Thursday, January 30, 2014

“These Are The Most Godless Cities In America”

Under the provocative headline “These Are The Most Godless Cities In America” Time magazine reports on a study by the American Bible Society ranking 100 American cities on what it called “Bible-mindedness.”

If you only knew that the ten most “Bible-minded” cities were south of the Mason-Dixon line and the ten least “Bible-minded” cities were north, you could guess the criteria used by the Society.

“Bible-mindedness” was defined as a combination of how often respondents read the Bible and how accurate they think the Bible is. The study’s methodology prescribes, “Respondents who report reading the Bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible are classified as ‘Bible-minded.”

Believing the Bible to be “accurate” means interpreting the Good Book literally, i.e. God created the earth in seven days, Adam and Eve were the first humans, the earth is only 6000 years old, etc.

The notion that anyone who interprets the Bible differently is “Godless” is offensive and fails to take into account thousands of years of divergent interpretations.

The most “Bible-minded” were: Chattanooga, Birmingham, Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va., Springfield, Mo., Shreveport, Charlotte, Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C./Asheville, N.C., Little Rock, Jackson, Miss., and Knoxville.
The “Godless” were Providence, R.I, Albany, N.Y., Boston, San Francisco, Cedar Rapids, Buffalo, N.Y., Hartford/New Haven, Phoenix, Burlington, Vt., and Portland, Maine.
A 2011 Gallup poll asked people to choose a statement most closely describing their views of the Bible; (1) “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word;” (2) “the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally;” or (3) “the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.”

Responses reflected political party affiliation, education, and income level. Forty-two percent of Republicans but only 27% of Democrats said the Bible was the literal word of God while 51 % of Republicans and 46% of democrats believed it to be inspired by God but not always to be taken literally.

The more education, the less likely they were to believe the Bible should be taken literally. The poll also found significant income differences. Half of lower-income respondents believe the Bible is the actual word of God, compared with 27% of middle-income and 15% of high-income respondents.

David A. Hollinger has written extensively about ecumenical Protestantism. His recent book, “After Cloven Tongues of Fire” chronicles the history of the division of Protestants between “the mainline” or “progressive” churches and evangelicals. Hollinger dates the split to the election of the first Catholic president, arguing that before John Kennedy’s election, anyone with influence in America was a Protestant. Protestants were generally unified in their opposition to Catholicism.

Kennedy’s candidacy required Protestants to reassess. Protestants were confronted with an end to their claim of a “proprietary” relationship with America. Some Protestants embraced diversity, accepting not only Catholics and a broader view of religious tolerance. They became the mainline church.

Others refused to relinquish their claim that America was a Protestant Christian nation. They became the vanguard of what we know today as the evangelicals.

A significant point of departure between the two was Biblical interpretation. The mainline churches reconciled science with the Bible. Fundamentalists held to a strict interpretation, rejecting Darwin and the geologists, astronomers, physicists, and others who questioned the view that the Bible account of creation was anything but myth and metaphor.

The divergence of Protestants on matters of Biblical interpretation and diversity fed into the controversies that followed whether it was the war in Viet Nam, American exclusivity, abortion, or same-sex marriage.

We have experienced these differences in “Bibles and Beer” when Protestants of all backgrounds sit at the table with Catholics, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists and study the Bible seeking to know just what difference it makes whether we read it literally or not. Most often we find that we end up at the same place as we apply the scripture to our own lives.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

An apology

I need to apologize. Yesterday when I heard the news that the Wyoming Supreme Court had found the “Hill Bill” unconstitutional, I posted several comments on Facebook that were insensitive to the genuine pain and concern of those who have been most impacted by this entire drama, i.e. the employees of the Department of Education and their families.

Like many, I have gotten caught up in the political drama. Watching legislative leaders fumble their way through this swamp, it has been too easy to forget what lies below the surface of those waters.

There are scores of people whose real lives have been turned upside down. For two years they have been involuntarily cast in the middle of a mess beyond their control. Many have been required to answer the questions of investigators and to testify in a public hearing. They have given witness to a variety of workplace problems taking place under the leadership of Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

And then the Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision, ruled that their old boss, the one against whom they testified under subpoena, will once again be their boss. Many are rightfully concerned about their jobs. Most have reason to worry that the old workplace regimen will be restored as Ms. Hill’s duties are restored.

Now all will have to rely on the hope that rather than being vindictive, Hill and her team will take a higher road, one leading to reconciliation. They have to hope that state personnel rules will protect them and that legislators who created this mess will demand fairness.

Those may be pretty thin reeds. I can imagine it seems that way this morning if you are an employee of the Education Department.

My Facebook posts yesterday were insensitive to their dilemma and I regret them.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"for I was hungry and you…"

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

“The King will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;” for I was hungry and you suspected I was a drug user and passed laws requiring me to take a drug test before you’d help, demanding that to feed my children I had to leave them at home and work at jobs with such low wages I could not pay for child care; you reduced the food stamp budget knowing it was already insufficient to feed the hungry children around your nation’s tables.

I was thirsty and you gave me water you knew was poisoned by the fracking energy companies while your politicians took their campaign contributions, telling me you didn’t believe experts who said my water wasn’t safe.

I was a stranger and you wanted me and 12 million others deported though I was brought to this country as an infant, grew up and was educated here, and now live in the only country I have ever known. Still you called me names like “illegal alien” though the Word of God says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

When I was naked and homeless you divided God’s people between what you call ‘takers’ and ‘makers’ saying that ‘the least of these our brothers and sisters’ were takers and that you and your friends were ‘makers.’ You cried out that helping me would create an ‘entitlement’ society. You said I should just get a job even as you refused to require employers to pay livable wages.

When the nation’s economy nearly collapsed leaving millions unemployed for long periods of time despite their best efforts to find work, you bailed out the banks that caused the economic hardships and gave tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Even though there were far fewer jobs than job-seekers, and the long-term unemployed asked for help, you said that providing even minimal unemployment benefits would do us a disservice, make us lazy and shiftless; you ignored the reality of our lives, saying we should ‘just get a job’ or ‘start a business.’

When I was sick you decided it was far more important to make an anti-Obama political statement than to provide me with medical care; you had your health insurance and your family was secure in the knowledge that if they became ill they could afford care but you said that was their privilege, not my right.

I was in prison because you supported senseless drug laws, mandatory sentences, ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ and an unjust criminal justice system allowing private corporations to profit from higher and higher rates of incarceration until your nation imprisoned more of its people than any other on God’s earth…and even then you did not visit me.

“Then they will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

And that is the Gospel, the Sagebrush Gospel. You can look it up. (Matthew 25)

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Service@Highlands January 19th

  • Sunday's worship service at Highlands titled "Martin, Mandela, ad More Light" honored the memory of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Ronn Jeffrey joined me in reading the following which is composed of words taken from the speech Dr. King gave in Memphis the night before he was killed and the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, spoken to his disciples on the night before he was killed in Jerusalem.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way.
If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on to the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. But only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.
Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God's children.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Now we're going to march again and force everybody to see that God's children are suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: We know how it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.
18”If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 23Whoever hates me hates my Father also.
Bull Connor would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn't stop us.
We'd just go on singing "Over my head I see freedom in the air." And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take 'em off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there, and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer.
I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he must tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me," and he's anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."
13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse. We don't need any bricks and bottles. We don't need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God's children are concerned.
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. 22So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. That question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, and with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to be concerned about his brother.
28I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” 29His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 33I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you. 6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 5They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”