Living Theology

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Saw this article posted and, given the political leanings and the sub header was initially repelled.  Luckily I took the time to read it anyway as I think the call to practice our theology is on target even if I disagree with the political ramifications.  I have a particular take on separation of church and state as it pertains to our personal life, I’ll get back to that later.

Let me start by praising the church that I attend, some of the people around me, and unfortunately probably crow for myself a little.  My church seems  very much to live out it’s theology, being able to answer the headline question with a resounding NO.  I attend an old downtown church founded before there was such a thing as a “Southern Baptist”  Our sanctuary was started shortly before the civil war and relied somewhat on the charity of other churches to be able to finish it after that conflict.  When we started attending late in the last millennium you could walk in to a service on Sunday morning and very much accuse it of being a “majestic, ornamental tomb[s] of your church[es]” where God could be buried.  Even then, before one of the services changed to a more contemporary style if you dug even a little deeper you would have found that the people within that tomb of a church were very much alive in their theology and involved in their community.

We had a pastor that had a close relationship with diverse pastors and rabbis from around the city working toward common causes.  We had a youth group and separate activity campus which was the back porch of the church, welcoming any who would come, many though sports or even just seeking meeting space with little to no connection to religion.  We had vibrant Sunday school classes which took seriously their call to service, either though various outside groups such as the local food bank to simply taking care of each other.  We had an associate pastor who was known around town as the contact if anyone needed help, a meal to tide them over, a contact with a support agency or a ride across town.  In an example of being church where you are, we had a significant ministry within the county jail which was on the same downtown block, where groups of members regularly went in to lead bible studies etc.

In the years that we’ve been there I seen changes and enhancements to that.  The most obvious being a new contemporary service intended to be more inviting to the unchurched though music, dress, and general style.  Also hard to ignore has been the purchase of the adjacent property (the old jail and sheriff’s complex) and it’s development as a community assistance mall of sorts.  Numerous non-governmental agencies are housed there including secular agencies and those based in other denominations.  Starting as a one time thought of a teen boys bible study group a whole feeding ministry has grown with dozens of meals being served every Tuesday night both at our church and at local shelters.   More subtly has been the welcoming of people within our congregation who have been reached through these ministries.  We have a whole subchurch within our ranks of refugees from Burma, many also attending our main services but having a separate service in their own language during our Sunday school hour.  The children are more or less integrated in our children’s and especially youth ministries.  While I would in no way call our congregation diverse there is definitely a sprinkling of peoples which  would not be expected in what for many years was a “Southern Baptist” church and our members have much contact with and care for those who do not seem to fit our demographics.

All that said, and as much as I agree with the call that our theology should not be dead I disagree with much of the political slant of the article.  First and foremost in that is my interpretation of a separation of church and state and more importantly how that effects my personal actions.  In order of importance I believe in freedom of religion not freedom from religion.  I believe that individual agents within government should be free to act within the tenets of their religion as long as it doesn’t explicitly restrict someone else’s adherence to their religion.  However I believe that, as a matter of rule and/or law, the government should be religion blind.  That’s where it gets complicated.  I think that the majority of our traditional morals are religion based.  Without a higher power what is good/right and what is evil/wrong depends on who you are ‘asking.’ To the individual it’s what is best for them in their understanding.  To any size group it is what is best for the group as a whole, in it’s group understanding, irrespective of how it effects the individuals within that group and especially how it effects individuals outside of that group.

Secondly is my theological interpretation of this world.  I believe that we live in a fallen, flawed world.  There will always be sickness, death, poverty, injustice, etc.  I believe the purpose of this world is simply to prepare our souls for the next.  Our call to fight those ills is a call to obedience, to help ourselves and the specific individuals we impact, not with any expectation of actually making mass change. What happens here, ultimately, matters little, it is learning that matters.

Combining those thoughts I believe that, at least as far as rule and law are concerned not individual situations, we elect governmental representatives to govern the level elected for in the best interests of the population that elected them.  Thus the city mayor is elected by the population of the city and elected to govern the city therefore they should govern the city, in color and religion blind manner, in the best interests of the mass of the population of the city.  They should not bankrupt the city to save one neighborhood from development.  They should not govern our city by the thoughts of some city half a state away and definitely not to those individuals benefit.  Higher, representative government is slightly more complicated.  I elect a congressman to run the national government to the best of their ability not simply for my (or the whole districts) benefit, that said he should be giving the greatest weight to the benefit/interests of his district not the nation as a whole.

