Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mid Autumn Festival (Full Moon Festival)

Happy Mid Autumn Festival!  The moon is at its largest and brightest for the year. 

Here is a beautiful song where the moon plays a prominent part.

The name of this song is “Moon Hanging Over the West House”

A translation of the words (provided by a reader on the YouTube site) is underneath the video.  My friend who taught me about this song explained to me that the woman is watching the moon and thinking of her husband, knowing that her husband is also watching the same moon and thinking of her. 

In the same way, my friends across the world and I all watch the same moon …


我想中国! 我想念您,我的朋友! 


古筝-月满西楼(演唱:童丽)the lyric is from an ancient poetry written by a famous female poet whose name is Li Qinzhao.

red lotus flower is gradually fading and the bamboo mat is cold because of the autumn will come soon.
take off my robe and drive my boat.
who sends the love letter of my husband to me from the clouds?
the moon is round hanging over the west house and the wild goose will return their homeplace but where is my husband?
the flower fades and the water flows.they are separate just like me and my husband.
same kind of lovesickness but two gloomy mood.
I have no idea to eliminate this sentiment.
down from brow but come into heart soon.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are You In the “Silent Majority”?

If so, why are you silent?

It’s true, that silence sometimes is a good thing.  At the knee of my father, the epitome of a Southern gentleman, I learned to live by the rule that “discretion is the better part of valor.”  The origin of this English language idiom is the character Falstaff in Shakespeare's play Henry IV.  In Part I, Act 5, Scene 4 of that play, Falstaff pretends to be dead, in order to avoid being killed by a hostile enemy.   When nothing could possibly be gained from conflict, it may be best to avoid it.  A wise person knows when to speak up, and when to remain silent.  However, faking peace is not always the best way to meet our challenges or resolve our problems. 

Sometimes the urge to stifle conflict is a response driven purely by fear.  People who are deeply afraid of conflict may attempt to mute its expression without addressing any of the causes. Merely muzzling the expression of conflict doesn’t make it go away.  Instead of doing anything to address the cause of the problem, pretending that nothing is wrong can just make matters worse.  The cause of the conflict remains unchecked, leading to escalation of and worsening of division.  This is especially true in families, whether between spouses or siblings or parents and children.   Stifling the expression without addressing the cause leaves the splinter to fester deep within the wound, causing further irritation and even infection. 

A strong willed parent or a spouse in denial can pretend that nothing is wrong and by force of character maintain that facade.  The problem is that it’s a faked peace and not an authentic peace.  Putting a lid on a pressure cooker to keep the steam inside will enable one to maintain the appearance that there is no steam.  But eventually, the pressure inside the container may cause an explosion.  When that explosion comes in a relationship, there is often already deep damage, and then even more harm from the consequences of letting things go too far.  How much better it would be, to enable a healthy process for dealing with those troubling issues, for venting the steam before it reaches the tipping point that causes an explosion. 

The tipping point in a relationship may take the form of a divorce, a failed business partnership, or a family that ends up filing court papers.  Other times, the pain is less visible.  The tipping point may not be so obvious, but it shows up in families where one wounded member fails to attend family holidays together, quits returning phone calls, or simply is never heard from again.  To ignore the problem doesn’t make it go away, it delays and even worsens  the inevitable day of reckoning, a reckoning which always manifests as a loss of authentic relationship. 

The next time you are tempted to declare yourself to be “neutral” or you don’t want to take a stand, ask yourself “why”.  Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.  Other times, it’s just a knee jerk reaction of fear and an excuse to avoid the inevitable.  Make sure you are not responding just because of fear, because of a knee jerk reaction that wants to put a lid on the pressure cooker, quickly.

