Einstein was right, too!

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
     —Albert Einstein

I get the impression that current wisdom suggests that we can resolve the dysfunction of our current political system by getting the correct candidates elected in 2018 and 2020. The other side won more elections in recent years. Things will change things if our side starts winning more. Of course, that’s the problem! For me, this is simply attempting to “solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Our political system has devolved into a crazed ideological battle for the soul of the nation. The Republican party is being held captive by a right-wing Tea Party mentality and over-funded by the deep pockets of corporate interests. The Democrats, on the other hand, can’t seem to organize around any political platform except the desire to be re-elected. They, too, are beholden to funding interests.

Our national political leaders of both parties act like preschoolers who haven’t yet figured out how to play together. Contrary to the popular aphorism, the one who dies with the most toys is not the winner.

While members of the legislative and executive branches of our government perpetually bickering over funding to keep the government running, the American public is trying to balance family budgets in the face of the spiraling costs of medical treatment and wondering if there will ever be sufficient funds for retirement. Add to this, a constant fear of when and where the next mass shooting will happen? Will a classmate of my daughter bring a gun to school and begin shooting? Will my son be safe from attack at an outdoor concert? Will we be safe while worshiping at our mosque? Or our synagogue? Or our church?

Who in Washington is concerned about the Middle Class or lower income families? Ask yourself this: How many Middle Class or Lower Class Senators or members of Congress are there? How many of our elected representatives receive financial support from lobbyists in excess of your annual income? Who do they really represent?

It is time to change the nature of political conversation in this country. I wonder what would happen if we were to commission a couple of prominent politicians who still are accorded some level of respect—say Joe Biden and Mitch Romney (or you choose a couple of others)—to begin a national dialogue. Surround them with a team of scribes and provide adequate funding; then send them on the road for the next couple of years to host formal and informal gatherings of this nation’s people to listen to their concerns. They could meet with coal miners in Kentucky, urban Millennials, ranchers in the Dakotas, residents of Silicon Valley, employees in the Rust Belt, church-goers in the Bible Belt, town hall meetings in New England, backyard bar-be-ques in Texas, Inuit villagers in Alaska, Muslims in Detroit, Blacks in Ferguson, MO, undocumented farm workers in California, and . . . .

Am I naïve in thinking that the results of beginning a national conversation might produce a different political agenda than that currently envisioned by the two stagnant political parties that have tied Washington in a Gordian Knot? Of course I am naïve; but I know that we are not going to resolve our current dilemma by doing more of the same.

Hemmingway was right!

Hemingway recommended that everyone needed a functional crap detector built-in, automatic, and shockproof. Hemmingway was right!

Brené Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, has an interesting chapter entitled “Speaking Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.” She has helped me understand much of what is happening in today’s political scene in the United States. Here are some of my take-aways from reading Brown:

  1. There is a functional difference between lying and BS. Liars defies the truth; BSers dismiss (discount) it.
  2. We often lie to cover up something we have done that we know is wrong. When we BS, we are often covering up our lack of knowledge and/or experience.
  3. BS is ultimately based on giving up objective inquiry. If situations are too complicated for me to understand, I can easily shift my focus to what I believe (or want to believe) and declare it to be true. “That’s good enough for me!”
  4. BS assumes that you are wrong (no matter how many “facts” you have amassed) and I am right (because my beliefs make more sense to me than your “facts”).
  5. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate measures are often fertilized with bullshit.” (page 106)
  6. It is extremely difficult to set and maintain civil boundaries and personal integrity when “knee-deep in BS” because BS is based on the abandonment of reality.

It does not take a very sophisticated crap-detector to spot BS in the current political climate. We know we are in trouble when politicians and religious leaders are willing to support a candidate running for the U.S. Senate because he would vote right, even though he is accused of molesting teen-age girls on multiple occasions. As Neil Postman suggests, “all ideologies are saturated with bullshit.” Ideology is destroying our political, religious, and social institutions.

Bullshit can’t be defeated by more bullshit. That only piles it higher and deeper. So, where does one draw the line? When do you confront BS; when do you ignore it. Brown suggest the line is “etched from dignity”—your dignity and the dignity of others.

Postman suggests that honing our crap-detection systems is part of the answer:

So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings.

For me, becoming that certain type of person means not giving up our integrity in order to belong. It means learning from those who have developed a spiritually-integrated wholeness in their lives—Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Dalai Lama, Pope Francis. Learning from these spiritual masters, however, may mean using your crap-detector on the systems that have grown up around them.

Unfortunately, too many of our political, religious, and social leaders believe their ideological systems, rather than the persons, actions, and values that were replaced by the ideologies.

On the political scene, I think we have a two-fold problem. On the one hand, our President is the BSer-in-chief. He is in over his head. His chief skill is his BS-ability. On the other hand, we have Senators and Congressional Representatives who daily use BS as a subterfuge to cover up their ideological lies. The line between Republicans and Democrats is not etched from dignity.

Too much contemporary political, religious, and social commentary is an attempt to speak BS to bullshit. My previous post was about the Boston Declaration. It is one of the few things I have seen that truly speaks truth to bullshit. It draws the line at a dignity for human life etched, not in political expediency, but in the dignity of life itself—life drawn from the well-being of all, in society.

