Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"We Move (Version II)"

A while ago Sara wrote a song called "We Move." It's about realizing that an incarnational God emerges along with us - and we emerge through God. Therefore the lyrics are about a God who is dynamic, changing, relational, etc. Ultimately the song seeks to show how a static, unchanging theology harms people and is inappropriate for an incarnational understanding of God. The song also seeks to demonstrate how a fluid, emerging theology holds much healing potential and is more faithful to the incarnational God made know through Jesus Christ. To do this, the song uses the image of God as a flowing river instead of an unchanging rock. Check it out here.

After reading Laurel Schneider's book Beyond Monotheism (for TT) and checking out the Queermergent website (for fun), we were inspired to write new lyrics for this song. We're calling it, "We Move (Version II)." Mediums such as music can help make great academic theology, like that of Schneider's, more practical and visceral for a wider audience. So, this song is our attempt at that very goal. The following are the lyrics:

"We Move (Version II)"

She doesn't know where she can go
Feels like a man, so she never feels whole
Her church friends listen, but they just don't know
So the anger and shame just continues to grow

She knows there must be another way
‘cause she’s still got a song to sing
If only she knew God was more than a rock
To whom she’s trying to cling

No-one can hold a stone that long
It’s a game she’s bound to lose
Not an unchanging stone, sister,
You’re not alone
God’s the river through whom you move

He doesn’t know where he can go
Family knows he's gay so he can't go home
Note’s been written and the city’s below
It’d be so easy to jump, but he just doesn’t know

He knows there must be another way
‘cause he’s still got a song to sing
If only he knew God was more than a rock
To whom he’s trying to cling

No-one can hold a stone that long
It’s a game he’s bound to lose
Not an unchanging stone, brother,
You’re not alone
God’s the river through whom you move

No-one’s saying it’s easy; most times it’s hard
And “just one more day” can seem so very far
But whoever saw a river without any turns
So it seems like we’ve all got so much to learn
There will be twists and there will be bends
An invitation to the beach, God to us extends

They just don’t know where they can go
Trying to adopt, but it's a two woman home
Social worker calls, they can't adopt a son
His room sits empty 'cause the state says “no”
Now two mother's dreams are dashed, tears starting to flow

But they know tomorrow’s another day
And they’ve still got songs to sing
They know that God is so much more than a rock
To whom they used to cling

No-one can hold a stone that long
It’s a game we’re bound to lose
So let it be known
that we are not alone
And God’s the river through whom we move

God’s the river through whom we move

Monday, March 30, 2009

John Roberts's Classic, Updated: "All-present, All-visible, Source of all Life"

All-present, all-visible, Source of all life,
Within and around us, through joy and through strife.
Most Sacred, Eternal, You move on the earth,
You beckon and call forth new life and new birth.

Enlivened, extravagant, Sower of seeds,
Abundant, abounding, Your mercy exceeds.
Unhindered, unbridled, you shine forth your grace,
That we may do likewise, revealing Your face.

You care for Creation, O Mother of all,
Great mountains, clear waters, and flowers so small.
The earth is Your temple, for all life to share,
So help us be stewards of healing and care.

Transcendent, uncharted, and still close at hand,
Encompassing people from near and far lands.
Within each new moment, throughout life and death,
Your praises are sung out from all that has breath!

Set to the tune of "Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise" by John Roberts

The Center for Process and Faith has picked up these new lyrics here.

Transforming Theology: "Beyond Monotheism but not Academia"

The Transforming Theology folks send me free books to read and enjoy. The only catch is that I am supposed to blog about what I am reading. It's actually a pretty good deal. Props to TT! Now it's time for my end of the bargain. I need to engage one of those books. So here goes.

Laurel Schneider's book Beyond Monotheism: A Theology of Multiplicity is definitely written for an academic setting. It's insightful and deep but uses a lot of academic lingo and extended quotations. If you like words that your computer's spell check won't recognize, then this book may be of great interest to you. A few gems include: communotheism, omnicentricity, and rhizomorphic. That can be a bit stale if you're hoping for an action-adventure book. The saving grace is that Schneider also includes references to The Matrix, REM, and Star Trek. It's a nice combination.

In this interdisciplinary book, Schneider brings many different tools to task: pop culture, process theology, church history, literature, feminism, postmodernism, etc. It's definitely an ambitious book that must have taken a considerable amount of time, thought, and research to write. So what the heck is this thing about? Simply stated: overturning the "logic of the One" in favor of a "logic of divine multiplicity."

In Part One, Schneider criticizes and challenges the "logic of the One" that led to the development of monotheism. She does this by tracing the historical development of monotheism. It developed at a time when religions and nations were defining themselves against one another. Lines had to be drawn. And the "right" side had to be declared as "right." Monotheism became a polemic way of enforcing the righteousness of one group over and against another group. For example, Schneider says, "Monotheism as the 'conviction that only one God exists; no others need apply' became, for the Enlightenment champions of European culture, a marker of evolutionary progress, a high sign of rationalism, and thereby proof positive of the superiority of those religions and cultures" (23). In other words, the "logic of the One" suggested that there could only be one right God, one right ruler, one right country, one right culture, etc. All other theologies, leaders, nations, cultures, etc. were considered wrong, unenlightened, and in need of help to change. Everything was divided into two groups: the good and the bad. This simplistic division of right-versus-wrong produced the self-righteous logic that led to holy wars, the Inquisition, slavery, etc. When one group is the only right one, with the only right God, then all other groups must be converted or destroyed. All diversity and change is seen as bad. Judaism's emerging emphasis on a single cosmic God was combined with Greek philosophy's commitment to abstract universal claims to give Christianity a monotheistic understanding of God. Then, under the influence of Constantine, Christianity developed strict orthodoxies that rejected all other theologies as heresy. As Christianity became the civil religion of the Roman Empire, "the logic of the One" served as the cornerstone to theology and politics. Those in power used this logic to claim that there could only be one God, empire, emperor, religion, pope, orthodoxy, etc. Christianity began to look like the Roman Empire, and visa versa. This relentless thirst for only "one" way of understanding things also took hold in the development of science. From Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, there is an emphasis on universal laws and a goal to find a theory of everything. The problem with the "logic of the One," Schneider claims, is that it "functions as an ideology that in fact disallows ambiguities of experience to occasionally contradict oneness" (81). Thankfully this reductionistic "logic of the One" in religion, science, and politics is being challenged through postmodern theology, quantum mechanics, and global collaboration. And that is where the next part of Schneider's book comes in. She moves from deconstructive criticism to reconstructive imagining.

