What Is the Tenak?

The Tenak is what Jewish people call their holy writings, what Christians call the Old Testament.  Jews place the books of the Tenak in a different order from the Old Testament and the reordering gives the flow of the books a different meaning.

COP23 Interfaith Climate Statement

I received Walk Gently on Earth: A Multi-Faith invitation to Sustainable Lifestyles and quote a portion of the statement:

"To all members of the human family  gathered at COP23:

We extend our warm greetings.  We represent the world's family of spiritualities, faiths and religions who share a profound gratitude for our precious planet.

Earth is a blessing.  She supports life and is the basis of all our economies.  She conveys beauty and evokes our recognition of something greater than ourselves.  She is our temple, our mosque, our sanctuary, our cathedral.  Our home.

Our actions now threaten the delicate balance of life on Earth, with climate change posing a most grave danger.  Record numbers of severe storms, droughts, fires, and related catastrophes leave trauma and grief in their wake.  Recent months have witnessed the tragedy of such occurrences in the Caribbean, the US, and India.  We shudder over the enormity of this suffering and over what more lies ahead.

For thousands of years, our traditions have taught us to care for Earth.  This responsibility has become urgent in recent decades.  Our misuse of Earth's generosity, while improving conditions for many, is not improving them for all and is fraying the web of life.  The most vulnerable among us, those least responsible for this global threat, suffer the impacts or  warming climate unfairly and unjustly.

We have begun to respond, raising consciousness and starting to consume more sustainably.  We have implored leaders to act.  We have studied, prayed and petitioned, advocated, marched and mobilized.  We have awakened to the urgent challenge and begun to change our ways.

However, we are at a crossroads.  The Paris Agreement affirmed limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C, while pursuing efforts to a far safer 1.5 degrees C limit.  Our friends from Fiji and small island states, understanding the stakes and underscoring the science, have told us '1.5 to stay alive.'  Yet we are currently headed for warming of 3 degrees or more, perilously beyond the limit." 

Coalition on Human Needs Report

I received the following October 26:

"We have good news and bad news to share.

The good news: Sustained economic gains and strong state and federal programs have led to welcome progress in the nationwide fight against poverty in recent years.  Our nation experienced a 2.1 percentage point drop in poverty in the poverty rate between 2016 and 2016 - the largest two-year decline since 1969.

The bad news: The budget Congress just passed threatens to make things worse -- much worse.

The budget sets Congress on  a path to cut taxes massively and overwhelmingly for corporations and wealthy people.  Those tax cuts will be paid for, now and in the future, by cutting services that help people rise out of poverty, undoing hard-won progress. 

These are among the findings of a new report, Poverty and Progress: Poverty is Down in the U.S., but New Threats Ahead, released today by the Coalition on Human Needs.

We found:

The U.S. poverty rate was 12.7 percent in 2016, down from 13.5 percent in 2015 and from 14.8 percent in 2014.

Through the years, effective anti-poverty programs have lifted millions of Americans out of poverty.  Examples: in 2016 alone, 8.1 million people were lifted out of poverty by low-income refundable tax credits; 3.1 million fewer people were poor because of housing subsidies; and 3.6 million fewer people were living in poverty because of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/formerly food stamps).  Supplemental Security Income lifted 3.4 million people out of poverty, and the school lunch program did the same for 1.3 million people.

And now, such programs face severe cuts.  The budget Congress just passed assumes trillions of dollars in cuts from programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, low-income tax credits, education, child care and other social services programs, rental assistance and job training."

Human Development through Scripture

One of my sources for daily spiritual nurture is an email series by Father Richard Rohr.  I think you may find the following from September 10 interesting:

"The Hebrew Scriptures are divided into three major sections: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books.  Theologian Walter Brueggemann observes that these three excellently represent the development of human Consciousness itself.

The Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) gave the Israelites the law and a sense of their chosenness.  For natural and healthy self-development, any culture of family follows a pattern of first providing structure, which develops identity, boundaries, and self-worth as beloved and special.  It is easiest to start with an initial sense of 'order.' as even educators now recognize.

The books of the Prophets represent the birth of good and necessary critical thinking.  Without it, we remain far too self-enclosed and smug.  The lack of healthy self-criticism within both Judaism and Christianity shows how little attention we've paid to this part of Scripture.  (We read the prophets as if their only function was to 'foretell Jesus' which is really not their direct message!) The Roman Catholic Church did not allow prophetic/critical thinking for almost 500 years after the Reformation, nor did the United States for most of its 200-year history (Slavery and segregation are the most obvious examples).  When the floodgates opened in the 1960s, there was no stopping critical thinking, and then it became widespread in postmodernism.  Finally, Evangelicals are going through the same process on many levels.

