to support the denial of freedom to persons of color and persons of the female gender – and even to impose the death penalty on persons deemed to be witches!
    We appear unwilling to accept that we live in a pluralistic society in which there is no universal agreement re: god.
    And we especially strive to forget that the holy, sacred writings of all religions place a strong burden upon those who “have” to care for those who “have not”!

Oh well – maybe by 2016?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cars and Creeds become dated . . .

R.E. Olds actually began building cars before Henry Ford – and for many decades the Oldsmobile brand was an industry leader. In 1988 sales were poor – and the company introduced its new model with the tag line – “This is not your grandfather’s Oldsmobile”. That didn’t work and the final Oldsmobile rolled off the factory lot in April 2004. Nostalgia for what once was doesn’t work in today’s automotive world.

The Apostles Creed is certainly one of the oldest in Christendom, developed between the 2nd and 9th centuries. Pre-dating the Apostles Creed is, of course, the Nicene Creed, developed in 325 to battle the teachings of Arius. It experienced many re-workings over the centuries. The version most frequently in use today dates back to 1549!

While some may think reviewing the use/acceptance of cars and creeds odd – [even ludicrous?], factors in both have similarities:

·         Egos! The history of creeds and Christianity has clearly been impacted when egos clashed over interpretations, control issues, political battles, etc. Such is also true in the automotive history. Think Paul vs Peter, Athanasius vs Arius, Martin vs Leo; think Olds vs Ford, GM vs Toyota.

·         New knowledge!
          o   Autos
                §  Initially used heavy metals in manufacturing. Now & other lighter materials
                 §  Computers now handle timing, maintenance, cruise control, global positioning and a myriad of other aspects involved in driving an auto.
                 §  Environmental impact of burning fossil fuels [as well as cost increase] has led to newer means of propelling an automobile.
                §  Safety and comfort factors became more mandatory.
                §  Foreign manufacturers were able to compete successfully in all aspects of the auto
          o   Creeds
                §  Galileo and Copernicus revealed the earth is not the center of the universe. No longer can we postulate a “tiered” universe in which heaven is “up”, hell is “down”.
                 §  Newton forced us to recognize that this universe operates on certain laws which even God cannot suspend without dire results.
                 §  The discovery of ancient manuscripts reveal many other texts with significant claims to being considered as important as the Bible.
                §  Darwin’s work on the evolution of humanity reveals that creation is not “done”  but is still evolving; that while the Psalmist saw us as little lower than the angels, we are really only a little higher than animals; that it is even possible we could become extinct!
                 §  Freud’s work on the human psyche opened up the way humanity reacts when the reality of mortality confronts us: we create gods and myths, experience fear and anger, and come to feel guilt.
                §  Sputnik – and all the other works involving outer space – make us aware that our galaxy is only one of many; that the distances involved are trillions of miles; and creation is very, very old – long before Genesis 1!
                §  Our involvement with persons from other creeds/religions forces us to re-consider whether or not we can insist on the supremacy of Christianity.
                §  All these aspects need to be worked into our theologies [just as our ancestors had to do in their time].

The world of 2012 is much more than what our grandmothers and grandfathers knew. It’s time to up-grade our creeds!

Monday, August 13, 2012

WORDS . . . . .

Grocery-store-aisle conversations are frequently informative!  Such was the situation recently when I met a fellow member of my congregation. A professional man, he had been very active in the days I served as an Interim Pastor. He began our conversation – “I know you haven’t seen me very often recently…” Since my attendance has also been very infrequent, we quickly moved to grant our mutual words of assurance that we – personally – were still o.k. We are probably members of what Bishop John Shelby Spong calls the Church Alumni Association [Into The Whirlwind, p22, 1983; St. Johann Press].

