Despair? Nope

Picking up from where I left off a couple of days ago, let me make it very clear. I know what I say here may be flawed. But if I’m right? Well …
So here goes.
1994 through 1998 were the best four years of my life! No equivocation on that.  24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year for four years I thought, studied, and talked only about religion. And not just one part of one religion. My very fertile field of learning was the 22 seminaries of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. My grandfather and father were Presbyterian preachers so I started with the core courses at the Presbyterian school. Four years later I had accumulated credits for the Episcopalian, Lutheran, Unitarian, American Baptist, and Franciscan seminaries. I had also audited 43 other courses at the Jesuit Seminary, the schools for Muslim and Buddhist studies, the Methodist and United Church of Christ seminaries. Heck, I even audited two biblical archeology courses and a Kabbalah course just across the road from “holy hill” at UC Berkeley. That gave me ready access to their amazing, and I do mean amazing libraries. Like I said, those were the best four years of my life!
Why do I go into so much detail about what dominated my life 20 years ago? Because that immersion in theology, biblical languages, philosophy, and history began an odyssey that lead predictably and inevitably to my previous piece and most everything I will write for the rest of my life, that’s why. Now, with that settled, let me move on. I ended my last article with “so what?”  Here’s what. Few will question that today the United States is struggling, some would say in crisis. By the way, as I said before, if you are happy with the way things are today, don’t bother reading any further.
At the risk of sounding, I don’t know, crazy?, the problem is religion. I mean it. The problem is religion! Think about it. Our president gets away with calling himself a Christian. The vice-president considers himself the GuideOn bearer for what it means to be a Christian today. Come on! I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go into all the painful reasons why Pence’s arrogant tribalism has little if any resemblance to Jesus’ love your neighbor, preference-for-the-poor message. Here’s the thing; what passes for Christianity today is a grotesque pretender! Christians in general, and the ordained clergy in particular, are called to care about so much more than just our selfish little piece of the pie. Most lawyers, politicians, and bankers don’t find “care for the poor and downtrodden” anywhere in their job description. Certainly many teachers, nurses, and homemakers and some physicians do. But you get my point. Why should we expect the people in the pew to care, when the message from the pulpit is primarily “exclude your neighbor and feather your own nest” instead of “love your neighbor. How about,  “be a sanctuary for asylum seekers”? 
Bottom line, professional tradents in religion are specifically called to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick and disabled, and educate the ignorant. That’s decidedly not the message heard by 99% of the folks who attend church today. Of course I’m not talking here about the evolved churches where bold preachers (mostly female these days) prophetically call for justice. Of course there are those churches. But for the most part they are small in size and influence. It takes the membership of a hundred “liberal’ churches to equal the membership of just one “Bible centered” mega church. That’s a scary thing, for many reasons. There is one reason however, that pushes the others into the background. Ominously, many people in church today think like the guy—face it, it’s usually a guy—in the pulpit. He and his most loyal parishioners don’t like members of other races. They think their religion is superior to the others. They don’t want to have to compete with “illegals” for jobs and influence. The issue in most large churches is not how to act like Jesus. It should be. It’s just not. The overarching issue is “Let’s get lots of people ‘saved’ today.” We need not wonder why we can’t make any headway against the climate deniers, the fossil fuel industry, the war industry, Wall Street investment bankers, and the automobile industry.
Am I delusional to think that we should expect to hear this message from the pulpit?
Maybe that’s enough for today. Next time I’ll go into a little more detail about how I think we can address these issues and stop avoiding the ominous portents for the future.        
I know, believe me I know. Focusing on these issues might lead one to despair. But here’s what my all-time very most favorite preacher said when I asked him (in 1993) how he stayed so optimistic in the face of all the problems he’d just spoken of. His answer: “It’s not about optimism and pessimism. It’s about hope and despair. Hope is a tiny dingy floating out on the great sea of despair. That little vessel supporting you will not sink unless someone puts a hole in it.” You may know who that great and good man was. If not, come back next time. We’ll talk more about him and where I get my hope for the future.

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