How can one discern when conflict should be confronted rather than avoided?  Well, is there a deep conflict of values?   Are you having to stifle things that are very important to you just to “get along”?  Are you ignoring or having to overlook signs of deep sin or something that will cause great damage to you or a loved one, such as physical or emotional abuse, financial misdeeds, alcohol or drug dependence, or failure to nurture intimate relationships?   If so, being noncommittal now is not going to make it easier to confront that problem later.  Be wary of another enabler of evil, which is denial.  Are you making excuses, overlooking the obvious, having to hide things or explain away things that don’t make sense objectively? 

If so, a response is needed. 

I apologize that I am now going to take a scripture out of context.  But somehow this analogy of being “lukewarm” intrigues me.  We are taught that “moderation” is a good thing.  Not too much of this, not too much of that.  “Moderation” also implies that we don’t let things get out of control in our lives:  no drunkenness, no speeding, no sky diving, no screaming matches with our partner, right?  Those are all far too close to the edge, far too risky, nice people don’t do things like that.  Paul even says, “Be not drunk with wine.”  But there’s another view of moderation, expressed in Revelation Chapter 3.  Hear this: 

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:14 – 22)

Perhaps the lesson is this:  Discernment.  Should our response to conflict be hot, cold, or lukewarm?  Perhaps the answer is “it depends” and comes back to the reminder that, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”  Sometimes, in the interest of saving a relationship, we exercise discretion not to say hurtful things.  Sometimes, in caring for ourselves or others, we choose moderation in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  But “lukewarm” is not necessarily always a good or healthy response.  Sometimes, moderation is exactly opposite of the path we need to choose.  Sometimes in life, we must walk into the fire and let the challenges of life refine us, to burn away the impurities and damaging things in our relationships with others.  When we do successfully overcome the issues that caused conflict, to achieve authentic reconciliation, then how much sweeter is the true peace! 

This is where it is appropriate to speak of a concept called “conflict transformation”.  Some view peacemaking, or peace building, as a wimpy, cowardly response to conflict.  That’s because they equate peacemaking with a lukewarm response, the response of conflict avoidance or of walking away.  But this is not actually the way of peacemaking. 

The way of peacemaking is to walk through conflict, to confront it head on.  The difference between peace making and adversarial responses to conflict is that while peace making speaks truthfully to the conflict and its root causes (and thus confronts the causes head on), peace making also speaks and in a way that strengthens relationships and creates opportunities for positive response.  Peace making actually offers the hope of rebuilding and strengthening relationships.  It eschews violence because the peace making response seeks to address the conflict in a way that doesn’t harm the one confronted.  (A significant aim of peace-making activism is actually to convert the heart of one’s adversary, something Abraham Lincoln implicitly affirmed when he stated, “Am I not destroying my enemies, when I make friends of them?”) 

On the other hand,  harm and discomfort are two different things.  Sometimes conflict transformation can be a challenging process.  It also requires bravery to trust the process as well as to make one’s self vulnerable. 

Indeed, peacemaking is also not intuitive.  People are not born as peacemakers.   Our intuitive response is to engage in the screaming match, to pick up a stick and throw it, and then to throw up our own arms as a shield when a stick is thrown back in our own direction.  The opposite of this, peacemaking, is a skill that must be taught, nurtured, mentored and consciously developed.  If you would like to learn more about peacemaking and conflict transformation, if you would like to bring peacemaking to your family, to your church, to your workplace, please feel free to contact me for more and deeper information.  My web site for my professional practice of peacemaking and conflict transformation, is at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lighten Up!

Okay, time for a break from all that serious stuff.


Q:  How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  How many can you afford?


Q: How many judges does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Judges do not change the light bulb.  They just say who is responsible for the darkness.


Q: How many arbitrators does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Same as judges, but you can’t appeal the decision.


Q:  How many mediators does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  Mediators do not change light bulbs, they empower the bulb to change itself.


(This joke was originally posted on May 2, 2010, by Debra Synovec on her blog )

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Intolerance means …

“If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause.”  Gandhi

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Speaking Truthfully: Ephesians 4:25

I wrote recently about Glenn Beck and how he mis-states the position of his opponents in order to “disprove” the phantom view.  The problem is, that what he disproves has no relation to what his opponent was saying. 

