How Many White Men Does it Take . . . ?

OK, the answer is–whatever the punchline–

That’s not funny!

I was going to ask, “How many white men does it take to say a bland and boring prayer?” But it turns out that white guys are more sensitive than I realized.

Some of my brethren were offended and hurt by the Rev. Joseph Lowery’s rhyming conclusion to his inaugural benediction.

That’s right, the same people who are afraid that Hate Crime legislation might stifle their freedom of speech, the good ol’ boys who laughed at all the wrong places in Gran Tourino, the gentlemen who can sling around racist and sexist remarks and then respond to anyone who raises an eyebrow–

Oh, I forgot–it’s not politically correct (snicker) to say that!

All my rowdy buddies might not be able to enjoy Superbowl Sunday, because their feelings have been hurt, their inner child wounded.

And what were the offending words? Well, it was more what he implied than what he said . . . But when Rev. Lowery implored the Lord to help–

White embrace what is right–

why some sensitive souls took that to suggest that maybe some white folks some of the time might not always embrace what is right.

Surely he wasn’t thinking of way back in 2008 when crowds at Republican campaign rallies shouted, “Kill him!” when Obama’s name was mentioned.  That’s living in the past, man.  Why can’t he get over it?

Me? I can’t shoot a jump shot and I can’t dance, but I do have a sense of humor.  Lowery’s rhyming cadences were a light-hearted reminder that the times are a’changing, but there are still some  changes needed.  It made the prayer, colorful, even fun.  The two prayers that were broadcast, and the one that HBO censored, represented the diversity (sorry white guys, didn’t mean to offend you again) that makes up our country.

(Click here for the text of Lowery’s Inaugural Benediction.)

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A Post-Racist World

Two years ago Jürgen Moltmann was interviewed on his 80th birthday.  The interviewer asked him if young people need to be given more evidence for belief in God.  Looking back over the horrors of the earlier years of the twentieth century and then the amazing changes that came in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he said,

We’ve seen so many signs and wonders in our lifetime.

He referred to the peaceful end of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and the end of oppressive regimes throughout Eastern Europe.

Forty years ago it was just a dream that people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  Now it is a reality.

Tomorrow we will inaugurate our first Hawaiian-born president.  The nationality of his father and the complexion of his mother did not matter.  People voted either for or against Barack Obama based on their perception of his leadership qualities and the political platform he espoused.

Of course, there were a few during the campaign who tried to appeal to the race card, those who appealed to base motives, those who promoted racist jokes and songs.  There are still a few who always include his middle name–pronounced with a sneer.  But they had no influence.  The belong with the shrinking crowd of those who still deny that cigarette smoking causes cancer.

Philip Yancey’s book Soul Survivor tells how his faith survived in spite of the failings of the church of his youth, an openly racist church.  The story is heart breaking.  But he also tells how he was inspired by those churches that supported the civil rights movement, those churches and Christian leaders who formed the heart of the movement.

I was asked yesterday what the Bible says about racism.  Racism, in the Nazi sense, was a twentieth-century mythology, a modern invention.  But there have always been ethnic, cultural, religious, and nationalistic divisions among people.  The Apostle Paul devoted his life to proclaiming the reconciling Gospel of Jesus Christ.  One passage that sums it up is Colossians 3:11.  Speaking of God’s intention to create a new humanity, he says,

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.

The day after the election, my daughter, who lives in Harlem, saw an African-American boy, about ten years old, who was beaming.  “That means I can be president some day!”

It really is a miracle that I have seen the end of racism in my lifetime.

Peddling Peace

Marco Polo?

Marco Polo?

About ten years ago I went on a backpacking adventure on the Apallachian Trail with my daughter, who had just graduated from high school.  Some day I’ll describe some of our adventures, but right now I’m thinking of some of the interesting characters we met on the trail.  Some of them included men who had left the rat race of high-pressure careers to go for a long walk and sort things out.

