Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When Christians Feel "Persecuted"

From many an evangelical pulpit come the the thundering words: "We are being persecuted by a powerful lobby of liberals and secularists who would silence us and take away our rights. We must stand up as followers of Jesus and defend the gospel and claim our rightful place in in our great land of faith and freedom."

One should rightly ask: Who's persecuting whom, and just exactly how can anyone be sure that, as 1 Peter 4 puts it:

12Beloveddo not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is takingplace among you to test youas though something strange werehappening to you13But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’ssufferingsso that you may also be glad and shout for joy when hisglory is revealed14If you are reviled for the name of Christyou areblessedbecause the spirit of glorywhich is the Spirit of Godisresting on you15But let none of you suffer as a murderera thiefacriminalor even as a mischief maker16Yet if any of you suffers as aChristiando not consider it a disgracebut glorify God because you bear this name17For the time has come for judgment to begin withthe household of Godif it begins with uswhat will be the end forthose who do not obey the gospel of God?

For many an evangelical Christian, it's comforting to believe in persecution as a badge of honor, a confirmation of faithfulness. 

But is persecution for the sake of gospel, for the sake of Christ, or simply simply because of "mischief" and worse?

From  Psalm 94:

1O LORD, you God of vengeance,

you God of vengeance, shine forth!
2Rise up, O judge of the earth;
give to the proud what they deserve!
3O LORD, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?

Thus far, in the reading, there is no definition of the "proud" for whom the Psalmist wishes judgment. 

But the Psalmist doesn't leave us hanging:

4They pour out their arrogant words;

all the evildoers boast.
5They crush your people, O LORD,
and afflict your heritage.
6They kill the widow and the stranger,
they murder the orphan,
7and they say, "The LORD does not see;

the God of Jacob does not perceive."

Who are the proud?

They are identified by their deeds:

They kill the widow, the stranger and murder the orphan.

Reminiscent of Jesus when he warms against those "who take widow's houses and then say long prayers" … the very same who then prance around the Temple Treasury throwing in large sums of money out of their "spare change" while creating a system that takes the last few pennies a widow has to live on (Mark 12.38-44).

The widow, the stranger, the orphan - the three most vulnerable social categories of Israel - victims of wealthy interests (for a devastating critique on those "who borrow and never pay back," spend some time with Psalm 37).

What systems in our land create hardship for "the widow, the stranger and the orphan"?

What would the Psalmist says about Food Stamps, Social Security, health care, pensions, children in poverty, crushing debt for college students and a host of other burdens created by the wealthy to game the system in their favor, and why would Christians cheer any of their nefarious schemes in the light of Scripture?

Such Christians, when criticized, are quick to label themselves "persecuted." But I would label them "dupes of the wealthy," many of them, like the widow Jesus notes at the end of Mark 13 - a victim of some of kind of "prosperity message"? - give your last penny to "god," and miracles will come your way. Even as she gave her pennies, she was standing beside the wealthy who perhaps congratulated her, smiled at her, for her faithfulness even as they schemed to take her house.

Evangelical Christianity has been short on compassion for a long time now, a victim of a misconstrued gospel mostly the tool of the powerful to further their own vested interests even as they "say long prayers" or have others do it for them. 

For Scripture, then, there is is a litmus test: the wellbeing of the "widow, the stranger and the orphan," and how well society cares for them!

It is what we own to one another (Romans 13.8-10).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A House Divided

When George McGovern lost the '72 election to Nixon, he was without bitterness, except in a phone call to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., (Journals, p.364) wherein he spoke of Nixon: "… really a diabolical son-of-a-bitch. He knows all the ways to divide the country - and to profit from divisions."

This caught my attention, as I have watched the politically conservative link arms with folks like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson to create the "culture wars," to pit Americans against Americans and profit from the divisions - a profit, not of wellbeing for the nation, but of power and position. Reagan did this with an uncommon elegance; Dubya did it through men like Rumsfeld and Chaney. Ralph Reed became the power broker between the religious right and conservative politicians.

History will make it abundantly clear that religious "leaders" like Falwell and Dobson, who sought only power, all in the name of Jesus, were men of great evil.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that religious leaders can be evil - history makes that abundantly clear.

And where there is evil, there is splintering. I think it was Tillich who suggested that the "splintering effect" is the clearest evidence of evil.

The splintering effect has had free play in America since Reagan, and it has engendered nothing but heartache and failure and a crippled government. Unless checked, it will run a disastrous course.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Aggression Against the Poor

The attack on abortion rights is aimed principally (intentionally or not) at the poor. Because the rich always have the means, one way or the other, to provide for their families, and/or seek an abortion. But it's the poor who suffer the most when women are denied the rights of choice. 

Much of what's done in the name of "morality and religion" is nothing less than full-out aggression against the poor - from state house to state house to the federal government, much of the rhetoric and legislation is designed to punish, humiliate and embarrass the poor - making life ever-harder for them. 

None of this makes any sense - it's like a pack of ravenous beasts, bellies full and already satiated, seeking just one more kill, but rather than killing the prey, simply running it down, until the prey falls exhausted, and still no kill, but only waiting … and when the prey attempts another move, it's beaten down again and again.

I watch some politicians with their goofy smiles showing well-cared for teeth and sporting fine clothes and spay-on tans, slavering over their next piece of legislation - "We'll show these takers; we'll hurt 'em for being so lazy and unproductive. Shame on them, and shame on us if we let 'em get away with their schemes to defraud welfare and live on food stamps. We'll show 'em a thing or two."

The poor are vulnerable and defenseless … they're easy prey for the proud and the powerful who seem to get some kind of a moral kick of out punishing the poor.

So I wonder - who are the advocates of the poor these days? We have some good voices in our land, no doubt, but so many who might otherwise be counted on for a friendly voice on behalf of the poor seem compromised by the influence of the great powers and principalities of reactionary forces in our land. 

