Oh Hillary, Don’t Do That

Bless her heart (we South Carolinians forgive Frank Underwood’s accent, but that’s just because he’s on Netflix)…

Hillary Clinton’s fake Southern accent gets lost in translation | Fox News: “And there’s nothing more unpleasant to the ear than a phony Southern accent. It’s downright disrespectful and a bit condescending. But because she’s Miss Hill’ry – the mainstream media laughs off her faux dialect.”

http://video.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=4262062331001&w=466&h=263Watch the video at video.foxnews.com

Are we sure Chancellor Palpatine didn’t write this?

“Though imperialism is now held in disrepute, empire has been the default means of governance for most of recorded history, and the collapse of empires has always been messy business…Back then it was states at war; now it is sub-states. Imperialism bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been. The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.”

Source: It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East – ForeignPolicy.com

Yes, western imperialism and colonialism helped cause this mess. Surely there’s a better way forward than re-establishing such hegemonic (and veneer thin) powers in the region.

Is the Original New Testament Lost?

House of Cards is fun, but take a few mins to watch something a little more substantive this weekend (like this):

As you might expect, I argue that even though we have thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament,  we do not have many *early* ones — and hardly any *really* early ones.  That is why we can not (always? ever?) know with absolute certainty what the authors of the New Testament originally said.   That matters for lots of reasons, one of which is that fundamentalist Christians but their faith in the very words of the Bible.  But what if, in some passages, we don’t know what those words were?   Dan, also as expected, argued that we have such extensive evidence for the New Testament — more than for any other book from the ancient world — we can trust that we have what the authors originally wrote.

via My Debate with Dan Wallace: Is the Original NT Lost? – Christianity in Antiquity (CIA): The Bart Ehrman Blog.

Why We Should Care About Archaeological Destruction

This is terrible…

The Islamic State group released a video on Thursday showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, describing them as idols that must be removed, according to the Associated Press.

The destructions are part of a campaign by Islamic State, who have destroyed a number of shrines — including Muslim holy sites — in order to eliminate what they view as heresy.

via Islamic State Video Shows Militants Destroying Museum Artifacts in Iraq – Dispatch – WSJ.

While the world was watching the Academy Awards ceremony, the people of Mosul were watching a different show. They were horrified to see ISIS members burn the Mosul public library. Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned.

via ISIS Burns 8000 Rare Books and Manuscripts in Mosul – Yahoo! Finance

Let’s not forget that people of many faiths (ancient and modern) have used the defacement or destruction of art or cultural items as a way to “wipe the slate clean” of previous heresies. From Hatsheput to Josiah pulling down the high places in Israel to the burning of books, these tactics are power plays designed to show that the deity or deities are on one’s side in a presumed theo-political battle.

Lost in the fear that ISIS / ISIL / IS is imminently planning to attack the US is the cultural damage this collection of people are doing to museums and sites in Syria (Damascus, Antioch, Palmyra, Dura Europos) and northern Iraq (Mosul / Nineveh).

Specifically for the stories linked above, the modern city of Mosul sites very near Nineveh, the historical capital of the Assyrian Empire, at its height in the 9th-7th centuries BCE. Believe it or not, Assyrian artifacts caused quite a rage in the late 1800’s after Sir Henry Austen Layard’s discovery of Assyrian palaces in the 1850’s.

These artifacts directly impacted the development of the missionary movement as northeastern universities used these impressive pieces of art as proof of God’s providence (as the folks in Jerusalem were saved from Sennacherib’s invasion by God’s hand according to the book of Kings… the folks in the Northern Kingdom of Israel as well as Lachish were less fortunate).

