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Blogging my thoughts

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Note to my readers. I figure that I’ll continue with some short blogging here, because many of you are opening this page.

June 1, 2016

March 29, 2016

“It’s Better that One Die for the People than that all the People Perish.”

October 14, 2015

Blogging my thoughts: Binding the Strong Man

January 6, 2015 Epiphany

Blogging my thoughts: All lives matter

December 20, 2014

Since President Obama normalized relations with Cuba, what came to my mind again is the strange way in which socialism is conservative and capitalism (in part) detrimentally revolutionary. Helmut Gollwitzer  wrote the book, The Capitalist Revolution, where I think he had a real point. But because of Karl Marx’s joining the political and economic systems, (which Habermas has now separated, also including the life-world), the political dictatorships have made socialist countries lose their  foothold in history, much like the Mennonites and Amish, who in contrast with socialism, do not compete, but consciously reject the sky-is-the-limit progress. It is very hard for an individual to choose the simple life. How much more when it is imposed on a collective people. But a more simple life may be what the human future requires – when you think of the environmental benefits that Cuba represents for its animals and ecosystems along its sea shore that hordes of tourists no doubt will threaten and set back. But what socialism and the Amish, for example, calling for a more simple and restrained collective life, can’t hold up is the problematical aspirations of the human heart. Humanly induced catastrophic natural disasters, with which our progress is now colliding, may well force that more simple life on us.

It seems that only  socialist countries have been able to curb corporate capitalism, but it has been at too great a cost to that segment of humanity, especially when coupled with the lack of individual freedom, that human beings cannot do without. Reading Nicholas Berdyaev, I came to an insight long ago that human beings do not only need freedom to choose, they need the freedom to be able to choose the context they wish to be free in. It is easy to see that socialist countries robbed their citizens of that aspect of their freedom, even while providing social rights. The Amish and Mennonites have their religion helping them with their collective enforcement of a more conservative and simple life. It is also at a great cost. But think about how much it has cost the Native Americans on their reservations to stand up against the almost unbridled capitalism of our society. We have lost our way! Jesus, help us find it.  Amen.

November 15, 2014

Divine Performative Promises and Creation via Language

October 27, 2014

Blogging my thoughts: attending the musical “Party People” at the Berkeley Rep

December 28, 2013

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind, in the Holy Spirit

August 22, 2013

A Critique of Science (continued)

August 20, 2013

Hearing about a Health Outpost set up in the Jungle

October 30, 2012

Giants Win the World Series: Some Baseball Theology

October 24, 2012

Blogging my thoughts on Secular Humanism

October 13, 2012

Under the Chinese, a Greek Port Thrives” We should all sacrifice in a Time of Recession and War.

September 1, 2012

Why do you always want to get close?

August 30, 2012

Are We Dependent on Government and Thus Unfree?

August 25, 2012

A Tax Cut Question

July 11, 2012

Taxation and Privatization: Why not sell California to Google?

May 30, 2012

With Feuerbach Theology became Anthropology

May 7, 2012

Where Does the Government and Society Intersect with Personal Moral Relationships?

April 11, 2012

Alcoholism and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

March 12, 2012

Science Should Not Step Out of Bounds

January 26, 2012

Outsourcing Labor to China

January 13, 2012

A Myth in which Humans are Changed into Trees

June 18, 2011

Blogging my thoughts, June 18th, 2011

April 12, 2011

Dear President Obama: a Letter about Vision

March 18, 2011

Persuasion versus Domination, Aggression, and Oppression

March 8, 2011

Dear President Obama,

I write to you about fathoming a new reality that the Internet has brought to our world and with concern for prisoners like Bradley Manning, who are placed into solitary confinement 23 hours of the day.

First the latter: When Egyptians have just uncovered the torture chambers of their secret police, the dark and ugly side of the former government has become exposed. But isn’t our solitary confinement another version of cruel and unusual punishment? Sensual deprivation and detachment from all human contact is a scientifically informed kind of torture. Why isn’t depriving a person from their freedom enough? Can’t Bradley be given psychological counseling if solitary confinement has made him suicidal? Isn’t that more congruous with the humane and democratic society that we want to be?

The other issue, however, is involved in a new reality that the Internet is bringing into our world. Now with cell phone cameras, twitter, Facebook, and all manner of social media, self-disclosure as well as penetration into the lives of others has reached a very new level. Governments can very well be threatened by this technology, but should a democracy be as threatened by it as an autocratic and non-democratic government? I think not.

There is some secrecy necessary for governments, especially when military considerations are involved, but isn’t democracy undermined when governments want to know everything about their citizens, but have all these levels of secrecy for themselves? Information does deliver power. Secrecy is a kind of darkness in which good and evil can be done; but mostly it is the latter.

I trust our government to be doing good in secret to attain the power to overcome the evil done there. I’m afraid, however, that we have also done evil there and often secrecy is used to cover our mistakes, rather than overcoming evil.

All that goes to show that I think there will be more exposures like Wikileaks, because that is the new reality that the Internet, which crosses the threshold of collective consciousness, is bringing us. Secrecy should be a very thin and practical cover for very practical matters at hand and not blankets that cover information for twenty years or longer. In the words of Justice Brandeis, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

Shouldn’t our democracy entertain policies to keep secrecy to a minimum and only combat the evil done in darkness with good done there? That way the good will jump people from behind and surprise them with new opportunities and the promises of new life.

For November 10, 2010

This Year’s Atheism Campaign for Christmas

For July 18, 2010

Treasuring Your Word above All Else

For June 22, 2010

Our Lack of Concern for Others Can End Up destroying Us

For June 21, 2010

To Speak of God’s Continuous Creation is not Enough

See my Notes on Juergen Moltmann along these lines as well.

For June 11, 2010

Click on Genetic Engineering of Plants

For April 20, 2010

Click on  Robert Pound: “The Way He Thought Was Slower and Deeper.”

January 29, 2010

Wild People and their Gods

Thomas Cahill is a popularizer, who does, however, come up with insights in the overview of early religion that he provides in The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, (New York: Nan A. Talese/ Anchor Books, a Division of Random House,  Inc., 1998).

Abraham’s God is not anthropomorphic, in the sense of being a glorified ancestor or as a super-charged human being, writ large and complete with human flaws. You have, for example, Zeus filled with lust and Aphrodite, jealous and vengeful. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was not a cultural god, for the worship of beauty and art, sounding out merely distant concerns of fate, without taking a real relationship with humans. Abraham’s God tested him personally to the limit and required the complete reorientation of Sarah and his life.

His father, Terah, left Ur in Chaldea, left the Sumerian pantheon, the Annunaki presided over by An and Enlil, and especially, the Moon god, Sin and the fertility goddess, Ishtar. The raging human hormones must have distorted the image of both gods and humans. Cahill is not certain what the temple prostitutes did with the victims of their sexual rituals, whether or not they were sacrificed, as they think happened to a king of Uruk and his household. These rituals involved male prostitutes for the temple of Ishtar and female ones for the Temple of the Moon, Nanna-Sin. (I wonder if our word “sin” could be derived from the name of this moon god?)

Abraham, like Terah, his father, was being called by a God of seeing, unblinded, perhaps, by the sexual drive and the primordial fertility anxiety. Yet the issue with Abraham and Sarah is also one of fertility. Sarah calls Abraham’s God, “‘God of Seeing’ and ‘the Living-One-Who-Sees-Me'” (page 71). Thomas Cahill argues that Abraham and Sarah’s relationship with God becomes more intense and the father and mother of faith receive a sense of their own individuality, (even if it cannot yet reflect the self-knowledge of Socrates, I would add). Cahill continues that the flip side of incipient monotheism is the possibility of individual, interpersonal relationships (page 71-72).

To hark back to Sumerian polytheism: Thomas Cahill argues that the Great Mother goddess of the earth as the original god of humankind is almost certainly wrong. “Heaven and its spectacles were the first objects of devotion and deification (page 48). She “probably came to special prominence with the invention of agriculture” (also page 48).

Cahill’s rendition of the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the famous Sumerian epic piqued my interest. What was a wild man before taming? Taming would still relegate such a one to the wild animal world. Was Enkidu civilized by the woman, called a prostitute, Shamhat? It seems she just made him side with human beings, whereas before he had been one with the animals against them (page 27).

Gilgamesh himself is described as the son of Uruk, a goring wild bull and son of the lofty cow, the wild cow, Ninsun (page 22). It’s intriguing to think about the time when cows were still wild, because they are so domesticated today, even if we still fight bulls and bulls still represent a clear and present danger.

We know about breaking in a wild horse. Bull-riders have a little more trouble. But what a time it must have been, when cows were still lofty and wild. Enkidu is a wild man, who left the animals, because of Shamhat, but I wonder if he was civilized to any degree? I believe that even as for us, it was God calling Abraham to point out in which direction our real humanity lies.

April 5, 2010

Click on the title below. Climate change, is it

Humanly Induced or Mostly a Natural Surplus or Shortage of Water?

April 5, 2010

Click on

How Art Gets Drowned by Commerce

January 26, 2010

Suicide Bombers and the Death Wish

Blogging my Thoughts after suicide bombers kill another 37 people and injure twice as many more:

Islamic extremists are succumbing to the powerful death wish and sucking many more completely vulnerable people into the vortex of the abyss of death around them. Where are the religious voices affirming life and strengthening faith, hope, and love? Where is a Fatwa against suicide bombers and all the lives they are tearing out of the land of the living? Where are the Christian voices that take a stand against the technological and secular infliction of death?

Faith becomes active in love. Our difference in faith does not negate the love required between Christians and the adherents of Islam and vice versa, the adherents of Islam for Christians.

The truth is the mother of love, while lies father violence.

January 21, 2010

Does pragmatism mean the lack of a democratic backbone? The Republicans have clamored as if governmental power and decision making were their birthright. They are really full of bluff and the democrats should call their bluff. Remember how they were just going to privatize social security? Their principles oppose Medicare and they defend Medicare in order to stop the health care reform act.

The myopic self-interest and corporate special interests of Republicans should not be able to trump the common interests of the population of the whole country. With 51 seats in the senate and a contested election, the Republicans rolled over the Democrats. With 60 seats and a real mandate handed to the Democrats in the last election, they have again rolled over for the Republicans.

Our corporations are not economically democratic nor are they necessarily wedded to the interests of our country. The culture wars are used by that brand of politics to get people to vote against their common interests. The pharmaceuticals and health insurance corporations are the elephant in the room. When the CEO of Aetna Health Insurance on the NPR Lehrer News Hour states that he had to take 8 million people off Aetna’s health insurance rolls to make his company profitable once again, then I ask, what is wrong with this picture?

