Saturday, December 14, 2019

Around the interlinks

If you are looking for comments on the happenings in Washington yesterday, look elsewhere. That said, is the church in a slumber? This RNS article thinks so:
Regardless of how you think about these movements [past awakenings/revivals] in American Christianity or how you divvy them up, the important point for our purposes is that despite their seemingly conservative religious bent — steeped in rhetoric of sin and redemption — there was, with notable exceptions, often enough a progressive moral, social and political agenda for its time.

How odd, then, that the current custodians of the evangelical movements would be seen, rightly this author judges, as anything but progressive and in fact stunting the work of churches to labor for greater freedom, inclusion, aid and equality of people as marks of a robust religiousness. Maybe the millennials are seeing what too many Christians are not.

Is it possible that we are living through “The Great American Slumber,” a time when too many churches are not pressing for the reform of the nation but lining their pockets, becoming court evangelicals and traveling around by private jets? Are these churches asleep while the youth of the nation are “woke?”

And what about all these continued assaults on the Salvation Army?
The first thing to know about the Salvation Army is that it is a church, founded by the Methodist preacher William Booth. He started his Salvation Army, with military ranks for its clergy, to reach the hungry and the needy through service. With more than 1.5 million members and a presence in roughly 130 countries, it is a spectacular example of, as Billy Graham once put it, “Christianity in action.”

As such, it obviously reflects Christian morality. “Soldiers, the core group among members,” one religious writer explained, “take covenant vows that cover doctrine, loyalty, willingness to evangelize and help the needy, and clean living (no alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography or profanity).” The army’s position that marriage should be between a man and a woman isn’t an exotic invention, but standard Christian teaching.

The idea that the Salvation Army has an anti-gay animus stems largely from its opposition to anti-discrimination laws that it worried would impinge on its conscience rights, and criticism over its policies regarding transgender people (especially the practice of some places of assigning people to male or female facilities depending on their gender at birth). The organization has made clear again and again, though, that its services are available to all.

Commenting on the scandalous Buttigieg bell-ringing images, the press secretary for the left-wing Alliance for Justice opined, “I know the photos are two years old, but still, I can’t help but wonder if Mayor Pete just looks at what LGBTQ activists have been working on for years and then chooses to spite it.” Or perhaps he was rational and broad-minded enough to appreciate the massive good done by one of the most admirable institutions in the country.

'Nuff said.

Heard about the latest example of our national love affair with fast cars? Bicycling magazine has this:

103 mph. That’s how fast three drivers recently went as they crossed the country in their successful attempt to break the informal “Cannonball Run” record for fastest crossing of the contiguous United States. The time: 27 hours and 25 minutes.

That 103 mph is not a top speed; it’s an average speed. And everything about the attempt—from the meticulous preparations designed not only to maximize efficiency but evade law enforcement, to how it’s being covered in the media—is a striking example of the slavish devotion we have to cars in this country, safety be damned.. . .

It’s clear that the drivers in the most recent attempt don’t fear punishment. They weren’t caught in the act, and while they’ve admitted flagrant speeding, and telematics from both the vehicle and the GPS systems they used would provide incontrovertible evidence, I don’t expect any enterprising prosecutor to subpoena that information.

Everything about the Cannonball Run, from its entitled, narcissistic beginnings to how we talk about it, exemplifies the worst excesses of car culture in this country. Maybe once, in some America of long ago, it had a purpose, but that’s gone now. It’s time for the Cannonball Run to die, before someone does.

Glad I wasn't on a bike when they went whizzing past. Or walking.

Shifting gears a bit, Ron Sider talks about the absurdity of Christmas:

The early Christians ran around the most powerful empire of the time saying their leader was in charge of the world.

To see the patent absurdity of this claim, just remember that the Roman empire at that time was perhaps more dominant over a huge part of the earth than any empire until America after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And this vast overwhelmingly powerful Roman empire was ruled by the almighty (divine) Caesar. The Romans had the best army in the world and they enforced Roman rule—ruthlessly!

Do read the rest for more perspective. Speaking of absurd, how about the guy who registered his bees as a service animal?

On a more serious note, a Scandinavian author takes on Nobel Prize winner Handke's Bosnian writings. Long read, but worth the effort.

