Month: January 2023

“Christian” freedom

Historian Diana Butler Bass provides a sequel to yesterday’s post about “Christian” as adjective. Her latest blog post comes from The Cottage, where she wrote about Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis: “The Freedom State or the State of Freedom?

Her first three sentences: “DeSantis calls it the Freedom State,” a friend from Florida recently moaned to me, “but that’s Orwellian. He’s taking freedoms away. It is frightening.”

Bass says freedom is “DeSantis’ slogan, a key part of his political brand. And in the final ad of the campaign season, his campaign specially linked ‘freedom’ to white Christian nationalism.

DeSantis’ efforts to control higher education are troubling, such as “a new state list of every teacher or class that mentions diversity or racism.” Bass cites a Florida statute that defines state universities as “agencies of the state which belong to and are part of the executive branch of state government.”

From the DeSantis campaign ad linked above from the Diana Butler Bass blog post.

“Christian” as adjective

“Christian” is a daunting adjective, as in Christian pastor, Christian church or Christian nation. I’m hesitant to claim it for myself or my group. It’s better, though still a daunting challenge, if others apply it to me or my group.

When this adjective is a label worn too lightly, too quickly or too proudly, it demeans a great tradition. To misuse, or thoughtlessly claim, this adjective for self or group, or to wear it while attacking someone else is profanity–meaningless talk about God.

One Sunday, my district superintendent attended our worship service unexpectedly. A choir member said, “The DS is here. Does that scare you?” I said, “No. But it keeps me on my toes to believe God is listening here every Sunday.”

This 1995 quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (sent from my friend Ernie) and a 2022 blog post by Diana Butler Bass, “Christian Nationalism Everywhere?” reinforce my reluctance to use Christian as an adjective, as in “Christian nation.”

A disarming chart

A January 23 article in The New York Times “The Morning” newsletter by German Lopez, “Mass Shooting in California,” was a brief, “just the facts, ma’am,” story about a 72-year-old male shooter who shot others, then took his own life. We search for a motive, but a more important issue is the weapon, a semi-automatic assault pistol:

This kind of mass shooting has become tragically common in the U.S.; what would be a rare horror in any other developed country is typical here. Yet the cause is no mystery. America has an enormous amount of guns, making it easier for someone to carry out a deadly shooting.

It is a point this newsletter has made before: All over the world, there are people who argue, fight over relationships, suffer from mental health issues or hold racist views. But in the U.S., those people can more easily obtain a gun and shoot someone.

Last night, word came of another shooting with multiple deaths, this time with a 67-year-old male in custody. To better cope with our gun insanity, I’m trying to set my newsfeed to give me a weekly summary of these events, rather than hearing about them immediately. It’s too much.

Chart by Ashley Wu, The New York Times (the US is almost “off the chart”)

John Cobb and Jennifer Grancio

Spiritual Bankruptcy, by John Cobb, was the focus of several posts, beginning 9/25/22. One Cobb sentence lingers with me: Being religious tends to confirm existing patterns of behavior or even those of ancestors rather than encourage drastic innovation.

I thought of Cobb when I heard Barry Ritholtz interview Jennifer Grancio, CEO of investment company Engine No. 1. Grancio’s company sees sustainability as essential for long-term profitability. It’s just common sense, but some corporations don’t think enough about the long term. It made me wonder if I helped my congregations think enough about the long term.

Cobb and Grancio come from different perspectives to share a common theme, described in Wikipedia’s article about Cobb: A unifying theme of Cobb’s work is his emphasis on ecological interdependence–the idea that every part of the ecosystem is reliant on all the other parts. Cobb has argued that humanity’s most urgent task is to preserve the world on which it lives and depends….

Engine No. 1’s first project was Exxon Mobil, which Grancio and company believed had not addressed long term issues facing a changing oil and gas industry. They successfully elected three new directors to the Exxon board, noting … the changes it has made … including maintaining capital allocation discipline, setting more aggressive GHG emissions reduction targets, and increasing resources for its Low Carbon Solutions business unit.

From “Can Engine No 1 lead Wall Street to ‘beyond investment as usual’?” by Billy
Grider, Climate & Capital Media, April 13, 2022

“Let ’em go”

Years ago, an automobile dealership’s advertising punch line was, “The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'” As in, “Should we give a big discount on these vehicles? The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'”

I’ve thought about that line as United Methodists move deeper into the “disaffiliation” process. It has been personally painful to watch it unfold, but Phyllis Tickle’s wise observation has been helpful. She said this era of deep change in our culture and all religions will be like the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s–the faith and the planet will emerge stronger as various groups go their separate ways.

