Friday, March 30, 2012

Grotesque Hypocrisy

I have been reading columns written by a man who would currently be my Bishop had I remained Roman Catholic. He is a person I knew well. He was a professor in the seminary I attended in the 1970’s and was and is a Biblical scholar. From an academic perspective, he knew his subject well and was a good teacher of the material. At the time I very much respected him for his knowledge, but found him greatly lacking in compassion as a human being.

One thing very disturbing about him was that he was a proud misogynist. He would often quiz is (open book) on passages from Wisdom Literature over chapters we were assigned to read. We practically had, committed to memory, all the misogynist passages in those books of the Bible as he was often inclined to ask about those. It brought him great delight to watch many of the women in class, nuns, squirmed as these passages were read aloud. He made it abundantly clear these women were not really very welcome in his class, but he was ‘forced’ to accept them in his classroom. He would often lament as to how unfair it was that women were in our classrooms as, in his day, a seminary classroom was only for men. He felt, and he was very vocal about this, victimized by this openness.

He is no longer a theology professor. He is now a Roman Catholic Bishop and he is still a victim. These days he is being victimized by the Federal government for the oppression they are laying on him. In recent columns he very eloquently uses a great many tidbits of historical facts to validate his position which, not unlike his laments of his oppression while teaching in the seminary, is a steaming pile of nonsense.

Ironically, this poor, oppressed Bishop, who lives in a nice house, drives a nice car, and writes whatever he wants with impunity, isn’t always very concerned about the oppression of others. In fact, he contributes to it.

He is currently one of the leading Roman Catholic Bishops who is aggressively seeking out Roman Catholic theologians who may vary, at least in his opinion, from Roman Catholic teaching. He seems to take a certain pleasure in silencing female theologians within the Roman Catholic tradition. While writing how terrible it is when people criticize folks like him for misogyny, he gleefully practices it.

So, while this man who whines that he is a victim because of governmental oppression denying him free speech (which is bogus), he gleefully attempts to silence theologians he does not approve of. The grotesque hypocrisy of this ought not be lost. The fact that I am not mentioning his name is very intentional. I choose not to give this man any kind of forum. He, tragically, already has one and has the capacity to mislead and to silence others.

I thank God every day I am no longer Roman Catholic or in that region or will ever see him again. Within the United Church of Christ I have never met anyone even remotely like him and I doubt I ever well. Being a misogynist is not something we celebrate in the United Church of Christ. Silencing people we disagree with is not something we celebrate within the United Church of Christ. As for him, and the current oppression he is experiencing, I will pray for him. Hopefully, one day, he will grow a heart and recognize that oppressors have no right to condemn others for oppression. Most especially, when one’s claim of the oppression is bogus. The grotesque hypocrisy of this man is distasteful grotesque. The people of his diocese deserve much, much better.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Good Thing

George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. That much is a clear fact. He admits to doing so and so there is no question as to who killed Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman claimed self defense and was not arrested. Under Florida law, self-defense is very admissible even on a public street and so the local sheriff chose not to arrest Zimmerman.

The State of Florida and the United States Justice Department are now stepping in and evidence seems to be rather damning to Zimmerman. In the 911 call Zimmerman made to police, he stated that he was following Martin----and was told not to do so. In a phone conversation recently made public by Martin’s girlfriend, she claimed that Martin was getting scared because Zimmerman was coming toward him. Martin, who was armed only with Skittles, felt he was in mortal danger----and he was.

I’ve had several thoughts, the first being that self-defense, while a potentially valid defense, in a questionable scenario, which this seems to be, should be determined in court. If the sheriff arrested Zimmerman there was a chance for the truth to come out and justice to prevail. The sheriff, however, simply determined to not make the arrest. I do not understand this.

More significantly, however, has been the role of social media and the potential benefits and potential dangers.

The potential danger, of course, is this kind of free speech allows information and misinformation to flow freely. There is a lot of really excellent information passed along on the Internet; there is also a great deal of truly bad information passed along on the Internet. Additionally, there can be loud cries for things simply not true and authorities cannot make their decisions totally on what people on Facebook want them to do.

However, the potential benefits are very much present. In the case of Trayvon Martin no arrest was made and George Zimmerman had nothing to fear-----except social media has kept a potential injustice alive and has made people in authority take another look.

When one hears the cries of Trayvon Martin in the last seconds of his life, that can only be a good thing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Remarkable Covenant II: Being a Law Abiding People
Text: Exodus 20:1-17
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
March 18, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Random Saturday Thoughts

It feels very weird to have it be still winter on the calendar and have the air conditioning on in the house because it's very warm and humid outside. I'm wondering if we'll have a snow storm for Mother's Day?