So how does all that effect my interpretation of the political slant of the article?  I voted for Donald Trump to run the country, for it’s citizens benefit.  The charges of misogyny and racism as it relates to the citizenry is something to be concerned over but, as relates to direct legal action and his words (as opposed to his supporters), is not that compelling to me.  Does he talk and act the way I want to talk and act, no, but that is a personal flaw in my opinion except when it effects actual policy, which I haven’t seen.  The charge of racism when it comes to foreign nationals is a more compelling charge but much less concerning to me.  He was not elected to represent them.   In any decision relating to foreign nationals I believe it is his duty, regardless of christian calls of charity, to look at a strict cost/benefit as related to the citizens of this nation.    Do illegal immigrants bring more benefit to our country than the harm they cause.  Does accepting refugees from an area help to pacify it to the point that it helps our interests there more than it hurts our interests at home.  Note that the question of national prestige works in opposite directions in those two questions.   A nation that cannot control it’s border is not going to be respected.  A nation that accepts the refugees of the world will be respected more.

 

America the Aristocracy

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I have come to the conclusion that the United States has devolved into an aristocracy.  Bear with me though because I doubt that you know where I’m going with it.

Just finished reading Fukuyama’s “Political Order and Political Decay”  It’s the second volume to the an earlier one I read “Origins of Political Order.”  The first volume traced the history (and pre-history) of human society in terms of political order.   In it he made the argument that man, and the apes evolution says we came from, are naturally social animals who naturally give up free will in order to compete better as a society as opposed to naturally self reliant creatures who make a choice to give up free will in some sort of social contract.  This has led to a string of social/political structures starting with small family group bands rising through larger groupings eventually leading to some modern states.  This has been driven, in fits and spurts, both by natural tenancies such as kin selection and reciprocal altruism and conscious thought.

One of the stops along the line was aristocracy. Large landowners who controlled many people below them not necessarily based on the services they could provide but by the sheer size of their holdings.  These holdings were often acquired, at least initially, though violence and often held though heredity, whether the current holder was worthy or not.  These ‘nobles’ were then either beholden to a higher noble above them or joined together through cooperation to form larger states.  Several examples exist through history of a king and/or country whose government was made up simply of this grouping of nobles controlling their individual territories in the name of a higher state but all the while scrambling and squabbling among themselves for a bigger piece of the pie.  All the while the little guys below them simply trying to make a living in peace.  Sometimes these little guys could, if motivated, help determine which noble came out on top of a particular fight but no one was actually looking out for them other than as a source of power/income.

Fast forward to modern America.  No we don’t have individual aristocrats (for the most part) but what we have are special interests.  We have the Duke of Gayness with it’s associated nobles the baroness lesbian and count transgender.  We have the Duke of Energy with his often at odds earl of oil, baron of nuclear, and marquis d’solar.   Sometimes we have individuals rising in power and prominence to be included, each in their little fiefdom, Koch, Soros, Trump, Jackson.  All ‘representing’ some segment of population, power, or money source.  Constantly realigning in their cooperation or hatred. Each saying they are fighting for those under them but at best fighting to preserve or increase those under them and often simply fighting for more power to dictate to the other noble/interests what they can and can’t do.

 

May God have mercy on our soul

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First let me say that yes I voted for Trump.  I have a wide variety of reasons most of which fall into line with the other posts on this site.  That said I am in no way thrilled with that choice but for me there was no better option on the ballot.

So who is to blame for Trump.  I put it this way not in the assumption that he will be a horrible president but in the knowledge that he was a horrible choice as a candidate.  Part of my calculus in voting for him is the opinion that he could actually be a good president or at least that our country will be better off after his term.  Obviously Republicans have some of the blame in having not voted for any one of the other million people to have put their name up.  What psychology led to that though.  Here I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Democrats.  

For years they have claimed to be for the common man but at best seem to have no idea what a common man is.  They support unions but seem to only benefit the union bosses.  They push for easy loans for the working class but only increase banking profits and foreclosures.  They push for equality and fairness but only in the persons of those on the fringe of society alienating large swaths of the core of society.  Then if a common man with common values objects to anything they are vilified.  If they object to any of Obama’s proposals they are racist.  If they even consider a life in a womb as something to contemplate they are ‘waging a war on women’.  If they feel that a private business person should not be forced to participate in an occasion that their religion says is a sin then they are a homophobe.  Finally if they oppose a lying corrupt lifelong politician that happens to be a woman they must be a misogynist.  It’s the story of the boy who cried wolf.  Since the culture wars of the eighties and especially in the last few years the Democrats have repeatedly cried wolf, each time the common man looked around and saw no wolf, just more common men with common values.  It’s little surprise that when Democrats called a boorish lout a wolf the common man ignored them.

