Friday, August 11, 2006

Keepin' Religion Real

(What an interesting time to be teaching about World Religions! The observations and comments I offer in this post were put together before the events of the last few days).

As I prepare to teach a course on World Religions for the first time, one thing I frequently meet up with is the attempt to sidestep or gloss over those parts of the Qur’an that deny the legitimacy of Judaism and Christianity, and that express divine judgment against everything but Islam.

As a Christian, I might not start out with Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by me.” Maybe I would. I probably wouldn’t start with Paul’s assertion that when Christ returns, the Lord “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

But the fact is, even after our analyses, interpretations, and “yes, but”s, those passages invariably draw lines. Better yet, they identify lines that were drawn by Christ himself. If the Christian gospel is true, then those lines are decisive.

Again, those wouldn’t be the statements I’d start out with in talking about Jesus and his kingdom, or in teaching a unit on “Christianity” in a World Religions course. But neither would I try to hide them. And why would I try? What they say explicitly is something the New Testament says implicitly many times. And why would I want to? C. S. Lewis wrote to the effect that there’s a “Great Divorce” between heaven and hell, between what’s true and what isn’t. The New Testament says that the dividing line is Jesus. As a Christian, as a teacher, would I do someone a favor by pretending it was some other way?

Judging from the politically-correct versions of Islam being foisted onto the American public, though, one would get the impression that no straight-thinking Muslim ever thought the Qur’an had anything bad to say about non-Muslims and their differing beliefs.

Exhibit A: I have a packet of material titled, “Teaching Islam and the Arab World.” Its author evidently hopes that no one will ever read sections of the Qur’an other than the ones the author quotes. Here’s how he works. He quotes from the Qur’an 2:136 as follows:

“Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets from the Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Allah we have surrendered ourselves.”

Then the author comments: “Thus, in Islam, the prophets are seen as spiritual brothers to one another. Some commonly known figures who are considered prophets in Islam include Noah, Jonah, Abraham, Ishmail, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus.”

Sweet, isn’t it? And true enough. But why doesn’t the author quote the statement that prompts the Muslim to “Say” what he says? In the Qur’an, here’s what immediately precedes the “Say” section quoted above:

“They say: ‘Accept the Jewish or Christian faith and you will be rightly guided.’ Say: ‘By no means! We believe in the faith of Abraham, the upright one. He was no idolater’.”

The way the passage is cropped and quoted in the study packet seems to be motivated by a desire to avoid the very point of the text: Christianity and Judaism are not along side of Islam. They are superceded by Islam. My question is, Why not just acknowledge that that’s what the Qur’an says?

In our study of Islam this semester, I won’t attempt to portray Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as some sort of happy trinity of Abrahamic religions. Why? Because it ain’t so.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Writing Tests

If you want to get an education, try putting together a test.  One of my projects this week is to complete writing the pretests for the following courses:  

1.  World Religions
2.  Introduction to the Old Testament
3.  Life of Paul
4.  Introduction to the New Testament

Each test will be made up of 12-20 multiple-choice questions over the broad, basic knowledge that students should certainly have acquired by the end of the course of study.  (Wow, that sounds so professorial).  I want to get an idea of the knowledge level that students are starting out with.  

Of course, I’m starting with the final tests from last semester.  But in many cases, the information is too detailed and/or advanced for a pretest I think

In writing these tests, I’m learning once again how hard it is to come up with good, even test questions.  Any suggestions?  Ideas?  An already-produced test? (with answer key, please)

On a related note, sometimes I wonder about the place of tests in the learning process.  It seems that everything has to be quantified anymore.  And the value assigned to testing has gone up in recent years.  So, we’re stuck with tests, I suppose.  Hey, maybe I should make them write tests; I said it was learning process.

When I was a student at Freed-Hardeman, Clyde (that’s “Doc”) Woods sometimes told about an old rabbi who taught at Hebrew Union College, but who detested giving tests. (I get the impression that yeshivas don’t use written tests like we do).  The rabbi would register his rejection of testing as follows:  “Vy should I ask you vat-choo know?  I know vat-choo know!”

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reflections on the Rally

Ever since last Saturday’s Klan rally and my own participation in the anti-Klan protest, two passages of Scripture have been swirling around in my mind:

The first part of Psalm 97:10 says, “Let those who love the Lord hate evil.” I wonder, what does it look like when people who love God embrace the other side of that?

According to the immediate context, hating evil includes some sort of outward expression. As the verse goes on, the command is accompanied by this assurance: “for he guards the lives of his faithful ones, and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” Clearly then, godly anger isn’t some tricky blend of two emotions, anger and reverence. The passage obviously implies that because of their hatred of evil, the “faithful ones” eventually say or do something that consequently and necessarily incites the wicked.

I went to Saturday’s rally mainly because as a Christian I didn’t want the Ku Klux Klan, a group with a reputation for murderous racism, to stand at the front of City Hall and spew their ugly rhetoric without some sort of repudiation. By the way, I reject the opinion piece in today’s Amarillo Globe-News that suggests that if protesters had only stayed away from the rally, the Klan would have had an audience of maybe two or three clueless teenagers. The on-line edition includes photos of grown men standing with the crowd, wearing Confederate head scarves, and proudly returning to the KKK their Nazi salute! At one point Saturday afternoon, it dawned on me why we couldn’t build the cheer, “Go away, KKK!” At least some of those around us were Klan sympathizers. The protest was significant.

I’ve also been meditating on James 1:19-21: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you.”

Last Saturday, I relearned something about anger. Like the child who grows up, breaks free from and overwhelms the good parent, anger quickly outgrows even righteous indignation and begins to act on its own.

