Finally . . . my time is here! Time to get some mileage out of my so far unused math major (Dr. Vandenboss, I hope you’re paying attention), I can now share a revelation:
During a piece on one of the current presidential candidates, it was said that we live in a POST-TRUTH WORLD. That being the case, my Post-Truth Theory of the World, which can now be revealed, is as follows:
The earth is NOT a SPHERE but a DODECAHEDRON – a lovely polygon with 12-sides.

Since we are in a Post-Truth world, I expect that, while there may be some controversy among some about this theory, there will surely be considerable support for a dodecahedral earth among all those who are fed up with geography-as-usual and the rigged system of maps and globes that smooth off the edges and points in a way that smacks of excessive geometrical correctness.

Support the Dodecahedron Earth theory—it is the first step back to a world so-called mathematicians and scientists have rejected, but is the post-truth truth, a world in which we really can fall off the edge and beyond those edges be monsters.
MAKE EARTH FLAT AGAIN!

As voices within The United Methodist Church (UMC) continue to argue human sexuality, vis-a-vis, homosexuality, they continue to do so while ignoring the proverbial 800 pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room.  A good example of how some of our more thoughtful UMs miss the most crucial point is exposed a quote from Rev. Jeff Greenway, who led Asbury Theological Seminary while I was matriculating there.  In a piece he wrote explaining  the purpose of the newly formed Wesleyan Covenant Association, a conservative forum for UMs, and offering thoughts on the Council of Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward, which will try to sort out our issues of human sexuality, Rev. Greenway said (emphasis mine),

“Let me be clear—human sexuality is not the cause of our differences—it is the presenting symptom. The real causes of our division are related to the nature, role and authority of Scripture—the nature of salvation—and the work of sanctification in the life and conduct of a follower of Jesus. We are miles apart in these basic beliefs and it makes our covenantal relationship untenable. We use the same language, sometimes quote the same scriptures or Wesley sermons, but we are speaking about entirely different expressions of faith”

Rev. Greenway almost sees the 800 lb. gorilla. He is spot on that the arguments we have over homosexuality are proxies, carrying the water for deeper issues that a few, like Greenway, are either insightful or bold enough to raise to the surface. As Greenway, and a good many others who claim the “conservative” label see it, the real issue is a difference of opinion about the authority of the Bible. Alas, this is where we get stuck again because we haven’t yet dug deep enough to unearth the core issue.  Moreover, when conservatives claim that they support the authority of Scripture, then they are also claiming that the same authority is being ignored by progressives (those who support the full inclusion of homosexuals into membership and ordained ministry, and who advocate defying The Disciple in those places where it lists proscriptions against homosexuality).  This is not a debate but an indictment that gives progressives no way to respond.

The very debate that we are neglecting–the 800 pound gorilla–is not human sexuality, or even the authority of Scripture (which faithful people on both sides will say is all important and inviolable), but how we interpret the Bible.

Competent, critical interpretation of the Bible is a basic required skill of all UM clergy.  The preaching, teaching, and spiritual guidance that is our business are dependent on our ability to do more than skim a page of the Bible and then simply parrot back what it says (although some scripture allows for this, e.g. “Jesus wept”). However , we can interpret the Bible using various rubrics. One common rubric is a literalist rubric that assumes what was written a long time ago in a land far away is absolutely universal in meaning. This contrasts with the kind of interpretation many of us are trained to do by using the tools of literary criticism, historical criticism, social/psychological criticism, coupled with the commentaries of the church throughout its history. Nor surprisingly, these varying interpretive rubrics can render differing interpretations of a text.

Until we begin sideline accusations about who does and does not recognize the true meaning and authority of Scripture so we can discus how we interpret Scripture, we will progress no further, and, worse, our differing positions will entrench.

Let’s stop ignoring the 800 lb gorilla—It’s not invisible.

To all nervy white folk who are anxious (or just plain panicked) about increasing ethnic and cultural diversity in America:

Become a well-rounded musician or music-listener and you might lose your fear of diversity.

As I bounce back and forth between sermon preparation and rehearsal for a piece of music I’m presenting in church tomorrow, it occurs to me that I am playing a flute traditionally used by Native Americans of the Great Plains, a guitar built by a Canadian company, all played over electronic music with roots in Europe with improvisation based on jazz, an African-American invention.