The Boston Declaration

Yesterday, a group of 200 theologians and other religious leaders—mostly from universities and seminaries—released a statement “to dramatically grieve over the corruption of US Christianity and to call the country into a time of reflection and action to end oppression.”

The Boston Declaration: A Prophetic Appeal to Christians of the United States is an 1800 word statement that sets the Jesus Way as grieving (lamenting) over a society that has failed its basic values of community and diversity, retreating into ideological despair and divisiveness

The  Declaration ends with a “Call to Action” based on Joshua 24:15—“Choose you this day whom you will serve!” It begins with these words . . .

Today, we as Christian followers of the Jesus Way, call on the people of the United States who call themselves by the name of Jesus, to reject all political and social movements that do not lead to life.

. . . and is followed by ten specific arenas for action.

The press release ends with this statement, “The signers of the BOSTON DECLARATION will strategize throughout the United States to interrogate both Democratic and Republican 2018 candidates on their commitment to the concerns addressed in the pronouncement.”

The full text of the Boston Declaration can be found at: https://thebostondeclaration.com/blog/2017/11/18/the-boston-declaration.

Tell the Story!

For the next few days, I am meeting with my co-author to review our editor’s recommendations for Chapter 6 on Yeshua. In addition to all the typographical and grammatical corrections, Michael (our editor) has written extended notes about matters of content and flow. The best was comment was left in a note appended to the page:

As we read the note, we both broke out in laughter. Our editor had nailed us! We hurried and made a poster to hang over our work desks:

How easy it is to want to preach about those matters that we care so deeply about. Matters relating to faith, spirituality, and religion are among the most deeply held. Sometimes we preach with words. Other times it is a shrug of the shoulders, a scowl or a full-face grin. We preach when we argue with others and when we walk away. We preach by those we associate with and those we don’t.

As we thought about it, an idea arose. As seminary trained ministers, we wondered what kind of leaders for church ministry would be produced if the very first day of seminary education confronted students with this statement: We are going to train you on how NOT to preach but, instead, to be a crafter of stories. For your first semester, you will listen to stories being told. You will research story-tellers and story listeners. You will learn to craft stories with words (both prose and poetry), with paint, with clay, with creative dance, with song, and in conversation. Perhaps you will find new ways to craft stories through gardening or cooking or … For the rest of your seminary education, you will learn how to listen to the stories of scripture and how to re-craft those stories for listeners today. You will be challenged to transform the great theological concepts into stories that children, youth, and adults can relate to. In short, your seminary education is all about transforming you into a story and a story-teller.

When you complete your seminary education, you will take your story-telling on the road—most likely to a congregation. As you tell them the intersection of your story with the biblical story, they will begin to trust you with their stories. Then, together, you will carefully tend to the laboratory of the living word (a story laboratory) that engages the world’s stories with the openness of the Gospel’s story.

Resurrecting Resurrection

Even resurrection must die in order to be raised to newness of life.

To restrict resurrection to an historical event in the past and/or a wish  for that past event to be replicated at-large in some non-distinct, hazy future is to turn resurrection into a belief system based on fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a vital and creative role for fantasy. We want out children to fantasize so that their world might not be constricted by the narrowness of our vision, which has become cramped by the seeming realities of eveπryday life. Some of us read the fantasy of science fiction literature as a way to expand our vision of the possible. We hire consultants to help us expand our sense of some of the fantastic possibilities which the immediate future might hold. But we seem to rely on theologians to redefine the past so that it continues to constrain us.

Resurrection is not so much a magical theological ideal as it is a beautiful poetic image, a resounding symphony, a spectacular work of art arising out of the bosom of Israel, preserving the grace of justice in the name of God.

Resurrection is much less a statement about the past and/or the future than it is a declaration about the present—a fantasy becoming a reality right before our eyes.

Resurrection is . . .
a story that enfolds me
a passionate experience
a relationship that transforms
a movement embracing a deep passion for life
a free gift that bubbles up and overflows into a people
the endowment of hope that constitutes a New Humanity
the reality of memory and experience that insists upon me daily

Resurrection is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the stale humdrum of daily living. Resurrection is something that irrupts within me, awakening me from my         slumber, infusing me with energy to meet the needs of the day.

Resurrection connects me to Yeshua—to his life’s mission—stirring my passion for that which is beyond me. When resurrection irrupts, I sense a new presence within—a Yeshua presence. An abba-presence. It is as if Yeshua’s thoughts become my thoughts; his Way, my way. And, when I pay attention to what that presence insists, I become (in some small way) an abba-presence that disturbs the conventional world around me.

If I may cite parts of the old hymn:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

So, what must die for resurrection to be raised to newness of life? Is it my fantasy that ALL was accomplished in the past on a cross and that I should focus my attention there? Or is it my wishful thinking that, if I keep my nose clean, I will be part of some grand resurrection in the future?

Actually, what must die is that part of me that wants to remain aloof, unencumbered by the toil and strife around me. “The peace of Christ [that] makes fresh my heart” is not a nice, pretty feeling that calms me down in the face of the world’s stresses. Instead, it is a rallying cry that asks me to search out those places where and those people for whom that “peace” is not present and do something about it. It may not be my job to fix it, but it probably is my calling to stand in those places, with those sorely affected, as together we confront the “principalities and the powers,” speaking a different kind of truth to them, a truth that probably sounds to many like fake news. So, here I stand, I can do no other! “How can I keep from singing?