Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Quotes #16

Politics and Church: "The man who can't see the connection between Politics and The Christian Church, doesn't know the first thing about either one of 'em...!!! Mark Twain

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “To jolt the individual out of his natural laziness and the rut of habit, and also from time to time to break up the collective frameworks in which he is imprisoned, it is indispensable that he be shaken and prodded from outside. What would we do without our enemies?” P.164 The Phenomenon of Man

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “One could very well say that today, as was the case in Galilee, what we most need if we are to recognise the convergence of the universe is not so much new facts… as a new way of looking at and handling facts. A new way of seeing, combined with a new way of acting, That is what we need.”

Martin Buber: “The true meaning of love of one’s neighbour is not that it is a command from God, which we are to fulfil, but that through it and in it we meet God.”

Charles Peguy: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”

Dick Sheppard: “There is a travesty of religion very common today, which suggests that, provided we are all very jolly together and very kind to Granny and the cat, it doesn’t much matter what we do besides…”

Sebastian Castellio (died 1563): “I have carefully examined what the word heretic means, and I cannot make it mean more than this; a heretic is a man with whom you disagree.”

Studdert Kennedy: “A pain in the mind is the prelude to all discovery… True life only begins when a man is troubled about life, troubled as to what it means. The difference between a man and an animal is just that capacity for being troubled.”

Prayer: “God was very good to us. We prayed and prayed, so all the bombs fell on the other side of town.” -Pious old lady after the war

Desmond Tutu: “If you want peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”

“Without forgiveness, there’s no future.”

“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”

Chinese Saying:
I hear, and I forget -
I see, and I remember -
I do, and I understand.

Rudyard Kipling:
“Father, Mother and Me,
Sister and Auntie say,
All the people like us are We,
And everyone else is They.”

Defeat: “If you know only what it is to conquer and know not what it is to be defeated, woe unto you, it will fare ill with you.” Tokugawa Ieyasu, 1543-1616. First Tokugawa Shogun of Japan                

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Crossing the Globe in Search of Authentic Evangelicalism

 By Jim Wallis                               Sojourners                                15 May 2015 

 I went to a great baseball game on Sunday — in Seoul, South Korea. As my son Luke had told me, baseball is getting bigger and bigger in Korea, and several Korean players have now come to play in Major League Baseball here in the U.S. The Doosan Bears are the best team in South Korea, and they do play very good baseball, but what I most enjoyed was the amazing singing in the stands with fans harmonizing to beautiful team songs. I’ve never heard that at an MLB game. But the 26,000 fans on hand was smaller than the membership of the Myungsung Church where I preached that Sunday morning — 100, 000 members! And the singing was powerful there too.

What brought me to Korea was a unique “Global Forum for the Future of World Christianity.” Held on Jeju Island, off the coast of South Korea, the conference was hosted by three of the largest megachurches in South Korea (and the world) including Myungsung Church. That means this Korean conference of evangelical and Pentecostal leaders from around the world was financially independent from American evangelicalism’s money and political ideology. Wes Granberg-Michaelson, who attended and
wrote about the gathering for Sojourners, pointed out that for the first time in 1,000 years, more Christians are found in the global South than the North. The center of Christianity has dramatically shifted, and that means the agenda was very different from the northern and western agendas of the older white evangelicals in America and the issues they think most important. Korea could play a particular and convening role as a bridge between the churches of the global north and south.

In sharp and grateful contrast to the old ideologies of global North evangelicals, these global South evangelicals spent their time together wrestling with issues of global economic inequality, the realities of climate change, the imperatives of racial justice, and the need for Christians to wage peace instead of war. Since these are the issues that global evangelical and Pentecostal constituencies are facing in their own lives — and of course, the Bible addresses all of them as central issues Christians need to confront — the narrow, white American evangelical agenda had no interest in this global evangelical and Pentecostal forum. The fact is that they represent a different evangelical world.