This seems to be a general symptom of debate in our society these days.  Much of public discourse in both the political and religious sphere seems to involve fabrication of extravagant claims regarding the most extreme boundaries of opponents’ statements.  Then, once the fake argument is set up, the audience is entertained by the show of striking it down.   A current example in the Christian world appears in the  September 13, 2010 issue of the Christian journal, The Layman.  An article in that journal accuses the Vice Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, of asserting that the Bible was not the Word of God.   Did Whitsitt really say this?!  Well, it depends. 

As with most lies, a kernel of truth is manipulated so as to lend credibility to the whopper.  In this case, Whitsitt did say something which struck a nerve, but his critics won’t allow him to elucidate or explain or try to draw finer nuance.  They just want to proclaim, “Gotcha!”  Taken all together, the issue is: “What did Whitsitt mean; what was he trying to express?”  His critics don’t really want to engage in dialogue about that, they just want to jump on him for saying one thing, which they take out of context, as impugning their view of the significance of the words on the page of the Bible. 

Ad hominem.  Straw man.  Argumentum ad logicum. 

These are the names for the basic logical fallacy of misrepresenting the position of one's opponent and then attacking the false argument and "defeating" it.  Seemingly, ad infinitum!  The problem is that the argument so "defeated" is a straw man and not a real one – it has no real resemblance to the true position of the opponent.   If Whitsitt really believed the things he is accused of – saying that scripture is not authoritative – not only would he never have been ordained as a minister, it’s more likely he’d never have any motivation to call himself a Christian in the first place.  Instead, his position has been misrepresented precisely so that it can be easily burned in effigy:  a classic straw man.  That why Argumentum ad logicum describes exactly what has happened here. 

Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt has merely stated the obvious:  the “mind of God” [a metaphor in and of itself] is not "contained" in scripture any more than it can be "contained" in human thoughts or brains.  I hope that most mainstream Christians agree that whenever we begin to limit God to expression that falls solely within the constraints of human language, and even more so when we subject that language to a literal interpretation, we make the grave error of remaking God according to our own likeness. 

By reframing Whitsitt's point as an extreme view, claiming that he doesn't believe the Bible is authoritative, Whitsitt's detractors have gravely misstated his position.  They fail to address in any way Whitsitt's actual observation, which is that disagreement over social issues facing the denomination is really just a symptom of a deeper disagreement, which is to ascertain how do we decide what this writing MEANS, with respect to how we address this social issue?  Must we always pay homage to literal interpretations of scripture, choosing the literal over the metaphorical in every instance?  Whitsitt thinks not.  If the detractors were honest with themselves, I imagine they would not adhere to a literal interpretation of the Bible in every instance, either.   Not only have Whitsitt's detractors committed logical error, they've also violated a basic tenet of scripture itself.  Namely, the duty to speak truthfully regarding our fellow Christians: "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body."  This logical fallacy --   misstating the view of one’s debate opponent --  is also a specifically enumerated sin! 

To my way of thinking, these men commenting in the Layman are modern day Sophists:  seeking to be wise, they become fools.   They reveal themselves as fools not just because they speak untruths, but because they are thinking in a small minded way, at odds with deeper spiritual principles.  For when one member of the body of Christ is injured, we all are injured.  When even one is wounded, Jesus weeps.  I’m not going to quote a chapter and verse for this.  The detractors, if they are familiar with their Bibles, should know those.  

The comments in The Layman by Whitsitt’s detractors make it appear that they think they are winning and scoring points, as if they were playing in a game of one-upsmanship.  Strutting like gamecocks, writing letters with headlines like “More Liberal Drool,” and “Stay and Risk Decay,” they congratulate and encourage each other in finding fault with church leaders.  "Oh, I see you’ve located one more reason to proclaim the mainline denomination is going to hell, let’s congratulate each other on how bad it is!"  One imagines a figurative patting on the back, a scorekeeping where the writer checks a box that says “one up”.  But what they are really accomplishing, is nothing less than to wound the body of Christ. 

