The passing of Rev. Kelly Allen

With sadness I share the news that Rev. Kelly Allen passed from this life yesterday morning. I was able to attend the worship service at University Presbyterian Church. While there was much mourning there wass also much gratitude for the opportunity to know an individual like Kelly. I knew her only briefly, but I could tell in a few short weeks that she was beloved by many. One person remarked to me that in the past he has often, only half-jokingly, admitted that without Kelly he didn't know if he could be a Christian. I heard a lot of that yesterday: many people saw Jesus in her. She was beloved in interfaith circles as well, being a huge part of what we are doing at The SoL Center of San Antonio. She will be missed.

"In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God....For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

(Rom. 8:26-27, 38-39)

Terrorism in Paris: Reflection and Introspection

Last night the ISIS inspired attack on Paris, France, killed 128 people and wounded many more (statistic as of Saturday morning, November 14th). I spent a few hours watching the news (france24.com) as well as reactions on social media. This wasn't the only terrible thing to happen over the previous 48 hours. As many have noted, there have been attacks in Baghdad and Beruit and there was a large earthquake off the coast of Japan (though I haven't heard any more news about this final item, so hopefully there was little or no destruction). Yet the events in Paris impacted me in ways that these other events hadn't. Why? This is my effort to try to think through it.

(1) I think, in part, that the events in Paris have my attention because events in France are relatable to me as an American. I don't understand the socio-cultural dynamics of the "Middle East" and so it is difficult for me to establish an idea of what to expect from that part of the world. Of course, I can be sympathetic for those who are hurting or in harm's way in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, etc., but the closest I've been to those countries is Israel, so I can't pretend to understand that part of the world.

(2) This isn't to say that I shouldn't become better educated about other parts of the world, but it is difficult. The United States is a nation that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It is a task to remain aware of what it happening here and in nearby countries such as Mexico and Canada. It is important to remember that globalization is a recent development. Therefore, I don't know how well the brain processes and comprehends data concerning parts of the world that are so "foreign" in the truest sense of the word. In part, we are able to overcome this "otherness" by either (A) meeting people from parts of the world with which we are unfamiliar and/or (B) traveling to those places. Sadly, I can't claim to know people from Lebanon or Iraq, nor have I traveled there as I noted above. So my knowledge of that part of the world is "book-ish", at best.

(3) On the other hand, I have been to Paris, twice. I've been to Europe in 2011, 2014, and 2015. So, I am familiar with these places and the people there. And, of course, the majority culture of the United States is akin to and often derived from European cultures, for better or worse. I have been to the areas that were attacked last night. I can visualize and reconstruct memories of those places. My brain has evolved to this capacity and I think this must be a factor regarding why it is easier for me to relate to the attacks in Paris.

(4) Similarly, the ongoing wars in the "Middle East" make it less relatable. I can't claim to have paid close attention even to the death of our soldiers in the Afghanistan and Iraq in any sense other than nameless statistics. I don't know personally anyone who has died there. This isn't to say that I don't care, just that I care in correspondence to what I can understand. My capacity to relate to terrorism in Paris is greater than terrorism in Baghdad because I've been to one, I know people from one, and I have had experiences in one, and not the other. Additionally, as a citizen and not a soldier I can relate easier to the fear of domestic terrorist attacks upon a citizen such as myself easier than I can relate to violence in a war torn nation or a nation near a war torn nation. Thankfully, I've never had to worry about wars in Canada or Mexico bleeding over the border. But post-9/11 I think all Americans have embedded in their minds the real fear of attacks by terrorist on our soil.

(5) While I am not "French" (nationally) I won't deny that growing up hearing stories about my ancestors with names such as "LePort", "LeStage", and "Delonnay", makes France appear like "home-away-from-home". The only people who are native to North American are Native Americans. The rest of us immigrated here at some point. And while most of my ancestors have been in North America for centuries (especially Canada) it is France (and England) that I understand to be my "roots". As recently as my grandmother (mother's mother) my family was speaking French. It's recent history for us. It's hard not to feel like the French are "my people", in part.

(6) All this being said I fear, and I'm saddened by, the plausibility that Europe will now become hostile to people from Syria, Iraq, etc. Fear will cause the French and others to close their borders. People will commit violence against innocent people because they are Muslim (or, Sheik, as we've seen because people think they "look" Muslim).

(7) I don't know if it is likely, but I know it is necessary, for Europeans to remind themselves that the refugees that have been coming to Europe have been coming because they are fleeing this type of violence. The violence that has destroyed Syria is what we saw last night.

(8) Related: most Muslims are not the perpetrators of this violence. They are fellow victims. Thousand and thousand of Muslims have been victims of groups like ISIS. This cannot be forgotten. 

