Freddy won’t put down his pistol; He likes the way it feels; He likes the power that it gives him; Power that feels real. He likes to look down at his hand and feel the cold blue steel. (“Loretta’s Ballad,” Doug & Telisha Williams, from “Ghost of the Knoxville Girl,” No Evil Records, 2009.)
Beyond the stats, beyond the grief, beyond the finger-pointing, beyond the “culture wars” lies the solution to eleven thousand deaths by gunfire per year in the United States; nineteen mass shootings during the Obama presidency, not counting the back-to-back killings of people in groups of twelve, first at the Navy Yard complex in Washington, D.C. followed a few days later by a massacre in a Chicago park. As Bob Dylan wrote in 1962 about peace, war, and freedom, “how many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?” In a secular society, where premodern, ancestral scriptures are misunderstood and ignored, Dylan’s questions are prophetic: Continue reading Guns, Fear, and Power
To the Editor
The Journal, Martinsburg, West Virginia
Re: “Red Flags: Health is not a concern for pro-choice advocates” Sunday September 8, 2013
Your header is certainly a red flag – voices of moderation need not apply. It is time for folks on both sides of the abortion wars to cut the inflammatory words and look at facts – not “your facts” or “my facts,” but facts – as in verifiable information.
Perhaps the writer of this editorial made the same mistake I did when I first learned of Attorney General Morrisey’s demand that abortion clinics conform to licensing and inspections and state medical oversight. Delegate Skinner (D-Jefferson) also weighed in with a similar-sounding demand. But Delegate Skinner is investigating “crisis pregnancy centers.” Crisis pregnancy centers provide no medical procedures, and are neither licensed nor regulated by the state medical board. Women’s health clinics that provide abortions (of which there are two in West Virginia: The Women’s Health Center and Kanawha Surgicenter) are not the same as non-licensed, non-regulated “crisis pregnancy centers.” So we are not talking here about licensed, regulated, medical clinics providing medical procedures – including abortions – to women. We are talking about unlicensed, counseling centers providing information.
“Pro-choice advocates” are indeed well beyond merely being “concerned” about women’s access to affordable, safe, medically-supervised and licensed health care. We are genuinely alarmed at the misinformation that endangers women’s health at all levels – not just abortion, but safe, affordable birth control, and other health care needs such as mamograms, ovarian cancer screenings, well-woman care, and – yes – live, healthy, full-term births. We are also deeply involved in the continuing dialogue about supporting children after they are born with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education.
Throwing your “red flag” in the face of reasonable people in West Virginia – conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, independent and libertarian – is not helpful. Was this an honest mistake? If so, the Journal staff should pay more attention to the gathering of facts before publishing opinion. If not, if the editorial was a deliberate act of misinformation, then the Journal has betrayed the public trust.
Genesis 4:1-16; Romans 2:1-24, 12:14-21; Mark 3:31-35
John Dominic Crossan defines the Bible as the story of humanity’s continuing struggle to beat God. From Genesis to Revelation, God constantly lays out what the covenantal rules are and what the consequences will be for not keeping our side of the bargain. “Constantly” is the definitive adverb here. God is nothing if not “constant,” keeping God’s part as the rain continues to fall (or not) on the just and unjust and gravity maintains its hold on solar and planetary systems. The party that “constantly” cheats, equivocates, and outright ignores the rules is us. Continue reading Syria, Obama, and the Mark of Cain
Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won.Many stones can form an arch; singly none, singly none. And by union what we will can be accomplished still: Drops of water turn a mill; singly none singly none.
In Where Have All the Flowers Gone? A Singer’s Stories Songs Seeds & Robberies Pete Seeger reports that the words to this iconic union anthem were printed in the preamble to the constitution of an early coal miner’s union. In 1948, Pete set the words to an Irish tune from the 1840s, “The Praties they grow small.” Looking back over the past 50 years to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (“The Great March on Washington”) while progress seems to have been made, for 245 years (716 if we start with Magna Carta in 1297) the struggle for human rights – meaning equality under the law, and access to food, clothing, shelter, and education for all – has been raging, and shows no signs of abating any time soon.
★ The earliest recorded labor strike in the Americas occurred in 1768 when New York journeymen tailors protested a wage reduction.
★ The formation of the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers (shoemakers) in Philadelphia in 1794 marks the beginning of sustained trade union organization among American workers.
★ President Andrew Johnson formally declared the end of the U.S. Civil War on August 20, 1866.
★ The 14th Amendment was adopted July 9, 1868. The Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction, and was the grounds for the Supreme Court 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
★ The 15th Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
★ The 19th Amendment, ratified August 18, 1920, prohibits any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.