While doing graduate studies at Yale, I somehow lucked into a dream job at the Yale Art Gallery. I was so fascinated by the Assyrian antiquities there and the story of why Yale, Harvard, Amherst, Williams etc were so passionate about securing Assyrian pieces for their own collections in the 1800’s that I wrote a book about it:

This accompanying text to the Yale University Art Gallery’s famed Assyrian reliefs details the 19th-century American frenzy for reliefs taken from Assurnasirpal II’s magnificent palace in Kalhu near the Tigris River. The discovery of the palace by the British in 1845 captured the Victorian public’s imagination, leading to the discovery of other architectural sites and the deciphering of the Assyrian language. Soon, American missionaries sought to procure artifacts for their alma maters, most often coveting reliefs that were religious in content. William Frederic Williams was one such missionary and former Yale faculty member. He, along with Yale Medical School graduate Henry Lobel, secured six slabs from Assurnasirpal’s palace, which were divided up between Yale, Amherst, and Union Seminary in Utica. Harrelson analyzes at length the two reliefs obtained by Yale. He touches on the technical aspects of the materials as well as the reliefs’ religious iconography, situating them within the palace as a whole.

via Asia Has Claims Upon New England by Sam Harrelson, Yale University Art Gallery

Along with the atrocities being done by groups such as IS to other humans, we should care about the destruction of irreplaceable pieces of world history whenever it happens. For those of us with a more jingoist mindset, we should especially care when these cultural pieces are directly tied to our own history and majority religion.

William F. Williams wrote back to his benefactors at Yale from the city of Mosul in the 1850’s that, “Asia has claims upon New England.” Perhaps that has never been more true in the modern context.

Thomas and I will definitely discuss this on the next Thinking Religion, so give that a listen if you’re interested.

I pray for peace.

Theological Eating

At the beginning of the year, I decided to stop eating meat and meat products. I have some experience with this from my days in graduate school (it was more of an economic decision then!), but I was still going into this new year / new eating pattern with the full understanding that it’s very hard to change patterns even if it is 1/1 on the calendar.

Yes, we are humans and we are organic animal beings that are meant to include meat and animals in our diet (and yes, I consider fish, shellfish, etc as part of the animal kingdom).

I want to explain why, as I’ve gotten a good number of questions about my decision. As an aside, the most contentious conversations I’ve had about my “theological eating” has been with more conservative Christians who, at first blush, deny the reality of concepts such as evolution, but are quick to point out that our species became who we are because of meat consumption…but that’s for another post).

I call this whole eating style “theological eating” for me. That’s corny and pretentious and a little ostentatious. But it reminds me of why I’m doing it. Merianna and I (and MH and Laura) are big “animal people” in that we are outnumbered by our animal co-habitators in our home (including a recently acquired tortoise that will outlive me and costs more to maintain than I do every month). I’ve always been very empathetic with animals going back to childhood.

I’ve also been very compelled to examine my own use of resources and materials. I’ve been terrible at the follow through, but I always had a huge amount of guilt when I ordered a Big Mac or a steak at Outback or bought a discounted slab of chicken breasts at Ingles or Bi-Lo. Part of that guilt was because of the animals themselves and my far-removed connection between their probably not-so-great life and death and my own plate. Part of that also has to do with the economic system that we perpetuate by exchanging our dollars for meat “grown” in such a manner. Part of this has to do with the realization of the advertising machine that corporations put into marketing their products to children, adults, and the elderly. Theologically, I can’t be honest with my own faith if I don’t address a very core issue of both the suffering of probably cognizant beings as well as my own participation in an economic system that I don’t support because of a story about a man who lived a long time ago.

I’m also using one small bowl (a bowl I “borrowed” from Wofford College in 2000… promise I’ll return) and one utensil (an awesome titanium spork… yep!) for most of my food intake at home.

This isn’t just about meat, either (but oh boy is it difficult to find good kosher vegan cheese…whew). I’ve also started heavily examining products such as cereals, grains, sugar, water…even beer that I put into my body and pay with my money. I’m extending this to areas such as how I buy tech gadgets (people that know me know that I spend a good deal of time, money, and attention on those), books, music, appliances etc. For the past year, I’ve pretty much worn the same “outfit” (as Merianna calls it) everyday of an awesome black shirt with a pair of slacks and brown shoes. When one cannot be mended anymore, I buy a new one (happened just this week and I had to get a replacement). Thoughtful and deliberate consumption, if you will. I’ll call it “theological eating.”