Statement of Faith and History and Politics

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I started this as a long rambling post but eventually realized I was talking in circles and dropped it.  It was originally prompted by someone asking how, given my faith, I could possibly vote for Trump for President.  I think I have come up with a shorter answer, it still may ramble a bit.

I am a Christian.  I believe in Heaven and Hell though I readily admit that I may not know exactly what either really means other than an eternal consciousness of my soul and that one is with God and one is without.  I believe that the only way to Heaven is through Christ the Son but once again will accept that may not mean what I think it means.  I am more sure that what I think it means is “A” correct way but he may have other plans.

I believe that the Ten Commandments are the primary law of God with their intent boiled down to “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I believe that all other law is there for our good and for the interpretation of the above.

I believe that no one can perfectly adhere to the law, especially all it’s interpretations, but that Christ came and paid the penalty for that Sin and we can therefore be absolved.  I believe that absolution only comes after an act of our free will to admit that we Sin and that we need forgiveness.

The above I am willing to discuss but it’s basis is the Bible and my personal experience therefore any real debate is probably impossible.

I believe that our Nation and way of life was founded primarily by people of northwestern European decent who basically believed the above as well.  There was obviously work and influence by other cultures and belief systems but for better or worse they were not the shapers of our systems.

I believe, as de Tocqueville wrote, that the reason our system worked so well for so long was this shared belief system.  Our laws did not have to enforce morality, our society took care of that.  All our law had to do was to protect the situation that allowed that shared morality and belief system to remain intact.  I believe this was the original intention of a separation of Church and State.  To allow the Church to dictate morality while the State dictated the law. True, there were times and places that this broke down in both directions but in whole it worked.

In that vein I believe that it is the State’s responsibility to demand Justice.  Justice meaning adherence to the Law for all.  While it is the Church’s, and by extension the individual’s, responsibility to call for and show Grace, meaning to show love and acceptance to all regardless of their status under the Law.

At least I pared the statement part down to under 500 words.  Now for the takeaway(s)

Our system has been turned on it’s head in the last century.  The Church failed to maintain it’s call for Grace and our State has failed to consistently pursue Justice.  By extension it is now the State calling for Grace and the Church calling for Justice.  The state attempting to dictate morality, which it is not equipped to do no matter whether I agree with the morality it is pushing or not.  The Church trying to influence the Law, which goes against it’s primary purpose.

I hope for a State that stays away from ‘moral’ decisions.  It’s job is to act in the best interest of the majority.  I don’t mean that to be  a specific Majority group but a true majority of the people of the nation.  Sometimes that means individual decisions which promote agendas of some Minority but only when that Minority is either sizable or when that agenda by some extension helps the majority.  Our system is full of checks and balances to prevent the tyranny of the Majority.  Unfortunately that has now turned into the tyranny of the Minority.

Whatever Law the State comes up with the assumption of that Law has to be full adherence to that Law.  There are many methods of Grace built into our systems.  Police discretion, prosecutorial discretion, jury nullification, parole systems, sentence commutation, executive pardons, all offer Grace, there is no need for it to be built into the law itself.  The same extends to foreign policy.  The people may call for Grace but the State must, by definition, pursue the best interests of the majority of it’s people, otherwise what is it’s point.

All of this leads to why I will vote for Trump over Clinton.  I prefer someone who is amoral to someone who pushes moralities I oppose.  I prefer someone who wants what he thinks is best for the vast majority of the nation rather than someone who thinks there is some way for the State to promote every last person no matter how far out of the mainstream they are.  I prefer someone who will act in a way to promote our nation even if it means to the exclusion of other nations rather than someone who thinks that the needs of the world should be just as important to our State (Nation) as the needs of our own people.

 

Faith in the American System

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http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html#

Long but well thought out article which I tend to agree on the interpretations but not the conclusion.

I have heard the comparisons of the Trump campaign with the rise of Fascism in Europe and actually see the inclinations.  The article articulates them well, the inclination to violence, the pettiness, the work within one party but different from it none the less.

All that said I am not afraid of Trump actually becoming an American Hitler or Mussolini, and only slightly concerned with what could happen to the country during and after his presidency.

I am scared of where the country could end up at the end of 8 years with another Clinton in office.

Those statements are based on my faith in the american system and the ease with which the democrats seem to subvert it.  8 years with Clinton would surely end with a left leaning supreme court, only tempered if the Senate can stay in Republican hands.  8 years with Clinton would end with even more governmental overreach with persecution of demonized industries and classes.  I see no way in which 8 years of another Clinton would be good for the country and many which it would be worse.

