Theology and the Pledge of Alligiance

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Pledge

During this campaign season we sometimes see candidates standing in front of what seems like a barrage of United States flags. When each candidate speaks, the symbol of the flag looms large. I suppose that’s all well and good, but I wonder if candidates and their public relations handlers have thought about the theology surrounding our flag, and the Pledge of Allegiance associated with our country’s flag.

The Pledge of Allegiance AND theology? Yes, I say. When any statement includes the word “God” it automatically enters the realm of theology. So I thought it would be good to look at our Pledge of Allegiance, and its theological ramifications.

But first, a factoid about our pledge:

  • The pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, Baptist Minister and socialist.
  • It was written for a National School Day presented at the Chicago World’s Fair.
  • The original pledge was short, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
  • The pledge was never intended to be recited on a regular basis.
  • The words, “under God” were added by Congress in 1954.
  • The pledge used to be recited by children holding their arms in the air, but was changed after the rise of the Nazi salute in the late 1930s.

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Let’s Dump Columbus Day and Create…….

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PETITION-ABOLISH-COLUMBUS-DAY-124626215443Almost anyone with a decent education already knows that Columbus did not discover America. Almost everyone knows that the Vikings were the first to set foot in what is now North America in the year 1000, about five hundred years prior to Columbus’ landing around a group of island south of Florida now called the Bahamas.

We know that Columbus and those who followed should be seen as insensitive to the nations they met, and reeked havoc with the people who greeted them with hospitality, or at least curiosity, soon finding out that the people from a far off land with wooden ships were arrogant and greedy souls who had the audacity of claiming land that did not belong to them. Imagine a group of people stepping off a private plane landing in a meadow in the middle of Iowa who after stepping from the plane claiming the land around Dubuque as now belonging to another country; it’s almost laughable, but that’s what happened by people we call explorers. It’s one thing to explore, but its another to exploit. It’s a bad legacy.

There is a recent movement to rename Columbus Day to something paying honor to the indigenous people inhabiting the United States. Though we have much to answer to regarding colonialism, and claiming land killing off a nation of peoples, I’m not sure re-framing Columbus Day is the answer.

Anthropology has said that the people who inhabited North America are best termed “First Nations” because these early travelers came to this land via the Bering Strait when Siberia and Alaska were connected. DNA research says that migration happened in three waves as far back as 25,000 years ago. So, by the time Europeans came into the picture, First Nation peoples were here on this land, and were quite well established. The important fact is that all who came here, no matter what point in history, are immigrants.

I think its time to lay Columbus Day to rest, and to recognize the importance and value of the United States as a nation of immigrants. All of us in this land are immigrants who came to this land over time, and from various waves if migration. My family came to the USA after World War I when Austria-Hungary was broken apart due to war and aggression. Similar stories such as mine can be found over various periods of history.

We, as a people, must set aside a day to recognize the value and importance of immigrants, and to realize that we, as a nation, is strong not from our independence, but our conglomeration of nations who chose to make this land our home, the ever mingling of people of different traditions, and ethnicity which makes us a beacon to the world.

Let’s end Columbus Day and call for a celebration named Immigrant’s Day. Immigrant’s Day, a time to reflect on how we came here, and how we can best serve, and open our hearts and hospitality who seek to make this land their home.

 

 

Pondering & Wondering…an eclectic series of thoughts

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For some time those who follow religious trends have heard from Phyllis Tickle, and most recently Diana Butler Bass addressing a new awakening within the religious landscape in United States.  Both thinkers suggest religion is on the brink of something new which will eventually bring about a fresh new understanding of faith in our time. Oxford church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch suggests that throughout its long history, Christianity has managed to reinvent itself, adapting to new challenges morphing into a new existence. At present I wonder if we experiencing an awakening, or are we caught within a theological nightmare, unable to forge a new understanding because we can’t figure out what path to take?