The unexamined life might not be worth living, but the examined life is not a walk in hippy park, either. I’m not making this lifestyle choice in order to make you feel bad about ordering a #2 at McDonald’s or plopping down $12 for a steak at Applebees, either. This isn’t out of disdain or judgement. We all walk our own path and mine is not for anyone else or better than yours (probably worse).

We live in an amazing period of our species’ existence. It probably won’t continue on some progressive curve upwards, and we should realize and enjoy our fortune of being born in such a time. That involves enjoying the resources around us.

Nevertheless, I feel like I need to be more deliberate about my choices, and that’s why I am hopeful this is the right path for me.

State of the Union… in emoji

Screenshot_012115_102223_AM

If digital archaeologists ever “dig this up” 2,000 years from now, they’ll surely be puzzled by our lapse back into character driven hieroglyphics (complete with the ability to hover over emoji’s if you can’t figure it out):

Barack Obama said his address to Congress this year was all about “finding areas where we agree, so we can deliver for the American people”. And if there’s one thing we can all agree upon, it’s emojis. Hover over an emoji to see the president’s actual words.

via State of the Union in emoji | US news | The Guardian.

Do Vegetarians Eat Eggs?

A few days ago, Merianna asked me if I was still eating eggs. It’s a good question, after all. Part of my 2015 package of resolutions (trying to make it sound congressional) was to not eat meat or animals unless I killed them (which is unlikely, but had to make that allowance).

When I moved to Connecticut for graduate school, I became vegetarian for a while. It didn’t hurt that there was an abundance of vegetarian shops around me, as well as a falafel stand right outside of the house where I had an apartment. I even dabbled with being a vegan for a short time but couldn’t stomach that much tofu cheese.

As a matter of theology, I decided 2015 would be the year I’d stop eating meat altogether. So Merianna’s question this week was a valid one.

I said “no” to eggs (again, out of a theological choice based on how eggs arrive in our grocery stores). If we had chickens or got the eggs from my parents’ collection of chickens, I’d have no problem eating them.

On her podcast with Elisabeth this week, Merianna starts with her take on the discussion. It’s a fun listen.

Are Eggs Vegetarian?

via Are Eggs Vegetarian? Can I Eat Eggs If I'm Vegetarian?.

More on Dura Europos Looting

The first image is the site of Dura Europos from June 28 2012 and the second image is from April 2 2014 (notice how many looting holes there are now):

  

Dura Europos is located right near the border of Syria and Iraq on the Euphrates and is an archaeological record of the strife this area has faced for millenia. The little fort town only existed as a functioning place for about 500 years, but was controlled by the Macedonians, Persians, Parthians, and Romans before finally being destroyed and left for us to recover by the Sassanians around 256 CE. We’ve discovered incredible records of our shared human culture such as the earliest depictions of Jesus, a full Mithraeum, a rather intact Roman citadel, and a “painted” Jewish synagogue complete with depictions of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament narratives that still cause wonderment from scholars.

It’s sad that we’re not hearing more about this cultural loss.

From the US State Department regarding looting at Dura Europos and many similar (very important) archaeological sites in Syria…

This unique Classical-period site, founded in the 3rd century BC and occupied until the 3rd century AD, demonstrates the diversity of the ancient Middle East. One of the world’s earliest churches was discovered here, as was one of the oldest preserved synagogues and numerous temples devoted to polytheistic deities. This important site of approximately 150 acres (60 hectares) is now covered by looters’ pits.

via Imagery of Archaeological Site Looting | Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Dura Europos Looting

The “holes” in the inset picture are looting holes from the area near the main agora at Dura Europos. Sadly, we haven’t properly excavated much of that area.

