Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Overlooked and Despised: Lectures on a Humanist Re-Thinking of Biblical Outsiders

The first time I met Dr. Anthony Pinn was a few years ago at an interfaith conference in New Jersey. He was chatting with Chris Stedman, the founder of the Yale Humanist Community. I had no idea who Dr. Pinn was, but I was excited to meet Chris. I'm embarrassed to admit that I asked Dr. Pinn if he could take a picture of me and Chris, which he graciously obliged in doing. Had I realized I would have wanted a photo with both. 

Dr Pinn is a scholar, Humanist, and Unitarian Universalist who writes and speaks in support of what he calls 'Black Humanism.' To be clear, his Black Humanism is distinct from that advocated by earlier Unitarian Universalists of color, in that Pinn's work aligns with the non-theistic outlook of contemporary Humanism as described by Humanism and Its Aspirations and The Amsterdam Declaration

It was therefore really good news to learn that Dr. Pinn will be giving the Minns Lectures this year. This series will take place over three Friday evenings this May, will be online, and is free to attend. Registration is required. The subject matter and this speaker should make for some very thought-provoking lectures. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Some Options for Baptist Women to Pursue Ordained Ministry

First Baptist Church, 223 Bull Street, Savannah, Chatham County, GA via PICRYL

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, is experiencing some turmoil. As I blogged almost a month ago, Beth Moore has disassociated herself from the denomination that she's called home since she was a child. Her departure is big news because of her relative prominence in evangelical and especially Baptist circles as a Bible teacher. I'm going to share here a bit more commentary from others that has come up since that news, and then discuss some options for Baptist women considering ordained ministry to follow their sense of calling. While I am Unitarian Universalist and not Baptist, I think people should be able to pursue the things that matter to them in life.

First up, David French has some thoughts on the matter of Beth Moore's departure. In a piece entitled 'Cruelty is Apostasy,' he writes:

There are many reasons why people leave a church. Some reasons are good. Some are not. But it’s a singular tragedy when a person is hated right out the front door. I grieve for the hatred Beth endured. I grieve for the steep and exhausting emotional cost paid by those on all sides of our ideological divide who speak in good faith, from the heart, and face not respectful disagreement but self-righteous cruelty in return.  
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Human beings need forgiveness and kindness like we need oxygen. A nation devoid of grace immiserates its people. A church devoid of grace rebukes the cross.

The kind of incessant hate that women receive in evangelical circles for daring to even appear to be leaders astonishing. Consider the following from Twitter:

One wonders how being such a joyless wretch as Rod D. Martin plays out for the other people in his life...especially the women who have to interact with him. His kind of religion is dying, but it can't die fast enough. 

Second, Bob Smietana shares in an article the experiences of other women like Beth Moore, including that of the Rev. Courtney Pace. Specifically she comments on the restrictions that women submit themselves to for the sake of church community and system of belief. 

The Rev. Courtney Pace, Prathia Hall scholar-in-residence with Equity for Women in the Church and a board member of the Nevertheless She Preached conference, has written about what she called “the inevitable evolution of Beth Moore.” Pace said Moore has long been more than a Bible teacher, even if she was not willing to admit it. She’s really been a preacher, even if she stood behind a “Bible stand” rather than a pulpit.

Pace, who grew up Southern Baptist and used to watch Moore’s videos while working out, said when she went to seminary, a number of her female classmates wanted to be “the next Beth Moore.” Even after leaving the SBC, she kept an eye on Moore and eventually began, as an academic, to study her.

She’d long been expecting Moore to leave the SBC. Pace said that over the years, she could see Moore chafing against the restrictions men in the church placed on her, especially the kind of deference she was expected to show to men, as if she needed their permission to be in ministry.

Pace said that growing up Southern Baptist, she felt the same restrictions — saying she felt as if she had to be “as small and quiet as possible” even when she thought God wanted her to raise her voice.

In order for women pastors to follow their calling, their “give a damn” has to break, said Pace.

“If you live your life doing what everybody says you should or what you’re supposed to, you’re never going to get to be yourself,” she said.
The church will be healthier and more whole when women who lead Bible studies or ministries are enthusiastically and unreservedly supported and taught by the church to do so knowledgeably and well. The church will be healthier and more whole when women called to academic realms outside the church are supported and taught by the church to do so with their faith integrated well.

It’s encouraging to see many more women attending seminary in recent years for the purpose of future work in ministry, but, even more, simply to gain a theological education for its own sake, as shown in doctoral research done and reported by Sharon Hodde Miller.

More and more seminarians, in addition, men and women, are seeking theological degrees in order to use them in work outside the church or in bi-vocational ministry. According to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), one-third of 2017 graduates of seminaries were planning to enter bivocational minis­try, Christianity Today reported last year.

That data also shows that Southern Baptist seminaries in particular saw a 12% increase from 2012 to 2016 in female students enrolled in graduate-level degree programs. And the credentials I gained long ago in a state university are now being used to serve the church by bringing them to students in the seminary where I now teach. The parallel tracks have crossed.

When I was a student at Harding University in the late 1990s I had one woman classmate in my ministry training program. She had been admitted on the condition that it was understood that she wasn't preparing for 'pulpit ministry.' This came up from time to time in class discussions. We thought we were being respectful in our behavior towards her, but there's no way a woman can be told repeatedly in front of others that there's something she can't do because of her gender without it being a wearisome insult, at best. While that was a Church of Christ school, and not Baptist, the views toward women in ministry leadership there were as bad as some of the worst I've seen among Southern Baptists. 

