Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Combatants for Peace

On Thursday evening, February 8, two former fighters who now work together for peace between Israel and Palestine will speak at 7:30 p.m. at Seattle University's Lemieux Library. They are on a tour being organized by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. The event is also sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry, Find Common Ground, Veterans for Peace, the Arab American Community Coalition and Temple De Hirsch Sinai. You are also invited to an Interfaith Breakfast on Friday, February 9, at 8:00 a.m. at Temple De Hirsch Sinai, 1520 East Union Street, Seattle. RSVP's needed for the breakfast to

Shimon Katz, a former Israeli soldier, and Sulaiman Al Hamri, a former Palestinian fighter, will share their transition from veteran fighters to peace advocates. They will speak on behalf of the Combatants for Peace Movement, founded in 2005 by Israelis and Palestinians who decided to put down their guns and fight for peace instead through dialogue, reconciliation and educational outreach.

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The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

Bill McKibben: ‘Deep Economy’
Wednesday, March 21, 7:30 PM, Town Hall Seattle

Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and author of books including The End of Nature and The Age of Missing Information. His forthcoming book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, puts forward a new way of thinking about all the things we buy, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the money that pays for it all. McKibben’s animating idea is that we need to move beyond “growth” and pursue prosperity in a more local direction, with cities, suburbs, and regions producing more of their own food, energy, culture, and entertainment. He shows how this concept is blossoming around the world—with striking results.

Tickets are $5 at the door only.

Flannel Note: I post this because of my conviction that stewardship and discipleship go hand in hand, and that stewardship concerns more than our own pocketbook - it includes where I money comes from, where it goes, where our food comes from and how it gets to us, and what happens to our waste afterwards, and all the connected mechanisms of our lives and living. The earth, our fellow creatures, our fellow human beings, and our lifestyles are all interconnected. The talk mentioned above seems to address that kind of thinking. (Thanks to Jon for telling me about this.)

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Lecture at UW

"Whole Sight: The Intersection of Culture, Faith, and the Imagination"
By Charles Johnson

*2006-2007 Solomon Katz Distinguished Lectures in the Humanities*
Thursday, February 1, 2007
7:00 pm
Room 120, UW Kane Hall
Reception to follow

From his creative beginnings as a political cartoonist and journalist to his success as a novelist, essayist, short story writer, screen-and-teleplay writer, and university professor, Charles Johnson's life is a model of interdisciplinarity. In his talk Johnson will address his personal journey in finding his passion as an artist, a writer, and a scholar. He will discuss how various interrelated factors such as race, culture, faith, and history converged to shape his work.

Charles Johnson holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the S. Wilson and Grace M. Pollock Professor of English at the University of Washington. A 1998 MacArthur Fellow, Dr. Johnson received the 1990 National Book Award for his novel Middle Passage (1990) and was a 2002 recipient of the Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has published collections of short fiction, screenplays, and critical essays on literature and Buddhism, and has written numerous articles on writing, education, and other contemporary issues. Recent publications include Dr. King's Refrigerator and Other Bedtime Stories (2005), Turning the Wheel: Essays on Buddhism and Writing (2003), and Africans in America: America's Journey through Slavery (1998), the companion book for the PBS series co-authored with Patricia Smith.

For further information, please call (206) 543-3920 or visit


Monday, January 29, 2007

Home Again...

8 states, 3 days, 2 ministers, one small car

Well, I made it back to Seattle fine. Bill and I pushed through the three days in a little car with only four gears and no cruise control. We listened to three books on tape, several albums, and even caught the Dr. Demento show coming into Portland last night. (I caught the Amtrak to Seattle this morning.)

The one frivolous goof-off portion of the trip was a fanciful detour into Salt Lake City, to see the Mormon Temple. Wow, folks. That's weird. I mean, I know we're weird and all, but it was a genuinely strange place to be. First there was the awesome historical significance of the place - most of Utah was built from that one city block out. The building was impressive (from the outside, of course... we weren't allowed in). But a tour through the visitors' center gave me the heebie-geebies. (The photo is me in front of a statue depicting John the Baptist's ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to the Aaronic priesthood.)

