The Preacher

And he spoke

Eloquent and with vigor

Convincing those lost

Speaking to the mass

It was more than words

It was spirit in his vocal chords

The men and women there

Would never be the same

Let the truth be told

Let freedom ring

The bell is cracked

But the sound was heard for miles

His will be done




hymns work better than sermons — 9/16/15

Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer

Author: Scott H. Hendrix
Publisher: Yale University Press
Copyright 2015 Yale University
Pages 198-199

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Burning the Bible

Today’s selection — from Tudors by Peter Ackroyd. In the Middle Ages, the Church viewed translations of the Bible from ancient languages into English, French and other common languages as heresy, and a direct threat to the importance and power of the Church. William Tyndale, whose English translation of the Bible in 1526 was the first to take advantage of the printing press, was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and was condemned to be burned to death for his efforts:

“The threat to the papacy also came from other quarters. [Martin] Luther’s tracts, smuggled into England after he was denounced as a heretic, were followed by William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testa­ment. Tyndale was a young cleric who had become disillusioned with the pomp and power of the Church; he was ascetic and scholarly by nature, and was instinctively attracted to the purer faith associated with the Lollards and the ‘new men’ who were even then in small conventicles proclaiming Lutheran doctrine.
William Tyndale, before being strangled and burned at the stake, cries out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. Woodcut from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563).
“He had found no employment in London, after he migrated there from Cambridge, and had travelled to Germany in quest of a more tolerant atmosphere. It was here that he translated the Scriptures from the Greek and Hebrew originals. It was said that his passage was assisted by German merchants who were already imbued with Lutheran learning.
“Once he had arrived in Wittenberg, he began his task of translating the Greek into plain and dignified English, in a language that the ploughman as well as the scholar could under­stand. The more orthodox clerics, however, believed that the Scriptures were too sacred to be left in the hands of the laity and that any interpretation of them should only be under clerical supervision. They also believed that the key words of the Greek were in themselves holy, and would be profaned by translation. …
“In effect Tyndale was exorcizing the role of the Church in spiritual matters and placing his faith in an invisible body of the faithful known only to God. … The English Bible came as a sensation and a revelation; its translation was an achievement beyond all the works of ‘new’ theology and pamphlets of anti-clerical disquisition. It hit home, as if God’s truth had finally been revealed. The Bible was no longer a secret and mysterious text, from which short phrases would be muttered by priests; it was now literally an open book.
“The book had been published in the free city of Worms, on the Rhine, and soon after found its way to England where it was secretly distributed. Copies were being sold for 3s 2d. This was the book that the bishop of London described as ‘pestiferous and per­nicious poison’ and, in the winter of 1526, it was solemnly burnt in St Paul’s Churchyard. For the first time in London the Scriptures were consigned to the fire. The prelates would have burnt Tyndale, too, if they could have caught him. The bishop of London bought and burned the entire edition on sale in Antwerp, the principal source of supply, only to discover that he had merely put money in the pockets of the printers and stimulated them to publish another edition.”
Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I
Authors: Peter Ackroyd
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Copyright 2012 by Peter Ackroyd
Pages: 46-47
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the purpose of pilgrimages

Today’s selection — from Medieval Christianity by Kevin Madigan. Holy pilgrimages have been central to many religions, from Muslims traveling to Mecca to Hindus traveling to the Ganges. In the middle ages, thousands upon thousands of European Christians traveled to shrines in Rome, Jerusalem, and elsewhere. One observer claimed to have seen sixty thousand on the banks of the River Jordan alone. Most traveled to be healed, with the hope that the closer they were to the shrine the greater their chance for restored health. Some traveled for devotional reasons. Others traveled as penance for crimes:

“Almost all of the aspects of devotion to saints — miracles, cures, relics, shrine accounts — come together in the practice of pilgrimage. Pilgrimages can be con­sidered in terms of graduated distances from the pilgrim’s town to the shrine. Thus we can say that there were local, regional, and international pilgrimage shrines. As always, a pilgrimage could be undertaken to honor and venerate a saint. Yet at local shrines especially, many pilgrims hobbled, stumbled, lurched, or crawled to a saint’s shrine in a quest, often anguished, for the alleviation of agony; others were carried in carts. … The closer to the shrine a pilgrim could get, the better the chances for a cure. …
Christian Pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem
“Some pilgrims traveled not because they were ill or even because they wished to do so but to satisfy for a penance imposed by either ecclesiastical or secular au­thorities. For very serious sins, such as murder, bestiality, or sacrilege, pilgrimage to a distant, international shrine was prescribed as fitting penance. Those guilty of serious crimes could be identified: they were barefoot and fettered with chains. Murderers were required to attach their weapons to their fetters. The very worst crimes were occasionally punished with a sentence of perpetual pilgrimage. Many of these pilgrims simply wandered from shrine to shrine in the hope that a saint full of pity might miraculously break their chains, a sign that a murderer had been forgiven. Usually the chains were left at shrines in gratitude and as a sign of the power of the saint who had secured the forgiveness of God. …
“Pilgrimage caused physical suffering, as much travel does, and the rigors of a long journey were imagined as an imitation of Christ; such rigors were thus thought to bring pilgrims closer to Christ and to have intrinsic religious value. Pilgrims to Jerusalem would interpret the intercessory act of a saint as a fresh beginning to be celebrated ritually by bathing in the Jordan. This was imagined as a second baptism, one that made the twenty-mile walk from Jerusalem to the Jordan well worthwhile. So many travelers to the Holy Land made the walk that one twelfth­-century observer claimed to have counted no fewer than sixty thousand pilgrims on the banks of the Jordan. A similar ritual was practiced in a stream near Santiago de Compostela, one of the three great pilgrimage shrines in the Middle Ages.
“The earliest and most meritorious of pilgrimage destinations was of course Jerusalem. … So many pilgrims flooded Jerusalem and environs that it was said, as early as the fifth century, that some two hundred monasteries or hostels were built to accommo­date them. … Rome was the most important pilgrimage destination in the West. The reason, of course, has to do with the city’s status as capital of the ancient empire and the church’s unparalleled collection of relics. The bodies of Sts. Peter and Paul were housed in basilicas dedicated to the founding saints of Rome’s church. Their heads rested in the church of St. John Lateran. The remains of more than one hundred martyrs were housed in dozens of churches across the city. The remains had originally been placed in catacombs outside the city walls, but barbarian at­tacks encouraged Christians to bring them within the walls and to spread them across many churches.”
Medieval Christianity: A New History
Author: Kevin Madigan
Publisher: Yale University Press
Copyright 2015 by Yale University
Pages 329-332

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buddha’s innovation

Today’s selection — from Buddha by Karen Armstrong. After practicing the asceticism of the holy men of his time and reflecting on a formative ‘Nirvana’ moment he had years before under a rose-apple tree, Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha rejects pure asceticism for a middle way:

“Since he had left home six years before, Gotama had been fighting his human nature and crushing its every impulse. He had come to distrust any kind of pleasure. But, he now asked himself, why should he be afraid of the type of joy he had experienced on that long-ago afternoon? That pure delight had had nothing to do with greedy craving or sensual desire. Some joyful experiences could actually lead to an abandonment of egotism and to the achievement of an exalted yogic state. …
aesthetic Buddha
Buddha of the middle way
“He had, of course, already been behaving along these lines by observing the ‘five prohibition’s’ which had forbidden such ‘unhelpful’ (akusala) activities as violence, lying, stealing, intoxication, and sex. But now, he realized, this was not enough. He must cultivate the positive attitudes that were the opposite of these five restraints. Later, he would say that a person seeking enlightenment must be ‘energetic, resolute and persevering’ in pursuing those ‘helpful,’ ‘wholesome’ or ‘skillful’ (kusala) states that would promote spiritual health. Ahimsa (harmlessness) could only take one part of the way; instead of simply avoiding violence, an aspirant must behave gently and kindly to everything and everyone; he must cultivate thoughts of loving-kindness to counter any incipient feelings of ill will. It was very important not to tell lies, but it was also crucial to engage in ‘right talk’ and make sure that whatever you said was worth saying: ‘reasoned, accurate, clear and beneficial.’ Besides refraining from stealing, a bhikkhushould positively rejoice in taking whatever alms he was given, expressing no personal preference, and should take delight in possessing the bare minimum. The yogins had always maintained that avoiding the five prohibitions would lead to ‘infinite happiness,’ but by deliberately cultivating these positive states of mind, such exstasis could surely be redoubled. Once this ‘skillful’ behavior became so habitual that it was second nature, the aspirant, Gotama believed, would ‘feel within himself a pure joy,’ similar to if not identical with the bliss that he had felt as a boy under the rose-apple tree. …
“Gotama was developing what he called a ‘Middle Way,’ which shunned physical and emotional self-indulgence on the one hand, and extreme asceticism (which could be just as destructive) on the other.”
Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies)