My friend mentioned that a daughter had just graduated from a prestigious mid-western University with a major in linguistics. He further related that she now considered herself an atheist! Altho both of us felt some sadness, we also affirmed our understanding of her current stance. Within our family of 7 children [6 married] and 17 grand-children, the situation would not be greatly different. [While they might not claim to be atheist, many would be members of that Church Alumni Association!]

My sadness at the loss of my friend’s daughter to the church was also amplified as I reflected on her field of study – linguistics.  A noun, linguistics is “The study of the nature, structure, and variation of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics.” How critical such a person might be to an organization founded upon the “word become flesh”. We are an organization whose history is richly characterized by those who sought life’s meanings and answers through such studies. And, we are an organization critically in need of such persons willing to provide leadership in 2012 as we seek to relate that “Word” to modernity.

Think of the words used weekly in worship – words whose meanings in 2012 carry vastly different pictures than when they were first written:
·         I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
       o   Is an anthropomorphic God, especially singularly identified as masculine, appropriate for the 21st century?
    o   Is it helpful to continue describing our God as “Almighty”, when we more often see God as unable to change powers of destruction?
    o   Is it wise to continue to speak of a “heaven” and an “earth” [and, later, a “hell”] as if we believed in a tri-level universe? Now that we know there are multiple galaxies beyond ours, such language [at the least] is a major stumbling block for our youth.

There are similar challenges in the 2nd and 3rd articles of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the stories of miracles, the theological dicta predicated upon thoughts/beliefs/ideas we know are no longer valid, and much of our hymnody!

This is not to denigrate the value[s] of such. Think of how our ancestors – male and female – argued fervently to advance “words” that conveyed the Good News.

They knew that words were important!

Jesus also knew that how such words were understood was equally important – and open to change!
   Matthew 5:22-24: “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:  22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

It is not an easy challenge to engage in such study, debate, and dialogue. Indeed, it is scary because to do so asks one be willing to move forward trusting beyond what s/he can capture in their own minds, their own intellects, their own rationalities. It takes what Tillich referred to as a “leap of faith” – from a place we feel is secure [even though our minds inform us it is not] to an unknown place [one that our minds may not fathom, but which our belief can affirm is still with God!]

May we all be linguists – and let’s convene the Church Alumni Association!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


In 1955 the United Lutheran Church in America brought three young clergy before a Tribunal on charges of several heresies! The charges included denial of the virginity of Mary [they believed that it was not necessary for the divinity of Jesus]; the creedal statements suggesting a three-tiered universe [they argued that the church needed to move beyond the pre-Galileo/Copernicus struggles]; the physical ascension of Jesus [they argued that even Paul speaks more of a spiritual ascension]; and the efficacy of prayer [is prayer an attempt to change the mind of God or, in the act of praying, is the prayer changed?].

Seminaries convened their seniors to make certain that they would give correct answers when being examined for ordination. From today’s vantage point [57 years] I think few of us were even aware of the questions raised in/through these concerns.

·         We knew that “heaven” was not “up” and we knew that “hell” was not “down”. But being “out” in the universe was still moving from the comic strips – and “sputnik” was still a year or so away.

·         We knew that Paul talked much about “in-the-body” or “out-of-the-body” and that his Damascus road experience with Jesus was not a “physical” meeting.

·         We knew that the advances being made in psychology were radically altering our understanding of the “self” – and that in the act of praying one was affirming the “self” as dependent upon and lesser to the “Other”. Still, in 1955 [and for many subsequent decades] many of us believed that prayer was both an attempt to alter/change the mind of God and a practice that changed my “self”!

The clergy were George Crist Jr. (31), Victor Wrigley (36) and John Gerberding (33). Crist and Wrigley were adjudged as guilty. Gerberding was acquitted – but within a year he resigned from the roster. My attempts to learn more of their subsequent lives have been at fraught. Googling their names have been unsuccessful.

Such “anonymity” is unfortunate. Theological progress always comes out of the intense dialogues with those who raise questions about the status quo. Those discussions almost always identify “truths” which need to be altered due to advances of knowledge.