Fourth, here's a list of Baptist denominations/networks that do permit the ordination of women. If you're a Southern Baptist woman, or a woman otherwise in a conservative Baptist setting who feels called to ministry, these would be some options to check out.
Note the following: 1) this list is not meant to be exhaustive. It's a starting point that might be sufficient for your search, 2) Baptist churches are congregationally governed, so some churches or associations might not be as welcoming to women in ministry as others, and 3) attitudes towards lgbtq+ folks tend to be more exclusionary among Baptists generally in comparison with mainline Protestant churches. For some limited comparison of denominational policies toward lgbtq+ people, see this table.

Fifth and finally, if you're a Baptist woman looking for someplace to prepare for ministry, I recommend Abilene Christian University's Graduate School of Theology. Although it's historically affiliated with the Church of Christ, it is welcoming towards people of other denominations (including me, a Unitarian Universalist), and women regularly study at ACU GST for ordained ministry. There is, in fact, now a Baptist Studies Center at ACU GST. I hope you'll check it out.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Fundamentalists Being Fundamentalists at Lee University

Last month word circulated online about some messy, homophobic business at Lee University, affiliated with the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). 

The renewed debate about identity and inclusion at Lee began weeks ago when Preston Sprinkle, president of the Idaho-based Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender, gave a chapel talk to students about showing compassion and love to people experiencing gender dysphoria, the feeling of distress when a person's gender identity differs from their sex at birth. 
Sprinkle told a story of a friend who was born a woman but identified as man. Sprinkle said his friend left the church but returned years later because of the love shown by a pastor. 
Walker said he got feedback from students, parents and community members that Sprinkle's message was ambiguous since it did not address whether people need to repent their sin. The Church of God does not support same-sex marriage or same-sex relations, just as it does not support premarital or extramarital sexual relations. According to its doctrine, the church believes those who practice homosexuality or are in a same-sex marriage have been misled by Satan and, if they do not repent and become celibate, they "forfeit their salvation and relinquish their eternal inheritance." 
The Church of God, which helps fund the university and provides the school's theological framework, put out a statement describing Sprinkle's message as "contrary to scripture." Lee University put out a statement as well. Sprinkle's talk was removed from Lee's social media pages. Then, on March 11, Walker gave his special address to the Lee community.

To be perfectly clear, the brouhaha is all due to a guest speaker urging compassion for transgender people. He wasn't affirming them at all. He only wanted people to be loving towards them while believing and presumably telling them that they're going to hell unless they repent. The absence of condemnation and a call for repentance was read as too kind, apparently.

As Hemant Mehta has noted, this really isn't surprising coming from a private university affiliated with a fundamentalist Pentecostal denomination.  

Well… yeah. I’m not sure why they’re surprised to learn that bigots are bigoting. Conservative Christianity teaches everyone to look down upon LGBTQ people if they dare to embrace that identity. Trans people don’t exist in their theology. Gay people must remain celibate if they want to stay in God’s good graces.

Sprinkle’s message was in no way pro-LGBTQ. The graduates were fine with that for some reason. But the school’s leaders flipped out because it wasn’t explicitly anti-LGBTQ and the graduates think that’s somehow going too far.

I agree with the graduates that the university is not a safe space for LGBTQ students. But why would it ever be? The Church of God isn’t a welcoming place for them either. Unless you’re entering the school with no awareness of its conservative Christian doctrine, you shouldn’t be surprised when the lack of bigotry is seen as a problem for a speaker.

He makes a legitimate point. It's like every time Pope Francis reaffirms traditional Roman Catholic teaching, and people act shocked about it. Stop already. The pope is Catholic, and fundamentalist-aligned universities are run by hateful religious bigots. 

And yet, it isn't always about whether a person knows this going in. 

First, young people often feel at a disadvantage, as they have no life experience, limited resources, and usually few connections outside of their family and friends. When lgbtq+ youth go to college, they may or may not be closeted, but they are under pressure from all sides to go along with the parents' agenda. At least, they might think, they're getting away from their home and will taste some freedom without their parents around. It's far easier said than done for a recent high school graduate to go against their parents. 

Second, not everyone comes to terms with who they are before adulthood. How many of us really did? In college, young adults are away from everything they've known and are exposed to people from other places and backgrounds. Yes, even at an evangelical school. The space, exposure to new people, and contact with different ideas can help the young come to needed realizations about themselves. Now, imagine doing that in an environment where the person you truly are is the specific type that the university condemns. 

The very first line of the Church of God's 'Declaration of Faith' states that they believe '[i]n the verbal inspiration of the Bible.' In case you're unsure, that essentially means that God inspired the Bible word for word. That's how far gone these folks are in their beliefs. Imagine going to school where professors have to agree with a statement like that, and most do so happily. Now picture being any of the types of people condemned to hell in that book, and being surrounded by professors and fellow students who agree wholeheartedly with it. The alumni are right to want to 'protect' the transgender students at Lee University. I wonder to what extent that's even possible. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Crusaders No More: Evangel University Drops Its Mascot

It surprised me to hear that Evangel University would be dropping the Crusader as their mascot. The term hearkens back to their roots in the Pentecostal preaching of the 20th century (Evangel is affiliated with the Assemblies of God), with evangelists holding tent revivals as part of what they called 'crusades.' Back then, laypeople wouldn't have generally picked up on or cared about the violent roots of that term, going back to warfare between Christians of Western Europe and Muslims (and at points with Eastern Christians) in the 11th to 13th centuries. The armored medieval soldier imagery could have more easily been associated by them with the 'full armor of God' language found in the New Testament than with the events of Christian history.  In an era when mascots are sacred calves battled over in the culture war, I would have expected Evangel to double down on keeping the status quo. I shouldn't have, because it's bad for revenue.

