Saturday, October 29, 2011

Obscene in the Extreme

"Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath'" by Rick Wartzman - detailing the response of the growers and Bakersfield, CA politicians to Steinbeck's book, and to union efforts to organize pickers - fascinating … 

The behavior of the growers with regard to "immigrants" (in this case, Okies) and their absolute resistance to unions (after all, we don't want anyone usurping our "right" to arbitrarily set wages) hasn't changed one iota. 

On the one hand, the Okies were "dirty and immoral and a drag on local resources;" on the other, they provided cheap labor, and the more of them that came, the more competitive grew the job market, to the benefit of the growers. 

The parallels to our current debates about "immigrants" and labor and unions and Capitalism are uncanny, until one realizes that these debates have been an integral part of the American story, indeed, the human story.

The only element lacking today is the easy way in which the far-right then characterized labor organizing as "communistic" and un-American. It's fun to read how the growers and politicians labeled themselves "true Americans" and that capitalism was, of course, the American way.

Also, worth noting - rather than directly going after Steinbeck's social message, the book was attacked as "immoral" - as one politician said, "I wouldn't want my daughter reading this filth."

Some politicians said to the immigrants, "Either work at the wages offered, or no welfare."

Not quite 50% through, I'll update frequently.

As with so many things, a little history sheds light on our current debates and conflicts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Letter to the Presbyterian Layman

October 26, 2011

Editor, Layman,

Your newsletter has been a constant presence in my mail for many years, though I find most of what it offers offensive, dysfunctional and saturated with hubris.

With that said, blessings on the Fremont Church - they will continue on, as many have, with a slow drift into irrational fundamentalism, leaving behind the great Evangelical/Reformed Tradition. In place of faith, will be money, David Barton's/Rousas John Rushdoony's weird reconstructionist vision of America, private schools, creationism, anti-intellectualism, a diminished role for women, and an abiding James Dobson hatred of LGBTQ people (there is no such thing as hating the sin and loving the sinner - that's an example of pious muddled thinking that closes doors even as it prides itself on open doors).

I find it tragic that many Presbyterians have sold their Evangelical/Reformed soul for a mess of potage seasoned by Americanism, nationalistic illusions, a love of money and big buildings (even small conservative churches look to the big boys as if size mattered in the Kingdom of God), a world-denying version of "salvation," faith without exegesis, tradition without thought and a bitter dogmatism driven by the Westminster Catechism (a 17th Century example of mostly where not to go).

I've been following the Layman since 1973, when I was a pastor in Altoona, PA. I know well the contours of your soul, and it's a jumbled and sad landscape.

Though I've sometimes been sympathetic to your original theological intentions, I've watched the Layman drift all the more into bitterness and darkness of spirit, while claiming to have the greater share of light in the PCUSA and assigning itself the task of guarding and traveling the higher road of faith, feeding the demons of fear and anger, aiming for a new denomination all along.

And, frankly, as someone from the north, I'm no longer saddened by Southern Tier Churches leaving (formerly PCUS) - while the vision of reunion was worthy, and driven by some extraordinary leaders, too many of the Southern Churches brought very little to the health of the church, often requiring the Northern Church to walk on eggshells, cater to their theological sensibilities, parochial attitudes, the "spiritual nature of the church," and, yes, the remnants of racism which remain unresolved in the South, and, yes, in all parts of our country.

Meanwhile, the PCUSA will sharpen and expand the biblical vision of inclusivity and welcome. New congregations will be planted, folks brought to the Christ of the New Testament, and lives changed. Theologians like N.T. Wright are leading the way, along with Newbigin and his missional insights, and young-generation historians like John Fea and Darren Dochuk, not to mention Mark Noll. 

It will be a better day for the PCUSA when the dust settles, and perhaps you'll be happier, too, though the mindset of the Layman is always in need of an enemy, so it will be fascinating to watch who the next enemy will be. I doubt very much if you and gang will ever find happiness this side of heaven, and, frankly, if Matthew 25 has any bearing, it's likely that unhappiness will plague your house even then.

I realize that my note is headed for the trash bin, or, if published, will be edited and then heralded by the "righteous" as just another example of liberal insanity and progressive blindness.

Well, so be it, and baloney to you.

BTW, if you want to remove my name from your mailing list, go ahead.

But I bet you won't.

And as long as you send your nonsense to me, I'll send my comments to you.

Is that a deal?

Faithfully in Christ, and in always grateful for the Amazing Grace that saves, and looking for better days in the PCUSA, with windows and doors wide open to the gospel of faith, hope and love, because Christ is risen from the dead.

The Rev. Dr. Thomas P. Eggebeen, HR and Interim Pastor
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Hawthorne, CA

Kindness is always in season! And so is truth!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Church and Welfare

Some Christian churches have created a "golden age" for the church - some sort of happy village when everyone cared for everyone else. Baloney! That world has never existed. In the Middle Ages, when the church and the state overlapped and the church controlled huge amounts of land, and bishops reaped huge incomes for the diocese from taxation on trade and commerce, with wealthy princes contributing large sums to the church to pay for building, gain penance and purchase indulgences. The church then used money for welfare, not unlike gov't today. The corporate role of the church in the Middle Ages was huge, and, today, has been replaced by gov't. There never was the "happy village" imagined in some Christian circles.