In Part Two, Schneider describes the "theology of multiplicity" that she hopes will replace "the logic of the One." The heart of her "theology of multiplicity" is based on the incarnation. She argues that Jesus revealed a God who is incarnational by God's very nature. God is embodied. And that's the key to divine multiplicity. Bodies are continually changing, developing, and growing. If God is truly an incarnational God, then God changes, develops, and grows along with us. Since bodies are different in each new moment, God is different in each new moment. Bodies change. Thus, an embodied God changes. Since God is incarnational, God is dynamic and irreducible. In the author's words, "the embodied divine shatters illusions and static categories of persons and things" (205). There can be no strict doctrines or static orthodoxies that define God. God is beyond definition. God is enigmatic. That is why multiplicity is so important in Schneider's theology. A "theology of multiplicity" takes into account the incarnational character of God. In the author's words, "Multiplicity is a dialect of porous openness, implicating a divinity that is streaming, reforming, responding, flowering, and receding, beginning...again" (162). Multiplicity appreciates "shape-shifting, abundance, finitude, tehom, and story." (137). Thus, for Schneider, theology should be done through the mediums of "poetry, myth, and story" (128) from a "theology of multiplicity" instead of the universal claims and objective truths from the "logic of the One."

In Part Three, Schneider offers some ethical implications of a "theology of multiplicity." Basically, she argues that for an appreciation of the diversity that is present in all bodies. Bodies are all different. Bodies are changing. Bodies are changing differently. So there can be no universal way to understand all bodies. Each body must be appreciated for its uniqueness. Thus, ethics in a " logic of multiplicity" must be characterized by aspects such as fluidity, accompaniment, solidarity, and presence (204). Instead of summed up in simple rules, ethics must be approached through present love. For the author, "ethical love is the actualized recognition of the presence of others" as they are (205). This love is "temporal, present, embodied, transient, creative...intimate, partial, responsible, and never nostalgic (206). Love must be embodied from one concrete person to another concrete person. Love cannot be abstract. Love must be concrete. And, finally, she makes the point that "God is Love" because "God comes into being specifically, without abstraction" (206). In other words, God is love because God embodies love to embodied people. In the end, embodied love is the ultimate ethical principle for Schneider.

Beyond Monotheism is an engaging book, but one that I didn't find to be practical or groundbreaking. While I appreciated many creative turns in this book, I have already encountered many of these ideas in feminist, womanist, postmodern, and process theologies. In fact, many of these ideas are covered more concretely and accessibly in several other recent books, including On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process by Catherine Keller and How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins. If the concern of Transforming Theology is to actually transform theology, then books need to be accessable to a wider audience. The chasm between academic theology and lay theology needs to be bridged. Unfortunately, Beyond Monotheism doesn't help bridge that gap. It's great stuff, but it's not going to gain the interest of more than a very small margin of Christians. Academic theologians like Schneider need to figure out a way to translate their books for people sitting in the pews of churches. Innovative theology is important for more people to read. Maybe academic theologians need to publish two versions of their books: one for academics and one for real people. And by "real people," I just means a wider audience. Tell us common folk why a "theology of multiplicity" matters for our real lives. Make it brief, engaging, and practical. We need to work together in order to truly transform theology.

Besides, ain't this book about concrete embodiment?!

LGBT Christian Resources

We've often been asked if there are books for or about lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered Christians. Happily, we can always reply, "Yes!" In fact, there are many books. The topics of these books range from spiritual devotionals to hopeful stories to biblical interpretation to theological research. So without further ado, here are a few examples of the many resources available to LGBT Christians and their allies.


Many Members Yet One Body: Same Gender Relationships and the mission of the Church by Craig L. Nessan

Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches edited by Walter Wink

Holy Conversations: A Congregational Resource by Karen P. Oliveto, Kelly D. Turney, and Traci C. West

In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God by Gene Robinson

Reconciling Journey: A Devotional Workbook for Lesbian and Gay Christians by Michal Anne Pepper

Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay Men's Spirituality by Donald L. Boisvert

Coming Out Young and Faithful
by Leanne McCall Tigert and Timothy J. Brown

Gay By God: How to be Lesbian or Gay and Christian and Queeries: Questions Lesbians and Gays have for God by Michael Piazza

The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships by Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley.

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally and The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus Borg

For the Bible Tells Me So video
directed by Daniel G. Karslake


Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians And Gays in Black Churches by Horace L. Griffin

Qu(e)erying Evangelism: Growing a Community From the Outside In by Cheri Dinovo

Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations edited by Kittredge Cherry and Zalmon Sherwood

The Queer Bible Commentary edited by Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss , Mona West, and Thomas Bohache

Take Back The Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible edited by Robert E. Goss and Mona West

Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right and Our Passion for Justice: Images of Power, Sexuality, and Liberation by Carter Heyward

The Church and the Homosexual and Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends by John J. McNeill

Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church by L. William Countryman and M. R. Ritley

The Parables of Jesus by Luise Schottroff

What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak

Thou Shalt Not Love: What Evangelicals Really Say About Homosexuality by Patrick M. Chapman


Counseling Lesbian Partners by Joretta Marshall

The Care of Men edited by Christie Cozad Neuger and James Newton Poling

Faith Beyond Resentment by James Allison

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler

Monday, March 23, 2009

What Is Spirituality?