I know that I certainly feel insulted, belittled, betrayed, misrepresented, and misunderstood by this kind of "trash talk" aimed in my general direction.   And I’m not the only one.  We who are wounded would rather find common ground with these other Believers,  yet we find ourselves feeling spat upon, figuratively speaking, by the scornful attitude and deliberate misrepresentation of our earnest and sincere efforts when we attempt to engage in dialogue with them.   (What Whitsitt actually said can be heard HERE.)      

In spite of, and not because of, their thumping on its cover and proclaiming it as the “Word of God,”  I will continue to think that the Bible is one of the most beautiful writings ever.  I will continue to believe that to literalize the Bible, trivializes it.  To the extent that the Sophists proclaim that my refusal to trivialize the Bible means that I don't think it's the "Word of God," they lie and mis-state my position.  How dare they!  To the extent they are willing to engage in hyperbole and deliberate mis-statements, they should be ashamed. 

Great for boosting TV ratings, great for selling magazines, great for strutting and shooting pot shots.  Terrible for dialogue.  Tragic for the church.  Once again, Screwtape, take note! 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Am I, and Who Are You?

In a blog posted today on Huffington Post (click HERE for link), Skye Jethani speaks of two different kinds of judgment.  One is a judgment concerning good versus evil, the other is a type of judgment in which we judge another in a self righteous way. 

Jethani quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., from a sermon on why the pre-judgment of segregation is wrong:  “Ultimately, segregation is morally wrong and sinful . . . because it substitutes an "I-It" relationship for the "I-Thou" relationship and relegates persons to the status of things.” 

Then Jethani continues: 

Judgment causes us to see the other not as a person, but as a thing, as less human and therefore less valuable. And once we do that to a person or a group of people, it opens the door to all kinds of terrible evil -- segregation, injustice, abuse, even genocide. Jesus is warning us about excluding anyone, or seeing ourselves or our group as inherently better than any other. We may disagree and discern another person or group to be wrong, but when that discernment causes us to value another person or group less, then we've crossed the line into judgment, condemnation, and exclusion.

He concludes:

When we see other people as wrong, not just about what they believe, but in their core identity as people, then it's easy to convince ourselves that we don't have to love them, that we don't have to serve them, and that we don't have to respect them. This exclusion and condemnation of others fuels so much of what's broken in our world today. It's what convinces one group to kill another, or one person to abuse another.

But Jesus says, not so with you. Not among my people. The Christian is never to judge, never to condemn, never to exclude, never to see anyone as without value or dignity, even the person he or she disagrees with most. . . .  "The Christian's job is to agree with God that every person you meet was worth Jesus dying for." We cannot ascribe that kind of value and dignity to people and condemn them as worthless at the same time. It's just not possible.

Think about it! 

How Does Your Church Manage Conflict?

Rare is the church that has no conflict at all.  The question is not whether your church has conflict, but how the leaders in your congregation deal with it. 

Sometimes church leaders have a strong urge to stifle conflict.  This is a response driven by fear.   The problem is that ignoring the conflict doesn’t make it go away.  To the contrary, pretending that nothing is wrong can make matters worse.  Stifling the expression without addressing the cause leaves the splinter to fester deep within the wound, causing further irritation and even infection.  Some refer to this as faking peace. 

The problem is that a faked peace is not an authentic peace.  The cause of the conflict remains unchecked, leading to escalation of and worsening of division.  Sooner or later, the facade of a faked peace will come falling down.  Denial of a problem merely delays (and even worsens) the inevitable day of reckoning. 