A wise professor in seminary offered his concise subtext for the Hebrew Bible suggesting that the reason for its writing was to demonstrate why they (the Hebrew people) failed. What started out as a loving relationship with (notice I said with) God eventually dissipated into a misguided history of power, greed, and personal gain. One reason the writings found within the Old Testament remain is that the words continue to speak to faithful communities because humanity continues to deal with the effects of power, greed, and personal gain.

Great thinkers such as the late Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan teach, among other things, by looking at socioeconomic, and anthropological underpinnings found within the early Christian movement we can recapture a better understanding of what Christianity is meant to be; something more than a promise of prosperity, the naming of sins, or telling people how to think, and act. In 325 C.E. Christianity entered the religious landscape as Empire itself, with the original message dedicated to socioeconomic change clouded by power, greed and personal gain.

Christianity, at its most basic level, is a gathering of people meeting over a shared meal dedicated to an effort bringing about a just world filled with diverse mutuality.With recent events in Baltimore, and other cities feeding an escalation of violence, with religious groups fighting for dominance with regard to marriage, and the continued disparity between rich and poor….I wonder about the church, and it’s crop of teachings which may have contributed to failures within society, inadvertently supporting socioeconomic realities, and the continuation of violence both physical, and verbal. I wonder:

  • Has the church spent far too much time teaching about an after life, when we should have stressed justice and peace in this life?
  • Has the church wasted too much energy arguing about creation myths when we should have been teaching faithful stewardship of our planet?
  • Has the church focused far too much time, energy and theology about who is in or out, when we should have placed greater energy celebrating diversity and mutuality?
  • Has the church taught a vertical hierarchical model when it should have stressed a linear-circular reality?

Before outreach can become effective, maybe it’s time for in-reach; a reexamination of the Rabbi from Nazareth who taught a monotheistic message of diverse mutuality, equal distribution, devotion to neighbor,  and good will towards all. Maybe the true teaching of the church might be to take back the world from power hungry, greedy bullies. Maybe its time to think of worship as a means of support for progressive action, enabling a gentle transformation, and subtle modulation of each local community around a church, focusing on the resurrection of human understanding and dignity for all.

Indiana’s Slippery Slope

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Indiana-Flag-blog

A little over two thousand years ago a radical religious teacher organized a protest designed to mock and malign an authoritarian occupying force holding his country hostage. So one day, just after the military governor rode into the city on his great war horse ahead of his soldiers, the radical religious grassroots leader rode into the city on a donkey with his people waving palms instead of spears. He did this to tell the authoritarian occupying force that they may have control, but they only do so because they are bullies. He and his followers staged a non-violent protest ridiculing their power by force.

The next day he made his way into the courtyard of a large religious institution to a common area which served as a way for merchants to sell items used for worship. His goal was to disrupt religious practices that day to show the rest of the people that the leaders of this institution had collaborated with foreign invaders pointing out that they had become mere puppets of those at the top of political power, and that a hierarchy of authority had become an idol surpassing that of God. He taught that God’s message was to call all people into unity.

Their leader was an accomplished community organizer because he knew he could not do things alone. One of the names for his movement was called “The Way”, and he trained and sent his people out into various communities to start small conclaves to show that they were not forgotten, that they were loved, and that his people would serve their needs, not rule over them. He showed that the message of God was about community, not authority. He taught that they should love God with heart, soul and strength, and to be committed to their neighbor’s well being.

He pissed off both the occupying army governor, and the ruling class but since he staged his protests with lots of people, he thought he might get away with his demonstrations, but his plan was thwarted by one of his students. He was captured, and eventually executed by the government. These are some of the events many churches in the land will focus on in what is known as Holy Week; the time between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday on April 5.

I hope this overview exposes the blatant falsehood surrounding the creation of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by  Gov. Mike Pence. Just as in the early first century, religious authority was used as a means to circumvent the well being of people, this act signed into law sets into motion all manner of ways people can use personal belief as a means to idolize bigotry in the name of God. Read More

Mindful Walking, Mindful Lent

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Today is Ash Wednesday, a time when people of the Christian faith begin a 40 day journey culminating in the events of Holy Week leading to the celebration of Easter. Lent is a time when some people give up something which most times has nothing to do with a spiritual discipline, but merely a way to justify a 40 day diet which may or may not drop a few pounds off our frame. Some people give up sugar, or Facebook, or some other thing which for each individual has attained some form of pleasure.