Unfortunately [albeit understandably] the victors would declare the losers as heretics. Excommunication, banishment from the community, even death were the usual punishments for the losers – and, most likely the arguments they proposed were also eradicated. (The Heresy Tribunal records are sealed in the ELCA archives until all parties are deceased.)

The term heresy is from Greek αἵρεσις originally meaning "choice". It also referred to that process whereby a person could examine various philosophies to determine how to live one's life. In light of the phenomenal knowledge changes experienced between 1955 and 2012 such a process ought to be mandatory:

·         Evolution is only a controversy within certain religious groups. For many today, life is involved in a continual creative process. History is replete with organisms that came into existence and then moved into non-existence. Our belief(s) in a Creator must move beyond an anthropomorphic tribal leader.

·         Prayer whose goal/aim is to thwart laws of nature [suspense of the law of gravity so the vase won’t break!] or to gain while another loses [my team or my army or my political party] or to seek healing as if an angry or vengeful god must be assuaged so as to grant mercy – such prayers challenge all that my 21st century rational mind believes! I do believe there is a power in/with prayer – but such exists only through hard, focused effort.

·         “Truths” are all relative! That’s scary. There is not any field of life that has not been impacted by having its “truth” declared invalid. All have experienced it. We need to live in that paradox. Live in it – and help our people know that life can still have love and hope.

It would be exciting to visit with Crist, Wrigley and Gerberding and to continue their quest. Life in 2012 has moved light years beyond 1955. We need to capture the original sense of the word “heresy” so as to consider choices more reflective of what is known today!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Washington Post Editorial writer Charles Lane wrote in the March 12th issue: I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of war.

Lane’s article chronicled many of the many ways in which our Nation uses the words – “War on…”.
  *  We have a War on Cancer [begun in 1971 under President Nixon [he also gave us the War on Drugs];
  * We have the War on Heart Disease, the War on Breast Cancer, the War on Alzheimer’s, and the War on Childhood Obesity. President Johnson gave us the War on Poverty and we have added the War on Hunger.

The real biggie is the War on Terror begun about a month after 9/11. Increasingly the “War on...” metaphor is used to describe almost every political disagreement. Democrats accuse Republicans of waging War on Women and on Science and on Working Families or Seniors. Republicans accuse Democrats/Obama of waging War on Energy, Freedom of Religion – Article I of the Bill of Rights, Capitalism and/or Free Market system – and the real biggie, War on our Culture!

The war metaphor is also no stranger to religion. Historically, as we know, the various religions didn’t just wage war as a metaphor – but as real wars. In recent decades there are the “worship wars” and the “battle for the Bible”. There are accusations of a War on Christmas or other religious festivals.

James F. Childress [Prof. of Religious Studies at Univ. of Virginia & was appointed to National Bioethics Advisory Commission] made this observation: “In debating social policy through the language of war. We often forget the moral reality of war. Among other lapses, we forget important moral limits in real war—both limited objectives and limit means. In short, we forget the just-war tradition, with its moral conditions for resorting to and waging war. We are tempted by seedy realism, with its doctrine that might makes right, or we are tempted by an equally dangerous mentality of crusade or holy war, with its doctrine that right makes might of any kind acceptable. In either case, we neglect such constraints as right intention, discrimination, and proportionality, which protect the humanity of all parties in war. [The Leader’s Imperative: Ethics, Integrity and Responsibility; ed. Carl Ficarrotta; Purdue Univ. Press; 2002]

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson wrote a book, Metaphors We Live By, [1980]. They carefully explain that “metaphors” are not just derivative “of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish” and that they are “pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action.” They go on to explain that “the concepts that govern our though are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities…then the way we think is what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.

Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind – Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion - 2012, powerfully supports Lakoff and Johnson as to how we make moral judgments! I have always been a strong supporter of Rousseau – Cogito, Ergo Sum [I think, therefore I am] – and that rational people would realize the “war on…” was just a metaphor!

