Sunday, April 30, 2006

Danforth on "Silly" Gay Marriage Amendment

From the Boston Globe:
Former Sen. John Danforth says a conservative push to ban gay marriage through a constitutional amendment is silly, calling it the latest example of how the political influence of evangelical Christians is hurting the GOP.

Danforth, a Missouri Republican and an Episcopal priest, made the comments in a speech Saturday night to the Log Cabin Republicans, which support gay rights. He said history has shown that attempts to regulate human behavior with constitutional amendments are misguided.

"Once before, the Constitution was amended to try to deal with matters of human behavior; that was prohibition. That was such a flop that that was repealed 13 years later," Danforth said.

Referring to the marriage amendment, he added that perhaps at some point in history there was a constitutional amendment proposed that was "sillier than this one, but I don't know of one."

Our Monarch-in-Chief

The Boston Globe has a great article today about the way our monarch-in-chief systematically signs laws into place and then follows them up with signing statements absolving himself of the need to follow the law:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.


Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws -- many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.

Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts....

Friday, April 28, 2006

Gas Prices High - Drill in ANWR

Big surprise. Republican Senators have responded to the high gas prices by suggesting that we drill for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. Whatever the emergency of the day, this is the answer.

Open Circle Challenged by Churches in District

Six churches in the Northern Plains District have sent letters to the District Board, which is meeting this weekend, challenging the beliefs and practices of Open Circle Church. They have focused on three issues: we don't read the bible as the authoratative word of God; we don't hold that Jesus is the only way to salvation; we accept gays and lesbians in our congregation without telling them they are living lives of sin. It is too early to tell what will come of it all. We have some good support in the district. But there is a somewhat organized attempt across the denomination among some evangelicals to force the districts to take a stand against "heresy." We are not the first target but we are the current target. Our leadership team sent the district the following letter:

To our friends in Christ at District Board,

Over the past several weeks the District Board Chair has made us aware of statements and correspondence coming to the District Board concerning the beliefs and practices of Open Circle Church. In anticipation that this will be on the Board agenda this weekend we would like to take this opportunity to respond.

It appears from what we have seen that there are three primary issues that have caused concern among some in the district: the way we understand scripture, the way we understand Jesus, and our acceptance of gays and lesbians in our congregation. As some in the district have discovered by visiting our church's website, we are and have always been quite open about our stance on these issues. Having said that, it is worth noting that within our own congregation there is a diversity of beliefs about scripture and Jesus. There is no one position on these issues that everyone adheres to. I think it is fair to say that we are united in our full acceptance of gays and lesbians in our congregation.

It is also worth noting that even in our small denomination there is a wide diversity of beliefs about all of these issues. We do not all read the scripture the same; we do not all talk about Jesus the same; we do not all understand the issue of homosexuality in the same way. Just focusing on the way we read scripture in the Church of the Brethren, the 1979 Annual Conference statement on Biblical Inspiration noted that in a 1978 survey of AC attenders there was a wide variety of understandings of scripture from "Brethren who believe the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God, completely without error in the King James Version" to Brethren who "hold the Bible has great value when understood as a 'human concept of God,' open to error." This diversity of belief and practice is a fact of life in our denomination today and we believe it can be a real source of strength for the denomination.

Despite the fact that we do not talk about Jesus the same as some of our brothers and sisters in the district, Open Circle is very much a Christian Church. Jesus is the spiritual center of our church life. We hold up his teachings and life as the way to a life of fuller relationship with God and meaningful life on earth. The vast majority of Open Circle members choose to center their lives around Jesus. But not everyone. Since the beginning of our congregational life some of come in to our community who are not Christian. We have welcomed them as part of our community. We have learned from them about different faith traditions like Judaism. We have been enriched as a community by having a diversity of beliefs. And while for most of us at Open Circle Jesus is the way, we do not teach that Jesus is the only way.

Regarding our understanding of the authority of scripture, the reading and interpretation of scripture plays a central role in the life of our congregation. Like every other Christian church around the world, we celebrated Palm Sunday and Easter by reading the scripture stories. Like every Christian congregation the scriptures are read in our worship service. Our children learn the scripture stories in Sunday School.

But we teach our members to read the scriptures using the tools of biblical criticism that have been developed over the last 200 years or more. We read them in their historical context and understand that the writers of scripture, though very much inspired by God, were also fully human. As such, they were influenced by the biases of their own culture and historical setting. We believe it is possible to read the scriptures with reverence and to take them seriously and still believe that there were some things the scripture writers were simply wrong about.

We believe that scriptural writings about homosexuality are a case in point. The writers of scripture simply had no way of knowing what we know today about genetics. They spoke about homosexuality in the context of an era before knowledge of science, and out of their understandable disdain for some of the cultural practices they encountered in the wider world, like man-boy sexual relationships. They had no way of conceiving that someone could grow up naturally with a sexual attraction for another person of the same sex and choose to enter into a same-sex loving relationship.

We can. Since its beginning, Open Circle has been blessed by having gays and lesbians in our congregation. Some of them are single; some have been in life-long adult relationships, some are the parents of children. Many of them over the years have been actively involved as leaders of our church.

In fact, it seems very strange to us to be singling them out in this way. We don't see them as homosexuals. We see them as children of God and full-fledged participants in our spiritual community. We have no doubt that God sees them in the same way. It pains us to think that others in our denomination would wish to deny them an essential part of their humanity and refuse to allow them to participate fully in the life of our district and denomination. We fully believe there will come a day when this is not so. We believe this is where God's love is leading us and what God's justice challenges us to embrace.

We realize that our position on these issues is causing pain among some in our district. We are sorry for their pain; we recognize that it is difficult to be put in a position where cherished beliefs are being challenged. But we are unapologetic for being who we are. We believe God is calling us to be the kind of Christian community we are. We also believe that we very much represent core Brethren values of peace, justice, service, centrality of personal spiritual practice, and caring community gathered around the scriptures trying to discern God's will for our lives. It is our hope and prayer that our district and denomination will embrace of vision of God's community where all of us in our diversity have a full place at the table.

Kudos to Governor on Mercury Pact

There may be nothing more important to the quality of life in Minnesota than the quality of our water. Yesterday the governor, the major utilities, and a variety of environmental groups agreed on a plan to reduce the level of mercury emissions entering state waters. It is a victory for everyone. From the Star Tribune:
Mercury emissions from the state's three largest power plants would be dramatically reduced under an agreement announced Thursday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other state officials.

The deal would require Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power to reduce mercury emissions from the coal-fired plants by 90 percent by 2014.

Flanked by environmental leaders, utility officials and legislators of both parties, Pawlenty called the proposal "a watershed event in Minnesota's environmental history and progress" that will have a positive effect on public health.

Pawlenty said Minnesota needed to move forward more aggressively than a federal rule issued last year that requires utilities to reduce mercury from power plants by 70 percent by 2018, which he called "too low and too slow."

OutFront Rally

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and it was made even more wonderful by being at the state capitol joined by several friends from church and thousands of others for the OutFront rally and day on the hill. It feels to me that the tide is slowly but surely turning in MN on the issue of glbt rights. Even our own Republican representative was sounding more reasonable on the issue. Our senator is another matter. But it was a great day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ohio Churches Under Fire for Political Activities

Two Ohio churches are under fire for their close ties with Republican politics:

In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush's narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio's religious right.

The clergy members said the churches improperly held political activities and allowed Republican organizations to use their facilities.

There is fine line here between being able to speak out on issues and being able to criticize politicians for their policies and actually endorsing candidates and using your religious resources for clearly partisan politics. If these churches actually publicly endorsed a candidate and urged their followers to work for him they crossed that line.

Republicans Feel the Heat Over Gas Prices

The Washington Post notes this morning that Republicans are growing worried about high gas prices, which show no sign of let-up as summer approaches. Suddenly they are calling for investigations of oil companies for price-gouging.

What a laugher. The Republican Party exists to channel money to energy corporations. Its a revolving door of money and congressional aides/lobbyists flowing back and forth.

Iraq is the biggest failure of the Bush Administration and Republican controlled Congress. Energy policy is number two. After 9/11 the President had a once in a generation opportunity to change the culture of this country in regards to our use of energy. He could have gone to the American people and said the time has come to end our addiction to oil, particularly foreign oil. He could have called for conservation and a new huge investment in alternative energy research with a President Kennedy going to the moon like challenge of 10 years to no foreign oil. With the country united behind him after the attack and our vulnerabilities clear for all to see, it would have worked and the Bush Presidency might have been a great presidency.

Instead, he told us to go shopping, and by the way we are going to Iraq, and not one word was spoken about changing our energy policy. The true colors of Bush and Cheney and their life-long cozy relationship with big oil shone brightly. These guys had their chance. They are incompetent and corrupt and after six years of all Republican rule we have seen what the country and world looks like under their leadership. It's a mess.