"We recognize that times have changed," Hedlun said. The Crusader mascot "really no longer represents what our university stands for. As well, we have a lot of alumni who are involved in work both in the United States and globally, and knowing that we are global community members, it is not a mascot that our alumni can advocate for or support in their work around the world."

In a prepared statement on the university website, Evangel president George O. Wood said, "Today, we recognize that the Crusader often inhibits the ability of students and alumni to proudly represent the university in their areas of global work and ministry." 

That first paragraph started well, acknowledging changing perspectives. In a globalized world, with students coming in from everywhere, it's hard to avoid recognizing the deeper negative historic connotation of any word referencing the crusades. The folksy 20th century meaning is lost in translation. It would seem from the rest of that paragraph that the issue is just as much or perhaps more about the students graduating into an international job market. Saying that alumni can't 'advocate for or support in their work around the world' means that the image of the school is adversely affected by an image of religious conquest. It also means a reduced possibility of soliciting funds from alumni.

For most universities their alumni are an important revenue stream. I know someone who's career in life has mostly been about schmoozing with well-to-do alumnus of whatever university he's working with at the time, talking up the school's programs and direction. Some of it is maintenance, to keep the money flowing in, and some of it is seeking funds for specific purposes. While most graduate with a significant amount of student debt, there are enough graduates who either go on to make their fortunes or continue those of the family business to make this endeavor worthwhile. Knowing that, it makes perfect sense that Evangel would be sensitive to what their alumni worldwide are saying about the school and its mascot. 

Am I cynical? Yes, most of the time. Still, whether they took action for the 'right' reasons or not, the result is the same. Next Fall a new mascot will be debuted at Evangel University.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

What It Can Mean | Easter Sunday 2021

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."Acts 10:34-43 NRSV

The words are attributed to Peter on the occasion of a Gentile household being converted to faith in Jesus. According to Acts this was the first time that people who were neither Jews nor Samaritans accepted the good news about Jesus. Ancient historians didn't have the means to record speeches verbatim, and often they were working from notes that others made or from the recollections of people who heard them. Probably about as often as anything, they made up the speech to fit the context and what they believed the person would have said in that situation. There's no reason to think it's any different with the author of Luke-Acts. When he wrote in the late first or early second century, he was putting down his best understanding of events through the lense of then-current understanding of the faith.  It leaves us to wonder what Peter might actually have said, if this event truly took place more or less as described.

...theology is not isolated from political, economic, and social realities. Context matters. Witnesses close to events have motives in telling their stories and can be unreliable, reporters. The powerful write history. Texts are expressions of the experience of the person or community who wrote them. Evidence is tampered with, documents are destroyed, and arguments of opponents are falsified to prove a point.—Diana Butler Bass, Rescuing Jesus, p 198

By the 4th century that proto-orthodoxy expressed by Luke had won out in the form of what is now considered orthodoxy, expressed in a creed that would describe Jesus as "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father." The plain-spoken tidiness of one generation had been replaced with the ornate but precise theological language of a later generation. To my knowledge, no church recites from Peter's speech on Sundays, but many do  repeat the words of the Nicene Creed. 

The patchwork of different Christian sects of the first couple of centuries may have held to variations of Peter's words in their beliefs, though it seems likely that the majority would have found room in that description for themselves. Whatever one's christology, whether believing that Jesus was somehow identified directly with God, or was an adopted human son of God, the words "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" excluded no one who believed. Likewise the credal test for salvation was set relatively low compared to later times, telling us "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

What about our time, though? Here, hundreds of years later, living in a time when the light of reason has exposed the darkness, with the scientific method and technological advances helping us to understand what before was utterly incomprehensible to our ancestors, we find less and less cause to take as concrete the meaning of religious beliefs. Much has become metaphor, which is just as well because at least some of it was intended as such in the first place, and the ugly bits promoting genocide, bigotry, and misogyny are becoming recognized for what they are and challenged as such. While the majority of Christians can probably still agree with the preaching attributed to Peter, a rising number cannot. And then there are people like me, Unitarian Universalists and others who see value in engaging with this ancient text through a critical approach. What can we say about Jesus, miracles, and sin? What about the resurrection?

 Speaking only for myself, and after having established how and when this particular text under consideration came to be, here's how I would break it down.

Then Peter began to speak to them: I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 

God or no god, we are all human beings and made of the same carbon, minerals, and water. It's been put this way in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. 
Article 2
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 

Preaching peace is wonderful, and seemingly rare. The UDHR also calls for it to be remembered, taught, and to be implemented for the purposes of peace.

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Where it becomes problematic is where it says that Jesus Christ is "Lord of all." Does that mean that unbelievers must be converted? By what means? And what if they refuse? If it means only that, whether people know it or not, Jesus is Lord, then a) does it mean anything at all, and b) isn't that some smug bullshit? 

That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 

However this all would get unpacked theologically by someone who takes it with more than a few grains of salt, there is a key piece here that is too-often missed: "he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed." It doesn't say that he went about preaching that everyone was going to hell unless they believed in him and either said a "sinner's prayer" or was baptized. He went about doing good and liberating the oppressed. There's not a thing wrong with that.