What about a potential Trump presidency?   I firmly believe that the American system would stop the worst potentials.  Would he actually try for some sort of tyrannical extended rule?  I don’t really see that but even if he tried I don’t think it would work.  There are too many checks and balances still in place and he would face opposition from both sides of the isle, something  I would not be as sure of if an attempt was made from the left. There is too large a bureaucracy, military, etc for 8 years to be enough time to put enough people into enough key places to incite them to stand aside during a government takeover.

He could do significant damage to both our economy and our foreign relations in that time but even there the system is going to temper his inclinations or at least ability.  The flip side to that is that he may actually improve both.  This is especially true if he can get the established politicians involved to make his more fantastical ideas workable.  Strengthening our border is a good idea, if it can be paid for and actually accomplishes anything.  Toughening our stance to our enemies and competitors is a good idea, if it can be done with a little bit of diplomacy.  Changing the tax structure to encourage US companies to keep well paying jobs here is a good idea, if it can be done without short term tax losses and widening income gaps.

Finally I think of what a Trump win could do to our political system.  The writer of the article decries what the loss of our less than democratic checks and balances has lead to while praising losing them.  Perhaps a Trump win, and imagine a Sanders nomination as well, would be the best lesson to the masses that a certain amount of backroom dealing and limits to democracy are a good thing.  That elites should have some greater say in who gets chosen to lead, not just because they are elite and therefore entitled, but because their knowledge and experience allows them to see past the needs of the individual and to the needs of the nation.  Perhaps it would show that a humble servant is needed in government not a boastful leader.  I for one would welcome a return to Senators being chosen by state legislatures, to nominees being chosen, at least more so, by those already elected from that party.  Perhaps even some property or other test to voting rights.  All of this would return Presidential and Senatorial selection from a popularity contest of the masses, swayable by bread and circuses, to a more dignified contest to find the best leaders.  The masses of people would still have a say, in the forum they were originally designed to, the House of Representatives.

Old battles by new means

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The way I see it there are two old battles being fought again today by different means. The oldest and more timely today is the Islamic conquest of Europe. As Islam was first spreading it took up the mantle of the old Persian empires and attempted to subdue Europe, first in the mid/near east then in Spain. At it’s high point Islamic rule existed into current Hungary and France. Slowly this situation was beaten back to the lines that settled out in the 19th Century. With the effective European colonization of the old Turkish empire via protectorates etc. the balance flowed back to the time of the Greek and Roman empires. Now what was initially a military conquest that was beaten back militarily has transformed into a ‘peaceful’ migration. Rather than rulers bringing Islam into Europe at the point of a sword the masses are bringing it in. The problem is they are bringing the sword as well.

Coincidentally in the the American south radical reconstruction, which failed and was beaten back 150 years ago is rearing it’s ugly head in a similar way. What could not be accomplished then by force of arms has been restarted by migration and subversion. Don’t get me wrong, I agree the south was beaten in the civil war and their primary flash point of a cause was wrong (chattel slavery.) However the valiantness of the fight and the rightness of the overall cause (states rights) combined to save the south and more importantly it’s culture from complete destruction. Now the south, just like the USA as a whole and western civilization in general is being flooded with an influx of population. In each case the flooding population is coming for one reason only, that it likes what it sees. It may be weather or economics but a lot of it is culture. The problem is that these flooding populations do not realize that and at best do not attempt to assimilate into that culture. At worst they are actively fighting to change it into what they came from.

Here’s a hint, if it was so good back home why did you come here.

Contemporary Worship

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This is a bit off topic but given the fact that I haven’t posted anything in a while I figured it was better off topic than off air (so to speak.) The following article popped up on my facebook feed the other day and while I actually like the singing of the traditional hymns, at least the lyrics, I’m not sure I could disagree more with the article.

As a point of reference let me say that I am a member of the praise band at my church, primarily singing but acting as backup for several other slots as well. I grew up in the church and love the old hymns but I love theologically relevant contemporary songs as well. Furthermore I prefer to listen in daily life to music which at a minimum is performed by people who take their Christianity seriously enough for it to drive their music, even if every song is not overtly christian. I feel that this is a modern interpretation of living in the word.

http://theologyinworship.com/2014/07/22/reasons-why-we-should-still-be-using-hymnals/

I’m going to go through a point by point rebuttal and I’ve copied the headlines, you’ll have to go to the article to get his take. Some of the criticism is valid but most of those I feel are much more with the way video screens are used rather than with the concept themselves.