Haidt, in his book, details how I should believe in Sensei, Ergo Sum [I feel, therefor I am]. In those various “War on…” both sides enter conversation/dialogue/argument buttressed with solid/good data – and painfully fail to change each other!

And, if these were just casual issues there might be no consequence other than disagreement about which team is better or what color is sand!

But, in the quote above these metaphors play a central role in defining our everyday realities…
·         How else can we explain how a man, active in his religious life, could feel justified in killing a doctor who performed abortions?
·         How else explain how an entire State legislature could even consider, let alone pass, a law making it legal if you kill anyone performing an abortion?
·         How could some, including an elected Federal official, reject Global Climate Change because In the Old Testament God said he would never destroy the earth again as with the flood!

Doug Pinkham, President of the Public Affairs Council put it very nicely:
It’s time for rhetorical disarmament. No more metaphoric wars, battles, fights or clashes. We can still have lively debates, heated discussions and arguments, but let’s stop demonizing one another. When it comes to language, this country needs an anti-war movement — and I already have a bumper sticker in mind, courtesy of John Lennon:
All we are saying is give peace a chance.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rights, Religion and Corporations – Part 2

The first posting on this subject indicated that allocating “rights” to corporations has been a struggle since our nation’s founding! While many came to these shores seeking escape from control by large corporations [large government, large religious bodies, large businesses], there have always been temptations to cede certain ‘rights’ – especially in times of crisis.·         Lincoln, in need of assistance transporting war supplies during the Civil War, gave railroads rights of land ownership et al. This forced our government subsequently to sue the railroads to take some of those cessions back!
·         Similar grants were made when we wished railroads to open the west; when we needed manufacturing to move fast as we entered World War II; when we took on the challenge to send a man to the moon.
·         Cessions were also made when we allowed Congress to relax the rules which protected us from the avarice of large corporations or when the Court allowed corporations to dominate the electoral process.

What, though, are the issues that arise when we grant “corporate status” to denominations, parishes,  synagogues or mosques? Are those issues compounded when those religious institutions seek to assume rights normally reserved for individuals?
A.     Since “corporate status” is granted by the government [usually the state], might this open the door to state control?  Would that concern be eliminated by the first Right – the freedom from any legislation that would impact religious belief or practice?
While most voices proclaim such to be true, history is less affirmative! When the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints [now ‘Mormon’] settled in the Utah Territory they had hoped to escape from political persecutions for their beliefs. However, when the Federal government outlawed polygamy they faced serious consequences. Until they complied, their lands and temples were at risk of seizure and their citizens at risk of trial for bigamy. Finally, a “revelation from God’ enabled them to change their belief system.  [Interestingly, Congress privately assured the Roman Catholic Church that nothing similar would be done to them!]
Society’s efforts to “level” disparities in gender situations [equal pay for equal work], employment and adoption situations [limiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation], education [seeking to mandate a basic level of required education], etc. have frequently encountered opposition from certain religious groups claiming there was “no compelling interest’ of the part of government to force certain behaviors upon them.
B.     What criteria should be employed to determine an organization’s not-for-profit status?  A recent case in Illinois determined that a religious-affiliated hospital did not provide sufficient charity for exemption  from property taxes! Does every “house of worship” contribute sufficiently to the public good so as to warrant similar property tax relief?
C.     How might society protect herself from a very large religious corporation imposing beliefs upon non-members as well?  Various religious organizations with considerable wealth have attempted to force such impositions - seeking exemptions for gender bias, sexual preference bias. Permission is also sought to exert such pressures as needed to force legislation that would make certain practices illegal [abortion is but one of these] or would curtail others [teaching the validity about evolution, climate control, etc.].
Few [certainly not I] wish to allow government to disregard the first amendment. Yet, one must admit that life in the 21st century is radically different from the 18th century:

ü  We know much more regarding space, creation processes, human growth & development.

