Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shattered Minds

Becca Clark wrote in a comment to a recent thread, “I do think we run a risk when we generalize from personal experiences.” I have given considerable thought to her assertion and still find myself wondering if it is as true as it sounds. I have to ask myself how much of our entire belief system actual comes from our experiences. I am aware that there is suppose to be something we call hard science. Knowledge developed from pure research that produces facts. I am also aware of all the folks who believe the Bible to be without error and the inspired Word of God. Therefore, there are sources that people believe facts can come from. However, we know that scientific facts are a moving target because almost no one still believes the earth is flat yet at one time that was the science of its day. We also know not everyone agrees the Bible is infallible and the ones who do disagree on what it says. So I ask what knowledge can we count on not to be tainted by opinion and personal experiences?
For example, looking at the question of how to define mind one runs into more curves and dead ends than almost any subject science tries to define. To be ethical I must tell you I have a personal interest in this subject because things have been done to me “in my best interest”, but my only crime is my shattered mind. However, those of us with a mental illness and other disabilities or unpopular behavior, gender, color, sexual orientation, or monetary situations are handled differently by simply creating laws to suit the purposes of the society at large.
When researchers are studying mice, they are looking at less complex creatures than themselves, but when they are trying to define mind with their own mind a problem arises. Are they able to look objectively at a mind with a mind?
Let me back up. If you agree that a mind is merely a brain to be studied as we study any biological part of the human body then you will not agree there is a problem. However, if you think the mind is more than a mere mechanical machine then we can go on. If we need to believe in God, pray to God, and have a soul, where is that connection made? In a mechanical machine or a mind which is more than a biological brain.
I firmly believe that when my mind is shattered and I am not functioning well that my brain disorder is part of the problem, but the solution is not found only in psychiatric medications. Yes, I have bipolar disorder (manic-depression), but that also causes other problems in my mind and soul. I know Ms. Clark cautioned about making a generalization from one’s personal experiences and maybe she is right, but my guess is that there are many hurting souls just like me brought to their knees by a brain disorder (mental illness) which usually causes mind and soul problems.
We can as the body of Christ respond with compassion to those whose only crime are shattered minds and share with them the Good News about God’s love for each one of them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HUNGERY?

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HUNGRY?

Matthew 25:37-40 (New International Version)
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

James 2:15-16 (New International Version)
15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

Have you ever been hungry for very long? I don’t mean just missing a meal. I mean not having the means to feed yourself. Have you felt the pains in your belly caused by the lack of food over a period of time?

The experts say six million children under the age of 5 die every year as a result of hunger. They also say that there are 840 million people in the world who are malnourished and more than 153 million of those are children under the age of 5.

“The integral relationship between poverty and hunger may not come as a big surprise, but still the statistics are shocking. Approximately 1.5 billion people live on less than US$1 a day and every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger.”
I found this statement on BBC World Service Website.

Why am I on this subject right now? First, I have lived on the streets of some of our largest cities here in the States and have gone hungry. Second, a large portion of people with disabilities such as mental illness live in poverty and their money runs out before the month does. Third, Cornel West, a Princeton professor, has publicly complained about President Obama being “too much in the thrall of the neoliberal elites.” [Newsweek/July 27, 2009] He said, “The moment of euphoria is over. We need intense pressure on Obama. Poor people are suffering. Working people are suffering.” Lisa Miller, Newsweek’s Religion Editor, piece was titled Remember the Neediest! with a subtitle of The Radical Left Versus The President.

We can argue till the cows come in about who should be doing what. What role does our government have? What role do private citizens have? What role do charities have? What role do faith communities have? The simple truth is that when you are hungry you don’t care were the bread comes from, but when we stand before the King, we will care if we fed the hungry.

THEOSIS

PROCESS THEISM, PROGRESSIVE CHRISTANITY, PROTESTANTISM, and THEOSIS

Jennie Fowler Willing opened the New York Evangelistic Training School and Settlement House in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York in 1895. Willing, a Methodist laywoman, required students at the Training School who were preparing for mission careers to spend one hour a day working among the poor and to assist in the evangelistic services conducted nightly. These are her words, “We read the Bible through spectacles blurred by tradition…God be praised, we are out of the controversial belt. We have left behind the highways where theologians marched and countermarched. We study the book now, not for clubs with which to beat each other’s theological brains, but for food to make us strong to fight the common enemy.”

