Monday, November 28, 2016

PATMOS: A Review

There is a lot I like about this C. Baxter Kruger's latest book Patmos, most especially his central thesis that "the assumption of separation is the great darkness."  (91)  I like the way he continually emphasizes his point that here in the West we have all too often believed the idea that we are separated from God and from one another.  But that, says Kruger, is a false notion.  We are not separate from God.  We are not separate from one another.  We just think we are.  It is a message that we need to hear often in post-election America!

But that said, there are things about the book that I find less appealing. 

It's basic premise in fairly straightforward.  The well-educated 21st century theologian, Aidan Williams, is magically sent back in time to Patmos, where he meets the Apostle John.  For three days they have an extended theological conversation focusing on many matters, but most especially on the Incarnation.  And, in the end, Aidan is returned to his own time and his own home.

I have no trouble with the idea of time travel.  It sets up intriguing possibilities like this one.  And while Kruger does recognize some of the incongruities it creates, his focus on things like slang expressions which would make no sense to a first century human being seems very forced in most instances.  In fact, it is distracting.  I suspect some of it is introduced to alleviate the heavy theological dialogue, a bit of leavening with humor, but it usually falls flat.  Especially the seventh-grade locker room jokes about flatulence. 

Kruger makes some assumptions about the Apostle John with which many scholars would disagree.  Not only the chronology of his life, but also, more significantly, crediting him with the authorship of all the Johannine material in the New Testament.  While it is true many conservative scholars would agree with his understanding that the John who wrote the Gospel of John is the same as the John who wrote the Book of Revelation, there are many others, of many theological persuasions, or no theological persuasion, who would disagree.

That said, there are some wonderful twists and turns in the book that make sense out of things that are often hard to comprehend.  The discussion John and Aidan have about the Trinity, with its emphasis on relationship, is truly enlightening.

I want tor recommend this book--for the sake of Kruger's central thesis.  But I hesitate--until I remember most of the action in Kruger's novel takes place in a cave.  And when you spend time in caves, if you are really  paying attention, you can usually find some gems.  Draw your own conclusion!  

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Thought for Thanksgiving: Enough to Eat

The church I served in Westport, CT has hosted a Community Thanksgiving Feast for decades.  Hundreds of folks every year enjoy music played by local musicians, and eat turkey with all the trimmings.  Dozens of volunteers shop and cook and set tables.  Dozens more procure donations and clean up after the last guest leaves.
For several years some of the finest support for the Feast came from the kids at two local schools.  The middle school kids raised a significant sum of money to help underwrite the Feast.  The elementary school children made table decorations and cards for each person who attends. 
I just loved reading those cards! They were often quite witty, and truly come from the heart.One of the cards one year featured a turkey on orange construction paper and read: “Dear Best Bud, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a blast.  From Eliana.”
Another, decorated with colorful feathers, was very politically correct:  “Dear He or She”, it begins, “I hope you have a good Thanksgiving.”
A girl named Blythe must have been told by her teacher that some of the guests at the Feast come simply because they were all alone and wanted some company.  Her card, with an adorable brown turkey on blue construction paper, read: “Dear Friend, Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope you can find a friend after Thanksgiving so you can have a friend before the next Thanksgiving.”
Most of the cards, though, focused on the meal itself.  Alyssia wrote: “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.  Eat a lot of turkey.” And Jayan got right to the point: “Eat all the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie, even if you have to stuff yourself.”
Across the nation, many, many churches and community groups hold similar Thanksgiving meals.  Others, like the church I serve now, raise funds to buy turkeys or food baskets for those in need.  Most anyone and everyone can get enough to eat on Thanksgiving.  And that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed!  But that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case the other 364 days of the year.
Approximately 42.2 million Americans have, what the government calls, "low food security."  Put into plain English, that means from day to day they may not have enough to eat--or know from where their next meal will come.  They may be undernourished, malnourished, or just plain hungry.
I am grateful for congregations like the one in Westport, and the one I serve here on Sanibel, and for the good work they do at this time of the year.  And I am also grateful that both of them, and many other congregations as well, are involved in year round efforts to eliminate hunger in America (not to mention the rest of the world.)  But it will take far more.  It will take a national commitment to ending hunger here in our own nation.  It is time to say, "Enough!"  It is time to demand that our governmental officials do more to address this issue.  No child should go hungry--neither should any adult. Here in the United States, or anywhere else in the world.
As you share your Thanksgiving Dinner, I pray that you remember those who are not so richly blessed.  I pray that you be willing to take up the challenge to help eliminate hunger.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Loyal Opposition

