Friday, June 29, 2012

Organized Crime and America's 400

Investigating unions and the underworld, Robert F. Kennedy wrote in his 1960 book, The Enemy Within (cited in L.A. Noir, by John Buntin, 2009, p.244):

"[T]he gangsters of today work in a highly organized fashion and are far more powerful now than at any time in the history of the country. The control political figures and threaten whole communities. they have stretched their tentacles of corruption and fear into industries both large and small. The grow stronger every day," so wrote Robert F. Kennedy in his 1960 book, The Enemy Within, a study of organized crime in the 50s (cited in L.A. Noir, by John Buntin, 2009, p.244).

As I read Kennedy's description, it was as if I were reading an account of the 400 in America today - their tentacles have reached far and wide, and with growing power and confidence, they manipulate and threaten politicians with the goons, ruffians and thugs working for them (the t-bags and the NRA). 

Folks like the Koch Brothers and their cabal threaten whole communities and are working feverishly to change the character of America wherein they can have a freehand to do as they please, and skim off every dollar they can for their own personal fortunes.

Is there a difference between today's Big Biz Boys and Girls and the organized-crime families of the 50s?

Power is power, and power always corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Only a strong Federal Government with regulatory powers (the enemy of the Wealth-Cabal) can contain Wall Street.

Wall Street has demonstrated an unwillingness, perhaps even an inability, to govern itself.

I suppose, like a hungry lion, we ought not be surprised when it acts out of hunger. Nor should we be surprised when rapacious Wall Street devours everything in its sight, including our Democracy.

And that's a crime against The People of America!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saving Souls for Gloryland in Jaspar, Texas

The amount of violence tolerated by the Christian Church, committed and perpetuated by the Christian Church, is enough to make the Christian Story a lie, as least a lie as to how we've told it.

From the wars Christians have fought against Christians, from the colonial period of enslavement, going all the way back to Constantine and his conversion, when suddenly it became a glorious thing to be a soldier and fight for the Empire, with the promise that anyone who fights for "god and country" (and those two are always permanently stitched together) qualifies for eternal glory and the praise and gratitude of their nation.

Recently, the New York Times published an unnerving story about Jasper, Texas, made "famous" a few years back when three young white boys chained James Byrd, a black man, to a car and dragged him to death, June 27, 1998.

He was buried in Jaspar's one cemetery, a cemetery divided by an old rickety fence, torn down some months Mr. Byrd's death, as an act of reconciliation and racial unity.

Fourteen years later, Jasper's cemetery remains segregated, with whites up on the hill and blacks below, no longer divided by a literal fence, but now the fence of tradition.

"It's our tradition," one old white man says, for blacks to be buried below the hill.

Racial tensions have once again flared with the firing of Jaspar's first back police chief, Rodney Pearson, who's wife, Sandy, is white (oh oh!).

After his election, whites arranged for a successful recall of several black city councilman, replacing them with a white majority who then promptly fired Mr. Pearson.

I wonder about all the white churches in Jaspar.

Oh, that's right. I know what they're doing. They're busy "preaching Je-e-sus!" and "saving souls for gloryland."

I know how hard it is to grapple with social issues; I'm a pastor, and I know first-hand how entrenched attitudes are, like the demons of the New Testament - touch 'em, and they scream to high-heaven. They truly know who Jesus is, and want nothing to do with him.

Which brings me back to the first part of this essay - how the church came to ignore, or accept, and worse, approve of violence.

Christianity, as we know it, comes out of 1800 years of Empire and war … Christians fought Christians … Christians colonized and enslaved peoples around the world, … Christians cheered the sword and sent their children off to war … and there stood the clergy, with holy water and prayers … all for god and country … [from "There Will Be Blood"].

And as long as churches are busy preaching Jesus and saving souls for gloryland, what with programs and Bible Studies and VBS and displays of patriotic hoohah, the cries of blood shed and spilled upon the earth go unanswered (Genesis 4.10).

In God's own time, of course, but what about us?

Can we turn a deaf ear to the cry of blood rising up from the earth, blood that we have shed, either directly through our wars and inquisitions, or indirectly, by winking at the cruelty of others and our "traditions" of racial and ethnic intolerance?

It's a bloody business, for sure, and I, for one, would rather not have to deal with it, but then I have to carefully pick and choose the Scriptures I read and from which I preach. Not only pick and choose, but deform and misrepresent, in order to "save souls for gloryland."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Elephants in the Room - by Charlotte Ellison

Dear Blog Readers,

A good friend of mine, the Rev. Charlotte Ellison, Grand Rapids, MI, offers the follow reflection on life and events in the Reformed Church of America.

