Friday, March 26, 2010

Brian McLaren's New Christianity

After way too few hours of sleep last night, I was awoken by an National Public Radio (NPR) story on Brian McLaren's new book "A New Christianity". The story was interesting enough to replace coffee as my main wake up mechanism this morning. Not only is McLaren's "new" vision of Christianity interesting (though I think describing it as "new" is overstating things a bit), but the report's discussion of changing dynamics among young evangelicals.

There really is nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes. What McLaren proposes as new is not really new at all. But for an evangelical audience who has been raised on a Christian message of Revelations, eternal life for the select few, and Jesus Christ as religious warrior McLaren's message is certainly new.

After some actual coffee, I watched a short video on McLaren's website in which he takes up one of the 10 religious questions addressed in his book. I was pleased to hear McLaren state that he thought Christians needed to return to an understanding of Jesus found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - an understanding that seems to be missing in much of the fundamentalist Christianity of America today.

In addition, McLaren urged listeners to reconsider their emphasis on an eternal afterlife away from the mess and difficulty of our earthly life. Instead, he notes, Christians should consider the words of the Lord's prayer - "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on it is in heaven".

Pastor McLaren, in a radio interview, indicated that his questioning of the Christian doctrine he was taught throughout his life emerged through pastoral conversations within in his own church. He realized that he did not have satisfactory answers to the good questions that religious seekers posed to him at his own church.

NPR reports that young evangelicals are asking questions themselves. McLaren's message may resonate with young evangelicals living in a religiously and ethnically diverse world.

But what of the masses seeking the soothing message that the difficulties of this life will be replaced by eternal heavenly happiness for those who simply profess the right "faith". Good luck to Pastor McLaren in his quest to spread this new Christianity. I wish him many blessings on the Way.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is She Willing to Risk It?

Recently, Sarah Palin stated her belief that global warming was the result of junk science. Here is my response to her.

Most days of the week, we can assume that Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska and former VP candidate, is a politician "on the make". It is difficult to know what she might really believe underneath her rhetoric so clearly constructed to feed the frenzy of her base supporters. She is clearly willing to turn her back on the devastating environmental impacts that await us because it is politically expedient for her to do so.

Despite her other antics, I for one have never doubted that she loves Alaska. And so I wonder whether she is willing to risk her beloved home state in order to work the rank-and-file rhetoric about global warming? Unlike most of the United States, Alaska is already showing signs of disruptive change as a result of higher temperatures. While the rest of the world has seen a 1 degree farenheit temperature increase in the last 50 years, Alaska has seen a 4 degree farenheit increase.

Here within our national boundaries, but beyond the eyewitness view of most of us, changes in surface water , permafrost, sea ice, bacterial levels in seafood, and patterns of insect infestations are examples of global warming's impact on the natural world that certainly have economic and social impacts for the people and wildlife of Alaska.

People (and polar bears) are losing their livelihood before our eyes in our own country. Yet, Palin is playing politics.

In China and India where most of the world's people live, they don't have to worry about hungry people and polar bears as a future threat. Hungry people are a living reality for them right now. Our reaction to the struggle of polar bears is so visceral because we know that we are going to watch them slowly starve to death, and we feel responsible. Today, the leaders of China and India are responsible for vast numbers of people living with chronic malnutrition every day and they need to address it.

Politicians in America understand that in a world facing global warming, and the development needs of countries like China and India, the Untied States faces very big changes in how we operate. Our economic self-interest is quite literally tangled up in the vast moral dilemma of global warming.

Most of us are not living where the impact of rising global temperatures are producing visible disruption. It is easy for us to ignore the moral pressure to change (and fast!). Palin has a first class view of global warming. Let's hope that someday soon she abandons manipulative politics and steps up to be a real leader on a matter of profound concern for her beloved state of Alaska and the world.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Can I get some assistance, please? Part II

Sometimes all that we can offer people in need is our attention. As the economy continues to limp along, every program that serves those in need is feeling the increased demand. Sometimes the resources to help are simply not available.

