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How Long? Habakkuk 1:1-4 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational Church 15 July 2018 The Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the armies of the Assyrian Empire. The prophet Hosea claimed this was a result of Israel's unfaithfulness to the covenant with God. In response the Southern Kingdom of Judah entered into a period of reform, renewing the covenant, in the belief that this would protect them from outside empires. Alas, though the Assyrian Empire declined and fell, a new empire, the Chaldeans, the Neo-Babylonians ruled by Nebuchadnezzar, arose in the east and spread across... Continue reading
An interesting article on Aztec moral philosophy, which is a virtue ethics different from the Greek tradition. While Plato and Aristotle were concerned with character-centred virtue ethics, the Aztec approach is perhaps better described as socially-centred virtue ethics. If the Aztecs were right, then ‘Western’ philosophers have been too focused on individuals, too reliant on assessments of character, and too optimistic about the individual’s ability to correct her own vices. Instead, according to the Aztecs, we should look around to our family and friends, as well as our ordinary rituals or routines, if we hope to lead a better, more... Continue reading
Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel by Theodore W. Jennings Jr. My rating: 5 of 5 stars In this very well argued book Ted Jennings claims that "same-sex eroticism in Israel is inseparably connected to Israel's Yahwism. It is no extraneous import but something deeply and inextricably embedded in the religion of Israel." Jennings begins in the obvious place--the sagas of David, Jonathan, and Saul--and from there considers stories of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha, elements of the prophetic tradition (particularly Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and then the stories of Joseph, Moses, and Jacob, before wrapping up... Continue reading
A recent Christian Century editorial took a good theological perspective on the much discussed issue of NFL players taking a knee. An excerpt: one of the most vivid images of players’ humanity comes when they take a knee. During the game, this is one of several ways that players “down” the ball, avoiding being tackled by ending the play. Between plays and on the sidelines, players take a knee for various reasons. Lexicographer Ben Zimmer has traced the phrase back to a college team’s 1960 tribute to a deceased coach. It gained traction in reference to players stopping to rest.... Continue reading
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid My rating: 2 of 5 stars Reading this book during the nights when you can't sleep in Omaha because of the ridiculous noise from fireworks heightened the experience. But I was not as impressed by this book as it seems most people have been. I found the writing style too spare. The conceit of the doors as a way to comment on the current global migration crisis was intriguing, but Saeed and Nadia's relationship ups and downs did not engage me. View all my reviews Continue reading
George Packer's review of Ben Rhodes's memoir of time of his time as a foreign policy advisor to President Obama is a thoughtful discussion of the book and Obama's foreign policy strengths and weaknesses. Here is the most important paragraph and the main reason to read the essay: After Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the burden of proof is on anyone who would make the case for military action as a force for good. But Obama, proudly defying political convention and confident in the larger forces of progress, was reluctant to acknowledge that inaction, too, is an action. We don’t know... Continue reading
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler My rating: 4 of 5 stars Not set in a post-apocalyptic future as is so common, but in the midst of social decline and disruption brought on by climate change, growing income inequality, a rise in drug use, violence, and poverty. Reading the book right now was frightening. Lauren, the hero, grows up in the 2020's in a walled neighborhood of eleven homes in southern California where it rains once every six years. The neighbors must work together to defend their neighborhood, grow their own food, and educate themselves. Some are tempted... Continue reading
These authors point out that for more than a century liberalism's death has been predicted. But that's nonsense, one reason being that so many different things are a form of liberalism. This article gives some good historical perspective on our current moment. And I liked this line, "Even if liberalism does not provide a telos or supreme good toward which we should strive, it helps us avoid greater evils, the most salient being cruelty and the fear it inspires." Continue reading
This article at The Atlantic reveals part of what was wrong with the Court's ruling on the Muslim Ban and how the ruling gives the administration a green light to discriminate. The author demonstrates how for Justice Roberts the only discrimination that is illegal is when it is explicitly stated, discriminatory effects alone don't count. By this logic of Roberts's, most of the Jim Crow laws banned by the 1965 Voting Rights Act would be okay. Also, the strange inconsistency (hypocrisy) of the last month: 1) Vaguely "anti-religious" statements of a minor public official in Colorado mean the baker didn't... Continue reading
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders My rating: 2 of 5 stars Given the rave reviews and awards, I expected to relish this novel and simply did not. The book exhibits great craftsmanship and ingenuity in how it is written, but the story itself did not capture me, even repulsed me at times. One thing that repulsed me was its mythology of afterlife which bears no resemblance to anything in Christian thought. Maybe that was on purpose, but it seemed to me that a rich meditation on death and loss (if that was the actual goal) would have made... Continue reading