We, as a nation, are out of Iraq. Thanks heavens. I really believe we need to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible and not get into a war with Syria or Iran. I never agreed with the war in Iraq and we accomplished our immediate mission in Afghanistan very quickly but never withdrew.

Recent arguments about the offensive comments of Limbaugh and Maher are troubling. People defend both of them and I really do not understand how or why anyone can defend either of them. They are both very crass individuals and neither is worthy of defense. Of course, they are both incredible wealthy being crass so they have nothing to lose.

Peyton Manning is one of if not the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. I have no idea what his future holds and if he'll be healthy enough to play. However, having said this, it is difficult to imagine him playing for a team other than the Colts. I hate the fact that he'll probably retire as a member of some other team. It just seems so wrong on so many levels.

I wish I liked basketball. People who like basketball have so much fun in March. It's just not very interesting to me.

Is it just me or are most of the 'issues' being debated right now in the Presidential debates, not really issues. I was listening to a former speech writer for Condi Rice speaking about this. She is a young woman, a life long Republican, and she's bewildered by the people running for office and feels she has no one she can really vote for with any sense of confidence. She sounded like her choice would be to either not vote or vote for an independent person from neither party.

Our two political parties seem to forget that elections are won or lost based on 20% of the population who tend to be independent, centrist, pragmatists.

Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor, has one of the best talk shows on the weekend. She's on MSNBC at 10AM. Cool and intellectual conversations take place. There is no yelling and no name calling and a great deal of respect given to everyone at the table. I hope this catches on.

One thing is for sure. Having college basketball play off rounds in Louisville really generates excitement in the downtown!

Lastly, Jeremy Sapp and JR Stuart are in "Tuesdays with Morrie" at St. Marks. Wow. Brilliant play with two brilliant performances by two very, very fine actors.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Remarkable Covenant I: Being God’s People

A Remarkable Covenant I: Being God’s People
Text: Genesis 17:10-16
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
March 11, 2012

Within the Bible there is the concept of covenant that occurs time and time again. There are minor covenants and three very major covenants.

Covenants are things we make and use all the time without necessarily calling them covenants. A covenant is an agreement between two parties.

If you go out for pizza and you pay for the pizza you are making a covenant that if you give the person money, that person will give you the pizza.

When we purchase a car or a house, we sign a contract that is, in essence, a covenant. If we get married or committed to someone, that is a covenant. When we join churches, it is a covenant. And God has made covenants with us; and we make covenants back, to God.

The Bible has minor covenants that were made with God and people such as Noah and David. There are also agreements, covenants, made between people. There are, however, three over-arching covenants in the Bible. This week I will examine the first of the three, between God and Abraham.

To do this, however, first we need to ponder God and how we view God.
First, we need to see how people viewed God back in Abraham’s day.

In the time of Abraham people perceived the concept of God very differently than we do now. For most people in that era, gods were considered to be regional and functional. There were gods for the sun, the moon, the sea, the sky, the moon, the earth, for war, for love, etc. Cultures saw gods as being tied to distinct geographic areas and were limited to certain powers.

Suddenly, into this mix enters God making a covenant with Abraham. The revelation of God was that there was only one God and the God of Israel was the one God, and God was making a covenant to Abraham and his descendants. God was going to be their God and they were going to be God’s people.

This first major covenant between God and God’s people had one amazing thing taking place. God was, in essence, announcing to the world that God was bigger than they had ever conceived.

The amazing thing about all of this, however, was that people still struggled with how they perceived God. As a result, in Hebrew, there were a multitude of names for God with often different meanings.

These included:

Elohim - strong One, divine
Adonai - Lord, indicating a Master-to-servant
El Elyon - Most High, the strongest One
El Roi - the strong One who sees
El Shaddai – literally, God of the Mountain,Almighty God .
El Olam - Everlasting God
Yahweh - LORD “I Am,” meaning the eternal self-existent God.

People took the concept of multiple gods and gave all those qualities to the one God of Israel. God became one God with many names most of which came from the attributes people saw in God.

In contemporary times we don’t always have a vast array of names for God, but people maintain a vast array of theological opinions about God.

For some, God is a cosmic judge looking to condemn people for every and anything they perceive to be wrong. This past week a minister in Minnesota preached a sermon about the tornadoes in Indiana and said that this was a lesson to everyone about repenting from their sins. God is perceived as an angry and cosmic judge.

