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Monthly Archives: November 2010
Was it for this?
The Irish Times – Thursday, November 18, 2010IT MAY seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for: a bailout from the German chancellor with a few shillings of sympathy from the British chancellor on the side. There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Their representatives ride into Merrion Street today.
Fianna Fáil has sometimes served Ireland very well, sometimes very badly. Even in its worst times, however, it retained some respect for its underlying commitment that the Irish should control their own destinies. It lists among its primary aims the commitment “to maintain the status of Ireland as a sovereign State”. Its founder, Eamon de Valera, in his inaugural address to his new party in 1926, spoke of “the inalienability of national sovereignty” as being fundamental to its beliefs. The Republican Party’s ideals are in tatters now.
The Irish people do not need to be told that, especially for small nations, there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty. We know very well that we have made our independence more meaningful by sharing it with our European neighbours. We are not naive enough to think that this State ever can, or ever could, take large decisions in isolation from the rest of the world. What we do expect, however, is that those decisions will still be our own. A nation’s independence is defined by the choices it can make for itself.
Irish history makes the loss of that sense of choice all the more shameful. The desire to be a sovereign people runs like a seam through all the struggles of the last 200 years. “Self-determination” is a phrase that echoes from the United Irishmen to the Belfast Agreement. It continues to have a genuine resonance for most Irish people today.
The true ignominy of our current situation is not that our sovereignty has been taken away from us, it is that we ourselves have squandered it. Let us not seek to assuage our sense of shame in the comforting illusion that powerful nations in Europe are conspiring to become our masters. We are, after all, no great prize for any would-be overlord now. No rational European would willingly take on the task of cleaning up the mess we have made. It is the incompetence of the governments we ourselves elected that has so deeply compromised our capacity to make our own decisions.
They did so, let us recall, from a period when Irish sovereignty had never been stronger. Our national debt was negligible. The mass emigration that had mocked our claims to be a people in control of our own destiny was reversed. A genuine act of national self-determination had occurred in 1998 when both parts of the island voted to accept the Belfast Agreement. The sense of failure and inferiority had been banished, we thought, for good.
To drag this State down from those heights and make it again subject to the decisions of others is an achievement that will not soon be forgiven. It must mark, surely, the ignominious end of a failed administration.
Political Code Language
Are political sticks and stones affecting the church?
There is a sinister trend gaining momentum in the days leading up to the mid-term elections. It is not initially obvious to many of us, but it has significant implications for the American church. The code language associated with this trend goes unnoticed by many majority-culture Christians despite how alienating it can be to our non-white brothers and sisters. It is a trend that both threatens devastating consequences to the unity of the church and presents powerful opportunities for Gospel witness to a cynical country.
Different code words summarize this trend: us, ours, mine—the possessive language many politicians and pundits use to describe the need to retake America. The aim of this trend is to identify the insiders and outsiders, those on the right and wrong side of American history. This language hearkens back to an ideal America when things were as they should be now.
Pamela Geller, an influential blogger and speaker and a major force behind the opposition to the so-called ground zero mosque, put some of these code words to work in a recent interview with The New York Times. “Growing up as the sort of tail end of the baby boomers, there was this feeling of invincibility in America…We were free. The good guys won. The good cop is on the beat. I certainly don’t get a sense of that anymore.”
Immigration and Islam have also become code words during this campaign season, another indication of this trend of alienation. A few politicians have exploited fears by some in the majority culture and have blurred the lines between legitimate security concerns and ugly prejudices.
Take for example a recent campaign ad by Sharron Angle, Nevada’s Republican senate candidate. The ad warns of “waves of illegal aliens streaming across our border, joining violent gangs, forcing families to live in fear,” while men understood to be gangbangers and thugs glare menacingly at the camera. If the ad doesn’t immediately strike you as pandering to racial and ethnic stereotypes, try imagining yourself as an American of Mexican descent. It seems that in this politician’s view of America you (Mexicans) are causing normal (white) families to live in fear.
An ad attacking West Virginia Representative Nick Rahall shows how slippery this trend can be. The ad shows the representative talking about chairing “a nationwide group dedicated to mobilizing Arab Americans in bringing light to those issues we care about.” The ad ends with a screen encouraging the viewer to call Representative Rahall to “tell him to stand with West Virginians.” Is it not possible to be both a West Virginian and an Arab American?
How are our churches affected by this code language about who is and is not a real American? For the thousands of non-white churches throughout the country the examples above can come across as unwelcoming at best and racist at worst. Language and images meant to drum up votes for desperate politicians communicate powerful messages about who is valuable in America and who is unwelcomed. Speeches about returning to an idealized America of yesteryear gloss over the painful experience of many non-white citizens who look to the future rather than the past for inspiration.
Majority-culture Christians who borrow this insider/outsider language are reinforcing an ideology at odds with the Gospel. The unity between Christians that Jesus prays for in John’s Gospel is meant to demonstrate the Father’s love to the watching world. This unity must include American churches of disparate cultures, races, and ethnicities. Aligning ourselves with politics and ideologies that seek to divide is no benefit to our Gospel witness.