First, as Bill and I headed in, there was a virtual trainload of beautiful international young women guides pouring out of the place (probably headed for church) - like a Miss America pagent parade or something. When we did get in, we took a short walk through the exhibit on the Temple - I was caught by a film-let describing the ceremonies that take place inside, Bill was caught by one describing the eternal family business (Mormons believe one can be eternally married and connected with one's family after death). How seriously they took it was amazing - and of course they would... it's their religion. It was just amazing to imagine our two traditions ever being remotely connected. And, I must say, there is an energy to that place - it is obviously very significant to a lot of people. Enough about that.

It is good to be back home. Already, classes have begun (today), and I still have papers to finish from the last class. A lot of work awaits me here, too. But today, I'm just going to welcome myself home. My wife and our cat have first dibs on me. And nothing feels quite like a nap on one's own couch after a long trip.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

This Is What Our World Hunger Funds Go To

Even wondered what kinds of things our World Hunger donations go to? Here's a great example: helping buy livestock and chickens for farmers in Lebanon whose farms and homes were destroyed in the recent Israeli invasion.

Read about it here:

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The End Has Come

At the end of the third (and final) week of this seminary focus session. How do I feel? Good.

As I left the Temple tonight, I felt a tremendous gratitude to all those who went before me and funded the building of the Temple (a still-new building not even two decades old). Such a mammoth task undertaken by such a small community, the fact that it exists - so bold in design and mission - is a miracle. And I felt gratitude for the Seminary - still brand-new at just five years old. To build more than another internal, inwardly-focused, unaccountable (to the outside world) education "program" ... that's a daring and risky venture for any small and traditionally insular community, let alone one in the midst of such reshaping of thought and theology as ours. And then there's all those back home in Washington State who, with tithes and sacrifice, fund and promote my job and education. They are giving me a gift and opportunity of immense and unspeakable value, and the church's confidence in me is extraordinarily humbling.

I also feel a sense of connectedness to my heritage - both that of my peculiar denomination and that of the longer and more diverse heritage of the larger Christian community through the centuries. I am not alone in this strange adventure of ministry - though I sail my ship tethered directly to few others, we all set sail from the same harbor, and we can see the masts of others just beyond the horizon.

This makes me think of my great-great-grandfather and -grandmother. I walked past a painting of their sailboat in the Temple this afternoon, the Evanelia. It is legend in our religious tradition - an old sea-captain and his wife converted, then bought a small boat and sailed up and down the west coasts of North and South America, missionaries of the infant faith. (My grandfather and father would follow roughly in their footsteps, spending time in South and Central America on religious ventures.) Although their faith would be foreign to me - even though we belong to the same church just a century apart - we share a special heritage, we struggle with the same narratives, hold the some of the same tools in our belt, speak sometimes with the same accent (even if we talk about different things). Our worlds and our selves are almost entirely different, but there's something the same there, underneath it all. And I feel like I might be honoring them with my new occupation.

I am also really excited about returning home - to see my wife and friends again, but also to start working. This is a vocation, after all - I'm being stuffed with all kinds of facts and perspectives and tools, and I feel full to overflowing. I'm anxious to get into the field and see what bubbles up through the foam, to see what I grab hold of and draw out. Most of all, I
just want to see my church family again, tell them what I've learned, share stories and challenges with them, hear their concerns and look with them for some degree of answer.

If there's one thing I've learned from History of Christian Thought this past month, it has been how rich the conversations are that we are engaged in. We're not alone in this. Not by a long shot.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Technology Creates a Space for Youth Ministry


More youth ministers are using social networking websites such as MySpace to stay connected with their students. MySpace is one of the hottest sites on the Web— rated it No. 1 for November, accounting for nearly 5 percent of all U.S. Web traffic. MySpace has more than 100 million accounts with a demographic that is dominated by teens and 20-somethings. Other social networking sites like Friendster and Facebook also claim millions of young users.

"Social networking is what being a teenager is about," said Kenda Creasy Dean, associate professor of youth, church, and culture and director of the Tennent School of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary. "For people my age (in their 40s), technology is a tool. For kids, technology is the air they breathe. It's social glue."

