Various writings from my experiences in Seminary

2018 Summer Intensive at CDSP: Day 2

My body is starting to adjust to Pacific Time. I’m starting to get my daily rhythm back. Classes are going well as we move past the orientation and introductions. It continues to be a wonderful experience. At the same time I am being reminded of the struggles of life. Recently, two friends have had to have surgery for detached retinas. Two friends have had trees fall on their houses and have had to move. Another friend is being admitted to the hospital. I hold all of these people in my prayers.

I am also struggling with how to engage in intellectual discourse, a favorite activity of mine, in a manner that is part of praying without ceasing and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It feels easy when I do this in discussions with my family members; it is part of our family culture. But it is a challenge in more academic settings where discourse feels more adversarial and competitive.

There’s a lot more mulling in my mind right now, but I should let it steep for a little bit.

Bestowing Order

Below is a post to one of the discussions forums for my New Testament class as Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is partly shaped by events going on with ecclesiastical organizations around where I live, and particularly about the exclusion of a friend of mine from a church organization ostensibly because of where she chooses to worship on Sunday mornings. It is a topic close to my heart since I was excluded from the same group for different reasons a few months ago.

A recurring theme through this week’s readings about 1 Corinthians has been bestowing order and emphasizing ‘what is more advantageous in building the church” (Ajer, 1). Schussler-Fiorenza refers to 1 Cor 14:40 in emphasizing that Paul “is concerned that everything 'should happen decently and in the right order'”. (Schussler-Fiorenza, 1). Boring describes the issues saying “What they [the Corinthians] failed to discern was the nature of the church as the body of Christ.” (Boring Kindle Location 8314).

Indeed, Boring sums it up nicely with “This problem of elitism carries over into the following discussion of the spiritual gifts”. The issue of women speaking in church or having their heads uncovered was an issue local to Corinth where such things harmed the efforts to build the church. Over the past few decades we have had the mirror of this, not letting women speak in church harmed the efforts to build the church. Likewise the exclusion of homosexuals today harms the efforts to build the church.

This becomes most pointed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord”. What is this unworthy manner? It is a manner that does not bestow order, a manner that does not build the church, and perhaps most importantly, a manner that does not treat everyone at the table, Greek or Jew, rich or poor, gay or straight, male or female, white or black, progressive or liberal, Orthodox, Episcopal, or non-denominational as equals.

I suspect that we all eat the bread in an unworthy manner much more often than we are willing to admit.

Christcon: Does Jesus Love the Incel?

It has been an interesting to week to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other to borrow from a famous quotation from Karl Barth. The Rev. Patrick Conroy found that speaking truth to power, even in an opening prayer can present risks and he resigned his position as House Chaplain without having to be let down through an opening in the wall.

How do we talk about stories from the time of Jesus in twenty-first century America? In my New Testament class, we’ve been talking about pseudepigraphy; texts attributed to an author by members of the authors community. As an example, several of Paul’s letters are considered by many scholars to be pseudepigraphic. I posed the question of how this is different from fanfic today. In a class discussion forum, I wrote:

Looking at pseudepigraphy through a twenty first century lens, it seems to be a fancy word very similar to fan fiction today. I'd encourage people to read The Promise and Potential of Fan Fiction as you think about pseudepigraphy.

Perhaps our worship services are really weekly fanfic conventions. ChristCon?

Expanding on the idea, imagine a gathering where fans of a particular literary opus met weekly. They would start their gatherings with a person walking in carrying a replica of a device used to torture and murder the hero of the literary opus. Some participants might even wear small pieces of jewelry in the shape of the torture device. People would read sections of the literary opus. A keynote presenter might get up and expound on some of these sections. Later, they would re-enact a significant scene from the literary opus.

This week we also read about an attack in Toronto where the Toronto suspect apparently posted about an 'incel rebellion.'.

A friend of mine just posted about this on Facebook. He asked to what extent people who identify as Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) or ‘involuntarily celibate’ (incel) are privileged men who have not developed necessary social skills, perhaps because they are neurodiverse or other similar reasons.

What jumped out at me in the CNN article was a quote from an incel website, this "enters the realm of having no possibility of finding a partner, either to get validation, love, or acceptance from".

To me this gets to the core of Christianity and key issues American Christendom faces. Whatever your thoughts on substitutional atonement are, the cross is the ultimate offer of validation, love and acceptance. Yet so much of American Christendom fails to show that love to those that are different, that are other, whether the otherness comes in the form of neurological differences, differences of race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, class, or anything else that is used to try and separate ourselves and those around us from the love which is in Jesus Christ.

Yes, if we want an authentic ChristCon, we need to sit down and eat with incels and everyone else who feels ostracized from society. We need to accept and validate every person as a beloved creature of God, even if they do things we find morally reprehensible or a simply different or other than ourselves.

The final topic I want to talk about from this week is implicit bias and racial reconciliation. However, that is a long post in and of itself, so come back later for that post.