The Real Ted Kennedy

Senator Ted Kennedy is one of the Republican's favorite liberal targets; just mentioning his name in a fund-raising letter generates extra dollars. But as this piece by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post points out, Kennedy is actually a throwback legislator who has always been willing to compromise with Republicans to get key legislation passed. For that he gets criticized these days as much by Democrats as Republicans. Kennedy is a reminder of what Washington was once like before it was hijacked by Rove-style compromise is evil politics.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lincoln on Preventative War

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has a great quote from Lincoln on the dangers of trusting Presidents to wager preventative wars:
The issue of preventive war as a presidential prerogative is hardly new. In February 1848 Rep. Abraham Lincoln explained his opposition to the Mexican War: "Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure [emphasis added]. . . . If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us'; but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I see it, if you don't.' "
As Schlesinger notes, "Be silent, I see it, if you don't" is exactly our current President's stance.

Why We Don't Have A Cleaner Lawn Mover

It's the size of a golf ball and would add $20 to the cost of every lawn mower, and it would substantially cut the number of bad emissions released into the air by the millions of lawn mowers now being fired up around the country. But as the New York Times reports, one maker of small engines and one Senator have teamed up to fight it.

The engine maker is Briggs & Stratton and the Senator is Christopher Bond, Republican from Missouri, which has two Briggs & Stratton companies. Bond has neither the law or science on his side but that hasn't stopped him from protecting a company instead of the quality of the air we all breath.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Second Verse, Same as the First

Here we go again. The Wall Street Journal opines this morning that "there is no more clear and present danger" than Iran possessing nuclear weapons. We can't trust the international community to respond, Iran is a rogue state, sanctions won't work, Congress has its head in the sand and is talking about a "grand bargain" of direct talks in exchange for nuclear concessions, only the President sees the threat clearly and the President must act now! The Journal is not advocating "any specific course of action." But it is obvious they think there is only one specific course of action for the President to take: regime change. Some people never learn.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Conservative Mind

Via Kevin Drum's blog, I saw this review and commentary in the Washington Monthly of Jeffrey Hart's new book The Making of the American Conservative Mind. Hart is a professor of English at Dartmouth College and former speechwriter for Richard Nixon. He has been a regular contributor to National Review since the 1960s. And he doesn't like what he sees of today's conservative movement. He doesn't like the heavy influence of the Christian Right or the right-wing slime-throwers like Rush Limbaugh. He doesn't like what George Bush has done to the Republican Party. But as reviewer Jacob Heilbrunn says:

Hart has a vision of a benign, aristocratic conservatism, but America was never a plausible candidate for this ideal. The truth is that, whatever feats of intellectual prestidigitation conservative thinkers like Kirk may have performed, they bore little relation to the realities of a country with a booming free-market economy. Conservatives have never been able to reconcile their worship of the almighty free market with its attendant social upheaval. They want unfettered free enterprise, but not all the freedoms that free enterprise brings, such as pornography and other vices. Hart may not be a severe moralist, but he does deplore vulgar taste in the arts, which is another inevitable byproduct of a capitalist economy.


In reality, though, conservatism hasn't really changed all that much. The Christian right has certainly infused it with moralism and anti-Darwin mumbo-jumbo, but what's more striking about the GOP over the past 100 years or so is its continuity. The party's main, almost sole, purpose has been to ensure that as much money as possible goes to those who need it least and that as little as possible goes to those who need it most. (Emphasis added) In a party of moneybags, Theodore Roosevelt was the exception, not the rule. Whether Bush manages to extricate the United States from Iraq or not, his avalanche of tax cuts has already justified the main reason that Republican pooh-bahs selected him to become their candidate for president.

Hart indulges in wistful notions of what might have been, but Bush is not the betrayer of Reagan and the conservative movement. He is its purest expression. To its credit, National Review's older generation is recognizing what happens when utopia is in power. Buckley, gracious and inquisitive, has mellowed over the years and has little in common with the toadies serving Bush. This is all the more ironic since liberals have for several years been bemoaning their own lack of ideas and looking to the conservative movement's rise for inspiration. Who would have thought that, at the peak of the conservative movement's political success, its founding fathers would recoil from the Frankenstein's monster they created and end up as troubled heretics?

The Realm of God

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, our spiritual task is to know and follow Jesus, the real Jesus, the historical Jesus, and to see what he saw and try to do what he did. From Robert Funk's Honest to Jesus:
Scholars are universally agreed that the theme of Jesus' discourse was something he called "the kingdom of God," to use the traditional English translation...

When Jesus talked about this wonderful place, God's estate, he always talked about it in terms drawn from the everyday, the mundane world around him. The language of Jesus, consequently, was concrete and specific. The scenery of his parables and aphorisms consisted entirely of everyday events and topics, of ordinary times, places, and persons. He spoke of dinner parties, of travelers being mugged, of truant sons, of corrupt officials, of a cache of coins found in a field, of poor peasants, of precious pearls, of the hungry and tearful, of lawsuits and conscription, of beggars and lending, of birds and flowers, of purity and defilement, of the sabbath, of wealth, and occasionally of scholars...

Much to the surprise of the modern reader, he did not develop major themes on the basis of the Hebrew scriptures. He did not cite and interpret scripture. For the most part he did not interpret fine points in the law, and when he did, he tended to parody the legal process. He rarely spoke directly about the temple, the priests, and the sacred ceremonies... There are no theological statements and no philosophical generalizations among his formulations. He did not say things like:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, or

God is love, or

Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, or

I think; therefore I am.
Only in the gospel of John do you find Jesus delivering long theological discources, and mainstream biblical scholars have been in agreement for nearly two centuries now that the speech patterns and theological formulations of Jesus found in John are not the real Jesus. Many of them are profound and beautiful, and some are not, and there is no doubt about John's importance for the development of creedal Christianity, but if you want to know and follow the real historical Jesus the gospel of John is not a primary source.

Marriage Amendment Backers Hopes Dim

One can only hope. From the Pioneer Press:

A key backer of the constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman said Wednesday he thinks it's dead for this legislative session.

Jeff Davis of Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage said he believes the soonest Minnesotans would be able to vote on the marriage amendment is 2008, and he is shifting his focus to bringing down the state senators who oppose the amendment in this fall's election.

Given the local, state, and nationwide unhappiness with Republicans, there is a good chance that there will be even fewer state senators who support it next time around.

Saving Our Forests

As Earth Day approaches Don Melnick, professor of conservation biology at Columbia University and Mary Pearl, president of Wildlife Trust, talk about the importance of our forests:

OUR forests are the heart of our environmental support system. And yet, in the 36 years that have passed since the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, we have lost more than one billion acres of forest, with no end in sight.

The people most vulnerable to the disappearance of forests are the poor: nearly three-quarters of the 1.2 billion people defined as extremely poor live in rural areas, where they rely most directly on forests for food, fuel, fiber and building materials. But those of us in the developed world are hardly immune. Smaller forests mean fewer predators keeping insects and rodents in check in the Northeastern United States, a phenomenon linked to the spread of Lyme disease and West Nile virus, among others.

Everywhere, forests prevent erosion, filter and regulate the flow of fresh water, protect coral reefs and fisheries and harbor animals that pollinate, control pests and buffer disease. That is why the single most important action we can take to protect lives and livelihoods worldwide is to protect forests. And one of the best ways to do that is to change how we think about their economics.

First, we must connect local, informal foresters, who harvest timber and other forest products for a small fraction of their value, to better markets. A good example is in Papua New Guinea. A community there receives about $13 for a cubic meter of tropical hardwood. That same cubic meter of wood, transferred through a series of intermediaries, shows up in New York Harbor with a new price tag, $700. Minimally processed into thin veneer, it sells for $2,300. That same cubic meter, fully finished, goes for over $3,000. Small forest holders who receive just pennies on the dollar for a valuable natural resource can hardly be expected to practice sustainable forestry. Opening access to regional and global markets at fair value will create strong incentives for sustainable forest management.

Second, we must recognize the importance of forests in maintaining water and soil by encouraging their preservation along rivers. Markets can help here, as well. Costa Rica's hydroelectric power companies pay upland farmers to keep land forested to prevent the companies' dams from filling with silt. The cost is shared between a power company and its customers. Logic dictates that those who benefit when forests stop erosion should return some of those benefits to those who protect forests.

Third, we must seek a global trade agreement that promotes legally, sustainably harvested timber. We should not tolerate the forest destruction abetted by most countries, which will neither monitor what is extracted at home, nor place conditions on imports. When we first visited Sumatra and Borneo fewer than 20 years ago, there were vast tracts of forest. Recent estimates indicate that these two islands, among the six largest in the world, could be largely clear-cut by 2012. With those trees will go people's livelihoods, communities, cultural values and health, as well as the forests' unexplored biological diversity.

Finally, we must protect the role that forests play in mitigating global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Markets for trading carbon dioxide emissions credits must expand to all sources and all nations. They already exist in the developed world, where yesterday morning carbon credits from efficient factory operations and tree re-planting projects were traded at roughly 30 euros per ton.