Musical

Hymnals actually teach music. I’m really not sure where he’s going with this one, at least as a separate point. Relatively few people read music enough to be able to pick up a hymnal and sing a song correctly. For those of us who can, to a point, it is helpful but we are not the people who are falling by the wayside in singing in the first place.
Hymnals set a performance standard. This is one of my biggest complaints about the way contemporary music is handled in my team. Many of these songs are produced for radio airplay. Not only does the published music for them not always exactly follow the version familiar to those of us who listen to christian radio but sometimes neither version is exactly right for a particular worship situation. A competent praise team should be able to take the combination of the two leads and merge them with the worship situation into an arrangement that is appropriate for the situation, and still familiar enough for the congregation to join in. Furthermore that arrangement may change from week to week if the situation, especially place in worship, does.
Hymnals integrate the music and text. See the above comment about the lack of music reading ability in the general congregation. On the other hand I see many times where the formatting of the word on the screens could be done to better help the congregation with the rhythms of the piece.
Practical

Hymnals allow you to sing anywhere.Well duh, Hymnals still have a place in the church and non-sanctuary events are a good example. Even then printing just the songs to be sung is often easier than carting a load of hymnals around. Actually with the prevalence of tablets and smartphones providing the words to individual screens might be even easier.
Hymnals allow people to take possession of the music. The example given is only possible for those congregants who own their own hymnal or take one home, even less likely than them knowing how to read music. In this day of itunes, youtube, and pandora simply printing the contemporary songs for the next week would be helpful with or without a hymnal.
Hymnals don’t screw things up. This is a given. On the other hand PA systems fail, lights fail, etc. Spending an appropriate amount of money and training time on the technology system should prevent most of the issues most of the time. I’ll address the familiarity level later but unless this happens as you are introducing a new song the congregation should be able to limp along until the tech comes back up, assuming your praise team actually knows the song already too.
Hymnals are as helpful as the singer needs them to be. I will agree that there is a pitfall of staring at the screen. Even as a singer in the praise team we fall into it as well with our monitors. On the other hand there are plenty of hymnal singers buried in the book as well. Appropriately engaging singers, designed screen shots, etc. can limit this danger.
Symbolic/Theological

Hymnals are a theological textbook. They are a textbook that someone else wrote. As Baptists we are supposed to believe in the autonomy of the local church. Rarely do all the songs in a hymnal mesh with the prevailing discernments of the local congregation. The general opus of songs sung can be that textbook on a more congregationally personal level assuming that the theology in the individual songs is examined by those presenting them.
Hymnals involve tactile action. This is probably the one point that I disagree the least on but it is still mostly the opinion of someone who comes across as technologically adverse.
Hymnals are not particularly distracting.Once again, a valid pitfall but one that proper graphic design should minimize.
Hymnals preserve the aesthetics of the Sanctuary.I think I would agree with this more if he hadn’t shown a before and after example. The after shot he showed was beautiful, if in a very contemporary way. The before looked dated rather than classically beautiful. I worship in a sanctuary that was started in the 1850’s. Very little of the style has been changed although the turn of the century stained glass gives a later Victorian slant to it. Our screens are small and no they don’t exactly fit the decor. All churches will not have this problem.
Hymnals confront us with “new” songs. Once again, how many congregants have access to hymnals outside of the worship service. Actually doing away with hymnals and giving them to the families in the church may do more to maintain the knowledge of the old hymns that are not typically sung than keeping a pewback of hymnals primarily filled with songs that are not sung.
Hymnals give validity to new hymns. Once again, proper theological screening of new contemporary songs before introducing them to the congregation serves the same purpose
Hymnals make songs less disposable. Keeping a song in a hymnal that is never sung is just as disposing as removing a song from a computer list, except to those who cling to it for themselves.
Hymnals give congregational singing back to the people. Huh? The congregation is at the mercy of whoever picks that weeks music whatever form is used for leading them in it.

As I implied above I have very eclectic musical tastes. I love the old hymns but for many people they are no longer engaging. The church has always struggled with music. From the baroque times through W. C. Handy to the folk music of the seventies and early eighties. The church has attempted to maintain a relevancy of music to engage both active congregants and visitors who may not know any music but current hits. Engaging the congregation for singing has many facets. As far as music selection there is a balance between theological relevancy and situational relevancy, between familiarity and it being a teaching opportunity, between giving the congregation what it wants to sing and giving it direction on what it needs to say to god or themselves. Many of the complaints in the article read to me to be complaints about contemporary music in general. If nothing else the publishing cycle of hymnals prevent them from including truly up to date music. I think we can find a way of making the old hymns relevant to a modern vibrant church but enforcing the use of hymnals is not the way.