We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 

The belief of Luke's community by the end of the first century was one of physical resurrection, which isn't surprising considering that in Second Temple Judaism belief in a future, physical resurrection of the dead was fairly commonplace. It's not unreasonable to think that the earliest church would have shared this belief, despite variations that arose in the larger Roman world that spiritualized it. The rationale for the resurrected Jesus not appearing to the world at large, and instead only to select disciples, is to my knowledge ever fully worked out in the New Testament. Presumably they would have thought of it as necessary for the purpose of people having faith. Given that faith isn't a moral virtue, that explanation falls flat for me. 

It could be that the best we can do with this is appreciate the concept of 'witness' in the sense of affirming one's experience, apart from the strict facts of a matter. The act of remembering something isn't the same as replaying a video. There is a sense in which we are inventing, editing, re-imagining, and re-contextualizing our memories. Often we omit parts, consciously or unconsciously, or simply forget details. Maybe there are aspects that we didn't even notice in the first place, and so they didn't register in our brains at all. The earliest disciples were remembered for having experienced a remarkable life that was brutally cut short, and then appeared to miraculously continue. 

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 

This resurrected life is something they participated in, telling and retelling the stories of Jesus and conveying the impact he had on them. 

All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

For the church of the first and second century, the Bible was the Hebrew Scriptures, and through the lens of faith they found Jesus in those writings. Through this Jesus, their consciences found relief and their lives found renewal with the promise of a fresh start. That, for our modern and rightly-skeptical world, is good news we can believe in.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Making Meaning | Holy Saturday 2021

"A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last.
 —Job 14:1-2 NRSV

"Life is short. That's all there is to say. Get what you can from the present—thoughtfully, justly."Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4:26e

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. 
from "When Death Comes" by Mary Oliver

In between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus there's a pause. A day with a silent tomb and grieving disciples in hiding. A day of disillusionment over a life that ended without having fulfilled the goal for which it seemed to be intended. 

Some people, like me, have some anxiety about doing things and trying to make something special of life. The trouble with having an interesting life is the cost in stress, uncertainty, and instability. On the other hand. Other folks seem content to follow the path of their parents before them, remaining in the same area in which they were raised and doing the same kind of work. Between those two is everyone who perhaps moves and does different work, but follows what has become the standard path in the United States: college, profession, marriage, children, retirement. 

There's not a thing wrong with any of that. Not the path of radical divergiance, not that of generational sameness, and not that of simply following the 'American dream.' What you make of your life is up to you. 

The disciples found it inconceivable that their expectations had been destroyed, and they came to believe that his life must have meant something different than they thought. What Jesus thought of his life is not accessible to us, as the stories were told and committed to writing about it, not by him. It's the meaning others found in him, and it inspired them.

What someone will make of my life after I'm gone is something I can't control. I can only live the best way I know, pursuing my own goals, and hope that I leave something behind that people find worth converting into meaning for themselves.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Description of an Auction of Enslaved Persons | Good Friday 2021

Djanira da Motta e Silva, "Largo do Pelourinho, Salvador," 1955 | via via Museu de Arte de São Paulo

"Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots."Psalm 22:12-18 NRSV

The following is taken from page 1 of The Anti-Slavery Bugle, vol 7, no. 30, dates April 10, 1825. It's a first-hand account written by 'W.F.C' of an auction of enslaved persons that took place in Richmond, Virginia on March 22, 1852. If the title of this post wasn't already enough, consider this your content warning. The execution of Jesus was a routine display of Rome's power, displaying the terrible cost of maintaining the 'Pax Romana.' The exploitation of people of African descent was, likewise, a display of the cruel exploitation that formed the foundation of the American enterprise. 

Things in Virginia

“At Charlottesville, we took the [train] cars, at 7 o’clock, on the 19th, for Richmond, distant 94 miles. The improvements in the country, with rare exceptions, are slovenly; and wherever anything of a good building does present itself, it is surrounded by a number of unseemly log huts — the residences of the slaves of the owner of the plantation.

The external appearance of Richmond impressed me very favorably. There is a beauty and taste displayed in very many of the buildings, both public and private, which I have rarely seen equaled. There is a great deal of wealth here, and those who possess it willingly expend it for public display.

Observing in one of the daily papers that a slave sale was to take place on Saturday morning at Hills auction rooms, I went down to visit it. When I arrived there, I found the room pretty well filled with men who had assembled to speculate on the bodies and souls of their fellows; and observing a crowd in one corner, I stepped up. I saw a young Negro man stripped to the shirt, and, amid the jeers of traders, examined in a manner too revolting to rehearse, except it were in papers published in a community where such things are desired, sex forms no barrier. The auctioneer announcing that the hour of sale having arrived, a man slave, aged about 20 or 25, was placed upon the block; and the crier commenced with enumerating his good qualities, and asked for a bid. $500 was the first offered, and soon run up to $600; then to $700. He was then ordered to get down and walk across the room and back again; and several came up asking questions, and examining his teeth, as a horse jockey would the horse he was bidding for. He again mounted the block; and bidding continued until $800 was offered. He was again ordered down, and similar course of examination took place. He was finally knocked off at $800.

Next came a lad aged about 15. The same process was gone through with, as with the first, and he was knocked off at $685. Next came a girl of 18 to 20; the same routine of exhibition and examination gone through with, and knocked off at $605. Whether they were bought for transportation or not, I did not learn. These closed the sale for that day — the number being unusually small.