And while we are on the theme of mass murder, the Houston police chief had a few choice words on the NRA, the GOP, and (lack of) gun control.

"You're either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you're here for the NRA," Acevedo said. "So I don't want to see their little smug faces talking about how much they care about law enforcement when I'm burying a sergeant because they don't want to piss off the NRA.

"Make up your minds," he said. "Whose side are you on? Gun manufacturers? The gun lobby? Or the children that are getting gunned down in this country every single day?"

Too simplistic? Maybe. But if you want to stop the murders, maybe it's time to get simplistic.

Speaking of simplistic, that seems to be the order of the day when it comes to evangelicals and the unwavering support of #45. Warren Throckmorton, no liberal in anybody's book, has this to say about the recent "worship leaders" convergence on Washington:

In October, no refugees were settled in the U.S. for the first time since the 1980s. There is an ongoing humanitarian crisis happening at our Southern border. Recently, a migrant teen boy died of the flu while in custody of U.S. Border Patrol. I could go on to discuss the Kurds and the faith community there that Trump left to be slaughtered by the Turks.

There is reason to believe the Administration’s rhetoric on human trafficking is faulty. Many of their policies toward migrants and refugees actually make trafficking worse. But because Christian leaders have stars in their eyes, they won’t challenge what they are being told or do any independent research. Because Trump and Pompeo say it, it must be true.

Christians are supposed to be monotheists. However, in the age of Trump, there are two gods in many of their lives, and as I have written before, Trump shall have the preeminence.

Along those lines of what a person is worth, Stephen McAlpine, an Australian blogger, muses on the recent euthanasia bill in his Australian state:
A signed off euthanasia bill—one of the most radical and invasive in the nation—may bring glee to the faces of its most vocal proponents, but the heart-aching decline of my dad that we allowed to occur, despite our misgivings and pain—brought grace to our hearts. I totally understand the heartache and despair of seeing a loved one die terribly. Indeed I see the challenge it presents to me, should I suffer a similar or worse pathway to death when it comes, as it inevitably will.

Yet, leaving that aside, if you have to choose between glee and grace in this increasingly graceless culture, then choose grace every time. Even if it means giving up some other choice or right that you wish to impose either on yourself or on others.

Speaking of grace, here is a thoughtful piece on Bonhoeffer by five different scholars. Read it!

On the happenings on the other side of the pond, Philip Jenkins asks how nations disappear. He is of the opinion, as an ex-pat, that the United Kingdom is about to disintegrate:

In some ways, this takes us back to the Middle Ages, when Europe’s nations were such fragile things, adding to people’s need for a higher religious loyalty. That is why they turned so readily to “Christendom,” the Res Publica Christiana, a true overarching unity and a focus of loyalty transcending mere kingdoms or empires. Kingdoms such as Burgundy, Wessex, or Saxony might last for only a century or two before they were replaced by new states and dynasties, but any rational person knew that Christendom simply endured. We grew up thinking we lived in a very different kind of modernity, based on the nation state – but maybe we don’t, and perhaps we never really did.

Nations are imagined communities, and sometime they unimagine themselves. It can happen very quickly. Thank heaven the United States could never evaporate like the United Kingdom seems to be doing. Well …

Shifting gears a bit, I'm familiar with the backstory on "O Holy Night," but I had never before read the literal translation of the French original. Mike Frost has it. And it's even more powerful than the version we sing. Take a look at what reading the Gospel of Luke can do for you. Careful! You might be forced to modify your opinions on things! But, as N.T. Wright observes (somewhere!), the Gospels are powerful weapons.

Another long read, but definitely worth the time, is this look at the dramatic increase in the number of kids (boys especially) diagnosed with ADHD. Here's the intro, but don't avoid the whole article; it doesn't deny that ADHD exists, it looks at how we got where we are and if there are alternatives to drugs (hint: there are, but it requires time and energy):

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to "normalize" them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It's time we recognize this as a crisis.
Meanwhile, at the Scholar's Kitchen, David Crotty reflects on the loss of shared cultural moments.

This, and other things I've been reading lately lead me to ask: Are we losing too much in a digital world? Can we retain the good while mitigating the bad? I don't know the answer to that, but I leave you to ponder it as we continue through Advent and approach Christmas.

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