Friday, February 20, 2009

A Plug for the Blog of a Good Minister and Friend

I'd like to recommend a good blog now running by a friend of mine. Jeremy Rutledge, pastor of Covenant Church in Houston, TX, has been a friend since seminary. He's got a first-rate mind and is a wonderfully decent human being. The world would be a better place were there more like him. I'll be adding him to my list of blogs on the bottom right of this page, but why not go ahead and click on over to read his thoughts on religion, science, politics, poetry and more.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

America and Evolution

I got to thinking about America's mixed feelings on Darwin thanks to an article on Religion Dispatches--"Denying Darwin: Another Peculiar American Institution" which noted the differences between the responses to Darwin here and in the U.K. It's worth a read.

Why Hasn’t the American Opinion of Darwin Evolved?

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

Our nation’s media was appropriately attentive to the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln over the last week, but somewhere in the midst of the discussions of which Lincoln biography was best I heard mention of another important birthday—that of Charles Darwin. I listened with fascination to the hullabaloo going on across the pond over the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. It turns out that in Great Britain, the scientist and naturalist who wrote The Origin of Species and developed the theory of natural selection, which has “evolved” into what we is now generally called evolution has become a celebrated native son. Darwin adorns British currency and is generally considered a national hero. All sorts of dramatic and very public celebrations of the anniversary are going on in Britain, so why the silence in our culture?

An obvious answer for the American indifference and even hostility to Darwin’s ideas can be found in the dysfunctional way American Christianity has responded to them. Beginning in the early twentieth century, fundamentalist Protestants organized in reaction to a number of issues, chief among them was their perception that evolution challenged the belief of a literal six-day creation of the world as detailed in Genesis. Fundamentalism of any sort is a reaction against modernism, scientific inquiry and pluralism, and American fundamentalist Protestantism is no different. Yet, the ideas ridiculed by H.L. Mencken during the Scopes Monkey Trial moved from being a fringe minority opinion to a stance held by almost half of all Americans in the twenty-first century.

Yet, the responsibility for American Christianity’s hostility towards views held by most scientists cannot solely be laid at the feet of fundamentalists. Moderate and liberal Christians have never been able to articulate a reconciliation of the different claims of science and faith, at least not in a way that captures the popular imagination. Despite the fact that many Christians (myself included) do not have any real difficulty with believing in both a loving Creator and evolutionary science, Christianity in America is generally understood to be hostile to scientific thought in general and evolution in particular. Even Christians who do believe in evolution of one sort or another may divorce their beliefs about science from their beliefs about faith, preferring not to reconcile the two. The result of a religious faith that separates itself from scientific inquiry is a weak faith that is compartmentalized away from the world many believers live in.

I find it easy to poke holes in a fundamentalist understanding of creation; after all, accepting the Genesis accounts (there is more than one) as literal not only means believing in a six 24-hour day creation but also a flat planet that the sun, moon and stars move around. Most fundamentalists I’ve met haven’t gone so far as to reject Newtonian physics or the idea of a round Earth. However, I find it much more difficult to work out exactly how the rigors of scientific inquiry relate to my understanding of a loving and all-powerful God that not only created the universe but continues to interact with his/her creation. I was never very good at science, so it’s no surprise that my brain begins to cramp when I contemplate what exactly is involved in the bending or breaking of the so-called “laws of nature.” Questions of what is rational, irrational and supra-rational befuddle me at times, as do questions of quantum physics and string theory, but I am not afraid of the questions. Every time I have tried to connect my own scientific thinking with my theological thinking, I have been rewarded for the effort. Sometimes I have found answers that satisfied me, but just as often I have been left only with more questions. The answers and the questions, however, have only strengthened my faith; my relationship with God is stronger because I have not bothered with fearing the consequences of asking questions.

One might say that my thinking has evolved as I continue to work on a faith that connects with all of my life—scientific or otherwise. Perhaps it is because of my personal evolution that I am not afraid of Darwin’s ideas. I believe God gave each of us a mind for good reasons, one of which is so we might use our minds in regards to our faith. So, I offer up my thanks to Charles Darwin and to the God who made us both.
Grace and Peace,


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Good letter to the editor by a former FCC minister

There was a nice letter to the editor published in yesterday's St. Joseph News-Press by one of my predecessors at First Christian Church, Tom Russell. It's well worth reading, especially since it's a critique of a column by Charles Krauthammer (whose writings I generally despise).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is Love Really More Powerful Than Hate? (Dialogue Column 2.10.09)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.
You might say that I’ve staked my life—or at least my livelihood—on the idea that love is stronger than hate. I’ve chosen to be a Christian minister which means I declare that the love of God is the most powerful thing there is. The story of the resurrection declares that no matter what evil may accomplish in the short run, love has the final say. Yet, it’s certainly the case that some days believing in the power of good is no easy thing. I’ve been thinking about love and hate a lot as I’ve been reading about the funeral of Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Kelley that took place in Cameron over the weekend.