The poor of America are not stealing us blind or hurting us. Because the poor are poor; they can only live on the margins of society and survive on the crumbs that fall from the tables. Yet, when a hand reaches for a crumb, there are some eager to slap that hand away with fierce condemnation. 

There is a hardness of heart gripping America right now … years of crummy politics telling us that "government is the problem" and too much war and too many lies … along with Wall Street binging and America's lack of will to stop the robber barons from pillaging the public coffers and tilting the game board in their favor.

I have a hard time seeing how this can end well for us. If the arc of history bends toward justice, those persons, powers and principalities, who fight against the arc of justice will ultimately find themselves broken by it and cast aside into the darkness (Matthew 25).

In the darkness of their own choosing, the powerful will cry out for water, and demand of Abraham that he send Lazarus to dip his finger into some cool water and drip it on the rich man's tongue - it would seem that the rich man, even in hell, remains unrepentant and demanding, expecting Abraham to do his bidding, willing to hurt further the poor man, who, no longer sits at the rich man's gate, but now resides in Abraham's bosom instead (Luke 16).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Before Obamacare - How Wonderful It Was!

I recall, fondly, the days before "Obamacare," when everyone loved their health insurance plan and providers. Oh, it was heaven, wasn't it! All health-care bills paid in a timely manner by the insurer. And it was affordable, wasn't it! Heck, employers chipped in their share without complaint, and no questions asked about vital procedures recommended by the doctor. And, of course, no fraud on the part of hospitals and doctors. And the troubling business of pre-existing conditions? And cancellations when changing jobs? And treatments denied? Well, let's not trouble our heads about those little issues. Oh, before "Obamacare," it was just wonderful, wasn't it! How we all loved our medical insurance programs, giving thanks to god every day that we lived in a nation that took seriously the health of its citizens, especially the children, and, oh yes, the poor, too. Yup, those were the days my friends.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sectarian Prayers

Been a pastor for 44 years (PCUSA kind) - have given many an invocation in all sorts of settings from city councils to state legislatures. Early on, I made the decision to honor all faiths and keep my prayers free from specific religious references. 

It's easy to compose a non-sectarian prayer that honors whatever deity one's invoking and respects all who are present. 

Obviously, even the most neutral of all prayers is likely to reference some divine element, even if prayers are addressed to the earth, the universe, or to one's pet turtle. 

Christian pastors who refuse to honor those present and choose to make prayers pointedly "christian," are choosing to be offensive in the worst kinds of ways. 

While congratulating themselves for their courage, they're really thoughtless - rather than honoring Jesus, they're using him as a sledge hammer to further their own sense of power. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Halloween - Trick or Treat - or What?

Wrote this in 2007

Halloween … Trick or Treat … or what?

In recent years, some Christians have expressed concerns about Halloween and possible connections to Satanism, etc..

Halloween has been around a long time in European culture and then to America. 

The actual term comes from All Hallows’ Day or All Saints Day. The word “hallow” is used in the LORD's prayer, “hallowed be thy name” – or holy is your name.  

Actual origins are not entirely clear … but it likely predates the Christianizing of Europe. Perhaps a Celtic festival of some sort, but having nothing to do with Satanic practices. In both pre-Christian and Christian Europe, dressing up was an attempt to scare away evil spirits, mostly in good fun – sort of catching them in their own game!

In America, Halloween was largely a night of pranks – tipping over outhouses, etc.. But in mid-20th century, costuming and begging for treats became the predominant practice.

Dressing up and going through the neighborhood begging for sweets is now a childhood ritual that’s perfectly harmless. Christians needn’t be afraid of such things.

Parents might monitor the costumes for the blood and gore effect, age-appropriate and just plain appropriate – there are plenty of costumes available for all ages that are fun and entertaining, even scary. 

I think it’s a good idea for parents to accompany their children – make this a fun family night. Go out with the children, meet your neighbors, and invite grandparents or friends over for pumpkin pie or ice cream treats. Children quickly outgrow Halloween, but until they do, we can all have fun with them.

There are no monsters under the bed and no ghouls hiding in the closet.

The real monsters are poverty, war and environmental degradation.

By loving our children, and giving them a sense of confidence, we prepare them for adulthood where they will have to face difficult choices and serious challenges. 

Until then, a part of successful growing-up is having fun, participating in holidays and other such national pastimes and learning to enjoy life. 

As in all things, moderation … lots of parental involvement … and a home filled with love.

A child who goes to bed at night knowing they are loved will acquire the skills needed for life and the courage to face life’s challenges.

Until then, Boo! 

~ Pastor Tom Eggebeen, October, 2007

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Paula Deen Speech Never Heard

Dearest friends, my thanks for all of your love and all of your support. During these difficult times for my family and for me, your kindness has meant the world to me, and given me the courage to keep on going and pick up the pieces, and the courage to think deeply about my life, my values, and my nation - the land that I love.

Your willingness to stand by me in my time of sorrow has heartened me, yet I ask you this much: Don’t overlook what I did and what I said. Don’t excuse me on any of this. Don’t minimize what happened. 

What I did and what I said was wrong - flat out wrong.

It’s the way I was raised, the values of my culture - the words we used, the attitudes we held - so much of it, good and beautiful, and a lot of it deeply stained by the evil of racism. Period.

All of of us grow up in a certain time and place, and we receive from family and the culture around us, words and values, some of which are wonderful, and some of which are hideous. In the thoughtless moments of my life, I allowed the worst to overcome my best. 

It happens to all of us, and that’s why all of us have to think deeply, and if we’re religious, pray mightily that God will keep on removing what is broken and hurtful from our lives, and the ways we think and live.

As you stand with me in these trying times, help me think through my life, and help me stand tall, setting aside self-sorrow and self-pity, in order to reach for a better day - for myself and my family, and for my nation.

Racism is a terrible blight on our land, and its terrible threads of hatred and hurt touch all of us.

We must be mindful of such things in order to move ahead.

So, dear friends, I thank you; I thank you from the bottom of my little ol’ Southern Heart for your kindness - so much better than butter.