★ The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly December 10, 1948 (never ratified by the United States Congress).
★ The Civil Rights Act of 1964, enacted July 2, 1964, outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women; ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace, and by facilities that served the general public (“public accommodations”).
★ Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law by President Johnson August 6, 1965.
★ In Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), decided simultaneously with a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting prenatal life and protecting women’s health. Arguing that these state interests became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the trimester of pregnancy. The Court later rejected Roe’s trimester framework, while affirming Roe’s central holding that a person has a right to abortion until viability. The Roe decision defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid,” adding that viability “is usually placed at about 7 months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”
States’ rights vs. federal power has been the struggle in the United States since the debate over the Constitution in 1775. Today instead of marching to Washington for federal redress of grievances, the battle must be joined state-by-state because all possible versions of what constitutes the public good are under siege by state legislatures: women’s reproductive justice; the right of all people to vote in free and fair elections without jerrymandering; fair wages; safe working conditions; affordable housing; affordable health care; sustainable energy policy; distributive economics; restorative justice (distributive justice-compassion); access to public education; public safety (including international political issues as well as global climate change).
The list is eye-glazingly long. Nevertheless, your careful attention to the specific items on the list that you want to impact is needed now. So pick one. And above all, get your ID, Register, and Vote in 2014.
State by State the longest list can be done, can be done. The hardest cases can be won, can be won. With coalition what we will can be accomplished still. The Arc toward justice in concert builds – singly none, singly none.
A Google search for “Zealot Aslan” reveals 2,350,000 results in less than 35 seconds. Page two contains a run-down of the many scholars who either hate the book or shrug it off. Personally, I read it because I was gratified by Dr. Aslan’s skewering of Fox News reporter Lauren Green, who tried and failed to re-ignite the crusades of the 14th century by questioning Aslan’s motives for writing the book in the first place: Why would a Muslim care about who Jesus might have been, and how dare that person presume to be an expert?
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a professional scholar of religion. I never went to seminary; I don’t have a teaching post at any institute of higher learning. However – much like Dr. Aslan – I do have an academic Doctor of Ministry in Creation Spirituality, from the former University of Creation Spirituality, founded by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox. I have pursued an independent study of the work of Karen Armstrong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and John Shelby Spong – among others. I am an Associate of the Westar Institute (home of the Jesus Seminar); See, e.g., my commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary: Vol I The Year of Luke now available on Amazon.com; Volume II, the Year of Matthew, available September 1, 2013.
So I can do theology with the big boys. But a writer without real scholarly portfolio who wants to be taken seriously has to comply with some academic standards. First, s/he must document the way along whatever path s/he wishes to follow. However, documentation is not proof-texting – and proof-texting (cherry-picking quotations out of context) is what Dr. Aslan engages in throughout, despite his claim to the contrary. His innovative presentation of scholarly argument without footnote references to specific text, which constitutes the second half of the book, would never pass a dissertation committee worth its salt. Perhaps he thinks that most folks won’t bother to read the notes, because of his riveting, highly creative, story-telling.
A second academic requirement, if a non-professional scholar is going to engage in serious debate, is to lay out the opposing argument, then refute it. But as Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California, writes in his review of Aslan’s book: “Reza Aslan runs the argument off its rails.” The Westar Institute’s Jesus Seminar (and other projects – specifically on the Apostle Paul, Luke-Acts, and the origins of Christianity) has been the “industry standard” since 1985. Yet, Aslan ignores it all except for a brief, sneering reference to The Five Gospels (“And of course there are those scholars who reject nearly all of the Son of Man sayings as inauthentic” notes p. 254); and brief mention of John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. In clear opposition to Aslan’s thesis, Crossan has shown that Jesus taught a nonviolent, subtle, yet highly subversive day-by-day shift in the paradigm from violent imperial injustice to nonviolent distributive justice-compassion. Aslan shamelessly uses Crossan’s work out of context to bolster his own idea that Jesus was engaged in a violent attempt to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an equally violent and unjust political “kingdom of God” in its place.
A third pitfall for wanna-bee Biblical scholars – and indeed for anyone engaged in research, whether scientific or academic – is to assume that we are free of the influence of our own time, place, and circumstances. Dr. Aslan says he accepted conservative, evangelical Christian teaching and theology at age 15, then returned to his native Islam as an adult. “[T]he sudden realization that . . . the Bible is replete with the most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions . . . left me confused and spiritually unmoored . .. I angrily discarded my faith as if it were a costly forgery I had been duped into buying” (Author’s Note p. xix). Unfortunately, that same anger at this “costly forgery” laid the groundwork for Aslan’s violent Zealot. He at once relies on the supposed historicity of the (late first-century) synoptic Gospels while dismissing them as self-serving fiction, and claims the much later Gospel of John as definitive, even though “As with everything else in the gospels . . . factual accuracy was irrelevant” (p. 154).