My Dad and I did not always agree.  In fact we were often in opposite corners.  Our views of the world, and our views of Christianity, were not always in sync.  I would characterize myself as a progressive Christian--what some would call liberal.  My Dad was clearly an evangelical--what some would call conservative.  But we both had regard for the other.  And neither of us considered the other beyond the pale!  Our discussions could, and did, get rather heated at times, but they were always respectful and marked by the real love we had for each other.

Dad was an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, as am I.  And as such, his theology often put him in very much of a minority position when it came to denominational matters.  While my theology aligns with most of my colleagues in the Untied Church of Christ, Dad's did not.  But throughout his life he remained a part of the denomination that had ordained him to Christian ministry.  He often referred to himself as a member of the loyal opposition:  those who remain connected to the institution, who continue to respect it, yet who often find themselves at odds with its policies or positions, and who feel compelled to speak out against them.  That was Dad.

I raise this issue of loyal opposition because in the time ahead I suspect that's where I will find myself as various issues, ranging from abortion rights and healthcare to same-sex marriage and immigration, are addressed by our national leaders.  I will more than likely be a part of the loyal opposition.  I have enormous respect for our nation.  I have enormous respect for democracy.  And those we have elected will be those who hold key roles in the system.  But I will not remain silent if I feel the rights and needs of the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, are being ignored.  I will speak up.  I will speak out.

I am a Christian.  I am an American.  And I am proud to own both labels.  But, I will not sit idly by if the rights and privileges I enjoy as a white Christian male are denied to others due to their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, or nation of origin.  I will, I suspect often, be a member of the loyal opposition. 

(The photo above was taken with my Dad sometime in the late eighties.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Lighten Up, America!

"What the country needs is a good big laugh."--Herbert Hoover

I think we've lost our sense of humor.  How else can you explain the hatred and vitriol that has filled this campaign season.  We have lost our sense of humor and our ability to laugh at ourselves.  I know, better than some I suspect, just how serious our situation is as a nation and as a world.  I know that global warming is real.  That the refugee situation is at a real crisis point.  That terrorism threatens lives every day.  I know that race relations are in a very poor state right now.  That poverty is reality for many.  That the tax code is a mess.   I know all that.  And I take it very seriously (as any regular reader of this blog can tell you).  These are issues we need to tackle.  These are things we need to address.  But we can't do anything as long as we are tearing each other apart.  For taking the state-of-the-nation and of the world seriously, is different than taking ourselves seriously.  We really need to lighten up!  We need to recognize that we all have flaws and foibles, that we are not perfect, and sometimes what we do and say is simply ridiculous.

Maybe after the election is over, the ballots are counted and winners are declared, we will be able to step back, realize we really messed things up in the season of name-calling.  Maybe we will take it all as a wake-up call.  Maybe we will realize that we need to begin treating one another with respect; that we need to try a bit harder to really love and care about our neighbors, even those with whom we disagree.  Maybe especially those with whom we disagree.  Maybe we'll do all that.

But at least we can take time out to laugh.  To really have a good, deep belly laugh.  Not a snarky snicker.  Not a smarmy giggle.  But a real laugh. 

We've come out on the other side of what commentators are now referring to as the Great Recession, but Herbert Hoover was all knotted up in the Great Depression.  Yet he was able to say, maybe even with a straight face, ""If someone could get off a good joke every ten days, I think our troubles would be over."  OK--maybe more often than that.  But still.  We need to ease up on ourselves, and especially on one another.  Seriously! 

(Photo:  Herbert Hoover and his dog, King Tut)