These two examples come from Unitarian Universalist sources, the first from Eno River UU in Durham, NC and the second from a UU Fellowship in Churchville, MD. More troubling is that I have heard these exact same sentiments shared by Christians, including United Methodists (who, supposedly, have clear doctrinal standards emphasizing particular teachings about Jesus). – Rev. Drew McIntyre, “Teachings Of Jesus” vs. “Teachings About Jesus”, Uniting Grace, March 5, 2015
Now, I realize this is all part of the game, “Someone said something wrong/stupid on the Internet”, which, really is one of the three pillars that uphold the whole ‘Net, the other two being porn and kitten videos. Still, I wasn’t quite prepared for the bait and switch Drew pulled here.
First of all, he quotes from Unitarian Universalist sources, as if they have any bearing upon the doctrine or practice of ministry of the United Methodist Church. Then, he pulls a two-fer, insinuating that UU’s aren’t Christian, and using the weaseliest of weasel word constructions: he insists he has heard these affirmations of UU Fellowships from – as always unnamed – “Christians” including United Methodists. With this marvelous construction, he writes Unitarians out of Christian communion and insists that those who are not UU – never named, of course – say much the same thing.
Except, of course, without names, one has to wonder: Who, exactly, are these “Christians including United Methodists” who might dare say something that doesn’t fit with our current doctrinal standards? A name or two – really, that’s all I ask – is all that’s required. You know, a local pastor’s sermon captured on an Podcast, say; a theological tome from a mainline theologian that isn’t Unitarian yet preferences things in a way of which Drew disapproves.
Now, I won’t hold my breath or fast until Drew does so. Not because he can’t find any. After all, I could reach on to my bookshelf and find all sorts of books by renowned theologians, past and present, First World and Third World, who do just this. The difference between Drew and me is that I couldn’t care less. For one reason, I have learned from these men and women, even in disagreement. For another, I refuse to give pride of place to my own or my denomination’s Doctrinal Standards as a plumb line for anyone except other United Methodists; even then, I do know that we United Methodists, in general, are a far more graceful, forgiving lot than Drew would have us be.
I do have to wonder, though. Why does Drew care? Honestly, is he just trying to show off that he’s read Leslie Newbigin, agrees with Leslie Newbigin, and yet there are Christians out there who don’t? Surely Drew understands arguments from authority are meaningless. Which leaves me, again, wondering what, precisely the point is here. That UU Fellowships believe different things than United Methodists? That’s not exactly a shocker. That some United Methodists might well not agree with our Doctrinal Standards? Again, this isn’t news. I’m just spitballing here, I know, but if I had to guess at Drew’s real motivation, he just want folks to know that he, Drew, is right (and has Leslie Newbigin to back him up) while folks who say something different are wrong-wrong-wrong.
Like the game Someone’s Wrong On The Internet, the game Look At How Smart And Right I Am is part and parcel of the Internet, one Drew must believe is important. The truth is, however, right or wrong, we are God’s children, infinitely loved and passionately pursued, to the point that the Son surrendered Divine power and authority, embracing death on the cross. All the rest, well, we do so love to argue over details, which is little more than arguing over who gets to sit next to Jesus at the grown-up’s table in the Kingdom. I would challenge Drew to write a post about how far more important it is to look a fellow human being in the eye, not inquire beforehand about what it is that person believes, and say, “I love you, and you are a beloved Child of God.” And then stop talking. He might actually learn something he couldn’t find in Leslie Newbigin.
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’ – Matthew 2:16-18
Mortar rounds slammed into a school Wednesday in a rebel-held suburb east of Damascus, killing at least 13 children whose limp, bloodied bodies were later laid out on the floor of a crowded field hospital awaiting burial, activists said. . . .
Three mortar shells struck the Haya School in Qaboun before noon, said a local activist who uses the name Abu Akram al-Shami. Another activist based near Damascus, Amar al-Hassan, also reported the incident, as did Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights.
Abdurrahman said 13 children were killed, but the number likely would rise. A local activist collective, the Qaboun Media Office, put the death toll at 17 children. Conflicting casualty figures are common after such incidents. – Diaa Hadid, “Mortar Fire On Syria School Kills 13 Children,” news.yahoo.com, November 14, 2014
Of all the Feast Days on the Church Calendar, this is by far the most difficult. Particularly for contemporary sensibilities, in which we, following Rousseau and his American counterparts like John Dewey and Benjamin Spock, insist on the innocence of children compared to the corrupt and compromised moral life of adults. That a national leader would order the killing of children within his own lands is horrible enough; that he would do so in order to thwart the purposes of God is blasphemy of the highest order.
