Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas memories

Christmases, for me, a long line of memories. There are the long ago shadowy ones so ancient that all I remember is my old doll with new clothes made out of the stuffing from the living room chair and a small can of talcum powder that would find its way to every corner of the house. And the Christmas that Dad’s back and ribs were so broken, he could hardly walk.

“Don’t go to work this Sunday,” my mother had said. “Something bad will happen on that tractor.” “Nah,” Dad said, “We just had it fixed.”

But that Sunday, at Happy Holme Dairy, a hay bale fell from the top of a huge stack and hit the tractor and my Dad. Even the steering wheel was broken. 

Happy Holme Dairy
But there were dolls under the Christmas tree and candy, oranges, apples and nuts.

With the five thousand dollars, given to compensate for a broken body we bought the old 80 acre farm in Northern Missouri.  Christmases there were unforgettable. Snow, always snow then. A ride in the wagon across the icy creek to cut a Christmas tree. Colored construction paper chains and silver shimmering paper to guild the tree. A sled and a nurse’s kit!

And then a move to the little town of Pattonsburg. I ruined the Christmas play one year. The measles came to town via me! The chiropractor who came to our house because I had a fever said it was just my back. (The doctor was out of town.) But finally, someone decided I had the measles.  I just wasn’t breaking out. And I still remember the ongoing cups of whiskey, honey and tea, to make me break out. My head still spins when I remember.

God broke through in a lot of those Christmases. Country school was full of Christmas. Stories, carols and the radio program, Back to the Bible; we listened as faithfully as we listened to the Long Ranger and Red Skelton. Sitting watching the snow blow across the road our world opened to the gospel.

My Mom, Maxine Attebery Trotter
But it was back to California, watching my Dad’s body grow worse and my Mom start down a long road that would take her home. God was in that mix and although the Christmases were hard there was a light for me that had not been there before. Jesus was entering my world in a real way, not just as a babe in the manger, but as a Savior who died on the cross.

I worked away from home, some of the time as a live in housekeeper, but there was the day mom called me home because she thought she was having a heart attack. She wasn’t, but she gave me my present before Christmas a beautiful gold bracelet. And because there wasn’t a lot of money I bought a small Christmas tree and we had Christmas. I was fifteen, and I came back home and stayed there until the next summer. And that was the year, in the spring, that Jesus entered my life. Funny how God plans all of those details.

Jesus was always there, He is present, and He is coming again. He is the great gift of Christmas.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The CIA Torture Report: Our need to turn away from evil Update

I am totally unsettled and ashamed of what members of the CIA have done to other’s who are created in the image of God. Back during the time of the Soviet Union I remember reading stories of Christian prisoners who were tortured in some of the same ways, standing for days in one spot without sleep, being put into cold rooms and having cold water thrown over them. To use a phrase of C.S. Lewis’ are we becoming monsters that one would only meet in a nightmare? It is confession time for the Church and the United States government.

There are several good articles, written by Christians, deploring the CIA’s use of torture.  

Rev. Joe Carter has written, “7 Things Christians Should Know About Torture.” It is on the Canon & Culture site of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist site. The article gives definitions about torture and information about what the United States has adhered to in the past.

A good Catholic writer, Leah Libresco, on her blog, Unequally Yoked, writes, Torture Report Details Wounds to Prisoners and Guards. This is an important posting because not only do we see the great hurt to the prisoners we read of those who objected and how badly their souls were hurt. For instance Libresco writes:

“The victims of the abuses we’ve committed aren’t limited to the people who were tortured, though they are certainly the most grave examples.  There has been violence done to every person asked to carry out illegal and immoral orders, from the Navy nurse who refused to carry out force-feeding to the CIA interrogators who, according to the report, cried when asked to administer waterboarding and asked to be transferred.”

Another Catholic, Father Dwight Longenecker has written, The Terrorism of Torture, where he compares torturers to terrorist. Longenecker writes:

“The victims of both the terrorist and the torturer does not know truth anymore. He has lost all bearings. He does not know trust or hope. Truth has been destroyed and all is awash in a sea of uncertainty, fear, confusion and pain.

By condoning torture, therefore, we are condoning terrorism. We are saying that any means is appropriate to achieve the ends.”

I have written many times of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his confession of sin for the church. It is found in his Ethics. I do not believe I have quoted this part until now:

“The Church confesses that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people [and there were, according to the report some prisoners that were innocent], oppression, hatred and murder [and some died under torture], and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid.”