I made especial inquiry into the case of Frank Jackson, which possesses interest for some of my readers, and who will remember that he was sold as a slave some time last spring, in one of the western counties of this state by a horse trader, and making his escape, that he was arrested, and confined in a Fincastle jail. Certificates of his freedom were forwarded there, but the person to whom they were sent, acting treacherously, he was not again heard of until his friend were informed, by letter, that such a person had been brought to this city and lodged in Jones’ slave pen.

Certificates were sent on to here, and measures were taken to have him brought out, when, on examination, he could not be found. A gentleman who had charge of the matter, told me that he was informed by one upon whom he could rely, that a few nights previous to the search for him, a carriage with the blinds down had driven to the wharf, where there was a vessel ready to sail the next day for New Orleans with a cargo of slaves, and he has no doubt but Frank was thus hurried off, for fear of rescue.

My feelings were shocked at the indecencies exhibited, and the perfect heartlessness attending the sale. But these were only the appendages; the crowning sin, to my mind, was the traffic — the placing of an immortal being upon the stand, and selling him as brute beast. And yet these results grow out of the system itself. What I witnessed was slavery as it exists by law; as practiced in accordance with law; and as such, declared by one popular church to “form no bar to Christian communion,” and with which almost all the popular churches are in fraternal embrace.

I left the slave shambles with sad and sickened heart. But a few days previous, I had seen two men leaving their homes in the morning in perfect health; and before the sun had sunk behind the tall mountains, I had witnessed their mangled corpses disentombed from beneath the mountain rock that had fallen upon and buried them. But what I witnessed at Hill’s auction rooms was more horrible still. For my own part, I would infinitely rather bury every friend I have, to seeing them put upon the auction block; and I would have declared the same of every human being, were I not well assured by those in this city who can have no motive for misrepresentation, that it is but too notorious that many here sell their own flesh and blood. Such is the polluting influence of slavery.”

W. F. C.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Remembrance | Maundy Thursday 2021

"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NRSV

I'm gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame
I'm gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name
(Remember, remember, remember, remember)
(Remember, remember, remember) 
                                    from "Fame," a song written by Michael Gore & Dean Pitchford

"People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out. But suppose that those who remembered you were immortal and your memory undying. What good would it do you? And I don't just mean when you're dead, but in your own lifetime. What use is praise, except to make your lifestyle a little more comfortable?"Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4:19

You probably don't remember a generally forgettable sitcom from the late 1980s entitled 'Just the Ten of Us.' It's about a coach who moves his rather large family to California for a job, and it only lasted three seasons. The only episode that has remained with me through the years, and the only reason I remember the show at all, was one where the father of the family agonizes over what his legacy will be. He's panicked that he's middle-aged and hasn't accomplished anything. Within the roughly 22 minutes of the show he comes to a realization that his son is his legacy. I don't remember if he meant him to the exclusion of all the boy's sisters, or if he was using him as representative of all his progeny. For him, though, this was the solution to the problem.

This stuck with me because it didn't solve a damn thing for me. I grew up in a family that kept careful track of its genealogy, for the most part. My dad had in his head the percentages of our ethnicity (all central and northern European, including England and Ireland), and modern genetic testing has affirmed the accuracy of his calculation. I grew up in the same Missouri county where generations of the various lineages of my family had come and gone, on the same farm where my grandmother had grown up. My grandmothers, great aunts, and parents told stories about their lives and their families. Thus I was keenly aware from a young age of the people of past generations, and of their absence. I also recognized the vast number just in the past 150 years of stories and lives that have been forgotten.

Someday, I too will be forgotten.

Marcus Aurelius reminds us that being forgotten is inevitable. One million years from now will descendants of our species still know anything about George Washington or Harriet Tubman, let alone any of us? I've told the stories I remember of my family to my kids, but my memory is untrustworthy and something must be lost in the telling and reception. Will they tell any of the stories to their children and grandchildren, and will they even resemble the actual events? Does any of it really matter?

I don't think so. Not, at least, to those who lived and now are gone.

The Catholic parish I grew up attending Mass in the same building that 5 generations before me of family on my mother's side worshipped. Above the altar hung a life-size crucifix depicting the suffering Jesus. The Mass itself retold stories from the life of Jesus and culminated in the eucharistic celebration of his death. Jesus is most certainly remembered, including his death, though it's hard to say how much is poetic license and legend. If, as the Nicene Christians believe, he is resurrected and lives, being very God himself, then being remembered and praised adds nothing to himself. The same holds true if, like all other people before and after, Jesus died and that was the end of the story for him. Recollection and fame add nothing to him personally.

There is, however, an impact made on the living who remember. Had Marcus Aurelius not jotted down his notes, which became the Meditations we now have, I doubt he'd be remembered by any other than scholars and history buffs. Nothing is added to him by being remembered, but what he contributed to human thought persists among us. Some claim changed lives through reflecting on his words. 

None of us can or—I believe—should hope to be remembered for all time for our own sakes. What would be the point? At the same time, if we want to leave a legacy of value, one that might outlive recollection of our names and lives, that is an option always open to us. We have the means to do it. By advocating with others for the rights and liberty of all people everywhere. By building organizations that others can carry on to do the work of producing goods and services of value to people. By striving for reform of oppressive systems and the abolition of unjust laws. By forming communities of covenant where individual, collective, and societal betterment and progress are core concerns. All these and more are ways that we can create value that will outlast us all. Even faithful love shown to others can carry forward. I firmly believe that I'm the product of many factors, not least of which the love of family that my parents inherited from their parents, and so on. 

