30 March 2010

Reading queue

Only six short weeks after Easter, I will graduate from Duke Divinity School. I'm not sure yet what I will be doing for work, but I am starting to line up some books that I hope to read in the summer and fall.

Books I was supposed to read during seminary, but didn't quite finish, but really want to read thoroughly:
  • Newbigin, The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church
  • Clapp, Families at the Crossroads
  • Johnson, The Fear of Beggars
  • Maddox, Responsible Grace
Newly released books that I want to get my hands on:
  • Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture
  • Huertz and Pohl, Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission
  • Houston, Leading by Example: Peter's Way for the Church Today
  • Owens, The Shape of Participation: A Theology of Church Practices
I know those should all be links, but I'm feeling lazy tonight. I'm pretty sure you can find all those books here.

24 March 2010

Yes We Can/No You Can't

You only have to watch the first 30 or 45 seconds to get the idea:

For All the Saints

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero. While they prepare for what has become a major annual observance in El Salvador, I hope Christians in this country will also take time today to remember his words and his witness. A former colleague once pointed out to me that we commemorate three twentieth-century martyrs in the span of sixteen days: Romero (March 24), King (April 4), and Bonhoeffer (April 9). These days often fall in Lent or Holy Week, when we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem and to the cross. You could do a lot worse during Holy Week than to meditate on the lives and deaths of these saints.

Ironically and appallingly, the infamous Texas board of curriculum just voted to remove Romero from a list of people who stood up to oppression in the new textbook they are fashioning. I was thankful to the Daily Show for lifting up Romero's memory while skewering those who think he's unimportant.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Don't Mess With Textbooks
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Reform

21 March 2010

Catholics and Bureaucrats

It's been clear for a while that health care legislation in the House has been hung up on the question of federal funding for abortion. The Catholic bishops have been active and vocal opponents of any health care reform where this specter is raised. However, last week a significant number of Roman Catholic nuns and Catholic hospitals voiced their support for reform, citing the good that will come of extending insurance to millions of presently uninsured individuals.

This is interesting because we're so accustomed to the Catholic Church being univocal: what the Pope says, goes. ABC's political team put together a pretty straightforward and helpful story which notes the open question of "which group has the authority to speak for the Catholic faith on matters of public policy."

For a more provocative analysis of an entirely different sort, see this commentary from my professor Paul Griffiths. A Roman Catholic theologian, he takes the position that federal dollars should not be used to pay for abortions. However, he thinks that we are incapable of judging the current health care bill according to that standard: "Legislation of this sort in a complex bureaucratic pagan state such as ours is beyond the competence of anyone reasonably to assess as to outcome." In other words, he thinks that the Stupak Amendment demands assurances that legislators cannot actually deliver. As a result, he seems to advocate a sort of quietism: "When we don't know, the thing to say is that we don't know, and the action to take and advocate is that which accords with not knowing."

I'm not convinced that his skepticism about one's ability to know the effects of legislation is well-placed. In a pair of helpful posts over at Theolog, Steve Thorngate argues that the Senate bill (which Stupak aims to remedy) in fact does not make new federal dollars available for abortion. It seems like Stupak's amendment is a rather redundant gesture. I'm not sure if Griffiths is concerned by the complexity of the bill, the enforceability of the regulations, or the law of unintended consequences. But I don't see how you can argue against the possibility of banning the use of federal funds for abortion, if that is what Congress wants to do.

Note: Although the House has not yet begun their Sunday debate and vote on health care legislation, the latest rumors are that Rep. Stupak and his allies are going to vote yes. Their votes may have been secured with the promise of yet another redundancy, in the form of an executive order.

13 March 2010

Big Government Conservatives, Libertarian Lefties, and Glenn Beck

So, Glenn Beck said some things about churches that preach social justice, and there was a big uproarious backlash. Now, Glenn Beck is shockingly powerful; he has a ton of faithful listeners who are never even going to hear the responses of organizations like Bread or Sojourners. There's no point in "reporting myself to Glenn Beck." But this is one of those situations where an extreme figure's comments might also be sparking a more interesting debate among moderates.

If my Facebook friends are any indication, people really do have widely varying opinions about the meaning of terms like "social justice" and "politics", and how their Christian discipleship interacts with those arenas. These are all Christians who find Beck to be pretty useless, but who also believe that Christian social responsibility is an individual matter, to be kept entirely distinct from government policy.

The fundamental disagreement has been the same since at least the Johnson administration: what is the proper role of the federal government? Interestingly, this question is developing into a rift on the political right, with old-guard evangelical leaders questioning the Tea Partiers' commitment to key social issues while the Tea Party leaders criticize the Religious Right's penchant for governmental intervention. Clearly, these are two competing conservative visions of the role of government.

What fascinates me is that there is a parallel rift among Christians on the political left: there are those, like Sojourners and Bread for the World, who take the Bible's call to social justice and translate it into advocacy for governmental policy changes. And then there are those who follow a more Anabaptist or Hauerwasian vision of justice embodied locally, in faithful Christian communities, and who do not rely on government at all. My friend Tim sifted through some of these questions in an outstanding piece for The Other Journal in 2008.

Glenn Beck couldn't comprehend these complexities if he wanted to (which he doesn't). But sometimes it takes a loudmouth who misstates your position to force you to clarify what you really mean. In this sense, Beck is extremely useful, because mischaracterizing nuanced ideologies appears to be one of his spiritual gifts.

02 March 2010

David Brooks explains it all.

David Brooks says that "culture" can help us understand why Norway wins so many Olympic medals. A few weeks ago, he also explained that culture is partially to blame for the severity of the Haitian earthquake. Not sure how convinced I am of either of those things.