Update: Here is an excellent article on Breakpoint Commentaries by Eric Metaxas "The Torture Report" For some reason I can only get this to go to the comments. Just scroll up.

Here is Senator John McCain on the release of the CIA torture report:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The glass is breaking again ...

Earlier I wrote that a friend, every time she posts a story about the anti-Semitism raging in the world, in Europe, Britain and the Middle East, writes it is 1938 again. It is Kristallnacht.

In just the last few months the news stories about attacks on Jews have been overpowering. The bloody slaughter of four Rabbis in a Synagogue in Jerusalem, the pictures are unbearable. In Paris, the home invasion and rape of the wife because they “are Jews.” The stabbing of two Jews in a shop in Mishor Adumim east of Jerusalem. The killing of a baby girl as a terrorist plowed his car into a group of people waiting at a light rail station in East Jerusalem.

The New York Times, in September featured an article, “Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows.” One of the details is about an attempt to burn a synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, and as one Jewish man quoted in the article stated, “For Jews in Germany, especially for us, this has very, very deep meaning,” and “Synagogues are burning again in Germany in the night.”

This is what Kristallnacht in 1938 was about. The burning of Jewish businesses and synagogues. The killing of Jewish people.

And anti-Semitism is also festering in the United States. Both the far left and the far right are adding to this dark time. The Israel and Palestine conflict is simply an excuse for some to continue with their hate of the Jews.
Recently in Berkeley California the BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) caucus of UAW 2865 “the union for 13,000 University of California graduate student workers,” met to discuss voting on a resolution for the union to boycott Israel.  The words of the participants are very revealing. The leadership of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should take note because this is what BDS is really about:

Notice several lies told at this meeting. That the Zionists made deals with the Nazis and by doing so sacrificed the lives of all the Jews killed in the Holocaust. And there is the implication that Jews in the United States are controlling what the Palestinians can or cannot do. The references to hate are because a Jewish Latino, a part of the union, stood up and shared their feelings about the aggressive and anti-Semitic language used in the meeting.   
The video of the full meeting can be seen here:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

With grandchildren and great grandchildren in mind, but everyone please enjoy and many blessings on your day. (This is a Beanscot video)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board: is evangelicalism acceptable for Asians?

This posting grew out of the actions of the Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Missions Agency Board regarding the incorporation of a group outside of the oversight of the PMA. But it is not about that group, or the issues surrounding it. I have already written about several of the 1001 Worshiping Communities which I believe were formed with a disregard for biblical Christianity. On the other hand the men whose actions, regarding new worshiping communities, are being investigated, seem to me to be faithful Christians. I cannot say more than that because I have no knowledge of the events.  On the other hand I was first surprised and then troubled when I saw one name on the list of members of the Executive Committee, that is Mihee Kim-Kort a Presbyterian Teaching Elder.

Kim-Kort is familiar to me because she started following me on Twitter. I did not know who she was, except she seemed nice as well as progressive. I followed her back which is usually (not always) my normal reaction. But with her name appearing on the Executive Committee list I started reading some of her material. She does bring to the PMA a particular view about racism but she seems to equate evangelicalism and biblical evangelism with racism and colonialism. I believe she has an extremely contemptuous and demeaning view of Asian evangelicals. And here I am using the definition of Asian evangelicals as those who hold to an orthodox view of the Christian faith.

In an article, “Killjoy Prophets, Asian America, Evangelicalism (Part 2),” written by Mihee Kim-Kort, Suey Park, and Emily Rice, Asian evangelicals are seen as being used by white evangelicals to further their own culture and privileges. Kim-Kort and other two authors write:

“The double-pronged missionary work abroad and in the US reinforced this evangelical culture – the music, the Jesus-language and just-prayers, and narrow theological view of humanity and God. In the US the impact of evangelicalism on Asian Americans served to essentially “white-wash” the communities so that their ministries mimicked white evangelical communities to a tee. This forces us to question whether or not becoming Christian is synonymous to becoming white.” (Italics mine.)