Phillippe Ouédraogo, a pastor in the African nation Burkina Faso, has pioneered an intensive educational program that reaches children 9-12, two-thirds of whom are girls, which is now transforming his whole country’s educational system. He was there in Korea. So was young Bishop Joshua Banda, whose HIV/AIDS initiative in Zambia is transforming his nation’s health care systems. They and the many other evangelical and Pentecostal leaders I met in Korea are putting their personal faith into practice.

I was asked to keynote the gathering by answering the question: How do we take personal faith into the public arena? Their passion is for public discipleship. And the 40+ years of Sojourners' mission for an evanglically rooted public discipleship is very appealing to them. Time and time again they said “You’re an evangelical committed to social justice and that’s what we want to be too.” They were clearly not interested in the political identity of white American evangelical leadership that has yet to seriously address issues of justice as central to Christian faith — issues like global economic inequality, climate change, racial justice, moving away from more and more American-led wars.

Many of us feel politically homeless in America, but are committed in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the global South whose political agenda is defined by the needs of “the least of these” around the world.

I preached from Luke 4 and Jesus’ first sermon at Nazareth announcing bringing the good news to the poor as central to his mission and therefore to ours. When I said, “Any gospel that is not good news to the poor, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the congregations responded AMEN!

Rev. Young Hoon Lee, pastor of the world’s largest congregation, Yoido Full Gospel Church, named the growing gap between the haves and have nots as a central gospel issue and called out the rich, saying they should “die to themselves,” reject the “idol” of wealth, and serve others, as the epistles call Christians to do.

How refreshing it was to be in the presence of leaders of faith — heads of these huge churches that represent millions — who are more interested in the needs of the poor and the call of Christ than in being “conformed to this world” and its shallow interests or reducing gospel concerns to a few hot button social and sexual issues. Their wider global evangelical agenda rings true with black and brown evangelicals in America and a new generation of even white evangelicals emerging in America.

Both globally and here in America, these emerging leaders give me hope. They are leaders like Hana Kim, son of megachurch pastor Rev. Kim Sam Whan, who contrasts the “lifeboat ethics” of American evangelicals with the “presence of God” in the global public square — and, who, incidentally, did his PhD on the social ethics of Sojourners. They offer wonderful examples that young leaders here should note.

Thanks Be To God, for a new generation of global evangelical leaders. And for the chance to watch such good baseball on the other side of the world!

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners.

To really combat terror, end support for Saudi Arabia

 Owen Jones                        Guardian/UK                      31 August 2014

The so-called war on terror is nearly 13 years old, but which rational human being will be cheering its success? We’ve had crackdowns on civil liberties across the world, tabloid-fanned generalisations about Muslims and, of course, military interventions whose consequences have ranged from the disastrous to the catastrophic. And where have we ended up? Wars that
Britons believe have made them less safe; jihadists too extreme even for al-Qaida’s tastes running amok in Iraq and Syria; and nations like Libya succumbing to Islamist militias.

But as the British government ramps up the terror alert to “severe” and yet more anti-terror legislation is proposed, some reflection after 13 years of disaster is surely needed. One element has been missing, and that is the west’s relationship with Middle Eastern dictatorships that have played a pernicious role in the rise of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism. And no wonder: the west is militarily, economically and diplomatically allied with these often brutal regimes, and our media all too often reflects the foreign policy objectives of our governments.

Take Qatar. While there is no evidence to suggest Qatar’s regime is directly funding Isis,
powerful private individuals within the state certainly are, and arms intended for other jihadi groups are likely to have fallen into their hands. And yet, where are the western demands for Qatar to stop funding international terrorism or being complicit in the rise of jihadi groups? Instead, Britain arms Qatar’s dictatorship, selling it millions of pounds worth of weaponry including “crowd-control ammunition” and missile parts.

Then there’s Kuwait,
slammed by Amnesty International for curtailing freedom of expression, beating and torturing demonstrators and discriminating against women. But don’t expect any action from the British government. Kuwait is “an important British ally in the region”, as the British government officially puts it.

