Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Bill Greason and Bob Stephenson

Yesterday's Oklahoman ran a story about Bill Greason, the first African-American to break the color barrier in baseball in Oklahoma City. He pitched for the Oklahoma City Indians in 1952 and 1953.

Today, Greason is pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He returned to Oklahoma City to be recognized for the role he played in overcoming racism in Oklahoma.

Among those who were on hand to greet him was Bob Stephenson, founder of the Mainstream Oklahoma Baptist organizaiton, and a former teammate with Greason on the 1954 Columbus Red Birds.

Here's an excerpt from the article in the Oklahoman:

That wasn’t the only Memory Lane trip for the Reverend. Longtime Oklahoma City oil man Bob Stephenson, a teammate of Greason’s on the 1954 Columbus Red Birds, met him at Cattlemen’s.

“Where have you been the last 58 years?” Stevenson asked on the corner of Agnew and Exchange, where the old teammates reunited for the first time since 1954.

They talked of old times. Of playing for manager Johnny Keane at Columbus and for the St. Louis Cardinals, Greason in ’54, Stephenson in ’55.

Stephenson read in The Oklahoman about Greason’s return and wanted to see his old friend again.

“I never saw this guy get his nose out of joint,” Stephenson said. “Probably the most poised guy I ever played with. Playing behind a guy like Bill was a pleasure, because he got the ball over the plate.”

Greason regaled us with stories. Of winning the Caribbean Series with Puerto Rico in 1954, where his outfielders included Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. Of playing Negro League baseball, with Mays as a teammate, for the Birmingham Black Barons in the 1940s.

Of playing in Havana during the Cuban revolution, and of Castro coming to the ballpark. Of being a member of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, when the KKK bomb went off and killed four girls. Greason was not at church when the bomb went off at 10:22 a.m. Sept. 15. He had snuck off to play some sandlot ball.

Of eight years in the Marines, and being at Iwo Jima during World War II, where he saw the American flags planted and where he prayed a desperate prayer: “Lord, get me off this island, and whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.”

Of being pastor since 1969 at Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church, where he tells his flock his contract “doesn’t allow for retiring, it allows for dying.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Student Performance Declines as Funding Declines

As newspapers are reporting that Oklahoma students are falling behind in math and science on the ACT college entrance exams, the Oklahoma Policy Institute charts how funding for public schools has declined.

Those determined to destroy public schools will deny that there is any correlation between these two facts. Those who have eyes to see the connection are likely to value equal educational opportunities for all children.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Paul Ricoeur on the Logic of Jesus

Paul Ricoeur, "The Logic of Jesus, The Logic of God" Christianity and Crisis December 24, 1979.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Calvinists Under Fire in the SBC

Baptist Press is reporting that SBC Executive Frank Page has formed an ad hoc committee to offer the convention advice about Calvinism.

This is just the latest sign that tensions have mounted between more evangelistic and mission-minded Southern Baptists and the save-the-culture-minded Calvinists within the convention.

Page has a reputation for opposing Calvinism. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary and a member of Page's ad hoc committee, has filled many faculty positions at Southern Seminary with Calvinists.

From the sidelines, this looks like another struggle for the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Neither side of this new struggle distinguished themselves as trustworthy during the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC during the 1980's and 1990's.

Neither side was willing to compromise with moderates to maintain unity during the fundamentalist takeover.

Both sides proved themselves to have coupled an arrogant sense of self-righteous entitlement with a strong will-to-power.

Ultimately, I doubt that Page's ad hoc committee will prove any more successful at maintaining unity than was the peace committee that was formed in the mid-1980's.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Paint and Prejudice

The paintball incident at the Oklahoma City mosque brought to mind my own unpleasant memories of painted messages.

One Sunday morning while I was pastoring a church in Houston, I discovered a black spray painted message on my garage door. As my family pulled out of the garage and I lowered the door to go to church, we were greeted with "F#@& You" in large dripping letters.

That Sunday just happened to be the Sunday that the congregation was voting on whether to elect and ordain women to be deacons.

I'm sure it was just a coincidence that the message appeared on the day that the congregation, by a narrow margin, voted to deny the diaconate to women.

Mosque Targeted In Oklahoma City

NewsOK is reporting that early Sunday morning vandals shot paintballs at the Mosque in Oklahoma City. Footage of the vehicle the offenders were driving was captured by a video camera at the mosque.

This incident comes as mosques around the country have been attacked.

Members of the Islamic community in Oklahoma have conducted themselves with remarkable patience, understanding and forgiveness in the face of incidents such as this. They have been very active within the interfaith community in Oklahoma and their commitment to furthering the common good of our society has been commendable. They have done nothing to deserve being targeted for a hate crime.

I am grieved and deeply sorry that some Oklahomans are determined to persecute the Islamic community. This is not characteristic of the best citizens in Oklahoma.

I pledge to double my efforts to encourage all Oklahomans to respect the right of every person to openly and freely worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Baptists and Freedom of Religion

From Thomas Helwy's A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, 1611.

Helwy's was arrested by King James and died in prison for publishing this conviction.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

NPR Cues the Tape on David Barton

NPR has put together a series of videos of David Barton's pseudo-history with brief written critiques by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, co-authors of Getting Jefferson Right.

