Our Cul-de-sac of Dreams

I guess I'm a little fed up right now. Maybe you are too.  Right now when I hear some of our Methodist leaders I find the phrase "cul-de-sac of dreams” comes to mind. As far as I know it originates in a Mary Chapin Carpenter song "The Long Way Home" on her 2001 album "Time, Sex, Love."  A cul-de-sac is a particularly safe kind of neighborhood. No through traffic. Easy to just keep going around in circles. Strangers enter only if they are lost.  So what makes a cul-de-sac of dreams? The moment when public image becomes more important than lived reality. We build houses of cards on cul-de-sacs of dreams when public relations become more important than the truth. And that happens most easily when we adopt the same language and ethos of promotion typical of American corporate culture. Don't get me wrong. I'm all in for inculturation. I wrote book about inculturation of the gospel: The Gospel among the Nations,  Orbis Press 2013. And I’m all about evange

Do Unto Others?

 In a recent post I argued that disagreements over sex, gender, and sexuality were rooted in cultural differences, and thus inter-cultural dialogue and cultural intelligence might better resolve them.  A reader who saw my posting in Facebook disagreed. He stated that these were actually disagreements rooted in theology and the authority of scripture, not culture. Although I disagree, I think it is a respectable position in the sense that it is as internally coherent as possible.  But is his position true? Is my position true? To decide one would have to rise above both positions and place them against some transcendent measure of truth. And that is impossible.  Even the most optimistic Christian accounts of epistemology assert only that Christian language is warranted (Plantinga) and arises from a community of learning whose results over the longer term legitimate the claim that they represent genuine knowledge.(Newbiggen) It should be noted, of course, that these limited claims could

The Good News is that We are not Good

Very early in the history of the Christian movement something both strange and necessary happens. A complex historical event, the crucifixion of a man named Jesus, becomes a simple theological event: the death God at the hands of humanity. The historicity remains. The individual characters and groups are all remembered and their actions reenacted weekly and yearly. Nobody loses his or her name.  What they all lose, all except for Jesus, is their claim to possess righteousness. Jesus, hanging on the cross, becomes the only righteous human. So even as he dies all the righteousness goes out of the human world.  Of course that isn't the end of the story, but before we get to the end of the story we need to acknowledge that none of us possesses on our own any righteousness, any goodness, whatsoever. Because this is the only way that we can avoid poisoning ourselves, our families, and our societies with self-righteousness.  And self-righteousness is a poison, one that destroys the souls

Let's Get Real - Its about Culture

Christianity is not a culture. The Body of Christ is always and only  inculturated  if it is truly a manifestation of God incarnate in Jesus. Only if we understand this can we begin to develop intelligent forms of Christian discourse built on the recognition that our differences are primarily cultural, not theological. Our debates about sex, sexuality, and gender are a good example.  Because sex, sexuality, and gender do not arise from biological processes or theological reflection . They are created by culture.  It is in the realm of sex, the distinction between male and female, that it seems most obvious that the issue is either biological or theological. As my university biology professor said, and he could never say it today without losing his job, the way you tell the difference between a man and a woman is by pulling down their genes. Ha ha. If only it was 1974 again and it was all just a matter of X's and Y's.  We now know that there is a lot more to biological sex than

How to be Church and not a Sect

Real diversity within the Church of Jesus Christ requires that we take part in conversations that are uncomfortable and sometimes offensive and hurtful to ourselves and others.  The reason for this is that the church is  not  a voluntary organization of like-minded people. It is, rather, the gathering of people called by Jesus Christ and not yet fully transformed by his love.  It is diverse because Jesus calls all kinds of people to himself and never asks whether they will agree with the others whom he has called. All he asks is that join their fellow disciples in following him. This truth about the authentic diversity of the church is unacceptable to many United Methodists. For decades our church has desperately sought to  manage  diversity by mandating ethnic, age, and gender representation throughout the UM structure and creating ever more finely tuned mandates of belief and practice.  But these mandates were always imposed on people who had already followed Jesus into our churches

No More "Yes, But"

Decades ago a psychiatrist pointed out to our group that the word "but" actually serves to nullify everything that came before.  Unfortunately in the world of political advocacy, "yes, but" has become a commonplace. Those following the news will have seen this story of four recent terrorist attacks against Israelis, and pretty specifically Israeli Jews. .  Reading these reports I'm both outraged, frightened for my relatives (by marriage) in Israel, worried because IS is now targeting Israelis, and yes, tempted to engage in a little "yes, butism." You know why. Isn't it tempting to bring up all the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians (well documented) and indeed every other moral failing of Israel's behavior toward the Palestinians one can think of?  Tempting, but absurd and immoral. There is no justification, no moral reason, for the random killing of

The Spirituality of the Liberal Arts

I teach in a Doctor of Liberal Studies program. In it there are 6 core seminars designed to form the basis of a truly interdisciplinary study of what it means to be human. Because the questions, what does it mean to be human, is the core question of the liberal arts. Roughly put these are subjects of our core courses: The human as creator of and created by culture. The human as both knower of and part of the natural world. The human as the maker of history and made by history. The human understanding itself as transcending the body, as psyche, soul. The human as creative and creator. The human as a possessor of natural rights in relation to all other humans.  The whole that transcends these parts is appropriately called the human spirit, although I won't assert my colleagues would all agree. The term human spirit is justified because it is transcendent. It does not die when individual humans die, or individual societies die, or even whole civilizations are swept away. It is thus al