Spirituality is a hot topic today. But what is it? There seems to be as many different answers to that question as there are books on the subject. In fact, each of us probably has a different definition. So, please join me in the task of discerning the meaning of spirituality.

It’s difficult to describe our relationship with God. In part, because each of us has a different kind of relationship with the Holy One. Plus, every relationship changes and evolves over time. The way we experience God today might be different than a few years ago. This varying and ongoing quest to be open to and in relationship with Holy One is what I understand as the spiritual journey.

The one constant factor in this dynamic relationship is God’s continual presence in our lives. Each of us is saturated and filled with the present of the Holy One. God surrounds us and is within us at every moment of our lives. As Acts 17:28 says, "In God we live, move and have our being." Therefore, I understand spirituality as the connection each of us has with the Divine. Admittedly, sometimes we feel more connected to God – sometimes less. But the connection is always the same for God. The following story describes this understanding of our relationship with God well:
There was once a son of a rabbi who would only pray and meditate in the woods. One day, the rabbi asked her son, "Why do you come outside to look for God, when God is the same everywhere?" Her son thought for a moment and then said, "I know God is the same everywhere, but I am not. So, I go into the woods so I can give God a chance!"
This story illustrates my understanding of spiritual formation. It is God’s connection and activity that does the transforming work in our lives. But we are not always receptive to that connection. Marjorie Thompson says that spiritual formation should help us "attune ourselves to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit within and around us." In other words, we need to live our lives in ways that are more mindfully attuned to God. For the rabbi’s son, that meant being outdoors. Each of us will find our attuning in different ways. No matter one's individual spiritual style, what matters is practicing being open to the presence of God in our daily lives. Or in other words, purposefully paying attention to God. This can be done through worship, prayer, meditation, contemplation, daily devotionals, serving others, lectio divina, walking a labyrinth, watching a beautiful sunset, etc.

The best way practice discerning God’s presence and activity in our life is by trying out a spiritual practice. There is no “better” or “correct” practice. Each one is effective to different people. The important thing is to explore the practices until we find the one that helps us experience the transforming presence of the Holy One. God is still speaking – even in the common, ordinary everydayness of life. Spiritual practices can help us listen to that continually beckoning Voice.

One way that I practice “listening” to the Holy One is through music. So, I’ll offer the following lyrics as one possible way to "attune ourselves to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit within and around us."

"Holy Now" by Peter Mayer

When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now

Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle

Everything, everything
Everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now

It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

The Emergent Church Is Nothing New - But They Are Doing New Things

The Introduction

Emergent Church folks and Mainline Church folks are often suspicious of each other. But they also seem curious about one another. It is my hope that the healthy curiosity can help overcome the unhealthy suspicion. This post is an attempt to embody that goal. In that vein, I want to offer a critique of and compliment to the Emergent Church so they can better understand how Mainline Christians sometimes view them. Basically, I want air some dirty laundry, so some of the stink can be aired out. Hopefully the cleaner air will promote better neighborliness. So, here goes!

The Critique

I like many things about the Emergent Church, but I do need to challenge the idea that they are doing something "new." The Emergent Church is actually a movement that seems to be an amalgamation of old-yet-untried ideas and theologies that perceives itself as doing things that are "new." Many of the "emerging" thoughts have already been talked about or put in place for years - and sometimes centuries - in the Mainline and Evangelical Church. For example, dialogical preaching has been around for a long time, yet Doug Pagitt wrote a book about it as if he was inventing it for the first time. Dialogical preaching has been practiced in the Black Church for hundreds of years - and it has been practiced (even the way Pagitt does it) for a long time in places like St. Gregory Episcopal Church. This makes it seem like some the leaders of the Emergent Church are good users/plagiarizers of good ideas. They take an old idea like dialogical preaching, pretend they are discovering it for the first time, and then re-publish it with a glitzy-looking book. It makes them money, but it's not necessarily "new." Maybe that is too harsh. They deserve the benefit of the doubt. Since many of these folks are young, perhaps they simply don't know they are using old ideas. In any case, it seems like Ecclesiastes 1:9 is right: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

The Compliment

The gift of the Emergent Church for the rest of us is that they "walk the walk." While they might not be developing all new ways of doing ministry, they are actively employing non-traditional ways of doing ministry in their churches. So, for example, people like Pagitt actually practice dialogical preaching while many others simply talk about it. They are teaching the rest of us that non-traditional ministry is possible - and happening. Emergent Church pastors actually practice things such as interactive worship, jazz liturgies, collaborative leadership, etc. And they don't just do these things on special occasions. They make non-traditional ministry the new tradition. They model good ideas by daring to do them. All those good ideas by people like Ruth Duck, Lucy Rose, Elisabeth Fiorenza, and the Holden Village community that have been locked away in the closet of the Mainline Church are used in public places in the Emergent Church. The Emergent Church can do what many others cannot because they are starting new churches. They are starting new traditions. That is their gift to the wider Church. We have much to learn from their emerging practices.