ü  We have become a much more diverse population – religiously, economically, culturaly.

ü  We live in a much larger global “society” and are impacted by what others believe and do.

ü  Denominationalism has grown to where it is no longer possible [if it ever truly was] to claim that this or that behavior is “the Christian” or “the Jewish” or “the Muslim” thing to do!

Might we not seek more avenues for discussion so that we are not only free from any Government impositions on our practice of religion – but also from any religion’s impositions on our freedom from those religious practices about which we differ?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


National and local discussions in re: requirement by the Health and Human Services agency that all health insurance plans provide birth control, raise challenging questions. These questions and issues would include:

1.   Does the Bill of Rights pertain to corporations as well as individuals? If yes, implications?

2.   What are issues if we identify Church as a corporation?

Initially I thought one posting of SYNERGY would be sufficient to reflect on both questions/issues. However, it became apparent that such would be too superficial& simplistic. Thus, I will be addressing them in multiple postings.

Challenge 1 Does the Bill of Rights pertain to corporations as well as individuals?

It is very likely that the folks founding our nation would not have assumed such pertinence. Major factors

in leaving Europe and in seeking independence from Great Britain were to assert the inalienable” rights of the individual person against large power groups i.e. church, government, business. Inalienable” means that such rights” are incapable of being transferred to another [Random House Dictionary of the English Language].

Thom Hartmann, author of Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, said that the extraordinary experiment that was the basis of American democracy in a constitutionally limited republic was to flip the historic manner of control upside down! That is large institutions had “rights”; the common people only had “privileges which could “be revoked more-or-less at will by the holders of he rights”.

Thats what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights did. Only humans could hold rights – all others [e.g. institutions] only had privileges. Further, in the first 100 years of our nation corporations could only exist for

40 years so as to prevent accumulation of such wealth as to enable them to control persons. Further, their very first purpose for existence was to serve the public! The second porpoise was to make money. Their books were to be open for inspection and their leaders could be held liable for crimes committed by the corporation.

That legal doctrine held until the end of the 18th century.

A second reason as to why the founders might not have accorded rights to corporations/large institutions was their scarcity. At the time of Independence there were only seven [7] chartered businesses – and the first

purely American industrial corporation, the Boston Manufacturing Company, was established in 1813!

However, the definite trend in our nation is to grant such rights! Nike and Sinclair Broadcasting have asserted they have First Amendment rights of free speech; Dow Chemical asserted it has Fourth Amendment privacy rights so as to refuse permission for the EPA to have surprise inspections re: pollution; J.C. Penney asserted Fourteenth Amendment rights; tobacco & asbestos companies assert Fifth Amendment rights to keep secret aspects of their products which are harmful. All but Nike were successful!

Today, legislatures and courts routinely affirm that [to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney] “corporations are people”.

Thus, the assertion by Roman Catholic Bishops and certain Evangelical groups that the demand to include birth control coverage in their health care plans violated their First Amendment Right that government shall pass no law impinging on the freedom of religion – is reflective of present-day legal reality in this nation.

The people who fled Europe sought religious freedom from the perceived tyranny of large institutions. And, the Boston Tea Party was actually a rebellion against a tax break for the East India Company They were not fighting against a tax “increase – but a decrease” which gave it an advantage over smaller shops and businesses! Thus, it was a rebellion against restoring greater control to large corporations.

That largeness or growth” hightlights the most dangerous implication when we grant personhood’ to corporations!. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights stress the importance of equality for this American experiment to work. While each of us must deal with our humanity, corporations can live for generations. Their size – now spanning many nations makes it extremely difficult for an individual to do battle. Corporations can out-spend us in campaign financing as well as election campaigns; they can employ countless attorneys to keep us at bay; and, serve such importance in jobs that few wish to upset the balance which keeps our neighbors at work!

This need for equality has always been a struggle. It is a struggle for Justice. And we dare not relax!