And then, of course, there is the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. Much of the world was rightly repulsed when
Isis beheaded the courageous journalist James Foley. Note, then, that Saudi Arabia has beheaded 22 people since 4 August. Among the “crimes” that are punished with beheading are sorcery and drug trafficking.

Around 2,000 people have been killed since 1985, their decapitated corpses often left in public squares as a warning. According to Amnesty International, the death penalty “is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe”, with the use of torture to extract confessions commonplace. Shia Muslims are discriminated against and women are deprived of basic rights, having to seek permission from a man before they can even travel or take up paid work.

talking about atheism has been made a terrorist offence and in 2012, 25-year-old Hamza Kashgari was jailed for 20 months for tweeting about the prophet Muhammad. Here are the fruits of the pact between an opulent monarchy and a fanatical clergy.

This human rights abusing regime is deeply complicit in the rise of Islamist extremism too. Following the Soviet invasion, the export of the fundamentalist Saudi interpretation of Islam –
Wahhabism – fused with Afghan Pashtun tribal code and helped to form the Taliban. The Saudi monarchy would end up suffering from blowback as al-Qaida eventually turned against the kingdom.

Although Saudi Arabia has given $100m (£60m) to the UN anti-terror programme and the country’s grand mufti has denounced Isis as “enemy number one”, radical
Salafists across the Middle East receive ideological and material backing from within the kingdom. According to Clinton’s leaked memo, Saudi donors constituted “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.

But again, don’t expect Britain to act. Our alliance with the regime dates back to 1915, and Saudi Arabia is the British arms industry’s biggest market, receiving £1.6bn of military exports. There are now
more than 200 joint ventures between UK and Saudi companies worth $17.5bn.

So much rhetoric about terrorism; so many calls to act. Yet Britain’s foreign policy demonstrates how empty such words are. Our allies are up to their necks in complicity with terrorism, but as long as there is money to be made and weapons to sell, our rulers’ lips will remain stubbornly sealed. [Abridged]


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Is Isis the ultimate evil? They would love you to think so

 Owen Jones                           Guardian/UK                         4 March 2015

Something about the term “barrel bomb” fails to convey the horror of the weapon. As well as explosives, they often contain shrapnel to maximise the human carnage. Dropped from helicopters at heights that make precision targeting impossible, they are employed by the Bashar al-Assad regime, our de facto allies – let’s stop pretending otherwise – and until recently,
by the Iraqi government too. In just a year, barrel bombs killed more than 6,000 civilians in Syria, nearly a third of whom were children.

But the Assad regime does not flaunt its cruelty. It does not make videos with Hollywood effects. Instead, it adopts the same regretful tone of western powers, like when the
US dropped flesh-burning white phosphorus over Falluja. We regret any civilian casualties (or “collateral damage”, as the west prefers). We do not target civilians, unlike our opponents – and so on. The scale of death may be far greater, but the claimed intentions are different: unlike our opponents, we do not aim to kill civilians, they say, so we retain our moral superiority. Above all, the Assad regime does not execute white westerners and film it. Islamic State (Isis) is now the iconic demon, the stuff of nightmares – which is exactly what it wants, of course.

If we can provide context for the rise of Nazism, why not elsewhere?

At times of war, failing to participate with sufficient zealotry in the vilification of the current public enemy number one is treated as apologising for evil, or even as near-treachery. In the summer of 2013, that applied to the Assad regime after it allegedly gassed hundreds of innocent civilians to death. Isis has now supplanted it: an Orwellian “we have always been at war with …” mentality kicks in. Nobody should be under any illusion that Isis militants are not barbaric murderers who need to be defeated, even if we differ on how such a defeat will be achieved. But it is now the fashion to grant them a unique evil, a nightmarish mystique they crave: both because it allows them to rout their enemies, who are so terrified they flee rather than fight, and because it bolsters their reputation among sympathisers, helping to win recruits.

