Let There Be Light (Bulb Jokes) – Le Donne Responds

download (1)Person A writes a book inspired by his experience of dialogue. Person B writes a review of the book. Person A wants to talk about it. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

What follows is Anthony’s reaction to my review of his latest book.

If we don’t get a slew of light bulb jokes in the comments section, I’m going to be disappointed.

________

I would like to thank Larry Behrendt for reviewing my book and for allowing me to respond to it on his blog. I have read several book reviews by Larry and I’ve never witnessed a less than gracious and measured tone. Even when Larry disagrees—whether he knows the author or not—he does so with respect and kindness. Just don’t get him started on baseball. Downright mashugana.

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“Near Christianity” (A Book Review)

downloadIn a recent piece on his subscription-only blog, Bart Ehrman—controversial scholar of the historical Jesus and early Christianity—addressed whether it bothers any of his more religious colleagues that he’s become an atheist-agnostic. According to Ehrman, this subject never comes up in academic circles. Why not? Because Ehrman has “never, ever, had a conversation with a colleague about my personal religious views.  Never.” Why not? Because, Ehrman says, he works at a secular institution of higher education, “and faith commitments are irrelevant to scholarship.”

Ehrman’s statement is typical of my experience with scholars of religion. A few of them are willing to open up about matters of faith. Many of them are not. Most scholars (and, I think, all of the good ones) want their work to be evaluated on the merits, and not by how well their scholarship jibes with our faith assumptions. But that doesn’t stop me from wondering about the relationship between faith and scholarship. I can only speak for myself, but my study of religion is a personal matter. I am changed by the works I read, and the study I do. I cannot imagine studying religion for a lifetime, and not being profoundly affected by this study.

So it is with great joy that I read my friend Anthony Le Donne’s latest book, Near Christianity: How Journeys along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved My Faith in G-d. Le Donne is a terrific scholar, particularly in the fields of the memory-history of early Christianity and the importance of gender and sexuality within Christianity. In Near Christianity, Le Donne describes his personal journey. Not his entire journey—for that, we’ll have to wait for his autobiography—but a particular personal journey Le Donne has taken, as a Christian, through his interaction with Judaism.

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Trump, Clinton and Religion: Part 1 (The “Nones”)

scienceI’ve been paying attention here to the relationship between religion and the politics of the U.S. Presidential election. We now have some good polling numbers to work with, so now is a good time to take a deep dive into how religion is affecting the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I plan to do this analysis in a few posts.

For the moment, Clinton enjoys about a 9% lead over Trump in the most recent polls. I’m relying here primarily on a June 2016 Pew Study poll, which shows Clinton with 51% support, compared to Trump’s 42% support. I’m looking at Pew, because Pew does the most complete job looking at the religious component of each candidate’s support. While the Pew poll is a bit old, it is comparable to more recent polls: the most recent NBC and Fox News polls also show Clinton with a nine-point lead. CNN’s “Poll of Polls” has Clinton with a ten-point lead. So I think Pew’s June numbers are probably reliable.

According to Pew, where is Clinton getting much of her edge, religion-wise? From the “nones,” the roughly 23% of Americans who are atheists, agnostics or otherwise unaffiliated with any religion. The “nones” support Clinton over Trump by a 44% margin, while the group I call the “somes” (Christians, Jews and members of other religions) as a whole narrowly break for Trump:

chart

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911

IMG_0530I will try to keep this short. I’ve read here that this is not the time for straight white people to write pieces about Sunday’s mass murder in Orlando. I’ve also been told that LGBTQ allies need to speak out. I think that both pieces of advice are sound, and I want to respect them both.

Much of the religious reaction to the Orlando mass murder speaks in terms of prayer, and love. That’s good, for a start. It just can’t end there. A friend put it to me this way. He believes in prayer. If his kid falls off the roof, my friend will pray. But he’ll call 911 first. I think the same way. If my kid has fallen off the roof (or is playing on the roof, or is climbing up a ladder to the roof) and all I do is pray and love, there’s something seriously wrong with me. Ditto if that’s my reaction to your kid on the roof. Or anyone’s kid.

The LGBTQ community is in danger. It is the target of more hate crime in the U.S. than any other community we can identify. If those of us who call ourselves religious offer this community nothing more than prayer and professions of love, then there’s something seriously wrong with us.

