Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Church Schisms As Normal As Potluck Suppers and Dull Sermons

At a general convention in California of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori blamed controversies within her church thus: "Schism is not a Christian act, the great Western heresy [is] that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God ... that individual focus is a form of heresy."

As T.R. Fehrenbach saw this in his San Antonio Express-News column differently. The great Texas historian writes a weekly opinion piece every Sunday. Like my own columns they are all over the place. He takes the bishop to task.

If there is anything outstanding about Christian history it is one of "schisms." Even before the 1st century was over, men were spreading out in all directions as "Christian sects." They could not agree on much of anything. When the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church could no longer agree they split, never to reunite. And then came the Protestants, who keep dividing up to this 21st century. There is no end in sight for the non-denominational, post-denominational and "don't give us a name" churches all over the country-side.

Dr. Fehrenback says: "A schism (from the Greek for "splitting")is as Christian as potluck suppers and dull sermons."

It is not heresy to seek God as an individual. That has been the thrust of most of the Protestant denominations. This includes Baptists, even though they like to say they never protested the Roman Church. Well, they did and some on the fringes continue to see Babylon demons when cleric collars appear.

Jesus prayed his followers might be one with Him in spirit (and community, I add)and this may be the oldest prayer ever formed that has yet to be answered.


Charles Wellborn: A clear voice of conscience

It was a time we must never forget

Too soon we forget the terrorism of the 1950s and 1960s. The cross-burnings, obscene telephone calls, character assassination and political intrigue on those who believed in and fought for human rights and dignity, and against bigotry, hate and indifference.

I was reminded of those years when I read of the passing of a man who stood for equality for all races. Charles Wellborn, a native of Alto, Texas, with degrees from Baylor University and Duke University, Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary and until his retirement in 1992, the director of Florida State University London Study Center, London, England.

Jody, my wife, described Wellborn as one of the best preachers she ever heard and the clearest voice of conscience among that generation of Baptists. Dr. John Wood, long-time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waco, was mentored in high school by then seminary student Wellborn. (Wellborn's roommate at seminary was Howard E. Butt, Jr., one of this generation's best laymen preachers and founder of Laity Lodge.)

Charles Wellborn, 86, was buried October 14, just a few blocks from the church he pastor after leaving Baylor University, the Seventh and James Baptist Church.

It was during his ten-year pastorate at Waco's Seventh and James Baptist Church, adjacent to the Baylor campus, that the church opened its membership to people of all "races and colors." It was 1958 and Waco still had the stain of hanging Jessie Washington before a huge white crowd in 1916. (It was one of 500 lynchings recorded in Texas from 1880 to 1930.

Soon after the news that the church welcomed any and all, Wellborn began to receive threatening phone calls. Then a cross was burned on the lawn of the parsonage. It was fast becoming one of the darkest days in America's church history. It was a time when the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan revived. Other civil rights villains became more bold.

It was a time when local blacks were turned away from church doors by self-righteous and self-deluded ushers and deacons. Some preached a Gospel left over from slavery days. Popular Bible interpretations endorsed white supremacy. There were those who simply "did not want to get involved." It was a time when many forgot what Jesus said to the Apostle John, "Behold, I stand at the door: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him" (Rev. 3:20).

It was a time we should never forget. Hard lessons were learned during those days of turmoil. The experience, bad as it was, made the nation and the churches stronger. But, there are still those who would like to go back to those "good old days." With white Americans fast becoming a minority like their ancestors were at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, there is a new uncertainty out there. Keeping folks "in their place" is not as easy as once-upon-a-time.

No one likes to recall such disturbing events as took place in 1916 and 1958. Others, like Wellborn,(Presbyterian Robert McNeill; Methodist Dallas Blanchard; Episcopalian rector Duncan Gray; Catholic priest William Warthling; countless Jewish Rabbis), stood their ground against congressmen, senators, governors, mayors and even fellow clergy in a fight against the segregationist's attempts to keep the "coloreds" under their storm-trooper-boots-mentality.

Years later, the city of Waco officially apologized for the 1916 lynching, noting: "When you have a deep enough infection and you just open it up a little bit and let air get to it to heal over, it will come back. It will keep coming back until you open it up and you let it heal from the inside out."

Charles Wellborn, WWII ski patrol in Italy, Baylor grad, a clear voice of conscience, continues to speak through his writing. He wrote seven books, two plays and more than 100 articles in scholarly and popular journals. He was a frequent contributor to the independent journal "Christian Ethics Today". His was a life of outspoken integrity and service for others. He was a man for his times. We must not forget those men and their contribution to our nation.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

More Progress Needed For Women

All Women Are Hypatia's Daughters !

Who or what was Hypatia? A new drug? An ailment caused by the Asian flu? A bug from Bolivia?

It turns out Hypatia was not a "thing" but a woman. But not just any woman. She was a teacher in a time when women did not dare teach men. The truth is every great man of history had a wife or woman giving him clues and solutions without credit.

