Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To the Seventh Generation

For years I’ve been declaring that I would spend some of my retirement time in serious genealogical research.  The impetus to action came earlier this summer, when my sister found a packet of photo negatives and shared the resulting images with others in the family.  Though I already have a fairly substantial collection of old family photos, these were mostly pictures that I had never seen before.  We could put names to some of the faces; others remain a total mystery.  In that initial search for identities, I found the spark that moved my long-intended project into concrete action.
This process of searching for ancestors has led me to reflect on our awareness of place and generations.  It is said that the U. S. is a nation of immigrants, and for the most part this is true.  When we only have to look back two or three generations to find an ancestor who came from another country, we simply haven’t had the opportunity to establish a long connection to the land on which we now live.  Our highly mobile society also works against our having a sense of belonging to a particular place.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Nature of Language

In an internet conversation which I was following several weeks ago about a particular passage in the Letter to the Romans, a pastor began a comment with, “We must look at the Greek at the beginning of chapter 2.”  His comment was immediately answered by another that asked, “Why must we look at the Greek?  We know what it says.”
This exchange started me thinking about the nature of language and the challenges of translation.  In an essential way, the function of language is to limit.  When I say that I am looking at a chair, I have immediately limited the hearer’s understanding of what the object of my gaze could be.  It is not a lamp; it is not a ham sandwich; it is not a surfboard. It is a piece of furniture with a seat, legs, and back, upon which someone can sit.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Marriage Equality Comes to Pennsylvania

When U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III, recently issued his decision overturning Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, reactions from religious communities were quite varied.  The morning after the ruling was made public, and even before Governor Corbett announced that he would not appeal, Pastor Anne Mason of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Lancaster appeared on the front page of the morning paper offering free weddings to any couple who contacted the church office that day.  Interfaith minister Rev. Kelly Jo Singleton soon followed with a similar offer.  They greeted the news with unequivocal celebration.
Following publication of these expressions of support, the U-U church office received several phone messages decrying their action and stating, among other things, that they were all going to hell.  Though no specific threats were included in any of the messages, the congregation requested the presence of Silent Witness Peacekeeper Alliance members on the day of the weddings just in case any protesters showed up and tried to disrupt the events. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

I Believe

“I Believe” is an inspirational popular song from the 1950s that managed to express faith without evoking any particular religion.  Frankie Laine took it to the top of the U.K. charts for 18 weeks in 1953, and artists as diverse as Mahalia Jackson, Perry Como, Tammy Wynette, and Elvis Presley produced recordings of it in the following years.  Based on the number of versions posted on YouTube, I conclude that it is still well known and loved more than sixty years after its first release.
I found myself thinking of this song, even humming it quietly to myself, as I read numerous news articles and commentary about the suits involving Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby which were argued in front of the Supreme Court last week.  Clearly the suits are about belief, and how beliefs drive action.  But the more I read, the more I realized that “I believe” can have a number of different meanings and different kinds of meaning, both religious and nonreligious.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Digging in the Archives

Moravians never throw anything away.  This is sometimes said with a tone of mild frustration.  Do we really need to keep 67 frayed and tattered copies of an anthem that no one in the current choir can remember singing and which, if a director did decide to put it back into active repertoire, is now available in a much better edition?  Far more often, however, this habit of saving everything is noted with pride and delight when a dusty box or storage bin yields an unexpected treasure.
In recent years the archives at Lititz Moravian have been the source of a number of surprising finds.  The most recent one, featured in several news stories in the past few months, has been the identification of an 18th century hand-written book as Volume I of the diary and church records maintained by Bishop Mattheaus Hehl while he served the Lititz congregation.  It, along with Volume II, which was located in the Provincial Archives in Bethlehem and is now undergoing restoration and preservation, will soon be digitized and translated.  Those who are fascinated by early Lititz history eagerly await the completion of this project, wondering what forgotten details of life in Revolutionary War era Lititz might be revealed.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