Here’s an example from a
recent column in a British newspaper: “In Isis we are observing a level of atrocity towards mankind that, post-Nazism, we hoped we would never again witness.” Really? What about Pol Pot and his killing fields? The mass murder of a million communists in Indonesia in the 1960s, which turned rivers red with blood? The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which killed up to 6 million people and featured mass cannibalism? The US carpet bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia? Isis decapitates its victims, just like our friends the Saudis – but again, they kill alleged “sorcerers” off-camera. Herein lies the danger: it is in the interests of both western powers and Isis to grant this bunch of terrorists an almost supernatural horror.

Mohammed Emwazi was recently named but he is still widely known as “Jihadi John”; only now he is approaching Osama Bin Laden levels of fame. This former Westminster University student must relish being transformed into the west’s demon icon, a notoriety that will be matched by veneration among Isis true believers. In such an atmosphere, a level of understanding that goes beyond “they were infected with a poisonous ideology” is treated as justification. I do not know how Emwazi was radicalised, but it certainly makes sense to examine every possible factor. Is examining the role of, say, Versailles and economic crisis in the rise of Nazism making excuses for it? If we provide such context for the most barbarous ideology in human history, why not elsewhere?

What makes this all the more cynical is the west’s inconsistent – shall we say – attitude to jihadism. Who did western powers help to back, bankroll, train and arm in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the first major international group of jihadis who later exported their terror? Which fundamentalist Middle Eastern dictatorships do we arm and support, even though their kingdoms all too often export extreme ideologies as well as funding and arms to jihadis? We knew that
jihadis were fighting against Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, and as we bombed Libya, we were their de facto allies. Thanks to western intervention, large chunks of Libya are now under their sway.

And let’s drop the pretence that the west did not effectively back jihadis in Syria either.
Newspaper articles from 2012 are reminders that we knew aid from our Saudi and Qatari allies was ending up with jihadis.


The outsider who is solving chronic homelessness across America

 Terrence McCoy                     Washington Post                    12 May 2015

Those most likely to innovate are rarely the experts. They’re outsiders who see things freshly. Meet Sam Tsemberis. According to academics and advocates, he’s all but solved chronic homelessness. His research, which commands the support of most scholars, has inspired policies across the nation, as well as in the District. The results have been staggering. Late last month, Utah, the latest laboratory for Tsemberis’s’ models, reported it has nearly eradicated chronic homelessness. Phoenix, an earlier test case, eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans. Then New Orleans housed every homeless veteran.

Homelessness has long seemed one of the most intractable of social problems. For decades, the number of homeless from New York City to San Francisco surged — and so did the costs. At one point around the turn of the millennium, New York was spending an annual $40,500 on every homeless person with mental issues. Then came Tsemberis, who around that same time unfurled a model so simple children could grasp it, so cost-effective fiscal hawks loved it, so socially progressive liberals praised it.

 “See that sign over there? It says, ‘Now Leasing.’ That’s what we look for.” It’s that simple, he said. Give homes for the homeless, and you will solve chronic homelessness. To the uninitiated, this may sound strange. Homeless services once worked like a reward system. Kick an addiction, get a home. Take some medication, get counseling. But Tsemberis’s model, called “housing first,” said the order was backward. Someone has the best chance of improving if they’re stabilized in a home.

It works like this: First, prioritize the chronically homeless, defined as those with mental or physical disabilities who are homeless for longer than a year or have experienced four episodes within three years. They’re the most difficult homeless to reabsorb into society and rack up the most significant public costs in hospital stays, jail sentences and shelter visits.

Then give them a home, no questions asked. Immediately afterward, provide counseling, a step research shows is the most vital. Give them final say in everything — where they live, what they own, how often they’re counseled. “People thought this was crazy,” said Tsemberis, “They said, ‘You mean even when someone relapses and sells all the furniture you gave them … you don’t kick them out?’ And I said, ‘No, we do not.'”

Tsemberis was never trained in how to treat the homeless. “I’m a psychologist,” he said. “I’m a clinician.” And so, it perhaps came as a surprise when, in the early nineties, he took a job in New York City doing outreach for the mentally ill, which brought him into close contact with the homeless. He soon sank into their hidden world, noting the complexity of its social rules and survival tactics. How some experts perceived homelessness, he said he realized, was fundamentally flawed. This world’s denizens, in fact, were profoundly resourceful.

