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First News of Dickinson and Belfield - May 2008

"Dueling Ideologies"

(revised January not-the-Pastor's letter)

We no longer live in a world whose many cultures are foreign and therefore considered "barbaric."  We travel the streets of our cities and find stores and restaurants that include the food and traditions of every continent (possibly NOT Antarctica, but then, who knows?).  We travel the internet from our personal computer and find the world, with its many ideas, at our finger tips.
Humanity has two different reactions to this.  One is to open up and welcome the diversity with its new knowledge and experience of what it means to be human.  The second is to close down and ignore the validity of the experiences of 99% of the human race.
In October, I spoke of the difference between prescriptive and descriptive theology - in which prescriptive theology has ONE, PRECISE point of view, claiming any other to be heresy, even evil.  And descriptive theology states the speaker's experience of who God is, but allows that God is much more than his or her experience of God.Prescriptive theology is exclusive, while descriptive theology is inclusive.
While prescriptive theology has been around forever and has caused countless religious wars, Inquisitions and other destruction and death (including much of the population of Germany during the Reformation), the modern version is a little different.  I believe that the human race is on the edge of a new era, an era when we will finally begin to hear the call to love all of God's children.  A time when we will look at those who experience God differently as an occasion to learn more about who God is, rather than as a threat to "true belief" and "right thinking."  Right being will take precedence; accepting that there is a reason for all the different flowers in God's garden and enjoying the view, rather than seeing anyone different than us as a weed.
The modern version of prescriptive theology uses hate to derail the forward movement of the human race.  It uses terrorism - both as a weapon and as a reason to hate those who are different.  Islamic terrorists destroyed our confidence as a nation on 9/11.  Domestic terrorists used that destruction as reason to beat up law abiding US citizens who looked Middle Eastern.  Terrorism breaks into violence that calls the other person less than human as they are not carbon copies of those doing the violence.  We have so many places that ethnic or religious cleansing has/is occurring that it is hard to see the presence of God.  Hate begets hate and the forward movement of humanity grinds to a stop.Fear freezes us in place and prescriptive theology rules.
Not necessarily.   God is present, even when we have closed our eyes in fear and cannot see what is in front of us.  We who are Christian have a God who tells us to "fear not" on more than one occasion.  We are told to "fear not" when we havelocked ourselves in that Upper Room through fear of deadly violence.  "Fear not," we are told, when something new, such as the birth of a Divine Child, awaits us.  We will only stay frozen if we focus on the terrorists instead of God's Divine Love.  When we focus on the God of love, we move forward.
There is tremendous power in the act ofloving those who hate you.(Luke 6:27-28, Mat. 5:43-48)First, the cycle of violence is derailed.It does not go past you; it does not go past the present moment and into the future.It is thus a gift that we give to our children.  Secondly, it creates peace in us.  We no longer become creatures consumed with rage.  We become a new creation.  Third, as in nonviolent resistance, it challenges the other to accept your common humanity.In fact, this IS the power of nonviolent resistance that changed both the landscape of India and America.  Many of our contemporary heroes, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, knew well the power of loving those who hate you.
The transformative power therein is unbelievable.It transforms the self, the one receiving the love, our society and the world at large.  Light breaks into darkness.  When we focus on the God of love, the world becomes brighter and the grip of terrorism loosens.  When we focus on the God of love that vision of Isaiah wherein the lion and the lamb lie down next to each other moves closer to reality.
That vision, of the sword beaten into a plowshare, was not just wishful thinking.  Yes, it did not happen in Isaiah's lifetime and probably won't in ours.  But in our children's time?  Or perhaps in their children's time?  At some point, it will happen that "they will neither hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain."  Each time we make the choice to return violence with love rather than hate that vision comes closer into being.
We who accept the call to love as God loves will win this battle.  God rules, not terrorism or fear.  We choose what will rule in our hearts - love or fear; inclusiveness or exclusiveness.  It may take several generations, or only this one.  But God's kingdom rules.  Peace will reign.

First News of Dickinson and Belfield -April 2008

"On Using our Freedom"

America was founded mostly by Christians, true, but we forget that they would not necessarily have accepted each other as followers of Jesus Christ.  Many early Americans left Europe as they were not allowed by their society to worship God as they were called to worship God.  Puritans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists - all of these were persecuted at one time or another in the countries of Europe.T  he wars of the Reformation devastated the German countryside as one group tried to push another out of power or force everyone else to worship in a particular fashion.  The freedom of religion guaranteed by the American Constitution meant that this degree of conflict was to end; it was a dream of the peaceful coexistence of different visions of the God who is.
I am not going to defend the preaching sound bites that Fox News aired of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity UCC, Chicago.The appropriateness of his remarks are to be judged by his congregation and God, not by me or Fox News.  I will defend Jeremiah Wright's right - and responsibility - to preach as he feels he has been called to preach.
I was offended by the "God damn America" sound bite when Iheard about it.My perspective on 9/11 is that of a pastor of the New York Conference whose church was only 140 miles north of New York City.  Several members of my congregation had been working down there that day - one became sick from inhaling the dust from the destruction.
I went to youtube and watched the 8 minutes of sermon that preceded this sound bite.  I was still bothered by the "God damn America" ofJeremiah Wright,but I understood it better.I  t was uttered by an impassioned pastor of an inner city church - a black church with a completely different experience of 9/11 than my white suburban church in New York State.  There are many examples of prophets in the Old Testament admonishing their leadership, just as Jeremiah Wright did in his sermon.  The leadership then didn't like it any better than we do today.
I find that I was angry for a different reason when I watched the eight minutes preceding the "America's chickens are coming home to roost" sound bite aired by Fox News as if it was original Jeremiah Wright. (see   es, Rev. Wright said this - but he was quoting a white American - Ambassador Peck.  And the interview from which he quoted aired on Fox News. Wright said that Ambassador Peck"was upsetting the Fox News commentator to no end."  Fox News knows well where the quote originated.

Yes, Fox News has free speech.  But it has a responsibility to the truth as a source of news for the American public.Deliberate distortion meant to destroy is neither news nor free speech.  As an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament, I am troubled when freedom is used only to destroy.  Both sides of this story have not been told.  In First Corinthians, Paul points out that we are free to do many things - but that, as Christians, we should use our freedom to lift up the other, never to destroy.  As a Christian, I have to say that such is a misuse of our American freedoms.

The Rev. Jane Fissler Hoffman, Interim Conference Minister of the Southern California-Nevada Conference, is a member of Trinity UCC. She states:

" I have spoken with several reporters about our experience at Trinity but am never referred to in print, I presume because my experience is POSITIVE!   Milt and I are members there very intentionally because it is a Christ centered, Spirit filled congregation where the worship is powerful; the preaching is spiritually insightful and prophetic; the welcome to all is warm and embracing; mission is both local and global ; tithing is encouraged and expected; members bring and read their Bibles; and disciples are nurtured in the faith…Do I agree with every word from Rev. Wright's mouth? No. (No more than I agree with every word my husband says! ) But I have seen and experienced the dominant direction of his whole ministry which is toward love and justice and peace for all people in the name of Jesus Christ.   That is what I respect."

There once was a principle that ruled American media called the Fairness Doctrine.  This decreed that both sides should have access to the airwaves.  If this were still in effect, this misuse of America's freedom of speech would not have occurred.  Fox News would have had to provide time to Trinity UCC and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in rebuttal.  Freedom of speech only truly exists when all are given the opportunity to speak and be heard.

Much has been written by member of the UCC in response to this.Make up your own minds.  Read the letters, watch the sermon excerpts, and pray for our American freedom.

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