Read the whole article at Christianity Today


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New Strategy for the "War on Terror"

In preparation for Bush's State of the Union address tonight, I offer this alternative strategy for the so-called "War on Terror." Humbly submitted, (signed) Flannel Christian.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. (Romans 12:20)

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In a world of hate and fear, be holy troublemakers of all-inclusive, universal love.
In a world of merciless cruelty, be holy troublemakers of compassion and mercy.
In a world of lies, be holy troublemakers of truth.
In a world of injustice, racism and sexism, be holy troublemakers of justice and equality.
In a world of death, be holy troublemakers of life.
In a world of despair, be holy troublemakers of hope.
In a world of war, be holy troublemakers for peace.
In a world of violence, be holy troublemakers of Gospel nonviolence in the name of the troublemaking, nonviolent Jesus.

By John Dear, S.J.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Seminary Paper: Adoptionism

I just handed in a paper in History of Christian Thought on "Adoptionism," a heresy that arose in the ancient church (and several times since). Adoptionism supposes that while the divine part of Jesus was always with God (begotten), Jesus' human side was "adopted" by God, thus making him fully human and fully divine. For several reasons, this was rejected by the church through the centuries, not the least of which is the difficulty of talking about two natures in one person.

I trace several historical occurances of adoptionism, and end with a discussion of how adoptionism is important today. Particularly, I argue, adoptionism is a response to the question of how grace encounters the human life, and as such it might have some redeeming qualities.

If you're interested, you can read it here: Adoptionism: Ancient Heresy, Postmodern Possibility

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Wall

Some of you have noticed a dearth of posting this past week.... What can I say? Half-way through the January Focus Session I hit the wall. Not entirely surprising, really, and not horrific. (I did manage to finish a paper, attend class, do fairly well on a test, start two more papers... still....) Just a touch of lethargy, melancholy and an increasing tension in my back. Enough, though, to make the last week a degree or two less lustrous than the first.

In my last "personal" post I talked about the novelty of the monastic lifestyle during these three-week intensives. I probably shouldn't have spoken so soon. Not that I don't enjoy it, and not that it doesn't really resemble some monastic project... just that my unbridled approval and expectation of ease was a little naive. These three weeks is work. Even work I love is still work.

There have been highlights as well - but much smaller. Perhaps the proverbial wall can serve to recenter me, help get my high head down to the ground, where subtle contours exist. A treated Wendy's Frosty; a back-scratch in passing; a shoulder-rub before class; two or three really good sentences for a difficult paper. Some are rewards for perseverance. Most, though, are the little affections and supports of a community genuinely interested in the formation of the individual. In what other job would I have co-workers and instructors show such casual, sincere concern for my personal well-being?

There are some things about working for the church that are really good.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Anne Feeney Concert - Feb. 2

Don't forget!

Anne Feeney, an extraordinary labor folk & rock singer, will be performing at Highland Park (8611 11th Ave SW, Seattle, map) on Friday, February 2 (Groundhog Day!), at 7PM. Entrance is $10 at the door. ($8 in advance!) Some limited refreshments will be provided.

Come! And bring your neighbors and friends! Anne is a great performer - this will be one of the musical highlights of the YEAR!

For more info on Anne Feeney, check out her website at
For more info about Jobs With Justice, the concert beneficiary, check out their website at

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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Many churches around the world will observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25. The Week of Prayer, which as been held each year since 1908, is an opportunity for Christians to repeat the prayer of Jesus that "all may be one." This year's theme is "Open Our Ears and Loosen Our Tongues," from Mark 7:31-37.

A history of The Week of Prayer:
More info about this year:


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Book Review: Church: Community for the Kingdom

A new blogger, someone it seems in some kind of theology and mission class somewhere, posted this book review. It's worth reading, and makes the book sound worth reading, too, particularly given the Community of Christ's communal and "gathering" history. Hey, blogger... if you're reading this, put some info about yourself on your page, so yokels like me can have something more "professional-sounding" to say about our fellow bloggers. Thanks. ;-)

John Fuellenbach, an international lecturer and professor of theology in Rome wrote Church: Community for the Kingdom. Fuellenbach’s thesis is that the church, both present and future, will only fulfill it’s true purpose of being a community in service of the kingdom of God by returning to the principles practiced and taught by Jesus of living in solidarity with the poor and fostering the inculturation of the gospel message. These two objectives can be achieved by fully embracing other cultures and making the poor part of the community of God. With these values in place, Fuellenbach argues that the future of the church will be a world church.

Read the whole post here.