The Particularities of Our Concerns

(This is another blog post adapted from a discussion for one of my seminary classes. The references to Boring are to An Introduction to the New Testament: History, Literature, Theology by M. Eugene Boring. Thoughts and comments are always welcome.)

As a blogger, I am struck by Boring’s discussion of ‘real letters’. Boring describes them saying, “a real letter is composed for a particular person or limited group sharing a common history, known to the author and addressing the particularities of their concerns.” (Boring, Kindle loc 6667). Later, Boring says, “Letters mediate the presence of the writer to the distant reader” and “a real letter thus is part of a conversation”.

It seems like the epistolary form mirrors my thoughts about our relationship with God. God is not just addressing all of human kind, God is address each one of us in the particularities of our concerns. God is seeking to be present to each one of us.

This fits nicely with the twenty first century literary form of blogs. Good blogs also address the particularities of the concerns of their readers. I have to wonder what form the scriptures would be written in if they were written in the twenty first century as well as what sort of communication we are called to today.

Transatlantic Hate Speech

This is the final weekly commentary I wrote for the News and Religion class I took this fall:

This week in the News and Religion class I’m taking, we explored Hate Speech. The Ethical Journalism Network has a A 5-Point Test for Hate Speech for Journalists. We’ve been asked to write about “one country in which the media have reported on religion and hate speech and discuss the issue.” The problem is that hate speech cross professional and political boundaries.

President Trump provided an opportunity to explore this recently when he retweeted Jayda Fransen, Deputy Leader of Britain First. Fransen had posted VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!. This immediately became a large news story with articles like FactCheck’s Trump Spreads False Anti-Muslim Tweet, Anne Applebuam’s opinion piece in the Washington Post, President Trump is now a troll, the NewStatesman’s article, What Donald Trump retweeting Britain First reveals about the UK’s far right.

The Guardian reported British Prime Minister Theresa May condemns Trump's retweets of UK far-right leader’s anti-Muslim videos. The article went on to list other dignitaries including the archbishop of Canterbury who said, “It is deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists”.

There is an old saying online, to the extent that anything online can be referred to as old; “Don’t feed the trolls”. This is easier to do when the troll is your crazy uncle whom you can ignore or even block online or a mostly unknown pastor in Florida. It is a much greater challenge for journalists when the troll is the President of the United States.

How should journalists cover this issue?

The five point test from the Ethical Journalism Network provides some guidance. The first point is to examine the status or position of the speaker.

When people who are not public figures engage in hate-speech, it might be wise to ignore them entirely. A good example is Terry Jones the Koran-burning pastor in Florida who was an unknown person with marginal influence even in his rural backwater but who became an overnight global media sensation. On reflection most ethical journalists might say he was entitled to no publicity for his provocative threats.

The same could perhaps have been said about Jayda Fransen. The NewStatesmen puts it this way:

Jayda Fransen, whose content was picked up by the US President on Wednesday, has been arrested numerous times, and was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment towards a Muslim woman in a hijab last year.

Her tweets, now retweeted to Trump’s 43.6 million followers, contain misleading and unsourced video clips.

The Guardian describers her this way:

Fransen, 31, is deputy leader of Britain First, a minor anti-Islam party with an estimated 1,000 followers that has had no electoral success. Fransen lost her deposit when she stood for parliament in a 2014 byelection, receiving just 56 votes.

She has been charged with using threatening or abusive language following an appearance at a far-right rally in Belfast this summer. She is due to appear at a Belfast court next month.

The Ethical Journalism Network sums things up with:

Even when people are public figures media have to make sure they do not draw undue attention to politicians and other influential people whose only aim is to create a negative climate towards people whose rights should be respected, particularly those from vulnerable and marginalised groups.

The Ethical Journalism Network’s second point is to explore the reach of the speech. They talk about the impact of speech distributed via the internet. The NewStatesmen addresses speaks about with the tagline to their article, “With the decline of ‘traditional’ street fascism, white nationalist groups gain traction online.”

The third point is to explore the objectives of the speech.

Normally, ethical journalists and well-informed editors will be able to quickly identify whether the speech is deliberately intended to attack or diminish the human rights of individuals and groups

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman put it this way: “Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions.”

Point four examines the content and form of speech.

Journalists ask themselves: is this speech or expression dangerous? Could it lead to prosecution under the law? Will it incite violence or promote an intensification of hatred towards others?

The article in The Guardian provides some pretty clear answers on this.

[Fransen] has been charged with using threatening or abusive language following an appearance at a far-right rally in Belfast this summer. She is due to appear at a Belfast court next month.

The final point of the five point test for hate speech explores the “economic, social and political climate”.

Speech that is dangerous or controversial arises particularly when times are hard, social tensions are acute and politicians are at war with one another.

By the standards of the Ethical Journalism Network, it sure appears that the videos posted by Jayda Fransen constitute hate speech and that President Trump acted unethically by retweeting them. While we may not be able to undo the damage of his actions, having serious discussions around the ethics of reporting on hate speech may provide a silver lining of getting people to think more seriously about when speech is helpful and when speech is harmful.

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