But join me, please, in the effort to be a better person, to rise above the corrupt values of racism and bigotry … help me to write a new recipe for goodness and the right, and believe me, it’ll taste good, for all of us!

Thank you.

Paula Deen.

Written by fellow cook, The Rev. Tom Eggebeen, Los Angeles
September 24, 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What Hateful People Ignore

What hateful people always ignore is the children. 

Boehner and Company, the Koch Bros, and all the rest have so hardened their hearts against the children. Watch children. Listen to children, and all the t-bag nonsense is revealed for what it is - a great evil in the land. 

For the sake of the children, let the whole damn country go bankrupt, if that what it takes to give to our children every opportunity they deserve, and the children will grow up and rescue us and restore us. And we won't go bankrupt when we spend ourselves silly on the children. We will go bankrupt when we behave miserly. 

For the first time in my life, I'm beginning to understand Matthew 13.12 ... "For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. "

The miserly, the skimpy, the cheap, those who cry poverty - yes, they already have nothing, and what they have will be taken away. But those who have compassion, open hands and open hearts, whatever they have, more will be given to them.

This is a spiritual principle, AND an economic reality.

Poverty of spirit breeds terrible policy.

But kindness builds a great nation.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Young Man in the Phillippines

From a young man of the church who's doing a semester in the Philippines ...

With limited access to the Internet, this is his first note home - with Mom's permission, I'm publishing his note here:

Hey guys, so I have limited access to wifi here in the philippines. But i can email you about once a week. Hopefully we can set up a skype session soon as well. In my first week alone so much has happened. We are usually up at six and I work out with the guys. Then we come back and take showers (only cold water here), and get started with the day. This first week has been orientation, so every day is jam packed. We have visited everyone's praxis sites. Mine was first, sitio payong is a small slum village with no running water or electricity. It is literally across the street from huge mansions owned by the filthy rich of the philippines. Guards patrol every day in the morning and evening, since the people in sitio payong dont own the land they live on, the guards make it as hard as possible forn them to live there. They want the people to move leave, so they dont lert the people improve there houses in any way, and if the people MUST, the have to sneak it. They are locked in at ten at night, and the gates open at six, so if anyone is sick or injured between these hours, they usually arent allowed out to go to the hoispital. There are 250 families crammed super tightly together in ramschackle huts made of tarp and sheet metal. I will be there two days a week. On our visit they gave us lumpia and prepared a presentation for us. I met the village leaders and met some of the kids, who call me big brother (in tagolog) chaz. Ill be there casey and mariah, we are thinking about teaching them american games, as well as helping them learn to read, and casey and I want to help them with some construction. I met two little boys who were brothers while we there, four and five, who had toy guns and I played with them a little bit. They chased after our jipnee as we drove away yelling by big brother chaz!! I could trell you an amazing inspirational story about every day ive been here, but it would take too long via email, hopefully when we skype.

Today during mass I spoke with one of the women who lives there and cooks for us every day, and she told me the two little boys had died on friday. Myself, mariah, and casey, went to the village with the casa leaders. It has rained extremely hard the last three days and the village (which has no paved roads) is completely muddy and very hard to walk through. We were invited to the mothers house, where her family was gethered outside in mourning. We went inside and wealked into a room with twso tiny white caskets with windows where the boys faces could be seen clearly, the mother of the boys brought us chairs and sat in between her sons and told us in philippino (someone translated) that the boys had been playing in the nearby river while she sold vegetables in the nearby village. The younger brother fell in and began to drown, so his older brother tried to carry him out of the water, but wasnt strong enough and drowned with his little brother. While she told us the story, little boys kep running up to me and saying hello big brother and giving me high fives, little ducklings walked around and played in the mud, and little girls played in the rain outside. 

This country is a dichotomy of poor and rich, polluted and beautiful, delightful and grief stricken. And today was one of the hardest moments of my life emotionally.Despite that, I am so glad that I am here and have learned so much already. I love you guys and miss you. I feel like I am here for a reason, and the real learning will be in sitio payong, not the classroom. Ill keep in touch as best as possible, next time ill send pictures. I love you!!


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When American Christianity Had Substance

The Post World War 2 years were a time when American Christianity had a positive image.

When folks said "Christian," they were likely to think of names like:

Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Seminary and his trenchant analysis of America's global power.

Paul Tillich and his "ground of our being" and "ultimate concern," with a powerful linkage between psychology and faith.

Georgia Harkness at the Pacific School of Religion, her ecumenical stance and her critique of "original sin" - "the sooner it disappears, the better it is for theology."

William Sloan Coffin, Jr. and Freedom Riders, and his subsequent stance against the Vietnam War.

Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, and his profound linkage between civil rights, peaceful protest and the Vietnam War.

Pastors regularly referred to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was hanged by the Nazis ... and Bonhoeffer's Swiss counterpart, Karl Barth, and their construal of the faith in light of the nationalist madness that drove Europe into war and the world into suffering.

For the Roman Catholics, there was Dorothy Day and her decision to live a life on behalf of the poor and her subsequent work to challenge the Church and America to a redistribution of wealth.

And the world was taken with Pope John the 23 - a fresh wind for a tired church, building bridges to Protestant Christianity and moving the church away from it's Medieval entrapment.

At the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold and his mysticism undergirding his economics and his economics informing his mysticism.

In England, it was C. S. Lewis and his intriguing restatements of the faith for a world emerging out of the dust of war, and Dorothy Sayer, author and theologian.

In India, the tireless work of a little Albanian Nun, Mother Teresa.

It was a time when pastors in the South lost their pulpits because they stood up for Civil Rights and invited their white congregations to envision a new America free of segregation and Jim Crow Laws, inspired by Rosa Parks and her refusal to sit in the back of the bus.

When the madness of the McCarthy Era was exposed for what it was - a pack of lies, and clergy spoke up and spoke out about it.

It was a time when women were emerging from the shadows of servitude to find their rightful place in church and government.

