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Posted by Fred Clark

The Trump administration today released a slap-dash, vague, one-page document on the subject of "Tax Reform." It offers little in the way of details, just a series of somewhat-connected bullet-points relating to this general theme. This is not a plan or a proposal, but a wish-list of the various -- and often contradictory -- ingredients that Trump's various advisers might want to see should such a plan or proposal ever get written. But, hey, if a loosely related series of bullet points is good enough for the White House, then it's good enough for me.
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Posted by Richard Beck

In these ruminations about empathy and the kingdom we've already tackled one sacred cow, the limits and problems associated with universalized empathy.

In this post I want to tackle a second sacred cow: Are Christians supposed to love the entire world?

Quick answer: Of course we are. The Golden Rule. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. And so on.

But that quick and obvious answer might need some nuancing. Throughout the NT Christians are called upon to love, but they are routinely instructed to concentrate their love on their Christian brothers and sisters. You clearly see that instruction at work in Galatians 6.10:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers
Do good to all people, but especially to the family of believers. 

As John Nugent points out in his book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church, one of the best kept secrets in the Bible--because it's so awkward--is how Christians are asked to focus their love on the church.

To make this point Nugent quotes the assessment of Gerhard Lohfink (emphases in original):
In view of contemporary Christian consciousness it comes as something of a shock to realize as an exegete that in the New Testament--if we abstract from Jesus' saying about love of enemy--interpersonal love almost without exception means love for one's brother in the faith, love of Christians for one another. There seems to be hardly anything else in the New Testament which is as intensively suppressed as this fact.
To illustrate this point Nugent then goes on in Endangered Gospel to list every text in the NT that commands us to love to show that, in just about every instance, the focus is upon loving each other in the church. A sampling of texts:
John 15:12-13
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Romans 12:9-10
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Ephesians 4:1-3
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Hebrews 6:10
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.

1 Peter 2:17
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

1 John 3:16-18
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 4:19-21
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
This bias for loving brothers and sisters runs through the whole New Testament. And we can appreciate why we don't like to talk about it very much. We are uncomfortable and even scandalized at the cliquish and insular nature of this sort of love. We're also worried about how this sort of distinction might become toxic, creating an in-group vs. out-group dynamic.

When Christians talk about love we mostly talk about a universal love, a love for everyone in the entire world. And no doubt we are called to love the world as God loves the world.

And yet, can we love the whole world sacrificially?  Is a universal love possible or sustainable?

And by "love" I don't mean affection, I mean the sacrificial, laying down your life for your friends sort of love. Behavioral love. Being there for each other, day in and day out, sharing our burdens. Covenantal love. Hesed love.

What I'm wondering about is this.

Might the work of the kingdom, as we've seen with empathy, require a smaller, more local and intimate scale, if it is to be practiced relationally, sustainably and sacrificially?

Yes, we love the entire world, but for love to be put into practice, for love to become a concrete and daily aspect of my life, love needs a specific, particular, local and intimate sphere of action.

Otherwise, love becomes abstract and emotional (rather than concrete and behavioral), diffuse or unsustainable.  

Wives and Daughters: On Ivanka Trump

Apr. 26th, 2017 09:13 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

This is actually a pattern I've noticed, of men who encourage their daughters or granddaughters to work and push and achieve, but want their wives to stay at home and serve them there. It's a double standard that in some sense centers on treating women as objects to serve them or give them status---their wives to wait on them at home, their daughters give them bragging rights through their success.Click through to read more!

I can’t forget the glamour

Apr. 25th, 2017 06:49 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Today is the centennial of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald, and thus a day worth celebrating. Also: The Temple of Knowledge; the trash-can-as-trash problem; literal navel-gazing with creationists; and Orrin Hatch refers to Native Americans as "far-left special interests."
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Posted by Dwight Lee Wolter

Although it has been happening for a long time, there are an increasing number of attacks on institutions, individuals, and houses of faith. Here are a few historic and current, general and personal examples: Fifty years ago, fifteen sticks of dynamite were detonated at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four African American [Read More...]