Oh . . . and the sermon is based on a piece of scripture from a writing originating in the Middle-East around 3,000 years ago (a Psalm from the Hebrew Bible, a.k.a. Old Testament). And to my knowledge, the Bible which we Christians, including White Christian Evangelicals (the religious group most disturbed by cultural diversity) claim to be the cornerstone of our religion, spirituality, and ethics was written by a bunch of Semitic Middle-Easterners and Greek-speakers from what is today’s Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. No American white guys involved.

Maybe I’m due to give an apology to my ethnicity, so here it goes:

To all white Americans—my apologies but, I just don’t get the fear of diversity that’s created the Alt Right, nurtured racial division and inequality, and somehow makes the angry rhetoric of American isolationism and wall building seem reasonable to far too many. Sorry, but I just don’t understand what the problem is and why I should be anxious, suspicious, and hateful of non-whites either in America or outside of it. Indeed, I feel enriched by exposure to cultures other than my own.

Okay . . . so that wasn’t really an apology. I guess I have no apology I feel I need to make for my embrace of the world’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Why should I? As God says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humanity in our image,” and that means all of us (I just can’t get that to read “Let us make white Americans in our image.”).

Oh, by the way, . . . about that wall one of our presidential candidates wants to build to wall off Mexico— The French tried that tactic already. It was called the Maginot Line and after great expense and effort to wall off France from Germany, the Germans simply went around it.

Demon Drug (…prices)

Posted: 2016/08/25 in Social Justice

To hell with the pure free-market economics—people are sick and dying and it will only get worse.  It was announced, yesterday, that drug manufacturer Mylan has doubled the price of the EpiPen, the ubiquitous life-saver carried by people with dangerously severe allergies. The two-pack, and that’s the only way to buy them, is now $600. I cannot begin to imagine what it would feel like knowing I would probably die because I was accidentally exposed to an allergen that has triggered anaphalactic shock and I could not afford the drug that could easily save my life. Nor can I imagine what it would feel like to lose a loved one to severe allergic reaction because they could not afford to carry an EpiPen.

The drug’s manufacturer blames an economy outside their control  Policy makers say that the problem with the high cost of medicine and its solutions are extremely complex.

Damn them all if anyone dies because it cost to much to live!

Obviously, I’m a bit hacked off about the high price of drugs and, no, I do not understand why they need be so high. I might be able to understand and even give some grudging acceptance to the situation if expensive medicines were expensive for everyone everywhere, but they are not. We in America pay far more than anyone else. The cowpies are beginning  to pile up.

Drug manufacturers and industry spokespersons seem only to have one seriously lame two-part answer to give us:

  • No one covered by health insurance pays very much (. . . but what if the one drug that is needed is not covered?!?), and
  • If someone cannot pay full price they would most likely be qualified to receive the drug at a drastically reduced price (. . . which implies that those drugs need not be so expensive).

To call it what it is—this is about greed and a market economy that is hardly free. Not being an economist or a Harvard MBa, I cannot map out a solution. But there has to be one. All I know is that it is grossly unjust and tragic that anyone should be either disabled or dead because s/he could not afford the medicine s/he needed. This situation is wrong enough that it simply should not be tolerated.

While accompanying the seminary choir on bass (guitar) during worship one Wednesday, things were going well for the first two and a half measures.  The choir sounded musical, passionate without melodrama, and articulate, and I was playing with smoothness and subtlety so that the bass became another voice in the choir.  And then I hit a B. The Asbury Seminary chapel range like a large bell. It sounded like I had replaced my modest combo bass amp with a big Ampeg stack and turned it up to 11.  It was ridiculously loud . . . but only when I played B.  I made it through the choir anthem by consciously playing that note very lightly.  As I explained to the choir director (who already knew what the problem was), the brash and bold B was at the resonant frequency of the chapel’s interior, its only architectural design flaw. My bass guitar’s B was at just the right wavelength to bounce around the room in a way that made it sound a lot louder than any other note.

I had a psychological experience of such resonance while at the School for Pastoral Ministry this over the last few days.  Listening to one of the two excellent keynote speakers, Nadia Bolz-Weber, talk about her calling in ministry, something she said—probably several things—rang like that bass B through the cognitive and emotional mess that is my consciousness. The resonance was with my own calling into ministry—my religious raison d’etre, the “why I got into this ministry mess in the first place”.