Marco Löchner is a young man like that.  This December he began a bicycle Odyssee from Berlin that will take him to Hanoi.  He is going to interview the people he meets along the way.  Marco and his team just recently passed through Lithuania.  Maybe I should have deferred my Sabbatical and joined him on the adventure.  Maybe my colleague Wes would have even joined.

But I have had my own adventures and look forward to more in the future.  For now, here’s wishing Happy Trails to Marco and team.  (More here)

Did I say bicycle? Now that I have seen the video of Marcos peddling through the snow in Lithuania, his ride is acutally a 4-wheeled cycle with a trailer attached for his gear.  But it is definitely a human powered vehicle.  Check out the video from Lithuania TV by clicking here.

Self-Loathing Professors

Robert Alter spoke of literature professors who don’t like literature in his book The Pleasure of Reading (reviewed here).  Professor Bruce Fleming likewise lamented that literary studies are killing literature by forcing students to learn the jargon and arcane techniques of “literary studies” rather than actually reading great literature.

Hector Avalos is a professor of the Bible who hates the Bible.   In an essay on the Society of Biblical Literature forum he sites with approval a literature professor’s views that

Shakespeare’s works, for example, have no intrinsic value, but they function as cultural capital insofar as “knowing Shakespeare” helps provide entry into elite educated society. The academic study of literature, in general, functions to maintain class distinctions rather than to help humanity in any practical manner.

Avalos then applies this critique to the Bible:

Similarly, the Bible has no intrinsic value or merit. Its value is a social construct, and the SBL is the agent of an elite class that wishes to retain its own value and employment by fostering the idea that biblical studies should matter.

Avalos is not really a self-loathing professor.  He admits to loving his work, and has contributed valuable research on medical anthropology in antiquity and in early Christianity.  His thesis–that providing universal access to free health care was the key factor in the spread of early Christianity–is interesting (review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity here).

And I’m sure he enjoys the perks of his tenured position at Iowa State.  He might as well enjoy it while he can, because if they read his book The End of Biblical Studies, his position will be abolished–along with literature professorships.

Professor Guillermo Gonzalez won’t be enjoying tenure at Iowa State, though.  Even though his academic credentials were impeccable, Gonzalez was denied tenure because of his belief that the universe displays evidence of–gasp–being designed.  An email exchange between a physics professor at ISU and Hector Avalos is part of the evidence that Gonzalez was a victim of illegal ideological discrimination.

The ideological crime Gonzalez committed was suggesting in his book (and PBS video) The Privileged Planet that the earth is not only uniquely formed and situated to sustain life, but that it is also uniquely situated to allow human intelligence to observe and investigate the physical universe (More on Gonzalez here).

If only he had suggested that physics is an elite, privileged discipline that should be abolished–he might still be enjoying those privileges along with Dr. Avalos.

Happy Birthday, Jean Calvin

This year is the 500th anniversary of Jean Calvin’s birth.  Most of the folks I associate with in theological circles have an important disagreement with the reformer–we believe that God ultimately intends salvation for all people.  But sometimes I think one of the important contributions of Calvin is that he was willing to leave that the ultimate question of who will enjoy eternal life with God up to God.

In the meantime, we can concentrate on doing what we know is God’s will on this earth here and now.  That includes trying to establish peace and justice, building schools and hospitals, caring for the sick and poor.  It certainly includes worshiping God, teaching his word, and proclaiming the Gospel.  We can leave the ultimate results up to God and follow our daily responsibilities.

Possibly related, my friend the Vagabond Professor sent me a link to an article by Matthew Parris entitled “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.”  The article is not a satire, it is serious.  Parris describes the Christians he met in Africa:

The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

Here is another excerpt:

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Perry might have added “Post Calvin.”

Princeton Theological Seminary has provided a site for reading through Calvin’s institutes in brief daily selections here.  If you prefer to read the Institutes in the original French, Calvin 09 has the links.  The site even has a Calvin Shop for those who think the Reformer needs to be comercialized.