I must ask. Do we really believe that children are innocent? In fact, most of us with experience with children understand them to be no less cunning, no less willing to lie, to cheat, to be mean-spirited than any adult. Children and youth commit horrible crimes all the time, not least of them mass murder
In the upper left-hand corner of this photo, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are miming aiming guns at the camera. What should be a typical high school celebration of class solidarity, adolescent fun, and friends sharing a moment they will need to jog their memories in 20 years, becomes a chilling prophetic image of the mass death to come.
And it isn’t just kids killing kids.
Two years ago, a young man entered an elementary school in Connecticut. Armed to the the teeth, he entered a first grade class room and opened fire. Like most everyone else that day, as first reports came in, I wanted so much for the worst not to be. The reality, however, was even more horrible than even I could imagine. Twenty-six dead, twenty of them children. I am still haunted by the thought that, rather than spend the week before Christmas doing that last minute shopping, wrapping presents, and dealing with children impatient for Christmas to come, twenty families were spending the week before Christmas burying their dead children. There were, of course, the police, the crime scene investigators, and the EMTs who had to enter those class rooms, see the slaughter in its raw, naked horror, and will live the rest of their lives with the images of those children’s broken bodies burned in to their memories.
I could go on, but I guess my question is this: How different are we from Herod? I don’t mean our officials order the deaths of children for the sake of their own power. We do, however, tolerate an immense amount of violence in our society, including violence against children. It was easy enough to begin such a discussion with the recent mortar attack on a Syrian school. After all, the war in the Levant among Syria, Iraq, and ISIL is something far away, involving people very different from us. I can well remember when I was small my mother telling me that World War II proved the Japanese just didn’t hold life sacred the way we in the west did. That such a sentence is disproved by the reality of the mass grave that was Eastern Europe by the end of the war, as well as the radioactive clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t deter her in the least. It did, however, force me to wonder whether we in the West have ever held human life sacred.
We are quite willing to put up with the deaths of children as long as it doesn’t interfere with our own “right” to own weapons. We are quite willing to mourn the deaths of children in Syria because, well, they’re deaths in Syria, not here, and those folks are Muslims, while we in the west hold human life sacred. We are willing to accept a well thought-out mass-murder at a high school, one that was supposed to include the use of pipe bombs to kill police as well as those trying to flee the school, because we reduce Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to persons “sick” with “mental illness”, without giving a thought to the reality that this is precisely why such a massacre was preventable.
We sit and hang our heads, crying out like those in Ramah each time yet another child dies senselessly. We shake our heads, insisting “there is nothing we can do to prevent it” when yet another child or adult enters a school and opens fire. Most of all, we blame that strange religion, Islam, for those dead school children, unable to see past the beam in our own eye, a beam thrown there by all the gunfire we accept as part of American life.
Jesus was born in to a world filled with sin. We are so quick, almost too quick, to reduce “sin” to individual acts of moral turpitude, whether sexual or otherwise. Sin, however, is so much more than that, so much more horrible. The deaths ordered by Herod. The deaths that resulted from mortar fire. The deaths in our country that we tolerate, making excuse after excuse even as the bodies pile up and more and more parents have to wonder, “Why?” The sin of Herod, the Feast of the Slaughter of the Infants, is a reminder that this world God loves, this world into which the baby Jesus was born in order to save – this is a world filled with violence, with pain and suffering, with death on a massive scale. Unless we look at that reality without flinching; unless we realize we are as much a part of this cycle of violence, this round of pain and death, that our silence and our excuses and our refusal to hold ourselves responsible for all of it will only bring more death, more mourning, then our remembrance of those dead children in Bethlehem means nothing.
The Church commemorates this particular event not because of its historicity (something The Catholic Encyclopedia online tries desperately to fix), nor to “celebrate the first martyrs”. The Church commemorates this horror because it reminds us that it isn’t some isolated event in some barbaric time. It is, rather, just another round of mass death. It is up to us in the churches to work so that, one day, no more cries rise from the Ramahs of this world; that no more Eric Harrises and Dylan Klebolds have their illnesses ignored and excused; so that no more parents have to bury their small children just days before Christmas. The Feast of the Slaughter of the Infants is there to remind us just how much work we have to do.