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Do We Divide Our House Over LGBTQ Rights?

RNS-METHODIST-LGBT aI have been following the ongoing General Conference of the United Methodist Church, taking place in Portland, Oregon as I write this. You can read coverage of the Conference on the United Methodist Reporter site, Christy Thomas’ The Thoughtful Pastor blog site (representing a liberal point of view), Joel Watts’ Unsettled Christianity blog site (representing a conservative point of view), and dozens of other religious and mainstream news outlets.

Normally, a conference of Methodist bishops would not receive this much attention. But this is not a normal conference. The United Methodist Church may be on the verge of splitting in two, over the issues of LGBTQ inclusion in the church.

I am no expert when it comes to the United Methodist Church. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far (and please, if you know something about the Methodists, correct me when I go wrong, and add the important detail I’m leaving out). Let’s start with some basic history, for people like me who are bewildered by the denominations within Protestantism.

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The Wisdom of Nine-Year-Olds

women-arriving-at-AuschwitzI have a good friend who lives a day’s drive from me. Mostly, we’re friends from a distance. I have never met her spouse or her daughter, except on Facebook.

About the daughter. She is nine years old. Her antics (at least, those recorded on Facebook) are intelligent and inspired. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a posed picture of her. The photos of her on Facebook are all activity. When I think of her, I think of a picture of her lying on the ground, face partially hidden, examining a bug or banana slug, asking questions at a pace that defies answer. I picture her as a mass of brown curls with a girl somewhere underneath.

I have little reason to know more about her, but I do know a little more about her. She is adopted. She is half Latina. I assume she was born in the United States; I know she was living in the United States when she was adopted. Do these details matter?

I learned last week that my friend’s daughter is afraid of Donald Trump. She’s heard of Trump’s plan to deport the roughly 11 million undocumented aliens residing in the United States. She’s probably heard of that other plan of Trump’s, to deny entry (or perhaps, re-entry) of Muslims into the United States solely on the basis of their religious faith.

My friend’s daughter wants to know whether, if Trump becomes President, he’s going to send her back to Costa Rica because she’s brown.

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Myth, Miracles and A Famous Cat

Here’s a story we’ve seen before: a charismatic preacher speaks of G-d, faith, hope and truth, and a member of the audience is healed.

And here’s a slightly different story, one I’ve already examined in an earlier post:

Martin Buber has told of a rabbi whose grandfather was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hassidism. Once upon a time, when the rabbi was asked to tell a story, he said: A story must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself. My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour on he was cured of his lameness. That’s the way to tell a story.

I received some terrific comments to my last post, all ably describing the above story. This is a story about how stories shape us. This is a story about how to tell a story. This is a story about how to become engaged in telling a story.

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A Story About Stories

imagesHere’s a story I’d like to share and discuss with you all, where one of the central characters is the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism. Hassidism is a Jewish movement founded in the eighteenth century that can be described (in an over-simplistic way) as spiritual, mystical and populist. The Baal Shem Tov had a legendary reputation as a miracle worker.

I found this story in a book written by Protestant scholar Franklin Littell.

Martin Buber has told of a rabbi whose grandfather was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hassidism. Once upon a time, when the rabbi was asked to tell a story, he said: A story must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself. My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour on he was cured of his lameness. That’s the way to tell a story.

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Giving Peace A Chance

downloadI have to admit it: I’m very, very excited about this.

Today, several key Christian leaders, including Tony Campolo, Joel Hunter, David Neff and Jim Wallis issued the following statement:

“As followers of Jesus, we the undersigned are committed to peacemaking—to which we are called by Christ.”

Nothing controversial there. It’s what follows that makes me feel very happy. The statement is about peacemaking in Israel. The statement:

  • Expresses support for the 2015 framework signed by Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany), whereby Iran agreed to reduce its capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons in exchange for an elimination of economic sanctions against Iran.
  • Calls on Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to end its “regular declarations” to destroy the State of Israel.
  • Calls on Israel to freeze the construction of settlements in the West Bank and to ease its embargo of Gaza.

Why does this letter make me happy? Well, for once, I’m not going to spell out everything I think and have ever thought on this subject, in a tl;dr format. I want to see instead if I can get a discussion going in the comments section. So, briefly

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