If a company in Belgium can own carbon credits because it has reduced its factories' carbon emissions, then a forest owner in the Central African Republic should be able to trade the carbon credits he earns by not cutting down its trees. To the atmosphere, a ton of carbon is a ton of carbon. By opening trade in carbon credits to all countries, we provide economic opportunity to developing nations and create a very powerful incentive to conserve forests.

Together, these measures have the potential to reverse rates of forest loss. Sustainable forests, in turn, can form the basis for the health and economic well-being of the poorest among us, while benefiting everyone else as well. What could be a more satisfying vision for Earth Day 2006?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Gay Episcopal Bishop

The recent New Yorker has a long and interesting article about Bishop Gene Robinson, covering his personal story and the way the ordination is playing out in the worldwide Anglican church. It is a fascinating story of how a gay ordination is playing out in a denomination that is now dominated by adherents from Africa, South America, and Asia, where the Anglican Church has grown rapidly:

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirmed Robinson’s election as the Bishop of New Hampshire on the evening of August 5, 2003. Earlier, Robinson had addressed a church committee, offering a theological context for his sixteen-year relationship with his gay partner. Sexuality is a gift from God, he said, a means of experiencing, in physical, human terms, God’s own love. “What I can tell you is that in my relationship with my partner I am able to express the deep love that’s in my heart, and in his unfailing and unquestioning love of me I experience just a little bit of the kind of never-ending, never-failing love that God has for me. So it’s sacramental for me.”

To several of the bishops at the gathering, the Church’s endorsement of this logic, through Robinson’s elevation to the episcopacy, pushed the Anglican notion of comprehensiveness beyond its historically implied limits. What the Church had affirmed, in the view of these traditionalists, was not just a different expression of Christianity but a different religion altogether.

When Robinson’s affirmation was announced, twenty bishops, led by Robert Duncan, of Pittsburgh, rose in protest. “I will stand against the actions of this Convention with everything I have and everything I am,” Duncan said. “I have not left, and will not leave, the Episcopal Church or my apostolic role as Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh. It is this Seventy-fourth General Convention that has left us, betrayed us, undone us. May our merciful Lord Jesus have pity on us, His broken bride.” With that, Duncan and the others walked out.


The traditionalist Episcopal rebellion over the elevation of Gene Robinson would not on its face seem likely to have much effect on the national church; Duncan and the bishops who joined him in protest represent only a small percentage of the episcopacy. Their purpose, however, is not to persuade the Episcopal Church but to replace it.

The conservative strategy turns on an audacious twist on the old concept of religious schism: forcing a divide within the Episcopal Church that would render the main church, rather than the dissidents, the schismatic party. This depends on convincing the worldwide Anglican Communion that the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, or ECUSA, as the national body of the church is called, has already departed from the faith, and that an alternative body of orthodox Episcopalians should be recognized as the true church in America. The old Episcopal Church, it is envisioned, would drift away into irrelevance, a shrinking sect of aging white liberals.

The issue may be decided by global demographics. As Professor Philip Jenkins, of Penn State, noted, in “The Next Christendom,” even as Christianity is diminishing in the developed West the faith is experiencing an explosive growth worldwide. The center of gravity of the faith is now squarely in the Global South. If the new Christendom had a world capital based on the location of its believers, it would be somewhere south of the Sahara.

While the spiritual leader of Anglicanism is still the Archbishop of Canterbury, the political power has shifted south to leaders like Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria. Akinola has been an outspoken critic of the ordination of a gay bishop:
He is, of course, subject to the prejudices of his own culture, in which homosexuality is taboo. Akinola has been quoted as saying that he cannot fathom the sexual union of two men, and that “even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don’t hear of such things.” There is also a practical aspect informing the views of churchmen like ...Akinola, whose churches are in competition with Islam. In the Islamic areas of Nigeria, for example, homosexuality is punishable by death, and Anglicanism’s countenancing of gays complicates their evangelical mission. “Instead of proclaiming the grace of God, you have to justify that which God says should not be done,” Akinola says. “Instead of putting your energy into the work of mission, you’re spending your time defending the indefensible. It makes things much more difficult.”
The traditionalist American Episcopalians have allied themselves with leaders like Akinola and have used them as leverage in the American dispute. Anglican provinces representing most of the world's population of adherents have declared their relationship with the American church broken or impaired, and have forced the Archbishop of Canterbury to respond with an inquiry. The American church responded with a statement of regret for causing conflict, but did not back apologize for its actions. Bishop Robinson's response:
Gene Robinson watches these developments with a mixture of sadness and alarm. “The reason that I have trouble with Bob Duncan and that bunch is that they are seeking to align our church with Peter Akinola, who says that homosexuals are lower than the dogs,” he recently told me. “That is very close to saying ‘inhuman,’ which is very reminiscent of what Germans said about Jews and so allowed them to devalue Jews, that it was O.K. to exterminate them. Bob Duncan wants to ally our church with the church of Kenya, where the primate there said that, when I was consecrated, Satan entered the church. What most people don’t realize is that homosexuality is something that I am, it’s not something that I do. It’s at the very core of who I am. We’re not talking about taking a liberal or conservative stance on a particular issue; we’re talking about who I am.”
This issue, the article notes, is part of a larger struggle that is going on within Anglicanism and all of Christianity:

In the current Anglican conflict, echoes can be heard of a larger struggle within Christianity that has been happening for more than a century. With the advance of science and the growing acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution, key theologians and churchmen concluded by the early twentieth century that the old faith had been essentially disproved. They began to imagine a more reasonable Christianity—one less insistent on miracles, resurrections, and a transcendent God who directed human history from a heavenly remove. Higher Criticism informed a new understanding of the historical Jesus; the Hegelian dialectic shaped a new image of an immanent and impersonal God, an unknowable force whose will was worked through human progress.

The new theology met stout resistance within the churches. The “modernist-fundamentalist controversy” of the nineteen-twenties split some of the mainline Protestant denominations, and eventually gave rise to the modern evangelical movement. The Episcopal Church, because of its liturgical unity and comprehensiveness—Elizabeth’s notion: Believe what you want, just use this book—was better able to absorb the new thinking, or, at least, to mask it. “Under the guise of Anglican comprehensiveness, and under the cover of Anglo-Catholic worship and liturgy, this alien religion took root in the Western Anglican world,” says Leslie Fairfield, a professor of church history at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, a Pennsylvania seminary with an evangelical orientation. “The idea was ‘Keep all the same words, change all the meanings, but don’t tell the laypeople.’ ”

It was an Anglican scholar and bishop, John A. T. Robinson, who inspired the “God Is Dead” vogue of the nineteen-sixties, with the publication of his best-selling “Honest to God,” which posed the question: “Now that we have rejected the ancients’ view of God living in a material heaven above the actual sky, what does God’s existence mean?” His theological heir, Bishop Spong, of Newark, published a provocation that he called his “Twelve Theses”—a call to a new Christianity that rejected the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth and bodily resurrection, and most of the rest of traditional Christian doctrine. The central belief of Christian orthodoxy—the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the Cross—Spong, now retired, pronounced “a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God.”

With biblical and theological differences as a backdrop, conflict erupted over issues of sexuality. How it will all play out remains to be seen. A California diocese is set to elect a new bishop next month and 3 of the candidates are openly gay. We will stay tuned. For Robinson's personal story, which is quite interesting, read the article.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hunters Are Finally Waking Up

I grew up in a portion of central Pennsylvania where hunting was a divine right. My grandfathers, father, and most of my uncles, cousins, and friends lived to hunt. I did too. I still enjoy grouse hunting with my son and returning to Pennsylvania each year for the deer hunt. My dad now hunts only with a camera.

Most of the hunters I know or are related to are conservatives. Gun rights is a big issue for them and they fear and loathe the liberals who are hell-bent on taking away their guns, or so they imagine. The NRA and the Republican Party have succeeded in making this a litmus test issue for hunters.

Strangely, though, these conservatives have not been very big on conservation. Conservative -- conservation -- shouldn't they go together? They haven't because conservative hunters have bought the other NRA, Republican Party line that conservation is just a politically correct term coined by liberal tree-hugging environmentalists. Who want to take away your guns and don't you forget it!

Fortunately, though, this is beginning to change. Hunters (and fishers) are waking up to the fact that while they are busy protecting their right to own guns, business interests and the Republican-led federal government are systematically destroying the land where they hunt and fish.