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Derrida on Theological & Philosophical Issues

Here are some Mp3s of Jack Caputo and Jacques Derrida well worth listening to!
Prayer; Deconstruction and Christianity; Midrashic Questions:


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Naturalist Approaches to God

I recently wrote a paper for Christian Theology class in Seminary. I chose the topic of naturalist approaches to God, and was limited to ten pages. How do you begin to discuss postmodern, pragmatist, process naturalist theological contexts, let alone assemble and evaluate some syntheses of those... in ten pages?! Well, that was my mistake. What is linked here is the product - rushed at times, making a lot of assumptions about the reader throughout. But for all that, not too bad. It is a good rough start for a larger project someday.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Upcoming Events (@ UW)

Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, King's Last Campaign
When: Thursday, January 18, 2007 - 4:00 PM Where: Smith 102 Details
In this definitive history of the epic struggle that became Martin Luther King Jr.'s last campaign, Michael Honey (Liberal Studies, UW Tacoma) brings to life the magnetic characters who clashed on the Memphis battlefield—stalwart black workers, fiery black ministers, young black-power advocates, idealistic organizers, and tough-talking unionists.

Modern Death, Millennial Mourning: The Challenge of 21st-century Grief
When: Thursday, January 18, 2007 - 7:00 PM Where: Communications 120
Sandra M. Gilbert (English, University California, Davis) is a prominent critic, poet, and memoirist. Her most recent book, Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, is a melange of literary criticism, anthropology, and memoir. It looks at death across time and culture: in the Nazi concentration camps, 9/11, and the 21st-century "hospital spaceship." Her talk will explore our relationship to death though literature, art, history, and societal practices. Download e-Flyer

Living Beyond Conflict: War & Post-War in Uganda and Sierra Leone
When: Friday, January 19, 2007 - 1:30 PM Where: Parrington Forum 309 Details
Chris Coulter (Anthropology, Uppsala University, Sweden) and Sverker Finnstrom (Anthropology, Uppsala University, Sweden) will explore issues of violence, youth, humanitarian intervention, and gender in contemporary Africa.


Surge or Rage? Guns or Butter?

From the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Nonprofits across the country are scrambling for charitable dollars because recent experience has taught them not to depend on government funds to address public problems. Economist Arthur Brooks used The Wall Street Journal (a strange choice of vehicle, it seems to me) to advise nonprofits to rely more on private contributions than on government “subsidies,” suggesting that tax-fueled funding is undependable when it comes to paying for human services and meeting societal needs; it seems the money just isn’t always there. Or is it?

Surprisingly, even while handing out more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest among us in recent years, the Republican-controlled Congress passed enough off-budget special appropriations to pay for about 50 years of HeadStart for each of the million or so kids enrolled in that program. These same appropriations could cover about 16 years of medical insurance for every child living in poverty in the U.S.; or pay four-year state tuition for every undergraduate at every U.S. college and university--and still have a bit left over to send some on to grad school.

Read the whole post at:

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From the Scriptorium

The storm that hit the Seattle area the day before yesterday - dumping inches of snow (hear my sarcasm?) - has arrived here in the form of freezing rain and snow flurries. Class is canceled, saving me from chiseling from the block of ice the other half of the car (half-way through I decided to call to see if class was still on). So I am stuck - no big deal... the power is on, so it's better than December in West Seattle, and I have the opportunity to finish some term papers. (Thankfully, another house guest of the Boltons has graciously assented to proofing my paper, which without Christie here to do for me frightened me for the results.)

The first week of Seminary passes much like it did last year. It is a lot of work, and it seems my brain is already softening under the weight of so many facts and historical figures, but honestly, I am loving it here. Something about being at the Temple, at Seminary, in graduate studies, and with my professors and classmates just thrills me. Contrary to being a drain, I am energized by being here. In fact, I wish I was taking the Mission class, too (though I know that would have been too much work).

What is it about graduate study, or theology, or being a minister that excites me so? Is it weird? Is this how Luther felt? How Chrysostom felt? How Augustine felt? Did they get giddy at the prospect of reading a new book, or composing a contrarian opinion or attending a class? Did they look forward to putting out theories, even being shown to be wrong? Did they hold their books close, like little friends or allies against the darkness? Did they listen to lectures with two minds: one the historian, one the faithful adherent asking "what does this mean for me" and "where do I lay myself alongside this?" How many voices did they hear in their heads?

