Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Theocracy, Republican style

A recent poll suggests that 57% of Republican voters think that Christianity should be an official state religion.

A county Republican part in Idaho wants it to be an officially Christian state.
The resolution to be voted on by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee is non-binding, meaning it does not have the effect of laws or rules.

The proposal seeks that Idaho be "formally and specifically declared a Christian state," guided by a Judeo-Christian faith reflected in the U.S. Declaration of Independence where all authority and power is attributed to God, the resolution reads.
The issue has sparked debate within the Republican stronghold of northern Idaho, once known for harboring leaders of the so-called Christian identity or white supremacist movement such as the late Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler.
They seem to have an uncertain grasp of the US Constitution and the first amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Religious freedom does not just apply to one view of Christianity.  It is not religious privilege.  Unfortunately, the Christian conservative republicans don't seem to understand that.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Time to resist the Media Narrative

The media in this country is no longer made of journalists, whose job it is to report actual facts.  Rather, it is an entertainment industry that cynically seeks pageviews and TV viewers for profit.  For example, did you know that "sponsored content" exists on many online "news" sources?  Sponsored content is when an advertiser pays to have a "story" favorable to their views published in a way that resembles actual, you know, news.  (Fox news is in some ways an entirely sponsored content site, where everything is reported through a subjective political filter.)

As part of this entertainment complex, there exist what I call the "Media Narrative".  This is how they frame stories in certain ways to tell a pre-selected story.

For example, "Science versus Religion".  You either believe in Godless science (evolution, climate change), or you are a person of faith.  Even though, as we have discussed here, many scientists are people of faith, and many people of faith do believe in science.

There's also "Gays versus Religion".  In this Media Narrative, there is no such thing as gay-affirming faith groups or religious gays.  So much for the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the UCC and the Unitartians, let alone the substantial  majority of Roman Catholics who are pro-marriage equality.

Importantly, the Media Narrative defines Religion as "Christian Evangelical".  You have to admire the branding of the Christian Right.  They represent perhaps 20% of Americans (about the same number as the "unaffiliated" ), but somehow their views stand in as the only ones that are recognized as religious.

The Media Narrative plays out in the current hysteria over Islam.  Demanding that the average Muslim on the street forcefully prove their loyalty by denouncing ISIL is no different than demanding that every Christian denounce the bombings done by the IRA. 

The Media Narrative also privileges claims of "balance".  Even though the vast majority of climate scientists believe in global warming as a human-caused event, the Media Narrative requires that every "pro" scientist is balanced by a skeptic.  This is like having every story about space exploration "balanced" by someone who believes the sun circles the earth.

Similarly any story about marriage equality (supported, again, by a majority of Americans) is "balanced" by extreme voices who oppose not only marriage equality but any protections for the LGBT community.

The Media Narrative thrives on ignorance and polarization, because that generates conflict.  And, everyone knows, conflict is the basis of any good storytelling.  It's why there is never any movie made about being dull, boring, and wonderfully "happily ever after".  It's the conflict of how you got to that point that sells movie tickets.

So, they cue the outrage machine and drive polarizing wedges, because that sells.

Thus, I'm going to try to stop participating in the polarizing outrage machine.  Oh, I'm still pretty passionate about things I believe in.  But before I click through on those facebook links and sign outraged petitions, I'm going to pause and think if I am contributing to the problem.

I am going to resist the Media Narrative.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

David Brooks doesn't get it.

New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks secularists are disadvantaged compared to Christian and Jewish believers. Consider the tasks a person would have to perform to live secularism well:
Secular individuals have to build their own moral philosophies. Religious people inherit creeds that have evolved over centuries. Autonomous secular people are called upon to settle on their own individual sacred convictions.

Secular individuals have to build their own communities. Religions come equipped with covenantal rituals that bind people together, sacred practices that are beyond individual choice. Secular people have to choose their own communities and come up with their own practices to make them meaningful.

Secular individuals have to build their own Sabbaths. Religious people are commanded to drop worldly concerns. Secular people have to create their own set times for when to pull back and reflect on spiritual matters.

Secular people have to fashion their own moral motivation. It’s not enough to want to be a decent person. You have to be powerfully motivated to behave well. Religious people are motivated by their love for God and their fervent desire to please Him. Secularists have to come up with their own powerful drive that will compel sacrifice and service.
This is nonsense. First of all, there is a deep history of understanding justice and morality that is not connected to Judeo-Christian practice -- all ancient cultures had a set of rules and the commonality of those rules indicates that they speak to something clearly deeply human. He goes on,
The point is not that secular people should become religious. You either believe in God or you don’t. Neither is the point that religious people are better than secular people. That defies social science evidence and common observation. The point is that an age of mass secularization is an age in which millions of people have put unprecedented moral burdens upon themselves. People who don’t know how to take up these burdens don’t turn bad, but they drift. They suffer from a loss of meaning and an unconscious boredom with their own lives.
What complete rubbish. People who don't know how to take up if we have to re-invent a moral and ethical framework from scratch?  That's clearly wrong.