The worth in remembering Jesus is there only if by such recollection we find ourselves called to envision and enact the human ideals of love, commitment, and solidarity that he can represent to us.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Recognizing What People Are | Wednesday of Holy Week 2021

"After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, 'Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray
me.' The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples--the one whom Jesus loved--was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, 'Lord, who is it?' Jesus answered, 'It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.' So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, 'Do quickly what you are going to do.' Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, 'Buy what we need for the festival'; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night."
— John 13:21-30 NRSV

"All warfare is based on deception." Sun Tzu, Art of War 1:18

The times in my life that my naivety has left me most unprepared are when I learn about someone's infidelity. It has happened several times, and in every situation the truth had to be recounted to me. To my credit, there was one time that I heard it clearly when someone described to me the troubles in her marriage (she had no idea), and there was also the time I discovered someone's unfaithfulness to me, and managed not to be completely shocked. What's going on behind the scenes of someone's life can be well-hidden, but often there are clear signs of what's going on. I can't help but wonder if this wasn't true of Judas Iscariot, and I also can't help feeling amused by the innocence of the other disciples. 

What really happened we'll never know, but the Gospels tell a story of fellowship and betrayal that is all too familiar to many of us. Whether it was a lover or a friend, most of us have felt betrayed by someone at some point in our lives. While it's an ongoing theme in my life, perhaps you've been more fortunate...or alert. We're told that this Judas accompanied Jesus on his travels, and was even put in the position of group treasurer. He was one of the close friends and followers of Jesus. Perhaps in real life, if anything of the sort actually happened, the historical Jesus was caught flat-footed like many of us have been. In the story, though, he not only knew what was going on in Judas' heart, but used that to achieve his mission in life. 

That's quite a thing, isn't it? To not only foresee someone's faithlessness and betrayal, but also incorporate it into one's plans. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus advised his disciples to be "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (10:16). Here in the Gospel of John we see a prime example of what that would look like. Satan, the deceiver, is said in our reading to have "entered into" Judas. And yet, the real deception was carried out neither by Satan nor Judas. Jesus did no wrong in his actions with Judas. Instead, he counted on his infidelity and put it to use. This was the subtlest and best deception there could be.

And yet, even as Jesus 'commissioned' Judas to his work, handing him the piece of bread, the disciples still didn't get it. Perhaps we're to understand that they were too wrapped up in the idea of Jesus as an earthly, conquering king to see that weakness and apparent failure were the plan all along. 

I am not advocating deception. Most of the time there could be bad consequences for someone otherwise innocent. However, we shouldn't be so determined to take the high road that we won't exercise some judgment around how to best handle those who would derail us. If they seem committed to their path, there's no harm in accounting for that. We do, however, have to stay alert so that we are at the very least not caught unprepared. Sadly, the human condition is such that appearances around someone's life can be very deceiving indeed.    

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Say Their Names | Tuesday of Holy Week 2021

"Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."John 12:24 NRSV



Monday, March 29, 2021

Always With Us | Monday of Holy Week 2021

"You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."John 12:8

Among certain types of U.S. Christians, when faced with the extreme poverty present in the world, and called upon to help, it's common to hear in response, "We'll always have the poor with us." As if that were meant to be a fatalistic prophecy or endorsement of the status quo. As if words attributed to a man who lived two millennia ago should relieve their consciences of any sense of empathy and responsibility towards their fellow humans. In fact, the implication of this text and the rest of Jesus' teaching is that in the absence of Jesus present, the poor should get all that attention as though they were him. Hopefully as Christian churches decline in the West the negative attitude will begin to shift, but the impoverished in our world right now don't have the time to spare. 

Here are some stats to consider courtesy the World Bank:

The global extreme poverty rate fell to 9.2 percent in 2017, from 10.1 percent in 2015. That is equivalent to 689 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. At higher poverty lines, 24.1 percent of the world lived on less than $3.20 a day and 43.6 percent on less than $5.50 a day in 2017.
    • In 2018, four out of five people below the international poverty line lived in rural areas.
    • Half of the poor are children. Women represent a majority of the poor in most regions and among some age groups. About 70 percent of the global poor aged 15 and over have no schooling or only some basic education.
    • Almost half of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in just five countries: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Madagascar.
    • More than 40 percent of the global poor live in economies affected by fragility, conflict and violence, and that number is expected to rise to 67 percent in the next decade. Those economies have just 10 percent of the world’s population.
    • About 132 million of the global poor live in areas with high flood risk.
But many people who had barely escaped extreme poverty could be forced back into it by the convergence of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change. A “nowcast” (preliminary estimate) for 2020, incorporating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, projects that an additional 88 million to 115 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty, bringing the total to between 703 and 729 million. 
Infographic via the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
In 2017 the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly voted to approve a 'Statement of Conscience: Escalating Economic Inequity,' in which steps that can be taken by individuals and congregations were listed. 

