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Free Speech: License or Responsibility?
Many countries in the global community do not have the right to free speech. In the U.S., our right to speak out is protected under the Constitution. How well do we live up to the responsibility granted with that freedom?
The Epistle of James is written to urge Christians to practice the ethic of Israel’s covenantal, prophetic tradition. In this particular text, the apostle reflects on the enormous power of speech and the potential of the tongue for doing good or evil. Appeal to the covenantal, prophetic tradition of Israel may suggest two connections for us. First, the covenantal commandments of Sinai, the Ten Commandments, already have in their purview the cruciality of "right speech" — the ninth commandment prohibits "false witness."
The original reference concerns testimony in court. In larger horizon, however, the commandment pertains to the neighbor.
Facing Up to Our Broken Covenants
Lent is our season of honesty. It is a time when we may break out of our illusions to face the reality of our life in preparation for Easter, a radical new beginning.
When, through this illusion-breaking homework, we connect with reality, we see that in our society the fabric of human community is almost totally broken. One glaring evidence of such brokenness is the current unrelieved tension between police and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri.
That tension is rooted in very old racism. It also reflects the deep and growing gap between “the ownership class” that employs the police and those who have no serious access to ownership who become victims of legalized violence.
This is one frontal manifestation of “the covenant that they broke,” as referred to in the Jeremiah text for this week: a refusal of neighborly solidarity that leads, with seeming certitude, to disastrous social consequences.
Of course the issue is not limited to Ferguson but is massively systemic in U.S. society. The brokenness consists not so much in the actual street violence perpetrated in that unequal contest. The brokenness is that such brutalizing force is accepted as conventional, necessary, and routine. It is a policy and a practice of violence acted out as “ordinary” that indicates a complete failure of neighborly imagination.
Lent is a time for honesty that may disrupt the illusion of well-being that is fostered by the advocates of indulgent privilege and strident exceptionalism that disregards the facts on the ground. Against such ideological self-sufficiency, the prophetic tradition speaks of the brokenness of the covenant that makes healthy life possible.
As long as there is denial and illusion, nothing genuinely new can happen. But when reality is faced — in this case the reality of a failed covenant between legal power and vulnerable citizens — new possibility becomes imaginable.
I was glad to see Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s tribute to Walter Wink (“Struggling to Become Human,” August 2014), but with one qualification. Bill is right that Wink was “denied tenure,” but he was not “academically shunned.” Wink was highly regarded, participated fully in the Society of Biblical Literature, and was respected and taken seriously by colleagues. I counted him as a friend, but also as a valued scholarly colleague. We have learned much from him.
Grief, Courage, and Perseverance
Reflections on stopping gun violence, a year after the massacre in Newtown.
Re: “The Face of Hate” (interview by Joanie Eppinga, June 2012): Thanks for your great work! But your caricature of Calvinism is uninformed and unnecessary. Not only in the interview with Barrett-Fox but also in your editors’ note, you lump together “conservative” and “Calvinism.” You can do better than that! Progressive Calvinism is alive and well, at the forefront of the justice work. You abhor stereotypes, but you perpetuate this one.
How to Read the Bible
Ten books on the shelf of one of our most respected biblical scholars.
How Do We Practice an Easter Life?
These Easter readings line out the new life lived by the community of Jesus. They show, on the one hand, that Easter life is dangerous and demanding.
Good Friday: Praying in the Abyss
In Christian confession, Good Friday is the day of loss and defeat; Sunday is the day of recovery and victory. Friday and Sunday summarize the drama of the gospel that continues to be re-performed, always again, in the life of faith. In the long gospel reading of the lectionary for this week (Matthew 27:11-54), we hear the Friday element of that drama: the moment when Jesus cries out to God in abandonment (Matthew 27: 46). This reading does not carry us, for this day, toward the Sunday victory, except for the anticipatory assertion of the Roman soldier who recognized that Jesus is the power of God for new life in the world (verse 54). Given that anticipation, the reading invites the church to walk into the deep loss in hope of walking into the new life that will come at the end of the drama.
Going Public with God's Good News
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle A.
Trusting God's Inexplicable Goodness
Reflect;ion on the Revisd Common Lectionary, Cycle A: Transfiguration, False Desire to LIfe, Can We Start Again, and High-Water Mark.
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