No one taste should be considered “Christian,” but to consider musical quality as completely relative is to not understand the importance of the aesthetic in human life and religion. [Frank Church Brown] proposes the cultivation and maintaining of a creative tension between opennness to aesthetic diversity, while still seeking to be discerning and discriminating. – Maeve Louise Haeney, Music As Theology: What Music Says About The Word, p.244
I came across this quote while slogging my way through a very long chapter on theological aesthetics. It occurred to me that matters of taste, at least when it comes to music in church, become confused with matters of theological explicitness and aesthetic preference rather than a set of criteria to which all – or at least most; “all” is an ideal toward which we should reach – could agree upon as setting minimal standards, without any necessary reference to matters of “style” or preference. It used to be that “taste” was reduced to the perceiving subject; yet the necessity of intersubjectivity in matters of congregational music is necessary liturgically, pastorally, and theologically.
If you don’t believe me, consider the following, a song that pretty much fails any and every criteria of “taste” I, for one, can imagine, except perhaps humor
What is most difficult to explain to people is that, in fact, most contemporary music is not at all like this. Broadening the category “contemporary” to describe “popular music of the past half-century” – I know that might be a bit too broad for some, but some leeway needs to be made here – consider the following as a starting point:
If ever a “popular” song rang throughout with theological meaning, it is this simple, beautiful song.
We can jump ahead a generation and take a listen to yet another singer/songwriter, Amos Lee, wondering where God might be:
I’ve begun with some easy ones, in order to make sure we don’t move too fast. The inclusion of popular music in our Christian lives, including our worship and liturgy, our meditation and prayer life, even just those quiet moments when we sit and listen and something might strike our ear, has to begin with those things that are most comfortable and, perhaps, most familiar. Thus acoustic guitars, mentions of God, even a prayerful attitude toward life.
Yet, sometimes a prayerful attitude can be angry. Consider this from the band Living Colour. While entitled “Open Letter To A Landlord”, it is the kind of song that demands justice for a community being shut out of its home, something I, for one, would think, would be an issue around which congregations of any color, but most assuredly African-American churches, could rally. Yet, it is very different from the above:
There are songs that are simple praise songs, part of larger song cycles that nevertheless fit within a context of praise to God, even if the language used is strange, and the music is unfamiliar:
There are those songs that praise those we polite bourgeois white churches work so hard to exclude:
There are those whose rage at injustice, at a world that denies the humanity of far too many, and churches far too complicit in this dehumanization, often under the names of “mission” and “disicpleship”, that it comes out in an angry shout that God, rather than being a Creator through and out of love, hates this world and all those within it.
There are those who struggle with what it means to live as a Christian in a world as compromised as ours.
Some of these songs would certainly fail on some level – the use of vulgar language, for instance; the use of what is commonly understood as blasphemy – even as I would insist they have a place in some part of our Christian life. This is not just a matter of me liking heavy metal and hard core Hip Hop. These songs, I contend have as much aesthetic, theological, and yes liturgical and pastoral value as “Blessed Assurance” and the Doxology. I would go further and insist that, should our churches have a wide-open discussion, they would discover real theological depth, real questions, real beauty in all these songs.
There is nothing wrong with resting comfortably with the latest Chris Tomlin song, yet if we aren’t even willing as congregations to move back a quarter century to what’s below, and hear the faithfulness within, I would suggest all our music is nothing more than going through the motions.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. – John 1:3b-5, 10-11
News 2 reports that the three armed men turned their attention to the 19-year-old granddaughter and attempted to gang-rape the girl. It has not been made known if the grandfather had his gun inside his safe or exactly how he obtained it, but he didn’t waste any time in aiming and shooting at the three men ganging up on his teenage granddaughter.
Byrd managed to shoot all three men, but not before they managed to fire back, shooting the grandfather several times. News 2 reveals that the three suspects quickly fled the scene stealing Byrd’s gold Cadillac as their getaway car. . . .
Fay Observer says that “Byrd was taken to Southeastern Regional Medical Center and later airlifted to an unidentified hospital.”
A short time later, the police were notified when two men with gunshot wounds turned up for treatment at McLeod Hospital in Dillon. With this information, deputies were able to gather details and found the third suspect, 20-year-old Jamie Lee Faison, dead from gunshot wounds still inside Byrd’s gold Cadillac outside Faison’s home in Lumberton.