In the most recent issue of Field and Stream Magazine, they reprinted an article first published in 2003 that begins with this paragraph:
Rod and gun in hand, and backing the Second Amendment right to own firearms, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have won the hearts of America’s sportsmen. Yet the two men have failed to protect outdoor sports on the nation’s public lands. With deep ties to the oil and gas industry, Bush and Cheney have unleashed a national energy plan that has begun to destroy hunting and fishing on millions of federal acres throughout the West, setting back effective wildlife management for decades to come.
They follow that up with an article entitled Conservation Report: The Killing Fields:

Alan Lackey has been an elk and mule deer guide in the high country of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains for over 21 years. When he is not pulling a pack string into the mountains, he’s a ranch manager in Roy, New Mexico. Before that, he owned the Chevrolet dealership in Raton, where he also served as the president of the Chamber of Commerce. By his own description, he is a deeply conservative person.

Like huge numbers of sportsmen across the American West, however, Lackey is quick to tell you that there is nothing conservative about the pace or scale of energy development on public lands in the region. “This is a giveaway of public resources at the cost of every other value we hold,” he says. “Oil and gas production has been elevated to the primary use of our public lands, even when the local people say no to it. The whole plan is like burning down your house to stay warm for one night.”

Lackey is referring to the potential energy development of the Valle Vidal (Spanish for “The Valley of Life”) in the Carson National Forest of northern New Mexico. It is a 100,000-acre expanse of wild country that starts with open grasslands at around 8,000 feet, runs to parklands threaded by snowmelt-fed trout streams and huge stands of aspens, and reaches into the high timber country and beyond to snowfields and high peaks. It is home—both winter range and calving ground—to New Mexico’s largest elk herd, said to be about 2,500 animals. The valley is targeted for as many as 500 coal-bed methane wells.

“If you were going to create a perfect elk country, the Valle Vidal would be it,” says Lackey. “There is no way to replace it if we let it be destroyed.”

It’s largely a myth that public lands are restricted from development on a massive scale. Of all federal lands, 88 percent are open to oil and gas exploration. Until recently, much of that land was ignored because energy prices were too low to make it worth developing. That has changed, as anybody who pays a heating bill can tell you.

The rapid giveaway of energy-extraction rights has resulted in an unprecedented amount of drilling up and down the Rocky Mountain West, much of it on public hunting land. Many thousands of wells are planned or already in operation, as well as thousands of miles of roads and pipelines to service them...

Federal land managers in the Forest Service and the BLM are, in many cases, trying their best to balance the energy boom with the other uses of the lands. “I honestly believe that we could develop these resources responsibly,” said a staffer in the Pinedale office who asked not to be named, “but we have to be allowed to do our jobs. Right now the decisions about development in our area are made in Washington, D.C., not here.”

By law, the BLM is required to manage public lands for both energy development and wildlife. What are they doing to protect habitat during this massive drilling initiative? “BLM consults with state and federal fish and wildlife officials and requires a site visit for every permit issued,” says BLM director Kathleen Clarke. “Wildlife biologists will work with companies to identify areas where there are concerns in order to minimize the number of permit applications that are submitted with wildlife impacts.” Clarke notes that biologists attend on-site meetings with the operator at proposed drilling and access points to identify wildlife issues and to make recommendations to reduce wildlife or habitat impacts. They consult with the state game and fish agency concerning species of state interest.

Clarke says that the BLM is faced with a unique situation in the Pinedale area. “World-class mineral resources are found beneath world-class wildlife habitat. Finding the balance between providing domestic sources of natural gas and minimizing or mitigating impacts to other natural resources will continue to pose a challenge.”

For veteran BLM biologist Steven Belinda, who was assigned to the Pinedale office two years ago, the disappointment of working as what he terms a “biostitute”—simply rubber-stamping energy development on the public lands—ruined his dream job in the famed country of the Upper Green River, the home of elk and grizzlies, antelope and wolverines. Belinda quit the BLM in February to take a job with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He told a reporter for the Washington Post that he had spent all but 1 percent of his time in the BLM office working on drilling permits.

“If we continue this trend of keeping biologists in the office and preventing them from doing substantive work,” said Belinda, “there is a train wreck coming for wildlife.”

George Bush and Dick Cheney are no friends of hunters, and by no definition of the term can they be labeled conservatives. I would much rather have a genuine conservative as President who cares about deficits, who doesn't believe in nation-building, and who is committed to the conservation of our natural resources.

Those Who Profit from Our Healthcare Mess

The Wall Street Journal profiles William McGuire, the CEO of Minnesota's own United Healthcare, who found his niche getting rich playing middleman in the mess that is our healthcare system:
Today, the 58-year-old Dr. McGuire is chief executive officer of UnitedHealth Group Inc., one of the nation's largest health-care companies. He draws $8 million a year in salary plus bonus, enjoying perks such as personal use of the company jet. He also has amassed one of the largest stock-options fortunes of all time.

Unrealized gains on Dr. McGuire's options totaled $1.6 billion, according to UnitedHealth's proxy statement released this month. Even celebrated CEOs such as General Electric Co.'s Jack Welch or International Business Machines Corp.'s Louis Gerstner never were granted so much during their time at the top.

Dr. McGuire's story shows how an elite group of companies is getting rich from the nation's fraying health-care system. Many of them aren't discovering drugs or treating patients. They're middlemen who process the paperwork, fill the pill bottles and otherwise connect the pieces of a $2 trillion industry.

The middlemen credit themselves with keeping the health system humming and restraining costs. They're bringing in robust profits -- and their executives are among the country's most richly paid -- as doctors, patients, hospitals and even drug makers are feeling a financial squeeze. Some 46 million Americans lack health insurance.
He is one of the reasons we need, and don't have, a single-payer system.

A Doctor Supports a Single-Payer System

Benjamin Brewer, the physician who writes a regular column (subscription required) for the Wall Street Journal has come around to supporting a single-payer national healthcare system. He comments that the Massachusetts approach is a step in the right direction, but doesn't go far enough:

The solution that would really put health-care dollars, and providers, to their best use would be a single-payer system -- namely, government-funded health coverage for all.

It took me a while to conclude that a single-payer health system was the best approach. My fear had been that government would screw up medicine to the detriment of my patients and my practice. If done poorly, the result might be worse than what I'm dealing with now.

But increasingly I've come to believe that if done right, health care in America could be dramatically better with true single-payer coverage; not just another layer -- a part D on top of a part B on top of a part A, but a simplified, single payer that would cover all Americans, including those who could afford the best right now. Representatives and senators in Washington should have to use the same system my patients and I do were they to vote it in.

Doctors in private practice fear a loss of autonomy with a single-payer system. After being in the private practice of family medicine for 8 1/2 years, I see that autonomy is largely an illusion. Through Medicare and Medicaid, the government is already writing its own rules for 45% of the patients I see.

The rest are privately insured under 301 different insurance products (my staff and I counted). The companies set the fees and the contracts are largely non-negotiable by individual doctors.

The amount of time, staff costs and IT overhead associated with keeping track of all those plans eats up most of the money we make above Medicare rates. As it is now, I see patients and wait between 30 and 90 days to get paid. My practice requires two full-time staff members for billing. My two secretaries spend about half their time collecting insurance information. Plus, there's $9,000 in computer expenses yearly to handle the insurance information and billing follow up. I suspect I could go from four people in the paper chase to one with a single-payer system.

It would be simpler and better for the patient, and for me, if the patient could choose a doctor, bring their ID card with them, swipe it in a card reader at the time of service and have the doctor get paid on the spot with electronic funds transfer.

Instead, patients have to negotiate a maze of deductibles, provider networks, out-of-network costs, exclusions, policy riders, ER surcharges, etc. Wouldn't a card swipe be simpler? No preexisting conditions to worry about. No indecipherable hospital bills. One formulary to deal with and one set of administrative rules to learn instead of 300.

With a single-payer system, there are concerns about waiting times for procedures and not getting access to the "best doctors." These are real issues, but not unsolvable ones. We have these disparities now. Fact is, they are mostly a matter of geography, insurance status and personal wealth.

A single-payer system would increase access to care for the uninsured and the underinsured, including the working poor. It would lower total health costs, in part by replacing 50 different state Medicaid programs and umpteen insurers with one system. This approach has the potential to improve quality and lower costs by improving care for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Such a system of care would rely on evidenced-based interventions, that is, providing the right care at the right time to the right patients, according to generally accepted best practices, and it would reduce the disparities in access to and quality of care among ethnic groups. Better tracking of chronic diseases, outbreaks and identification of bioterrorism would also be benefits.

There are powerful forces that oppose a single-payer system -- the health insurance industry for one. The insurance industry got its share of the Medicare drug benefit pie, as did the pharma industry. It would have been better and simpler for the government to design one plan with a standard drug fee schedule that everyone could understand, as the government does with care that doctors provide to Medicare patients. But that's not the way it happened.

Doctors have been supportive of the idea of universal access to care, but not necessarily a single-payer system. Some fear delays in obtaining necessary testing and surgeries. What I suspect they fear most is a loss of income and the fear of the unknown.

A single-payer system would admittedly lower fees for subspecialty care, such as radiology and cardiology. But if more doctors went into family medicine or obstetrics and fewer into subspecialties like plastic surgery, that shift might help correct the physician manpower imbalances that exist now. That wouldn't necessarily break my heart.