The Lester Memorial UMC in Oneonta has worked out a relatively amicable divorce, where a sizable contingent of those not desiring to disaffiliate are forming a new congregation. In a large city, those wishing to stay with the denomination, but find themselves in a group where the majority want to leave, can easily join another UMC that intends to remain. In a small community like Oneonta, it takes more creativity.

From “Oneonta United Methodist Community,” by Rachel Simmons, The Blount Countian, January 11, 2023 (via StayUMC Facebook page)

One more thought about King

The Roman Catholic Church takes sainthood seriously, even if a prospective saint didn’t. Dorothy Day (1897-1980), responded to the idea of her potential sainthood by saying, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

In spite of her resistance, the canonization process is underway. That she would vote “no” is the best evidence that her practice of faith should be recognized. A redemptive aspect of faith is that outcasts/non-conformists improve the neighborhood.

A federal holiday is somewhat akin to sainthood. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would respond to MLK Day with something like, “That’s nice, but let’s pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

The New York Times‘ opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie said one of King’s most powerful sermons was “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1967. Bouie sees MLK as a “democratic theorist.” From the sermon:

Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.

(See also “8 powerful speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr. that aren’t ‘I Have a Dream.”)

Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King and Dorothy Day, St. John the Divine, New York City, February 20, 1973, Timeline photos, from the Dorothy Day Guild Facebook page

The beloved community

One of ML King, Jr.’s gifts was making widely known–and expanding–Josiah Royce‘s idea of the beloved community. When I was young, I accepted the widely held US idea that America was the beloved community, i.e., uniquely blessed by God. Ronald Reagan inspired many people with his idea that we are a nation “set on a hill.”

America is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, (until recently) moderate climate, and our Founders’ (unfinished) vision of liberty and justice for all. It’s easy for an awareness of blessing to merge a national self-understanding with the biblical concept of ancient Israel as “God’s chosen people.”

I once heard a rabbi say of the Israelites: “Chosen yes, but for mission, not privilege.” The nature of the Royce/King vision is completely inclusive. It embraces all the earth–all the Universe. We are beloved because the Universe is beloved. The beloved community practices the art of receiving and giving unconditional love.

From “The King Philosophy” (including the Beloved Community), The King Center. (L-to-R, Ralph David Abernathy, James Forman, MLK, Jr., Jesse Douglas, John Lewis,

The big picture

Regular readers of this blog know that I often draw from “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation,”produced by the Center for Action and Contemplation. When I typed “Richard Rohr” into this blog’s excellent search engine, I discovered that I’ve referenced Rohr in 96 of 1,206 posts.This one is number 97.

Rohr is one reason that in recent years I’ve been increasingly drawn to the “big picture” theme. CAC’s 1/16/23 meditation, a Rohr reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr., entitled “Big Picture Thinkers,” was personally very helpful. As he often does, Rohr put King’s life and message within a larger context (what he calls a “larger frame”).

As MLK applied the idea of the beloved community to a “wider frame” beyond race to economics and war, he lost a sizable part of his following. Then, writes Rohr:

We don’t want the big frame. No one wants the big picture. … Jesus’ metaphor and image for what we would simply call the big picture is the reign of God, or the kingdom of God. … To consider things in light of eternity is a great clarifier. Maybe it comes to us on our death bed, when we think to ourselves, “Is this going to mean anything? Does this really matter? Is this little thing we’re upset about now and taking offense at going to mean anything in light of eternity?” The prophet or prophetess speaks truthfully and in the largest context.

From “Six big picture thinking strategies that you’ll actually use,” by Madeline Miles, BetterUp, July 29, 2022

A memorable year

The LA Dodgers swept the NY Yankees in the 1963 World Series. Of 36 innings, Sandy Koufax pitched 18; Don Drysdale 9: Johnny Podres 8 1/3; and Ron Perronoski 2/3. 1963 was my last year of baseball cards. The sport moved down several notches in my consciousness due to adolescence and due to some major events in 1963.

On May 3, high pressure water from fire hoses and police dogs were unleashed on Civil Rights demonstrators in Birmingham. The children and youth began to stir the conscience of white America with their powerful witness.

On August 28, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That was only peripheral for me then, but its significance has grown with time.

On September 15, Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14) were killed by a bomb while attending Sunday School at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. “Infamy” is an appropriate word.

On November 22, news of President John Kennedy’s assassination was broadcast over our school intercom. My 7th grade science teacher wrote on the chalkboard “Lyndon Johnson,” and then “John McCormack” after reports of LBJ’s chest pains. This began several sad days and 60 years of wondering “what if” (regarding Vietnam, especially).

From “Rep. John Lewis’ Fight For Civil Rights Began With A Letter To Martin Luther King, Jr.,” by Kerrie Hillman, Aisha Turner and Emma Bowman, NPR, January 17, 2020