A time, as well, when American preachers were likely to quote from John Steinbeck, Cesar Chavez and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For Presbyterians, it was a time of creative rethinking of the faith, giving birth to The Confession of 1967 and its missional understanding of the church.

It was the best of times and the worst of times, in so many ways, but in the mix of it all, American Christianity had a positive image, and when folks said, "Christian," they were likely to think of women and men who stood up for something good and great, something global in scope and driven by peace, even as much of the world was caught up in the arms race and the Western World silly with its "Red Scare."

There was a time when the word, "Christian," rang true and strong for the sake of a better world.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Religion and Violence

To a friend wondering about the connection between religion and violence:

I don't think it takes quite so much effort to define "religion" nor does it take a lot of work to define "violence" ... and even less effort to connect the two of them.

Ever since Constantine turned the cross in a sword-hilt, christianity has been killing like mad ... so has Islam ... and Judaism - Samuel and Kings are bloody with conquest and vengeance ... and the rogue State of Israel ... god here, god there ... god everywhere in the bloody mix of religion and violence.

Both World Wars were for God and Country ... what with chaplains blessings bombs and soldiers marching off to war ... and Japan's soldiers blessed by the Emperor/God.

It's not that religion produces only violence, but if I had to weigh it in the scales of history, I'd say that religion has produced more violence than it has peace.

Jesus may be the prince of peace, but the church is the king of war.

Virtually all the big religions of the world, maybe even the smaller ones, avoid this issue like the plague ... it's always someone else's fault ... the cause always lies elsewhere ...

While religion, can sometimes, expose the human heart, mostly religion functions as a mask - the tired old mantra, "Jesus died to forgive our sins" is license for cruelty and violence without restraint. After all, we have to do what we have to do to defend our land, our way of life, whatever it may be ... and Jesus died for our sins, so we're off the hook ... home free and clear, and while we kill here with impunity, when we get to heaven, Jesus will smile and tell us how much his blood covered over our sins and washed them away.

Wow - what a gospel.

Anyway, that's how I see these days ...

Blessings and Peace ... and maybe some turmoil of soul, too.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Failed Christianity and Trees

Some thoughts for Sunday's sermon ...

The church turned Christianity into a "God will help you all the time; just call on him" … we carry god around with us like a superstitious person carries a rabbit's foot or a lucky pebble in the pocket … with the bible nothing more than a cereal box of Lucky Charms into which we dip for some lucky bible verse to see us through, empower us, or make us superior to others … sadly, this kind of Christianity hasn't made us stronger or better in the LORD, but weaker, teaching us that it's our fault if the lucky charm doesn't work.

Rather than giving us the courage to live, and to live well, it's made us frightened and self-condemning, and condemning of others, too.

We do well to remember the little remembered book of Esther - there isn't one mention of god in it … because the writer knows that we already know enough of God and Self to do what's needed, and that's to protect one another against the evil that exists in our world …

Knowing that evil can be defeated when we stand with one another … and stand with the trees and the wolves and the whales and the oceans, too, to protect all of it from evil, which is sometimes ourselves, the greed of our soul, which is all too ready to sacrifice others, even the world, to satisfy whatever our need might be.

The church would rather keep us dependent and confused rather than visionary and loving. Has Christianity failed the world? Clearly. Does this render it meaningless?

I don't think so ... but it calls into question what the church has done with it - from fiery pentecostals and their fumings or polite pulpit pundits who soothe souls wearied, not by good works, but from the failure to grasp life's purpose, so they can gain a few moments of rest and return the world on Monday, not with a changed mind and heart, but a stubborn determination to keep on trying to make greed work.

Perhaps like John Muir, we would do well to contemplate a tree - "I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

More Thoughts about Social Justice and Faith

Written for the August, 2013, church newsletter:

Dear Friends,

An extraordinary event is coming up for the Eggebeens - a reunion of a group of pastors with whom Donna and I began our life in the PCUSA. For all of us, it was our first time in ministry - we were all young, and all fresh out of seminary, and now we're all retired, at the end of our separate journeys, yet out time together in the West Virginia Mountain Project shaped us for the rest of our lives.

With one of the couples, we've been fortunate to stay in touch; with the other two, only marginally. But we're all getting together this September in San Jose where one of the couples live. The other two couples are traveling respectively from Pennsylvania and Virginia. 

We're writing reflection papers, and here's something I recently wrote:

Ever since my first pastorate (1970-71) in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia, I realized that Christianity and justice belong together, that Christianity has the wherewithal to deal with economic questions and the power to challenge the powers-that-be. 

Yet, I also learned, that American Christianity, under the Reformation notion of "salvation for eternal life," has been used to quiet people's unrest in the present order by offering them a sop for some future joy.

For those who lived in the powerful regions of the nation, with large homes and shiny cars, enjoying fine choirs and eloquent preachers, this was a convenient kind of Christianity. They, too, would be going to heaven, but, in the meantime, they were at liberty to enjoy the fruits of their labors - that such fruit was plucked out of the mouths of babes and out of the hands of sweat-drenched workers was of no account to them. Perhaps this is what God ordained.

These experience and observations have been the energy of my theology and sociology throughout my ministry. A Christianity that has the power to do something and chooses not to, opting for some sort of "inner peace with eternal hope" is no Christianity at all. And it's no wonder that most of the Western World, where this kind of Christianity has had the greatest influence, is rejecting it. And it can't happen soon enough.

With that, here are some further reflections: I have spent my entire ministry trying to put one-and-one together - social justice and faith in Jesus. 

Even in seminary days, I recall thinking: strong faith in Jesus equals strong social justice; they walk hand-in-hand with one another. 

To separate them does several damaging things: 1) though social justice can stand on its own - we all know what's right, and what fair means - nonetheless, without a faith-foundation of some kind, social justice can lose its bearings and its energy, though social justice without faith fares a whole lot better than faith without social justice. 2) Faith without social justice is no faith at all, but only Marx's "opiate of the people," mostly used by the comfortable to insulate themselves from reality, and to "calm the rabble," lest they demand from the comfortable their fair share.