It is almost enough to make me believe in reincarnation - that I was in several previous lives some scholarly monk poring over parchment and scribbling my notes dreaming of writing my own treatise, over and over again, never tiring of it. (I may have tired of the disease, drafty monasteries, and lack of dental hygiene, however.) I wonder if they'd let me wear a robe and hood to class?

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The following was a mediation in History of Christian Thought. I offer it by way of indulgence.

Therefore, my children, let us hold to the discipline, and not be careless. For we have the Lord for our co-worker in this, as it is written, God works for good with everyone who chooses the good. And in order that we not become negligent, it is good to carefully consider the Apostle’s statement: I die daily. For if we so live as people dying daily, we will not commit sin. The point of the saying is this: As we rise daily, let us suppose that we shall not survive till evening, and again, as we prepare for sleep, let us consider that we shall not awaken. By its very nature our life is uncertain, and is meted out daily by providence. If we think this way, and in this way live – daily – we will not sin, nor will we crave anything, nor bear a grudge against anyone, nor will we lay up treasures on earth, but as people who anticipate dying each day we shall be free of possessions and we shall forgive all things to all people.”

-Athanasius, from The Life of Anthony

This comes all too powerfully to me, just three months away from my father-in-law’s death – the closest person to me to have yet passed on. I have marveled at how well he lived his life this past year or two, particularly as if he were closing things up. He didn’t approach life as if he were dying – don’t misunderstand me. But he lived his life full of forgiveness and understanding, honesty and sincerity, adventurous as if he had nothing to lose.

The line between metaphor and reality is fine here. Athanasius’ words by themselves inspire me and speak truth to me. But in the given context of my life, and that of my family, death is no allegory, no abstract thought. How do I do justice to “dying daily” and be faithful and fair to the real death that dwells in my heart?

Did Athanasius know death like this? Surely, a subject of the Empire and a desert hermit would know death and suffering, more than I have experienced in my life thus far. Perhaps Athanasius spoke from literal experience, as well as allegory and spirituality. And it is just my soft-bodied-ness that draws me back from discussing death in the context of death.

I have to remember, that Jesus actually died, as did countless hundreds, thousands, millions of Christians – for whom the message of Jesus had some real claim and comfort. I do not want to know their dedication, the dept of their knowledge of death, the breadth of their suffering. Is it vanity or weakness or lack of resolve that makes me feel this way?

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Creed, Canon and Clergy

History of Christianity #2

The second century saw huge development in Christianity. As well as expanding geographically, the 2nd c. would create elements that formed the nuclei of later institutions of the church. Creed, Canon and Clergy are the big developments of the 2nd c. They arose in large part because Christianity was dealing with tensions not only from the outside (persecution by the Roman state), but from within – there were diverse Christianities developing (or coming to light?), and these extent of the diversity compelled some Christians to articulate “orthodoxies” – right beliefs.

This is in contrast to my present religious community, the Community of Christ, which is a non-creedal church that is widely tolerant of a great deal of diversity among both membership and leadership. I wonder what the history of Christianity would have looked like if those early Christians, so ardent in their faith, were more tolerant of diverse perspectives on the meaning of Jesus for the salvation of humankind. Would these “heresies” have grown, or simply died away, or eventually broken off into a separate communion? Would it have been so bad, though, for Christianity?

Of course, more orthodox Christians would probably argue that many of these controversies were over essentials of the Faith; and they’d probably rest easy knowing that the “correct” belief triumphed… because that’s what we have today.

But what if Christianity didn’t have the Trinity, or was open to multiple interpretations of the incarnation of God in Jesus, or the possibilities that Jesus might have been “adopted” by God rather than born God? Would that have been so bad?

Various denominations exist today that claim doctrines like hell, election, and predestination are all essential for salvation, but the rest of us get along fine without (one or all of) them. I am, however, projecting a 20th century mentality and cultural situation onto the 2nd century church, and that is unfair. The “church” at that point may not have had the strength or flexibility or wherewithal to deal so flippantly with questions of faith.