I suspect doctors would be more likely to support a single-payer system if national malpractice reform was part of the package -- which it should be.

I used to think a single-payer system would keep my income down and inject bureaucracy into my medical decision-making. But with the efficiency it could bring, it would at worst be an economic wash; more likely, the trimmed costs would more than make up for any foregone revenue. As for autonomy, I'm already struggling to maintain it amid the interference of insurers.

On the whole, the efficiency -- and equality -- that a single-payer system would provide would more than compensate for its shortcomings.

Hopefully the WSJ will let him keep writing.

Monday, April 17, 2006

And When I Die

I first saw reference to this New York Times article, and comment, in Adventus. Babyboomers are dying in the same style they lived: supersized. More and more are building or being buried in big mausoleums:
Ed Peck is in no hurry to get there, but when the time comes for him to go to eternity, he wants his last earthly stop to be consistent with his social station.

So Mr. Peck, a real estate developer who made his fortune in Florida condominiums in the 1970's, not long ago joined a small but growing number of Americans who have erected that most pharaonic of monuments to life-in-death, the private family mausoleum.

A Greek-pillared neo-Classical style structure of white granite, Mr. Peck's mausoleum has a granite patio, a meditation room, doors of hand-cast bronze and a chandelier. The family name is carved and gilded above a lintel that in the original sales model carried the legend "Your Name."

Developed just over two years ago to accommodate a growing demand for mausoleums like the one Mr. Peck bought, which including its lot has a retail cost of $400,000, the Private Estate Section at the century-old Daytona Memorial Park here has 15 lake-view lots. Six have been sold.

"The mausoleum says, 'I'm really significant in this world, I think I'm really significant to my family,' and this is one way to communicate that to the community," said Nancy Lohman, an owner along with her husband, Lowell, of this and several dozen other Florida cemeteries and funeral homes.

Mr. Peck, 87, an Atlanta native with a sonorous voice and a laconic manner, framed a similar thought more modestly. "It began to occur to me that I did not want to be in the ground covered with weeds and whatnot and totally forgotten," he said. "I don't like the idea of dirt being dumped on me."

Six feet up and not six feet under is increasingly the direction in which people want their remains stored when they die, representatives of the funeral industry say. In addition to custom single-family mausoleums, community mausoleums for both coffins and cremated remains are also gaining popularity; in classical or contemporary styles, these often have room to hold hundreds of niches for coffins or urns.


The development is perhaps logically to be expected of those at the leading edge of the baby boom generation, which forms the bulk of the market. The progression seems natural for the folks who gave the world blocklong, gas-hogging sport utility vehicles and lot-hogging 40,000-square-foot suburban homes.

"It's in keeping with the McMansion mentality of boomers," said Thomas Lynch, an author and funeral director in Michigan. "Real estate is an extension of personhood."

The market for the custom structures is greatest on the coasts, although exclusive estate sections have recently been set aside for private mausoleums at cemeteries in Atlanta, Cleveland and Minneapolis.

Some mausoleums echo the temple of the goddess Fortuna Virilis in Rome. Some are hefty, rusticated stone barns. Some have more square footage than a good-size Manhattan studio apartment, their interiors fitted out with hand-knotted carpets, upholstered benches and nooks for the display of memorabilia. In late 2004, a Southern California family ordered a mausoleum with room for 12 coffins, 20 cremation niches and a patterned marble vestibule.

My question is - who will visit these things? Or maybe the people who are spending all this money for their oversized grave markers don't care. But having a big mausoleum isn't quite the same as having a big expensive car, home, boat, etc. Other people see all of these things, which I assume is part of the appeal of having them. But who is going to see the big granite building in middle of a cemetary. Not very many people, I would imagine, and not even family and friends very often.

When I was a youth, I visited a cemetary once a year for Memorial Day, and then to attend the burials of my grandparents. I have visited the burial plots of a number of my relatives, and have spent plenty of time in cemetaries as a pastor. But I live a 1000 miles from where my family members are buried and I have no reason to visit cemetaries where I live, apart from my work. I have to believe my experience is not unusual.

As Adventus notes, there was a time in our country's history when burial grounds were more a part of life. Many churches had cemetaries around the church, and the church was often in the center of town. Our family and friends were there; we visited them more. One of the things I learned in Rome as I visited the catacombs and early Christian meeting places was that burial grounds were important social gathering places. Families went to the burial grounds for picnics and shared meals with their deceased loved ones. When Constantine was converted to Christianity he didn't build new Christian churches. He built Christian mausoleums so Christians would have nice places to visit and eat with their dead relatives. Knowing how important this was in that culture gives you a different perspective on the origins of Christian communion. Early Christians simply adapted a common practice and made it their own. But the point is they, like our American ancestors, spent more time in burial grounds.

And when I die, and when I'm dead and gone, I want to be cremated. What I don't want is to be buried in some expensive sealed vault that will keep my remains intact for centuries and take up space. I am open, however, to the idea of a "green" burial of my body in a way that allows my remains to decompose quickly.

The question is, and it is one I haven't given much thought to before, do I care whether or not there is a place where someone can come and see my marker? How important is it to have a place where someone can find you? It is very interesting to me to occasionally visit the graveyards of my long-deceased relatives and see headstones from centuries gone by? But is it important to me? Would it be important to anyone else? I don't know.

In terms of my faith, I am very much an ashes to ashes, dust to dust, person. I like gardening, getting my hands in the dirt, I understand the importance of death and decay of once-living things for the health of the land, it is what makes possible new life. I want my body to do its part. I don't believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead, but even if I did I think a God who is powerful enough to raise the dead would be powerful enough to reconstitute a body. But bodily resurrection is not a central component of my faith so I don't worry about losing my body to cremation or decay. The realm of God is here on earth in every place, animal, and plant. Resurrection happens spiritually as we give our lives to things that matter and make possible new hope, new love, and new life. In that way we live on forever in the realm of God. Resurrection happens physically as we give our spent bodies to the earth and they become the humus that nourishes new living things. Being buried in a sealed chamber, big or small, gets in the way of this wonderful process.

I still don't know what to think about the importance of a marker, though.

Is Jesus Risen? Literal View Gains Ground

That's the headline for this Washington Post story. This is the evidence:

In the past two decades, there has been a heightened scrutiny of Scripture, with basic Christian tenets such as the Resurrection challenged by biblical scholars and others in their search for historical facts about Jesus. But in recent years, there has been a rise in the popularity and stature of books that embrace Dickerson's traditional view of Easter, experts say.

Two books, "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection," have sold a combined 4 million copies. Both were written by Lee Strobel, a former Chicago Tribune editor and atheist who became an evangelical pastor. Others include more than a dozen meant to rebut various themes in "The Da Vinci Code," the hit novel that centered on the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that the truth of his life was suppressed by Christian officials.

The current No. 1 theology book for the Christian Booksellers Association -- which tracks books sold through Christian retail stores -- is "More Than a Carpenter" by Josh McDowell, which reiterates the orthodox view. New Testament scholars have been talking since 2003 about "The Resurrection of the Son of God" by N.T. Wright, a prominent biblical scholar and a bishop in the Church of England who says that Jesus likely rose in body from the dead.

Many such writings challenge works by a group of biblical scholars, known as the Jesus Seminar, who in 1985 began questioning the historical authenticity of various Gospel teachings about Jesus. The group generated interest and set off a chain of magazine covers and television shows about "the historical Jesus."

"There seems to be in the past decade a move to embrace the traditional faith of the church, not really in a retrograde way, but in a 'let's take another look at what modernity may have too readily dismissed' sort of way," said Cynthia Lindner, director of ministry studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


The traditional books are part of a general surge in "evidence books." Two that take the opposite tack are "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" by Bart Ehrman and "The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem," by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Last week, they were on the Publishers Weekly top 10 list of religious hardcover books.

Despite such successes, a shift is seen even by some who believe that Jesus was not resurrected in the traditional sense -- and, more importantly, that the point is not essential to being a believing Christian. Ian Markham, dean of the nondenominational Hartford Seminary, said Christians are increasingly turning away from the idea that all life can be explained by science.

"We are just aware that life is much more mysterious and surprising," Markham said. "People are less inclined to dismiss things just because they are unscientific."

This resonates with Gary Habermas, a historian who chairs the Liberty University philosophy and theology department and has written 13 books about the Resurrection. Last year, he released a review of the most recent 2,200 scholarly articles and books about the subject and concluded that about three-quarters of New Testament scholars embrace the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. His research, which some dismiss because he is not a biblical scholar, was published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus.

Polling is thin about beliefs among Christians in general about the Resurrection and whether they have changed. The Barna Group, which researches the behavior and beliefs of Christians, found in 2000 that more than 50 percent of Americans disagreed with this statement: "After he was crucified and died, Jesus Christ did not return to life physically." A 2003 Harris poll found that 96 percent said they believed in Jesus's Resurrection. A Scripps Howard poll that year found that 63 percent of Americans were "absolutely certain" Jesus physically rose from the dead.