The Republicans are against reform of the unacceptable status quo. It is of course of Republican making in collusion with Democrats that at heart agree with Republican principles. Requiring the 60 senator supermajority really gives the power over the majority to the minority Republicans, who represent 10% of our population, while 90% have to sacrifice their interests for the wrong-headed 10%. Remember that the Dixiecrats went over to the Republican party, when L.B. Johnson passed our civil rights legislation.

Who got us into the Iraq war, making us sacrifice so much blood and substance? Who reduced diplomatic and multilateral possibilities to military tactical and strategic realities? Now even our military has to carry out diplomatic and nation building responsibilities. If war used to be diplomacy by other means, now war requires soldiers to fill the diplomacy vacuum and initiate the policies for nation building.

Massachusetts has universal health coverage and it elects a senator who wants to prevent the country from receiving it, preventing 40 million Americans in other states from the benefits that his state enjoys. That is self-contradictory and an unethical message that Massachusetts is delivering to the senate. Why are the Democrats now hesitant? They have already given up the democratic positions longing for single-payer system and the public health insurance option.

Even in Kindergarten we had to learn socialization skills. But the Republican party is taking an anti-social, myopic self-interested stand. Imagine the fix we would now have been in if the Republicans had been able to privatize social security? The Wall Street crash would have put our elderly, who paid for social security, into a new Republican poor house. Our government is more stable than the boom, bubble, and bust of a current economy. It’s dialectical, of course, in the long run, the government is also dependent on the economy.

Privatized utilities made the citizens of California lose their shirt. Enron in Houston, Texas, was the culprit, with Cheney’s secret energy summit, most probably behind it.  Privatized schools, jails, armies! Forget it! We need a healthy public sector that stands as a guardian to our common interests. America needs more effective socialization. The invisible hand that translates self-interest into commonwealth, now seems to be about a Robin Hood in reverse, stealing from the poor to give it all to the rich. Where is the prosperity that the Bush tax-cuts were to deliver? Did the money get speculated in the derivative markets, insured by credit default swaps and take all our brokerage houses down, and would have taken our whole economy down as well, if our government had not saved them?

How can we allow health insurance to be employer based, when we now have 10% unemployment and no public option?

“That government is best which governs least” is an apt principle, if good government is internalized. I do not need to regulate my dog with a leash, if the dog has internalized the point of it: to stay near me and respond when I call to keep it out of harms way.

One more point. I believe the growing edge for Americans is socialization. We should not play off the individual principle against the magic that people can do when they are together, whether privately in corporations or publicly in the government. Like we need a healthy body in a sound mind, we need a healthy community with creative individuals who take initiatives. The individual and the group should not be played off against each other. In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, uniformity  is a problem, but true unity differentiates, it does not confound.

January 12, 2010

I just read Bob Herbert’s OP-ED piece about teacher evaluations in today’s New York Times (page A-19).

What has to be considered is the actual learning and teaching against a student’s resistance grounded in social disadvantage rather than the learning and teaching of students helped and enhanced by social advantages. The teachers in the latter category will shine and those in the former one will teach on against incredible odds, many of them burning out. Of course “good teachers” will be sent to the schools enjoying social and economic advantages and often really bad teachers are sent to the disadvantaged schools. What’s wrong with this picture?

If I paddle my canoe against the current of a river, it can take all my strength merely not to lose ground and go backward; while canoeing with the current allows me to lift the paddle, even make mistakes, and still make further headway with ease.  There is honesty concerning telling lies, but there is also emotional honesty. What about honestly facing the incredibly difficult social conditions our students come from?

Sylvia Ashton’s book, Teacher has always inspired me. She found creative ways to teach the Maori children of New Zealand. The society of that day did not thank her and honor her, but bull-dozed her school into the ground. Do we honestly value education for the disadvantaged? Doesn’t our “education” intend to rearrange prejudices rather than overcome them, as the saying goes? Why do we want to evaluate teachers so much when we don’t value them?

May 7, 2009

See my new post in my category “Economics” for “Steve Liesman versus Rick Santelli and Independent Markets.”  I try to get to some underlying issues of their clash today.

See the CNBC video, the Bernanke Recap: http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232?video=1114536023&play=1

for viewing their argument on this Business Channel.

February 26, 2009.

I believe it was FDR’s incredible struggle with the debilitation of his polio that God used to prepare him to deal with the paralysis of our economy in our great depression. It’s as if a parallel exists between his physical body and the economic, social body. The way he was trying everything to make his legs strong enough to carry him for standing and walking, he was also trying to make the economy get the kind of legs to make it run again. He was not able to accept that his disease made his walking again hopeless and he was not able to accept that the depression made jump starting and the running of our economy once again as hopeless either.

Was it really the Second World War that brought our economy out of the depression? I submit that without the kind of hope against hope that he learned from the disease in his own body, he would not have been able to make the United States participate in World War II either. Dangers throughout the whole world continue to face us the way they did back in those war-torn years, but they are less obvious outwardly, and it is much harder to muster the inward strength to face up to the problems threatening this world, when an obvious enemy is not attacking us.

I wonder if President Obama’s vision is powerful enough to get us going again. In terms of the economy, environment, health care, and education, we can remain quite myopically self absorbed. What about building housing and sanitation for the shanty towns and the wretched poor of many Third World countries? The new initiatives taken with George Mitchell in the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke in Afghanistan and Pakistan have to be on the fore-front, of course, as well as rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq which we tore down. But what about forming an Arab Union, much like the European Union as a positive alternative to regressive, imperial Islamization?

It is wonderful the way doctors have gone to Tanzania and taught indigenous surgeons how to repair the fistulas of suffering women.[1] Thus a vision also has to encompass medical health elsewhere, too, because our vision dare not be self absorbed.

William Marcus interviewed a 112 year old man, who experienced 21 U.S. presidents, recently on the Lehrer Report[2]:

WILLIAM MARCUS: How would you counsel future generations to be a part of their country?

WALTER BREUNING: Everybody learns from life what’s going on. And if they pay attention to everything that people do, especially helping people, that’s one big thing. A lot of people think they’re born for themselves; I don’t think that. I believe that we’re here to help other people all the way through.[3]

He learned that we are not born for ourselves, but we are born to help others!

Take Martin Luther’s famous passage from the “Freedom of a Christian”: “Christians do not live in themselves but in Christ and in their neighbor – in Christ through faith and in the neighbor through love.”[4] Luther was not an individualist. He taught that we are all responsible for our neighbors needs. When the business channel tried to have a conference in become quick millionaires – blissfully unaware that a reckoning was at the door in the meltdown, someone brought up a social concern. The personality from the business channel almost became indignant. Those concerns did not belong in the ways and means of becoming rich quickly through the stock market.

While thinking about the stack market: there is use value and exchange value. When exchange value is disconnected from any use value, and all the irrational speculation ascends from the real use value of investment, then inner performative contradictions bring about “the collapse of the big brokerage houses into the banks and the banks having to be propped up by the government so that they do not fall down like a house of cards.”[5]

What about seeing the purchase of shares by common people as common ownership of the corporations? If the tax payer money owns 40% of the common stock, then what about the workers in the corporation owning 11% more to give them and the public a say so in company policy? To give the employees more advantage, what about also giving them a percentage of the preferred stock for enhancement of earning via dividends? If the corporation out-sources labor, the profit [or loss] would still go to workers as well and that would mitigate [or increase] the loss of earned income with gain [or loss] in investment income. That the stock market can go up or down, makes investment income problematic for workers. When someone has a large pool of capital, losses can be absorbed until gains return. Employees would not have that kind of capital. For the whole scheme not to become exploitation of Third World labor perpetuating very low standards of living among them relative to ours, is the injustice to be avoided. Perhaps we would all be profiting from the exploitation of cheap labor and deregulation of environmental controls and not just a wealthy elite. Some of John Rawls “justice as fairness” rules need to be used to enhance Third World living standards in order to justify increased earnings of owners of common and preferred company stock until an adjustment becomes necessary to eliminate exploitation.


[1] See this week’s Science Times, New York Times, 2/24/09, pages D1 and D6.

[2]Judy Woodruff, the Lehrer Report, Online NewsHour Transcript, 2/16/2009: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/social_issues/jan-june09/walter_02-16.html.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Lurher’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), page 90.

[5] From my Ash Wednesday sermon of yesterday.

February 12, 2009

In studying the eighth chapter of St. Matthew in our Bethlehem Bible Study of 2/11/09, it seems that Jesus crosses many boundaries. He touches an unclean leper and heals him. Touching a leper was forbidden. The story makes clear that he is not using magic, because he touches him and a magician would not. Thus it may be that like a priest he examined him, treated him, and found a way of healing him. Then we talked about the two Gadarine demoniacs. [In the Gospel parallels, St. Mark says that a demoniac calls himself “Legion.”] I believe that the fellow’s madness was an oblique protest against the Roman legions occupying the Israel of that day. A madman was not taken seriously. He could run around in the cemetery hurting himself on the gravestones and scaring people to death. But anyone that really opposed the Romans seriously would get nailed on a cross, quicker than you could say, “Jack Robinson.” But Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God as Good News. In the Holy Spirit, that included love of the enemy as well (The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5-7). Thus the unclean spirits that the Roman soldiers brought into that country, could dive into a “legion” of pigs and stampede off a cliff into the drink. There they would be drowning all those hurtful, revengeful, and hateful feelings in the watery sea of oblivion. The brutality of the Romans was enough to make any number of possessed people lose their minds, but Jesus with his Good News message, could invite his followers to put that cross right on their shoulder blades and follow him. That brought the demoniac back to his senses.

To demonstrate this love of enemies: if a soldier forced you to carry his pack a mile, carry it two miles for him: that’s Jesus’ advice. And Jesus is put right to the test, because a Roman centurion comes to him about healing his servant who is paralyzed and experiencing terrible distress. This is a captain of a hundred Roman soldiers and all those negative feelings have to be there. Then Jesus notices that the Roman officer is aware that He is the Lord, (because he calls him, “Lord” twice) and that Jesus has authority over the spirit world, meaning he has his angels under his command, and he can easily send an angel to heal the centurion’s servant without having to trouble himself by personally going under the Roman officer’s roof. “Just say the word and my servant will be healed.” Jesus is astonished by the Roman’s faith and shows how the real heirs can go to the margins and the outsiders can sometimes get right into the heart of God.