While critical thinking typically arises in human development in the teens and early adulthood, it is usually oriented outwardly, in criticizing others.  But honest and humble self-critical thinking is necessary to see one's own shadow and usually well-hidden narcissism.  Only when I encounter my shadow do I realize that my biggest problem is me!

The Wisdom section of the Hebrew Scriptures includes the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and many of the Psalms.  Wisdom literature reveals an ability to be patient with mystery and contradictions - and the soul itself.  Wise people have always passed through a major death to their egocentricity.  This is the core meaning of transformation.

We have to go through deaths to reach the third stage of wisdom.  Only here does contemplation and nondual thinking become possible.  We can begin to learn to live with mystery and paradox and to develop true compassion.  If stage one is order and stage two is disorder, then stage three is the final goal of reorder.  There is no way around stage two!  It is what Paul calls 'the folly of the cross' (1Corinthians 1:18). Conservatives tend to stop at stage one, liberals tend to get trapped in stage two, but only stage three is the full risen life of Christ."

Joint Statement on Reformation Day

Luther World Information released the following October 31:

"The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) have issued a joint statement on Reformation Day 2017 affirming the goal of renewed theological dialogue is to fulfill the yearning of many Lutherans and Catholics 'to receive the Eucharist at one table as the concrete expression of full unity.'

Referring to the October 2016 joint commemoration in Lund, Sweden, the LWF and PCPCU recall the joint pastoral responsibility expressed by Lutheran and Catholic church leaders for 'the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God's redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table.'

The joint statement describes the ecumenical perspective of the 500th anniversary as 'among the blessings of this year of commemoration,' and a catalyst for greater unity between Catholics and Lutherans.

"This has allowed new insight into the events of the sixteenth century which led to our separation.  We recognize that while the past cannot be changed, its influence upon us today can be transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion, and a sign of hope for the world to overcome division and fragmentation.  Again, it has become clear that what we have in common is far more than that which till divides us.'"

"Why are we having flowers less often at worship?"

I suggest three reasons for the decline in floral altar arrangements on Sundays;

1.  The congregation has gotten smaller over the last few decades so we have fewer people to donate flowers.

2. Flowers are not as popular as they used to be.  I have noticed a decrease in the number of floral sprays at funerals.  People prefer to use their money on other ways.

3.  Flowers have become much more expensive.

Devotional Reading for November 26

I use This Day, published by the Roman Catholic Church, for some of my devotional reading.  Last Sunday's reading was written by Abbot Primate Gregory Polan of the worldwide Benedictine Confederation.  I spent a week at a Benedictine monastery during my sabbatical last year.  I quote some of the devotion to give you an idea of what Catholics say about the readings for last Sunday.

"Among the earliest Christian texts, Psalm 23 is recognized and revered for its links to the Christian sacraments.  The restful waters that revive the soul (vv. 2-3) are suggestive of the life-giving sacrament of Baptism.  The anointing with oil (v. 5) calls to mind the chrismation of Confirmation.  Both the prepared table and the overflowing cup (v. 5) anticipate and prefigure the nourishment of the Eucharist.  These sacraments of initiation formed and fostered the life of the early Church, just as they do for us today...  

"Psalm 23 aptly accompanies the prophet Ezekiel and Gospel of Matthew in the liturgy of this final Sunday of the Church year.  Ezekiel speaks of God both as divine shepherd, seeking out and caring for the lost, and as divine judge, administering justice to the flock.  In Matthew's account of the final judgment, where those who are destined for eternal life are distinguished and separated from those doomed to eternal punishment, God is presented as both King and Shepherd.  The imagery evokes the biblical portrait of David, king and shepherd in Israel, whose house and line were divinely established and upheld.

It is interesting to note that in Matthew's presentation, God's judgment of all the nations can be directly related to the characteristics of the divine Shepherd described in Psalm 23:

'I was hungry and you gave me food'...'You have prepared a table before me.'

'I was thirsty and you gave me drink'   'Near restful waters he leads me' and 'my cup is overflowing.'

'You cared for me'...'There is nothing I shall want.'

'You visited me'...'No evil will I fear, for you are with me.'

Just as God shepherds us, so we are to shepherd one another in this earthly life.  Upon these actions we will be judged." 


Bread for the World November 7 Report on H.R. 1

As tax legislation continues to move through Congress, I want you to know how the ELCA and trusted partners view what is being proposed.  I quote the following from the November 7 newsletter of Bread for the World.

"Last Thursday, Nov. 2, the House Committee on Ways and Means released H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  This bill provides $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to mostly high-income wage earners and corporations.