I am not sure there is anything more here than anecdotal evidence for the claim that the literal view of the resurrection is gaining ground. In any case the best quote from the article is by Rev. Steve Huber:

"The truth of the Resurrection shouldn't be the real battleground. I think what we want to do is try and rise above that and ask, 'What is the metaphoric truth of Easter?' " he said. "The real power of Easter is the transformation that, as Christians, we believe continues to happen in people's lives. "If Easter is about proving the veracity of some historical event that happened 2,000 years ago, that misses the point," Huber said.

Easter Notes

I hope everyone had a joyous Easter. Here are my notes from yesterday. I read from Luke 24.

Luke 24 has always been my favorite Easter scripture. Luke preserves a unique resurrection account. Both in terms of the names of the women present and especially the Emmaus story. My one footnote today from biblical scholarship concerns the verse that says that Peter ran to the tomb and looked in, saw the linen clothes and went home amazed. This is a disputed verse because it doesn't appear in all the early manuscripts, and many scholars believe it was added later under the influence of other traditions which had Peter at the tomb.

But it is the Emmaus story that captures my imagination. Two followers of Jesus, not from the inner circle, are travelling along a road when they are joined by a stranger. They strike up a conversation and discover that the stranger has a gift to offer them. He is able to explain to them the meaning of the death of Jesus and of the women's vision at the empty tomb to them in light of Hebrew scriptures.

It wasn't until they invited the stranger to stay with them and share a meal that they saw him for who he was. Why? Because in welcoming the stranger and sharing a meal they did what Jesus did. When they did what Jesus did, he was there.

And this for me is the heart of resurrection faith. It isn't what a person believes about Jesus that matters. Do you believe in this doctrine, that literal understanding of a story? It is not what we believe about Jesus but what our faith compels us to do. That is what matters. This is how we know that Jesus is alive in us. How do we live? As an old camp song taught me as a child, "They will know we are Christians by our love." When we love as he loved, he lives in us.

It is the person who is walking along the road to Jericho and sees the man who was beaten and binds up his wounds, even though he is the enemy. It is the person who doesn't care whether someone is rich or poor, leper or clean, gay or straight, Muslim or Christian or Hindu or athiest, but treats that person with dignity and sees in them the divine spark, and knows that in the very way they treat that person, they can help grow that spark into a fire. It is the person who reclines at table and shares meals with friends and strangers and celebrates the presence of God's realm here and now. It is the person who simply trusts that God will provide, and who takes joy in the presence of birds and flowers and the joy of being alive.

That is what he did. And I am convinced that it was what he did that brought his friends and followers back. They remembered what it was like, how they were alive in his presence, and they came to realize that it was now their turn, and that they had the same capacity for giving life and sharing love as he did. And they did, and so do we. And this is the choice that we can make day after day in our lives. We can make him alive and present in our midst. And when we live as he lived and love as he loved, he is alive. Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. When we live as he lived.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Chosen by Judas

There is no doubt about the authenticity of the recently published Gospel of Judas. But there seems to be some doubt about the integrity of the woman who stands to prosper most from its publicity:

In National Geographic's narratives, the manuscript takes a long journey through the antiquities trade. Those stories describe Ms. Tchacos Nussberger efforts to sell the Gospel of Judas privately soon after buying it and her subsequent role in its restoration. She is portrayed as driven by religious conviction to save the document.

"I think I was chosen by Judas to rehabilitate him," Ms. Tchacos Nussberger, 65, is quoted as saying in one of the society's books, "The Lost Gospel," by Herbert Krosney. Mr. Krosney is also an independent television producer who brought the gospel project to National Geographic.

Missing from the book is any mention of an incident in 2001 when Ms. Tchacos Nussberger was detained in Cyprus at the request of Italian officials, who wanted to question her as part of a broader investigation into antiquities that had been illegally taken out of Italy and sold elsewhere. Paolo Ferri, the Rome-based prosecutor in the case, said she was charged with several violations involving antiquities but was given a reduced sentence that was suspended because she had, among other things, previously agreed to return an artifact claimed by Italy.

I am not sure it is a good thing to be "chosen by Judas."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sad Turn in Local Immigrant Story

Francisco Serrano became a local and then national celebrity after it was discovered that he had been hiding for weeks in a local high school. He just wanted to stay in America and get a job and become a citizen. But a court ruled that he had to go back to Mexico and enter the United States legally. He left the area with lots of local support and then dropped out of sight, apparently never boarding the plane that was to take him back to Mexico. He was found this week in Massachusetts:

Two weeks ago, police arrested him after finding him with a knife in an apartment in Boston's North End, struggling with the tenant, who was unharmed, The Boston Globe reported Thursday. He remained in Suffolk County Jail facing home invasion charges and eventual deportation.

Fortunately for him he has no criminal record and the charges will likely be reduced. But this won't help his efforts to live in this country - outside a jail cell.

Same-Sex Families are Here to Stay

The Judiciary Committee of the MN Senate voted down an effort to bring to the Senate floor a bill in support of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The Star Tribune editorial page tells us why we need to continue to fight any effort to amend our constitution in this way:

Hence the sense in remaining wary -- and in worrying. Minnesotans should oppose any constitutional amendment that snubs the principles of equality and liberty, as does every scheme to make marriage and civil unions exclusively heterosexual privileges.

Thousands of gay and lesbian couples are raising children in Minnesota. Using the Constitution to deny such families social and legal protections is more than merely unfair; it's destabilizing, demeaning, emotionally damaging and costly -- to parents and kids alike.

But some forms of discrimination are more harmful than others -- which is why it's worth looking hard at the language lawmakers employ to distinguish between the "worthy" and the worthless. As it happens, the proposed amendment shot down by the Senate committee on April 4 would do far more than just keep same-sex couples from sending out wedding invitations. As sponsor Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, noted with pride, the amendment would also prohibit any creation of its legal equivalent.

Indeed, the ultimate goal of Bachmann's broadly worded plan seems to be wholesale sabotage of the welfare and security of gay couples -- and, for that matter, of anyone who falls in love but doesn't marry.

Depending on how courts interpret its language, the amendment could dismantle existing programs that extend employment benefits to both members of a couple in a domestic partnership -- possibly even programs run by private companies. And if experience in other states with similar amendments is any guide, Bachmann's measure could even keep an unmarried couple from enjoying the protection of domestic violence and other basic laws.

What's the point of all this? What problem would it solve, and whom would it help? Minnesotans hold many views about the propriety of same-sex unions -- and they're free to think what they like. But whatever their sentiments about marriage, surely they don't want the state Constitution used as a political weapon or a discriminatory bludgeon. Surely they don't yearn for a society that ostracizes small children just because the two adults who love them most both happen to be women -- or men.

In truth, such families already exist -- and will always exist. What use is it to pretend otherwise?

Christians Doing Seders

It is part of the tradition of the Church of the Brethren to hold a "Love Feast" on Maundy Thursday. This service is a loose re-enactment of the last supper. It includes a meal, bread and cup communion and a service of foot-washing. At my church we do it every year but in untraditional ways. We don't, for instance, separate men and women for the service of footwashing, which is traditional. This year, though, we are doing a seder, and adding a service of footwashing.

Not everyone thinks this kind of thing is a good idea: Some Jews See Trespass in Church Seders

Darfur Worse and Worse

Maybe the greatest tragedy of our war in Iraq is the way it has consumed our resources and attention at a moment when there is an awful crime against humanity unfolding before our eyes. From the Wall Street Journal this morning (subscription required):

Too bad for the TV networks in the U.S. and Europe, but the event of the moment is neither the crisis of regime in France nor Berlusconi's defeat. It is not even the latest casualties and the latest vicissitudes of the war in Iraq. Rather, it is the news coming from Darfur indicating that the war there, already three years old, and nearly half a century old in the whole of Sudan, is on the verge of the utmost savagery and horror.

We already knew that villages are being leveled by planes from bases in Obeid and Port Sudan. We knew that the Janjaweed ("armed men on horseback") come, after the bombers, to finish off the survivors by hand. We also knew -- as I myself attested in 2001 after a stay with John Garang's guerrilla army -- of the use of mass rape, as in Bosnia, as a weapon of war and conquest.

Finally, we were not unaware of the racist, purely racist, nature of a conflict that no longer has the "excuse" of a religious war -- since the Zaghawa and Massalit tribes rebelling against Khartoum are also Muslim -- but simply offers the image of a war whose sole motive is the hatred, on the part of the North's Arabs, of a population whose crime is having skin that is too black.

But there are new elements that we do not know so well: the way the Khartoum regime at the last minute banned a visit by the top U.N. relief official; the harassment of European NGOs, especially the Norwegians, who were keeping the humanitarian pipeline open against all odds and have been forced to pack their bags; the cynicism with which the militias enforce the Feb. 20 law prohibiting any "foreign organization" whose activities constitute an "interference" in Sudan's "internal affairs" and thus encroach upon the "sovereignty" of a state that claims the right to exterminate as it pleases.