How can those of us in the majority culture proceed in these divisive days in a way that leads to greater unity within Christ’s body? First, let’s attempt to begin seeing and hearing from the perspective of our non-white Christian family. This will be much easier if we are in meaningful relationships with members of our multi-ethnic Christian family. Even if those relationships are few, we can begin listening with a critical ear and seeing through a broader lens.
Second, we can be specific when describing our political stances. Rather than succumbing to the vague and ostracizing language used by both political parties, we can instead explain why certain issues matter to us as Christians. It is inevitable in the incredibly diverse American church that individual Christians will hold different opinions and values. It is not inevitable, however, that these varied perspectives must divide us.
Finally, on November 3, regardless of the political winners and losers, we can be crystal clear that our hope lies not with any politician, ideology, or political platform. Our allegiance is only to God and our commitment is to one another. For a society gagging on its own cynicism, such humble unity could be a powerful cure.
November 15, 2010
10 Commandments of Scripture Interpretation
Skye Jethani’s simple guidelines for engaging the Bible and avoiding unhelpful controversy.
I. You shall not make for yourself an idol out of Scripture.
This is a particular temptation among evangelicals who hold a very high view of Scripture. We forget that our highest calling is not to have a relationship with the Bible but with Jesus Christ about whom the Bible testifies. (John 5:39)
II. You shall honor the Scriptures as sufficient.
We have a common temptation to get “behind the text” or discover what “really happened.” While archeology and other disciplines are incredibly important, we must not forget that what God has given in the Scriptures is enough for life and faith.
III. You shall remember the metanarrative and keep it wholly.
In my experience more Christians can recap the meta-narrative of the Star Wars saga than can recap the biblical meta-narrative. It’s not enough to know the stories and events in the Bible. We must know how they fit together to tell a single story.
IV. You shall honor the Church as the recipient and the guardian of the Scriptures.
The books and letters in the Bible, with a few exceptions, were not written to individuals but to communities of believers. We must be careful not to read everything through the lenses of Western individualism. And we are wise to listen to how Christians in ages past have understood the teachings of Scripture.
V. You shall not neglect the context.
Proof texting (finding verses to make your point), isolating (removing a text from its surrounding material), and synchronizing (taking different gospel accounts of the same event and smashing them together) are all ways of abusing the text and landing on bad interpretations.
VI. You shall not ask questions the text does not want to answer.
Almost every nasty debate about Scripture results from forcing answers from the text it never intended to answer. Debates about creation in Genesis 1 and 2 fall into this category as do most other scientific issues. Avoid a “morbid interest in controversial questions” (1 Tim 6:4).
VII. You shall embrace both the form and content of Scripture as inspired by God.
When teaching the Bible we often retain the content or message but give little attention to the genre or style of the text. We lose something when we teach narrative as didactic truth, or when we ignore the poetic structure and beauty of a Psalm. And there’s a reason God said “You shall not murder” rather than “You will love life.” Do we see that?
VIII. You shall study Scripture for wisdom and not merely knowledge, and never for pride.
I’m really impressed that you’ve memorized 400 verses and took first prize in your Bible Quiz league. Now quit being such a jerk. (1 Cor. 8:1)
IX. You shall exegete your culture and not merely the Scriptures.
The goal is not merely to understand what the Bible said to those who lived centuries ago, but hear it anew today. Proper teaching requires that we bring the Word of God into our world and help people feel the gravity and beauty of it for their lives and context.
X. You shall remember that the simplest interpretation is usually, but not always, correct.
There is no Bible Code! And if you have to do all kinds of contortions with Scripture to get it to fit into your theological framework, you’re probably guilty of something bad. Paradoxes abound in Scripture. If your theology doesn’t allow for that kind of ambiguity and mystery I suggest you try Deism.
Greyness. Deadness. For me they are the same thing, [although currently in design grey is a in trend colour and can look great] i connected to the term at a heart level. A fear of mine is the greyness, as i begin this part of my ministry where i chose [in the grace of God] to be part of our denomination in a formal way, i have a real fear that i become grey.
I can hold the place that if i intentionally trust follow God [etc] that won’t happen, but being honest, men and women who had similar holy intentions at our stage of this are now with the best way in the world part of a church that i think holds the system above people, and certainly the system above God. i don’t think this is intentional, nor do i think these people are bad, or evil at all. There is something perhaps about how we work denominationally that is life sapping. When ministers,elders, members talk of session presbytery and others meetings they are not generally with a holy excitement that we are part of God’s creative work. This makes me so sad.
Is the decline of our church judgement? Perhaps, maybe it’s also what happens when our care for people is about getting a hand up for Jesus, rather than encouraging a whole person salvation, that being saved by Jesus effects all of our lives.
thats all i’ve got. change is difficult.
i attended three churches today, and what a difference. it is peculiar how different they are. how come when we meet we do it in such different ways? and how come we fight about it so much? do any of us think we have the one right way to worship the God who is beyond us all? is there any way that we can in an hour or two reflect all or even enough of our thinking about God in an way that is adequate?
I am more and more fascinated by how we gather to offer praise and thanks, bringing ourselves together to worship but also spend generally half our time being spoken to. Is hearing a sermon worship?