As Individuals we can:
    • Review our personal history and our national history with money, our class backgrounds, and how that shapes our relationships with financial matters.
    • Examine our role in the financial system and what we are willing to change.
    • Assess how we personally spend money and use our money in support of our values.
    • Invest in social impact hubs that fund entrepreneurs representing those parts of society that are economically oppressed or marginalized.
    • Seek out and support black-owned and indigenous-owned businesses, as well as businesses owned by other racialized and marginalized groups.
    • Recognize and support other enterprises directly benefiting those who are marginalized or oppressed.
    • Consider the ecological consequences of every economic decision and whenever possible, buy local and participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers’ markets, and locally owned businesses.
    • Spend money compassionately, considering whether items are ethically sourced and employers have ethical labor practices.
    • Track, promote, and abide by boycotts and support firms that treat workers, suppliers, and the environment fairly.
    • Actively support or participate in unions, union retiree groups, worker centers, and organizing drives.
    • Mobilize ourselves and others to use the ballot box, campaign donations, and letters to the editor, social media, and calls/emails/visits with elected officials to work for a moral economic system.
    • Invest in micro-loan projects, crowd-source funding, time banks, and other finance options outside the corporate banking and investment system.
    • Engage in ecologically and socially responsible investing and use our power as stockholders to influence company policies.
    • Divest from racist systems; invest in communities of color.
    • Move accounts from corporate banks to local banks or credit unions.
    • Report and avoid businesses that use enslaved labor.

As Congregations we can:

    • Engage in continuing study on inequity using materials such as the Commission on Appraisal’s 2017 book on Classism.
    • Assess the congregation’s biases and attitudes toward those from various class and economic backgrounds and then make adjustments as needed to be more welcoming and inclusive.
    • Examine the congregation’s relationship with money, including how finances drive operations and programs and how money is discussed, disbursed, and secured.
    • Create an equitable salary scale and benefit package for the congregation’s staff including the minister(s) using the UUA guidelines.
    • Determine how transparent the congregation is about money matters.
    • Organize advocacy initiatives such as postcards, Twitter storm, flash mobs, petition drives, or other large volume campaigns in support of a moral economic system.
    • Keep the congregation’s money in socially responsible investment vehicles.
    • Divest from racist systems; invest in communities of color.
    • Advocate for affordable housing and other community efforts that assist those who are oppressed, marginalized, or disadvantaged.
    • Partner with other local faith communities and social justice groups on joint actions for livable wages, affordable housing, disruptions of intact low-income neighborhoods, gentrification projects, etc.
    • Actively participate in interfaith and other community organizing efforts for local policy and systemic changes that affect economic inequity.
    • Organize or participate in local alternative financial opportunities such as time banks and co-ops.
    • Sponsor educational opportunities within the congregation and the community that reveal factors contributing to increased economic inequity as well as potential solutions.
    • Advocate for getting money out of politics, ending corporate welfare, reforming corporate governance, changing tax laws to be more equitable, revising bankruptcy laws, and increasing support for public education.
State Legislative Ministries can:
    • Include economic inequity as a factor in determining legislative advocacy priorities.
    • Create and publish report cards on state legislators’ records on issues impacting the financial well-being of marginalized groups.
    • Host bi-partisan forums that bring attention to issues identified as part of a moral economic system.
    • Engage in advocacy consistent with a moral economic system: getting money out of politics; ending corporate welfare; reforming corporate governance; reforming bankruptcy laws; reforming the tax code; reforming work place protection to include the LGBTQA+; reforming laws pertaining to bail, sentencing, incarceration, and civil forfeiture; enacting state level universal health care, universal parental leave, and fair wage legislation; and increasing support for public education and job retraining.
As a Denomination we can:
    • Offer to all interested Unitarian Universalists an affordable group health insurance plan and advocate for universal health care coverage for all.
    • Continue socially responsible investment practices.
    • Invest in state legislative ministries and in advocacy at the national level.
    • Participate in interfaith coalitions and other social justice groups that work toward achieving a moral economic system.
    • Continue to work cooperatively with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) on projects such as “Behind the Kitchen Door.”
    • Invest in low income communities.
    • Invest in communities and leaders of color, and support reparations.
    • Advocate for the various elements of a moral economic system.

As Unitarian Universalists our faith calls us to counter fear with courage and manifest a collective vision of a more just, equitable, and compassionate society.

That's an enormous list, and no one can be on top of everything, as I see it. We can pick at least a few items to act on more immediately, and proceed from there. Also, we would do well to support movements for change, like the Poor People's Campaign

Poverty doesn't have to be a generation's-long condemnation of families and entire populations. We have the means to overcome it, and we should.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

All Aboard the Bandwagon | Palm Sunday 2021

"Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.  Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, 'Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!'"Mark 11:8-10 NRSV

When I was in 6th grade my class covered common marketing schemes for a week. We learned about things like celebrity sponsorship and bait-and-switch. It's proven to be one of the more useful things I learned about between then and high school graduation. One such technique is the bandwagon effect.

The bandwagon effect is great for brands if they can get it going, and is a mixed bag when it happens more-or-less spontaneously in society. It's when people do something because other people are doing it, often regardless of their own beliefs. Good sense is often set aside when this group psychological phenomenon is in full-steam. It goes to the extent of compelling people to realign their values, beliefs, and conduct to correspond to that of a group. That aspect is described as 'herd mentality.' 

In the US we've such innocent fads as Spuds MacKenzie and Reebok Pumps. In Brazil I saw fads come and go on a regular basis. One particularly memorable one was pin-on buttons. Children and teens in particular collected and traded the buttons, decorating their backpacks and jackets. The pins would feature flags, brand logos, names, and so forth. I saw a girl on the city bus one day with every square inch of her jeans jacket covered in pins, and it made a loud sort of ringing/rattling noise as she got off at her stop. A few weeks after that, the fad was no more. If you visit Brazil and notice that a classic or contemporary song in English is playing absolutely everywhere, it's a safe bet that it's prominent in the soundtrack of whatever telenovela that the Globo Network has running in prime time. 