This literally breaks my heart given that we’ve properly excavated such a small amount of Dura Europos and we’ve learned so much about Judaism, early Christianity, and a plethora of other 3rd century religions flourishing under Roman rule in Syria…

We need to act rapidly against a situation that is becoming noticeably worse. In fact we are faced by a volcano in permanent eruption with a mixture of hate and horror. It is breaking down Syrian society and its values through the violent and systematic destruction of its heritage. The situation is comparable to a boiling crater of lava. Around this volcano, archaeological heritage is suffering eruptive blasts, with the population hovering between expectation, anguish and hope.

via Syrian Archaeology, ‘Scale of the Scandal’ | The ASOR Blog.

History and our cultural heritage matters.

The Great Recession is Not Over

My home county is in dark green. It’s time that I got on the ball with Hunger Initiative.

“The recession has subsided for most Americans but it still hasn’t subsided for low-income Americans. Their situation just has not improved,” he said, adding that it was “probably worse now” because a temporary funding boost in 2009 to the key government food aid program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was allowed to lapse by Congress last year.

via NBC News

Meant to Struggle

abel

I love the Bible.

I’m a Christian and a person of faith, so that’s (supposedly) a given. However, I really do love what I consider to be this set of inspired texts that has influenced and shaped the development of our species to such an extreme level that it’s simply unimaginable to think what our current world would look like without what we’ve come to think of as the Christian Bible in our presence.

Perhaps if Paul hadn’t come along and literally opened up Christianity to those outside of 1st century Jewish faith while battling those who realized that Jesus and his immediate followers were not looking to establish a new religion outside of what was then considered Judaism, we’d still be worshipping the Roman gods. In some alternate universe perhaps that’s the case.

Regardless, history happened.

Which brings up the notion of history versus the past. I love history. I also love the past. Those are two different statements about two different experiences.

I have no idea what my grandfather had for lunch on April 9, 1964. However, I’m 90% sure that Grandpa Frank had lunch fifty years ago. I believe he had lunch. Did he have lunch? We’ve no idea. There’s no remaining receipts, my grandmother has no evidence, and there’s no way to prove that Grandpa Frank went to Central Drugs for a burger. But I’m pretty sure he did. The facts have not been lost to history, but they have been lost to the past.

History includes documentations. We can point to a certain date and event and show that something happened with certainty. The past are the things that came before us but that doesn’t necessitate them being a part of “history.” No one will really know that I had Bojangles this morning once my Bank of America receipt goes away (hopefully) and my own debit card’s record fades into digital abyss. I had Bojangles but that will be lost to the past in 2064 when my grandson wonders what I had for lunch on this day of April 9.

In the same way, my faith is true. As Kierkegaard pointed out, all faith is irrational and absent of historical veracity. If faith can be rationalized, it’s not faith but historically verifiable. Faith is weird. It’s absent of human constructs. It tugs at hearstrings and wrestles with us until dawn over the river Jabbok. Ultimately, faith renames us and changes us into something we weren’t before. It’s undefinable. That makes it scary and that makes it challenging for the types of preachers, ministers, churches and ideologies that seek to have concrete answers for everything that is questionable. Uncle Walt was right.

Perhaps that’s why I also enjoy reading Bart Ehrman’s writings and listening to his lectures on the Great Courses series via Audible. It’s also why I don’t understand why so many people feel threatened by his writings such as his latest book on the personhood of Jesus (as a character in the New Testament).

Here’s the foil…

I’m politically conservative. I should say, I have always vacillated between the pragmatism of Bill Clinton and the ideology of Ross Perot. I was going into high school during the fascinating election of 1992 and read everything I could including the two books that Perot “wrote” as well as books about Clinton and his famous campaign. In the aftermath of the Clinton administration and the subsequent Bush years, I’ve become more and more convinced that both political parties in our country serve the same master (money for the players of the game) and have little regard for citizens.

As a former member of AmeriCorps who is a self described libertarian who can’t stand the religious right of politics but is anti-abortion yet anti-death penalty while being a small government pragmatist but wants to provide for all children who need healthcare and 3 meals a day… I don’t know where to go.

I’m not blue or red or progressive or … labels fade away. As they should.