No doubt, social justice doesn't need faith to survive, and God be praised for that. God sees to it that social justice can stand on it's own (though I believe social justice without faith is like song lyrics without the music). And if someone asks me, "What kind of faith" I reply, "Just about anything that has a transcendent dimension to it - that of a scientist in awe before the universe or a child's prayer before bedtime, and it's to be found, as well, in all the religions of the world."

As for faith, God designed faith in such a way that it needs social justice to be faith, and without social justice, God sees to it that faith becomes deeply twisted and malignant. Sadly, it creates terrible conditions for those who practice faith without social justice, and does great harm to those who are the objects of faith-preaching without social justice.

Of this kind of Christianity, God is cleansing the world, I believe. The demise of Western Christendom is very much the result of God's housecleaning.

I eagerly anticipate our reunion and hearing from my colleagues their stories of faith, hope and love.

Pastor Tom 

Monday, July 15, 2013

A White-Bread Boy

A White-Bread Boy, that’s what I am … to the core, pure, plain and simple.

Mom was of German ancestry, her family arriving here in 1848.

Dad was of Dutch stock, his family arriving here in the 1890s.

And we were racist to the core … deeply religious, too. We all loved Jesus, went to evangelical Reformed Churches, served the LORD and abided in God’s word … and racist to the core.

That’s how I grew up.

In Wisconsin and Western Michigan … I’ll not rehearse the ugliness of it all, but ugly it was, and I was pretty damn ugly, too, as were all my high school and church friends - the whole white environment, establishment, and their world of Christian Schools and Churches, filled to the brim, Sunday morning and Sunday evening, with Wednesday evening catechism and prayer meetings. Not a person of color to be found anywhere, except in missionary tales of Deepest Darkest Africa. Everyone was pious, and when I was 15 or 16, I bought me a big ol’ Thompson Chain Reference Bible, King James, of course, and in that Bible, I could find a verse for everything, but especially for proving how right everyone was, and I carried it to church, too. I was into god, and, yes, God was into me, too … in ways I would only much later discern, and for that, I’m grateful. That this innocent/guilty White-Bread Racist Boy was still the object of God’s mercy.

To make a long story a little shorter, it was in college, Calvin College, that I was converted. With everlasting thanks, I note two professors in particular who opened my mind and my heart: Professor Roger Rice, Sociologist, who had us read Michael Harrington’s The Other America. And Professor Donald Wilson, Anthropologist, who told chilling stories of missionary zeal and cultural abuse. To this day, I recall both professors, and give thanks for my conversion to a gospel that I had “known” all of my life, and with hymns, sung and fine doctrinal preaching; but, now, for the first time in my life, I saw a larger world, and the folly of my faith, the harm it’s done and the callous manner in which it sided with the racist patterns of America.

Maybe I’m alone in this - the way I raised, with plenty of religion and plenty of racism - and finally, by the grace of God, beginning to figure it out: that religion and racism do not belong together, and where there is racism, the professed faith is more an illusion than a reality, more about heaven, of course, and so little about this world, other than avoiding its taint, doing what could be done to convert lost souls and persevering to the end. Meanwhile, it’s okay to fear and hate your neighbor, if they’re persons of color, because they’ll come into the neighborhood, and there goes the neighborhood. And if met on the street, be careful - they’re all dangerous.

I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’m still learning. 

When I was in Detroit, I learned that in the postal system there, well up into the 80s, white supervisors routinely assisted white applicants with the testing, even adjusting scores, while making it virtually impossible for African-Americans to enter the system.

Never once in my whole life have I been humiliated because of my color. Never once. Never once have I been denied anything because of color. Never once.

I now have African-American relatives, and I’ve learned a few things from them.

It’s not a pretty picture, and there’s no end to the humiliation they’ve experienced - centuries of it, to this very day.

Perhaps the Trayvon Martin jury decided correctly - it was just too difficult to prove, either second-degree murder or manslaughter.

But for many African-Americans, it’s just one more humiliation, one more moment in a long and sad history of discrimination - the failure of virtually every system in America - schools, churches and courts.

I was a racist, and though much of it has been removed from my life, the stains remain on my soul and in my memories - stains that can’t be removed, and that’s all right, because then I can never claim innocence. 

So I know racism, because shreds of it still flow around the dark edges of my spirit and mind. I hate it, but that’s the way it is. It’s my reality, and if there’s grace in this world, it can operate only in my reality. Grace, thankfully, doesn’t need a clean environment in which to do its work. Though grace cleanses, not even grace can remove the stains of the past.

So I know racism when I see it in others, because I know it so well in my own life.

The racist looks at the Trayvon Martin story and says, “Justice was done.” That’s that, and like Lady MacBeth, simply washes her hands, endlessly.

But I look at it and say, “It’s one more sad chapter in a story of unrelenting sorrow and humiliation.”

I cannot pretend this kind of hurt isn’t real. It is real, all too real, for millions of people.

I will not close my eyes to the sorrow of others, and though the jury may have rightly ruled, though I think not, many in our nation see this as one more episode of justice denied, a moment filled with all the usual suspects of hoodies, black teens, white women frightened, racist males acting tough with a gun in their hand, nonchalant police and courtrooms where defending white honor is more important than the truth.

That’s how I see it.

And don’t anyone tell me I don’t know what racism is.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Post-Trial Statement - Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hawthorne, CA

Sunday, July 14, 2013 … a statement - Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hawthorne, CA

My heart is troubled.

I am deeply disappointed with George Zimmerman’s acquittal … I believe he was guilty of manslaughter … he provoked the encounter with Trayvon Martin when advised to stand down. Then, in the fight, with Trayvon getting the upper hand, George Zimmerman used his gun to kill the boy.

That’s how I see it!

I know that some feel justice was done.

I know that others feel betrayed by a legal system that has far too often revealed its tragic weaknesses.

While we live in a land of laws, however noble and good those laws may be on a piece of paper, they are good only when interpreted by good people who strive for the common good and not just their own good … and those laws, however noble, are noble only when noble people put them into practice, consistently for all.