Many people in the protest group wanted to do more than simply make noise and drown out the words of the Klan. At certain points during the rally it became necessary for lines of policemen, dressed in riot gear, to approach the crowd and keep things from escalating. The animosity was infectious and at times I felt like a shark that had caught the scent of blood.

Just after arriving at City Hall, I asked a black man standing nearby me what he thought and how he felt about what we were witnessing. He talked about how he was surprised that we still had visible expressions of the Klan. Then he said, “But one thing’s for sure: only God can straighten this out.”

Monday, August 07, 2006

We Went to the KKK Rally

Last Saturday morning, my two teenagers and I talked things over and decided to go and protest at the Ku Klux Klan rally that afternoon. I’ll write about some of our experiences and reflections later today or first thing tomorrow, plus maybe a photo or two.

The Sunday edition of the Amarillo paper included two front-page stories and a reflection piece on the KKK rally at City Hall, and the alternative rally, which was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park in another part of the city. To access the stories and photos, you may have to register at the Globe-News website. For some reason, the linkage from this site isn't woking so well, so you might have to take the long way around to the website,

Friday, August 04, 2006

Another Plan for the Klan

According to a front-page story in today’s Amarillo Globe-News, a group called Go Away KKK! is planning to be downtown tomorrow “to counter the Ku Klux Klan’s rally by drowning out its speakers with noise.” A KKK group from San Angelo, Texas has been issued a permit to demonstrate on the steps of Amarillo’s City Hall from 3-5 p.m. this Saturday.

Milissa Milam, a spokesperson for Go Away KKK! noted the Klan’s reputation for all kinds of violence and racism, and is calling for residents of Amarillo to show up at the Klan rally with “pots, pans, drums, guitars, whistles, air horns, radios—anything that makes noise.”

A Go Away KKK! poster that accompanies the story in the paper claims that at a recent KKK rally in Austin, TX “protesters got the Klan to leave in just 20 minutes by overwhelming them with noise!”

Today’s editorial in the Globe-News frequently quotes Martin Luther King Jr. and continues the paper’s endorsement of the “Community Unity Day Celebration,” planned by the local NAACP and scheduled for 3-5 p.m. at the MLK Park in Amarillo, far from City Hall.

As I mentioned in a post two weeks ago, other local voices have suggested that people here should completely ignore the Klan’s rally and go on as usual. At least one local pastor has planned a church prayer service to coincide with the rally.

By the way, I have no idea of the source of the photo in this post. But as I was looking through images on the Web, this one fascinated me. I can't get it to post any larger (without serious blurring); the white in the background is a Klansman. The face of a child, the competing principles, life lessons learned early . . . This one’s worth well more than a thousand words.

So, if you lived in Amarillo, Texas, where would you be tomorrow afternoon? Why? I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Legacy of Burton Coffman

This month’s issue of The Christian Chronicle came in the mail just the other day.  I think I mentioned that “the Chronicle” is on a short list of periodicals I’m sure to read.

Page 3 of the latest issue includes an article about Burton Coffman, a “minister, teacher and prolific writer” among the Churches of Christ, who died on June 30 at the age of 101.

I never met Coffman.  But for many years now, I’ve heard of him and his work, especially his building up of flagship congregations in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

Then, I came to this:  “In 1952, he initiated an effort to increase the number of U.S Air Force chaplains with Church of Christ backgrounds.  At that point only one Air Force chaplain was affiliated with the Church of Christ.”

The paragraph absolutely jumped off the page because my parents were baptized in the late 1950s by a U.S. Air Force chaplain, Mac Bartee, who also served as a preacher in the Church of Christ.  I can only imagine that Bartee might have been one of those chaplains brought into the Air Force as a result of Coffman’s initiative.

Can anyone out there confirm that hunch?  Does anyone else know something of the life and service and whereabouts of Bartee?

Dear Lord, thank you for the life of our brother Burton.  For your name’s sake, please continue to bless the legacy of his dedicated service to you and your people.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."   "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."  --Revelation 14:13

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Emergent Church and Blogs, 2

In the second half of her essay on the Emergent Church (EC), Eileen Lindner takes up the question of the EC’s relationship to the (1) megachurch and (2) seeker-friendly movements that grew up during the 1990s.

She says that the relationships are variously interpreted as “a reaction to, a continuation of, or the interior church version” of the two earlier attempts to bring Christian faith and contemporary culture together. On the negative side, the EC has been criticized by some for its distance from propositional theology and its apparent flirtation with religious syncretism.

When it comes to the place of blogging, Lindner points out that since the EC often portrays itself as an ongoing “conversation,” it’s no mystery why blogs have been so important. “Shaped by today’s media and more at home with blogs than books, the EC is nothing if not collaborative and dialogical,” she says.

Finally, the author deals with the question that a lot of people have asked: Will the EC “become an enduring topographical feature of the American religious landscape or prove to be a transitory place of Christianity’s long trajectory”? In other words, is this more flash in the pan or wave of the future? “Our guess,” she writes, “is the emergent church, in all its dimensions, is a harbinger of things to come in 21st century Christianity.”

One last quote from Lindner: “Given the low cost, the limitless ways religious experience can be articulated, we might expect blogging to remain a persistent feature of the religious landscape, one to be rediscovered by new generations of seekers and believers, who will preserve a religious voice on the Internet so long as questions remain about faith, and people ponder the ultimate questions of life.”

The following are the two blog sites listed by the author; sites that convey "the range of religiously-oriented blogs":