This is a very helpful summary of some of Barton's most outrageous claims.

Baptists and Religious Liberty

From Leland's The Rights of Conscience Inalienable, 1791.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Logic of Jesus, The Logic of Love

Here's a brief excerpt from a sermon on "The Logic of Love" that I preached at the Norman UCC church yesterday.

Internationally acclaimed philosopher Paul Ricoeur described the "The Logic of Jesus, The Logic of God" in an article that was published in Christianity and Crisis in December 1979. In that article he contrasted ordinary human logic with that of Jesus.

He said, at best, human logic is a logic of equality and equivalence. It is the kind of logic you find in a courtroom. The logic of the law and penal justice tries to fit the punishment to the crime --sometimes by exact proportions. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." (Matthew 5:38)

Even when the court tries to move beyond measuring out justice in exact proportions, justice is measured by some kind of rule or standard of reason and prudence. The goal is to treat everyone fairly -- with some equitable standard.

The problem with this kind of logic is that it really does not respect individual differences well. The experiences, circumstances, and capabilities of individuals are not equal and a strict logic of equivalence does little to take these differences into account.

The logic of Jesus differs from this ordinary human logic. It is not a logic of equivalence and it is not reasonable or prudent. The logic of Jesus is a logic of generosity and love. The logic of Jesus does not measure people by laws and rules and regulations. The logic of Jesus presents a pattern of response that recognizes exceptions. It respects differences in personal experience, allows for variations in capabilities, and acknowledges the inequities in life circumstance that make each of us unique individuals.

The logic of Jesus is characterized by a pattern of response to others that gives more and asks more than is reasonable or prudent. That is why he tells his disciples to turn the other cheek, give both your shirt and your cloak, and walk a second mile. (Matthew 5:39-41) He expects his disciples to demonstrate a willingness to do more than the best of human logic would deem reasonable or prudent. The characteristic way that Christians respond to others should always be one of generosity and love -- even toward our enemies. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)

The standard by which we measure ourselves is not by the logic of equivalence and the rule of law. The standard by which we are to measure ourselves is by the logic of generosity and the rule of love -- the kind of love that was revealed on the cross -- sacrificial, self-giving love.

This is not a soft and sentimental kind of love. It does not passively acquiesce to evil and injustice. It is love that is prepared to sacrifice life itself in non-violent face-to-face confrontation with evil and injustice.

Jesus death on a cross was a witness and testimony to the need for a different kind of logic to rule over all of life -- a logic of generosity and sacrificial love.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Fasting in the Abrahamic Faith Traditions

Every year, during the Islamic month of Ramadan, Muslims fast for thirty days. Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year because it was the month in which the Quran was revealed. The fast of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and an essential observance for all devout Muslims. Every year, for an entire lunar month, from sunrise until sunset, Muslims abstain from food, liquids and sexual relations to focus their attention on spiritual renewal.

Each day at sunset the "iftar" meals that break their daily fast are preceded by prayer and a recitation from the Quran. Increasingly in America, as Muslims seek to familiarize persons of other faiths with their religion, they are inviting their non-Muslim friends and acquaintances to share an iftar dinner with them. In Oklahoma City the Institute of Interfaith Dialog (IID) has been hosting large and diverse groups at iftar dinners for ten years.

This year the Oklahoma City chapter of IID hosted a special "Dinner of the Abrahamic Traditions" at the Raindrop Turkish House. They invited religious leaders from each of the three Abrahamic faith traditions to explain the meaning and significance of fasting in their tradition.

Rabbi Abby Jacobson or Emmanuel Synagogue spoke about the special significance of fasting in the Jewish tradition this year as the Jewish fast of the Tisha b'Av fell within the Islamic month of Ramadan. The fast of Tisha b'Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples. Rabbi Jacobson felt especially blessed to share a time of fasting with her Muslim friends. She believes that the practice of fasting works "to intensify prayer."

Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, spoke about the significance of fasting in the life of Jesus and noted that there was an "ambiguity" about fasting for Jesus. Jesus was criticized for not fasting as much as John the Baptist. He said a similar "ambiguity" about fasting prevails with the Christian tradition. Some Christian traditions emphasize and practice fasting more than others. Dr. Tabbernee also noted an increasing emphasis on ascetic practices like fasting in our churches during the Lenten season.

Imam Imad Enchassi of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City said fasting is understood to be like a medical "prescription" to help Muslims "attain piety." The Muslim tradition holds that Moses told Aaron that, "When the stomach is empty, the conscience is alive. When the stomach is empty, the spirit is high." Imam Enchassi also quoted the poet Rumi as saying, "Something (is) magical and mystical about fasting, about an empty stomach, because you are imitating the status of an angel. Because when the stomach is empty you start seeing with the eyes of God, you start hearing with the ears of God, and you start giving with the hands of God."

Below is a video of the formal presentations that each of these interfaith leaders made at the "Dinner of the Abrahamic Traditions" last night:

Fasting in the Abrahamic Faith Traditions from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Waiting for a Bowl of Trickle Down Stew?