The Hope

If we combined the rich theological tradition and depth of the Mainline Church, with the youthful passion and practicality of the Emergent Church, we'd have something truly relevant for a postmodern world. That is why conversations between Mainliners and Emergents are so important for the Church. These conversations can be awkward at times but they are also mutually enriching. So, despite the difficulty, I say let the conversations continue! Hopefully these conversations can be deeply generative for the wider Church of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Transforming Theology: "Sharing Wisdom After The First Conference"

Theology is in a time of serious flux. And there are many reasons for that flux. The Mainline Church is still trying to find its place in a post-Mainline world. The Evangelical Church is trying to discern a new direction in a post-Religious Right era. The Emergent Church is attempting to discover a non-structural way to structure themselves. Postmodernity is helping the Church take a closer and more honest look at themselves and the way they practice ministry. Feminism is challenging the Church to be more egalitarian and inclusive of the voices and contexts of women. Multiculturalism is challenging the Church to be more democratic and mindful of the particularities of different cultures. Eco-justice is challenging the Church to be more active in caring for God's Creation. The economic recession is challenging all levels of the Church to figure out how to do good and faithful ministry in times of financial hardship. The chasm between the theology in churches and the theology in seminaries is growing wider every year. Emergent science is displacing a Newtonian understanding of the world, with a radically more interdependent understanding of the world. The list could go on and on. The reality of the situation is clear: There are major changes and challenges underway that need serious theological reflection in all areas of the Church.

The Transforming Theology folks are considering these very topics. The goal is to reflect theologically on these topics and then discern concrete action for the future. Reflection and action. Sounds like CPE. Maybe that is what the Church needs right now. We need the prayerful reflection and careful action of a CPE group. Thankfully, Transforming Theology is doing its part. In fact, the mission of Transforming Theology is to "tighten the bonds between theology and transformative action in the church and the world." The first formal gathering of this group just occurred in California.

On Friday, March 13th theologians from around the US gathered at Claremont School of Theology to discuss Transforming the Church through rekindling and rethinking theological reflection. The theologians included: Doug Ottati, Gary Dorrien, Joseph Bracken, Helene Russell, Dawn DeVries, Tony Jones, Doug Meeks, Mary Fulkerson, Dwight Hopkins, and Harvey Cox.

On Saturday, March 14th theologians from around the US gathered at Claremont School of Theology to discuss Transforming Society through rekindling and rethinking theological reflection. The theologians included: Bill Dean, Mayra Rivera, Glen Stassen, Jonathan Walton, Emilie Townes, Ignacio Castuera, Ellen Armour, Joerg Rieger, Laurel Schneider, and Victor Anderson.

These are some of the best and brightest minds in the world of academic theology. Their insights are certainly worth serious consideration. But it would be optimal for as many different people to engage in this discussion as possible. The voices of informal theologians are especially important to add to this conversation. Obviously, not everyone has the time, money, and interest to fly out to California for a conference. But there are other ways to engage this material. This is where the internet comes in handy. As video recordings and blog reflections become avalible, they will be posted below.

Here is a video of Philip Clayton and Tony Jones discussing Emergent Science and Emergent Church.

Here is a video of Philip Clayton and Tony Jones taking questions from the audience about Emergent Science and Emergent Church.

Donna Bowman blogged about the event: Day 3.

Tripp Fuller blogged: Day 2 and Day 3.

Tony Jones blogged: Everything You Think About Progressive Theology Is Wrong, Day 2, and Day 3.

Please add your voice and wisdom to this discussion. The Holy Spirit talks to and through each of us. So, if we're going to transform theology in a real and authentic way, the Church needs as many people sitting around the table as possible.

I decided to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk. So I am taking part in this discussion through blogging. My blog posts for Transforming Theology include: Emergent Christianity, Liberal Christianity is Conservative, Reclaiming the Church with John Cobb and Thinking Theologically As Full-Time Christians. Also, you can find the link to my blog and the reflections of many others at the Transforming Theology blog.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Honoring Quietude During Lent

"Ash Wednesday" - T.S. Elliot
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.

Unknown - Mother Teresa
We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass - grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence...We need silence to be able to touch souls.

"Let Your Life Speak" - Parker Palmer
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody...The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions.

"I Kings 19:11-13" - Anonymous
The word of God said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Holy One, for the Holy One is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Holy One, but the Holy One was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Holy One was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Holy One was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

"I Feel Sorry for Jesus" - Naomi Shihab Nye
People won't leave Him alone.
I know He said, Wherever two or more
are gathered in my name...but
I'll bet some days He regrets it.
Cozily they tell you what He wants
and doesn't want as if they just got an e-mail.
Remember "Telephone," that pass-it-on
where the message changed dramatically by the time
it rounded the circle? Well.
People blame terrible pieties on Jesus.
They try to feel like His Special Pet.
Jesus deserves better.
I think He's been exhausted for a very long time.
He went into the desert, friends.
He didn't go into the pomp.
He didn't go into the golden chandeliers
and say, the truth tastes better here,
See? I'm talking like I know.
It's dangerous talking for Jesus.
You get carried away almost immediately.
I stood in the spot where He was born.
I closed my eyes where He died and didn't die.
Every twist of the Via Dolorosa was written on my skin.
And that makes me feel like being silent you know?
A secret pouch of listening.
You won't hear me talk about this again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Total Depravity is Totally Depraved: Exploring a Jewish Understanding of Sin

Tony Jones is continuing an interesting series of blog posts on "original sin" that has now included the topic of "total depravity." The theory of "total depravity" means that humanity has a sick-and-twisted condition. In other words, we are evil and sinful at core. This is where I need to draw a theological boundary. Enough is enough. Anyone who has held a new-born infant in their arms knows that baby is sacred - not "totally depraved." So we must choose another way forward. There is a way to acknowledge the reality of sin while also acknowledging our core goodness as creatures made in God's image. Jews have been doing this for thousands of years.