I don’t know the deceased soldier or his family, but by all accounts he was an honorable man who loved his family and his country. Given the quality of his life and the tragic circumstances of his death in Iraq, it seems all the more cruel that a group of people calling themselves Christians would show up in Cameron on Saturday to protest at his funeral. Once again, members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka showed up at a soldier’s funeral to declare their twisted declaration that God is killing U.S. soldiers in order to punish our nation for its tolerance of homosexuality. I believe in free speech—even for people with whom I disagree—but protesting at a funeral—anyone’s funeral—seems beyond the pale to me.

Based on the media reports, the Westboro members were lost in the crowd of well-wishers and flag-wavers who lined the streets of Cameron to support the Kelley family and to pay tribute to a fallen soldier. First Christian members who were at the service report not even knowing the protesters were around. I was very glad to learn that the few voices of hate were drowned out by the declarations of love—love of country, love of the Kelley family and love offered by Christians who believe our religion is one opposed to judgmental discrimination.

As I mentioned in my sermon yesterday, I believe that we should not only reject a theology that would motivate people to protest a soldier’s funeral but also a belief system that demonizes a minority, in this case gay and lesbian people. KCUR ran a story last week about what happened when the Westboro folks went to Shawnee Mission East High School to protest the school having an openly gay student in its student government. In response to the hatred of the so-called Christians, the students gathered pledges based on how long the protesters stayed at the school. For every minute the protesters were present, people pledged a certain amount of money that was given to a charity that fights AIDS. The protesters stayed 48 minutes and the students raised almost “$10,000.

On the streets of Cameron and at Shawnee Mission East High School love proved itself more powerful than hate.

Grace and Peace,


Reaching Across the Aisle (Dialogue Column 2.3.09)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

I’ve stopped watching the news. The play-by-play of petty partisanship in Washington is feeding my cynicism and I don’t need any help in that department. I never really thought that that a new president who ran on “hope” and “change” would usher in a new era of bipartisanship and touchy-feely behavior in our nation’s capital, but I did hope that the immensity of the problems facing our country might wake some folks up. I thought that rising layoffs and unemployment, the national shame of millions without adequate healthcare, two wars, the pointless violence in Gaza, the rampant greed in corporate boardrooms and the utter lack of vision for our nation’s energy needs might cause some leaders to reach across the aisle for the sake of the common good. Instead, both parties seem to be looking out for their own well-being and the media only cares about the catfight rather than the big picture. Like I said, I need no help in the cynicism department.

National politics and even local politics may be leaving me frustrated, but I have been greatly encouraged by some people who have reached across the aisle in a religious sense here in St. Joseph. It has been my privilege to serve on the board of Faith in Action (FIA) for the last year and to continue to do so this year. At the ministry’s annual meeting a week and a half ago, I heard members of churches that often have little to do with one another stand up and share about what their volunteers are doing to care for the unmet needs of people in our community. Members of churches that ranged from Roman Catholic to non-denominational told of driving people to the doctor, moving low-income families to new homes, doing minor home repairs, visiting the homebound and much more. I was excited to see Christians directing their energy towards what they could agree on—helping people in need—rather than spinning their wheels debating what divides them.

FIA began around 15 years ago as a ministry to HIV/AIDS patients in our community; an effort in which First Christian played an instrumental role. As social services began to meet the needs of HIV/AIDS patients, FIA changed its mission to help people whose needs were not being met elsewhere—usually people with medical problems. The work was funded by Heartland hospital and it employed staff to coordinate volunteers from the churches. About two years ago, both Heartland and the church volunteers working with FIA realized another change needed to happen: Faith in Action needed to be a ministry of the churches rather than a service run by the hospital. I served on the restructuring committee that helped FIA become an organization run by and supported by 15 churches and counting. Although FIA is given material and financial support by the Spiritual Health department of Heartland Hospital, the Heartland Foundation, and Catholic Charities, at its heart, FIA in its current form is a church-led ministry.

Unlike in the halls of political power, the needs of low-income people have brought people of divergent views together here among the churches of St. Joe. Each participating church decides how much it will give financially to FIA and what type of service its members can and will provide. For example, here at FCC our own Jo Wade organizes some of our people to provide transportation to people who do not have it through other means. Other churches have teams which move families to new homes, build wheelchair ramps, and clean up yards. It is comforting and encouraging to me when I see people that most likely disagree on many theological and social issues refusing to let such issues stop them from working together to serve others in Jesus’ name.

It’s almost enough to cure my cynicism. Almost.

Grace and Peace,