Then there is Paul. The Apostle Paul is both praised and blamed by Biblical scholars (including Westar Institute scholars) for the existence of world-wide, orthodox Christianity today. I wonder why Aslan would spend so much time attacking Paul and attempting to set up Jesus’s brother James as the true inheritor of Jesus’s supposed failed, violent “kingdom.” James the Just was most interested in defending the poor and defenseless, according to Aslan. How James managed to develop that spirituality as opposed to his brother Jesus’s purported blood lust is also a question that Aslan does not consider. Are we to infer that the wrong son of a tekton was credited with the nonviolent “preferential option for the poor” that has managed to survive church politics for two thousand years?
The Book of Acts is not history remembered; it is a continuation of Luke’s novel of the life and teachings of Jesus, post-Easter – as any seminary student will tell you (let alone a simple scan of any Bible’s explanatory notes), and Aslan himself acknowledges. Nevertheless, Aslan accepts Luke’s opinions over Paul’s own letters. Why a scholar would throw out someone’s personal correspondence because the life that correspondence reveals contradicts accepted tradition boggles the mind. Worse, Aslan gives equal weight to all the letters attributed to Paul, whether authentically his or not. Probably because of his own bias against Westar Institute scholarship, Aslan ignores John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed’s In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom (Harper San Francisco, 2004); Richard I. Pervo’s The Mystery of Acts (Polebridge Press 2008); and The Authentic Letters of Paul – A New Reading of Paul’s Rhetoric and Meaning (by Lane McGaughy, Daryl D. Schmidt, Roy W. Hoover, and Arthur J. Dewey, Polebridge 2011). But serious consideration of these carefully researched studies would have scuttled the second half of Aslan’s book, thereby reducing it to a curious pamphlet – which would have attracted little attention, even from Fox News.
Aslan needs to rethink his dissertation. Grade: Incomplete.
The Year of Luke (Theology from Exile: Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary for an Emerging Christianity)
The Year of Luke is the first in a series of commentaries on biblical scripture found in the three-year cycle of Christian liturgical readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. Instead of interpreting these readings as a precursor of messianic salvation from Hell, culminating in the exclusive Body of Christ and the imperial violence of the Church Triumphant, postmodern exiles from the premodern orthodoxy of the Christian church can begin to realize the radicality in Jesus’ original message, and join the struggle to find the courage to live it out in Covenant, non-violence, justice-compassion, and the deep peace that passes all understanding.
Here is what Arthur J. Dewey, New Testament scholar and specialist on the historical Jesus, says about The Year of Luke:
“I appreciate your use of recent critical works (especially the Jesus Seminar entries and the work of Crossan, as well as the Authentic Letters of Paul, and even my commentary). You get a lot out of them. Your use of ‘the kenotic’ theme is well done. I also like very much that you see that some texts can correct or at least unbalance others, especially when a text from the Hebrew Scriptures liberates a NT text. Good work!
I do wish many pastors and preachers would sit down with your words and wisdom.”
Preview excerpts from The Year of Luke here. Full Kindle version available here.
The kindle edition of Year of Luke has been taken offline due to publication errors. For a preview, feel free to visit Highlights from Year C.
The Year of Luke — now available on Kindle — is the first in a series of commentaries on biblical scripture found in the three-year cycle of Christian liturgical readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. Instead of interpreting these readings as a precursor of messianic salvation from Hell, culminating in the exclusive Body of Christ and the imperial violence of the Church Triumphant, postmodern exiles from the premodern orthodoxy of the Christian church can begin to realize the radicality in Jesus’ original message, and join the struggle to find the courage to live it out in Covenant, non-violence, justice-compassion, and the deep peace that passes all understanding.
The project is grounded in the postmodern biblical scholarship of Karen Armstrong, Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and the Jesus Seminar, as well as the transforming work of Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, whose theology of Creation Spirituality has reclaimed Catholic mysticism for post-modern cosmology. Appendix One contains reimagined rituals of Holy Communion that reflect an invitation to commit to the ongoing salvation work of non-violent, distributive, justice-compassion. Appendix Two is a Bible study for Holy Week that explores in depth the meaning of kenosis.