Today, was not one of those days in my office. Yesterday, I wasn't sure that the $575 mountain I had to climb could be successfully scaled. I guess I didn't have adequate faith. Tonight, the family that was perched on the edge of homelessness yesterday is secure in their apartment for a little while longer.

I put out the call this morning. Through facebook and email I told the story of the family and people responded. Between my own church, and the Pastor of a UCC church that is close by, and individuals from my church and others - we reached out goal.

My plea for assistance was answered in this case. What I heard from those responding is that the funds have been emptied, or overdrawn. The barrel is being scraped. The next time I may not be so fortunate.

Secular and government agencies that respond to people in crisis are also out of money - until November at least, and in some cases until the beginning of the new calendar year. The family we helped today is one of too many. Way too many.

The next time, all I may have to give is my attention.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Can I get some assistance, please?

Some of us are stuck in the trenches, while everyone else seems to be engaged in debates of national importance. There is no doubt that the national and international issues of the day are important. I just can't get beyond the fundamental issues in the trenches.

Today, like many days, $575 is going to decide whether a woman, her kids, her adult daughter and her daughter's 3-day old infant are going to be homeless on Saturday. The head of household, I will call her Janessa (not her real name), is a single mom. She works hard but doesn't make much money. Her story is like the many stories I hear every month from people in various states of economic crisis who are just trying to keep from getting evicted.

You know what, $575 is really not that much money. But it might as well be $1,000 or $10,000 because if her landlord doesn't have the money in hand at 3pm on Friday - well Janessa and her family will have 24 hours to get out of their home.

The church I work for and many other churches in my community have been providing emergency assistance to families like Janessa's for years now. Tens of thousands of dollars are transferred between the contributions of church members and the very poor every year in the form of small grants. The problem is that this assistance, combined with government funds and other private agency funds are inadequate compared to the need. All of these funding sources assume that families in need require a one time boost to get on their feet. But most of these very low income families are so vulnerable that they repeatedly need help. And the help is not there. A more comprehensive solution to their plight is needed.

Last week there were 17 separate voicemail messages on my office line seeking help to prevent an eviction or to assist with getting housing after a period of homelessness. Most of these households include young children.

"I was wondering if I could help some assistance with my rent?"

Yes, assistance is what they need and what I need too. I wish that politicians of all stripes and every position, had to sit in my chair and look a mother in the eyes and say, "I don't think I am going to be able to help you avoid losing your home." And I wish that we could add to local, state, and national debates the issue of homelessness and impoverishment of so many families with children.

Can I get some assistance....please?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Advice from World Religions on Health Care Debate

The painful debate over our health care system that has consumed us this past spring and summer is a far cry from the wisdom of religious traditions that we identify with so strongly in the U.S.

How can this be? Those of us who are currently covered by health care plans that inspire our confidence are perhaps too aware of the pitfalls facing millions of our fellow Americans. We are gripped by fear of losing what we have and falling into the morass of bad coverage or no coverage.

It is fear that makes us susceptible to the divisive and destructive messages of advocates on all sides of the debate. The time has come for us to lay aside our fears in order that we might see more clearly how to provide health care security to the 46+ million people without it today.The world’s religions all speak simply but eloquently about how we should approach the world. For Christians, the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:12 read,
"In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."
But Jesus was not alone in this admonition.

Confucius, in Analects 15.23 says, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”

In the Mahabharata 5:1517, Hindu’s read “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”

In the Udana-Varga 5:18, Buddha says, “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

The Prophet Muhammad, in the Hadith, states, “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.”

And the great Rabbi Hillel, writing in the Talmud says, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah: all the rest is commentary.”

These words of wisdom should be a source of courage for us. It is courage we need to change the course of this debate. The outcry must be – “if I want to feel confident that when sick I can receive necessary treatment, my neighbor (broadly defined) must also have the same confidence.”

May it be so.