There are many questions here that Christians need to ponder … the last thing God needs from us is to retreat from reality, to hide in our prayers and songs. We have to live in this world, as it is, if we hope to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

No one lights a lamp, said Jesus, and then covers it with a bushel. No, the lamp is lit for a purpose - to let our light shine, that others will see our good works and praise our Father in heaven.

A part of our good works is to bring to the matters of life our very best in faith, hope and love, critical thought and keen assessment … and to live the LORD’s Prayer, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

If we are convinced that God’s will was done yesterday, then so be it. Be at peace.

As for me, I believe the legal system failed God’s will yesterday in Florida, as it has failed for millions of people in this nation - and sadly, it’s has failed miserably for people of color. That’s a fact, and we cannot and must not hide from the truth, ugly as it is.

I pray that calm heads will review these matters, and that Christians will raise up the bright light of justice … and seek the common good … for all Americans, whatever their color, whatever their race, whatever their religious persuasion.

Christians have a chance to set the pace, and hold before the world something better.

May it be so … unto the glory of God!

The Rev. Dr. Tom Eggebeen

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Reality, Greed and Gordon Gecko

I write the following out of my own Christian convictions and Presbyterian history - there is no such thing as "earned" wealth - there is no such thing as "hard work" that elevates one over another; there is no such thing, as I often hear, "The harder I work, the luckier I am."

I heard that once years ago from a successful businessman - I knew then that something was wrong about it, because at the very center of it stood the singular word, "I".

In simple terms: behind all success stands the mysteries of life, stuff we didn't invent, and stuff that mostly manipulates us, for whatever reasons there may be - either of divine purpose, genetic impulse or evolutionary drift.

Behind all success stands, then, a long line of free lunches, gifts from life to us.

The "hard work" touted by some as their own is an illusion of the worst kind. Their values and their health come from beyond themselves. Ask someone who's ill about "hard work." Any attempt to lay personal claim, on any of this, leads only to bragging and pride, and we all know what that does to the core of our being.

Behind all success, the simple mysteries: the family we didn't choose, the values of faith, hope and love, that were given. The schools we attended, and the teachers who believed in us even when we didn't believe in ourselves.

The banker who gave us a loan when no one else would. All along the way, folks who stood by us, helped us, and encouraged us, and a God who made it all possible, who wove it all together that we might find life and do something with it.

I know there are lots of "theological" questions swirling around this right now, but I'm content to speak of "telos," that is, the purpose toward which all life reaches, and it's always greater than the individual, or even a society.

The upshot of this is simple: there is but one response to life - and that's gratitude, and it's sibling, generosity.

Sin creates the Gordon Gecko syndrome. Reality creates kindness. Sadly, Gordon Gecko won the last 30 years of American History: "Greed works."

But it doesn't. It divides one from the other and posits in the soul of the successful unmitigated pride which is deadly to the soul, and nothing deader than a successful person who has consumed large quantities of pride, even when that pride is dressed up in religious language and Jesus-talk - some of the very worst examples of souls deadened with pride.

I return to something I wrote a few days back: "A wealthy person, a successful person, can only say one thing, 'I've been damn lucky!'" To say anything else, as if they had a hand in it, is a lie, an illusion, a deadly sin.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The World of the Anti-Abortionist

For those who oppose abortion, there is no greater evil!

No greater wrong.

And none more loathsome than those who perform abortions and those who support them.

From podium and pulpit and print, they hear and live a constant message: God hates abortion, the willful termination of life before birth; there is no greater violation of God's will and purpose than abortion, and no greater sinner than those who do the deed and those who are their political and religious accomplices.

Roe v. Wade is the greatest cause of America's downfall. Until such time as this great evil is cancelled, America's downturn will continue, and God's curse upon us will intensify.

And so on and so forth.

I appreciate the intensity of their faith and the power of the message.

No less so than my own faith and the power of the message I hear every day in my part of the world.

The purpose of this essay is not to analyze, but to respect the intensity of the anti-abortionist ... respect it for what it's worth - and it's not without worth. Commitment and energy are never without worth.

Sadly, it's nearly impossible for people of such opposing points of view to ever share a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Rarely, do people of such divergent opinions have a chance to share with one another, not only their respective views, which are pretty much on the surface of things, but the deeper stuff, the inner motives and fears, what Jung might have termed, "the shadow" within all of us. Why we respond to life as we do - with love and anger, hope and despair, welcome and rejection.

Why is it that we stand firm on some principles and loose on others?

Believe in some things and then let other things go?

What we seek in life, and what we ignore?

What we treasure and what we discard?

It's not easy to see ourselves and why we respond as we do.

It's mostly how we were reared (nurture), but I think DNA (nature) plays a decisive role, too.

Hard to see it all, and it takes work.

As I contemplate those with whom I seriously disagree, I have to constantly face myself, so that I remain centered in my life's task and the values I cherish. Constantly questioning myself, but not losing myself in the questions, lest I become bogged down and fail to act.

I am what I am in terms of what I cherish and believe. But those very things are best served with self-awareness and caution.

While I might be tempted to discredit those with whom I disagree, it would be a mistake to ignore their humanness - their loneliness and their fears, their nagging sense of time passing and the coming of death, the loss of hope that all experience at varying times in the journey, the quest for meaning and the power of religious communities to convey wholeness and strength.

Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.

I forget that sometimes ... I forget the humanness of those with whom I disagree, or those whom I find disagreeable to me ... and I forget my own humanness, too - my unfinished work, my fears and weaknesses, the junk floating around in my spirit.

Yes, of course, to appreciate and regard well my gifts, and they are many and varied - but the work of integration is never done, and there's a great deal remaining.

For me.

For others.

For all.

The struggle will continue ... Cain rises up against Abel ... and each of us, all of us, are both Cain and Abel within ourselves, and within society, alternating at times, being the one who destroys, and the one who is destroyed.