__________________________________________

This morning after the bible study, I thought perhaps the proclamation of the Good News annuls the boundaries between countries and bids us reconcile one with another, under the word that Christ speaks into our hearts: “love your enemies!” Now as I explained in the bible study, the Sermon on the Mount is not a new law and Christ is not another Law-giver, like Moses. The Gospel is the positive side of the law, which none of us are capable of fulfilling, except that under the influence of the Holy Spirit, or in other terms, filled by the grace and truth of the Gospel, we can’t help fulfilling it, way beyond the call of duty.

We certainly need our boundaries. Still, look at the European Union and the way the boundaries are becoming more and more opportunities than hindrances there. We can see the burdens that globalization places on our working people. How can a worker in our country, for whom $10 an hour is not even a living wage, compete with one in the Third World country, where $2.15 a day can enhance their standard of living? The disparities in global standards of living are inexcusable, but the $2.15 in that country may have a relative purchasing power that $10 an hour does not have over here. Out-sourcing labor remains problematic. That means we are in absolutely no position to make a law out of globalization, i.e., the erasing of boundaries, but love nudges our hearts to grapple with injustice and also the abject poverty in our midst and also around the world and in the meanwhile not allow labor policy of corporations to devastate our middle class.

When you hear of a plant closing its doors in Indiana or another one of our states and then opening in Ireland and bringing prosperity there, then closing in Ireland and moving to say Indonesia for the cheaper labor costs (those places are hypothetical, because I forgot which state the computer company moved to Ireland from and which country it left Ireland for), then the social disaster left behind devastates the middle class. Without the middle class, the engine of consumption sputters and fails making our whole economy do likewise.

Unless – the middle class can compete with corporations in spawning small businesses analygous to all the little creative farms spreading through our country and challenging the huge environmentally regressive agribusinesses?! (As an aside: I mean has anyone passed the dairy agribusiness on route 5 down to Bakersfield, CA? The stench of that environmental blight makes cars have to roll up their windows for ten minutes at 65 miles per hour. I digress.) If small businesses could compete with corporations, like is happening with small farms, then a small business strategy may help the middle class.

I like Thomas Friedman’s Op Ed article in the New York Times (page A27 Feb.11, 2009). Protectionism can also be devastating. An Indian businessman said, “Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in the history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build the really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart, and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.” Thus, internecine scapegoat psychology translated into a policy of hunting immigrants as we have been doing for several years now, – in this way and in the way of their exemplary, eager and selfless labor, – is the way we are shooting ourselves in our own foot.

Perhaps part of the picture is the way our financial Institutions of Wall Street have capitalized on these cheap and environmentally unregulated labor policies. Thus the middle class with its IRA’s and Roth pensions and other investments have been subsidizing their low wages by the exploitation of Third World labor, too. The capital in Wall Street owned by the middle class, also in terms of their pension funds, has driven an elite to go into exclusive hedge funds. Please criticize me if I‘m wrong. An upper middle class, upper class, along with many important institutions have been hurt by the fraudulent hedge fund operator Bernie Madoff. Looking at the people who have been hurt by his Ponzi scheme, in which he “made-off” with $50 billion, gives a window into hedge fund investors; and like economics in general, the picture is complex.

As far as I can see right now, a fair distribution of income has been wanting in those who earn from their investment or speculation and the workers who actually produce the goods and services that meet the economic needs of people. Corporations surpass many countries in power and wealth and workers should have some access and say in their boardrooms and be rewarded with some shares along with their salaries, in a commensurate first, second, and third world way. A progressive income tax should redistribute income to overcome the continual privatization of profit and collectivization of cost. If a hedge fund operator gave himself a $300 million dollar bonus, then a 95% tax still leaves him or her with a hefty $15 million dollar income! Meanwhile $285 million can go to the common wealth: health insurance, retraining a labor force for flexibility, education, education, education, environmental rescue of toxic sites, capital for small business initiatives, etc. When a CEO asked for no cap on his income several days ago on the Op Ed page, but rather a 50% tax rate for his bracket (He earned $20 milion) that was a step in the right direction. Why should a baseball player on steroids be able to sign a $250 million dollar contract, when so many working people go begging?

We need some fairness and some common sense, because trillions of dollars just went down a black hole on Wall Street and we are in a real bubble in reverse. There has always been the business cycle that has hampered capitalism. There is the boom and the bust, boom and bust, and now, bubble, bubble, pop, pop, pop. What is going on? Somehow things are not only unfair, they get rather unreal!

Chapter eight of St. Matthew also has the story of Jesus calming the storm. We are in a perfect financial and economic storm. If our faith is based on the $63 trillion market of derivatives and credit default swaps, then we are dead. But if we wake up Jesus, in back of the boat, sleeping on a pillow, then he can rise and give us the faith that will make insolvent banks become solvent in grace; the mortgaged foreclosed, the happy home-owners of houses; the millions of jobless the myriad of reemployed. Confession is good for banks but for the whole economy as well, and a new trust of each other will arise with Christ, and our little ship will make it safely to the waiting shore. Amen.

January 14, 2009

Hopefully Hillary will honor Barach Obama’s pledge to change the military mindset that brings about our wars. In terms of the new exercise in deadly futility between Hamas and Israel, the need for her to honor this pledge is again obvious from my point of view. Sometimes when I ran programs with very tough children, I noticed that some do not stop fighting when punished. When such a child kept on fighting and the whole situation was becoming destructive and unhelpful, I’d say, “Hold it! We need another approach!”

A funny depiction of this kind of person appears in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail.” This knight, I believe, is guarding a bridge and starts a fight with the searching party. They cut off the knight’s legs. He keeps fighting. They cut him in half. He keeps fighting. They cut off his arms and he still continues yelling and cursing for them to continue fighting.

But such people can be very vulnerable to love. They can’t handle it and it disables them. Now I’ve experienced this on the individual level and I’m not sure how it would work on a collective one. But people tend to remember gratefully those who have reached out to them.

Another topic. In Iran they have reverted to the old religious law, even using execution by stoning for adultery. The woman is buried up to her neck and the man is buried up to his waist and if they can dig themselves out before being killed, they are pardoned. How’s that for equality and fairness? He’s only in to his waist, she is in to her neck! New York Times (1/14/2009 page A-12.)

Last, I wonder about the fusion of religion and instruments of state coercion, whether you have a Christian, Jewish, or Moslem state. The respective institutions need separation or you can have a state spreading a religion, that religion re-establishing such a dubious state, that state the religion, ad infinitum. The secular religion of communism did that. The Marxist ideology created such a state and then that state furthered the ideology. That is a juggernaut that crushes people of integrity, makes the state dysfunctional, and compromises the faith. Ideology is already a search for the truth compromised by self-interest. Religious truth cannot afford to be ideological. It needs to be spiritual, winning and changing people’s hearts and thus bringing outward and physical change. It is a revolution of hearts and minds, which violence contradicts. For example, to lead one army against another can never be spiritually justified.* When the hearts of an army have been changed, so that they take the human side, we still have an army, which is, of course, problematic, but a spiritual event has taken place without bloodshed. This has most recently happened in Russia, in East Germany when the wall came down, and in the Philippines, when the forces joined the people.

*Politics is, of course, a different matter. An army can prevent a massacre of innocent people needing protection.

January 9th, 2009

Did you hear that a Hedge Fund operator Made-off with 50 billion dollars? Question: what percentage of the capital gained and lost in the financial world really provides investment for production, what percentage, now of its profits, sustains institutions and pension funds and pensioners, what percentage provides a gilded welfare for rich people, and what percentage is a Ponzi scheme for those who run it and work in it? Naturally, when the investment industry is legitimately doing investment that increases value and production, those involved are also doing productive work.

The economist, Anghel Rugina noted that capital used for pure speculation came at the expense of full employment and often it seems to me as if stock market profits vary inversely with employment: downsize employment, lay off employees to increase profits and stock market earnings. Now employees may be unproductive or the stock market profit at times could be counter-productive and actually be dis-investment. It seems to me that investment should be made through the stock market for the sake of production and production and employment should not exist for the sake of earnings and stock market profits. Does this violate the principles of capitalism? Shouldn’t employment and investment be made for the sake of production and value increases in society? If someone is actually working productively and loses his or her job for the sake of the earnings of someone investing in the stock market: that’s one thing; for the sake of someone speculating in it, that’s another thing; for those getting a gilded welfare without doing any productive labor, who could be productive, would be a third thing. (A young woman with MS on her wheelchair once said to me, “Will you tell people that even though I can no longer be productive, I still have value!”) On the other hand, I wonder about universities and big pension funds that require returns on their investments. Ultimately they do depend on the profits of production for their sustenance. Those that have been using Hedge Funds have been doing rather well until someone like Bernard Madoff was uncovered by this down-turn, because he would still be an omniscient Hedge Fund operator, if this downturn and melt-down did not happen. Doesn’t taxation have to bring a sense of fairness to this pluralism of incomes?

I used to work as a pastor in a very poor church and the working people in the congregation were angry with those on welfare. “We earn our money the old fashion way,” they said. “We work for it!” If I make $100,000 on my $1 million investment, did I work for it? I could also lose $100,000, too, of course. So it’s not so simple.

One of the older women on welfare, cleaned our church thoroughly, made the altar a thing of beauty, and had to take the indignity of going face-to-face with welfare each month, because she received a $38 alimony check each month.

Another woman in the news left $6 million dollars to her dog. What do you make of it?

14th of May, 2008

On Pentecost, Arlin, our wonderful organist of Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, found two powerful base pedal notes that he played so that they shuddered and sounded like an earthquake was shaking our pews. He sustained it through the whole verse of “God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind,” #400 of our new hymnal, the Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The words go:

God of earthquake, God of thunder,

Shake us loose from lethargy!

Break the chains of sin asunder,

For earth’s healing set us free.

Crumble walls that still divide us,

Make us one with Christ, our Lord.

Make us one with Christ, our Lord.

Earthquakes here in California where we sit on the San Andreas and Hayward Faults, are pretty much always in the back of our minds. Arlin made us all mindful of how vulnerable we are and how dependent on God’s almighty love to overcome the awesome destructive powers that are unleashed in nature.

In the Philosophy of Religion, we make a distinction between natural and moral evil. But when we really think about it, to a great degree, they are mixed. When you look at the elementary schools here, the classrooms are spread out in different buildings without second floors. Architects have built these schools with earthquakes in mind for the safety of the children should an earthquake hit. 80% of the schools in Pakistan, just for example, are not retrofitted for earthquakes, even after the one hit in October 8, 2005, killing 17,000 children, when 7,000 schools collapsed on them. Parents sent their children to school to be in safe havens, and unbeknownst to them, they sent them into death traps (See the article by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times, 5/14/2008, p. A11). And now many children and students in China have been killed again, e.g., in the town of Juyuan, south of the epicenter of Monday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake, in the city of Wenchuan. 900 students were trapped in the rubble of a middle school there.