One of the worst examples of denial being reported at the present time appears to be the tragic lack of response of the Catholic church to allegations of child abuse.  The only point of bringing up this tragedy and failure of leadership is to point out that lack of response to the tragedy led to broadening and magnification of the problem, not to its going away. 

On the other hand, there’s the other extreme, of a congregation that squares off against one another, forming factions that fight, lobby for position, and wage personal attacks against one another.  Rather than faking the peace, call this breaking the peace. 

Peace breakers deal with conflict in negative and destructive ways that are all too familiar:  by engaging in name calling and trash talk, through polarization and staking out extreme positions, by failing to take responsibility, by blaming others, by failing to listen or communicate, by failing to consider reasonable proposals, by escalating conflict through adoption of extreme “winner take all” positions that leave no room for compromise.  The peace breakers marginalize others, let anger (including self-righteous indignation) govern their actions, take “I win, you lose” positions, and are callous to the effects of using verbal barbs which leave their opponents wounded on the battlefield of conflict. 

The peace breakers are the worst nightmare of the peace fakers.  The peace breakers take over churches like a motorcycle gang, revving their engines and wearing leather jackets that say “My way or the high way,” and causing the less adversarial members of the congregation to run for shelter in churches elsewhere that seem more welcoming. 

In a recent tiff within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA denomination), a Pastor confronted a member of the governing board (an Elder) concerning comments by the Elder which the Pastor viewed as racist.  An article about the conflict, and the way the church dealt with it, appears HERE

The conflict was not dealt with perfectly.  There is no mention of any efforts at mediation or peacemaking, but there was an effort at a middle ground, which is to communicate, to acknowledge the conflict, and to deal with it in an appropriate manner.  The pastor confronted the Elder privately first and then publicly, and also began preaching sermons about racism.  The Elder, in retaliation, began lobbying for the congregation to fire the pastor from his position.  In a deeply divided and close vote, the congregation elected not to fire the pastor.  As the conflict escalated, there was some intervention by the ruling body of the denomination.  As a result, several families left the church, which is not an ideal situation.  Nevertheless, the conflict was addressed.  Now, the congregation has an opportunity to move forward and to heal from that conflict.  The article reports that the congregation is beginning to regroup and expand again, now that divisive issues and ideas have been addressed from the root. 

This conflict, and this report, is a reminder that sweeping negative issues under the rug is not always a good idea. But as the split in the PCA congregation illustrates, conflict that is escalated and dealt with in an adversarial manner will cause loss of congregants and deep wounds.  Is there a better way?

In a nutshell, yes.  The middle way is to “Make Peace”.  Peace making is not a skill that is particularly well taught in our society.  Just because someone has been selected to sit on a governing board does not mean they have good conflict resolution skills.   However, there are specific techniques and skills that can be taught during leadership development and utilized to help congregations address conflict constructively. 

Does your church’s leadership development program include training in conflict resolution skills?  Is your congregation equipped to address conflict in ways that uplift one another, that affirm the love that God has for each of God’s children, at the same time you work through conflict?  Is the gospel of peace and reconciliation not just part of  your weekly message, but is it part of your witness in how you live your congregational life?  If the answer is yes, great.  On the other hand, If this is not something your congregation or church leadership has given close attention to, consider seeking some training for your congregation in healthy leadership and conflict resolution skills.  

The potential for conflict exists in every congregation.  Conflict can be handled in positive or in negative ways.   Help your congregation develop skills in making peace.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Women In The Work Force

This is just an interesting article about women in the work force.  Here is a quote.  If you’d like to read more, click the link HERE

“Women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well matched with the requirements of the day,” writes David Gergen in the introduction to Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership. What are these talents? Once it was thought that leaders should be aggressive and competitive, and that men are naturally more of both. But psychological research has complicated this picture. In lab studies that simulate negotiations, men and women are just about equally assertive and competitive, with slight variations. Men tend to assert themselves in a controlling manner, while women tend to take into account the rights of others, but both styles are equally effective, write the psychologists Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, in their 2007 book, Through the Labyrinth.