While there is and has been racism among both liberal and conservative Christians, it is not the driving force of evangelism, rather the call of Christ on the community and individual to go to the nations proclaiming Christ Jesus is the impetus. The complaint in the essay seems to be that too many Asians have become evangelicals. The writers hold up the statistics offered by Erica Liu who quotes Chang and states, “On many campuses, Asian Christian gatherings have even become a standard part of the undergraduate social experience. Not only have evangelical groups succeeded in bringing Asian Americans in their fold, but they have made them into one of their strongest groups of evangelizers.”

The number of Asians attending Urbana (a missionary gathering that many young people attend) and the number of Christian Asian groups on the Berkeley campus are part of the statistics used. The writers bluntly state “In other words, conversion is a tool of exceptionalism,” and go on to state, “Whether the conversion happens here or abroad it is analogous to (religious) colonization.”

Kim-Kort and the other authors suggest that the solution to Asians being assimilated into white Christian Evangelism is something called “Hybridity.” Quoting Kim Grace Ji-Sun, they write, “The way hybridity operates is by shifting “the conceptualization of identity because identity is no longer a stable reference point. It creates a new paradigm in which liminality, instability, impurity, movement, and fluidity inform the formation of identities ….”

Yes, there is racism among those in the white evangelical community, and it is a racism that needs to be addressed with repentance, but that is seemingly, not the focus of the essay. Kim-Kort and the other writers are in fact singling out a particular group, Asian evangelicals. Their Christianity, their love for Jesus is being questioned. Their view of God, is seen as too narrow. Their motivation is questioned as is their intentions. The writers are themselves intolerant of the faith of others. They are intolerant of Asian evangelical Christians.

So I was troubled when I saw Kim-Kort’s name among the list of the members of the Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. There are rules broken that have ethical and institutional consequences, there are also attitudes that have eternal consequences. Intolerance towards those who are brothers and sisters of Jesus pokes holes in both unity and mission.

The pastor who said the words that brought me to Christ (he didn’t know it) was intolerant of Asians. That was a long time ago and I pray he repented. One of the strong mentors in my life as a teenage Christian was an Asian Christian. He held a Navigators study in his home. That was so long ago, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember his kind face and his love for others and for the word of God.  If we are in Christ we have an identity-Christ is our identity—for those who belong to Jesus there is nothing more—we are hidden in Him.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Reconciling Paul," Jesus Christ lord, the only way

Jesus warns his disciples that some are only hired hands working for wages while they watch the Master’s sheep. But Jesus is the good shepherd, the one who lays his life down for the sheep. The hired hand is not the owner of the sheep and he leaves the sheep to be torn by wolves (John 10:11-12). Paul in the book of Acts warns of the “savage wolves” among the under-shepherds who will not spare the sheep but scatter them.

 Presbyterian Women through Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, the author of their latest Horizon’s Bible study, “Reconciling Paul,” are claiming that other religions reveal the fullness of God. Hinson-Hasty, in her blog posting on the third lesson, continues to push the idea that there are other viable paths to salvation.

While I have already written about the third lesson with my posting “The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 3,” I want to once again address this issue since Hinson-Hasty continues to deny the foundational truth of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to God. She attacks this essential Christian truth in several ways. One way is by using a question asked by a woman who attended one of the Horizon Bible study workshops. She writes:

“One friend who I met at a workshop in North Carolina asked, “How would my faith look and be practiced differently if my belief in Jesus as the only path to salvation changed?”  Her thoughtful and serious question is worthy of attention.” 

Hinson-Hasty wants to use Paul’s writings to affirm her own position and in doing so to lay out a way to live the Christian faith while still believing that other faiths are equally the way to God. Strangely she sees Paul’s insistence that although he is a Jew, Gentiles can also be Christians, as an example of how one could see the fullness of God in other religions. Hinson-Hasty writes:

“Paul, representing a more progressive Jewish voice in his time, errs on the side of inclusion. Why? He writes “all of us … are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another ...” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Paul enlarged his understanding of the community of faith by crossing well-defined boundaries of religion, race, and ethnicity.  That was certainly surprising for his time.”

Well first of all, Paul was not a progressive Jew, he was a Jew, who like the Pharisees, which he had been, believed in the bodily resurrection, believed in the returning Messiah, believed in the supernatural.  And secondly, he saw all of this fulfilled in Jesus his Lord. And that is the crux of the matter, Jesus the final revelation of God. Paul crossed the boundaries because of Jesus, God’s only revelation.