There was need of a change. So he assembled a very small, very unusual team. None of them had any training in homelessness. They, too, were outsiders. One was a recovering heroin addict. Another was a formerly homeless person. Another was a psychologist. And the last, Hilary Melton, was a poet and a survivor of incest.

Tsemberis soon received $500,000 in federal funding, which he used to track what happened to 139 chronically homeless people who were immediately housed and offered counseling. In 1997, the results arrived. It showed a retention rate of nearly 85 percent. The next best model’s retention rate? Sixty percent. Word spread. Bebout, the Washington homelessness expert who now leads Green Door, a mental-health center, couldn’t understand why Tsemberis cared so much about housing aesthetics. Isn’t most important to just find a house, any house? “I said, ‘We’re not in the business of running pretty houses,'” remembered Bebout, who today is a fierce proponent of housing first. “The whole thing sounded nutty to us. … But the data became so overwhelming.”

Inconsistency, Tsemberis and other experts say, can devastate the program. “We committed,” said Utah’s Gordon Walker, explaining how his state succeeded at eliminating homelessness — and saved millions. “It was costing us in state services, health-care costs, jail time, police time, about $20,000 per person. Now, we spend $12,000 per person.” [Abridged]


Catholic Church warms to liberation theology

Guardian/UK       11 May 2015        Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Jonathan Watts

For decades, Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest, was treated with suspicion and even contempt by the Vatican’s hierarchy, which saw him as a
dangerous Marxist firebrand who used faith as an instrument of revolution. Gutiérrez was the founder of a progressive movement within the Catholic Church known as liberation theology, and while he was never censured in the manner that some of his philosophical compatriots were, there were often rumblings that Gutiérrez was being investigated.

But when the 86-year-old Peruvian arrives in Rome this week as a key speaker at a Vatican event, he will be welcomed as a guest, in a striking show of how Pope Francis – the first Latin American pontiff – has brought tenets of this sometimes controversial movement to the fore of his church, particularly in his pronouncements against the blight of poverty and the dangers of capitalism.

In its height in the late 1960s and 1970s,
liberation theology – a distinctly Latin American movement – preached that it was not enough for the church to simply empathise and care for the poor. Instead, believers said, the church needed to be a vehicle to push for fundamental political and structural changes that would eradicate poverty, even – some believed – if it meant supporting armed struggle against oppressors. In Nicaragua, priests inspired by liberation theology took active part in the 1979 Sandinista revolution against Somoza’s dictatorship. Pope Francis has never proclaimed himself to be a liberation theologian and was even a critic of aspects of the movement when he was still known as Father Bergoglio in his native Argentina, according to papal biographers.

“He was very critical of the liberal Marxist version of liberation theology,” said Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of Pope Francis. “At that time, you had leftwing movements in Latin America but in fact these were middle-class movements, which [Bergoglio] believed used the poor as instruments. He had a phrase he used – that they were for the people but never with them.” But since
his election as pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis’s insistence that the church be “for the poor”, and his pointed criticisms of capitalism and consumerism have gone a long way to rehabilitate the liberation theology movement and incorporate it within the church.

J Matthew Ashley, chair of the theology department at the University of Notre Dame, where Gutiérrez is also professor, says the pope has been greatly influenced by the Argentinian variety of liberation theology, which is called the theology of the people. While the two have sometimes been seen as opposing theologies, even Gutiérrez has said they simply have “different accents” within a single theology.

Ashley says the “thaw” between Gutiérrez and the Vatican started earlier, when the Peruvian co-authored a book with German cardinal Müller, who is now the prefect of the congregation of the doctrine of the faith and seen as a possible future pope. But he acknowledges that Gutiérrez has never been as welcomed in Rome as he is today.
“There are many points of similarity between Gutiérrez’s theology and Pope Francis’s thought, addresses and actions. Both have emphasised that opting for the poor requires getting to know the poor, becoming friends with the poor … both have a great respect for the spirituality of the poor, particularly in everyday life,” Ashley says.