Author: Karen Armstrong
Publisher: Penguin Books
Copyright Karen Armstrong, 2001
Pages 69-71

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The Iraq War’s Lessons For North Korea

University students march through Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea, on Friday, March 29, 2013. Tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for the mass rally at the main square in Pyongyang in support of their leader Kim Jong Un’s call to arms. (AP)

As North Korea seems to move closer to crisis by the day, the United States and its allies are struggling with how to avert a war. They also find themselves wondering what would happen if, despite their best intentions, they did decide to wage war.

There’s a good place to look for answers to that question: Iraq. In the 10 years since U.S. and international forces invaded Iraq, the nation has, by any standard, invested substantial “blood and treasure” in Iraq: hundreds of billions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of soldiers injured and maimed, and more than 4,000 Americans killed. The enormous casualties have provoked doubts and protests in democracies around the world, followed by a divisive public debate about whether the war was “worth it.”

So before we consider any further military action in North Korea, here are several lessons from the Iraq War to think about.

The fundamental lesson is that the U.S. cannot conduct an effective foreign policy when its citizenry is so deeply divided about what ought to be done.

1. Beware of wars that seem “easy.”
While Iraq was a significant military power, the outcome was never in doubt: American military superiority would defeat Saddam Hussein’s military forces in Iraq. And, we thought, rebuilding after that defeat would be easy. We were wrong. Indeed, the real work began only after the war, during the insurgency. That’s when thousands of Americans died, and Iraq came perilously close to an all-out civil war.

2. Americans are better at conquering than liberating.
The deeply ingrained strategic mindset of the American people and their leaders is to defeat an enemy by military force, and only then think about postwar conditions. In practice, this “culture of war” means that the nation organizes the resources it needs to defeat the opponent, but then refocuses on domestic peace and prosperity back home. For example, the U.S. demobilized virtually all of its millions of soldiers right after World War II and only grudgingly, in the face of fears of confrontation with the Soviet Union, remobilized its military for the Cold War.

After the successful invasion of Iraq, American policymakers believed that the Iraqi people must want to move beyond the terror of Saddam Hussein’s regime. They must want peace and security — and, above all else, democracy. Wasn’t that what everyone wanted, just like us? Instead, the United States watched Iraq descend almost immediately into sectarian civil war and chaos.

Iraqis didn’t use liberation from Saddam’s rule as a chance to build their own society with the political and economic freedom necessary for peace and security; instead, most Iraqis used the post-invasion period as an opportunity to settle old scores. The result was a brutal insurgency, bombings, and the deaths of tens of thousands.

In this Saturday, March 16, 2013 photo, two suspected members of al-Qaida sit bound and blindfolded in the back of an Iraqi SWAT vehicle after a raid in Latifiyah, Iraq. An al-Qaida-affiliated group in Iraq claimed responsibility for a carefully planned assault on the Justice Ministry in downtown Baghdad earlier that week. The attack came less than a week before the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, showing how vulnerable the country remains to insurgent attacks. (Alaa al-Marjani/AP)

Conditions in Iraq point to a new lesson: When military operations end, that’s when the real hostilities begin.

3. Democracies may bail at the first signs of trouble.
Sadly, all democracies, while highly resilient and dynamic, often suffer from a lack of confidence and staying power when the costs of a policy exceed what the public expects. As Iraq deteriorated with the insurgency, many from all parts of the political spectrum called for the U.S. to withdraw, to resist pressures to supply additional forces, to seek some accommodation with the insurgents and even to partition Iraq.

Here, too, the lesson is clear: Leaders must consider not only what they hope to accomplish, but also what they think the public is willing to bear.

4. The Iraq War exposed a deep ideological divide in America.
It is truly distressing to realize that there is no consensus in American society on foreign policy. Though Saddam Hussein threatened his neighbors and slaughtered his own people, Americans are deeply divided on the invasion of Iraq. Some believe that intervention, though painful and costly, was the right thing to do. Others consider it a grave error. It is difficult to reconcile these views.

