Sunday, February 17, 2008

Advice from a College Professor

While going for my Master's at Oxford (Ohio, Miami U.), I took all my "free" classes in political science. Dr. Black, the department chair, was my professor, and the classes were almost pure delight.

One bit of advice he gave us was this:

Unless you become a political scientist or a journalist, you will not have the time to check out all the pertinent news an nuances of current events. You should, therefore, discover for yourself a group of journalists who you trust in pursuing the necessary facts and background ---- and --- who share your world view, your values, philosophy. You will not have the time to read everyone, so read those who look at the scene through perspectives that you have found true and with which you are comfortable.

Now, I know that some of you think that a liberal should read as much conservative pundits as he/she does liberal. I think this is a waste of time. My core values and frame of reference is mine --- arrived at through thought, feeling and living. This does not mean I never read people like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Barone and Pat Buchanan. I don't, though, waste my time entirely and raise my blood pressure unnecessarily by reading or listening to such silly persons as Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Luther the Reformer--- Some Thoughts About the Man and His Career

I have always been interested in religion, which does not mean I am necessarily a religious person.

As I arrive towards the end of Luther's biography by James M. Kittelson, I felt like sharing my thoughts with myself, and anyone else who reads my blogs.

Being brought up a Roman Catholic, I had a dismal view of the mischief maker and heretic -- Luther.
I did not know much about him except he was one 0f the bad guys.

I left the Catholic church, went through a stint with the Episcopalians, sparred briefly with the Unitarians --- before 1974 when I came across eastern spirituality, especially Buddhism.

Nevertheless, I find myself reading books about Jesus written by people like Marcus Borg, Brian McLain, Dominic Crossan, Alan Jones, Albert Nolan, Gesa Vermes, Richard Rohr and others. One would expect me to join some Christian church. It would be nice to have some special place to go on Sunday and to have a community, really an automatic one by virtue of membership, preferably faithful attendance. Then if I needed prayers when I was sick or someone to pick up groceries for me --- they would be there.

I have not tried a great many Christian churches since I left Christianity in 1975. The biggest problem is that I don't think many Christian churches follow or emulate the Jesus I have discovered through my reading 0f alternative views, especially those who delve into the "historical" Jesus. In other words, I might be a fish out of water. Most Christian churches, I think, follow Christ -- a product, IMHO, largely of accretions layered onto the original Jesus stemming from theologians, The Creeds, the Canon which specified the only authenic scriptures --- and especially St. Paul.

However, I did feel somewhat at home in Peace Lutheran Church here in Las Cruces, I attended
about three times with much discomfort due to my nerve problems in the back and legs. Then it became just too difficult and I quit going.

The people seemed normal and friendly. I was pleased when I heard at coffee hour that Peace Lutheran (ELCA) was the "bluest" church in town. The pastor gave intelligent, insightful, sermons -- rather than the usual drab, prosaic, and doctrinaire ones I heard much of the time as a Catholic. The service pleased me: it was liturgical, yet simple and down to earth. The pastor donned vestments for the Lord's Supper -- that I liked. And the church followed the liturgical year -- the same as the Catholics and the Episcopal churches do.

However-- what about --- Luther !! I needed to read a good, respected, and readable biography. I had read a book on Lutheranism and discovered that the Lutherans may be as immersed and obsessed with theology and doctrinal matters as the Catholics.

Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career by James M. Kittelson a professor of Church History, and with many other credits to his name --- has done a fine job. His subject, Luther, is a most interesting, and very human man. Kittelson not only vividly sets Luther's life in the events of his time, but deals in a clear and engrossing manner with the debates over theology and the devel0pment of Luther's religious views.

Luther came of humble origins. His father originally was a peasant, but through hard work bettered himself. Martin a religious lad -- concerned with questions about God, morality and salvation had a frightening experience which convinced him to join an Augustinian monastery. He was caught in a horrendous thunderstorm and he took it as a sign from God to become a monk. His father was opposed to Martin's decision --- but accepted it.

Martin was an ardent and serious monk: fasting, praying, carrying out his daily duties faithfully. However, he felt -- he sensed -- he knew -- that God was not satisfied. Martin's salvation was in doubt. His health suffered; he became depressed. But he persevered.

Luther was highly intelligent and possessed strong emotions. Although likable -- he could be quick to anger. His superior and friend convinced him to become a professor of theology. Luther might have preferred more pastoral duties, but he acquiesced --- and eventually gained his doctorate in theology.

The Catholic Church particularly in Rome was very corrupt --- the popes often focused on building a worldly institution of magnificent edifices, and the higher clergy generally led rather luxurious lives --- not in keeping with Jesus -- who clad in simple garments, his feet shod in plain sandals walked the dusty roads of Galilee --- associating with the lowest levels of society.

Luther was sent by his monastery on a mission to Rome and he was dismayed at the Christianity he found at the Vatican.

The next shock and irritant for Luther was the advent of Tetsel, a Dominican preacher, sent to Germany on money raising mission for the building of St. Peter's --- by selling indulgences -- pieces of paper which would guarantee that relatives detained in Purgatory until their sins were expunged --- would immediately gain release.

There was a jingle at that time: "Once the coin into the coffer clings, a soul from Purgatory heavenward springs!"

Luther was so angry that he composed 95 Theses --- the famous 95 -- and nailed them to the
door of the castle church in Wittenberg.

(to be continued) bob