Over the years, researchers have sometimes exaggerated these differences and described the particular talents of women in crude gender stereotypes: women as more empathetic, as better consensus-seekers and better lateral thinkers; women as bringing a superior moral sensibility to bear on a cutthroat business world. In the ’90s, this field of feminist business theory seemed to be forcing the point. But after the latest financial crisis, these ideas have more resonance. Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.

We don’t yet know with certainty whether testosterone strongly influences business decision-making. But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The new model is sometimes called “post-heroic,” or “transformational” in the words of the historian and leadership expert James MacGregor Burns. The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative. The model is not explicitly defined as feminist, but it echoes literature about male-female differences. A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” says Jamie Ladge.

A 2008 study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style. Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Firms that had women in top positions performed better, and this was especially true if the firm pursued what the researchers called an “innovation intensive strategy,” in which, they argued, “creativity and collaboration may be especially important”—an apt description of the future economy.

It could be that women boost corporate performance, or it could be that better-performing firms have the luxury of recruiting and keeping high-potential women. But the association is clear: innovative, successful firms are the ones that promote women. The same Columbia-Maryland study ranked America’s industries by the proportion of firms that employed female executives, and the bottom of the list reads like the ghosts of the economy past: shipbuilding, real estate, coal, steelworks, machinery.

Click HERE to read more, in Hannah Rosin, “The End of Men” (The Atlantic, August 2010)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Poor Little Glenn Beck: Liberation Theology Bites Back

Poor Glenn Beck, he gets it from all sides.  But then, he must enjoy it since he keeps asking for it. 
(This video shows Beck receiving an application of Vics Vapo Rub to help him “cry” for a photo shoot …  Not that this kind of thing is new, it reminds me of the old trick putting an onion in a hankie … )

Why is Beck catching it from all sides?  Well, first he tried to marginalize the “social justice” Christians, then he caught it for calling Obama a racist.  Beck now says he regrets calling President Obama a "racist" a few months ago.  What he should have said, he explains, was that he didn't agree with Obama's "theology."


And what is Obama's theology, according to Beck?  (drum roll) … Liberation theology (shudder, gasp).

And what’s so bad about Liberation Theology  Well, according to Beck it’s almost the worst form of anti-American evil.  Here's Beck's definition of Liberation Theology:  “I think that it is much more of a theological question that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim....That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about...It's Marxism disguised as religion” (emphasis supplied). 

Is it, really?  A classic logical fallacy is called that of “straw man” (a version of argumentum ad logicam).  The technique for this faulty method of argumentation is to set up a false position for one’s opponent that does not represent the truth of what that opponent stands for.  The fallacious position is easily rebutted and theoretically this dispatches with one’s opponent.  The problem, however, that the false target was what was dispatched, not the true position of the opponent.  Has Obama’s position, and Liberation Theology itself, been mischaracterized?  Is Liberation Theology really “Marxism disguised as religion”?  Is  it really as anti-motherhood and apple pie as Beck claims? 

It goes without saying that Glenn Beck wants to catch it from all sides:  The more sensational he is, the more people will talk.  The   more people talk about him, the better his ratings will be.  The better his ratings, the more money his broadcast employer makes.  So why are we surprised that he, with encouragement from the corporation that supports him, pursues sensational positions?  The problem is that people are confusing entertainment, (i.e. the “sensational”) with what is “real”.  Is Beck telling the truth?

Not to get too sidetracked, but the issue of how Jesus’s teachings may or may not resemble Marxism don’t seem particularly relevant to whether Jesus’s teachings are worthy of paying attention to.  I don’t actually remember Jesus carrying American flags and talking about the personhood of corporations, either.  Corporations, Marxism, the Cleaver family of 1960’s American television, even apple pie -- these are all 20th Century social constructs.  A return to an historically accurate interpretation of Biblical events would necessitate a return to a world of Roman occupation, a world of fishing with nets, drawing of water from a common well, and the washing of dusty feet. 