And yet there is no substitute for policies guided by resolve, clear strategic thinking and an exquisite sense of what the nation should accomplish. What, then is the lesson here? Effective communication with the public is essential, for no policy can succeed for long without broad public support.

So, was it worth it? This, after all, is the fundamental question. But it’s not easy to say. For now, Iraq shows signs of political and sectarian turmoil. It faces a hostile Iran, a restive Turkey, and an Egypt seeking to build a strategic relationship with Iran. On the other hand, the Arab Spring, at least in the case of Egypt, has given millions a chance to move toward freedom and prosperity. Despite its own turbulence, we can hope that Iraq might use this moment to build a democracy in a part of the world where democracies are few and far between.

American society still struggles with whether something good might come out of the Iraq War. For me, the fundamental lesson is that the U.S. cannot conduct an effective foreign policy when its citizenry is so deeply divided about what ought to be done. We acted in Vietnam without resolve or consensus and we ended up with a fractured society. We ignored that lesson when we invaded Iraq. And again we were — and in some ways still are — a nation divided. Do we need to act in North Korea? Perhaps the lesson is that we should get these lessons straight before we intervene in wars that rip American society apart.

martin luther king and love — 6/4/15

In today’s encore excerpt — from A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speechesof MartinLuther King Jr. by Marin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks on the subject of non-violence. Dr. King, as Gandhi before him, had advocated non-violent protest — but believed it was not enough merely to be non-violent. For King, there was a higher standard, and that was that you must love the person who harms you. In the following excerpt, King was speaking in 1961 to white liberals from the “Fellowship of the Concerned” at their annual meeting. He knew that many among them objected to student “sit-ins” and “freedom rides” and preferred a more gradual approach — in part because of the savage beatings being inflicted on them — and that his task was to persuade these veteran white liberals to see the student movement as a natural outgrowth of their own work and his own teachings:

“Those who adhere to or follow this philosophy [of non-violence] must follow a consistent principle of noninjury. They must consistently refuse to inflict injury upon another. Sometimes you will read the literature of the student movement and see that, as they are getting ready for the sit-in or stand-in, they will read something like this, ‘If you are hit do not hit back, if you are cursed do not curse back.’ This is the whole idea, that the individual who is en­gaged in a nonviolent struggle must never inflict injury upon another.

“Now this has an external aspect and it has an internal one. From the external point of view it means that the individuals involved must avoid external physical violence. So they don’t have guns, they don’t retaliate with physical violence. If they are hit in the process, they avoid external physical violence at every point. But it also means that they avoid inter­nal violence of spirit. This is why the love ethic stands so high in the student movement. We have a great deal of talk about love and nonvio­lence in this whole thrust.


 “Now when the students talk about love, certainly they are not talking about emotional bosh, they are not talking about merely a sentimental outpouring; they’re talking something much deeper, and I always have to stop and try to define the meaning of love in this context. The Greek language comes to our aid in trying to deal with this. There are three words in the Greek language for love; one is the word eros. This is a beautiful type of love, it is an aesthetic love. Plato talks about it a great deal in his Dialogue, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love, and so in a sense we have read about it and experienced it. We’ve read about it in all the beauties of literature. I guess in a sense Edgar Allan Poe was talking about eros when he talked about his beautiful Annabelle Lee, with the love sur­rounded by the halo of eternity. In a sense Shakespeare was talking about eros when he said ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove; O’no! It is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken, it is the star to every wandering bark.’ (You know, I remember that because I used to quote it to this little lady when we were courting; that’s eros.) The Greek lan­guage talks about philia which was another level of love. It is an intimate affection between personal friends, it is a reciprocal love. On this level you love because you are loved. It is friendship.

“Then the Greek language comes out with another word which is called the agapeAgape is more than romantic love, agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theo­logians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not be­cause he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him. And he rises to the point of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said ‘love your enemies.’

“I’m very happy that he didn’t say like your enemies, because it is pretty difficult to like some people. Like is sentimental, and it is pretty diffi­cult to like someone bombing your home; it is pretty difficult to like somebody threatening your children; it is difficult to like congressmen who spend all of their time trying to defeat civil rights. But Jesus says love them, and love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive, creative, good will for all men. And it is this idea, it is this whole ethic of love which is the idea standing at the basis of the student movement.”

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Author: MartinLutherKing
Publisher: HarperOne
Copyright 1986 by Coretta Scott King

Pages: 46-47
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