 Daniel Maguire also takes him on, arguing in a twist that Christian ethics don't require a belief in God--rather, they can be viewed as a cultural inheritance that many of us share.
That epic moral vision that was birthed in ancient Israel and echoed into Christianity doesn’t require deity or afterlife beliefs

Indeed many professing Christians might be dogmatically orthodox moral heretics. They take the dogmatic legends literally and fervidly but are less enthused about the moral demands of the tradition. Thus they would smite you for not taking literally such metaphors as Exodus, Virgin Birth, and Resurrection but will not join Isaiah in saying that the only route to peace is through the absolute elimination of poverty. (Isaiah 32;17). Nor are they, as was Jesus, “good news for the poor” or “peacemakers.” (Luke 4:18: Matt. 5:9)

In a splendid irony, secularists who walk the walk on these ideals might be more “Christian” than the “dogmatically” pure.

For Brooks, to be religious you have to believe in “God,” which is way off the mark. Religion is a response to the sacred—whether the sacred is understood theistically or not.
Paul Kowalewski at the Desert Retreat House disagrees with Brooks as well, particularly over his binary of "you believe in God or you don't":
From my perspective, "God" is essentially a Great Riddle, an unknowable mystery, an Abiding Presence at the core of everting that is. From time to time, in the thin places of life, I experience that Holy Presence, but I can never explain it and I never think of God as some sort of separated superior super person. In that sense atheists and I both don't believe in the same imaginary being.

When it comes to religion, I find great value in being connected with my ancestors in a tradition of faith carried on over the ages. I also believe that being in relationship with other persons of faith strengthens me. ....

And yes, I do love the stories in the Bible and yes I think they are mostly legends and myths filled with metaphor and poetry - but that's the kind of language that is always used whenever we try to talk about great mysteries. So, while my beliefs may appear to be paradoxical, I do not at all think that they contradict one another- that's what "both-and" thinking is all about.
And finally, I like this quote from Karen Armstrong:
Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they they conform to some metaphysical, scientific or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice.”   The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness 
The idea of the value of religion being less about faith per se and more about a shared cultural community of myth and meaning resonates with me, as I continue my own journey. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thresholds for contemplation

One of the commonalities in the recent series we did on The Attraction of the Episcopal Church, is the sense that the new woshipper was left alone to be alone, "allowing me to simply be", said more than one.

In the Telegraph, a reflection on Evensong finds that threshold to be very Anglican.
Choral Evensong is a liturgical expression of Christ's Nolle me tangere – 'Do not touch me. I have not yet ascended to my Father' (St. John 20: 17). It reminds us that thresholds can be powerful places of contemplation; and that leaving someone alone with their thoughts is not always denying them hospitality or welcome.
I've always loved Evensong. Perhaps the best service to invite someone to is a well-done Evensong, peaceful, contemplative.  I love discovering a "real" Evensong when we joined the Cathedral, with the superb choirs and music, and the incense (which is known to be anti-depressant).

Truly a jewel of Anglicanism.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The changing culture war

EJ Dionne in the WaPo sees a change in the culture wars, away from abortion and gay rights and towards nativism:
This is the new culture war. It is about national identity rather than religion and “transcendent authority.” It focuses on which groups the United States will formally admit to residence and citizenship. It asks the same question as the old culture war: “Who are we?” But the earlier query was primarily about how we define ourselves morally. The new question is about how we define ourselves ethnically, racially and linguistically. It is, in truth, one of the oldest questions in our history, going back to our earliest immigration battles of the 1840s and 1850s.
The Republicans are painting themselves as the party of zero-tolerance for immigrants.  Thing is, most people don't like the idea of deporting children or splitting families, or punishing decent young people for having been brought over illegally.  Kiss the Hispanic vote goodbye, Elephants.

But that's not all:
The other issue gaining resonance is often cast as economic, but it is really about values and virtues: Why is the hard work of the many, those who labor primarily for wages and salaries, rewarded with increasingly less generosity than the activities of those who make money from investments and capital? 
Politically, this could be explosive. What is at heart a moral battle could rip apart old coalitions, since many working-class and middle-class social conservatives are angry about our shifting structures of reward. If issues such as abortion and gay rights split the New Deal coalition, this emerging issue could divide the conservative coalition.
Yes, and news that the Koch Brothers have created their own party with a budget that exceeds that spent by the REpublicans last year suggests that we now truly have a Billionaire's party.