Hinson-Hasty attempts to use God’s covenant and the cross as Paul sees it as a way of affirming pluralism. She writes:

“Ultimately, I think that what Paul is preaching among the Corinthians and to us is Jesus’ message of the cross; of the vulnerability of love and priority of reconciliation. For Paul, the crucified Jesus reveals God’s nature and the fullness of human nature that all are called to be. To say this, however, does not have to create a point of division among faiths.  We can draw upon Paul’s writings to affirm God’s nature of loving kindness and openness to vulnerability while affirming the fullness of God in other religions.  The way Paul wrestled with and affirmed different ways of practicing one’s faith in the ancient world can invite us to cross well-established boundaries of creed and clan.”

If one examines Hinson-Hasty's statement, Jesus dying on the cross is only held to be an example, not a sacrifice for sin. Bodily resurrection is unimportant and the uniqueness of the Incarnation means nothing. But the question must be asked, without Jesus, without a personal God, without the Trinity how could the fullness of God be possible? Paul writes in Colossians that in Jesus was the fullness of God. “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”  

And how is the woman’s question answered? How would her faith look if she no longer believed that Jesus was the only path to salvation? Quoting Fr. John Pozhathuparambil of India, Hinson-Hasty writes:

“If you are Christian, be a good Christian.  If you are Jewish, be a good Jew.  If you are Hindu, be a good Hindu.  If you are Muslim, be a good Muslim.”

So just be good.

But you cannot be a good Christian unless you love Jesus above all ‘so-called lords.’ You are called to leave all other lords, to see them as false gods, and proclaim Jesus the Savior and lord of life. In the midst of pluralism, called to follow Jesus, you are to worship only the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Monday, November 10, 2014

ACSWP & radical feminism: turning to pantheism

picture by Stephen Larson
Within the limitations of pantheism there is no need for Jesus. If God did not create ex-nihilo, but out of God’s being, humanity shares divinity. And the evil that is in the world either resides in God as well as humanity or it is an illusion. Elizabeth Bettenhausen gave an address to the Re-imagining Conference in 1993 that has now been adapted for Unbound’s November issue; it is entitled “Re-Imagining Creation: Gathering at the Table of Necessity.” 

While the address begins with a beautiful poem that does not necessarily need to be seen as upholding pantheism, Bettenhausen interprets and uses the poem in that manner. After suggesting that the traditional view of God creating out of nothing is impressive, complex and too hard to understand, she writes:

“So, to re-imagine the doctrine of creation is to re-imagine how much more difficult it is to create life out of what’s at hand, out of the worn-outness of our lives, the good for nothing rags of injustice and threadbare hope. To make something out of that—that’s impressive.”

Well, it is impressive but Bettenhausen goes on. She blames the traditional view of creation for what she considers the ills of the world. Some are evil, some are not. For instance racism is evil, private ownership is often a blessing—that is why Habitat for Humanity is such a great organization. That is why many church groups, including my church, go to Mexico to build houses.

Bettenhausen’s theology is thorny:

“We need to re-imagine the doctrine of creation because, if you create out of nothing, the something is always a problem. We get theological investigations of the relationship between the Creator and the creation. Are they connected after all? Is God wholly transcendent or is God partially immanent? Is pantheism pagan or is pantheism a defensible Lutheran position? It all boils down to the burning question that is the real question if you start from creation literally out of nothing: What do God and the world have to do with each other anyhow? They have been construed as so different that you really must struggle to get them reconnected again.”

Yes, God is transcendent, God is also immanent, but that doesn’t mean that God is a part of creation. Instead it means that God is everywhere present. It also means that God is concerned with creation. And the struggle to connect has already occurred and the struggler won—on the cross—the battle is finished.

Bettenhausen, after dismissing God’s creation out of nothing, states that she believes one finds God in a group of women braiding rugs from worn cloths and clothes. She finds God in the midst of a struggle for justice. Perhaps, but it is when we are gathered in his name, the name of Jesus, that God is found. The gathered may be seeking justice against racism, against human trafficking, against the killing of unborn babies, against the killing of Christians and other minorities, the list is long. But it is Jesus, fully God, Fully human, who connects us to the Father.

That Presbyterian leadership is allowing the old material from the Re-imagining Conference, which created so much havoc and sorrow among God’s people, to reappear is surely an omen of how badly the denomination will be falling into the darkness of paganism.

 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet he has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven …” (Col. 1: 19-23b)