What's in the Bible? - Part Three

In part two of this series, I focused on the first four books of the New Testament, the gospel accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.  It is now time to turn attention to the remainder of the New Testament.  Following the four Gospels is The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, often referred to simply as Acts.  As I mentioned previously, Acts is a companion volume to the Gospel according to Luke.  Beginning with the ascension of Jesus, it continues with an account of events leading to the formation of the early church.  Pivotal to the story is the conversion of Saul, persecutor of early Christians, into the believer Paul, fervent preacher of the word.  Acts provides details of Paul’s three missionary journeys into Asia Minor and beyond, ending with his imprisonment in Rome.
One of my favorite passages in Acts occurs in Chapter 16.  The narrator tells how Paul chose Timothy to join him in the work, describing their travels.  Verses 7 through 10 read, “When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.”

Monday, February 03, 2014

Turning Back to Injustice

Several weeks ago our local newspaper ran a front-page story about the efforts of Gordon Denlinger, a Lancaster County state representative, to introduce a state constitutional amendment he calls “The Freedom of Conscience Amendment.”  As reported by the newspaper, “The proposed amendment would ensure that the beliefs held by private business owners exempts them from anti-discrimination laws pertaining to employment, housing or service based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, education or disability.” 
Denlinger gave as an example of how the amendment could be implemented: “An elderly woman has an apartment she wants to rent out. If the lifestyle arrangements of the applicant were not in line with her beliefs, she would be able to deny him a lease for that reason.”  What Denlinger appears to be saying is that if his hypothetical “elderly woman” believes that inter-racial marriage is wrong, or that Jews or Hispanics maintain a “lifestyle” with which she disagrees, she may ignore the anti-discrimination laws now in force in Pennsylvania. 
In response, I sent a letter to the paper, an edited version of which appeared on January 24.  A number of editorial comments and other letters took a position similar to mine.  Sadly, there have also been letters from people thanking Denlinger for his move to “protect Christians from persecution.”  The weekly People Poll, an unscientific call-in poll published by the newspaper, indicated that 68% of respondents opposed the amendment, while 32% supported it.  An expanded version of my letter follows:

To the Editor:
Last week our nation marked the 50th anniversary of the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins, significant actions in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.  Yesterday the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest leaders of that struggle, were celebrated across the country.  Today (January 21, 2014) the Lancaster News has given front-page coverage to Rep. Gordon Denlinger’s effort to roll back all the gains made since that time.
Denlinger wants to privilege “sincerely held beliefs” over the anti-discrimination laws which now govern public accommodation.  Theologian Rachel Held Evans, in a recent blog post, provided examples of “sincerely held [Christian] beliefs,” which have supported discriminatory behavior in the past.  Two of these are especially relevant to Denlinger’s efforts. 
In 1960, in a tract titled “Is Segregation Scriptural?” Bob Jones Sr. wrote in opposition to integration: “Wherever we have the races mixed up in large numbers, we have trouble….These religious liberals are the worst infidels in many ways in the country; and some of them are filling pulpits down South. They do not believe the Bible any longer; so it does not do any good to quote it to them.  They have gone over to modernism, and they are leading the white people astray at the same time; and they are leading colored Christians astray.  But every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent orthodox Christian can read what the Word of God and know that what is happening in the South now is not of God.”
In 1982, in defense of Bob Jones University’s policy banning inter-racial dating and marriage, Bob Jones III stated: “The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.” Rep. Denlinger’s official biography states that he is a 1985 graduate of Bob Jones University.  It appears that, along with his Accounting Degree, he absorbed the segregationist views of his Alma Mater’s leaders.
No law prevents U.S. citizens from holding discriminatory beliefs, nor from expressing them publicly.  What we may not do is act on those beliefs in such a way that others are denied rights or services.  Denlinger proposes to grasp the arc of the Moral Universe about which Dr. King spoke so eloquently and bend it back toward injustice.  This must not be allowed to happen.