CAN THE CHURCH NO LONGER CHANGE SOCIETY? by L. Milton Hankins

CAN THE CHURCH NO LONGER CHANGE SOCIETY? by L. Milton Hankins

In times past, Christians were seen as catalysts for change. The Books of Acts traces the impact of Christians on a preponderantly pagan society.

FIRST CENTURY IDOLS

When St. Paul encountered the worship of idols, he called the people out, challenging them to turn to the “one true God.”

According to church history, wherever the apostles, who were scattered by the Great Diaspora, wound up, they preached the gospel (“good news” of God’s love), a new way, and consequently thousands of people adopted a new ethic and a new lifestyle.

Ostensibly, twelve men (the Bible leads us to believe) were ultimately responsible for altering the way of thinking and believing in the first and second centuries.

THE RUINS OF JERUSALEM

The least we can say is that after the fall of Jerusalem and the spreading of this newborn faith throughout Eastern Europe, the world was never again the same. Yes, there was change, but the central question is: Was it for the better or for the worse?

A study of religious movements, disputes, outrages and wars provoked by Christianity (the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation and Puritanism, to name a few) raises valid questions.

Today, Christianity has a tremendous worldwide presence. The twelve have become 2.18 billion! A substantial majority of Americans claim they are Christians. Christian missionaries are proclaiming the gospel in all parts of the modern world.

A CHURCH IN ADELAIDE AUSTRALIA

And a new question is raised. Has Christianity lost its power to significantly affect society? As I see it, that appears to be the case. And largely, I suspect, because modern Christians have perverted the message of Christ. What the modern church, in general, espouses is neither attractive nor effective!

If it were attractive, hundreds of thousands of new converts would flock to the churches annually. Sanctuaries would be overflowing–not half full. Churches, not the government, would be the most visible, successful protectors of the impoverished.

If it were effective–that is, if it had the power and the authority to change society–most of the prominent issues the church occupies itself with would be moot. It is unlikely that terrorism would be a major concern, and crime blotters might take up a column inch in our local newspapers.

Something is radically wrong with modern Christianity. It ought to be making an impact in and on our daily lives, but it isn’t. It should be changing our society, but it isn’t. It should be a proactive force for what is just, right and good, but it isn’t.

Is the church no longer a major, positive force for change in our society? I’m afraid so.

If you have doubts about this, consider the number of social issues where the church establishment is on one side and the majority of its congregants are on the other. The church needs either 1) to re- invigorate its message or 2) stop slighting its relevant, major message with minor irrelevancies.

It might also practice what it preaches!

CHARITY

[This article first appeared in the Huntington, West Virginia Herald-Dispatch a number of years ago. It seems as relevant today as it was when it first appeared.  Readers can find a weekly column by this writer in the Monday morning issue of the Herald-Dispatch.]

 

A FEW LESSONS ON PRACTICAL RELIGION by L. Milton Hankins

A FEW LESSONS ON PRACTICAL RELIGION by L. Milton Hankins

l.. MILTON HANKINS

Over the past seventy-five years, or so, I have learned lots of important lessons about religious and spiritual things. Some are serious…some are quite revealing…and some are definitely amusing. All of them are worth consideration. Maybe you are already aware of some of them.  I do not claim they are original with me! But, some of them may not yet have found their way into your senses. Anyway, I’ve jotted them down over several years, and I hope some of them will “shiver your timbers!”

1. Fear the one who yells the loudest.

2. Most church signs display faulty grammar and faultier theology. The most important school subject for a sign-maker is spelling.

3. Churches say they want to grow, but they don’t want to bring in new people who want to do things different than they are used to doing.

4. Christians preach generosity and practice frugality.

5. Always do what is right even if you get criticized for doing it. 

6. Faith comes not from knowing; faith comes from NOT knowing.

7. God knows the right thing to do in every situation.

8. Beware of over-solicitous people.

9. When you are absolutely sure you are right–reconsider!

10. Nobody knows everything about anything in spite of what they think.

11. In spite of what Christians believe, everything in the Bible is NOT true.

12. Take the middle road. The far left is too radical and the far right is too angry.

13. Leaders make wars and send followers to fight them.

14. I almost never talk about leprechauns, fairies, and unicorns because I don’t believe they exist. Why do atheists spend so much time talking about God?