When I heard this story, my first thought was, “Good.” My second thought was, “I hope that one who died suffered. I hope the ones who live, well the doctors are busy, the nurses are busy, their pain killers will be along in a while.” Then, I realize that’s just wrong. The whole situation is wrong. Those three men, who knows what their problems were; that family whose home they invaded, who knows what went on inside that house, what kind of people they really are. All any of us know for sure is that four men were shot and one died. These aren’t things to celebrate; to wish pain and suffering on anyone, for any reason, is wrong. It doesn’t matter that it’s “human”; hell, it doesn’t matter that it might well have been my reaction under similar circumstances. Guilty of a crime? Yes. I am not judge and jury and executioner, and shooting and killing those men makes that “hero” grandfather no different from the men who invaded his home. My applauding his actions, wishing for pain and suffering for those the grandfather injured, particularly since I’m at a remove from the situation, somehow, in my own eyes, makes me worse. I get to play hero without any risk, without any moral disapprobation from others for supporting the killing of another human being.
A video that shows the beheading of American Steven Sotloff was delivered as a “second message to America” to halt airstrikes in Iraq, following through on a threat to kill the journalist.
In the video posted Tuesday online, Sotloff says — in a message surely scripted by his captors — that he is “paying the price” for U.S. military intervention. . . .
The killing of Sotloff follows a threat last month by ISIS made during the videotaped beheading of American journalist James Foley. The latest video threatens the life of another man.
A masked ISIS figure in the new video speaks to U.S. President Barack Obama, telling him, “Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
We sit half a world away and watch, helpless as our fellow Americans are killed in a most brutal fashion. Anger, rage, made more potent and poisonous by impotence, pushes us to celebrate as we bomb and send cruise missiles, destroying not only the physical infrastructure of ISIS and other terrorist organizations, but men and women:
Since when is celebrating death and destruction, even of those who wish the same upon us, right? Yet, I no less than anyone else cheer as I watch these shots of American firepower being brought to bear to wear down an enemy whose methods are barbaric, and whose words distort a beautiful, peaceful, loving, lawful-and law-filled faith.
We are told at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel that the Light, the first Word of Creation that pushed back the darkness of primordial chaos came and dwelt among us. This Light is Life. Yet, we also read that this Light, this participant in Creation, came and no one noticed. This Life that had chosen the people of Israel came and was rejected by Israel. The darkness did not and will not overcome the Light – or as we repeat in the Chalcedonian formula, “True Light From True Light” – yet there are times when that darkness seems very oppressive. If those who faced the Living Light couldn’t see it; if those chosen by the Light to be a fellow-human among them refused to receive him as one of their own, how can we ever boast of our living and working and believing in the crucified and risen Christ? We are not witnesses, just hearers of a story so old now even the languages in which it was originally told are dead. How can we bear witness to this Truth, this Light, when – especially at this time of the year, as the hours of daylight shrink and even that light seems less light somehow – the darkness all around us presses in?
I had a conversation with my younger daughter the other evening. She was telling me of her childhood fears, especially at night. I told her that I remembered telling here there was nothing to be afraid of, that there was nothing in the darkness that isn’t there in the light. I apologized for this trite, ridiculous dismissal of her fears; we adults all too often forget just how terrifying that darkness can be, how populated by horrors the adult mind cannot fathom. Most adult fears are so mundane – will I get this raise/promotion/new job? Will we be able to make this month’s mortgage payment? Can the car last another year so I can save enough for a down payment on something new? – that we forget the real terrors that lie just out of sight. We chuckle at horror movies and the contrived “monsters” that are little more than variations on primal human fears buried deep within our collective psyches.
Yet, that light . . . That Light is not overcome. The darkness presses in, presses down, keeping us awake at night, making us jump at shadows and bumps. But we must always remember that it is the light that pushes back the darkness, not the darkness that oppresses the light. In this life we are always, in a spiritual sense, diurnal creatures. We prefer to think the best of ourselves while most of the time we walk the blade between barely recognizing the good and the gaping maw of the abyss that stares back at us, inviting us to let go. Our best intentions, our best senses of ourselves, even those things we consider virtues or perhaps the merely human part of who we are – these are the seductive whispers of the darkness, inviting us to snuff out the one candle that keeps it all at bay.
That light, if it really is a part of our lives, is more powerful than the deepest, darkest primordial chaos. Precisely because it is the Life of All People, it not only keeps the darkness at bay, it chases it back. If we carry that light in our lives, it can shine forth for others to see and realize that the darkness, for all its seductive, fearful, nearly ubiquitous presence, cannot compare to that Light. We may not have been there, but we are blessed enough to recognize this Light. We are not his own, but we accept this Light, and through this acceptance become heirs of the promise.
So I don’t despair, despite my worst self rearing its head. I do not fear the seductive whisper of the darkness, because it is the Light whose promises are true. That Light, I hope, has and does and will shine forth from me, even just a tiny bit, so that others may know that the darkness, for all its chaotic power, cannot overcome the blazing Light of Life.