According to the folks who wrote Genesis: there was no "fall" that affected all people or "original sin" that is passed on to all humanity. Thus, humanity doesn't suffer from any kind of "total depravity" brought on by Adam and Eve's so-called "original sin." Christian theologians, however, read that theology back into Genesis via the work of Augustine, Calvin, and (perhaps) Paul. But it's important to note that "the fall," "original sin," and "total depravity" simply aren't original to the original text. They are new theologies. Perhaps an exploration of Judaism's understanding of sin might be helpful in this conversation.

Sin in Judaism is understood in terms of actions instead of in terms of human condition. There is no doctrine of original sin nor is there a theology that suggests humans are basically sinners. Instead human nature is conceptualized by two different inclinations: the good inclination (yetser hatov) and the bad inclination (yetser hara). Humanity has the "free will" to choose either of these inclinations. This theology of choice is grounded in the Torah. For example, in the Garden of Eden, primordial humanity was described as being given the choice between the Tree of Knowledge (i.e. way of death) and the Tree of Life (i.e. way of life) (Genesis 2:9, 15-15). Similarly, in the desert, God is portrayed as giving Moses and the people the choice between life and death - and inviting them to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:11, 15-20). God's invitation to humanity is the same today as it was in Scriptural times: "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). Therefore, humanity is given a blank slate with the freedom to choose their actions, not infused with evilness that cannot be overcome. Nor is there an evil being like a "devil" that competes with God's sovereignty and/or interferes with humanity's freedom.

Choice always remains for God's people. Choosing the good inclination (yetser hatov) helps humanity to live up to their full potential as good creations made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Conversely, choosing the bad inclination (yetser hara) causes humanity to fall short of their potential. Acts of falling short are named as sins and are described in two basic ways: chait and aveyrah.

Chait, the most common word translated as sin, is best described as "missing the mark" or "making a mistake" in the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Judges 20:16). In short, chait is missing the target. Since the goal of humanity is to aim at Torah, God's call, and living according to our full potential, the stray attempts are what are understood as sins. Since life is an ongoing process of change and development, human life is characterized by a continuous activity of shooting arrows as well as the ability to improve one's "shot." In other words, it's within humanity's ability and responsibility to improve. In this perspective, humanity is not a sinful, depraved being that has no hope of betterment. Instead, humanity is in a perennial state of freedom with the responsibility to improve our aim.

Aveyrah is the Hebrew term, often translated as sin, which means "walking off the path." Like chait, this term means that humanity's actions are sinful but not their essence. Humans have the freedom to choice their path as well as the responsibility to walk on the best path(s). The Halachah, the collection of Jewish law including the written and oral Torah, offers a map and guide to the right path(s) to follow in life. As humanity travels, God supports humanity on our way so we can be led to the best paths. Moreover, like the term above, it is ultimately humanity's responsibility to get on the right path(s). Such a theology of betterment is commended in Genesis 4:3-7: "Surely, if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it." Humanity can choose and follow better paths.

Sins, understood as chait or aveyrah, are atoned for in two different ways in Judaism. First, sins against people are atoned for when one reconciles with them with his/her words and deeds. Second, sins against God are atoned for when one reconciles to God in prayer.

Perhaps it's time for Christians to learn from our ancestors in faith. We're not just evil, sinful people who only do evil, sinful things. We're good people that sometimes choose bad actions. At core, we're made in the sacred image of God. Our faith in God helps that sacred image to shine through in our words and deeds. This theology gives us the responsibility to change our lives. It also gives us the hope that our lives can change through the empowerment and guidence of God.

Celtic Christians are one example of Christians who follow this more traditional, hopeful understanding of humanity. May we all be a little more Celtic and Jewish in our Christianity!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tree of Life

Roots deeper than any thought by Plato, Socrates, or Aristotle
but then again, they weren't so wise
the idea of an unchanging, disconnected divinity sounds absurd, immoral
an ocean of challenges could be levied, if pretentiousness won the day
so let it stand that the great Greek philosophers weren't so deep
at least not as deep as Sappho
exploring the intimate intimately
queerly open to the deep depths of love
oh, that sensuous depth was bottomless
Roots deeper than any poem by Sappho
Growing down into the wild depths of the earth
exploring every rock, every fossil
slipping, with great fingers, into unearthed stores of cool water
to quench her mighty thirst
widening ever further to provide the strength of a house built on a rock
it's not only people that need security
it's not only prophets who possess this wisdom
it's not only the religious who seek divine nurturance
Web of roots whose grasp is as strong and committed
as a mother's arms cradling her first-born infant
Scared, excited, joyful, grateful, connected, holy, hopeful
Trunk that bears her weight with grace
Dancing, twisting, shifting
Sacred circles growing onward, upward
Branches reaching out to embrace the world
but also to hold it back
she's no self-sacrificial Giving Tree
Shel's tree had no boundaries, no sense of when to say when
insatiable selflessness was whittled down by insatiable selfishness
her body was broken, her blood spilled
do not do this, in remembrance of her
in remembrance of her, she finds a different way to commune
Her open arms, swing out to touch the face of the universe
at times, beckoning all things into her embrace
at times, keeping all things out of her embrace
at all times, honoring the dignity and worth of her own life
Leaves continuously sprouting, swaying, changing, falling, and sprouting
Courageously celebrating the seasons in all their pain and glory
Glowing fire of fall
Stark clarity of winter
New birth of spring
Abundant life of summer
She is older than the seasons
Deep lines adorn her sturdy, weathered skin
Lines leading up to her ancient, gnarled fingers that have
stretched, unmoving, toward thousands of porcelain heavens,
unbeheld by others' eyes
Living embodiment of “still waters run deep,”
she vigilantly absorbs all that surrounds her
and part of her being resonates with
that which has been
that which is now
that which shall be
Brutally honest, her soul bares all
and reflects the true self
of each that pauses to gaze upon her triumphant branches
but she has no soapbox to step down from
no trophies to display
no ribbons round her neck
yet proud and courageous, she stands firm
and eternity dwells in her being

Monday, March 9, 2009

Transforming Theology: "Emergent Christianity"

Emergent Church. Emergent Christianity. Emergent Science.