The community of Christians was by the second century almost entirely Gentile, and was at the trailing end of a good many decades-long struggle distinguishing itself from Judaism. By this time there had developed some sense of shared communal identity – called “the church” – throughout the Roman Empire, but it was still new. The campaign against many of the controversies (later “heresies”) were waged by sincere, intelligent and faithful Christians examining the beliefs of other sincere, intelligent and faithful Christians with whom they disagreed, and slowly something of a consensus developed. Some heresies were more vital questions, like Gnosticism with its “secret knowledge” and anti-this-world perspective, and probably Marcionism with its dual-godhead. But some don’t seem all that bad, like Arianism and Adoptionism. But they were important to them, it seems, and I can’t write Christianity backwards into the 2nd century.

Something I’d like to have seen debated as an actual controversy, to have considered heretical, was collusion with the state. Such an idea – that Christianity could ever be accepted by the state let alone become the state religion – was beyond imagination in the second century. But there were figures, like Irenaeus and Tertullian that called the early Christians on accommodating to Greek culture and philosophy. And there were later faithful Christians who challenged the Imperial Church.

And, perhaps this love of controversy is the product of a relatively secure person in a well-established religio-cultural context. I have to keep that in mind.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Spread of Christianity

History of Christian Thought #1

I'm missing all the fun of Martin Luther King Day in the Pacific Northwest. I'm attending Seminary in the mid-west for an intensive three-week course, this time on the History of Christian Thought. I thought it would be good for me to identify (at least) one insightful thing each day to post. So, here goes!

Christianity started as a Jewish revival movement in an obscure religion in a backwater province of the Roman Empire. It was a movement and later a religion that was violently oppressed, including the execution of its founder right at the get-go. And yet, within 300 years it spreads across and becomes the ruling religion of a Gentile Empire. What was so attractive about Christianity that it spread so far so quickly? Nietzsche described Christianity as a religion that appealed to slaves and women - a slur in his mind, since he thought only the weak were interested - but that simply isn't true. It is true that women and slaves did find Christianity attractive, but so did many learned, wealthy and powerful people as well. Why was that?

This is one of the enduring mysteries about early Christian history. Less critical minds will describe it in terms of the inevitable spread of the Truth, but that ignores the millions of people who didn't accept Christianity, and the diverse kinds of Christianities that developed before and since the conversion of Constantine. Just saying that Christianity is the Truth doesn't give much of an answer. Even today, not everyone responds to the Christian message(s) - and indeed, Christians are defined as much by which versions of the Christian message they don't respond to, as well as which ones they do!

Timothy Luke Johnson, a respected Catholic scholar, hypothesizes that Christianity offered an experience of power. Something enabled weak and small people to become powerful and large spiritual figures. Something freed them from fear, from demons, from sin, and gave people an experience of the Divine regardless of their class or situation. It transformed people. Johnson draws a line back to the experience of Easter, where the bodily resurrection of a human being imbues on those who revere and remember that event some degree of that same transformation - death is overcome, the consequences of being human are forgiven, people are new creatures.

I haven't read Johnson's thesis so I can't develop it more than that, and I am not entirely persuaded by it. But, frankly, I have no better idea myself. And so, even if I don't find solidarity in that interpretation of the resurrection, I can try to appreciate the experience the myriad Christians before me have felt in the Easter encounter. Certainly, Johnson's emphasis on Easter is in part a product of his Catholicism and orthodoxy. Those Christians who, like myself, looked more to Jesus' life and actions, had to look outside the Pauline tradition, had to form our faith alongside (not quite within) the dominant Christian community. But there is still something there for us, isn't there? We are Christians, after all, aren't we? Why should I, a relatively wealthy, powerful person (i.e. American affluence in a world of grinding poverty and powerlessness), be attracted to a teaching that radically subverts the power structures that I enjoy?

I think of Marx's idea that people experience - despite class consciousness or unconsciousness - sometimes transcends the limits of their narrative to interpret. That is, sometimes we think or see or feel things that don't fit "in" with the way our world tells us to see the world. And these little subversive nuggets build up sometimes. Something has to account for them. And that's when a person changes... transforms... becomes new... sees things fundamentally differently.

Was that what was happening in the Roman Empire, before Constantine? (After Constantine, when the Church became part of the Power Establishment, I see little that resembled the Jewish Jesus movement.) Am I feeling what early Christians felt? Surely, the answer is yes and no. And I am left to wonder.

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More Jan. 15 Events!