I suppose when Micah suggests that we walk humbly with God, this might be the piece that flows from the deep awareness of ourselves - a strange brew of so many voices and experiences and shadows. We are Abel and Cain, both.

We are called, so it seems, by the very nature of life, to make choices and take a stand, nonetheless. Life doesn't afford us endless time with which to ponder the eternal verities and gather further information before we choose, before we act.

So choose we do, and act we must. And why I should be in one place, and someone else in another, is, or course, a great mystery, demanding both gratitude for life and respect for the other, to recognize their humanity and their passion, and grant them what I would hope they could grant to me - respect and a listening ear, a willingness to consider thoughtfully their world.

And to engage in dialogue, as best we can, when those rare opportunities emerge.

And most importantly, while critiquing points of view and arguments, to refrain from vilifying and never to lose sight of the humanness, the vulnerability, we all share.

Yes, I know - I've not resolved anything in the above essay. But I've pondered some things that seem important to me, and maybe to you, too.

And maybe I have a grown a wee bit more ...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Clay Feet of Big Biz

America has got to stop worshipping at the clay feet of Big Biz - what we need in government are philosophers, thinkers, historians - women and men who can think through the big questions with more than a care for the bottom line and how to enhance the wealth of the all-ready wealthy; who can bring to bear on today's issues the wisdom of the years, the centuries.

We don't need the corporate-jet mentality; we need minds enthralled with justice, hearts driven by compassion, women and men trained to think critically, comprehensively, generously. Who truly know the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, legislative history and Supreme Court decisions.

For me, the minds of business, these days, if not always, are way to small to govern a good nation; way to small to comprehend the glory of America and its democratic experiment.

We have in Obama a fine mind, the kind of mind we need to lead, and we need to surround him with women and men of equal vision and mindfulness, with the courage to tell the truth about the American Dream and lead us to better days, for all the people.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The War-Gods Were Pleased

A memorial service for a Korean War Veteran yesterday ... before "my" part of the service, a simple military rite at the mortuary, with the folding of the flag and presentation to the widow by two young soldiers dressed well in honor-guard uniform, smart and polished, and gentle.

At the gravesite later in the day, Veterans of Foreign Wars, older men, and one woman who had been a nurse in Vietnam, with a 3-gun salute, so very loud, the crisp sound of empty brass hitting ground-level tombstones; there was another folding of the flag, with readings, this time. The readings were eloquent, poetic - full of god-talk, honor and glory, with a constant refrain, "Freedom isn't free." The man who read read thoughtfully, a veteran of WW2 and Korea - with a kindly demeanor, and he walked with a slight limp; I'm sure he was someone's grampa, a good grampa, I'm sure.

I stood by the mausoleum, uneasy in spirit.

I felt the pleasure of the gods of war, standing tall, front and center, arms sternly folded ... and the Prince of Peace, killed by the gods of war, and the gods of religion, too, wept quietly off to the side.

Nothing new with any of this ... nations have, for centuries, forever, since Lamech killed a man for wounding him (Genesis 4), been falling down at the feet of the war-gods ... wanting desperately to make war glorious, and, of course, always right. "My country, right or wrong," it was noted during the readings.

The man buried yesterday was a good and fine man, who loved his family and gave this world some very good things.

When he went to Korea, he went as all soldiers do, I'm sure, and for 11 months, he was a mail courier, winning a Purple Heart for being shrapnel-wounded.

He was proud of his service, and his family was proud of him.

But I'm uneasy about the deceptions nations spin about war. The terrible lies we tell about the glories of war and the honors of death for god and country.

I cannot fault him for his time in the army, not can I fault the two young men of the Honor Guard nor the old and tottering Veterans of Foreign Wars.

But humankind, all nations, love war ... we really do. It's in our collective DNA ... it's our fatal flaw, this blind loyalty to tribe and land ... and our willingness to close our eyes and ears and dream dreams of glory, even as we send our youth off to be cannon fodder.

I find in poetry, however, truth-telling - with so many of startling poems coming out of Britain during World War 1, when Britain suffered serious reversals, all blanked out by the home-town newspapers, and nearly a million deaths - an entire generation of young men wiped out in the muddy trenches of France.

Here's a poem with truth-telling:

Joining The Colours
THERE they go marching all in step so gay!
Smooth-cheeked and golden, food for shells and guns.
Blithely they go as to a wedding day,
The mothers' sons.

The drab street stares to see them row on row
On the high tram-tops, singing like the lark.
Too careless-gay for courage, singing they go
Into the dark.

With tin whistles, mouth-organs, any noise,
They pipe the way to glory and the grave;
Foolish and young, the gay and golden boys
Love cannot save.

High heart! High courage! The poor girls they kissed
Run with them : they shall kiss no more, alas!
Out of the mist they stepped-into the mist
Singing they pass. 
Katharine Tynan, 1914
Katharine Tynan

Monday, March 25, 2013

No Sweet Deal

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Sugar, not fat, exposed as deadly villain in obesity epidemic

It's addictive and toxic, like a drug, and we need to wean ourselves off it, says US doctor