The new development, in short, is the frightening warning from Juan Mendez, the U.N.'s special adviser on the prevention of genocide, that this policy of the forced withdrawal of NGOs could signal that the regime has embarked on the last stage of its plan, where there cannot and must not be any witnesses.

And this is when there are those who, faced with the atrocity of a massacre and perhaps genocide, denounce the very principle of an intervention which they condemn in advance as "neocolonial": Such is the case this week of the Arab League.

There are those who are plainly uninterested in this war at the end of the world, this war of faraway peoples, that does not pit the rich wicked West against the impoverished meek of the Third World. Ah, these neoprogressives who are so talkative when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! Ah, these anti-imperialists who have nothing at all to say when it comes to a war with 500 times more deaths but where neither Israel nor the West has the least role!

Unfortunately the French author of this commentary is trying to chide liberals for their inaction in Darfur. But in America, at least, the liberals are not in power in any branch of government. And the Bush Administration is doing nothing about Darfur. Why? Iraq.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Local Lay Leader Blames Gay Sub-Culture for Priest Sex-Abuse Scandal

Its the gays and feminists who are at fault:

On Tuesday night, the leader of a group of orthodox laymen called the Defenders of Church Society told about 150 people at a meeting in St. Paul that the archdiocese is violating canon law by tolerating sexual activity by gay and straight priests and covering up a gay subculture that Pence blames for the priest sex abuse scandal.

The archdiocese has adamantly denied the group's claims.

During his impassioned two-hour speech, Pence asserted that "a fraternity of Catholic men" must confront church leaders about "a culture of deceit" that does not respect priestly celibacy and other church laws.

The audience was sympathetic, laughing at Pence's frequent jokes about psychologists, feminists and gays. Those present also readily complied with his request that the men sit in front, the women in back. That, Pence said, "is because men are defenders and protectors."

It's not the first time Pence, a Mankato physician, has stirred controversy. Two years ago, he led a group that tried to block gay Catholics and their supporters from receiving communion at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

In the past few weeks, the society has created a buzz by posting its criticisms of the archdiocese on its website ( Its supporters have spread them via an e-mail network.

On Tuesday, Pence named three priests whom he said he has confronted in person and asked to step down. Most prominent among them is the Rev. Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese, who Pence said has failed to enforce canon law. Others include an elderly priest he says has had relationships with young men and a priest who "argues openly that homosexuality is just another form of love," Pence said.

Pence said his group wants to "signal to priests, deacons and seminarians that we believe the archdiocese should abide by its own laws."

"We keep hearing that the abuse crisis happened because Catholic priests are all men, in effect blaming it on the church's purity codes," he said before the meeting. "But the purity codes are sound -- we've just got a group of guys in the priesthood who don't buy it, and feminists who don't believe in the patriarchy of God and male priesthood. Those aren't Catholic arguments."

Keeping women in their place at the back of the church was a nice touch.

School District Stops Distribution of Fliers

A local school district has clamped down on the distribution of fliers to students after a Christian group was barred from distributing their fliers and threatened a law-suit:
In October, the district received a request to distribute fliers from the Good News Club, a Christian group in Savage whose mission is to "evangelize boys and girls with the gospel of the lord Jesus Christ," according to its website. After the district declined, an attorney representing the Good News Club contacted the district.
This is an issue that cuts both ways. Some schools have decided not to distribute literature rather than allow literature that promotes gay/lesbian support group activities. Others have had to stop distribution because Christian groups committed to proselytizing want their literature distributed. My own view is that student-run groups, whether they are evangelical Christians or glbt friendly groups, should be allowed to organize and promote in the school. But outside groups should not have access, apart from community run sports/arts programs that have broad appeal.

Dwindling Numbers of Christians in the Holy Land

A Washington Post report notes that Christians in the Holy Land find themselves in an increasingly unfriendly place:
A 76-year-old Greek Orthodox monk is beaten up by villagers, his carefully tended olive trees are uprooted and his isolated West Bank monastery is defaced with graffiti depicting nuns being raped.

The land of Jesus's birth is not always an easy place for Christians to live in 2006.

The population of Christians in the Holy Land, particularly in the Palestinian territories, is dwindling as more and more leave for a better life abroad, turning the community into a tiny minority squeezed between Muslims and Jews.

The traditional merchant class, heavily dependent on tourist money, has suffered a recession since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000 and Israel walled off Bethlehem with a barrier.

The Israelis say it is designed to stop suicide bombers and Palestinians call it a land grab.

"(Christians) are suffering from both Islamic extremists and Israeli security concerns," said Canon Andrew White, a former Middle East envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Anglican Church.

While incidents as violent as the harassment of the Greek Orthodox monk are rare, life for Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has become more precarious in the past decade.

The Christian percentage of the population has dwindled markedly:

At the time of the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christians were a majority in the Holy Land. Until a century ago, they made up about 20 percent of the population.

Migration by the educated, middle-class Christian population was precipitated by Arab-Israeli wars in the 20th century and intensified in the past few decades as violence grew.

Today, there are about 50,000 Christians in the Palestinian territories -- about 1.5 percent of the population -- and about 100,000 Christians in Israel -- approximately two percent.

Another One Bites the Dust

How many former generals criticizing Rumsfeld does it take before he is gone? I predict he will be gone before mid-term elections. From the Washington Post:
A recently retired two-star general who just a year ago commanded a U.S. Army division in Iraq on Wednesday joined a small but growing list of former senior officers to call on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

"I believe we need a fresh start in the Pentagon. We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation," Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Germany-based 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, said in an interview on CNN.

In recent weeks, retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton and Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni all spoke out against Rumsfeld. This comes as opinion polls show eroding public support for the 3-year-old war in which about 2,360 U.S. troops have died.

"You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense," Batiste said.

"But when decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision making, sound planning, then we're bound to make mistakes."

Batiste, a West Point graduate who also served during the previous Gulf War, retired from the Army on November 1, 2005. While in Iraq, his division, nicknamed the Big Red One, was based in Tikrit, and it wrapped up a yearlong deployment in May 2005.

Critics have accused Rumsfeld of bullying senior military officers and disregarding their views. They often cite how Rumsfeld dismissed then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki's opinion a month before the 2003 invasion that occupying Iraq could require "several hundred thousand troops," not the smaller force Rumsfeld would send.

Many experts believe that the chaos that ensued and the insurgency that emerged just months later vindicated Shinseki's view.

Batiste told CNN "we've got the best military in the world, hands down, period." He did not say whether he felt the war was winnable.


Batiste said he was struck by the "lack of sacrifice and commitment on the part of the American people" to the war, with the exception of families with soldiers fighting in Iraq.

"I think that our executive and legislative branches of government have a responsibility to mobilize this country for war. They frankly have not done so. We're mortgaging our future, our children, $8 to $9 billion a month," he said, referring to the cost of the war.

He defined success in the war as "setting the Iraqi people up for self-reliance with their form of representative government that takes into account tribal, ethnic and religious differences that have always defined Iraqi society."

"Iraqis, frankly, in my experience, do not understand democracy. Nor do they understand their responsibilities for a free society," Batiste said.

Newbold, the military's top operations officer before the Iraq war, said in a Time magazine opinion piece on Sunday that he regretted having not more openly challenged U.S. leaders who took the United States into "an unnecessary war" in Iraq. Newbold encouraged officers still in the military to voice any doubts they have about the war.

The second most disgraceful thing about this war is the fact that the President has never called on the country to sacrifice for the war effort. Could this be because the man doesn't know the meaning of the word? The most disgraceful thing about the war is the lies we were told by the Administration to justify going to war in the first place. But it is all coming out now.

Lethal Injection is Not Humane

The New York Times reports on the growing scrutiny of the use of lethal injections to execute prisoners:

Judges in several states have started to put up potentially insurmountable roadblocks to the use of lethal injections to execute condemned inmates.

Their decisions are based on new evidence suggesting that prisoners have endured agonizing executions. In response, judges are insisting that doctors take an active role in supervising executions, even though the American Medical Association's code of ethics prohibits that.


"When prisoners first started making these challenges," Ms. Fellner said, "the courts gave them short shrift. They thought these were stalling tactics. And there was not a lot of evidence."

The recent decisions, by contrast, rely on accounts of witnesses, post-mortem blood testing and execution logs that seem to show that executions meant to be humane have, in fact, caused excruciating pain.

There is no such thing as a humane execution, and a country that really cares about human rights doesn't execute anyone.

