Friday, August 31, 2018

To Be a Christian

What does it mean to be a Christian now, in this present time and place? It is a question I have been asking myself with increasing urgency in recent years. Safely within the four walls of the church I attend we sing “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and “Christian hearts in love united,” and the pastors preach of Jesus’ love for the whole world. Then I go home and read the news, and so much of what is identified as “Christian” is very far from what I know of Jesus’ teachings.
As a member of a mainline, ecumenically active Protestant denomination, I’m inclined to hold a generously broad view.  If person or group identifies themselves as Christian, I’m willing to take their word for it without applying any test of doctrine or practice.  But when I observe their words and actions, I have to wonder – if that is Christian, then what am I?
Jesus taught his followers, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-16a) Examining the fruits of those who claim to be Christian, then, is a Christ-approved way of discerning whose example we should imitate and whose we should reject.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Demonizing Other Gods

In the history of human migration and conquest certain patterns repeat themselves endlessly.  One of these is the practice of invaders to demonize the gods of those whom they have subdued and displaced.  There are numerous stories of this kind of struggle in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, told both from the viewpoint of the triumphant conquerors and of the resistant conquered.
In the Old Testament books of Joshua and Judges the military eradication of the indigenous tribes of the Jordan valley by the Israelites is firmly linked with destruction of their places of worship.  The indigenous gods, called Baals, are mocked and denounced.  The Israelite understanding of what their god requires of them is exemplified by Judges 2:1-5, in which an angel of The Lord calls them disobedient and calls punishment on them for failing to tear down all the altars to local gods.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Salvadorans Will Suffer from TPS Revocation

In early January United States Federal authorities announced that they were revoking Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 200,000 Salvadoran natives who currently live, work, and raise their families in the U.S.  The status was originally granted by the George W. Bush administration after two devastating earthquakes hit El Salvador in early 2001 and has been extended repeatedly by both the Bush and Obama administrations.  While much of the infrastructure that was damaged by the earthquakes has been rebuilt and repaired, for many the country remains a very dangerous and inhospitable place in which to live.
In the years since receiving TPS Salvadorans in our country have worked hard to be productive residents.  According to analysis by the Center for Migration Studies, 88 percent of Salvadoran beneficiaries of TPS participate in the labor force.  They are parents to 192,700 American-born children who now face separation either from the parents they love or from the only friends, culture, and country they have ever known.  And they send several billion dollars annually to family members still in El Salvador.  Ending this support will significantly increase the suffering of those who depend on it to supplement their meager living.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Vigil at Lititz Moravian

Some years ago I researched and wrote this history of the Christmas Eve service at Lititz Moravian Church and have updated it as needed.  In recent weeks I've had occasion to share it with several folks and have decided that the easiest way to make it available is to post it here on my blog.

The History of the Lititz Moravian Congregation records that, just a few months after the village was named in 1756, the small group of Lititz brothers and sisters living in the Pilgerhaus celebrated Christmas Eve by holding a Lovefeast.  From that humble beginning has evolved an elaborate worship service beloved by all who participate and attend.  The congregation presents the service six times each year during the weeks before Christmas as a gift to the community.
Research into the history of the service, popularly termed the Christmas Vigil, yields fascinating results.  More than thirty odes (the order of service with hymns, anthems, and scripture readings) designated for Christmas Eve can be found in the church archives.  The earliest, dated 1765, is an eight-page printed folder detailing portions to be sung by two different choirs, soloists, children, and congregation.  The congregation’s sections are quite short, with most of the music provided by choirs and soloists.
This pattern continues through the remainder of the eighteenth century, with the children given an increasing role as the years go on.  And it is the children who, in 1792, sing for the first time in English.  One of the verses they sang, “Hail Infant new-born, whom the angels adore,” is familiar to our present choir in an anthem setting by Moravian composer David Moritz Michael.  This anthem is not, however, part of our current Vigil ode.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What's in a Name?

Last year I authored a Letter to the Editor of LNP (the Lancaster, PA, daily paper) in which I stated that Allah is simply the Arabic word for god and is used as such by Arabic-speaking members of all three Abrahamic faiths.  Some months later I was challenged on this by an acquaintance who insisted that Allah refers only to the god of Islam, who is not the same as the god of Christians and Jews.  Despite my best efforts in a rather lengthy conversation, I was unable to explain adequately the difference between a word for something and the name of something.  My letter made a statement about language usage; my interlocutor was making a statement about faith.
This exchange has set me to reflecting on how people of faith use language in reference to their deity or deities.  The subject has proven to be much more complicated than one might first imagine.  To begin, in English the word “god” functions as both a common and a proper noun, that is, as a general reference to any deity and as the name of a particular deity.  We recognize the difference depending on context and usage, and in print on whether or not the word is capitalized.  Determining what god is referenced when God is used as a form of address requires knowing the faith of the speaker or writer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Resisting Hate

The recent invasion of Charlottesville, Virginia, by Neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other white supremacists, and the various response tactics by counter-protesters, have been the subject of intense examination in the days following.  This conversation is difficult and necessary.  Especially for those who espouse non-violence as the only moral response to hatred and injustice, serious questions have been raised and must at least be examined, if not answered.
My first thought was of the similarities between the current debate over tactics and the tensions of the Civil Rights era, exemplified by the competing views of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.  Both were sons of Baptist ministers, but their life paths took very different directions.  King was relatively sheltered from the worst abuses of racial segregation.  He had opportunity for education and became a minister himself.  Malcolm’s father moved the family from Nebraska to Michigan because of threats from the KKK, but their new home was burned and his father brutally murdered by whites.  During a stint in jail Malcolm was converted to Islam and became a leader in the Black Muslim faith, then later turned to traditional Sunni Islam.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Is Truth?

Each year as we gather for the Readings for Holy Week services, I find that one or two verses stay with me for days and weeks after Easter.  This year it has been Pilate’s probing question during his interrogation of Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38a)
Indeed, what is truth?  It is a question which is as relevant and urgent today as it was two thousand years ago.  When called to testify at a trial, one is required to swear or affirm to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  Is truth limited, then, to statements that are admissible in a court of law?  Hardly.  There are many things we know in our lives which cannot be proven true or false by the standards of our justice system.
Neither is truth simply the recitation of facts.  To be truthful facts must be accurate; but without context, plain facts can be deeply misleading.  As an example, consider the old Cold-War-era joke regarding a foot race between the top U.S. runner and his counterpart from the U.S.S.R.  The American won the race.  The next day the Soviet newspapers reported that their runner had come in second, and the U.S. runner had finished next to last.  The facts are accurate.  The manner of stating them is contrived to convey a false understanding of the results of the contest.