Within modern spiritual practice, individuals sometimes take on something which may include a book study, or donating time to a worthy charity. Some decide to take a few moments in the day to sit quietly and seek inner peace while others may take on a new health regimen, or look to Lent as a short term variance based upon a New Year’s resolution almost forgotten.

Walking Feb. 17 2015This week our Mindful Walking reflection came from Albert Einstein as he spoke about imagination, he wrote, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

I think these are appropriate words to kick off Lent as they challenge our notions of what reality is, and what’s contained within our private value system. Knowledge is relative to our personal experiences, but imagination suggests there is something more, a deeper and wider tomorrow promising a revelatory experience much more intense than first imagined.

Maybe a good Lenten practice might be to reacquaint oneself with our imagination, and see where it leads, and what our imagination says to our inner being. Maybe our imagination might spark new insights to truths we have refused to acknowledge because they may not fit into a tiny box we call reality.

Imagination allows our mind to soar, reaching new horizons, offering a momentary glimpse to see what’s at the end of the rainbow, or beyond the edge of the earth. Imagination allows a chance to open our spiritual door not only to acknowledge things seen, but things unseen as well.

Ted Kennedy’s eulogy for his slain brother Bobby quotes an adage which sums up the power of imagination:

“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Loving Your Neighbor…and then came Arizona

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Vows are tricky, and sometimes difficult to adhere to. Vows should be taken seriously, and entered into with a sober mind knowing full well that there will be times where a vow can be spread out on the table of ethics to be confronted and explored. As a cleric and a Christian, I have taken two vows, one of them found within our (The Episcopal Church’s) Baptismal Covenant, and the other vow affirmed and agreed to at my ordination as Deacon. My Baptismal Vows I affirm each time a person enters into communion with the Church. We are asked this question, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” The response is, “I will, with God’s help.” A similar, yet different vow occurs during ordination when the bishop asks the ordinand, “Will you look for Christ in all others, being ready to help and serve those in need?” The response is similar, yet different, “I will.”

And then came Arizona.

The bill (SB1062) allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion. (Christian Science Monitor)

It’s very difficult to look for Christ in all persons when those claiming to be followers of Christ site religion as a means to deny others services or goods. Anyone with a smattering of biblical knowledge would probably know that Jesus was forever getting into trouble breaking religious rules of his day, eating with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. I would venture to say that most people would know that Jesus championed the dignity of the poor, the outcast, and the persecuted. Few, however, might understand that Jesus was executed by the State as a subversive. Read More

2 Advent: Light

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 Advent-wreath-week-2

 Light

This time of year, many people decorate their homes with lights. The same can be said for Christmas Trees seen sparkling from windows in various homes. For some, like me, each Sunday a candle of an Advent Wreath is lit; today the second will shine along with the first as I walk through the second Sunday of Advent.

Light and darkness seem to go hand in hand, as one can’t be appreciated without the other. The psalmist writes, “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. ” (Psalm 139:12) Isaiah writes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; light has shined on those who lived in a land of darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2). Both light and dark must be recognized before each can be discerned and understood.

In the 21st century, we take light for granted. With the invention of the light bulb, darkness as most people knew it was vanquished; relegated to a bygone era. On any typical day darkness is removed by a flip of a switch. For those who camp, or spend time in nature, darkness is real, and can be menacing. Darkness is vulnerable, unsafe, and scary. Darkness strips away our confidence. Darkness reminds us that we are not in control.

Light, on the other hand, brings about comfort, peace, and joy. It represents knowledge, wisdom, and safety. Light speaks of knowing, and understanding. It calms our fears, and lightens our void, and turns what was once thought of as scary into something new, and bright. Metaphorically, light can also cleanse away the muck and the grime of past iniquities, reviving our inner being, rejuvenating our essence, restoring balance inside and out.