15. Always say “NO” to more things than you say “YES” to.

16. Live each day as though it were your last–it may be!

17. Everybody knows the “golden rule,” almost no one follows it.

18. Be yourself; you can’t be anyone else.

19. If Jesus returns on a Saturday evening, he won’t be in church on Sunday morning.

20. There’s absolutely no saving grace in years of faithful church attendance.

21. Love your neighbor, but erect a sturdy fence.

22. Never trust anyone who has lied to you to your face. Beware of people who preface a statement with, “Well, to tell you the truth….”

23. The biggest liars will tell you they’re NOT lying!

24. Giving is far more satisfying than receiving.  BUT, always be sure you know who and what you are giving to!

25. Laugh more; live longer.

26. The people you love the most hurt you the most.

27. Treat animals like you believe in reincarnation!

28. It is true that “what goes ’round comes ’round.”

29. The most painful hurts are hurt feelings.

30. It is simply not true that you cannot worship on a golf course, or at the seashore, as well as you can in church–you can!

31. Never make change out of the offering plate!

32. The preacher who cannot properly interpret William Shakespeare should not attempt to interpret the King James Version of the Bible.

33. Christians say heaven is a wonderful place, but they don’t seem overly anxious to go there.

WE ALL MUST RISE by Beth Rankin

WE ALL MUST RISE by Beth Rankin

This morning my Facebook feed is full of “He is Risen!” I understand the ritual and passion for this Easter Sunday, but once again, I have a perspective as a Jew attending church with my husband for ten years that may never occur to most of you.

All this declaration of Christ as your Savior appears to be meaningless gibberish for most people. Something they say by rote, without thought. Like my ex-husband who wanted to eat the foods on Jewish holidays but he had no understanding of the symbolism of those foods. Many people I know profess to be Christian but are walking a pathway that is full of trimmings but no substance.

I spoke of this at Christmas also. The adoration of Baby Jesus and all the promise He represented goes no further than grabbing presents from under the tree for most people.

I am NOT espousing that someone needs to be strict in their daily observation of religion…ANY religion…in order to be a good person. In fact, with ISIS attacking Muslims who do not believe as they do, with fundamentalist Christians destroying rights and freedoms in this nation, with any ultra-conservative branch of any religion, we see they have very narrow definitions of what is right. That is NOT what Christ taught.

I confuse a lot of people when I say that I am closer to Christ than they are because I practice the same religion that Jesus did. He observed the rules better than I do but he also broke them from time to time. Most of the time, he broke social conventions and was a dissenter, attracting followers and scaring the establishment. But generally, overall, his message was one of “love one another.” Treat people the way you want to be treated.

The Bible Belt where I lived for over 17 years has a preponderance of Christians who believe that Christ died for their sins, that they are saved. It may be a coincidence that that section of the country overwhelmingly voted for Trump, not necessarily because they liked him, because many did not like things about him. They voted for him because he promised delivery from things they perceive as evil. I believe their training as an obedient flock for their churches lead them to have faith without using any common sense about the promises made. But their minds, like all good sheep, are befuddled by those promises. They have not learned the ways to solve problems. They are stuck in a rut of tradition that means there is only one right way. And that includes following the shepherd.

Why am I picking on Christians? I just came from an Easter service when the Praise Band was singing and moving. The congregation, for the most extent, clapped as requested but there was no joy, no smiles. Did the words they learned as children not reach their adult ability to analyze? Are the praises they sing empty words without their hearts. (In order for you to understand that I feel the same way about Jewish services where everything is in Hebrew, I will let you know that my Haggadah this past Monday’s Seder had limited Hebrew. I wanted the participants at my table to understand the story and the reasoning behind the holiday. To chant in Hebrew when you memorized it as a child and have no idea what the meaning is…has NO meaning.)

People often forget this commandment to love one another applies to everyone, everywhere. Not just people you know. Not just people who live near you. Not just people who speak like you, live like you,

worship like you do. All people.

When does the message hit the heart? When does it become part of the soul? When it does, you will rise.

Walking in the spirit is a pathway by people of any or no practiced religion. It means, simply, loving your neighbor as yourself. The rest is

 

ATTENDING A FUNERAL IN THE LAND OF ALTERNATIVE FACTS by HOUYHNHNM

ATTENDING A FUNERAL IN THE LAND OF ALTERNATIVE FACTS by HOUYHNHNM

The back story is a tragic one. My brother apparently succumbed to depression, sought solace in a bottle, was disowned by his family, divorced by his wife, and died in a homeless camp.

He and I had not been in contact since my mother died seventeen years ago. I got a vaguely uncomfortable feeling around him and his wife and I just didn’t make an effort to stay in touch. As the years went by it got easier and more comfortable not to call. Of course his phone dialed out. That’s what I told myself, but I felt guilty about it.