Recipes for a dozen low-sugar treats
sugar obesity
Dr Robert Lustig's book Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar has caused a backlash from the food industry, which, he says, wants to 'paint me as this zealot'. Photograph: Alamy
Sugar – given to children by adults, lacing our breakfast cereals and a major part of our fizzy drinks – is the real villain in the obesity epidemic, and not fat as people used to think, according to a leading US doctor who is taking on governments and the food industry.
Dr Robert Lustig, who was this month in London and Oxford for a series of talks about his research, likens sugar to controlled drugs. Cocaine and heroin are deadly because they are addictive and toxic – and so is sugar, he says. "We need to wean ourselves off. We need to de-sweeten our lives. We need to make sugar a treat, not a diet staple," he said.
"The food industry has made it into a diet staple because they know when they do you buy more. This is their hook. If some unscrupulous cereal manufacturer went out and laced your breakfast cereal with morphine to get you to buy more, what would you think of that? They do it with sugar instead."
Lustig's book, Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar has made waves in America and has now been published in the UK by 4th Estate. As a paediatrician who specialises in treating overweight children in San Francisco, he has spent 16 years studying the effects of sugar on the central nervous system, metabolism and disease. His conclusion is that the rivers of Coca-Cola and Pepsi consumed by young people today have as much to do with obesity as the mountains of burgers.
That does not mean burgers are OK. "The play I'm making is not sugar per se, the play I'm making is insulin," he says. Foodstuffs that raise insulin levels in the body too high are the problem. He blames insulin for 75% to 80% of all obesity. Insulin is the hormone, he says, which causes energy to be stored in fat cells. Sugar energy is the most egregious of those, but there are three other categories: trans fats (which are on the way out), alcohol (which children do not drink) and dietary amino acids.
These amino acids are found in corn-fed American beef. "In grass-fed beef, like in Argentina, there are no problems," he said. "And that's why the Argentinians are doing fine. The Argentinians have a meat-based diet … I love their meat. It is red, it's not marbled, it's a little tougher to cut but it's very tasty. And it's grass-fed. That's what cows are supposed to eat – grass.
"We [in the US] feed them corn and the reason is twofold – one, we don't have enough land and, two, when you feed them corn they fatten up. It usually takes 18 months to get a cow from birth to slaughter. Today it takes six weeks and you get all that marbling in the meat. That's muscle insulin resistance. That animal has the same disease we do, it's just that we slaughter them before they get sick."
But his bigger message is that cheap sugar is endangering lives. It has been added to your diet, "kids have access" to it, and it is there in all sorts of foods that don't need it, he says. When high-fat foods were blamed for making us overweight, manufacturers tumbled over each other to produce low-fat products. But to make them palatable, they added sugar, causing much greater problems.
Cutting calories is not the answer because "a calorie is not a calorie". The effect of a calorie in sugar is different from the effect of a calorie in lean grass-fed beef. And added sugar is often disguised in food labelling under carbohydrates and myriad different names, from glucose to diastatic malt and dextrose. Fructose – contained in many different types of sugar – is the biggest problem, and high-fructose corn syrup, used extensively by food manufacturers in the US, is the main source of it.
Lustig says he has been under attack from the food industry, but claims they have not managed to fault the science. "The food industry wants to misinterpret because they want to discredit me. They want to paint me as this zealot. They want to paint me as somebody who doesn't have the science. But we do," he says.
Evidence of dietary effects on the body is very hard to collect. People habitually lie in food diaries or forget what they ate. Randomised controlled trials are impossible because everyone reverts to a more normal eating pattern after a couple of months. But his sugar argument is more than hypothesis, he says, citing a recent study in the open journal Plos One, of which he was one of the authors. It found that in countries where people had greater access to sugar, there were higher levels of diabetes. Rates of diabetes went up by about 1.1% for every 150 kcal of sugar available for each person each day – about the amount in a can of Coke. Critics argued sugar availability was not the same as sugar consumed, but Lustig and his colleagues say it is the closest approximation they could get.
That study was aimed at the World Health Organisation although he believes it is a conflicted organisation.
But so is the US government, he says. "Government has tied its wagon to the food industry because, at least in America, 6% of our exports are food. That includes the legislative and executive branches. So the White House is in bed with the food industry and Congress apologises for the food industry."
Michelle Obama appeared to be onside when she launched her Let's Move initiative in February 2010 with a speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America. "She took it straight to them and said, 'You're the problem. You're the solution.' She hasn't said it since. Now it's all about exercise.
"Far be it from me to bad-mouth somebody who wants to do the right thing. But I'm telling you right now she's been muzzled. No question of it." In his book he tells of a private conversation with the White House chef, who he claims told him the administration agreed with him but did not want a fight with the food industry.
Some areas of the food industry have appeared to be willing to change. PepsiCo's chief executive officer, Indra Nooyi, who is from India which has a serious diabetes epidemic, has been trying to steer the company towards healthier products. But it has lost money and she is said to be having problems with the board. "So here's a woman who is trying to do the right thing and can't," he says.
Court action may be the way to go, he says, suggesting challenging the safety of fructose added to food, and food labelling that fails to tell you what has been added and what has been taken out. Fruit juice is not so healthy, he says, because all the fibre that allows the natural sugars to be processed without being stored as fat has been removed. Eat the fruit, he says, don't drink the juice. Lustig is taking a master's at the University of California Hastings college of law, in order to be a better expert witness and strategist.
It is not a case of eradicating sugar from the diet, just getting it down to levels that are not toxic, he says. The American Heart Association in 2009 published a statement, of which Lustig was a co-author, saying Americans consumed 22 teaspoons of it a day. That needs to come down to six for women and nine for men.
"That's a reduction by two thirds to three quarters. Is that zero? No. But that's a big reduction. That gets us below our toxic threshold. Our livers have a capacity to metabolise some fructose, they just can't metabolise the glut that we've been exposed to by the food industry. And so the goal is to get sugar out of foods that don't need it, like salad dressing, like bread, like barbecue sauce." There is a simple way to do it. "Eat real food."
Does he keep off the sweet stuff himself? "As much as I can. I don't go out of my way. It finds me but I don't find it. Caffeine on the other hand …"

Lustig's food advice 

• Oranges. Eat the fruit, don't drink the juice. Fruit juice in cartons has had all the fibre squeezed out of it, making its sugars more dangerous.
• Beef. Beef from grass-fed cattle as in Argentina is fine, but not from corn-fed cattle as in the US.
• Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other sweetened beverages. These deliver sugar but with no nutritional added value. Water and milk are the best drinks, especially for children.
• Bread. Watch out for added sugar in foods where you would not expect it.
• Alcohol. Just like sugar, it pushes up the body's insulin levels, which tells the liver to store energy in fat cells. Alcohol is a recognised cause of fatty liver disease.
• Home-baked cookies and cakes. If you must eat them, bake them yourself with one third less sugar than the recipe says. Lustig says they even taste better that way.

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