I hope I have not been doing that and I certainly hope this is not seen as such. I simply feel the need to attempt to define some terms and give some notion of my purpose and reason for even wanting to be part of this community. My purpose is because I enjoy the sharing of ideas and even the debating of them. The reason is that I need and want community.

I am not going to try to define Process Christianity. I will leave that to those who know far more than I do about it, but I would like to share a simple fact about process theism, which I found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Process theism typically refers to a family of theological ideas originating in, inspired by, or in agreement with the metaphysical orientation of the English philosopher-mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and the American philosopher-ornithologist Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000).” If you agree to the above as being accurate, then process theism is about God not being a finished product, but rather is in the process of becoming. Do not complain I have made it too simple. I already know it is a much more complex philosophical argument than that, but that is my ‘Reader’s Digest’ version. Since process means becoming, I am at a loss at how anyone could define Process Christianity or theism in any real terms.

If we start with the proposition that Progressive Christianity is more of a multifaceted movement than a theology in the strictest since of the word, then we may have a better chance of understanding each other. The Center for Progressive Christianity on their about us page claims in 1994 Jim Adams, the founder of the center and at the time the rector at St. Mark’s church on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC started using the term “progressive Christianity” at a time when no other “known organization, scholar, or church leader” was doing so. It seems to me that if I had to sum up the folks that might fall under this label they would be people who tend to be inclusive, accepting, participatory, concerned about social justice, and building a community where spiritual growth can be nourished. As has been pointed out in comments to a previous blog of mine Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are folks who might agree they are progressive Christians. Wikipedia even listed John Wesley as a Notable Progressive Christian. The reason being he did take on the social issues of his day.

Protestantism is one of the main divisions of Christianity, which emerged from Roman Catholicism at the Reformation, a movement that questioned and ‘protested’ against the teachings and authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism takes its name from the protest of the German Protestant reformer Martin Luther and his supporters during the Reformation, in particular their protest at the Diet of Spires (1529) against the decision to reaffirm an edict against the Reformation made at the Diet of Worms (1521). So our claim to fame is that we are protesters and we still are, but do we know against what?

On the website of The Claremont School of Theology, we find these words “As a theological school of The United Methodist Church, Claremont has deep roots in the progressive Protestant tradition. Today, Claremont is building on this heritage and broadening its scope by transforming into an inter-religious university, a place for people of all traditions and perspectives to study, train and be transformed together. People around the world are taking notice ... and so should you.” So maybe I have found a new term. Progressive Protestant. What does that mean? They call it a “Pioneering Vision.”

Theosis is the understanding that human beings can have real union with Christ, and to some degree that we participate in the divine nature. This does not imply that we become gods, but rather, that we are to come into the fullness of the "divine image" in which we were created. It may be related to the Protestant concept of sanctification. It may also be seen as something akin to the John Wesley’s idea of "entire sanctification". It is defined by Frederica Matthews-Green in her book “The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation” as “the process of being more and more in Christ”. I think I like the idea of theosis because it seems to be “food to fight the common enemy.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