Now I know the reason for that uncomfortable feeling. He, his wife, and children got drawn into a very fundamentalist church after moving to Colorado Springs from California (where they were completely secular as far as I knew).

LANDSCAPE OF THE FUNDIE CAPITAL OF AMERICA

This church is part of the Presbyterian Church in America. They split off from the Presbyterian Church USA because they opposed the ordination of women. Not only are women not allowed to become ministers, they are allowed no other role in the church although I suppose they can teach Sunday School. In addition to the usual fundie stuff–anti-gay, anti-women, Biblical inerrancy, etc.–and the hardline Calvinist stuff–double predestination, they are tied in to the Colorado Springs dominionist complex. They are heavily involved with Navigators for instance.

So I went out to attend the memorial service with great trepidation. I didn’t know if he would be held up as an object lesson in which happens to sinners and reprobates or if there would be a lot of airbrushing–glossing over how he died.

It turned out there was both. We got a hardline sermon worthy of Jonathan Edwards about justification by faith alone.

WORSHIP SERVICE

And there was airbrushing. Actually, airbrushing doesn’t begin to cover it. I got home yesterday and my mind is still blown. That’s why I felt compelled to write his diary.

Now I have no knowledge of the accuracy of what was told about their life in Colorado Springs since I was not in contact with them during that time, but I know something about my brother’s and my life growing up, about my brother’s young adulthood before he moved to California and I know something about my parents.

The first alternative fact was that my brother and his wife were not divorced. This church does not allow divorce except in cases of violent physical abuse. Apparently that was the initial story–that my brother had been physically abusive to my sister-in-law. I never believed it. My brother was not a violent person ever. By the time of the memorial service, though, it seems the story had changed. There simply was no divorce. It never happened.

Then came the alternative facts about my parents. My father was elevated to the bench. He was an attorney. In fact he was a member of the National Lawyer’s Guild (Oh, how I would have loved to have laid that one on the Elder and watched his face), but he was never a judge. My Unitarian Democratic mother was simply airbrushed out of the story. The word “mother” was not even spoken, as if my brother, like MacDuff, was not of woman born.

Then there was the story about how my brother met his wife. I know the facts in that case because I was there at the time. They met when she married on of my brother’s close friends. My brother was married to his first wife at the time. Her husband later deserted her and my brother’s marriage fell apart and they eventually got together. In the alternative fact version, there was no previous spouses. They met on a canoe trip. My brother lost his hat. She dived into the water to retrieve it and it was love at first sight.

All of this is so strange I had to write about it. It was fascinating, in a horrifying way, to see the way in which these people manufacture an alternative reality not just with respect to politics or science, but even with regards to the very day trials and tribulations of the human condition.

The gist of the alternative story is that my brother was never divorced from his second wife. There was no first wife. There was no Unitarian Democratic mother. He was not an apostate, but a faithful Calvinist believer to the end. He died of pneumonia in the loving bosom of his family, not in a homeless camp.

I know one thing no one else knows, however. After my cousin got the first disturbing phone call from my brother, we were frantically googling to find any kind of contact information for his kids to try and see what was going on. We found it on Colorado’s outline data base of registered voters. As I was searching for an obituary this past week, I stumbled on that data base again and I discovered that my brother had updated his voter registration (he must have used someone else’s address) and changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. I would like to think that he died in a state of grace–Unitarian grace–that he knew a moment of peace before he passed and that he did not suffer.

[This article is reprinted with the permission of Daily Kos. The author is, obviously, anonymous.]

 

STUDYING GENESIS RAISES PONDERABLE QUESTIONS by L. Milton Hankins

STUDYING GENESIS RAISES PONDERABLE QUESTIONS by L. Milton Hankins

l.. MILTON HANKINS

I am working on my fourth book, tentatively called “A Sensible Look at Genesis.” It will be a companion volume to “A Sensible Theology for Thinking People.”

In “A Sensible Theology…” I barely touched on issues like time and beginnings, the creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, etc., which comprised merely fifteen pages in the published work. The first two chapters of Genesis alone raise lots of questions. Some of them will forever remain unanswerable–at least to the inquisitive mind–or answered unsatisfactorily.

An in-depth look at Genesis raises many questions about the “beginnings,” as we might expect.