On Solving Racial Inequalities

Apr. 25th, 2017 12:21 pm
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Posted by Libby Anne

Consider the situation at the end of the Civil War. With few exceptions, freed slaves owned no land, had no formal education (most could not read), and had no wealth or assets. Even without further disadvantages, equality in land ownership, in education, and in assets would not have been immediate. Perhaps a sociologist or a data scientist could use data on movement within the population as a whole, in terms of land ownership, education, and assets, to calculate how long it would take such a population to reach parity with the general population.Click through to read more!
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Posted by Guest

I am a progressive Christian. I did not choose this, like selecting which kind of ice cream my wife is most in the mood for (as long as it has chocolate but no nuts, I am probably safe). It is probably more accurate to say I grew into it. I have always been a follower [Read More...]
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Posted by Guest

A majority of white Christians supported President Trump during the campaign, voted for him, and are in favor of many of his actions thus far, including his thwarted ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Unfortunately, that support sends a harsh message. The majority white Christian support for President Trump and his policies tells [Read More...]
[syndicated profile] experimentaltheology_feed

Posted by Richard Beck

Today I'll be joining the Academy of Parish Clergy for their annual conference to receive their award for Book of the Year for Reviving Old Scratch.

It's an honor to have a book you've written receive such a recognition. When you write a book you hope it speaks to people and into issues in ways that resonate and make a difference. Thank you to everyone who has read the book, plugged it on social media, and have used it for reading groups and bible classes. And Thank You to the Academy of Parish Clergy for recognizing Reviving Old Scratch.

Tonight at the APC awards ceremony I'm supposed to share some comments about the origins and goals of the book.

Per the title of the book, I came to the subject of the devil with lots of doubts and disenchantment. As a progressive social scientist I didn't have much room for the talk about the devil or demons. And yet, when I started sharing life on the margins of my town at Freedom Fellowship, where we reach out to the poor and homeless, and out at the prison, I began to bump into the devil on a regular basis. Suddenly, I was moving and living in a very enchanted world. And all my progressive social justice theology didn't have a lot to say about this enchantment, where the devil was real and active "prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (I Peter 5.8).

This disjoint was one of the reasons that lead me to write Reviving Old Scratch, a disjoint I'll name in my talk tonight as "the colonialism of disenchantment" or even "the Whiteness of disenchantment."

Disenchantment is WEIRD. And by that I mean that disenchantment (doubting the supernatural elements of faith) is largely found among Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic nations and peoples. Most Christians who are poor, non-White and in the Third World believe in the devil. Same goes for marginalized populations in the West, places like Freedom and the prison.

White, rich, educated Christians doubt the devil. Christians of color and the poor do not. Globally and here in America. This is why, for example, Pope Francis talks so much about the devil.

I wrote Reviving Old Scratch to make the devil less WEIRD and weird for progressive Christians.

Thank you so much to the APC for recognizing the value of this work for pastors, clergy and the church.
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Posted by Fred Clark

Brio is back. Focus on the Family is resurrecting its magazine targeting the teenage girls of white evangelicalism, because if anyone has his finger on the pulse of what’s hip and cool for teenagers, it’s long-time religious-right patriarch, spanking enthusiast, and proven false prophet James Dobson. Those who remember reading Brio back in the ’90s fall [Read More...]
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Posted by Christian Piatt

He’s been a halfwit brother co-parenting his mute younger sibling (Comedy Central’s BROTHERHOOD)  to a ladies’ man on with an…umm…awkward medical secret (Netflix’s LOVESICK). He’s the lead singer in the alt-folk group JOHNNY FLYNN AND THE SUSSEX WIT, and now he’s young Einstein along with Geoffrey Rush as his elder counterpart in GENIUS, Brian Grazer [Read More...]
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Posted by Guest

Dear Mr. O’Reilly, I will admit, as a liberal-leaning Christian woman, I was a tad bit gleeful when I heard you had lost your job at Fox News. It seemed like justice had finally stepped in and taken control; the righteous had finally won; David had finally wound up that sling-shot and slung that stone [Read More...]
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Posted by Libby Anne

News organizations should be giving readers the context and history of white supremacist messaging, making it clear where it comes from (and where it leads), not legitimizing white supremacism by acting as though whether it is actually harmful is a point for debate. Why not put these fliers in the context of, say, the activity of the Ku Klux Klan in Sarasota in the 1920s---or more recent white supremacist activity?Click through to read more!
[syndicated profile] experimentaltheology_feed

Posted by Richard Beck

I recently read Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church by John Nugent, a book that has gotten some attention on various blogs.