Paul Newman's Cookies Get Him in Trouble

It's not easy being green. Paul Newman's food company makes an organic cookie that features an advertisement for the fact that it uses palm fruit oil, which is not a trans fat. This has landed him in trouble with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group:
...Last summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report called Cruel Oil. In it, the group said that crucial tracts of tropical rainforest were being destroyed and turned into palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, which account for more than 80 percent of the production of the world's palm oil. Orangutans live only in Sumatra and Borneo, and the campaign said they and other endangered animals, including tigers and rhinoceroses, were in danger of "dying for a cookie."

Here's where Paul Newman comes in. Mr. Jacobson and the report's other authors accuse Mr. Newman of "bragging" on his labels for cookies and microwave popcorn that palm oil is free of trans fat and is less saturated than palm kernel oil.

"These statements are literally true, but mislead people into thinking that palm oil is positively healthy," the report said. "Palm oil is not a health food."

For Ms. Newman, who contributes a large amount of time and money to sustainable farming and other environmental causes, the move against her family company seemed unfair. Her father was even angrier.

"It really upset Pops," said Ms. Newman. He became obsessed with proving that the form of palm oil the company uses is a healthier alternative to trans fats and that Newman's Own Organics isn't misleading its customers.

The company uses palm oil from trees grown organically in Colombia, which has no orangutans, said Neil Blomquist, former chief executive officer and president of Spectrum Organic Products, which sells Newman's Own its palm oil. The company's oil is harvested with practices that exceed principles set forth in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a group whose members include growers, processors and environmentalists, Mr. Blomquist said.

Mr. Jacobson's group recently took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with a picture of a baby orangutan surrounded by orangutan skulls. Palm oil production, the ad said, "is killing orangutans." The Malaysian Palm Oil producers responded with a big ad of their own. Jacobson wants the Newmans to change their advertising to this: "They may be environmentally sound, but don't eat these cookies if you really care about your heart." He's obviously a marketing genius.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Jesus, James, and the Kingdom of Christ

It must be holy week. It seems like every year now during holy week we get a spate of stories about Jesus and Jesus scholarship. US News and World Report has a feature-length article about a new book that suggests Jesus intended to create a family dynasty with his cousin John the Baptist and Jesus' brother James:

The investigator in this case is James Tabor, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. And his provocative new book, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, takes the search for the historical Jesus to a bold--some would even say fanciful--new level. According to Tabor, Jesus, in partnership with his cousin John the Baptizer, saw himself as the founder not of a new religion but of a worldly royal dynasty. Fulfilling ancient prophecies, the dynasty, descended from King David, was destined to restore Israel and guide it through an apocalyptic upheaval culminating in the Kingdom of God on Earth. And all of this was to happen not in the distant or metaphorical future but in the very time in which they lived. Although their message was one of peaceful change, Jesus knew that he and John had aroused the suspicions of the native Herodian rulers of Palestine as well as their Roman overlords. To carry out his work, Tabor says, Jesus had established a provisional government with 12 tribal officials and named his brother James--not Peter, as traditional Christianity holds--as his successor. And indeed, according to Tabor, James later became the leader of the early Christian movement.

Hidden story. This alternative story of the birth of Christianity--including Jesus's quite worldly dynastic ambitions and the crucial role played by James and other members of Jesus's family--survives in the shadows of the New Testament, Tabor argues, but it was obscured in the version of Christianity that ultimately prevailed. Now, though, partly thanks to important archaeological finds, Tabor believes that this hidden story can be recovered. "Properly understood," he writes, "it changes everything we thought we knew about Jesus, his mission, and his message."

One thing that becomes obvious in reading this article is that the research that is being done about the historical Jesus is leading many scholars and lay readers to think creatively about Jesus and his life and purpose. Tabor is being very creative.

Tabor is certainly right to suggest that Jesus needs to be located firmly within the Jewish tradition. It was never Jesus' purpose to start a new "Christian" religion; he was a Jewish reformer. There is also no doubt that James had a role in the Jesus movement after Jesus death and his role was eclipsed in Christian tradition by Peter and Paul.

Tabor is weak, though on a number of historical facts. There is no historical evidence to support the notion that Jesus was really a cousin of John the Baptist. There are virtually no scholars of any stripe who believe that the New Testament book of James was really written by James, the brother of Jesus, as Tabor suggests. Tabor buys into the notion that Jesus was an eschatological prophet announcing the end of the current age and the beginning of a new one. As I mentioned yesterday, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar believe that by acknowledging the parables of Jesus as his genuine form of speech there is little support for calling him an eschatological prophet.

Still, the article is a very good read and gives us another perspective on Jesus and the state of Jesus research.

Faith-based Program vs. County Non-Discrimination Policy

The Star Tribune has a story this morning about a church that participated in a county-run program to feed seniors until it refused to serve a woman who was once a man:
As far as the Rev. John Maxfield could tell, everything was fine between his church and Anoka County until that Friday the 13th.

The county social services department was sending disabled seniors and other vulnerable adults needing care during the day to Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Francis. Trinity's members were bringing in hot dishes for lunch.

Then the county brought another client to the conservative Missouri Synod church: a woman who had begun life as a man.

The church refused to let her in. The county refused to send any more clients.

This is one of several problems with our current love-affair with faith-based programs. Many churches and religious non-profits have jumped at the chance to fund and expand their programs using government money. But this means they may be required to compromise some of their religious tenets in order to meet the requirements of government policies.

I also wonder what happens to the prophetic message of a church when it is feeding at the hand of a "power" that it often needs to be critiquing. On the other hand, it troubles me that the government is potentially funding programs that aim to proselytize participants. Its a sticky wicket all around.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Jesus and the Parables

When I went to seminary in the early 1980's, I was taught that if you wanted to know about the essence of Christianity, you studied Paul. Why? We knew for certain that we had Paul's letters and could say with the same certainty what this very early Christian witness had to say about Christianity, so if one understood Paul one understood the essence of Christianity. Paul, of course, said virtually nothing about the life or teachings of Jesus. He focused on the death and resurrection. This, we were taught by the great biblical scholar of the last century, Rudolph Bultmann, was the kerygma, the kernel, the key to it all.

What about Jesus? My 1980's seminary education was still under the influence of the humanitarian and biblical scholar Albert Schweitzer's early 20th century analysis of Jesus and Jesus scholarship. In a book entitled The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Schweitzer criticized the late 19th century attempts to find the real historical Jesus, and demonstrated the way those quester's liberal picture of Jesus mirrored their liberal political and social agendas. Schweitzer said that the best we can say about Jesus was that he was an eschatalogical prophet who announced the end of the current age and the beginning of a new age, and for this Jesus was crucified.

It is difficult to imagine the profound impact this book had on biblical scholarship. But Schweitzer's work became well-known just as the world was about to be plunged into the darkness of World War I, and the prevailing liberal, optimistic view of human nature that dominated the religion and politics of the end of the 1800's was about to take a profound hit. The war and its aftermath gave rise to the neo-orthodox theology of Karl Barth and the neo-orthodox biblical scholarship of Rudolph Bultmann. Taking sin and the fallenness of human nature was now in, and so was the study of Paul's message of salvation from that sin and human nature. Jesus scholarship took a back seat.

That began to change in the 1960's as a few biblical scholars turned their attention to Jesus and the study of the parables. Twenty years later when I was in seminary, the 1960's works on parables by C.H. Dodd and John Dominic Crossan were required reading. They were important but not essential in my seminary education about Christian origins. Paul was still much more important and essential.

But as the tools of biblical scholarship grew, as more and more ancient scriptures were discovered, and as the findings of other scientific disciplines were brought to biblical scholarship, more and more scholars began to turn their attention to Jesus with a renewed confidence that it was in fact possible to discover the real historical Jesus. And in that renewed quest, attention to the parables of Jesus has been most important.

In Honest to Jesus, Robert Funk says:
The parables, and to a lesser extent the aphorisms, came to be understood as speech forms characteristic of Jesus. In the case of the parables, it was a form Jesus had not borrowed from his predecessors and a form not easily replicated. Very few sages have acheived the same level of creativity with the particular genre of discourse. Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges are among the few who have mastered the form.

The parables are ostensibly about the kingdom of God or God's domain, but in fact they are pictures and stories about baking, dinner parties, shrewd managers, vineyards, lost sheep and sons, and other everyday topics. (But none about carpentry, which makes one wonder about the historicial reliability of the legend that Joseph was a carpenter.) Jesus did not explain to his listeners how these stories were related to God's imperial rule; he left it to them to figure that out for themselves. As a consequence, the parables are enigmatic: it is difficult to specify what they mean, what they actually teach.


Of the twenty-odd parables that are probably authentically from Jesus, the strange thing is that not one says anything about the end of the world or the apocalyptic trauma that is supposed to accompany the event. And this body of Jesus lore is by volume the largest part of the surviving Jesus tradition....
The parables are authentic Jesus. They give a window into his vision. And contra Schweitzer, they do not give us a picture of an eschatological prophet announcing the immanent end of the world, but of a wisdom teacher proclaiming the presence of the realm of God already in our midst... for the one who has eyes to see and ears to hear.