I have been struggling for a while with a sense of direction in my ministry, which has led to a bit of paralysis and a lot of frustration as I feel pushed to get the church I serve to grow in numbers and figure out something a somewhat elderly church can do to fulfill the United Methodist Church’s slogan (part 2): “transformation of the world.”  I’ve tried blending contemporary music into worship and preaching about social justice and changing the world. The problem is that I am just not called to, or capable enough at, either engineering church growth or prophetic preaching.  Some pastors, such as Adam Hamilton, are greatly adept at providing a worship and discipleship environment that attracts a lot of people of all ages.  Others do a lot of social justice work, preaching about the issues of society and leading mission work. These are all great things and important, but they are not why I entered ministry.

My calling to preach the Gospel (Good News of Jesus Christ), offer the sacraments, and help sinners realize God’s gifts of grace and forgiveness. It’s these things that I am here to do and mean to return to doing with focused intent.  I don’t need to engineer church growth or figure out how to transform the world.  If I help people deepen find their home in the house of God’s grace, embrace God’s forgiveness, and discover for themselves what Christ crucified means for them, then the other stuff will just happen.  Forgiven and grace-filled people who “get it” about what God was doing suffering on the cross and dying for us will go out and transform their world as well as bring others in to experience that God can do for them as well. I need to simply do what matters most and get out of God’s way.

What will this mean for my work as a pastor?  Past changing the direction of my preaching and how I approach the sacraments, I haven’t a clue. But I’m sure God knows. . .

Grouse-Free Blogging

Posted: 2016/08/16 in Odds & Ends

In this age of internet trolls, partisan vitriol, and just plain bad manners, I no_grouseam trying something different—no crabbing, grousing, complaining, trolling, trashing, piqued commentary, or outright bitching.  Since I’ve always had a cynical streak, this may be as difficult as [nasty criticism deleted].  However, I’m getting tired of venting my spleen and sniping at stuff that bugs me.  Besides, this give me more space to wonder about the world a little, entertain interesting ideas, and appreciation the good stuff that’s always around us. So . . . it begins . . .

While on the road frMMAF(low rez)om a gig with my Celebrate Recovery praise band, the Voice In the Wilderness, in Bronson, MI, I was musing about the classic science fiction trope, Parallel Universes.  Current cosmology and theoretical physics has several conceptualizations of the Multiverse, but these need not involve any parallelism. Sci-fi, on the other hand, has a number of well-worn parallel universe schemes, and they almost all have the following characteristics:

  1. All universes contain the same people, if not the also the same places and things. Thus you and I have parallel you’s and I’s just like everyone else.  However, the you and I in other universes are likely doing very different things.  While being a pastor here, I may be a urologist in another universe, and a hairdresser in yet another.
  2. Physical laws may or may not be the same for all universes. Thus you and I could be juggling suspension bridges in one universe while walking a backward timeline in another.
  3. There are infinite parallel universes.
  4. If you meet yourself from a parallel universe, it is likely you will go insane for no particularly good reason.

I suspect that if there is such a thing as infinite parallel universes then they are parallel only because you and I are exactly the same and doing the same things in all universes. If, in fact, I am functioning as a urologist prescribing Viagra in another universe, then it cannot really be a parallel universe.  If my reasoning is sound, then there are infinite instances of me writing this blog and infinite instances of you reading it, all at the same time and in the same place.

This sounds almost infinitely dull.  I am quite content with just one universe.

If you’re still reading, then congratulations on your waste of time, and a waste of time is something we all need once in a while.

More Mental Meanderings, Appreciations, & Fabulations to come . . .

 

 

Suckered into a brief, but unnecessary waste of time?  Maybe.  But I’ve been provoked by a specific use of the word “interpretation.”

Tuesday, 8 August 2016, Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, was in the midst of throwing red meat to gun-rights supporters by warning that the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, was committed to abolishing the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. He said the following:
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

To many, this became a “What the . . . ?!?” moment as Clinton supporters, Trump haters, and many others, including a number of sitting congressional Republicans either criticized or wondered if Trump had inferred that Clinton ought to be assassinated should she be elected.
Trump has responded, dismissively, that he has been misinterpreted, saying, “This is a political movement [referring to ‘Second Amendment people’]. This is a strong powerful movement, the Second Amendment. Hillary wants to take your guns away. She wants to leave you unprotected in your home. And there can be no other interpretation. I mean, give me a break.”