The word "emergent" is a new buzz word. Sometimes it's tempting to want to ignore things that become overly popular. Nobody wants to look like one in a mass of people who have just jumped on the latest bandwagon. But some things are worth the risk of looking like we've succumb to peer pressure. Like the band U2, the term "emergent" is cool even though it's popular. In fact, I'd suggest that it's an important word for two major reasons.

First, the word "emergent" acknowledges that Christianity has been emerging for 2,000 years. Transformation is the norm. We have to continually respond to the changing times and contexts, just as the early Christians had to do. We must always carefully and prayerfully explore how we can make our core traditions relevant and effective in whatever environment we find ourselves. The key is not to ask: What would Jesus do? The key is to ask: What would Jesus have me do, here and now? And that answer has always been - and will always be - different for each person, place, time, and context. Changes are part of being faithful to the living God who is continually doing a "new thing" (Isaiah 43:19). Thus, Christianity is continually evolutionary. But it is also occasionally revolutionary. Charles Darwin's new science, Vatican II's new liturgical vision, Postmodernity's new philosophical challenge, etc. have brought revolutionary change to the Church. Shift happens! It always happens. "Emergent Christianity" can be the label for the kind of Christianity that adapts to changes in ways that are relevant to the world and faithful to the Gospel.

Second, the term "emergent" is important because it acknowledges the evolving structure of the universe. Quantum physics, Systems biology, Chaos theory, Posthumanism, and Emergent science are showing that we live in an evolving world of increasing complexity. Bruce Sanguin wrote an article, “Evolutionary Christian Spirituality,” where he suggests that God is an active aspect of our evolving universe where "more complex and nuanced forms and processes emerge in response to changing life conditions." He says, "it is God’s intention for us to grow and evolve." God is the one who beckons all things toward greater complexity and emergence. God is the part of existence that slowly-yet-continually works to bring about the emergence studied by Emergent science. Whereas old Newtonian science didn't make room for God, new Emergent science suggests that the existence of God is very viable. Thus, "Emergent Christianity" can be a phrase used to describe people who affirm God's continual activity in the evolving universe. Emergent Christianity has come to expression in theologies such as Open Theism and Process Theology. These forms of theology have the greatest potential to help Emergent Christianity to emerge.

In sum, "Emergent" is a helpful term that describes Christians who affirm (1) the continual, God-inspired reformation of Christianity as well as (2) the continual, God-inspired evolution of the universe. It's one buzz word that's worth the buzz.

Transforming Theology: "Liberal Christianity is Conservative"

LIBERAL! What does that word mean? Is it a curse word? Does it have any value in describing Christianity?

"Liberal" is a term that is used to describe Christians who are more committed to social justice than to Jesus Christ. They are the left-wing pinko commies who want to help the poor and feed the hungry. They are the tree-hugging environmentalists who drone on and on about global warming. They are the guilt-ridden PC police who incessantly speak up about classism, sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc. They are the grass roots army who thought Barack Obama would instantly usher in a new and glorious age of peace, justice, and equality. They are the enlightened Christians who have managed to transcend superstitious ideas such as the effectiveness of praying to a listening God. They are the science-loving fact-fundamentalists who have rejected the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. They are the relativists who don't believe we can have any meaning or purpose in life. They are the secular humanists who forced God out of public schools. Damn, dirty liberals!

Obviously, this is a caricature of "liberal" Christianity and how their opponents view them. But it makes the point. Liberal is seen as a dirty word. It's often associated with the "high" liberalism of the 19th and 20th centuries. These folks gave liberalism a bad name. They were Deists who thought God was simply their side-kick. They were self-made men who saw Jesus as their buddy along their journey of success. They were supremely optimistic folks who thought they could build the Kingdom of God on earth through democracy, education, and social welfare programs. But soon they were knocked down from their high horse.

The "high" liberals were soon faced with the reality of sin and evil in graphic ways. The Holocaust and WWII pointed out the inappropriateness of extreme optimistic views of humanity upheld in liberalism. Feminists pointed out the sexism and patriarchy in liberalism. Postcolonialists pointed out the imperialism in liberalism. Black Liberation theologians pointed out the racism in liberalism. Queer theologians pointed out the homophobia in liberalism. Postmodernity challenged the Newtonian science of liberalism. The list could go on and on. Soon even liberals began seeing "high" liberalism as problematic.

Thankfully post-liberal liberalism has managed to emerge out of the ruins of "high" liberalism. Process Theology is a great example of this post-liberal liberalism. It retains a commitment to social justice, but from a more nuanced perspective. It retains a commitment to mission, but from a more humble perspective. It retains an ethic of human responsibility, but from a more realistic perspective. And, importantly, it retains a liberal vision, but from a post-("high"-)liberal perspective.

Liberalism is a good thing to be rooted in. It keeps us grounded in our founding documents and founding leaders. Yes, being liberal means conserving the best of our traditions. Looking at the Judeo-Christian tradition and history of the United States of America shows the conservative goal of liberalism.

In regard to the Judeo-Christian tradition, liberals conserve the core teachings of Scripture. Micah 4:3-4 provides a vision of peace where all people have liberty and equity: "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid." Matthew 25:32-36 provides a vision of judgement whereby God requires all peoples and nations to actively work for a just and fair world: "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'" Amos 5:24 provides the summary statement of the liberal vision in Scripture: "let justice roll down like waters."