The proposal fails all of Bread for the World's tax priorities.  We are especially concerned about a harmful provision that will eliminate the child tax credit (CTC) for low-income immigrant families, specifically 3 million children in mixed-status families.  Without this credit, families may not be able to pay for basic needs such as food.  children will go hungry and lack the resources they need to stay healthy and prepare for their future.

Additionally, H.R. 1 eliminates the New Markets Tax Credit and Work Opportunity Tax Credit (NMTC).  The NMTC has done more to reduce the number of food deserts than any other program to date, and more than 72 percent of all NMTC investments have been in communities exhibiting severe hunger."


Giving Tuesday

Thanksgiving Day. Black Friday. Small Business Saturday.  Cyber Monday.  Giving Tuesday.  American capitalism's Holy Week is about over.

More and more charities are getting into giving Tuesday, a relatively new phenomenon which is directed toward those givers who are more spontaneous or impulsive and less planned in their practice of financial stewardship.

The Southwestern Texas Synod participated in Giving Tuesday this year by soliciting gifts for The Gathering, a non-traditional new mission start in New Braunfels.  I am interested in seeing how much money was raised for this new mission church.

Do you think MacArthur Park should participate in Giving Tuesday?

Meals on Wheels Negotiations Continue

Jeanette Pierce continues to reach out to executives at Christian Senior Services in an effort to figure out how to resume MacArthur Park's participation in Meals on Wheels. I went to the senior center today and saw the food warmer is still there, possible a good sign.  Stay tuned.

Curing v. Healing

I was told tonight my explanation of the difference between curing and healing in yesterday's Sunday school class was quite helpful so I am sharing what I said with everyone.

Curing  is to bring to an End a disabling condition.

Healing is the ability of people to accept their situation and live meaningfully.

Healing is available to all.  Curing is not.

Lawyer Comments on Shallowness of Newspaper Article

An Episcopal lawyer friend of mine at the gym commented on the shallowness of the article in yesterday's newspaper. I said I had commented extensively on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) but the writer obviously wanted to emphasize other things.

I recognize print media is hurting these days and writers have to write in a way that engages subscribers.  One of the advantages of writing an article instead of being interviewed for an article is the greater control on what is published.

I was happy to be able to share the gospel in what I said.  In too many situations, pastors are interviewed in the midst of a scandal or tragedy instead of in the midst of a celebration.

Alan Abernathy

I was so happy to see Alan come to church this past Sunday with his wife Olga providing support.  He got a four-hour pass from his rehabilitation facility and decided to use some of it to worship with us.

Today Olga asked me to thank the congregation on Alan's behalf for all of the prayers and other support he has received.

Growing Opposition to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Yesterday the CBO (the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office) made its report on this bill indicating the poor will be hurt even more than originally thought and the rich will benefit even more than originally thought.  Today both Bread for the World and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America called for constituents to call their Senators and oppose this bill.

Bread for the World says tax reform should accomplish four goals: 1) increase equity and fairness in the tax code, 2) maintain and strengthen tax credits for low-income workers, 3) block efforts to finance tax cuts for high-income people by cutting programs that help low-income people. and 4) encourage work and allow new markets to flourish.

The ELCA called upon Congress to work for the common good.

American Academy of Religion/Society for Biblical Literature

Sunday's faith section of the San Antonio Express-News carried a story from Boston about the recent meeting of these two groups of religious scholars and how the meeting turned into an anti-Trump rally.  I had heard an initial report on the meeting from Rev. Kathy Haueisen near the end of our Rooted and Growing campaign but was surprised to read how deep the opposition to Trump is among mainline Christian theologians.  The letter I published in this blog a few days ago from Garrett-Evangelical Seminary may be more representative of the views of religious scholars than I thought.

As I have reported in the past, I know of no major issue where the emphasis of the Trump administration parallels the teachings and positions of the ELCA or other major mainline denominations.  I have distributed a number of emails from the ELCA and related organizations on a variety of issues in Washington and I do not remember receiving one which called upon ELCA members to support the current administration's position.  If I discover such an issue, I maintain my commitment to let you know.

These are challenging and unusual times, but I am confident the Holy Spirit will guide us as we attempt to Live the Gospel and Change the World with a special emphasis on advocating for the poor.

Elaine Ayala Interview Comments Published

The faith section of today's San Antonio Express-News has an article on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and how it was observed in San Antonio.  I am quoted a few times and the article mentions the special music we had here on Reformation Sunday.

I am always intrigued by what gets published after talking about many topics during a twenty-minute interview over the phone.  The 'sanctuary crawl" at Grace did get mentioned but the special worship service at Zion with a Catholic priest preaching did not. 

I am pleased Dr. Norm Beck and I were on the same page in what we said to the newspaper reporter.  As I was preaching today, I hoped what I said in the sermon did not contradict what I said in the paper.

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