As you might surmise from the title, the central thesis of Nugent's book is that the church is endangering the gospel by trying to fix the world. That analysis might strike some of you as strange. Isn't the church supposed to save the world? Isn't the church trying to make the kingdom of God come to earth as it is in heaven?

Yes, Nugent answers, the church is trying to save the world and trying to make the kingdom come to earth. But the church has gotten confused, Nugent argues, about just how God is working to accomplish these goals.

Succinctly, in the words of Nugent, the church isn't trying to make the world a better place but is, rather, seeking to become the better place in the midst of the world.

For every problem facing the world the church--the better place--is God's response and active intervention. God is saving the world through God's kingdom people, a community who invites the world into God's better place.

Nugent's vision here of the church and the world is rooted in the Anabaptist tradition and should be familiar to students of Yoder and Hauerwas. The church is a counter-cultural polis (city) that exists in the midst of the world where the reign of God is displayed and enjoyed.

My focus on Nugent's book in these posts is more interested in psychology than upon ecclesiology, though the two, as I'll eventually argue, are related. Specifically, in this series we are wrestling with the scale and scope of empathy and compassion.

Over the last two posts we've been thinking about the problems related to empathy, and a lot of those problems happen when empathy becomes universalized. True, we are called upon to love the whole world, but the scale of a universalized compassion, turbocharged by the 24/7 social media feed, may be unsustainable, exhausting and damaging to us physically and emotionally. Providentially or evolutionarily, our empathy is been wired to work on the scale of local, face to face interactions. And for most of human history that's where compassion lived and thrived.

Perhaps, I'm suggesting, our empathy is ill-suited to an age saturated by cable TV and social media.

This is not to suggest that empathy for the suffering of world is bad or wrong. Just that universalized empathy will face a suite of temptations that need to be attended to. And for the most part, I'm arguing, these temptations are not being attended to. If anything, by encouraging a non-specific, free-floating and universalized empathy the church makes the situation worse.

So what's my suggestion?

My suggestion is that empathy works best--is most effective and healthy-- when it works at a proper scope and scale, and that if we don't attend to the scope and scale of our compassion we'll be pulled toward all the dark things we've talked about over the last two posts. We'll be pulled in so many different directions we won't settle down to specific and concrete work. We'll focus on emotionally venting and virtue signalling on social media over stepping away from our screens to love others sacrificially. We'll keep contributing to the culture of outrage rather than working shoulder to shoulder with people who vote differently. Lastly, we will burn ourselves out, growing increasing anxious, outraged, depressed, and stressed.

Maybe, I'm suggesting, empathy has a "sweet spot," a scope and scale that makes it humane, effective and sustainable--relationally, emotionally and physically. And that "sweet spot" appears to be a local, face to face community.

And that brings me back to Nugent's argument that the church isn't tasked with fixing the world but is, rather, called to be the better place in the local community.

Perhaps the means of God's mission--the local family of God--is a perfect match for the "sweet spot" of empathy. We love the entire world, but that love manifests itself, and is most effective and sustainable, when it is poured into a group of people I share face to face life with. In this way I love the world universally and generally by loving specifically and intimately.

I'm suggesting a possible fit between ecclesiology and psychology, a fit between God's means of saving the world and our moral hard-wiring. I'm supplementing Nugent's argument with a psychological observation that when the church universalizes its mission--fixing the world over being the church--it universalizes its empathy, bringing along all the problems we've been discussing. Dilution of impact. Outrage and political polarization. Social media solidarity over concrete acts of care. Emotional burnout. And so on.

To be clear, lest there be any confusion, we are talking about means and ends.

We love the world and seek its salvation. That's the end.

But means toward that end, I'm suggesting, is local and intimate. 

Lesbian Duplex 117: An Open Thread

Apr. 23rd, 2017 09:00 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

It’s time for another Lesbian Duplex thread! If you have a link or article or interesting thought that’s not relevant to an ongoing thread, you can share it here. If a conversation on another post has turned entirely off topic, you can bring it here also. Every so often, as the number of comments on a given Lesbian Duplex post becomes unmanageable, I put up a fresh post.Click through to read more!

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