Jung Mo Sung, a prominent liberation theologian in Brazil, says the church has turned a page on liberation theology precisely because Francis understands that the church’s mission is not just to announce God to a world of unbelievers, “but to a world marked by an idolatry of money”.

“In this sense, we can say that part of liberation theology has been elevated to the doctrine of the church,” Sung says. He attributes this shift to the alarming increase in global inequality and the personal experience of the pope, who has worked in some of the poorest communities of Argentina.

Jimmy Burns, who has written a forthcoming biography of the pontiff, agrees that Francis’s Latin American background, has made a key difference. “His predecessor was a very Eurocentric theologian and European to boot and John Paul was virulently anti-communist from Poland,” Burns says. [Abridged]


Punishment and Grace

Ian Harris                    Otago Daily Times                    May 8, 2015

The Australian drug traffickers did wrong. But in killing them, punishment triumphed over grace, writes Ian Harris.

What a way to go! Ghastly, tragic, merciless, yet with a defiant air of resolution, peace, even hope, as two Australians faced an Indonesian firing squad 10 days ago [April 29], along with six others who had also smuggled drugs. They showed it by singing the hymn Amazing Grace as they stood, each tied to a cross with arms outstretched, awaiting the order that would end their lives. President Joko Widodo ordered their execution to send a message of ultimate deterrence: Smuggle drugs and you’ll die. This vicious trade causes incalculable harm, and Indonesia is serving up a vicious response. 

The Australians, Sydney-born Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, of Sri Lankan origin, accepted they had broken the law. If the justice system is all about punishment, they deserved to be punished. But human relationships include those between the individual and the societies they live in. They go deeper than merely staying within the law and taking the consequences if you don’t.

Relationships leave room for change, growth, “amendment of life”, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it. They allow for grace – amazing grace – and by all accounts, that was Chan’s experience. As with Sukumaran, the man who was executed was not the man he’d been 10 years earlier. His life had been transformed.

Grace is a key concept in the Christian life-view. It lifts a person’s experience out of the mundane world of reward and punishment into that of generosity of spirit beyond anything anyone could ever say they deserved.

That’s why grace is amazing, and that’s why Amazing Grace was exactly the right hymn for the condemned men to be singing as they stood bound to their crosses. For it was written by a man who today would rightly be condemned as a slave trader.

This was John Newton, a libertine and very much a man of the world when, still in his twenties, he became captain of a ship carrying slaves from Africa to America. At 19 he had been press-ganged to serve in Britain’s navy, deserted, and when recaptured was publicly flogged. Transferred to service on a slaver, he had been brutally abused – the slaves even more so. Amazing Grace, written years later, refers to “a wretch like me”. It was an understatement. An unexpected deliverance from the perils of an Atlantic storm, which Newton attributed to God’s mercy, marked a turning-point towards a new way of life. Getting to know and respect John Wesley and other leaders of the early Methodist movement confirmed it. In 1764 he became an Anglican minister at Olney, in Buckinghamshire, and campaigned against the slave trade. 

Imprisoned in Bali, Chan had a similar transformation. He became a Christian, took a course in theology, and was ordained as a pastor. He led church services and, with Sukumaran, established a drug rehabilitation programme for fellow prisoners. Sukumaran, lured to drugs by the promise of a big pay-off, came to describe his arrest as “a blessing”. Three pastors and a priest who ministered to the eight on the execution field told how they sang Newton’s hymn in unison, “like in a choir”, including a verse that must have seemed written for them:

Yes, when this flesh and heart should fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace

Life beyond death? This was not the place or time to quibble over the reality or otherwise of an after-life. As the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in quite another context, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.” This hymn speaks to the heart.