When I read her note, I was immediately struck by its relevancy and its depth of faithful thought.

As the RCA struggles with many of the issues confronting American Christianity, it's helpful to read some commentary from inside the Western Michigan Beltway!

Blessings Charlotte, and thanks for permission to republish your essay in this blog.

Tom Eggebeen
Los Angeles.


Those of us in the RCA are spending a good bit of time talking about "unity" this Synod season--it all rests in identity, though--who are we, where do we receive our identity from, what is diversity and what is a basic distortion of our identity--do we most faithfully resemble our Lord when we protect ourselves from any variant in the interest of purity or do we most faithfully reflect our Lord when we go forth with an imitation of his engagement of the world, his apparent acceptance of people of many conditions and his welcoming them to a place of forgiveness, grace and acceptance.

I think there is always a temptation to confuse "unity" with "uniformity", always a need to project our sense of purity onto the image of Jesus' desire to call all to fellowship with his heavenly Father, always the temptation to "defend the faith" in a way that undeniably resembles the Pharisees and always a strong human impulse to be carried by those factors and hidden currents of our own unrevealed human psyches, projecting into Jesus those "imperatives" of our own fragile selves.

The hidden elephant in the room, in my opinion, has less to do with our openness to women in office (now thirty years in, and still contested), our position regarding homosexuality (do we offer hospitality and healing acceptance or do we participate in the persecution of anathema for the protection of the purity of the body), do we continue our exchange with theologically kindred bodies (sharing Reformed roots but with different histories) or do we narrowly define those "pure" enough to fellowship with as those who have even more strict standards of "purity" and closed communion.

I think the elephant in the room is our commitment to an identity that has little if anything to do with our Christian identity--our love of sectarianism, the ethnic roots of this particular tribe, the Dutchness which is nationalistic and nostalgic, a "brand" of theological virtue known for its scholastic rigor but not well regarded for its inclusiveness or gracious application of is magisterial theology of Grace.

I think the RCA struggles with a current of sectarianism that perpetually is oppositional, defining who is the "real" reformed communion by erecting ever more strident and exclusive marks of the true church and schizming into smaller and smaller communions that produce bigger fish in little ponds, the historic reward for leading the charge of schism.

It is sectarianism, and it is an offense to the gospel and a vanity and those further up its stream are not well positioned to instruct us on its benefits, so when we bemoan our communion with the PCUSA and long for closer ties with the Orthodox Presbyterians, for instance, that is a clear marker of this sectarian spirit at work, I think. Sectarianism is a terrible distortion of the Gospel and if you want to see its effects, one need look no further than North Ireland for examples of Orangemen in their oppression of Catholics in the name of the "true religion" through the propagating of an exclusive and utopian distortion of the church.

Our identity rests in one place--Christ Jesus, as revealed by his life and the witness of the whole Word of God, rightly interpreted, not appropriated with weak hermeneutics and self-styled but theologically ignorant leaders who are trying to "re-brand" their own version of what is "reformed" by simply asserting with vigor that it is. To be Reformed is to take the whole counsel of God and follow the Word of God wherever it leads, even if that reveals a long arc of justice, a widening inclusion into the family of God and a manifestation of Grace that is almost beyond our human ability to comprehend it. Reformed ever reforming. May God's spirit be powerfully present at Synod this year.

Charlotte Ellison
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Roman Catholics and Religious Freedom

Nope! Not buying this line of argument. It's not about religious freedom, as if this has ever been the concern of the Bishops' Club? 

Let's be honest, shall we? It's about control of women and their bodies, because women and their bodies are nothing more than incubators for little Bishops and Cardinals and Priests and maybe even a Pope, not to mention soldiers who were the cannon fodder of Catholic nations for centuries, as they fought one another and colonized the world.

And what a great way (someone is getting a raise on this one) to deflect interest from the plague of sex-abuse that has crippled the church and destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of Roman Catholics and their families.

Go to war with the President, and veil it as a defense of religious freedom. 

Women, kiss your hard-won freedoms goodbye if these silly boys with their flaming hats and lacy vestments win the day.

And to anyone who cares about truth and freedom, don't let these ploys turn the investigative spotlight away from the culture of sex-abuse that has long permeated the privileged Bishops' Club and their predatory priests.