Getting through the “holiday” season is perilous. We rush like a vigilante to complete our tasks by December 25. Shopping Malls may become a gladiatorial confrontation,  as well as the act of driving from one place to another becoming the final moments of a Nascar championship. When each day becomes a countdown towards the day of reckoning, we, without realizing it, have entered into the land of darkness looking toward the abyss.

A collect from Advent asks God to place upon us an “armor of light.” What, or how might you, during the days ahead, emulate an armor of light? How might this light emanate through you to others in which you come into contact? How might you be the light of peace, calm, and understanding in a world filled with darkness? I invite you to ponder this over the next week, and seek ways to make it known,  because if we seek light, it will find us, and we shall know it, and become it, and be it.

“Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.” ( from BCP p. 211)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Reflection

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Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving holiday, many people will gather with friends and family to celebrate a big meal, share a glass of wine, maybe watch football, and enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie. Much of the lore surrounding Thanksgiving is based on a variant of myths based upon early settlers to these shores. The actual holiday we know as Thanksgiving was officially proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

The president invited the entire nation (north and south) to stop hostilities for a day to offer thanks for our abundance, and to ponder the realization that in spite of the atrocities of war, the country continued to flourish: Read More

Syria and Moral Duty

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“While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.” Luke 22:47-51

This parable about Jesus, as told by Luke, could be classified (according to John Dominic Crossan) as a challenge parable denouncing violence as a means to an end. In the New Testament, whenever there is some form of miraculous healing, look beyond the action as there is almost always a teaching moment. In this story Jesus is quite emphatic in his response to violence saying “No more of this!” This is an authentic teaching from one who used non-violence as a means for change as well as pointing towards the path of salvation.

Now wait a minute, you may ask, I thought salvation was a personal matter; it’s between me and God. I would argue that salvation is a global matter with the outcome not in one person’s hands, or country for that matter, but a global issue embracing ramifications far beyond religious traditions known to humankind. Jesus’ striking command, “No more of this!” is universal, and a challenge for all humanity. Jesus’ statement held true for his followers including the people of Israel in the first century, and the Roman occupation of his region — one of the reasons he was killed.

“No more of this!” pretty much sums up much of what Jesus taught, but as with many teachings, the challenge has been turned upside down by moral justification and half truths in the name of a moral obligation.

In global power politics there is no morality. Countries can and will use power and might to gain an upper-hand in order to dominate other nations or its own people. An augment using morality as a precursor for violence is false. Small, medium and large scale violence or what is sometimes called atrocities rejects wisdom in favor of an idol named “force.” When a nation trusts in force it says that one way of killing is worse than others without taking into account that all forms of killing are unacceptable. When a nation trusts force it says that it would not get involved if nations use regular weapons to kill one another but draw a line in the sand when more drastic means are used. The reality is that true moral response taught should be “No more of this!”

Discovering Le Sacre du printemps: the formation of intellectual synergy

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le sacreAt age 14, I was thumbing through recordings in my High School music teacher’s office when I came across a series of recordings meant to be used as part of a Music Appreciation class. One of the tracks I played was the famous section from The Rite of Spring where the strings perform a series of down bows with the brass accentuating syncopated rhythms. My entire body and soul connected with the drive of the music and I immediately had to find out the name of the work. Shortly after this encounter I went to the public library and checked out the recording of Stravinsky conducting The Rite of Spring. I had never in my life heard music with such power and raw energy. At the conclusion of the work, with musical accents falling on what seemed to be arbitrary beats, I was so startled that I thought the record was scratched and cleaned the needle. I played it over again soon discovering that this was not the byproduct of a dirty record player needle, but the way the music was interned to sound. Seemingly over night my taste in music changed. Led Zeplin and Iron Butterfly had met their match in the name of a Russian composer named Igor Stravinsky. Read More


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