In regard to tradition of the USA, liberals conserve the core principles of our nation. The Declaration of Independence argues that liberty is a core value: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The Preamble to the Constitution talks about liberal goals: "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty." The Statue of Liberty has a liberal vision inscribed on it: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Liberals are the conservatives. They are the ones who want to conserve the ideals that have been the traditional guiding principles. Conserving these principles has led to the great liberal movements of the USA: abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights, etc. All of these great transitional movements were led by liberal Christians. So, "liberal" is a term that needs to be reclaimed.

"Liberal Christianity" is a good thing. It means conserving and enacting the core social teachings of Scripture - especially those taught by Jesus Christ: peace, justice, love, equity, mutuality, etc. Liberal Christianity conserves those traditional ideals. So it's conservative to support "liberal" things such social justice, peace making, civil rights, marriage equality, LGBT ordination, eco-justice, equal pay for equal work, etc. Liberals want traditional values such as peace and justice for all people. And that makes them liberal with their conservatism.

Transforming Theology: "Rekindling Theological Reflection"

The folks at Transforming Theology are hosting two conferences in mid-March to discuss the state of theology in Mainline seminaries and congregations. These events are free and open to the public. If you're interested in following these conversations online, you can check out the Transforming Theology YouTube channel and/or the Transforming Theology blog. Also, my blog posts for Transforming Theology include: Reclaiming the Church with John Cobb and Thinking Theologically As Full-Time Christians.

Transforming the Church

Friday, March 13th: 7:00 - 9:00 pm @ Mudd Theater, Claremont School of Theology

Discussion Leaders: Tony Jones, Doug Meeks, Mary Fulkerson, Dwight Hopkins, and Harvey Cox

Panel Participants: Doug Ottati, Gary Dorrien, Joseph Bracken, Helene Russell, & Dawn DeVries

Transforming Society

Saturday, March 14th: 7:00 - 9:00 pm @ Claremont School of Theology

Discussion Leaders: Bill Dean, Mayra Rivera, Glen Stassen, Jonathan Walton, and Emilie Townes

Panel Participants: Ignacio Castuera, Ellen Armour, Joerg Rieger, Laurel Schneider, and Victor Anderson

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Theology with U2: No Line on the Horizon (2 of 2)

"Get on Your Boots" is the arena rocker of the album. It ranks right up there with "Vertigo" and "Beautiful Day." Catchy. Hooky. And a whole lot of awesome. The song's theme is about the sexiness of taking action to change the world. Nobody has made working for social justice as sexy and cool as U2 have over the years. Somehow they get people excited about fighting AIDs, poverty, injustice, etc. So this song might just be their own theme song. For all those who wish to "put on their boots" in Bono's army, he gives clear marching orders in this song: "Here's where we gotta be / Love and community." That's the ultimate goal. And women have a special place in this army. The lyrics read, "Women of the future / Hold the big revelations." Bono has long argued that women have a special role in transforming the world. As one example of this, Bono told the New York Times: "Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Give a woman microcredit and she, her husband, her children and her extended family will eat for a lifetime." The big mystery in this song is what Bono means by "let me in the sound." One idea is that the "sound" is an analogy for an island. Bono sings: "Let me in the sound, now / God, I'm going down / I don't want to drown now / Meet me in the sound / Let me in the sound." Perhaps, the "sound" is an island of hope, safety, and action in sea of despair, danger, and stagnation. If this is true, let all of us "in the sound"!

"Stand Up Comedy" is a love song. But it's not a sappy, predictable one. It's a hard rock love song about the importance of enacting love in our lives. It's a call to action. It's a wake up call. After opening the song by chanting the word "love," Bono sings: "I got to stand up and take a step / You and I have been asleep for hours / I got to stand up / The wire is stretched in between our two towers." In these lyrics, Bono is saying we need to get off our butts and go live our love. It's not good enough for there to be a "wire" connecting us. We need to share words and deeds of love. Love is a verb. Love is to be enacted. Love is to be lived. Love is to be wild. Lukewarm passivity must be comedically absurd for Bono. In case we miss this point, the chorus says: "Out from under your beds / C’mon ye people / Stand up for your love." So what or who is this love? Bono answers by singing: "God is love / And love is evolution’s very best day." Love is nothing short of the most important thing in the world. Love is the culmination of human development. Love is divine. In fact, I John 4:15 says, "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." Obviously love is important for many reasons. But one reason is that love keeps our ideologies in check. In an interview, Bono says, "Zealotry and certainty are worrying for me. Love keeps religion from zealotry." Love reminds us to be patient and kind instead of boastful and arrogant (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love reminds us that people are more important than ideas. Love reminds us that God is love, and we're made in God's image. Love reminds us to honor the dignity of our differences. Love reminds us that our perspectives are just perspectives - not the Truth. Love reminds us we all "see through a glass dimly" and "know only in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Love reminds us to embrace paradox over certainty. All of these ideas are summed up by Bono in some of the coolest lyrics on the album: "While I'm getting over certainty / Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady." In these lyrics Bono is suggesting that we stop forcing God to be and think like us. God is God. We are not. God is enigmatic. God's name is "I Am Who I Am" (Exodus 3:14). There is mystery in that name. In fact, the Jewish name for God, "YHWH," even lacks the vowels needed to make the name pronounceable. Mystery is something to be embraced as an act of faith. In the words of Anne Lamott, "The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." Bono and Lamott invite us to enact love, perhaps, in part, by finding the comedy in certainty.