Poverty, ignorance, the lack of political will, and probably, the priority of business and industry over education, among other reasons, play a role in not spending five percent more in the construction of schools to make them earthquake safe. Thus these factors also play a role in the moral negligence becoming mixed in the natural evil of an earthquake. If we add the way the military government of Myanmar (Burma) prevents a full response to aid its cyclone victims, then again the moral dimension comes into play with that natural disaster. First of all, most deaths could have been prevented by warning the people about the coming storm. Where are their meteorologists? Now in the aftermath, the generals are callously allowing more helpless people to die, because they refuse to allow sufficient help. The moral dimension of this disaster is a scandal, because it may cause more deaths than did the natural disaster of the Cyclone Nargis.

In considering the problem of evil, I submit that the overwhelming portion of it is moral and not natural, because the creation is not finished yet; we need to take account of the continuous creation of God. Meanwhile, we continue unabashedly throwing way the world’s resources in continuous destruction.

Luther insists that God did not stop the creation on the seventh day (Luther’s Works Vol. 1, page 77). God “works not only by preserving His creation but also by changing and renewing His creation” (Ibid.). Luther taught God’s continuous creation, which we can obstruct or participate in. We can continue to write dark pages of history and raise hell on earth – or we can make the world a gentle, loving place, person-friendly.

For example, when you have a baby, you have to baby-proof your house. Plastic plugs have to go into the electric sockets, so the baby can’t touch them and get shocked. A glass table is dangerous for little boys when they are rough housing. Sharp items have to be kept out of reach. I believe guns do not belong in the house. You keep the children out of harm’s way.

The continuous creation means we have to make the whole world a safe place for children, but, of course, for all people as well. The earth has not yet been made safe for people and the recent natural disasters have pointed out this sorry fact and most poignantly, because we are wasting the resources required for this gargantuan, planetary task on conflict, war, and destruction.

What happened to the peace dividend that we were talking about before the Cheney administration took over? (How can anybody argue that Bush and his “compassionate conservatism” have not been out to lunch?) Forget a peace dividend! We may have to count trillions and not only billions of dollars wasted in the destruction of Iraq, the maiming of its people, the short lives and crippling of our youth, the physical and mental casualties of this unjust war. According to the Christian Just War Theory, it is immoral to start a preventable war, one that is not a last resort. This is the stricture that the Iraq war violated. Listen to the words of God’s faithful servant Martin Luther (1483-1546),

It is indeed a splendid and needful thing to build strong cities and castles against one’s enemies, but that is nothing when compared with the work of a prince who builds a stronghold of peace, that is, who loves peace and administers it. Even the Romans, the greatest warriors on earth, had a saying that to make war without necessity was to go fishing with a golden net. [In any case the cost of war far exceeds the profit of victory.] One must not initiate a war or work for it; it comes unbidden all too soon. One must keep peace as long as one can, even if one must buy it with all the money that would be spent on the war or won by the war. Victory never makes up for what is lost in a war. (In Philip Krey and my book, “Luther’s Commentary of Psalm 82,” Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), page 32)

Let me return to the point about wasting our resources. Those we use to destroy God’s creation put us at odds with God’s purposes for the continuous creation. The way other countries have recently experienced the contradiction of creation, I felt the same sinking feeling back home, when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. We are spending the earth’s resources contradicting the continuous creation of this world by the Word of God by using them for the sake of destruction, blowing God’s beloved creation up in God’s face.

Let’s repent and find ways to take Jesus’ words to heart: love your enemies, do good to those who despitefully use you and persecute you; if they strike you on the right cheek, offer them the other also, etc. “How naïve, how childish!” you may argue. Jesus answers, “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).

He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw a Need

Now some lighter notes: Dottie Rambo, née Luttrell died. She wrote the lyrics for many gospel songs, also the one my son Mark used to sing: “He Looked Beyond My Fault (and Saw a Need).” It is sung to the tune of “Danny Boy.” (See the obituary page in today’s NYT, A 21.) While a teenager she made a publishing deal with Louisiana’s two-time governor, Jimmie Davis, who sang and composed “You Are My Sunshine.” That makes him somewhat like King David, who ruled Israel and composed Psalms and played them on his harp. Or Luther who launched the Reformation and composed, sang, and accompanied many songs on his lute. He was also an accomplished flute player, but then he could not have sung while playing that instrument.

(I changed the words for “You Are My Sunshine” to make it a Sunday School song, but I will have to negotiate for the rights.)

Robert Rauschenberg

Reading about the late Robert Rauschenberg, I found an important word about change. He relates how “John Cage said that fear in life is the fear of change.” Rauschenberg continues, “If I may add to that: nothing can avoid changing. It’s the only thing you can count on. Because life does not have any other possibility, everyone can be measured by his adaptability to change” (NYT, 5/14/2008, p. A 20).

Luther says that “change and improvement are two different things: the one is in human hands and God’s ordaining; the other is in God’s hands and gracious favor” (Commentary on Psalm 101, of 1534, WA (Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works) 51:200-264). Thus in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, where the Word of God is preached and the Holy Sacraments are duly administered, we should have no fear, but trust God to make improvements, which are the work of God’s hands and gracious favor.

The many startling artistic effects in Rauschenberg’s life and work were amazing. One passage had me laughing. He did some all white canvasses, completely blank, where you could probably see shadows of persons walking in the museum behind you, perhaps. Or you could certainly tell whether it was daylight or later in the evening, I suppose. The article, written by Michael Kimmelman, says those white paintings were “spiritually akin to Cage’s famous silent piece of music, during which a pianist sits for 4 minutes and 33 seconds at the keyboard without making a sound” (Ibid., A 20). I suppose I could be a virtuoso playing that piece. I would not even have trouble memorizing the notes.

I disagree with him about not wanting ideas. New ideas are still an adventure for me, like learning from Pierre Bourdieu that you cannot talk about institutions, systems, and such in society. What needs investigating are networks of fields: the field of power, the field of education, the fields of business and banking, etc., all having their special positions, dispositions, distinctions, forces, games, rules, and kinds of capital. He finds that a government is composed of many fields, with its monopoly on violence and its ability to use symbolic violence as well. What a revamping of the whole field of sociology! I’m so glad I experienced him and his student Loїc Wacquant in the University of California at Berkeley.

May 12th 2008, Second Day of Pentecost

„Schmücket das Fest mit Maien bis auf die Hörner des Altars“ (Psalm 118:27). In English: “Bind the festal procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.”

At this Festival of Pentecost, this is the verse that stands out for me. “Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord.” Blessed are those who come and follow Christ, who do not take offense, but realize that the stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone! It is easy to tell why Psalm 118 was Luther’s favorite.

This verse also refers to a procession, because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. So this is a holy procession. Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord! Yes, Holy Spirit, come to us, we pray so that we can all process to the altar with our branches and proclaim the One blessed, who came to us from the Father to participate in your procession, at the head of the long train of martyrs and witnesses.

On Pentecost my father, Rudolf, would have us boys go out and gather green branches and place them all around our altar for the Pentecost service. It was wonderful. It would make our living-room sanctuary look like it was outdoors, as if the greenery from the trees and bushes and come inside and blessed would be the lush, new, green growth brought about by the Holy Spirit inside our own very hearts.

This year I have been side-lined, but for Pentecost I would usually cut and trim the trees in our back yard and put them into our Ford Windstar. They were so tall that we had to keep the back door of the van open and leaves would litter the freeway all the way to St. John Lutheran Church in Oakland. The branches went right up to the altar. Branches hung over the pulpit and it was like a forest up there. St. John’s did not mind my extravagance. When I did an interim ministry at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, they claimed that I never ceased to surprise them and I’m sure that when my sons brought in all the greenery at Pentecost, they were also referring to that.

“Bind the festal procession with the greenery of May,” is what it says in German, “up to the horns or corners of the altar.” “Horns” always represent power and a bull will threaten with two; the altar will threaten with four. But in the New Testament, the whole procession is invited to come to the altar and bind their branches to it, in thanksgiving and praise, favor and blessing, for the One who comes to us in the Name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to whom be the power and the glory, in the Communion of his Holy Body, now and forever.

Yes, the One blessed in the Name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, commands that the festival and the new day that the Lord has made, be bound up with branches. Luther says in his commentary on Psalm 118, verse 27,

Thereby he abolishes the Old Testament. The Jews had a festival day called the Feast of the Tabernacles or Succoth, which they celebrated for eight days in memory of the forty years which the Children of Israel had lived in tents in the wilderness (Lev. 23:42). To this [Christ] refers and would say: “Why do you still make a show with your branches and tabernacles? Something new has come, your custom is done. This is another day, another house of God, another altar, another festival, another life. Now come here and celebrate this new festival with branches, since our new King and God Himself rides in with grace and blessing and appears to the whole world with His Word. Put your branches here in the house of the Lord, not in the field or in your yards. Put them even on the horns or corners of the altar, that everything may be full of branches and merriment. There is no longer any difference between the Levites and the people. Everyone who believes may approach the altar, a privilege not granted in the Law.”

In addition, he explains what the branches and the leaves symbolize, namely, that men should adorn, praise, beautify, and exult the name of God with joyful, fresh, green, and beautiful preaching and singing. These are the branches cut from beautiful trees, that is, taken from the prophets. And when he speaks of the place or corners called the horns of the altar, he means the altar of thanksgiving. There those branches are offered as thank offerings; and no longer calves, sheep, birds, and the like to be slaughtered. Now everything that formerly was outwardly performed by the Levites is done by thanks and praise, preaching and teaching (Luther’s Works, Vol. 14, page 104).

Notice how in the priesthood of all believers, everyone in the congregation can approach the altar. It is another house of God, another altar, another holiness, where, yes, even sinners are welcome, because they enter a loving force-field of forgiveness, the almighty grace of God that makes the unacceptable acceptable, because our God is a wonderful God.