“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know,” Trump said. “But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day, if Hillary gets to put her judges in, right now we’re tied.”

The phrase that gives me pause is, “there can be no other interpretation,” as if “nothing you can do folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is,” is crystal clear in its meaning. Really?!?  Is his statement so obvious about his intention?

As a pastor who specializes in Biblical theology, I spend a great deal of time interpreting things said and written.  So, if I may offer an interpretation of Trump’s statement, “nothing you can do folks, although the Second Ammendment people, maybe there is” . . .

(1)  I tend to always begin with the larger context, which in this case is a part of Trump’s speech in which the topic was gun rights per the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. He was seeking to characterize his opponent, Clinton, as someone whose intention is to abolish the right to bear arms.

(2)  “If she gets to pick her judges . . . ” — The only way Clinton could set the composition of the judiciary is as the President of the United States.  Thus, we may reasonably begin to interpret the clause in question to set the scene for his upcoming main point by asking us to consider the possibility of a Clinton presidency.  However, “pick her judges” is less obvious. Let us, for now, take this to refer to the appointment and successful approval of judicial appointees.  Furthermore, given the context, we might also reasonably infer that Trump is referring to the appointment of Supreme Court justices and the Supreme Court’s future potential to change the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment.

(3)  “. . . nothing you can do folks” —  Should the Supreme Court take on a case that challenges the current legal interpretation of the Second Amendment, then whatever ruling they make would be the law of the land.  The inflection of this phrase, along with its context, implies that, should a future Supreme Court ruling change the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment to become more restrictive of the rights of gun ownership, then there would be no recourse but to live with that change.  Less clear, but hinted at, is a stoking of anxiety about such a change.

(4)  “although” — This word implies an upcoming statement of an alternative to a prior description of a state of affairs.

(5)  “the Second Amendment people” — Ironically, this is ambiguous enough that it could refer to scholars of the Second Amendment, people committed to preserving the current legal interpretation of the Second Amendment, people who have committed themselves to changing the legal interpretation, the NRA, or, most likely, gun owners with who support the extant legal interpretation of the Second Amendment. This latter group is concerned with maintaining and possibly expanding gun ownership rights.  In other words, gun owners who will not give up their firearms unless pried from their cold-dead fingers.

(6)  “maybe there is” — “Maybe there is” . . . what?  This ambiguous phrase is the interpretive trouble-maker.  Syntactically it is unconnected to the rest of the sentence.  It could be the beginning of the next thought (“although the Second Ammendment people; Maybe there is a fly in my coffee”), or a clause attached to the previous in an awkward way. The most likely interpretation involves associating “maybe there is” with “nothing you can do folks” as the thought seems to be “nothing you can do folks [but] maybe there is [something that can be done]”.  Furthermore that something would be done by “the Second Amendment people”.

(7)  If “the Second Amendment people” could do something to preserve or enhance gun ownership rights that those whom Trump was addressing could not, what is that something?  Trump’s audience and “Second Amendment people” can both vote, so the something must be other. If “Second Amendment people” are the NRA then we might reasonably infer that they could lobby lawmakers, something the NRA has been quite successful at doing.  However, if “the Second Amendment people” are simply gun owners who resist any notion of further gun control, then a more sinister possibility arises.  “Maybe there is” something they could do with their guns: threaten, maim, or kill.

Having observed the ambiguity and dark possibilities of “nothing you can do folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is”, we should look again at Trump’s rebuttal, vis
“This is a political movement. This is a strong powerful movement, the Second Amendment. Hillary wants to take your guns away. She wants to leave you unprotected in your home. And there can be no other interpretation. I mean, give me a break.”

“This” is ambiguous.  The Second Amendment is not actually a “strong powerful movement” but a clause in the Bill of Rights.  He changes subject to an opinion about Clinton’s intentions.  Then he says “there can be no other interpretation”, which, in this context, is ambiguous as he has not delineated the interpretation to which he refers.

This interpreters conclusion is that Trump has said something that is dangerously ambiguous and open-ended.  There are indeed several possible interpretations that can be made.  If he wanted to be clear about what he meant and that what he meant was that action should be taken in the voting booth or in lobbying visits with lawmakers, then he should have spoken with such clarity.  As it is, he has left dangling an ambiguous call to action that could also be taken as a call to arms and even assassination.

What then did he really mean?