Category: Sunday Dinner

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

About ten years ago…

… I drove to Monroeville, Alabama for lunch and conversation with Thomas Lane Butts (1930-2021), a retired pastor. He told me about the time he met Martin Luther King, Jr. in early 1955, when Butts was a seminary student at Emory University and pastor of a 4-church “circuit” near (then wild and woolly) Phenix City, Alabama.

Butts’ mentor, Welton Gregory, phoned to say, “Tom, I want you to be in Montgomery at 7:30 tomorrow morning. A group of us are going to Talladega to spend the day with a young black Baptist minister who has just been called to be pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. We believe he’s going to have a creative influence on race relations in Alabama. His name is Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Butts said the group that met with King that day in 1955 numbered about twelve. Butts said the session was transformative for him because of King’s intellect and communication skill. I found a 2012 blog post by Butts that provides a fuller context for their meeting in Talladega.

ноги глины

I try to give people of faith the benefit of the doubt, as I try to give people of doubt the benefit of faith. I don’t speak Russian. Context and nuance do not always translate, so I try to be doubly slow to criticize other-tongued faith leaders. Patience is warranted since we all have “feet of clay” (ноги глины in Russian). However …

Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyaev, aka Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is widely known as a supporter of Vladimir Putin. This allegiance itself puts the Patriarch’s judgment in a bad light and (in my opinion) degrades the witness of his office. I, and all “people of the cloth” have erred in our allegiances. We all live in glass houses. Still …

The herder Amos reminds all who speak of, or for, faith not to profane what we seek to proclaim. I fear Kirill has moved from profanity (meaningless talk about God) to prostitution, equating participation in Russian military aggression with grace, the central theme of Christianity. He’s charging a high price for a free gift.

See Russian soldiers who die in battle will be absolved of their sins, Patriarch says and Dying for your country brings you to heaven, says Russian Patriarch. Sometimes the best response to bad theology is good humor and an honest look at one’s feet:

A new year

Clarence Jordan (pronounced JER den), 1912-1969, biblical scholar and agent of social change, gave us a “Cotton Patch” version of Hebrews 11:1 in the New Testament: Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds. It is betting your life on the unseen realities.

My 2023 question is: “How can I make a difference?” My 8-syllable 2023 prayer is: Abba-Amma: Lebh Shomea. This is an inclusive version of Jesus’ Aramaic-language name for the Deity (Abba, or “Daddy”), coupled with a Hebrew-language yearning for a “listening heart/mind.” This Aramaic/Hebrew combo is shorter than my “briar patch” English prayer: Father-Mother: Give your servant a listening heart-mind.

I believe this short prayer will help me discover the unfolding answer(s) to my question. May you find how (and where) to turn your 2023 dreams into action.

From “What Did Solomon Pray For?“, by Rick Hamlin, Guideposts (based on the story in 1 Kings 3)

Oasis

The Bible emerges from an arid or semi-arid context, where water is precious and oasis is an important theme. On a 1998 trip to Egypt, our tour guide introduced us to an oasis near Mount Sinai’s St. Catherine’s Monastery. He pronounced it o AH sis. That memory was stirred when my friend Don shared a report from Texas.

Charles Anderson, Superintendent of the Northwest District of the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, has presided over the disaffiliation of almost 60% of his 91 congregations. As those churches departed, they left behind some members who chose not to disaffiliate. Anderson has created the Oasis Network.

“These are not orphans; these are pilgrims. They’re going somewhere, somehow. … To me, the most biblically inviting and nonjudgmental image is of an oasis. It may not be where you stay, but you know you’re going to rest there awhile.” So far, more than 2,000 of 30,000 UM congregations in the US have chosen to disaffiliate.

We are all pilgrims on earth, an oasis in a vast universe. Oasis is where you find it.

From “Conferences reach out to those grieving disaffiliation,” by Sam Hodges, UM News, December 16, 2022

Caleb’s journey

I enjoy the second Saturday in December. The Army-Navy football game is unique. Joe Bellino was a childhood hero. He won the 1960 Heisman Trophy as a Navy halfback, but I’m always impartial. This year’s game went into double overtime. I would have been happy if it had ended in a tie. I always pull for both teams.

The Heisman Trophy ceremony follows the Army-Navy game. The stories of hard work and sacrifice are inspiring. This year’s winner, USC quarterback Caleb Williams, gave a very impressive Heisman acceptance speech. He was effusive in his thanks for those who made it possible. His offensive line was in the audience.

While this may be an individual award, I certainly understand that nothing, absolutely nothing in this sport nor in life is done alone. … As we say in the locker room … there can never be a great book or a great story without some adversity in it. ,.. To his offensive line, calling them by name … who are all here to celebrate our accomplishment, this doesn’t happen without each one of you. … Thank you.