Luther says, “Anyone who believes may approach the altar, a privilege not granted in the Law.” (Ibid.) What a transformation is involved in the gracious Gospel. It is like a mighty rushing Wind, filling the temple and making it a church. All the leaves begin to rustle as the Spirit proceeds through our hearts, catching us up like leaves in the wind, as we are carried by the Holy Spirit, blowing us where God chooses. We hear the sound of it, but we do not know where it came from and where it is taking us. “So it is,” Jesus says, “with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). To follow Christ means complete surrender to the Holy Spirit in the form of God’s Holy Word, like a leaf caught up in the Wind, that binds up your free-will and carries you into the mission of God’s choosing, where someone will bind your hands and take you to a place where you do not want to go. (John 21:18]

I’m wondering how Christians can read these texts and be conservative? How can they refuse to process with branches, even if the tradition of that church did not know about it? How can they put a small vase with a few branches on the altar and refuse to have a Palm Sunday procession? How in the face of all the traditional opposition to Jesus Christ, can conservatives champion tradition? At least, in order to become faithful followers of Christ, conservatives would have to show what part of tradition they think is faithful and what part they would need to reject, because it militates against the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The same thing, of course, goes for a progressive. To stand for change and social justice is not necessarily done in the mind of Christ. To be a progressive does not mean you have had your mind and heart changed by the grace of God. But if Christian hearts have been changed, conservative or progressive, how can we reject each other?

My heart is full and I do not know what to make of us Christians, who followed the One, who received outcasts and had table fellowship with them, and whose followers are busy casting each other out.

Come Holy Spirit, lead us in your holy procession, as we wave our branches for Christ and bind them to the gentle horns of your altar. Amen.

18th April, 2008

Yesterday I praised the California DMV, but Bizarro’s cartoon in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (page E 18] gave me pause to reconsider. The lines can be long on some days. The signs in the cartoon read, “Wait here and wait some more.” “9 types of I.D. required, plus one document you did not bring.” I am quite aware my experience with the DMV and Penndot is anecdotal, but my conclusion still holds: privatization of some services is less efficient than when provided by the government or the public sector.

For example when a hospital is run like a business for profit, the integrity of some doctors and administrators may not overcome the conflict of interest. In the Redding Hospital scandal, two doctors are alleged to have performed many unnecessary invasive heart tests and by-pass surgeries: the more operations, the more income. A priest mistrusted his diagnosis, received a second opinion, and exposed what was going on. Is the health industry operating for profit an inherent conflict of interests?

I myself once had a corrupt Brooklyn doctor claim that I had an enlarged heart. (I hoped I had one, but not of the medical variety.) I mistrusted him and received a second opinion, which showed that I had nothing of the kind. The doctor had showed me the x-ray of another person. Doctors also hooked an elderly man in my congregation on sleeping pills and no sooner would I get him off them, than they hooked him again. They fostered return visits that way.

A new topic: I read “When Love of Religion Leads to Hatred of Others,” a film review by Stephen Holden (NYT 4/18/008 p. B19). It is quite good and makes me want to read James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword. Constantine was glorified in our tradition because he saw a “vision of the cross in the sky inscribed with the words promising that under its sign he would conquer.” In the battle he wielded a sword in the shape of a cross and was victorious. Then he legalized the Christian religion, “and the cross,” Carroll argues, “previously a minor symbol, became synonymous with Christian might.”

I’m not sure that his claim about the cross is historical, but I hope Christians keep or reconvert the cross into a symbol of love, compassion, and non-violent suffering for the sake of righteousness and the Kingdom of Christ once again.

We come out of a violent past. Charlemagne is said to have given the defeated Saxons a choice, be baptized or else. Half chose to be baptized and he marched them through the Rhein River and sent them home. He slaughtered the others on the violent side of the river.

Even before hand, the Christian martyrs who were being fed to the lions, made signs to the crowds in the audience. The signs meant, “Today, us; tomorrow, you!” Most likely they meant that when they came to power, they would turn the tables. Still our Lord Jesus Christ forbade revenge and stood opposed to the violence of the sword, and therefore, also crusades fought in his behalf. Thank God for Christ, the suffering servant of God, the Lamb upon the throne, and not the eagle, lion, bear, dragon, or any other beast. Canada’s symbol of the maple leaf, is the way to go! It puts a country into a completely different kingdom, that of the plants! The Kingdom of Christ, however, is not of this world, animal or plants, and thus, Christians never receive the power to turn the tables and take revenge.

The Great Roman Persecution perpetrated by Diocletian and Galerius came to an end because of Constantine, and if I had lived in those days and had been a Christian, I probably would have welcomed the legalization of Christianity (313 A.D.). Still, looking back, it was a Pyrrhic victory, because since Constantine, our religion was often used as an ideology for the Roman Empire, and it seems like ever since, the church has been struggling with state-religion versus a Christianity that remains loyal to the Kingdom of Christ, which is not of this world.

Thus you have German Christians putting Hitler’s portrait up in their churches vs. the Confessing Christians, Bonhoeffer, Barth, and Niemoeller, etc. A similar dynamic takes place in Japan. You used to have the nationalist Shinto religion and the Buddhists and Christians undergoing persecution. Here in America we also have Shinto Christians, where our religion is practiced for the sake of our state or empire, rather than for the sake of righteousness, Christ, and his Kingdom, which is not of this world.

If Christians love their country, if they wish to be true patriots, then they need to subject our country to Christ, and allow the Kingdom of Christ to keep us accountable to the truth and the righteousness that is received from above, from God thereby.

Many Christians are placing our country first and at the present they seem to be militant fundamentalists on the right. But on the left, beforehand, we politicized our religion in a similar way. I asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, back in my Berlin days, if I should join the “Christians for Socialism.” He answered me that Christianity did not exist for some ulterior sake. It existed for the sake of Christ and for the Kingdom of Christ. Thus I did not join.

Back in those days some radical Berliners of the left glorified Mao Tse Tung and claimed that he had a utopia going. I argued with them that there was no free speech and no freedom of the press over there, which allowed them to project their wishful thinking onto a blank page. There was a complete lack of real news reports about what was going on in China; all you read was propaganda. Later we heard the reports of the dreadful events that took place in the culture revolution of Red China.

So Christians can’t put a state or an anti-state first, one of the right or one of the left. The first place is reserved only for Christ and his Kingdom-not-of-this- world; and if our Lamb is before us, we can reap the first-fruits from his other-worldly grace, in our very sorry this-worldly state.

Match the title, “When Love of Religion Leads to Hatred of Others,” with Krister Stendal’s words: we need a holy envy for other religions, not hatred. (I’m reading “others” in the sense of “other religions.”) See his obituary from the day before yesterday (NYT 4/16/08 p. A3). I do not agree with his claiming that the afterlife is selfishness of Christians. I do not think he understands how miraculous life is, even if it can be artificially reproduced in a laboratory test-tube. It has been given us as a gift. Taken in another sense, it has been lent to us from the Source and we will return to the One our lives were borrowed from; not only our lives, our intelligence, our love, our holy communion in the body of Christ.

17th April, 2008

I just went to the California Department of Vehicles (DMV) and applied for my California license and registration. They were very kind, even though I was very late, and immediately gave me temporary papers, even though there were five or six items that were unresolved. For those I have sixty days, and I’ve already taken care of all but one, the smog check, which I had just completed in Pennsylvania. No stress, one morning, it took about one hour, and only the $22 and $130 charges hurt, because I’m unemployed. The California DMV is state owned and operated.

Now compare that to the privatized system, if you want to call it a system, in Pennsylvania. “Penndot” must stand for Pennsylvania Department of Traffic and it seems to have distributed its services out to private businesses and neither they, nor any of the state agencies are competent to do everything necessary for transferring an out of state driver’s license and registration to Pennsylvania.

Perhaps because I was in the center of Philadelphia, who knows? – in any case, I experienced run-arounds inside run-arounds. I tried to get my license and registration changed eleven times, giving up a few times in the process. The privatized places gave me incorrect information and people who advised me did as well. Penndot always found one thing or another to disqualify my application. “Oh, you don’t have the PA license? You need that first.” That side of the Penndot service did not happen to be working that day. After five or more of such experiences, my exasperation and frustration went through the roof. Everything would be fine and suddenly they would find one more thing: my passport had expired! Mind you, my CA license and registration were not enough. They gave me no temporary permit, just turned me away again. Now I first had to get a new passport, an obstacle equally as difficult as the ones I was trying to accomplish.

Meanwhile the police in Philadelphia were having a field day pulling me over and giving me tickets, even after I had the Pennsylvania regalia, mostly because they noticed I did not have the inspection sticker. In California, they send you the forms and you get your smog check. In Pennsylvania they give you tickets, without instructions about how their process works. You just go to a gas station without papers. So after $45 and $90 tickets and a visit to court, and $1,170 later, because the catalytic converter needed to be replaced, there I was again.

To get back to the license, I finally did receive my new passport, which was necessary, because Pennsylvania does fit the descriptions of another country, – now I begin to make some progress. But the fellow behind the window had his mind everywhere but on what he was doing. I had to go back to his window three times for him to reissue the papers: he gave me brown eyes and misspelled my name twice.

Now I had learned that you couldn’t get a registration without first getting a license. I had my license.

“Oh, you don’t get your registration here. We don’t do that.”

I noticed a line standing in front of what looked like a gas station or, perhaps it was not much more than a shack built on its hard-top. Ah, they did registrations and gave out license plates. So $65 and $55 and some gray hairs later, I had gotten through an ordeal, for which they seemed to have the license to drive me to despair.

“Penndot” is a strange name: a dot that comes out of a pen? Perhaps it is supposed to give the impression of a stream-lined dot.com service? But it only stands for Pennsylvania Department of Traffic, I guess. The people at the CA DMV said, I have to send back the plates to Pennsylvania myself. They are very particular and want them back. It will be my pleasure!

The moral of this story? Sometimes privatization is irrational, ineffective, and unproductive and sometimes when the state government runs an operation, it is rational, effective, and productive. It all depends on the area in question. Pennsylvania’s privatization used up eleven of my mornings or afternoons and filled them with frustration, while the California DMV helped me in one hour, and I’ll be getting my license and registration through the mail; I just have to go back and show them my title. I forgot it.

14th April, 2008

Reading the New York Times today was again rewarding. A word to churches that have so much difficulty with change: it comes from a letter from John F. Montag on today’s New York Times editorial page: “The church’s task has always been to discern those unchanging truths in the kaleidoscope of events in a world that has a knack for avoiding the truth about itself. Acknowledging these changes is the only way it can preserve the truth through the ages.” Then he quotes Giuseppe di Lampedusa in “The Leopard.” “If you want things to stay the same, things will have to change.”

I believe that when we want things to stay the same and therefore refuse to make changes, we violate the Spirit after a length of time, the spirit we live in and share the life of Christ in.

Looking up at the rooster on top of our weather vane, we are reminded not to deny Christ, however many times, but to witness to the truth, and “hold up” Christ, and churches should not understand “to hold up” Christ in the sense of mugging him.