PROGRESSIVE THEOLOGY


My father was born and raised in Appalachia, but was determined to get an education. He did. He was an educator, minister, and missionary to Africa. He was my teacher while I was at Mashoko Mission in what was then Rhodesia now called Zimbabwe. My college education is more like an old time quilt made from leftover rags than a fancy new store bought bed cover. I am 60 and still have never completed a degree. However, I am an ordained minister and Elder in the Christian Church/Churches of Christ and a member of the Glen Alpine United Methodist Church, Glen Alpine, NC. I say all this to let the readers of this blog know who is making these statements and that I make no claim to be a major scholar on the issues. Then why am I making them? Because in a comment to a previous blog I wrote (Mad at God) Bill Chadwick on 7/11/2009 in a reply addressed to Becca raised some very interesting points that I simply could not ignore.
First, let me say his comments were most respectful and written by a person I can only describe as a thoughtful gentleman. The comments seemed both genuine and heartfelt.
Second, I was touched by what I felt was a note of pain I noted in the last paragraph of his comments when he mentioned personal attacks and being blocked from making comments by a poster. If I am right then I regret that anyone in this blog community is made to feel uncomfortable or to experience pain from what is suppose to be a place to find community.
Third, I also read in that last paragraph the words “progressive theology” and “progressive Christians.” Now let us see if we can figure out what is meant by these words.
In a paper, I found on the internet titled Progressive Theology: Some Musings from a United Methodist Perspective by Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan I found these words, “Many of us have said that the division within The United Methodist Church goes beyond the issue of homosexuality. We recognize that our division goes to the very core of our theological divide. We need to recognize further that our theological divide is rooted also in our biblical interpretation and the nature of the Bible as sacred text.” Well no big revelation here. He simply stated the obvious. I guess we will have to look further.
“As an ethnic biblical scholar, I know and have experienced how the textual interpretation of a dominant group has been used as a means to silence and deligitimize the interpretations of other groups. The same is true of theological discourse. Instead, what we need to do, as progressive theological thinkers, is to set the framework and parameters of our theological discourse. Simply put, how do we do theology?” Now we are getting somewhere. They want to set the rules of the game. I think I have seen this before. On the playground in grade school.
“A framework for doing theology that is both critical and constructive, individual and communal, contextual and incarnational, and that takes seriously the values of pluralism, feminism, liberationism, post-colonialism, and ecological and environmental responsibility impacts our biblical interpretation and what we see as the nature of the Bible. In my life as a student of the Bible, I have come to a conclusion that biblical interpretation is public discourse. Robert Allen Warrior talks about the reference to Native Americans as Amalekites and Canaanites by many Puritan preachers. The implication was clear, namely, that the Native Americans, like the biblical Amalekites and Canaanites, if they would not be converted, were worthy of annihilation. The annihilation of Native Americans during the colonial period was grounded in irresponsible biblical interpretation and bad theology. In doing “as if” and responsible readings, we will find ourselves in situations where we must speak and preach against the text, unmasking and rejecting harmful ideologies and bad theologies.”
Long quote, but now I think I get this progressive theology and Christian thing. Progressive means leaving the Bible in the dust and building a theology to your liking in a dust storm. Well I am what they call a folk theologian and philosopher, but even I can see the disadvantage of trying to study the Bible without believing in it or even wanting it in the room.
If progressive theology meant how to move closer to the Lord our Redeemer, then that is real progress, which is the root word of progressive. If being a progressive Christian meant walking in the footsteps of Jesus towards the foot of the cross where one finds the grace God is waiting to show us, then I am a progressive Christian. If progressive means being like Christ and living a life of radical compassion for our fellow man then let me on the boat with Jesus, but not on a sinking ship with those who want to write their own rules to the game.
My friends God wrote the rules when He created all that is. Grace is progressive. It moves the most unworthy into the very presence of our Creator. That is the definition of progressive.
Frances Perkins was Secretary of Labor for FDR for 12 years. The first woman to hold a Cabinet post. A true political progressive. She chaired the committee that drafted and developed the Social Security Act of 1935. She said she had an earnest desire to “to live for God and do something.”
The United Methodist Church may splinter into multiple pieces, but God’s Word to His people will remain. People will still be helping people in each church around the world. They can come up with term after term. Progressive theology. Liberation theology etc. The only thing that will stand the test of time is the Good News. The Gospel. The most radical and progressive movement on the face of the earth started on the day they hung God’s Son on the cross. When He broke the bonds of death and hell on Resurrection Day, we all won our freedom if we will follow in His footsteps. Now that is progressive.



*Quotes came from a paper on www.progressivechristianwitness.org
** My Website www.projectdreamagain.com