Dionne sees a role for the Pope in this evolving culture battle.
The rise of Pope Francis could hasten the scrambling of the moral debate, since he links his opposition to abortion with powerful calls for economic justice and compassion toward immigrants.
As we have noted before, American conservatives are angry about Pope Francis, his constant harping about the poor, and his concern about the environment.  How dare he recall the ideals of social justice Catholics!

The Gilded Age was followed by the rise of Progressivism.  Perhaps we can hope that will happen again.

The Attraction of the Episcopal Church, 4

Another young Evangelical, Lindsey Herts, explains why she's attending the Episcopal church. She describes attending church in an unfamiliar city
As we were waiting for the service to begin, the silence of the place washed over me. It gave me permission to lay down my arms and discard any kind of mask I wanted to put on. In a way, it was like the silence stripped me of my false identity, left me naked, and allowed me just to simply be. The silence in each Episcopal service I've attended has affected me in the the same way. ...

Then it came time for Eucharist. We were invited to kneel around the table together while the rector came around and fed us each the bread and wine. Whenever I was kneeling and chewing the piece of bread, I started to tear up because something about this moment just felt right. I thought to myself, "I'm at the same table as the middle aged black man in the nice suit and the older white couple and the homeless guys. We're all kneeling. We're all being fed. We're all eating the same bread and literally drinking from the same cup."

I think that's why I can't manage to pull myself away from the Episcopal church right now. Everything is centered around this one moment where people of all ages, gender identities, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, political beliefs, and backgrounds are welcome to come to the table and receive the elements. ....

I've started crossing myself, walking the labyrinth at my church, and reading from the book of common prayer when I'm not sure what to pray. The ancient practices and prayers are beginning to slowly but surely draw me back to the heart of the God I fell in love with 7.5 years ago, except in a different manner than I ever would have expected. I'm finding that God is much more inclusive and full of grace than I initially thought.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Attraction of the Episcopal Church, 3

Ben Irwin shares 11 things he loves about the Episcopal Church, including

1. The way the liturgy soaks into your being.

The first few times I walked through those big red doors, I didn’t know the code. I didn’t know when to sit or stand. I didn’t know how to use the prayer book. I didn’t know how to cross myself.

While others have sought to make Christianity as accessible as possible, the liturgy of the Episcopal Church feels other, like a strange artifact calling us into a different and slightly foreign reality. Learning the liturgy was like learning a new language.

These days, I’m having to rely less on the prayer book. After months (and now years) of repetition, the words and movements come more naturally from within.....


When I struggle to believe, the rhythms and patterns and prayers of the liturgy are like an anchor. It’s as if the rest of the community—those around me and those who came before me—are saying, “It’s OK. We’ll carry you through this part.”
4. The way it embraces orthodoxy without rigidity.

Anglicanism has long been known as the via media, the “middle way” between two traditions. The Episcopal Church has also helped me navigate the middle way between unbelief and dogmatism. Ours is a faith handed down from the apostles, but not one so fragile that it cannot cope with science, with new findings about the origins of the universe, ourselves, or whatever else we might discover.
5. How it makes room for those who’ve been burned out, worn out, or otherwise cast out. ...

A lot of us have burned out on our faith at some point—or been cast out. Maybe it’s because we grew tired of always having to pretend we have it all together. Or maybe someone’s gender or some other part of their identity excluded them from service. Maybe we were told we had to choose between science and faith. Or maybe we were just beaten down by the relentless drum of condemnation.

The Episcopal Church is a refuge, a respite, a place where we can come as we are and learn to receive grace again. ...

6. The way you can simply be, if that’s all you can do.


We belong so that we might find a common faith together, not the other way around.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Attraction of the Episcopal Church, 2

Continuing our series by quoting from young Evangelicals who have found their way through the big red doors, Rachel Held Evans:
At first, the liturgy of the Episcopal Church captured me with its novelty. The chants and collects, calls and responses were a refreshing departure from the contemporary evangelical worship I’d come to associate with all my evangelical baggage. I liked confessing and receiving communion each week. I liked reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed together in community. I liked the smells and bells. Each Sunday I’d stuff the sandy-colored bulletin in my purse so I could go home and study the rhythm of this worship, imbibing the poetry of those holy words.

We didn’t know many people then. I kept my eyes on the floor as I walked away from the Table on Sundays, afraid of exchanging too many warm smiles, afraid of becoming too familiar to these kind, religious people who, like all kind, religious people will inevitably disappoint and be disappointed. ....

But we’ve been showing up for nearly six months now, and so it is a different sort of beauty I encounter on Sunday mornings these days—the beauty of familiarity, of sweet routine.

I know the order of service now. I know it well enough to have favorite parts, to skim ahead when I’m hungry or restless, to get the songs stuck in my head. And we know the people too.... 
It is a season of new songs.