I started cutting out articles again, even though I had stopped after filling several storage boxes full and wondering, “How and when am I ever going to return to this treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge, which all these articles represent?” Life is so short and I keep wanting to believe I have forever. I will have forever, but not on this side, and not with all my boxes of books and papers. But hopefully, with you all, and myself, on the other side, we will have a blessed forever, because of the boundless mercy of Christ.

The comedian Professor Irwin Corey of Brooklyn, gave me some good laughs (NYT, p. A24). Waiting for his coffee, Mr. Corey explained the meaning of life. He starts with a “however” and as his son says, “He is constantly digressing from his own tangent, so he’s digressing from a digression.”

The he stops in the middle of a phrase, asking, “What was the question?”

He has a routine in which he tells how he procured from the federal government a copy of the Declaration of Independence through the Freedom of Information Act. “He pulls out the document, most of which is blacked out by a marker.” Corey Kilgannon wrote this article and really got me laughing.

I read all about the pope called Benedict, the former Cardinal Ratzinger, who hurt Hans Küng so much and silences so many other theologians with his inquisition. The thorn bush once again rules over the olive trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees and all the good vines in the “Parable of the Garden.” Hopefully he has mellowed out somewhat. There is nothing to report about the sorry state of the Roman Catholic Church. I wonder how the Lutheran theologians and pastors feel who joined it thinking they were entering a glory church. What can I say?

John A. Wheeler, the physicist who coined the term “black hole” was also a delight to read about (His obituary was written by Dennis Overbye in the NYT, page A23). I wonder how he can demand of physics “some understanding of existence itself?” Somehow I believe that physics can rifle and violate nature, which leaves it hiding in the Uncertainty Principle of Werner Heisenberg. There is a wonderfully positive side of physics, but also a negative side. During World War II physicists went into high gear in the race for the bomb, because the Germans had already split the atom and the Allies needed to put an A-bomb together first. Wheeler was unhappy that they had not succeeded in time to use it on Germany, because it might have saved his brother, a soldier who died fighting there in the European front. Germany was defeated before the bomb had been finished. The fire bombing of Dresden and Hamburg were not enough. Does he regret not having a Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Germany? That was a thoughtless statement.

Some scientists in Hawaii are suing to stop the construction of the new most powerful cyclotron, because they claim that when the particles collide at the new velocity, it could create a black hole that could swallow up the earth. They may have become slightly paranoid, but has physics swallowed us up into a black hole of a social culture that has allowed the nuclear arms race to develop and proliferate with an “event horizon” not yet determined or even imagined in its negative consequences? But then in the Tillichian ambiguity of all things, the shocking dread and the sublime awe of the Holy Spirit, could also be leading us into positive consequences of these negative discoveries.

Wheeler still tries to cover the waterfront and discover and understand how all things are put together.

I like to think of myself as having a sense of judgment. [He says.] I’m willing to go anywhere, talk to anybody, ask any question that will make headway. So many young people are forced to specialize in one line or another that a young person can’t afford to cover this waterfront- only an old fogey who can afford to make a fool of himself.

If I don’t, who will?

That is a wonderful double entendre. “If he does not make a fool of himself, who will?” and “If he does not take the foolish risk, not to specialize, but cover the whole waterfront in hopes of understanding how it is all put together, then who will?”

Black holes taught him that the laws of physics were not sacred. “They were anything, but.”

A dead star could collapse into a heap so dense that light could not escape from it. The star would collapse forever while spacetime wrapped itself around it like a dark cloak. At the center space would be infinitely curved and matter infinitely dense, an apparent absurdity known as a singularity.

Physics led to a violation of itself. Wheeler seized on a suggestion shouted from the audience of one of his lectures and named the singular stellar collapse a “black hole.”

I wonder if it is true that galaxies swirl around black holes, which are their center?

— Ah, how infinite the glory and wonder of our Creator God!

Easter Sunday, March 23rd 2008

In the service today, a strategy for my performative study began to jell. I will put some of my language insights and observations from Luther into this study. For example, that Luther says, “With my bodily voice I bring Christ to you.” Through language and speaking we can share ourselves with others and that is more than the internal connection of speech and action. Speech must also in some way provide an internal vehicle to others for our selves and for the One who is in our inmost self. When Christ is in our hearts then we can share Christ through our words from our inmost hearts to the inmost hearts of others.

George Herbert Mead said there was an internal field of the act and intentions are internal. Language as a social process then connects speech and action and has an internal dimension, because collective intentionality is also internal. What is here internal to language also has an external dimension, a physicality, which Luther calls the body of the word. Language developed from gestures, to symbols, to words in rule-governed grammatical speech, into a “rolling series of interiorizations” (Teilhard) of social selves, individual selves, societies, and worlds. Habermas certainly adds a whole lot more complexity than Mead to this internalizing social process.

When Mead argues that the self was first an other before becoming a self, it would be interesting to investigate self psychology to see how the mother’s self is first appropriated by the infant psychologically and whether this self is pre-lingual or not. Object relations psychology is also relevant for this theory. The way the baby differentiates itself from the mother may be recapitulated in a parallel development of selves first being others in society, before becoming their own individual selves. It would be something to work out how individual selves would form different personality structures and how personality disorders might come about. Somewhere there might be a sociology and psychology of language in addition to a philosophy of language here.

I wonder how the Prologue of John relates to creation, social change, and the formation of internalized structures via language?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-3)

Another translation reads: “And nothing was made which was made without the Word.”

Now it is difficult to think of language when the pronoun “he” is used for the Word. In Greek the grammatical gender of logos is masculine, but still it refers more directly to the Second Person of the Trinity, whom we confess to be the Christ, “the Word become flesh,” i.e., “the Word become a human being.”

John’s “in the beginning” places the Word squarely into the Genesis account of the creation and thus we have creation via the word, continuous creation via the speech of God. But God’s speech brings creation into existence the way our speech makes sound and meaning come into existence. The Word of God, the speech of God, incarnates then into the Person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, but all along from the beginning, the Word of God was all about the creation and the Spirit of God gave it the breath of life, so that creatures great and small arose as did the plant-life covering the earth.

The New Revised Standard Version in the HarperCollins Study Bible (Copyright 1989), page 2013 states,

“Word” is not simply a spoken word (like God’s word of creation in Genesis 1), but the Logos, in Greek thought, the divine principle of reason that gives order to the universe and links the human mind to the mind of God. Because logos is masculine, the pronoun can be “it” as well as “he.” (Note 1:1 HarperCollins Study Bible, p. 2013).

If from Luther I can determine the internal connection between the Spoken Word of God and the self of Christ, we can see how Christ can be referred to as the Word of God and we ourselves also as words of God, the same way we become Christs to one another. I wonder how much God’s word of command, the performative sense of the word, plays a role, balances, or even takes a dominant role over the Greek sense of the word as Logos meaning reason? More than a social process, language in the Biblical sources begins the divine process of creation and the Word of God is taken up into the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. God said, “Let there be light and there was light” and this light came before the sun, moon, and stars, and in it life came into being, a life which was the light of all people. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it,” because death did not overcome the Word. The light of our lives was raised up from the dead in the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Good Friday, March 21, 2008

Rereading the Passion story or our Lord from the Gospel of John, I once again realized how Christ and Caesar are mutually exclusive, if ultimate power is claimed by Caesar. Ultimate power and authority belong solely to Christ.

This gospel seems to single out the Jews as those who crucified Christ. Indeed, they did, but the disciples, Mary, and even Jesus himself were Jews. Thus, the people crucified him, that is, people as such. What’s more, religiously, self-righteous people, whose religious fervor made them blind to the judicial murder, that in their insanity, they were carrying out. Thus Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Shinto, and what have you, as well as such secular, civil religions, as that of capitalism and communism, have all done the same thing as the Jews. Thus to be more specific, it is the use of religion and its tenets to justify violence: Hence, the Passion of our Lord; hence, his judicial murder.

This fact should give Christians, who favor capital punishment, pause to think: our own Lord was executed because of a miscarriage of justice.

But religious violence has at times required scapegoats for the sake of political power; it has made use of coercion to enforce its beliefs, it has been used for the sake of political power and empire, for example, instead of subordinating all forms of government under God’s Christ, the suffering servant.

“We have no king but Caesar!” In another translation: “We have no king but the emperor,” the people shouted. This rejection of Christ was a rejection of God, as much as when they chose kings over Israel and forgot that Moses was the servant of God. In the light of Christ, emperors, presidents, what have you, are the servants of the people and not vice versa. They have been elected by the people and they are not God. They did not elect their people. Their sovereignty does not rise above that of God and the Christ, but is delegated to a place far below it. To consider itself ultimate, an empire will get into trouble with God.

Look at Nebuchadnezzar. He was walking around on the rooftop of his palace in Babylon and said, “Is this not a magnificent Babylon which I have built as a royal capitol by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” He might have referred to himself as a superpower, had he used the language of today. Because he did not let God be God, but took God’s place, he was dashed to the ground, driven away from the human society, had to eat grass like an ox. In the fields among the animals, “his flesh was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws.” He turned into an eagle, but his metamorphosis could as well have been into a lion, bear, or dragon, whatever symbolizes a nation or empire way out of bounds. “Don’t take my word for it!” Read it yourself in Daniel 4:28 and the following verses.

Made of gold, silver, bronze, or iron, the empire or monster’s feet are made of clay and hit by the rock of Christ, it will come tumbling down. Because the Ancient of Days, sits upon the eternal throne, and the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the Lord, with his heavenly hosts, descends from the clouds of heaven, to reign as the Lamb of God, forever and ever. Thus when the empire makes itself ultimate, to say Jesus Christ is lord, is to say that Caesar is not.

Therefore an empire and an emperor are under the law and need to rule by reason, for the sake of Christ’s other-worldly kingdom, whose first-fruits are to become more and more this-worldly.

Luther divides our life-world into two kingdoms and the religious one has no power of coercion and should not have recourse to it through the government, either.

If in Jesus’ time, the religious leaders were forbidden to put a person to death, they should not have run to Pilate to have it done for them, whether for blasphemy, heresy, or for any other religious reason. Only service, love, and the mandate to witness to the truth belongs to spiritual people. Our human love and compassion are the most powerful way to convince people to accept Christ. The government is of a lower order and it sometimes requires the use of force as a lesser of evils. The kingdom of God cannot be compromised by such an accommodating principle.