People love their bandwagons.

Sometimes bandwagons can be abusive and even violent. Countless times in history a mob mentality has resulted in an extrajudicial execution or the mass destruction of property. This is also manifest from time to time on social media when people are trying to identify and punish people who are seen as having done wrong, often targeting the wrong people.

In 2017 in the aftermath of the 'Unite the Right' rally (which would have been more aptly called 'Unite the Whites') every Twitter rando was scrambling to try identify the racist idiots who marched bearing tiki torches. This led to numerous cases of misidentification, including of an entirely innocent university professor. People called and threatened him and his family, published his address and other personally identifying information online, and howled at the university for him to be fired.  

On Saturday Professor Quinn was forced to defend his character by by tweeting: "The man in the photo is not me. I am in Fayetteville, Arkansas, not Virginia.

A day later he took to social media again posting: "The individual who wore an engineering shirt in #Charlottesville is not me. I proudly support a diverse environment at U of A."

But his responses didn't stop scores of people from calling him a racist, threatening him, publishing his home address and demanding he lose his job. (BBC News)

In 2020 a video of a bicyclist attacking children went viral, prompting the online outrage machine to fire up and spew forth assertions about the identity of the guilty party. Two innocent men were falsely accused, and one of them in particular took heat because his bicycle tracking app had his information publicly available and indicated that he was on the trail in question at that time. The only problem was that the police had reported the wrong day for the incident, and it really wasn't him. Word of his innocence did not manage to keep up with accusations of guilt. 

 It took off. Weinberg didn’t know what “doxing” meant, but it was happening to him: Someone posted his address. Detective Lopez didn’t answer his call, but soon someone with the police department contacted Weinberg to let him know that officers would be patrolling the area around his home because he might be in danger. (

Then there was the retired firefighter just this year, accused of being one of the pro-Trump insurrectionists on January 6. When that was going on, he was 700 miles away buying groceries. Rather than simply report their suspicions to the federal authorities, quite a few geniuses thought it important to go ahead and dox him on social media. The aftermath has been quite difficult for the victim.

“It’s created havoc in my life, for my family, my wife, all of us,” Quintavalle told The Washington Post. “It’s just grueling us. Someone should be held responsible for this. It’s just not right that you live your life correctly, follow all the rules, and this is what happens.” (The Washington Post)

It's long been pointed out that according to the Gospel narrative, the same public that celebrated Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem one day turned around and demanded his execution later the same week. Setting aside the obvious anti-Semitism in the descriptions and later interpretations, this is conceivable as part of herd mentality and the bandwagon effect. I strongly suspect that through this year a lot of people who got wrapped up in the Trump cult through rallies and social media are and will be questioning how that all happened. Many have family and friends who witnessed the wild, ugly transformation and wondered how otherwise good people could have become so paranoid and toxic. 

Rather than close on a down note, let me share a more positive bandwagon effect I've experienced.

My son, now going on 19, was a regular at church youth events from 8th grade and all through high school. He loved them. Since we're Unitarian Universalists, there was no dogma or purity culture involved. Kids were welcomed and affirmed as who they are, and at the beginning of the year they created a covenant together to abide by. Although there were moments of tension or misunderstanding here or there, for the most part this was a fairly harmonious experience. The youth commented at times that they were glad that most of them didn't go to school together, because the group was a place where they could just relax and be themselves. When you're a teen, you don't often get to let your guard down. I'm certain that this was a soft version of herd mentality. At school it could be as emotionally challenging as ever, but at youth group most everyone wanted it to be a good experience. It was because they were able to believe it could be that. 

Changing culture for the better, in a church, business, or society, requires persistent efforts to get as many people on board as possible. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but based on what I've seen and experienced, not impossible. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Disciples Justice Ministries Preparing a Nonviolence Curriculum Guide

Several years ago I somehow discovered Walter Wink, and was so impressed with his Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way that I gave copies to a couple of friends from the church where I was then a member. Wink broke synthesized in this book the learnings from the area of nonviolence, bringing his own unique way of expression. He did the same in his overall body of written work, while also breaking some new ground in understanding 'the powers.' So, I was glad to see highlighted in a recent newsletter that a group in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is preparing a study guide.

Members of the Disciples Justice Ministries Cohort Group are engaged in a Lenten Book Study of Walter Wink’s Jesus and NonViolence: A Third Way.

The book study grew out of a months long conversation within the DJM group about the insidious threats of online radicalization of white nationalism. Group members are gathering weekly to discuss chapters from the book that are put in conversation with contemporary articles about the threats of white nationalism and the dangers of online radicalization.

This is a pilot project, and once it is complete the Disciples Justice Ministry group will transform their experience into a curriculum guide that can be used in local congregations, small group settings, and youth group meetings.

The DJM group will complete their book study during Lent, take the Easter Season to develop the curriculum, and have a finished study guide ready for local congregations by Pentecost! We’ll share more news with you as this exciting project moves forward.

For more information, email 

Their timeline seems pretty ambitious to me. Completing their own study and discussion during Lent and getting a guide out by Pentecost is fast work for a group of collaborators. I also wonder how they will relate the topic of nonviolence with 'threats of online radicalization of white nationalism.' In any case, I hope that it will be more generally available for purchase than just within that denomination, because I'd like to take a look and give it a review. This is such an important topic, and I appreciate that Wink's legacy is continuing to have an impact.