Of course, even if apple pie is a relatively new invention, motherhood is not.  Some things do still translate from the gospel directly to our daily moral lives.  With regard to this, I distinctly remember a story in the Gospel of Luke 8, when Jesus’s mommy bade him come to her, and he refused, saying that his true family were the people who “hear God’s word and obey it” (ouch!).  And in Matthew 10:37, Jesus told his disciples, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”  Wow.  So, maybe Jesus … But, let’s not go there.  It’s actually a fact that Jesus’s teachings were not always easy, even for those closest to him, who lived right when he did.

Is it possible that the reason comfortable, Middle Class Americans find themselves so threatened by Liberation Theology that it actually hits something of a raw nerve concerning our responsibility for the poor and for social justice?  Is Liberation Theology evil and anti-American, or is it just uncomfortable for rich Americans who would rather have the security of a plentiful bank account, never mind that the poor are just outside the door?  

(The bigger, more important, question in this public debate is probably “who ‘owns’ public policy”?  I know many atheists and people of other religions who would object to the idea of Christians defining “Americana” according to their own theology.  But recognizing that public policy is about morality, and that Christian people have a vital interest in shaping public policy according to generally accepted moral standards, what can we learn from the Gospel about what morality is authentic to Christianity?  For it is only when we’ve discovered what morality is authentic to Christianity that we can then discuss how that morality ought to inform public policy decisions.) 

Is Christian morality represented by patriotism, motherhood, apple pie, and the Cleaver family of 1960’s TV, or is it something else?  For now, let’s stick with the issue that Beck uses against Obama, that' Obama must be one of those … ahem …  Liberation Theology Christians.   If Obama is influenced by Liberation Theology in the morality that he brings to bear on public policy issues, does this make him anti-American, a Marxist in disguise?  This, then, leads to the question, “Just how anti-American is Liberation Theology”? 

The idea of “Liberation Theology” comes from the New Testament, particularly Romans 8, in which Paul proclaims that Jesus came to “liberate” the Believer. (“[T]the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”) This thinking about “liberation” leads not only to the larger question, “liberated from what,” but also to questions about the mechanism by which that liberation occurs and our responsibility in the present world.  The answer to these questions forms the crux of the debates concerning liberation theology.

An article by the Jesuit Priest, Rev. James Martin,* posted on August 29, 2010, entitled “Glenn Beck vs. Christ the Liberator” in Huffington Post (and cross posted on the blog God’s Politics by Beck’s “Social Justice” nemesis Christian Jim Wallis), contains a rebuttal of Beck’s claim that Liberation Theology is evil.


Martin says Liberation Theology was a “lifeline” for him and the the refugees he worked among in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1992 to 1994.  He concisely explains what Liberation Theology is and why he views it as completely consistent with the Gospel.   Rather than repeat any explanations, I quote him as follows:

A little history: Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who reflected on experiences of the poor there. The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971. Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn't see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed."

It also sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the "liberator," who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds. So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees people from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished. This is this kind of "liberation" that is held out. Liberation theologians meditate on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more--uh oh--social justice into the world. Christians are also asked to make, as the saying goes, a "preferential option for the poor."

It's not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It's the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor. And that's disturbing. Some liberation theologians even consider the poor to be privileged carriers of God's grace. In his book The True Church and the Poor, Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian wrote, "The poor are accepted as constituting the primary recipients of the Good News and, therefore, as having an inherent capacity of understanding it better than anyone else." That's pretty threatening for any comfortable Christian. For not only do we have to help the poor, not only do we have to advocate on their behalf, we also have to see them as perhaps understanding God better than we do.