It is interesting that the Jews, here representing self-righteous, religious people, would not enter Pilate’s headquarters in order to avoid ritual defilement, which would have disallowed their participation in the Passover meal. They were caught in externals, locked outside of their hearts. What made the presidium unclean? Was it the different Roman ethnicity? That the Romans did not have the one true faith? That the uniforms the soldiers wore, gave them license to kill, to execute, to bring death on a wholesale basis in war, which never ceased in what was called the Roman Peace?

To call another ethnic group unclean is to be caught in externality again. The letter kills and the spirit brings life. Caught in the correct letters, they kill the meaning of the words. A reversion to tribalism takes place at the expense of our souls. A derangement of humanity is in the concept and practice of “ethnic cleansing.”

If Pilate did not have the one true faith, they certainly could not convince him of it by their own contradicting it. They forced him to act against his own conscience by intimidating him with their reference to Caesar. So they used political power to contradict the religion of life by bringing about this judicial murder as much as our church also religiously contradicted itself when it burnt heretics and homosexuals at the stake. Religion went out of bounds and Pilate knew it and the world knows it, because the Truth was judging them – all those religious leaders, as well as Pilate, and finding them wanting. In their religious recalcitrance, they thought they had Jesus in court; but it is they who were being tried and they were passing sentence upon themselves. That is the reversal that the reign of God’s Christ brings into the world, where the religious or political leaders are violently confused. Spiritual leaders should have no coercive power and political leaders should not feel that they have ultimate authority, because they sometimes have to carry out force for the sake of peace.

Invaders should certainly be prevented from coming in and slaughtering a people. A ruler has the responsibility to protect them from such wanton murder. The government should not allow its people to be killed with impunity. But having this God-given responsibility still degrades the government into having a lower status, because the lesser of evils is required of them.

I’m reading W.D.J. Cargill Thompson on The Political Thought of Martin Luther, (New Jersey: Barnes & Noble Books, 1984) and he does a wonderful job in representing Luther’s two kingdom theory, that God has two divine ways to rule the world, as well as two different realms. The first is through the church by means of the Word of God, and the second, through the civil government by means of reason and the law. It is when the religious confuse their realm with the political one, or when the political one confuses its realm with the spiritual or ultimate one, that the kingdom of Satan gains ground against the Kingdom of God.

What more would Satan want than that religion becomes violent and that the state consider itself ultimate? What better way to bring about the destruction of God’s creation, to disrupt God’s continuous creation of this unfinished world? For Luther the confusion of kingdoms was a radical source of evil.

Thus the Passion story shows how the religious leaders confused the kingdoms and how the state tried to carry out a religious mandate, that is, to punish blasphemy; and how both had stepped out of bounds, and history has shouted, “Foul!” ever since.

Hopefully, you could follow my large brush-strokes with which I dipped into the Gospel of John, the Prophet Daniel, Luther’s Two Kingdom Theory, in order to paint the sorry picture of our world today.

Luther made pastors and preachers mindful that they stand before God in an office that informs the conscience of emperors, kings, and people. The Prophet Jeremiah of old found himself in a very precarious situation, because he had to preach the Word of God to a people who were in rebellion to it. In his case you can read how the people had to struggle with themselves to allow him to speak the word of judgment, even with the enemy at the gate. But without the word there is no way to redirect the people to repentance and the way of life. Amos was told to flee to Judah, told to prophesy and earn his living there. Amaziah, prophesied against Amos and forbid him to speak in Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary and it is the temple of the kingdom (Amos 7:10ff).

Obviously, Amaziah’s religion is a civil religion, an enterprise that existed for the sake of politics. But a prophet must speak the Word of the Lord so that it throws light on empires, kingdoms, countries, and states, so that their works are not done in darkness, but can be discerned as to whether they are good or evil.

Thus we should remember that when we think about Obama’s pastor, today’s Jeremiah Wright, Jr. The context of his words are important, because often Black churches are intimately acquainted with the wicked side of America and have the courage to bring it up, while most white churches remain in denial. It stands to reason. If you stand on my foot, I’ll holler “Ouch!” You are not aware of it, because you do not feel the pain, unless you have learned some empathy.

Now should the prophets in our midst remain silent, when our country has embarked on an illegal and unjust war? A preemptive war violates the strictures of the long standing just war theory. Should we remain silent when our country sets up secret prisons around the world, begins to justify torture, and allows its president to act as though he stands above the law? Face it, our anarchy in Iraq is getting as bad as the former tyranny, and that there are now several million refugees from the primordial place where paradise was located, in Mesopotamia, between the great rivers. With all the money and effort that we use to train the soldiers and the police of Iraq, why don’t the insurgents need our money and training? We can still pray that God’s grace change that whole debacle into a miracle of forgiveness once more, before it is too late.

March 14th 2008

Sometimes the New York Times is filled with a treasure trove of meanings, like reading about Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, for example. What an inspiration she is! Long or short, some lives have made incredible contributions.

Then the article about being legally blind, “The Vision Thing” by Stephen Kuusisto (Op-Ed page A 23). He put into words what we used to practice and after my academic studies I have somewhat lost sight of: “When people talk to me, I can’t just listen; I am also compelled to take stock of the person behind the words.” Nora taught me that years ago and we practiced it in our Leadership Training Laboratories for Vacation Church School and Day Camp at Old St. Paul’s in Coney Island.

Then on the same page Paul Krugman keeps being the prophet of doom. But that is the more authentic position since the clash of Jeremiah and Hananiah, the prophet of glory (Jeremiah 28). From Krugman’s words it is hoped that the Feds can use their monetary input in a more nuanced way, so that it is not a matter of the size, $200 or $400 billion, but the crucial direction of the recovery they can give the very irrational places of the economy and Wall Street. Perhaps “irrational” is not the only word to use, some of the non-regulated economic activity is unethical, too. The places where Krugman names an economic instrument and then adds “(don’t ask)” is probably a highly irrational part of our recent economic elaborations, perhaps for the unethical drive to leave all risk to others, while doing incredibly risky economic transactions. When such agents have to take responsibility that means including the risks these activities involves rather than displacing them to others. It may once again be the privatization of prophet and the collectivization of cost. Hopefully that is not the underlyng principle of Wall Street, per se!

David Brooks has made me respect a conservative for the first time. I think when a person is really searching for the truth in this our human condition, then we transcend all these foolish labels. I think he is doing some up-to-date anthropology about what could have happened to a man like Gov. Spitzer. As Brooks says, “Perhaps they grow up in homes with an intense success ethos and get fed into the Achievatron, the complex social machine that takes young children and molds them into Ivy League valedictorians” (from “The Rank-Link Imbalance” again the Op-Ed page). Brooks has other bon mots: they are the “kings of the emotionally avoidant” and “Because of disuse, their sensitivity synapses are still performing at preschool levels” and “Maybe they’d be prepared for what is about to happen if they’d subordinated their quest for immortality to the joys of domestic ridicule.”

David Brooks has penetrated the competitive human being, who tries to leave others in the dust, but loses his or her humanity in the process. I, too, was a valedictorian from a rather mediocre High School and I remember how other students gave me a pained look when they saw my grades. They could not put three to four hours of homework in a night. But then to become a great soul, it takes confronting oneself and going through the harrowing experience of taking responsibility for your shadow side and your bright-shining self, instead of owning up only to the latter. It also cannot be done in a once-and-for-all way. Sometimes our shadow side assaults us again and before we know it, we also forget to take stock about who is behind our words.

Another highlight comes from the New York Times “Sports Friday” (pages C-11 and C-14). Dean Potter is walking a 180 foot rope between the ledges at Hill Roaring Canyon and explains how he gets into the zone. A huge emptiness hits him in the middle of the walk as he looks one mile down into the chasm. He is full of calm and terror when he felt the most connected to himself and his surroundings, (to jot down some of his words or the words of Jeré Longman, who wrote the article). Dean Potter says,

When there is a death consequence, when you’re doing things that if you mess up you die, I like the way it causes my senses to peak. I can see more clearly. You can think much faster. You hear at a different level. Your foot contact at the line is accentuated. Your sense of balance is heightened. I don’t seem to feel that way very often meditating (C-14).

Of course, he is describing the new life in Christ compared with the deadness we walk around in and call it living. Allowing God to move into our souls, having Christ in our hearts, brings about the life Dean Potter is describing, except that we do not have to have size 14 feet for feeling the accentuated contact with the life-line.

Today’s New York Times was a feast!

Weblog Comments: March 3, 2008

I’m studying George Herbert Mead: On Social Psychology, (University of Chicago Press, 1964), the way I’ve always wanted to but never had the time. I love his theory about the origin of language through gestures. Surprisingly, I found that he really slams the church on page 250 and then presents a diagnosis for its condition. One wonders what kind of an experience he must have had with the church:

Oppressive, stereotyped, and ultra-conservative institutions – like the church – which by their more or less rigid and inflexible unprogressiveness crush or blot out individuality or discourage any distinctive or original expressions of thought and behavior in the individual selves or personalities implicated in and subjected to them, are undesirable, but not necessary outcomes of the social process of experience and behavior. There is no necessary or inevitable reason why social institutions should be oppressive or rigidly conservative, or why they should not rather be, as many are, flexible and progressive, fostering individuality rather than discouraging it (page 250).

Although G.H. Mead does not admit it, some churches are more flexible and progressive than he allows. Alas, sometimes Lutherans are called the “frozen chosen” and at times we might exclaim in exasperation, “We have rigor mortis of the soul!” But the pastor’s favorite beer can be introduced in the fellowship hall and we can drink a toast to old Martin Luther and say, “The beer is not bitter! The devil has not brewed it!” and then have a good laugh together. Children’s services can loosen up a traditional service, and a progressive pastor can be called to a conservative congregation and vice versa, so long as they are not too far apart. If the distance between them is too great, they do not see each other and this strategy fails. But one dare not allow each other to fall asleep in the cold secular snow storm and freezing weather of this world.

In terms of his diagnosis, (and he is evidently a progressive), he distinguishes between morals and conventions. “Conventions are isolated social responses which would not come into, or go to make up, the nature of the community in its essential character as this expresses itself in social reactions” (page 252). Morals and manners should not be identified with conventions.

Thus conservatives identify what is pure convention with the essence of a social situation, nothing must be changed” (page 252).

What does Mead refer to, if not the old Lutheran teaching about adiaphora which are not to be made into things essential? A famous principle that probably derives from St. Augustine goes: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, freedom; and in all things, charity.” “Conventions” are Mead’s way of referring to non-essentials and a confusion of essentials and non-essentials strips the people involved of their freedom. Luther never tires of saying when adiaphora are made the essentials, the freedom of the Christian is taken away.