"Fez - Being Born" is an odd pair of songs, even for this album. It's U2 being experimental. These songs probably won't be a concert favorite, but it's fun to hear U2 try out new sounds. The first song "Fez," combines loops of Bono singing "let me in the sound," unique beats of Joujouka drummers, haunting sounds of Sufi devotional songs, ambient sounds from the street, etc. The influence of producer Brian Eno, the father of ambient music, is very evident in this brief, multi-layered song. The second tune in this duo of songs, "Being Born," continues the experimental flavor and Arabic theory of the previous song but morphs them into an avant-garde rock song. The influence of producer Danny Lanois, who specializes in artsy rock, is most evident in this song. The major difference between these songs is that "Being Born" has lyrics. Bono sings about a journey of birth that takes him around the world. This could be about the birth of this album, which was recorded in various locations around the world. But who knows!? All I can say for sure is that this song is beautiful in all of its alt-rock-Arabic-Moroccan glory.

"White As Snow" is a hauntingly beautiful song. It has a quiet, raw power that has to be experienced. The first time I heard it I was drawn into the emotional spirit of the song and couldn't stop listening. I knew it had to be about a particular event or experience. Thankfully I came across an article that described the context of the song. Bono said it's written "from the point of view of an active soldier in Afghanistan" who is "dying from a roadside bomb." The soldier is reflecting on his life in the moments just before her/his last breath. The lyrics start out with the soldier thinking about his home and family: "Where I come from there were no hills at all / The land was flat, the highway straight and wide / My brother and I would drive for hours / Like we had years instead of days." There seems to be a longing for those simple things we all take for granted. Then the lyrics turn to the soldier's thoughts on the immediacy of her/his death: "Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all / Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon." The symbolism is powerful. Poppies are symbolic of death and are featured in the World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields." In that poem poppies became the symbol of remembrance of soldiers who had been killed. The first stanza reads: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row, / That mark our place; and in the sky / The larks, still bravely singing, fly / Scarce heard amid the guns below." Bono is clearly emphasizing the soldier's sense of sadness by saying that poppies are the only thing growing on the ground. All of these rich lyrics are bathed in music that picks up on elements of the tune, "O Come O Come Emmanuel." This 19th century hymn is about God's promise to heal the world through the messiah. Part of that healing is taking away humanity's pain and death. The lyrics read: "O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer / Our spirits by Thine advent here / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / And death's dark shadows put to flight / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel." The move from death to praise in this hymn is mysteriously significant. Perhaps this hymn is Bono's hope for the soldier. Or perhaps it's the hymn that the soldier hears while entering Heaven. In either case, the musical elements of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" overlaid in "White As Snow," makes this meaning-filled U2 song even more arresting. In my opinion, this is one of the best songs of the album.

"Breathe" opens with dueling piano and guitar. It's cool. The song seems to maintain a feisty sense of hope musically and lyrically. According to an interview with Bono, the song is an upbeat ode to the sanctuary of his internal life - and lament about the rush of the external world. Bono begins his lament by singing about a traveling salesman selling "cockatoo" (i.e. crap we don't need). He continues the lament by talking about global stocks and viruses that affect everyone. Something external is always messing with his life. This makes him want to escape the "roar that lies on the other side of silence." It gets so bad that it "takes courage to walk down the street." But then Bono manages to discover the sanctuary of his internal life. For him, this means listening to his own song instead of the "roar" all around him. Again, Bono sounds like a Quaker, discovering the gift of the "inner light." The last part of the song is a testimony to the beauty of listening to one's own song: "We are people born of the sound / the songs are in our eyes / Gonna wear them like a clown / Walk out, into the sunburst street / Sing your heart out, sing my heart out / I've found grace inside a sound / I found grace, it's all that I found / And I can breathe / Breathe now." Salvation in this sing is about being saved from the craziness of the external world and being saved for living one's own life. This isn't about being selfish. It's about being centered.
Being centered means being attentive to one's authentic self and open to the divine inside us. Scripture says that the presence of God (1 John 3:24) and the Kin-dom of God (Luke 17:21) are both found within. Bono has found his center by listening to the sound within.

"Cedars of Lebanon" is spoken word poetry set to a continuously driving song. The poem is an intimate portrayal of the life and struggles of a war journalist. It's amazing how vivid and nuanced the picture is that Bono manages to paint with his lyrics. It's like you're there. Seeing the sights. Smelling the smells. Tasting the tastes. But it's war. It's ugly. It's not something you'd want to experience. And by the end of the song, I'm not sure whether to feel sorrier for the war-torn people themselves or the journalist that has to watch it all happen. Probably the journalist, honestly. He's the one who has to see it all happen and then force it all into some easy-to-read article for people who can't possibly relate to what's happening. Bono captures the scene like this: "Spent the night trying to make a deadline / Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline." Bono also gets at the gritty differences between the various people affected by the war: "Child drinking dirty water from the river bank / Soldier brings oranges he got out from the tank / I'm waiting on the waiter, he's taking a while to come / Watching the sun go down on Lebanon." These kinds of lyrics magnetically draw listeners into the scene. But we don't just get to peek into the life of the war journalist. We also get to hear the wisdom that he gained from his reflections on the war: "Choose your enemies carefully 'cos they will define you." This is good advice. In our interdependent world, we are as affected by our friends as we are our enemies. Friends give us something to live for. Enemies give us something to live against. They both give shape to our lives. The journalist seems to be warning us not to give so much influential power to the things and people we are against. Jesus gave similar advice when he said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Here Jesus seems to invite us to live graciously toward our enemies so that they might become friends. Apostle Paul calls this a "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18). The ultimate vision of reconciliation comes from Micah 4:3: "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." This vision is that all people will be reconciled with one other. No more enemies. No more war. No more war journalists. I think that is the deeper message of "Cedars of Lebanon." Peace is cool. And so is this song.