After Amazing Grace came Bless the Lord, O My Soul, cut short by the fatal volley of shots. Clearly, the hymns bonded the singers and gave them peace. With the Australians died four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian. Those who put their trust in punishment will take a grim satisfaction from their deaths. But the death penalty is the most callous of weapons in the fight against crime. When prisoners have turned their lives around, as Chan and others had, incarceration has done its job and people of good will show mercy.

A British grandmother, also on Indonesia’s death row, commented: “The men shot dead today were reformed men – good men who transformed the lives of people around them. Their senseless, brutal deaths leave the world a poorer place.” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop added: “They were examples of hope and transformation.” The world needs more of those. 

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Note on Theologian Marcus Borg (Died January 21, 2015)

One theologian who has influenced me a lot is Marcus Borg, who died earlier this year. He is radical without being confrontational, and helped many others to rethink their faith. ARP.
Marcus J. Borg (1995), Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time. This ‘gentle radical’, presents one of the most appealing portraits of Jesus in modern literature. The soft style disguises the rigorous scholarship. He does his portrait without divinising Jesus. Indeed he plainly was impeded in early life by the divinity of the Christ of orthodoxy. But once he began to ask "How is it that when people were with Jesus they felt themselves to be in the transforming presence of God?" his scholarly imagination came to life. Jesus was not God but the God-presence became real in a relationship with Jesus.

Marcus Borg the Professor of New Testament distinguishes two images of Jesus: the fideistic image of the divine saviour and the moralistic image of the teacher. He rejects both these as sufficient bases for a modern picture of Jesus, on grounds that they are inaccurate as images of the historical Jesus and that they lead to incomplete images of the Christian life. His major claim is that the Christian life is "about a relationship with God that involves us in a journey of transformation." (1995, p3)

Borg’s interpretative leap is captured by an heuristic: the pre-Easter Jesus, the one the disciples knew, ie Jesus before his death; and the post-Easter Jesus, ie the Jesus of Christian experience and tradition. Jesus from Easter onward was experienced as still present. Thus he became the ‘Risen Lord’, a living Christ. Borg’s contribution to this familiar position is to say that Jesus moved ‘beyond belief’ to relationship. This continuity of presence they understood as ‘a relationship to the Spirit of God’. In it the follower found transformation.

In making the pre-Easter:post-Easter distinction Borg opens up the possibility of life-changing appreciation of the historical Jesus. He was able to see Jesus as spirit-person, teacher of wisdom, social prophet, and movement founder. Jesus as spirit-person moved the focus from believing in Jesus to "being in relationship with the same spirit that Jesus knew." This relationship is above all an experience of God as compassionate. Borg goes straight to the point, saying this defines politics as seen in Jesus. It placed Jesus in the midst of the world of everyday. He enacted the politics of compassion. The Christian life is therefore an embodiment of compassion.

The pre-Easter/post-Easter concept sheds brilliant light on the manner by which Jesus communicated. He subverted conventional wisdom, presenting for those able to hear, a new Kingdom, the rules of which are those of the compassionate spirit.  The kingdom was declared as real and present and known by the nobodies of the world.  Jesus is, in Borg’s view, a thorough monotheist who knows the life of the Spirit and inspires transformation. But he denies that the use of expressions like "Son of  God" and "Wisdom of God" denotes divinity, seeing these as metaphors by which people referred to the transformative effect of meeting Jesus in the post-Easter testimony. (It is one thing to say Jesus reflected the way of God; it is quite another to say this makes him God. If that were so, there would be a million Christian Gods.)

Jesus and his followers were rooted in Judaism. Similarly, post-Easter people are supported by the story character of Scripture. That story is of Exodus from slavery; exile and return; and being restored to righteousness – the priestly story. To the traditional credal mind, the meaning of the priestly story is that of being accepted because God’s conditions were met by sacrifice. To Borg, the priestly story is an invitation to passivity and to a preoccupation with the afterlife. Yet used metaphorically the stories can restore the images of humanity and of God and thus provide hope for a new beginning.