From Heisman Award Ceremony, ESPN, December 10, 2022, via YouTube

Anti-prophet

What drags a person down into anti-semitism? Why does Judaism arouse resentment and fear among some people? These questions flow from yesterday’s post as I reflect on the long history of prejudice, including the Nazis’ anti-semitic strategy to gain power in Germany, 2017 tiki torches in Charlottesville and the appearance of Ye (Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes on Alex Jones’ InfoWar show.

The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) should be a source of unity for Jews, Christians and Muslims, but cultural prejudice toward the people that produced the OT has damaged the credibility of some expressions of Christianity and Islam. Judaism’s prophetic tradition is rooted in the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc.

The prophetic tradition stands for justice and against tyranny. Those who aspire to, or support, dictatorship properly understand Judaism as a threat to their power. Judaism’s respect for, and defense of, the “least of these” undermines authoritarian rule. To be anti-semite is to be anti-prophet, or anti-Bible. Anti-semitism tries to make the prophetic tradition into the “bad guys.”

From “The most striking photos from the white supremacist Charlottesville protest,” by German Lopez, Vox, August 12, 2017

Upside down

Most Sunday mornings find us in a diverse class of wonderful people led by John and Kathy Draper. It’s the SALT Class (Serving And Learning Together) at First Church, a 150-year-old United Methodist congregation in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

In recent weeks, John has led the class in a study of some themes from Don Kraybill’s book, The Upside-Down Kingdom. Some excerpts from Kraybill about the poor:

Discarded on the human trash pile, they have not, however, been trashed by God. … God’s blessing falls on them. God cares about them. Meanwhile, the rich and haughty … too will have new life in the kingdom if they cast off the shackles of possessions. …

The outcasts–sinners, prostitutes, children, homeless–can enter the kingdom more readily than the elite, the righteous, the strong, and the pious.

The poor …. (have) fewer entanglements, they are freer to abandon all else for the kingdom. They have little to give up.

Jesus offers good news to the poor. Their poverty isn’t a sign of divine disapproval, a common view of the time.

Jesus also made it clear that the rich too were welcome–if they shucked off the shackles of wealth,…

Last Sunday’s lesson included Tevye (Chaim Topol) singing/praying “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof (1971). Click here for a 5 1/2 minute YouTube clip.

I don’t need you

On October 30, I taught a Sunday School class of old friends at a congregations I served from 1991-2005. Some of them were wearing “Independent Strong” buttons to generate support for a November 13 vote to disaffiliate from our denomination.

I’ve known these friends well for 31 years. No one–not one of them–intended for their button to send this message, but nevertheless it was the message I heard from each person wearing a button: “I don’t need you.” It is true, of course. They’ve never needed me in a dependency kind of way.

This non-dependency is as it should be and they will be fine without me. I wish them well in their independence, and they disaffiliate with my blessing. Their buttons have prompted within me this question: When have I sent an unintentional “I don’t need you” message to someone?

When have my words, actions or body language discounted or dismissed anyone? Was it their gender, age, physical appearance, skin color, political affiliation, sexual orientation, nationality or faith? Was it intentional? I hope not. But, the message is the same whether intentional or unintentional.

Sometimes, an “I don’t need you” message is intentional. Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said she didn’t need the vote of supporters of the late Arizonan John McCain, claiming her GOP primary win “drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine.” This may have won the race for her opponent in the general election, democrat Katie Hobbs.

From “Senator John McCain’s legacy lives even as some try to leave it behind,” by Mark Phillips, ABC 15 News, August 25, 2022

An unclouded day

My mother’s favorite hymn was “The Unclouded Day.” I thought of that when, late Friday evening, I read Robert Hubbell’s “Dispelling the clouds of uncertainty.” Here are some excerpts:

Americans did something on Tuesday that was both extraordinary and unremarkable: they voted in a vigorously contested election that unfolded in peace and security.

Fear has been replaced by renewed confidence that America has more heft and momentum than its critics and opponents imagined.

…all it took to dispel the clouds of uncertainty about America’s future was a reminder that its people look to the Constitution and the rule of law for governance. It is in their bones—as it should be. It has been so for more than two centuries and will be so for centuries more—so long as the majority of its citizens remain diligent in defense of the Constitution. Each of you is part of an unbroken chain of faithful servants of democracy. 

A friend shared the All Saints’ Sunday anthem by the choir of Trinity UMC in Homewood, AL, “I’ll Be on My Way.” The livestream recording is on Facebook. You can fast-forward to the 1 hour, 17 minute mark of their November 6th service.