Her detractors said Hypatia was not like a woman, she was too intelligent to be a woman. She was brilliant, having studied writers like Euclid and Archimedes, famous men of letters.

Many philosophers, professors and politicians came from abroad to hear her words at the School of Alexandria. She was outspoken against having "blind faith." She counseled people to doubt and to question things. One of the world's finest storytellers, Edurado Galeano, quotes her saying, "Defend your right to think. Thinking wrongly is better than not thinking at all."

Her critics were all men. Women were to stay home. In old China, a husband might call his wife, "nei ren," meaning the inside-the-house person.

Although Hypatia had a grand following, the intimated men called her a witch and a sorcerer, the Christians of Alexandria called her a heretic.

So on a March day in 415 A.D., the mob attacked her carriage, stripped her naked, stabbed and beat her as they dragged her through the city streets. What was left of her was made into a bonfire in a public square.

It was a man's world long before that fifth century story. For the 3,000 years of recorded history woman has been considered inferior to the mighty male. Used by men for gratifying sex, raising babies, janitorial duty and to cook.

Women didn't make laws or write history. Jesus tried to lift the status of women, but like much of his message, that did not sink in with the men. Prophet Mohammed's followers remembered that he once said that paradise is filled with the poor and hell is filled with women.

It took nearly 150 years for females to be allowed to vote in the United States. Few men stood up for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and other women in the woman's suffrage movement.

Few have dared to challenge such an unjust culture. Around the globe today, one in three women is abused. Everything is a woman's fault. This is remarkably true with Afghan women, were some call the country "a man's world, a woman's hell." Another ancient saying, still observed by some: "Hang up your lash where your woman can see it."

We have come a long way from the time of Hypatia, but there is much more to be done in educating males to a world of justice and peace for the very ones who brought them into the world.

Granted, not all men are abusive. One of the most distressing aspects of women and child abuse is how prevalent it is on the domestic scene. Why do husbands abuse, verbally or physically, those they once claimed to love? Those working in women's shelters tell how the women resemble having been through a war zone. They have a form of post traumatic syndrome.

Violent home situations can get help. There are places in our city where professionals are anxious to give advice and a safe place for the abused. The internet has the Abused Women's Advocacy Project (www.awap.org); also www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence. For the abused, leaving is complex and confusing, see: www.sciencedaily.com

(Hypatia's story was shared by Edurado Galeno, one of Latin America's greatest writers, in his new book "Mirrors, Stories of Almost Everyone" English translation by Mark Fried).

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Ninth Year of Afghanistan War

After eight years of war is it time to change sides?

Last week America's fighting involvement in Afghanistan began its ninth year. This is longer than the USA was involved in World War I and II.

As we learned in Iraq, men bent on killing American soldiers can be persuaded to change sides. It took about three hundred dollars a month, per Sunni, to get the Sunni Iraqi to switch to our side. This could be one way the US could use to get out of Afghanistan.

The reason this approach might work in Afghanistan is the fact that the Taliban is not a monolith. They have no supreme commander or war lord leading their fight. The Taliban groups are many. They have different motives and agree only on one thing: ridding their country of foreigners.

The Taliban have shown they can switch sides with little difficulty. They did it with the Soviets until they wore them out. They want to be on the winning side, so war lords or scattered groups switch back and forth, going with the one they think has the best chance of winning. "Changing sides is the Afghanistan way of war", writes Fotini Christia and Michael Semple in the July-August, 2009, issue of Foreign Affairs

Last August the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (President Hamid Karzai's government) held a presidential election. Two months later, both leading candidates claim to have won. The UN observers have documented fraud and corruption during and since the voting.

Democracy, elections, our four freedoms are completely foreign to the Karzai brothers. President Karzai's brother is well-known to be involved in corruption and the opium racket. American ideals cannot be pre-packaged for use anywhere, nor can they be force fed; they must be born out of the hearts of those seeking such ideals more than life itself.

The US did not go to Afghanistan to introduce democracy. I doubt the idea of killing so many civilians or staying this long was in the plans. Just one object: get ben Laden. The ill-conceived over-the-top US air raids on October 7, 2001, was only to capture or kill ben Laden, the mastermind behind the al Qaeda hi-jacked airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2001.

The 9-ll attack was not a cause for war, though wars have begun with less provocation. One general is reported as saying, "bomb them back to the stone age." The knee-jerk reaction of the US president, vice president and congress was not one of our nation's greatest hours. Those in charge let revenge bubble to the top. An old sage reminds us: When hunting a particular rat, you don't need a large caliber weapon like an elephant gun.

Someone needs the inspiration of original thinking if this unnecessary war is to cease. Win over enough of the Taliban and together put an end to the al Qaeda in their Pakistan hide-away. Bring the troops home and turn loose the CIA to get ben Laden with as few civilian deaths as possible. This is the way criminal mass murderers are brought to justice, not with massive military force.

If the US could make friends with the Taliban (get out the money clip and force a smile), together we just might defeat al Qaedia, our original purpose. As a friend, the Taliban might institute a more just and favorable government. (Granted, this could be called wishful thinking.)