Thus the Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America (1958) states in its preface:

Freedom and flexibility in matters liturgical is our birthright, and there is room for ample variety in ceremonial, music, and architectural appointments (page vii).

That echoes article VII of the Augsburg Confession:

It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere.

The liturgy of the Western Rite has essentials and non-essentials in it and has to be approached from a sound theological perspective. A short service should not leave essentials out, nor should a long ornamental liturgy add extraneous elements. Thus in dealing with the liturgy real concern is required, because the Gospel is also proclaimed in it.

But there has to be change even in the liturgy. When Luther translated the Latin Rite into the German Mass, there had to be change, but in the change the essentials remained constant. Without changing the Latin Mass, the common people would have continued missing out on hearing and understanding the Word of God. They did not understand nor speak Latin.

Returning from Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia to Christ Lutheran in El Cerrito, California, the latter congregation enjoys players who act out each Sunday the gospel lessons, which are quite dramatic in Lent. They used to have the choir sing the Kyrie and now they have changed to singing it in Greek: Kyrie eleison. The congregation sings it in Greek after every petition. Members come to me and ask: “What does ‘Kyrie’ mean?”

I say, “Lord.”

“Then what does ‘eleison’ mean?”

I say, “Have mercy.” And the congregation sings the Kyrie the way it was done before the service was translated into Latin. For centuries, the services in Rome still took place in Greek.

An intelligent conservatism will see the difference between conventions and essentials. Human traditions remain subordinate to the Word of God, and the liturgy needs careful differentiation between the essentials and non-essentials because it contains the Word of God. When we make the necessary changes in that light, as Luther did, as St. Jerome did, who translated the Greek Bible into Latin, then the essentials are preserved. Making no changes, changes the Word of God to unintelligibility. If the congregation does not know what Kyrie eleison means, then it can be explained. But when too much is in a foreign language, the Gospel becomes estranged from the lives of the people. I love the way we sing Kyrie eleison, because in the German liturgy, it was always kept as an option for the Kyrie.

Now if the Bible has to be changed, then all the more, a particular hymnal has to be changed after a certain interval, because only by changing it will the liturgy stay the same. As paradoxical as that sounds, it is true. Keeping an old hymnal will change the liturgy, because it will become alienated from the life in the world, which it should enlighten and inform.

Tyndale was executed for translating the Bible into English. Coverdale had to complete it. Luther was told that it was blasphemy to translate the Latin Bible into German, a language so inferior to the classical Latin, that it would pervert the Word of God. He was also told that he was casting pearls before the swine!

Meanwhile Jesus spoke the Aramaic instead of the classical Hebrew; the New Testament was written in the common Greek, called the Koiné, yes, the common Greek instead of the classical Greek; and the authorities in Luther’s day, were missing the whole point: they were forbidding the translation of the Vulgata, as the Latin Bible was called, into the vernacular, because the word should not reach the “vulgar” (Latin for “common”) people. Latin was considered vulgar in comparison with the Greek of that day. But the Vulgate was for the “vulgar” people.

As the Scriptures say, “The letter kills; the spirit brings life!” The same Holy Spirit comes to us in different forms. The very same form can be possessed by a very different spirit from the Holy Spirit. Let us just say, a very human spirit.

George Herbert Mead has another very interesting point. A person can have a narrow or a larger self. His example is a boy in a gang, who develops a very narrow self, and gains a larger self in proportion as he enters into a larger community (page 254). It is not the size of the community, but its complexity and its yearning for universal attributes that matter (to use his language).

I believe that it can be harmful to name a congregation a family, if it has not developed the larger selves that Mead is talking about. If the members have, then the name should not do any harm. But I grew up in a church composed of my family and that was not at all healthy. Like a community, the congregation is made up of a family of families, many families organized together. A family has the bond of blood, which is not the case with a congregation. Members join by baptism, receiving a spiritual bond. One enters a family by a biological birth and otherwise, it can be entered only by marriage or adoption. I believe a Christian person has a larger self and it should not be narrowed down into merely a self in a family.

Jesus was at loggerheads with his mother and sisters and brothers: “Who are my mother, my sisters and brothers?” he asks? “They are those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” Those words by Jesus universalize the family, taking away the natural father, and giving everyone of the baptized, the Father in heaven, who makes everyone sisters and brothers in Christ; everyone born anew from above. If the family concept has become enlarged in such a way, then it is all right. But if the congregation is filled with narrow selves, that biological concept of the family can become an even greater obstacle to its growth.

Weblog Comments: February 28th 2008

William F. Buckley died yesterday and I felt that I could not have stood up to his sharp wit and his gruesome debating tactics. But I did not like his position and that he inspired Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan do not give him credit in my eyes. He came out of the anti-liberalism of the old Roman Catholic Church and from a family that was entrepreneurial, but liked its upper-class taste and privileges. He worked hard to become an honest member of the intellegentia, was very dedicated to conservatism, and had a way of helping young journalists begin their careers, which goes to his credit. I’m thinking of the selfless way he helped the conservative, David Brooks, get his start, along with many other young conservative journalists.

But why sit “athwart” the history of the world in order to make it stop? Isn’t that to say that God was only in the past and to fear that God will not continue to be with us into the future?

“We need to look at the old in the light of the new, letting the old criticize the new and the new criticize the old,” according to Confucius. Thus Buckley has a legitimate conservative place for keeping changes authentic.

My problem is with individualism, however. Reagan and Bush caused a wholesale redistribution of wealth to the rich and it seems to me that individualism writes off the masses of the poor.

But a great soul does not become an individual at the expense of poor people, but becomes an individual for their sake. We have certainly arrived at the individual in history and the value of the individual cannot be denied. But when individuals cut themselves away from the common people, they diminish their own souls by it. In the words of George Herbert Mead, some selves exploit the society by setting up “a narrow self which takes advantage of the whole group in satisfying itself” and “the narrow self does not relate itself to the whole group of which it is a part” (George Herbert Mead: On Social Psychology, Anselm Strauss, ed., University of Chicago Press, 1964, page 239 and 240).

Statism probably goes along with the sentiment that that government is best which governs least. It is true when people are responsible and practice business ethics. But when some corporations show that they are willing to include sick cows in the food chain, sell feed that they know is infected with mad cow disease, and otherwise be unwilling to pay the high price that a moral decision requires, the government has to step in. It dare not turn a blind ideological eye on such unethical business practices. The supervisory, social organization called government is necessary to protect the poor from the rich and powerful, who sometimes live at the expense of the commonwealth and could care less if the poor common people lived or died. The principle of the privatization of profits and the collectivization of costs is very much alive among us.

Huge economic, social, and political forces, in the form of corporate forces are afoot in our midst, and while Reagan spoke of the corner drugstore man, where dates enjoyed a shake together, there were huge pharmaceuticals consolidating their power. They are the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the giant elephant for all to ignore. When corporations make their own rules for their own advantage as they go along, what say-so does an individual have?

Our own birth and death are not in our own hands, or shouldn’t be if we trust in God’s goodness. And what we ourselves make of our lives also needs to be replete with such trust, because we are up against forces far greater than the individual. On the other hand, as decision-makers, we also sit at the switches, it is true, that “train” these forces in more or less humane directions.

What chance does an individual tenant have when his landlord can no longer pay his mortgage? The house goes into foreclosure and the tenant has to move with all the expenses entailed. These economic relations are completely outside of the tenant’s control.

The state certainly should not replace our emphasis on individuals, but it should also not neglect building up sound communities. In his book, The Future of Man, Teilhard de Chardin noted that opposing the individual to the group is a false habit of mind:

The coming together of separate elements does nothing to eliminate their differences. On the contrary, it exalts them. In every practical sphere true union (that is to say, synthesis) does not confound; it differentiates.

Thus true unity differentiates, it does not confound. Uniformity brings justified dissent because the individual has to conform with the group. True unity, however, allows individuals or better yet, persons, to be themselves as differently as they want to be. Our unity is internal and provides an inner bond, while uniformity is external and who knows where the hearts of such individuals are.

Healthy and whole persons require sound communities and true unity makes the individual and the group one, internally.

Importantly, conservatives have the courage to criticize progressive movements, such as feminism and that of civil rights, even if it seems socially unethical to do so. (Buckley somehow needs to add social ethics to his moral responsibility and intellectual honesty.) Often progressives cannot criticize their own movements despite their valuing of self-criticism, because they are so sensitive to their cause. Being for a diversity of people should not preclude a diversity of positions in thought. Why should a diversity of people have a conformity of thought? Thus it need not be anti-Semitic to criticize Zionism, nor anti-woman to criticize some feminism, or racist to criticize a Black movement. But with this criticism, a person’s heart should be in the right place: for the downtrodden and oppressed.

Why do most conservatives not care if the homeless live or die and in the false name of morality blame the victims to boot? Why go off on lucrative individual projects and never figure out what has brought the huge army of homeless into our midst? I submit that the disaster of homelessness began under the Reagan administration; yes, indeed, in New York City under Reagan, Cuomo, and Koch. The Bowery used to be contained in that city and in the alliance the middle class formed with the rich against the poor, the Bowery overflowed into all five boroughs and subsequently into almost every city of America. I maintain that Reagan’s policies, especially his unwillingness to use the power of the government to protect the poor, and his tax-cuts, that aligned the government with the greedy and powerful, brought us the scourge of homelessness. The landlords of whole single-room-occupancy buildings (SRO’s) were allowed to turn their tenants into the streets so that their buildings could be changed into condominiums. Thus powerful economic forces were unleashed against the most vulnerable in the land. What kind of an individualism is that? Do poor people not count as individuals?

Individualists have to learn to serve their fellow human beings and not rule them with the yearnings for a personal empire with all the power that commands. Individualists have not yet learned that their personal morality needs to be couched in an awareness of social issues, or their morality becomes a sham and an ideological deception, which refuses to see the eight hundred pound gorilla in our society. All the SRO’s turn their tenants into the streets, the city and state give twenty-year tax exemptions for luxury apartments and hotels, without the slightest request for affordable housing, and Koch claimed that the churches were selfish because we did not provide shelter for the army of homeless suddenly flooding the streets.

An editorial in a local Pittsburgh newspaper clinches the deception of those who have a myopic view of society and can think only in terms of personal moral responsibility: When all the steel mills had just closed down and 30,000 workers were unemployed, the editor claimed that the unemployed were just lazy or they would find work. Some economic disasters are social disasters and some individualists want to ignore that part of reality.

Written by peterkrey

June 1, 2008 at 12:31 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Friend of jason.

    Steve baughman

    November 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm


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