The Quest Study Bible (NIV) published by Zondervan (1994), responds to the question “How technical is this description of creation?” in this way: “While the ‘days’ of creation could be either a figure of speech or literal 24-hour periods, this passage is nevertheless an orderly narration of what took place.” I take exception to both assertions.

A few sentences later, it adds, “…human beings have been given the privilege to explore, through scientific investigation, how God may have engineered these events, and how long he took.” This is an astonishing admission by the authors of the study guide that God welcomes our inquires. Of course, it could also be a tongue-in-cheek statement implying that our questions will never find satisfactory answers beyond the Bible text.

I was reminded of several occasions, when I was a youngster, being told by pastors and Sunday school teachers, “There are some thing we human beings are not supposed to question!” They would sometimes say, “It’s a sin to question God!” These same, well-intentioned spiritual advisors further suggested that unseemly inquiry into the nature and work of God diminishes our faith. I found this response exceptionally offensive. Even if the pastors were not able to, God was surely clever enough to come up with a satisfactory answer to any question I, a mere lad, might frame.

I always wondered, too, if the Bible writers were inspired by the “Holy Spirit,” why didn’t this Holy Spirit simply tell them how things were done–forthrightly and accurately! What was the point of stories that mostly spurred further speculation? Why the obfuscation and obscuration?

STUDYING THE BIBLE

The result of not questioning what we read (yes, even reading the Bible), can lead to stagnation in our way of thinking about spiritual matters. As a matter of fact, if our only understanding of scripture comes filtered through pastors or Sunday school teachers without questioning, we are in danger of indoctrination or brain-washing.  Many cult leaders have flourished under the notion that their followers must believe every word they utter and follow it to the letter…even to committing mass suicide!

If I gained any particular impression of the members of the churches I served it would be that they readily admitted their lack of Bible knowledge. Bible study classes never exceeded ten percent of the members of the congregation. More distressing, of those parishioners who attended Sunday evening services, very few could remember the text of the morning’s sermon.

Going back to the “beginnings,” in my dotage, is a fascinating adventure. Amazingly, considering the number of times I have read the book of Genesis, I continue to ask new, thought-provoking questions. If it is a sin to question God, I plead “guilty!”

I hope my effort, when it is finished and published, will be a successful, rewarding read (and study guide) for anyone wondering about how everything came to be!

[Dr. Hankins’s book “A Sensible Theology for Thinking People” can be most easily obtained through Amazon.com.  It can also be ordered through your local bookstore.]

KEEPING IN TOUCH by Anonymous

KEEPING IN TOUCH by Anonymous

This explains why friends forward jokes. I’ve never thought of it this way before.

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. He remembered dying and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years.

He wondered where the road was leading them. After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight. When he was standing before it, he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. When he was close enough, he called out, “Excuse me, where are we?”  “This is Heaven, sir,” the man answered. “Wow! Would you happen to have some water?” the man asked. “Of course, sir. Come right in, and I’ll have some ice water brought right up.”

The man gestured, and the gate began to open.

“Can my friend,” gesturing toward his dog, “come in, too?” the traveler asked. “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t accept pets.” The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog. After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed.  There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book. “Excuse me!” he called to the man, “do you have any water?” “Yeah, sure, there’s a pump over there, come on in.” “How about my friend here?” the traveler gestured to the dog. “There should be a bowl by the pump,” said the man.

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveler filled the water bowl and took a long  drink himself, then he gave some to the dog. When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree. “What do you call this place?” the traveler asked.  “This is Heaven,” he answered. “Well, that’s confusing,” the traveler said. “The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.'”

“Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That’s Hell.”

“Doesn’t it make you mad for them to use your name like that?” “No, we’re just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.”

So-o-o-o. Now you see, sometimes, we wonder why friends keep forwarding stuff to us without writing a word. Maybe this will explain it. When you are very busy, but still want to keep in touch, guess what you do?  You forward email’s! When you have nothing to say, but still want to keep contact, you forward jokes! When you have something to say, but don’t know what, and don’t know how . . . . you forward stuff!

A ‘forward’ lets you know that . .

. . . You are still remembered,

. . . You are still important,

. . . You are still loved,

. . . You are still cared for. So, next time if you get a ‘forward’, don’t think that you’ve been sent just another forwarded joke, but that you’ve been thought of today and your friend on the other end of your computer wanted to send you a smile. You are welcome at my water bowl anytime !! So here’s to keeping in touch . . .

Even if it means only forwarding on an email!

[This brief story came to me in an e-mail from a dear friend.  It is my pleasure to share it here with readers.  There’s a lot of truth in this story!]