Seattle Marches Again for Dr. King and his Dream

On Monday, January 15, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Planning Committee will sponsor for the 25th consecutive year the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally and March at Franklin High School in Seattle (intersection of MLK Way and Rainier Avenue). The theme this year is "Solidarity for Peace, Human Rights, and Economic Justice." Registration is at 9 am, workshops at 9:30 am. The rally with music and speakers will begin at 11 am and clergy are welcome to come and be recognized. The march will begin at 12:15 pm. Churches and all groups are invited to bring their banners. There will be a public unveiling of the newly approved Martin Luther King County emblem with the image of Dr. King. For more information, contact Rev. Paul Benz at or (206) 390-4133.

Vigil at Ground Zero on January 15

The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action invites the faith community to a traditional vigil and nonviolent direct action at the gates of Naval Base Kitsap at Bangor on January 15. Training occurs at 8:30 am and the Ground Zero gathering begins at 1:30 pm, 16159 Clear Creek Road NW in Poulsbo. The theme is "Nonviolence is the Answer." The picture above is MLK under arrest at Bangor Base. Yeehaw!

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The gold bit on your horse, the gold circlet on the wrist of your slave, the gilding on your shoes, mean that you are robbing the orphan and starving the widow. When you have passed away, each passer-by who looks upon your great mansion will say, "How many tears did it take to build that mansion; how many orphans were stripped; how many widows wronged; how many laborers deprived of their honest wages?" Even death itself will not deliver you from your accusers.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 2.4, fourth century

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Poverty Action Summit

And March on the Capitol
...poverty in the US should not be accepted as a necessary evil or an insoluable problem.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15

Summit starts at 9am
March and Rally at 1pm

St. John's Episcopal Church
114 20th Ave SE
Olympia, WA 98501

Commemorate Martin Luther King Day by:
* Learning about important 2007 policy initiatives!
* Attending skill-building workshops!
* Networking with people from across the state!
* Sharing your story with lawmakers!
* Making ending poverty a priority this legislative session!
For more information, visit the Statewide Poverty Action Network webpage.

Let's LIVE our Christian commitment to ending poverty in the world, by ending it here in Washington State!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Imperial Church

In preparing for my upcoming Seminary class of Christian History, I've been reading a lot of texts about the Church in the period following Constantine's nominal conversion and adoption of Christianity as effectively the state religion in 313. Meanwhile, this week, footage has been inescapable of former President Ford's death and the pomp and ceremony made of his funerary services, and I am given a frighteningly real-life picture of what the Imperial Church looked (looks) like. (And I can feel myself wanting to pin my own 95 theses on the National Cathedral's door.)

With the Emperor Constantine I, the Christian faith went immediately from being the persecuted to being the persecutor, from the fringe to being the pole around which state policy revolved. Actually, the latter isn't so true. A more accurate description would be that Christianity became wedded to the throne - the Emperor's interests became (gradually even by definition) the Church's. A later Emperor would even claim - compellingly - that alongside scripture and tradition, his will was a canon law for the church. And the Church obeyed.

The years following the entrenchment of the Church with power and wealth, establishing perpetual and mutual entrenchment in the powers of the state, were horrific from my perspective. Popes and bishops vied for power, led armies, ordered deaths and torture, led intrigues, excommunicated and executed competitors for prestigious positions, hoarded wealth and luxury while millions starved and froze. This has gone on for almost 1,700 years!

And while "the Church" is no longer one global unity, neither is the Empire - and we see the Church wherever it is, cozying up to persons and positions of power and prestige. No matter how violence, how impoverishing, how arrogant and selfish a ruler is, there is some rich bishop ready to heap on laud and praise. In fact, that's his job. It is, after all, the National Cathedral. In more than name it is beholden to the Powers, serves the Powers, allows the Powers a patina of holiness and redemption, while bringing no meaningful (prophetic) critique or insight. Laud and praise; laud and praise.

Christianity began as a movement among dis-empowered people, living in an occupied country, routinely exploited, abused, enslaved and slaughtered at the whim of the Empire. Jesus was executed, we must remember, not by anarchists or atheists or revolutionaries. He was executed by the collusion of church and state, by the connivance of religious "leaders" who were more concerned with pleasing the powerful than speaking the truth, by the conspiracy of those who would blur the line between devotion to God and devotion to Emperor. And Jesus is being crucified all over again.