(9) Also related: no, ISIS doesn't represent "true" Islam or the "correct" interpretation of the Qur'an. All people of religions with holy books make interpretive decisions regarding the words of their holy book. We Christians don't act upon the ideologies of the Book of Joshua or the Book of Revelation, usually, though these books can be interpreted to justify all sorts of evil, just like parts of the Qur'an can be interpreted to justify all sort of evil. That said, if a Christian tells me that they want peace and abhor violence, and that they've found this or that way to reinterpret parts of the Bible that could advocate violence, then I embrace that. The same is true of Muslims and the Qur'an. All peace loving Muslims are brothers and sisters and we share the same goals. This cannot be forgotten.

(10) Finally, as a Christian, I know that my religion has a history of radicalization. The KKK claims to be "Christian". Yet I believe the that Christianity does have inherent within it the possibility to be a blessing to the world. The same benefit-of-a-doubt must be given to Muslims. This doesn't erase this or that theological or ideological difference, but peace-loving Christians and peace-loving Muslims (and Jews, and Sheiks, etc.) share this common bond and we must work together in humility remembering that we both have co-religionists who speak and act out hate in the name of God and we reject that hate.

#ReinventingtheBible

Fyi: If you live near San Antonio, TX, you'll want to bookmark this URL: reinventingthebible.com. The 2016 Lennox Seminar and Series at Trinity University is titled "Reinventing the Bible" and there will be four public lectures open to the community, the first on January 20th, 2016, from Prof. Michael Satlow of Brown University on the topic, "Who Read the Bible in Antiquity?" Here's the blurb:

Over the course of a millennium, an odd and disparate collection of ancient Israelite texts were transformed into Scripture, to which both Jews and Christians attributed religious authority.  Despite the critical importance of this transformation, it is one that is remains largely shrouded in mystery.  To make matters worse, modern scholars are themselves often unclear about what they mean by such key terms as "Scripture," "authority," "religious," and "canon."  In this talk I will suggest a more precise terminology and theoretical model for understanding the development of the Bible and show how this could change our thinking about how, when, and why Scripture came to be.

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Three Years in San Antonio, Texas

Sunday marked three years since our last day in Portland, OR. Today marks three years since our arrival in San Antonio, TX. I admit that when we moved here I presumed we'd be here three years max! I was wrong. We're entering our fourth year.

San Antonio has been good to us. It's affordable. I've been able to do my doctoral studies here without having to work too much. We've made some great friendships. In spite of some of the hardships—the most difficult thing, personally, being the culture shock of being a northern Californian and south Texas—I think we made the right decision. Who knows? Maybe it will become home for us?

This means my wife and I have spent half of our married lives in Portland and half in San Antonio, almost. We arrived in Portland on August 9th or 10th of 2009 and then moved on September 13th, 2012. So, that was three years and a month. We'll eclipse that here in San Antonio since we'll be here a month from now, for sure.

Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology by Brunner et al.

Who is and isn't an Evangelical these days? I don't know. But I do know that many people identify as Evangelicals here in the United States. So, whether or not they do so rightly or wrongly (who's to say?), they do. Therefore, it matters what self-identified Evangelicals think, because they remain a large part of our population.

Last night I heard a talk from Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University and the director of their Climate Science Center. Hayhoe has been dubbed the "climate evangelist" because she's (1) an atmospheric scientist and (2) an Evangelical Christian. People like Hayhoe are valuable to all of us, because whether or not you identify as Evangelical, there will be those who do for the foreseeable future. Additionally, many Evangelicals tend to trust insiders, but are skeptical of outsiders. Therefore, they won't be giving Al Gore a platform any time soon! But Hayhoe is an insider, a scientist with Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and somehow who may have an audience with Evangelicals who are skeptical of the scientific community. I'm thankful that people like Hayhoe exist! 

Additionally, Evangelicals tend to consume theology branded "Evangelical" from official Evangelical institutions, publishing houses, etc. A while ago I was given a PDF of the book and asked to write "an endorsement". I thought it was for the "back of the book", but that was hubris! I sent one of the authors my praise of the book, but it went unused, so I presume they wanted me to give a "blurb" on a blog, or Amazon.com, or something. I'm happy to do so. The book is Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis by Daniel L. Brunner, Jennifer L. Butler, and A.J. Swoboda. Whereas someone like Hayhoe can talk to Evangelicals as an expert in the science of climate change, this trio gives theological justification for Evangelicals to do "green theology" by looking not only at the evidence, but the scriptural, traditional, and ethical reasons for why Evangelicals should take care of creation. If you're an Evangelical I recommend this book. It truly is a well written, well argued book that is inviting rather than rebuking. If you know someone who is an Evangelical who tends to distrust outsiders, I hope this book can be offered to them as a way of lowering their guard.

I say all this because while I know there are many Evangelicals doing "green theology" there are also many who for whatever reason reject the need to care for our planet. Sadly, religious people tend to be the more abrasive against climate science and "going green". I hope this book can change some of their minds, because we need them to see that their role in our planet's health.