I find solace in the person of Jesus. In my mind, that person wasn’t some sort of gnostic demi-god that didn’t struggle on the cross. My Jesus was a person that asked for the cup to be passed, that sweated blood, that cried real tears, that cursed, swore, got angry, spit, and felt abandoned when he looked down from the cross while realizing everything he had worked for was lost. My Jesus is the Jesus that ends with the original version of Mark where there is no nice and clean commissioning and we are challenged to spread the message and participate in the paranoia of the women who found the empty tomb.

Ultimately, my Jesus is the Jesus who was not raised because there was a historically verifiable empty tomb (something no Gospel claims) but claims a risen Jesus based on the experiences that followers have on roads and beaches days, months, and years after his death.

I will not read the Bible as literature like a piece from Shakespeare, nor will I submit to the yoke of biblical reader response (despite my Masters Degree from Yale being in “Religion and Literature). Similarly, I will not read the Bible as a piece of historical documentation of any part of the past as it is something entirely different. Our culture is too monochromatic and doesn’t allow for the multivalency of the Bible, let alone the creation accounts or the stories about the flood (go read your Bible… there are more than one of each).

So let’s actually read our Bibles and not just listen to preachers. Let’s “hear the words that Jesus said” (Johnny Cash) and let’s be troubled by them. We as humans, however great we are, were meant to struggle.

What Happens When You Just Give Money To Poor People?

As a Christian (not to mention a human), I think it’s our duty to give to others without stipulations and without strings when we can.

I appreciate the sentiment from people who like to make “care packages” for the homeless or poor, but there’s a balance between dignity and help that has to be walked. Cash does the best job of transcending that line. I also appreciate the effort of wealthy people to give in other philanthropic ways, although those aren’t always what they are cracked up to be and can be more self-serving than not.

I give cash. I’m a sucker. But I’m called to be foolish.

Read the first comment on the article if you have time…

“We don’t see people spending money on alcohol and tobacco,” he says. “Instead we see them investing in their kids’ education, we see them investing in health care. They buy more and better food.”

via What Happens When You Just Give Money To Poor People? : Planet Money : NPR.

I don’t say it often, but George W Bush was on the money here.

Finally Got My SC Driver’s License (Again)

I got my driving permit the day I turned 14 and my full driver’s license the day I turned 15 in Marion County, South Carolina. I’ve never looked back and love driving.

When I moved to Connecticut for graduate school in 2000, I kept my SC residency. Eventually I had to give that up when I moved to North Carolina in 2006. I thought it would be a simple 20 minute stop to get a new drivers license for SC now that I’ve moved back to Columbia.

Wow was I wrong.

After four visits (during the workday while I’m trying to grow a business) to the Shop Road DMV and many hours of scrounging around for my passport, social security card, pay stubs, birth certificates etc later… I finally can prove that I’m not an illegal alien here to try to take advantage of SC’s bountiful resources and I have my driver’s license for the Palmetto State again.

Seriously, isn’t it illegal to require a social security card for identity verification?

Giving your Social Security number is voluntary, even when you are asked for the number directly. If requested, you should ask why your Social Security number is needed, how your number will be used, what law requires you to give your number and what the consequences are if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give your Social Security number. The decision is yours.

Yeah… tried that and was given the “well you cannot get a SC driver’s license” response.

Limits of Citizenship

This is a pivotal time for the understanding of citizenship in our country (based on wisdom and legalities at least):

Judge Challenges White House Claims on Authority in Drone Killings – NYTimes.com:‘Are you saying that a U.S. citizen targeted by the United States in a foreign country has no constitutional rights?’ she asked Brian Hauck, a deputy assistant attorney general. ‘How broadly are you asserting the right of the United States to target an American citizen? Where is the limit to this?’

Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin

Worth your time to read Pres Obama’s remarks on not just the Trayvon Martin case but how he views the race situation in the US at the present. This reminds me a great deal of the type of candor we heard out of Obama in 2006-2007 that made him so likable by so many:

Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin | The White House: “But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.”