But that's not a new idea: It goes back to Jesus. The poor, the sick and the outcast "got" him better than the wealthy did. Perhaps because there was less standing between the poor and God. Less stuff. Maybe that's why Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, "If you wish to be perfect, sell all you have, and you will have treasure in heaven, and follow me." Like I said, pretty disturbing, then and now. It's hardly "the opposite of the Gospel," as Beck said. The opposite of the Gospel would be to acquire wealth and fail to work on behalf of the poor.

In its heyday, liberation theology was not without controversy: some thought its emphasis on political advocacy skirted too close to Marxism--including Pope John Paul II. On the other hand, John Paul didn't shy away from personally involving himself in direct political activism in Poland. It was the Latin American version of social action that seemed to bother him more. But even John Paul affirmed the notion of "preferential option for the poor." "When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenseless and the poor have a claim to special consideration," he wrote, in his great encyclical Centesimus Annus, which celebrating 100 years of--uh oh--Catholic social teaching.

Liberation theology is easy to be against. For one thing, most people don't have the foggiest idea what you're talking about. It's also easier to ignore the concerns of the poor, particularly overseas, than it is to actually get to know them as individuals who make a claim on us. There are also plenty of overheated websites that facilely link it to Marxism. My response to that last critique is to read the Gospels and count how many times Jesus tells us that we should help the poor and even be poor. In the Gospel of Matthew, he tells us that the ones who will enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who help "the least of my brothers and sisters," i.e., the poor. After that, read the Acts of the Apostles, especially the part about the apostles "sharing everything in common." Then let me know if helping the poor is communist or simply Christian.

I have no idea if President Obama espouses liberation theology. But I do. And for me it's personal. Between 1992 and 1994, I worked with East African refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, and participated in Catholic parishes who tried to help poor parishioners (i.e., all of them) reflect on their daily struggles through lens of the Gospel. And the Gospel passages that spoke of liberation for the poor were a lifeline to me and to those with whom I worked. Oh, and it's not only Jesus. His mother had something to say about all that, too. "He has filled the hungry with good things," says Mary in the Gospel of Luke, "and sent the rich away empty."

Liberation theology has also animated some of the great Christian witnesses of our time. Several of my brother Jesuits (and their companions), some of whom wrote and taught liberation theology, were assassinated at the University of Central America in 1989 by Salvadoran death squads, precisely for their work with the poor, as Jesus had encouraged them to do. Archbishop Oscar Romero, the redoubtable archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred in 1980 after standing for the marginalized, also heard the call of Christ the Liberator. So did the four courageous Catholic churchwomen who were martyred that same year for their work in El Salvador.

These are my heroes. These are the ones who truly "restore honor."

It's hard to ignore the fact that Jesus chose to be born poor; he worked as what many scholars now say was not simply a carpenter, but what could be called a day laborer; he spent his days and nights with the poor; he and his disciples lived with few if any possessions; he advocated tirelessly for the poor in a time when poverty was considered to be a curse; he consistently placed the poor in his parables over and above the rich; and he died an utterly poor man, with only a single seamless garment to his name. Jesus lived and died as a poor man. Why is this so hard for modern-day Christians to see? Liberation theology is not Marxism disguised as religion. It is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness.

Glenn Beck's opposition to "social justice" and "liberation theology" is all the more difficult to understand because of his cloaking of himself in the mantle of devout believer. "Look to God and make your choice," he said during his rally on Sunday.

If he looked at Jesus more carefully he would see someone who already made a choice: for the poor.
Martin says it well enough.  Liberation Theology is not Marxist.  It’s not American.  It’s not Un-American, either.  It’s a response to the gospel.  Where does that put Beck, with regard to Christianity?   To the extent that Liberation Theology represents the gospel or provides a gauge of how we are doing as a Christian nation, what does it say about, and to, those who make and who debate policy in the United States?   
*James Martin is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine, and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. This essay is adapted from a post on America's In All Things.  And again, this post quotes verbatim from the article posted on August 29, 2010, in Huffington Post, HERE