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

MEND A BROKEN HEART TODAY

We need to go back to the beginning to a barn in the mountains of Appalachia. Because it was in that barn, my strongest feelings of being deserted by God were felt. I was not yet old enough to go to school, but I was old enough to be brutally used as a sex toy. It was not a single incident by a stranger. It was many victimizations over a number of years. My grandfather would first do something good and kind and later unexpectedly would come a sexual assault so brutal and painful I simply wished he would kill me.
Where was God?
It has taken me years to understand that He was in the barn with me. Why He did not stop it is a mystery only He knows the answer to. How do I know He was in the barn? Because I am now sixty years old and still alive and at least as sane as most of the folks around me. That means He was there. He helped me even as I denied He existed.
Researchers estimate that, in our country, about 10% of boys and 25% of girls are sexually abused. About 30% of those who sexually abuse children are relatives of the child, such as fathers, grandfathers, uncles, or cousins. The big question is why is it so hard to protect children from sexual abuse? (Note the percentages above are only for sexual abuse not all kinds of child abuse)
There are many answers given to the question I just posed, but the answer I am about to give is from my own personal experience. That does not make it right, but I offer it as a possibility. The main reason is that once we become a victim of childhood sexual abuse we no longer trust adults enough to tell anyone about what is happening.
Faith communities can play a major role in turning this whole thing around. Note I said community. In a community where all the adults are looking after the interest of the children, the disabled, the elderly, and the poor children will have a better chance and if they do become a victim are much more likely to tell.
Jesus was in the barn with me, but are we in the byways, busy streets, and sharing with the bloodied souls of our fellow sojourners the chance for the peace we know in our own hearts. The only evangelism that really works is heart to heart. Did you help mend a broken heart today?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

MAD AT GOD

I am mad at God right now so I immediately started building a case against Him. We do the same thing with friends or families who we think have wronged us, or we have some other reason to need to dislike or dismiss them. Therefore, I was delighted to find this gem in a novel I am presently reading. It goes like this.
“Well, sometimes when I see a guy like that, I say to myself, “There but for the grace of God go I,’”
Gail commented, “If God’s grace existed, there wouldn’t be people like that for you to say, “There but for the grace of God.’” (from Spencerville a novel by Nelson Demille)
However, my delight quickly passed and reality once again hit me in the face. God was not responsible for my anger. He was not the one who had committed the actions that were causing my anger. True enough He had not stopped them, but if He had, I would have been angry at that because that would mean He had decided to take our freedom away and turn us into robots.
The truth is I am responsible for my anger. Yes, something was done to me that should not have been done, but I am 60 years old and I know that I am not perfect and expecting perfection from others is simply insane.
Tolerance and acceptance of one’s self and those around them will lower the anger quotient. Tolerance and acceptance does not mean agreement or status quo. It means you may work to change what you can, but with a spirit not consumed by anger.
Anger is not only destructive to the person feeling it and the person or persons on the receiving end, but it prevents you from being heard either by the source of your anger or the larger community.
Anger produces violence in one’s deepest core and at times erupts into acts of violence. Every time I get mad, I at some point think about Jesus in the Temple and Him cursing the fig tree for not having any fruit on it. I say to myself even Jesus got mad. Whatever He was feeling we know He went to the Cross sinless. Can we claim our anger never causes us to sin? If we can’t make that claim then we need to claim responsibility for our anger. We need to stop demanding perfection before perfection is possible.
It will only be possible when we join Him in the place He is preparing for us. Till then we own our own anger. I guess I have to stop being mad at God. What a shame? It was easier than taking the responsibility myself, but if I am going to be honest and work on a healthy soul I must. The case I must build now is one of tolerance and acceptance without ever becoming resigned to reality as it is.
Working to improve my heart and the hearts of those around me. Working for the day that anger will pass away.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wishful Thinking


Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, called wishful thinking America’s “besetting sin.” After her husband's death in 1945, she continued to be an internationally prominent author, speaker, politician, and activist for the New Deal coalition. She worked to enhance the status of working women, although she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because she believed it would adversely affect women. She was also one of the founders of Freedom House.

The Mission Statement of Freedom House has these words in it, "Freedom House is an independent organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world. Freedom is possible only in democratic political systems in which the governments are accountable to their own people; the rule of law prevails; and freedoms of expression, association, belief and respect for the rights of minorities and women are guaranteed."

"Freedom ultimately depends on the actions of committed and courageous men and women. We support nonviolent civic initiatives in societies where freedom is denied or under threat and we stand in opposition to ideas and forces that challenge the right of all people to be free. Freedom House functions as a catalyst for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law through its analysis, advocacy, and action."

So was she herself engaging in wishful thinking? Did God when He created us engage in wishful thinking? Is wishful thinking bad or just another name for hope?
Wishful thinking has a dream like or unrealistic quality to it. Hope can be based on wishful thinking or it can be based on a solid foundation. I am speaking about being born again to a living hope.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (English Standard Version)
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

We do not have to depend on ourselves for our hope or on wishful thinking. For those of us with a disability and our families that is more than mere words. It is comfort to a hurting and shattered soul. It brings peace, which means we can begin to dream again. Not just of the bye and bye, but of tomorrow. A peace that means the rising sun no longer is something to dread, but rather something that just might if we are lucky bring some small joy.