People of the Word 2 Chronicles 34:15 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational Church 24 June 2018 A few years ago a Bible was rediscovered here in America. As the collection of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture was being formed, the curators were contacted by a white family in Virginia who said they had the Bible of Nat Turner and would the museum like it. Nat Turner was the rare enslaved person who could read, and he read the Bible, which turned him into a prophetic preacher. Fired by his dreams of freedom,... Continue reading
The Nature of Doctrine by George A. Lindbeck My rating: 5 of 5 stars One of those classics I finally read. And one that was part of the milieu of other theologians who have deeply influenced my own thinking. For Lindbeck, learning a religion is like learning a language, a skill that you develop. Take this sentence for instance, "In short, intelligibility comes from skill, not theory, and credibility comes from good performance, not adherence to independently formulated criteria." I long ago adopted this basic framework--skill and communal practices and not propositional belief. And the non-foundationalist epistemology. I'm glad there... Continue reading
In my reading this week, I came across this discussion of the truth of religious statements in George Lindbeck's classic The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Reading it made me think of the recent debate around Jeff Sessions's misuse of scripture and why we can call it a misuse. Thus for a Christian, "God is Three and One," or "Christ is Lord" are true only as parts of a total pattern of speaking, thinking, feeling, and acting. They are false when their use in any given instance is inconsistent with what the pattern as a... Continue reading
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr My rating: 4 of 5 stars So beautiful and painful and yet beautiful. I'm only sorry I didn't read this when it first came out. View all my reviews Continue reading
God's Passionate Love Hosea 11:1-11 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational Church 17 June 2018 Imagine that over a few years a foreign power invaded Nebraska numerous times killing tens of thousands of our citizens, devastating our crops, and forcing us to swear allegiance to them and pay a heavy tax. What would be the traumatizing effects upon our psyches? How would we make sense of the world? Just such a situation did face the people of the nation of Israel in the eighth century before the Common Era. And one of the people who responded... Continue reading
Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma by Shelly Rambo My rating: 4 of 5 stars The story of Doubting Thomas from the Gospel of John is the standard gospel lectionary text for the Second Sunday of Easter, and we usually approach it as a text about knowledge, doubt, and faith. Shelly Rambo invites a different reading focusing instead on the wounded body of the resurrected Jesus. What does it mean to carry wounds into the resurrection? Why does Jesus expose the wounds to the disciples and invite Thomas to touch? Why has theology failed (with few exceptions) to... Continue reading
An excellent tribute to President George H. W. Bush and the virtues he embodied by Mitch Daniels. Continue reading
Great Plains Bison by Dan O'Brien My rating: 4 of 5 stars What have we done? This well-written book is about one of the great ecological catastrophes in human history--how human beings have in the last few centuries ruined the thousands years old ecosystem of the Great Plains. Not only did we slaughter the bison to near extinction and commit genocide against the nations of the Plains, we ruined the entire habitat with our plowing, irrigation, pesticides, GMO crops, etc. If you thought the sad part of this story ended a hundred years ago, and we began improving things after... Continue reading
Embracing Hopelessness by Miguel A. de la Torre My rating: 3 of 5 stars This book challenges some of the core elements of my own theology and ministerial practice. Jurgen Moltmann's theology of hope helped me out of my deepest depression and gave shape to my ministry, particularly when I pastored the Cathedral of Hope, a predominately LGBT congregation. De La Torre considers the theology of hope a theology of the privileged that lulls people away from facing how awful reality actually is and the revolutionary praxis necessary to work for justice. The methodology of the book is interesting. Each... Continue reading
Ari Ezra Waldman makes an important critical point about this week's Masterpiece Cake Shop ruling: Third, the opinion includes troubling conclusions. As we discussed yesterday, the Court found that statements from Commissioners sitting on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission evidenced so much anti-religious bias that they denied the Christian baker a fair, impartial hearing. But those statements don’t really evidence bias. Here was the most offending statement: I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether... Continue reading
In the second chapter of Awaiting the King, James K. A. Smith discusses the political nature of Christian worship, which he describes as "a public ritual centered on--yea, led by--an ascended King." As a corollary to this, "Implicit in the practices of Christian worship is an economics, a sociology, a politics." One of the most puzzling things for many of us clergy is how we are deeply trained to understand church and worship this way--these are not new or radical ideas in theology or liturgics--but how so many congregants seem completely unformed to understand church and worship in this way.... Continue reading
I really liked this analysis in Serene Jones's Theology and Grace: I propose five theological features of the self [that] are crucial to our creativity: 1) agency: our God-given capacity to act and hence to be creative; 2) time: our God-created capacity to imagine the future and to remember the past and--within the space of these--to compose our lives; 3) voice: our created ability to articulate and embrace our particularity, our call to be individuals with unique gifts to offer in the context of community; 4) permission: God's divine gift of forgiveness that allows us not to be perfect but... Continue reading