Others see God as a something of a cosmic puppet-master controlling each and every aspect of our lives with detailed plans laid out for us each and every day of our lives. We’ve probably all heard sermons or people speaking about God having an explicit plan for their lives from who will be in their family, where they will live, and what kind of career they will have.

For some God is a cosmic Santa Claus waiting for our prayers, and seeking, diligently to provide for our every want or need. Much of what we read and hear about with the prosperity Gospel is based on this. If we pray hard and have faith, then all our dreams will come true.

Others see God as a cosmic observer who sits back and simply watches the universe do its thing with no intervention. God listens to prayers, but does not act until, perhaps the end of life or the end of time. God is something of a removed observer.

Some see God as one who creates, observes, gently guides, and allows life to take place. God is a combination of passive and active, but generally allows life to take place without a great deal of intervention.

All of this, of course, has the addition of the character and personality of God. Some see God as angry and vengeful; others as loving and kind; others as a being with an amazing sense of humor who finds our efforts to be, if nothing else, amusing and entertaining.

Now that I have laid a whole host of things about God, we are left with the fact that God made a covenant with Abraham, and upon this covenant much has been built. It also forces us to ponder what it is we believe about God and what attributes we believe are important about God.

I have three. The first is that God is transcendent.

The word transcendent implies that God is ‘out there,’ great and almighty. God is one who is beyond perception, independent of the universe, and “other” when compared to us. In fact, the word ‘holy’ is, at its core, ‘other.’

It means, in essence, that God is magnificent beyond our perception, comprehension, and understanding. No matter how hard we try, we cannot truly understand God.

In the movie O God there is a wonderful scene between God and Jerry, with God being played by George Burns and Jerry being played by John Denver. Jerry and God are standing in Jerry’s bathroom and God is standing there and they are chatting. Jerry asks, “Is this how you really are?” and God’s response is, “No, if I came as I really am, you couldn’t have gotten it.” This is statement of a transcendent God. God is so beyond our compression we could not stand in God’s presence and fathom what we are experiencing.

On the other hand, God is also immanent. An immanent God, is one which exists within — within us, within the universe, etc. — and, hence, very much a part of our existence. God as immanent is God looking like George Burns in Jerry’s bathroom. When we sing hymns like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” that is a reference to an immanent God, one who is our friend. When we attend a funeral and sing “In the Garden,” pondering images of God walking and talking with us, that is a vision of an immanent God.

These are the first two but you may be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. A view of God as transcendent and a view of God as immanent are opposites.” Yes, they are, and that is part of what makes God, God. God is both greater than we can imagine, and here in our midst. The fact that we can’t perceive it is part of the magnificence of God.

The last attribute of God that really moves me is that God is Eternal. I usually begin prayers with the phrase, “Eternal God,’ because it’s an image I love.

Many scientists say that the first dinosaurs walked the planet 542 million years ago. To give you a point of reference, Jesus lived 2000 years ago and Abraham lived around 4000 years ago.

This means, if we repeated the 2000 years between the time of Jesus and us, here and now, we’d have to repeat it 271,000 times with Abraham’s time needing to be repeated 135,500 times! Geologists tell us that the earth began to take its shape 4.5 billion years ago which means that the era between Jesus’ time and our time would be repeated 2.2 million times and change. The average 80 year old person would live their life over again better than 56 million times.

I’m throwing all these numbers out because I think it gives some perspective on what the word “Eternal” really means. God as Eternal means that God is God in every age and every era. Philosophers tell us that God’s eternity is not linear, year to year, like ours, but one moment. The formation and destruction of the earth is one moment, to God. The dinosaurs and the year 2525, from the song, are one moment. Our sins and Jesus dying on the cross for sin are simultaneous.

Going back to the covenant between God and Abraham, there is something amazing and mind-blowing to acknowledge. This God, this one God, this God who is so magnificently ‘out there,’ this God who is so lovingly ‘in our midst,’ and this God who is God for all eternity, chooses to make a covenant to people, literally and profoundly simply, being our God. It is, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” It is magnificent and it is beautiful.

I am reminded of one of my all-time heroes in Christianity, Thomas Aquinas. He was a Dominican Friar in the 13th century, very much a Pre-Reformation Reformer who spent half his time being charged with heresy. He was for theology and philosophy what Galileo was for astronomy, Newton was for science, and Einstein was for math----brilliant beyond brilliant. He was an amazingly prolific and profound writer. Yet, later in his life he had a profoundly intimate experience of God and he stopped writing stating that, compared to God, everything he had ever written, was little more than straw.

This God, this God of all eternity, this God of distance and closeness, this God who can render geniuses silent, is the God of the covenant with Abraham and now with us.