During the Korean War, had General Douglas MacArthur crossed the Yalu River into China as he said he was going to, the US would have really had a long-lasting war. Because President Harry Truman fired him, we averted such a catastrophe. MacArthur was a hero at the time. But the president was smarter. Wisely our Constitution keeps the final say on war in civilian hands.

President Obama must handle his generals as Truman did. Gen. Stanley McChrystal thinks adding 40 to 60,000 more troops will give us more time. More time for what? More time to see more innocent people die? More time for America and NATO soldiers killed? More time to undermine the new American president's desire for a peaceful world?

Changing sides is the Afghanistan way of war. Entering the ninth year of war, giving a look at the wisdom of the locals might be a good thing. The decision is with the president and congress, not the generals.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Not Enough Thinking Goin' On

THINKING A PARAMOUNT NECESSITY, Just not enough of it goin' on these days. Thinking can make the blood pressure rise. But it is good for all of us.

Former CIA analyst and distinguished scholar, Chalmers Johnson, has recently completed a trilogy on the economic and military overreach of the United States. The title of the third book is "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic."

The first two books, "Blowback" and "The Sorrows of Empire," argues that American clandestine and military activity overseas has led to a direct disaster here in the United States. Unintended, but harmful to the country's future.

Johnson used "Nemesis" for the title of the latest book because "Nemesis was the ancient Greek god of revenge, the punisher of hubris and arrogance in human beings."

If you recall your Greek mythology you know that she (Nemesis) is the one that led Narcissus to the pond and showed him his reflection, whereupon he jumped in and drowned.

This title to Johnson means she's present in our county right now, "just waiting to carry out her divine mission."

He continues his C-SPAN interview by stressing the subtitle, "The Last Days of the American Republic," "is not just hype to sell books. ...I'm here concerned with a very real, concrete problem in political analysis, namely that the political system of the United States today, history tells us, is one of the most unstable combinations there is --- domestic democracy and foreign empire. A nation can be one of the other, a democracy or an imperialist, but can't be both."

As illustrative of this thought, look at the former British Empire, upon which the sun never sat. After the defeat of the tyrannical German Nazi empire, it became evident that their world of money-making colonies were waking up. They found their voice and began seeking to keep their riches at home and to rule themselves.

Across the colonies of Africa and India, Britain's crown jewel of a colony, the masses would no longer be subjected to foreign masters. "They wanted their country back," to use a phrase now constantly misused in TAT sessions (Teabagger Astro-Turfers). (Same simplistic thought as the odd saying we will be hearing again in a couple of months: "Put Jesus back in Christmas." For the uninformed, Jesus never left.)

The Germans lost most of their colonies after World War I. But the Dutch in Indonesia, the French in Vietnam, Spain in Cuba and the Philippines, and the British (everywhere) were slow to see the writing on the wall. None of these empires prepared their colonies how to rule themselves. Blame the empires, not the former colonies that continue to have dictators, revenge and war.

Kenya had one government official of lower rank when Britain fled. The French Foreign Legion had to be defeated on the battle field to leave Indo-China. Unfortunately, the US government sided with the Dutch, French and British during those years of transition. After Ho Chi minh defeated the French, pictures of Harry Truman were in their victory parades in Hanoi. They liked the USA in 1954.

These empire builders learned that to retain their colonies and economic paradises, they would have to become more imperial than democratic. They would have to dictate more and more to their far-flung money-makers. Democracy and dictators don't go good together.

For further reference look up the 1953 American-led covert ousting of Iran's freely elected Mossadegh and putting the Shah back on the throne which brought 25 years of terror for the Iranians.

America is in danger of becoming less democratic and more imperialistic with such an attitude as "we always know best." It is evident this did not begin with the 2008 presidential election. It has been building steam since the 1950s, from Iran to Guatemala and back again. We tried to save Korea by force from the Communist. Half a century later our Armed Forces are still there, as they are in 737 military bases on every continent.

Our government began placing military bases all over the world. Very few nations have ask us to leave. The "chosen" countries liked the income from Uncle Sam. These overseas bases, over the last half century have cost the tax payers umpteen trillions of dollars; while not adding not a single good thing to our overseas image.

To maintain an empire requires the making of munitions, machines, equipment and a lot of 18-year olds. The cost of today's huge military-industrial-congress complex is not known. A smattering of the government budget is known, but the complete totals will never be known.

We need to re-read President George Washington's farewell address. He said that the great enemy of the republic was a standing army. (This is read at the opening of the first session of every Congress. Doesn't seem to have made an impression on the politicians.)

The three powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government are meant to keep a check on each other. Oversight is impossible with an imperial presidency. President Dwight Eisenhower, with very undiplomatic language, gave the same message as George Washington. Lack of oversight has led to our present economic woes.

A friend at church urged me to continue writing these pieces. He confessed my writing sometimes causes his blood pressure to go up, but it makes him think. That is all I wish to accomplish, make us think more and more often.