It is a season of receiving, of being loved just for showing up.

I am holding all these gifts gingerly, like fragile blue eggs I’m afraid to break. I am holding them the way I hold that white wafer in my cupped, open hands—grateful, relieved, and still just a little bit frightened of what will happen when I take it and eat.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The attraction of the Episcopal Church, 1

A number of individuals from more Evangelical traditions have found themselves worshiping in Episocpal churches lately.  I'm going to quote them over the next couple of days.  Do you see yourself?

Jonathan Martin, a Pentacostal preacher, on walking through the big red doors.

I loved that it never felt like the church was trying to sell me anything. I loved that really, nobody is fussed over at all—there is just is not that kind of VIP treatment for anybody. The vibe is, “this is the kind of worship we do here, and you are welcome to come and do this with us…or not.” The liturgy there does not try to coerce everyone into the same emotional experience, but in its corporate unity strangely creates space for us all to have a very personal experience of God. I have commented to friends that I have never actually prayed this much in church before.

With my own world feeling disordered and untethered, I am quite happy to be told when to kneel and when to sit and when to stand. I love that there is almost no space in the worship experience to spectate, because almost every moment invites (but not demands) participation. I have been in no position to tell my heart what to do. But because the Church told my body what to do in worship, my heart has been able to follow—sometimes. And that is enough for now.
He goes on,
The thing I love about Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal tradition (when it is rightly understood), is that they are based on shared practices rather than shared beliefs. At St. Peter’s, we recite the Nicene creed every week. But the practice of the liturgy from The Book of Common Prayer in general, and the shared experience of the Eucharist in particular, is what holds us together. Beyond that, there is plenty of room for difference. The emphasis is not on sharing dogma so much as it is sharing the cup.

I believe this is the great hope for the unity of the Church: that though we may hold almost nothing else in common we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, know that somehow Christ is revealed to us around the table, and have burning hearts afterward to prove it. The experience of God in and through this meal gives us the resources to transcend the temporal boundaries that might otherwise divide us.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The trials of TEC: the right wing gloats

The right wing is seizing on the tragedy of Bp Heather Cook and the hit-and-run death of TOm Palermo and it is very unseemly.  And as JCF said in an earlier comment, it all comes down to liberals, gays, women, and bishops.

Item: An article in Religion Dispatches rather incoherently wanders around quoting anti-TEC voices and somehow using this tragedy as evidence of a church that is "reeling". 
For decades, right wing Anglicans in the U.S. and elsewhere have blamed the Episcopal Church’s precipitous slide in membership on its captivity to liberalism and liberation theology, and especially to the “agendas” of sexual dissidents and radical women. There’s no credible evidence linking the Church’s alarming stats to its embrace of liberal policies, but that hasn’t stopped the right from relentlessly hammering the claim.

The most spectacular flare-ups in this war have also been about bishops: the consecration of the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2004, and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori to a 9-year term as the Church’s Presiding Bishop in 2006, the first woman to hold that post. ....
The right has folded the story of vehicular manslaughter into this narrative of left-wing captivity and declension–sometimes subtly, at other times blatantly.
Well, of course they have.  You'd think that they had better things to do, now that they left, but not so much.

But it's hard to take that gloom-and-doom about the future of TEC as anything other than sloppy journalism.  We know that all denominations are losing membership overall, and all , being huma institutions, have proven to have feet of clay.  The Episcopal Church will be what it is.

Item:  SOuthern Baptist convention leader also attacks TEC. 
A Southern Baptist Convention leader says that rather than representing two points on a spectrum of Christianity, evangelical Christianity and liberal Protestantism are different and competing religions.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in a podcast briefing Jan. 13 that two recent scandals in the news demonstrate “the depth of the chasm that separates evangelical Christianity from more liberal Protestant denominations, in particular the Episcopal Church."
“When you’re dealing with orthodox Christianity and Protestant liberalism, we are not dealing with two variants of the same religion,” Mohler said. “As Machen correctly said, judged by orthodox Christianity, we’re actually looking in this case at two rival religions, and these headlines, not to mention the stories behind them, make that point all too evident.”
 The Southern Baptists aren't exactly holding on to their membership either.     And while there are clearly some different values at play,  they have nothing to do with hit and runs. 

Indeed, there are some notable Evangelicals (Rachel Held Evans, Ben Irwin, Jonathan Martin, Lindsey Herts) who have blogged on why they headed over the Thames to worship with the Episcopalians.  It's the attraction of the liturgy, the silence, and the acceptance, it seems....You should go read their reflections, when these sorts of news articles make you frustrated.

The Episocpal church will be what it is.

THe waters ebb and they flow.