©Ed Cooper, 2009
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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

100% Tax Rate?

I wrote this over two years ago and I still think it makes a valid point. I am advocating for a response that will cost less per person over the years, but the person making the comments thinks I am asking for a “100%” tax rate. It must be the single worst piece I ever wrote to get such a response. I am putting it out again because I think it applies even more today. Lets see what the response is this time.

Where is the COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM? (June 21, 2007)
By Ed Cooper
Phillip Yancy, author of numerous books says compassion simply means, “To suffer with”. I had trouble with that definition so I looked it up and found that WordNet said the verb compassionate meant to share the suffering with another. That sounds nice if it were possible. Remember President Bush said, “I call my philosophy and approach compassionate conservatism." (White House Press Release April 30, 2002) Wonder what he meant by compassionate?
In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times recently Verlyn Klinkenborg writing about the report released last week by the Audubon Society which said millions of birds are missing wrote, “The Audubon Society portrait of common bird species in decline is really a report on who humans are. Let me offer a proposition about Homo sapiens. We are the only species on earth capable of an ethical awareness of other species and, thus, the only species capable of happily ignoring that awareness. So far, our economic interests have proved to be completely incompatible with all but a very few forms of life. It is not that we believe that other species do not matter. It is that, historically speaking; it has not been worth believing one way or another. I do not suppose that most Americans would actively kill a whippoorwill if they had the chance. Yet in the past 40 years its number has dropped by 1.6 million.”
Yesterday I was trout fishing on Wilson Creek not far from my home in the Pisgah National Forest and I could hear the birds. They added to the sound of the rushing water of Wilson Creek, which was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System on August 18, 2000, and made the experience delightful even though I did not catch a single trout. What if all the birds were gone?
Klinkenborg seems to be concerned if we will make the right ethical decisions about the other species on this planet with us and I do too, but I spend even more time worrying about the fact we have never learned how to treat each other especially if they are different from us.
To put it bluntly I have never been like most of the rest of my fellow humans. My mental illness and the fact that I was sexually abused as a young child over a long period has made it very difficult for me to fit the normal mold. In other words, I am not what I refer to as a chronically normal person. That means school was almost impossible and I was unable to finish college. I held over 50 different jobs before founding Project Dream Again in 1988. My point here is that I am one of those folks that you would not “actively kill” if you “had the chance”, but like the whippoorwill we are dying off. As I wrote in an earlier blog Marilyn Elias writing in USA TODAY about a recent study wrote that those of us in the public system die about “25 years earlier than Americans overall.” Where is the compassionate conservatism? Maybe it all went to Iraq!
To respond to the needs of folks with mental illness means meeting them where they are. Unfortunately, lots are on the streets or in jails and prisons, others living with families struggling to get them services promised but not forthcoming, some in state hospitals or private ones and others hiding because of the stigma of letting anyone know they are ill.
How do you reach out? By embracing them with compassion if you use the true meaning of the word. A true compassionate commitment to the mentally ill and their families would save government in the long term. It really is less expensive to treat people as if they are fully human than to lock them up in state hospitals or jails and prisons. Why can’t we learn? We ask the wrong people for advice.
Try this! Ask consumers, family members and frontline workers what is needed. Let them be the experts. Embrace a concept of recovery based on the real meaning of compassion. You will then find that “in the community” begins to mean something.





Under Comments I found this Reply: “Government cannot possibly solve every social problem that exists nor should they attempt such an impossible task. If you believe the government needs to take more money from people in order to pay for such programs than how much do you believe your taxes should be increased? Why is the cause of the mentally ill more important than the plight of the homeless, widows, orphans, storm victims, violent crime victims, uninsured or any other group of people who have just as much need. In order to provide for every group of "victims" to their satisfaction the federal government would have to impose a 100% tax rate and there would still not be enough money. Besides the shear impossiblity of providing for every need in existence the federal government does a horrible job of managing anything. While there are many excellent charities that keep administrative costs between 10-20%, it is not unusal for government programs to have admin costs in the 60-70% range. As individuals/Christians we do have a personal responsibility to assist those in need on a voluntary basis.
by Tony Jul 4, 2007 2:56 pm”