Finally, Borg sees the gospel as an invitation to post-Easter people to be in the same relationship to Jesus as his pre-Easter followers were. Borg thus ends with what he calls a "transformative understanding of the Christian life" (p136). This means the life of companionship with God. To believe in Jesus ought not to mean literally to make him the object of worship – a fealty reserved for God. To believe in Jesus must mean to "give one’s heart to him". In short, the outcome is the transformed Christian life. The story is not that of believing in certain creedal propositions about Jesus but facing one’s deepest self toward the God-presence Jesus knew. 

The Guardian view on the future of war: critical questions need to be asked

Editorial                             Guardian/UK                          30 April 2015

New kinds of war threaten the world, yet the response is both slow and partial and fails to attend to the fundamental causes

Saigon fell 40 years ago this week. The defeat of the United States seemed at the time to be a world-changing event, which demonstrated that even the planet’s foremost power could not prevail if resolutely opposed. But it was the second time the mistake had been made: 20 or so years before, schoolteachers in French provincial towns had wept in front of their pupils as the impossible, the unbelievable news came in that the army had been vanquished in Dien Bien Phu.

Yet France went on to repeat its errors in Algeria. The United States could not imagine it would meet the same fate as its predecessor in Vietnam, but did. The Soviet Union, ignoring both the French and the US experience, blundered into a quagmire of its own in Afghanistan, which the US then inherited. Today, American forces are
still fighting in Afghanistan, even though President Barack Obama months ago declared that the US had ended combat there. The Americans are deploying drones and special forces rather than large units, but this is still war. Is it a “good” war or a “bad” war? Ask President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, and he will say he needs it until his plans for reform and renewal bear fruit. It is not a bad answer but it is a debatable one as well.

The record suggests that most wars do not “end”. Perhaps Vietnam eventually did, although there was a long aftermath of hostility between Washington and Hanoi. But other conflicts seem to lead on to new ones. Even the one supposedly indisputable victory of western forces in the second half of the 20th century, the Kuwait war in 1991, was not that, for it led to a series of conflicts which, in the shape of the campaign against
Islamic State (Isis), is still going on today. There are chains of consequences here that we ignore at our peril. How to break them is a truly critical question.

The costs for the western powers who have tried to order the world by force were high, but even the victors have had cause to repine. “The future lied to us, there in the past,” the Vietnamese novelist Bao Ninh wrote, reflecting on a war that he had fought not merely to throw out the Americans but also to create a fair society, one which Vietnam is still far from achieving. Some thought, back in the
Vietnam war days, that a western–ordered oppressive world was going to be replaced by a far better one in which strong socialist states would set the pace. That did not turn out to be the case. The new socialist states even had wars with each other.“Oh, when will they ever learn?” wrote Pete Seeger. Until quite recently, the heartening thing was that we did seem to be learning. The cold war ended. There were, suddenly, fewer wars and more peace agreements. Fewer people were killed. United Nations peacekeepers went out to more countries. It was still terrible but it was less terrible. A time of civility, optimists thought, might be on the horizon and, for all the mistakes and imperfections, the liberal interventionism of the 1990s was a product of that optimism. A new attempt at collective security could contain outbreaks of atavistic nationalism like those in former Yugoslavia.

Then Iraq discredited big western interventions. Good, many would say. Yet what has now emerged is even more worrying than in the era of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. On the one hand there are wars of extreme viciousness such as those waged by Isis, al-Qaida,
Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, all of them with the potential to reach Europe and America at any time. On the other there is the shadow war that Russia is waging in Ukraine, a war both more difficult to counter or to settle by diplomacy since it is so insidiously below the radar.

The military strength of western countries, Britain very much included, is in decline. The slashing of defence budgets has gone too far, but that does not mean that the principal response to these new developments in war should always be military. We need to react more intelligently. The principal response should be to pay attention to underlying causes, to global warming, over-population, failures of governance, resource shortages and to extremes of inequality. We supposedly do, and yet we don’t. Any observer of Britain’s election campaign, for instance, would imagine that we are still a secure nation sitting in a secure world. Wars are symptoms of the fact that we are not.