Does Gerald Ford deserve all this venom? Not particularly. Among the presidents he wasn't the worst - didn't kill nearly as many people as did presidents before and after him, didn't drive into poverty more people than other presidents, didn't enrich the rich or consolidate power or dis-empower the common people more than others who have held that revered post. (Honestly, our present Bush assures most presidents the claim of not being the worst president in history.) And funerals and mourning are not an appropriate time to lay out the crimes of someone's life. (Although it seems we do not grant this sympathy to our enemies, one of whose death just a few days ago was greeted unanimously with a recounting of his crimes.)

But neither does this death deserve all the accolades and national praise that we find now bestowed upon it. This death, as with all deaths of kings while their dynasty is still in power, is treated as a national day of mourning - telling us that we should feel some part of this loss, that we have owed something of value to that life, that we as a nation or as a mass of individuals have indeed been injured by his death. Do not mock us like this! Few people have given Ford a thought these past many years, and in a week no one will be thinking of him again. Leave the grieving and loss to those who genuinely feel it; respect it by not nationalizing it, let Ford die just a man beloved by those nearest him.

By nationalizing Ford's death, the Powers mean to make sacred his deeds (all his deeds) and his office (and by association, all those who occupy it). And the Church, offering its services of making-holy, venerates horrific things that necessitate answering. Even if Ford's presidency was a golden age of love and generosity and equality, embodying all the gospel values (not that "prosperity" is not in the list), the Church should still not serve the Powers' strategies to nationalize a personal sorrow. To do so subverts the autonomy of the Church, disintegrates the position of the Church as a voice that speaks for God and God alone. When Church serves the Powers, it declares tragically that the god it serves is in fact the Emperor. When the cross marches alongside the flag, faithfulness is put in jeopardy.

That is the lesson I take away from those first 1,694 years of the Church, captive to the service and will of Empire. It seems as a community we still have not recovered the lost voice of the One we lift up in ceremony and song and claim to honor.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

How think you that you obey Christ's commandments, when you spend your time collecting interest, piling up loans, buying slaves like livestock, and merging business with business? ... And that is not all. Upon this you heap injustice, taking possession of lands and houses, and multiplying poverty and hunger.
St. John Chrysostom, fourth century

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Of Sorts

This New Year's morning was marked with the 3000th American soldier dying in Iraq since US aggressions began in 2003. The news so far hasn't mentioned the Iraqi death toll - even an inaccurate toll, since the US isn't interested in counting civilian deaths.

And the world reports mixed reactions to the execution of Saddam Hussein.

I have been struggling with what (if anything) to post about the execution of Saddam Hussein. I am comforted by the Vatican, World Council of Churches, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International in condemning the execution on both moral grounds (opposed to capital punishment altogether) and on strategic grounds (execution was with mixed motives and not necessarily the best course for Iraq in particular). I believe it is clear that the Christian position on the death penalty is for world-wide abolition. We must recognize other nations' and cultures' sovereignty, but this case is clearly one of US sovereignty - we occupy all of Iraq, we determine their policies and government, we support them financially, politically, militarily and morally. Had the US government not wanted Hussein killed, we would not have allowed Iraq to execute him. And any claim that the US has to "respecting the sovereignty" of Iraq flies in the face of the facts that we invaded that country twice in the past decade, have been continually bombing it in the interim, and that we tried several times to assassinate Saddam at the beginning of the Iraq War. Saddam only survived to be executed because our "smart bombs" missed. This is another example of how the US obeys no law but its own interests, holds no morals or values above increasing its own wealth and power, raises no principle above its right to do whatever, whenever, wherever it wants if it feels such action will promote the nation's wealth or power. Justice was not the motivating factor in either the invasion or execution. Love wasn't the motivating factor. Liberty or freedom or whatever other catch-phrase weren't the priority. And this is the terrifying fact that we Christians must remind ourselves of continuously.

We are Americans by accident of our birth. We are Christians by our faith. Who holds our allegiance? We cannot serve both God and mammon, brothers and sisters. Must must choose this day whom we will serve.

I fear most American Christians have chosen America rather than Christ to serve - and assume that going to church or confessing belief will serve them in good stead in the Reign of God.

And I fear for not only America, but for Christianity. We are a terrible people, terrifying in our duplicity and arrogance. And I mourn this day for my country, for my people, for my faith - ideals and hope crucified all over again.

God, forgive us, for we know not what we do.