Archive for October, 2011

Take me Out to the (Civil-Religion Affair) at the Ballgame

Monday, October 24th, 2011

I grew up playing baseball and watching the Orioles, both on TV and at the ballpark. I used to be an avid fan, though recently I only go to games on special occasions, and I almost never watch baseball on TV. For years I have avoided the national anthem by making a pre-game trek to the men’s room or concession stand.

Last night I watched a few minutes of the World Series game as the top of the 7th became the seventh-inning stretch. The announcer invited everyone to stand for the singing of “God Bless America” in honor of “our men and women in the armed forces at home and around the world.” A female master sergeant proceeded to offer a heartfelt rendition of the song.

Which “god” is this song about? In this context at least, it is a fictitious deity made in the image of American power and prowess. I understand why the average American wants a god made in the image of the United States and dedicated to its protection and blessing. But why are Christians also so enamored with this fictitious deity?

The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not interested in blessing America or Americans any more than any other nation or individuals. Even more importantly, the God revealed in Jesus Christ has absolutely no interest in blessing the American military machine or furthering American military interests around the world. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Sports have their place in any culture. But they can become, and in the U.S. have become, another arm of nationalistic and even militaristic propaganda. The book of Revelation might counsel us to be wary, and even to “come out.”

Drone Empire

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

I confess to having been both informed and upset by this story on the web site about the growing number of drones being used by the United States. In addition to its approximately 1,000 military bases worldwide, the U.S. has drone operations in and from numerous countries. And, according to this apparently well-researched article, “In less than three years under President Obama, the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. It maintains that it has carte blanche to kill suspected enemies in any nation (or at least any nation in the global south).”

I know that many “progressive” Christians have been huge fans of Obama. Christians of all stripes need to remember that empires with two parties are still empires.

(This is my first time encountering “Nation of Change.” I cannot vouch for everything there, but the author of this article seems quite well qualified: Nick Turse is the associate editor of and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University’s Center for the United States and the Cold War. A paperback edition of his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives [Metropolitan Books] was published earlier this year. His website is

My New Position

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Many readers of this blog will know that for many years I have been Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology and Professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

I will step down from the Dean’s position at the end of this academic year (May 2012) to accept my new appointment at St. Marys to the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology.

Raymond Brown (1928-1998), probably the most prominent American Catholic New Testament scholar of the 20th century, began his teaching career at St. Mary’s. The chair was established by the U.S. Province of the Society of St. Sulpice, which owns and operates St. Mary’s Seminary and of which Fr. Brown was a member.

The new position will relieve me of all administrative duties and give me more time for research and writing.

The announcement about this appointment may be found here.

Justice and Nonviolence Lectures at Eastern Mennonite

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

If you happen to live anywhere near Harrisonburg, Virginia, do come to Eastern Mennonite University for the annual Bible and Religion Department Justice Lectures, which I will give on Tuesday, November 8. The two lectures will be as follows:

  • Lecture One: 3:30 p.m. Paul, Apostle of Nonviolence
  • Lecture Two: 7:00 p.m. Paul, Apostle of Justification and Justice

Review: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Like a few other NT scholars, I am participating in a blog tour of Bruce Fisk’s new book, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground (Baker Academic, 2011). There’s even a “hub” site for the tour. I’m grateful to Baker for the copy of the book and the invitation to participate.

So here are some thoughts about the book.

First of all, Fisk has produced a fun book; it feels real, alive, current without being over the top. It’s written in the form of a journal about “Norm’s” trip to the Holy Land to find Jesus and keep his faith intact.

Second, there is serious scholarship here. The extended journal entries are interspersed with email correspondence with the professor who first challenged Norm’s simplistic understandings, attractive sidebars with significant quotes from key scholars and others, and tables–many tables–showing the similarities and/or differences between this account of Jesus and another or between some aspect of Jesus and a parallel scriptural or extra-scriptural source. The correspondence is often like the outline of a lecture, and the tables like classroom handouts. All of this works for the serious reader/student, even though it’s probably too much for someone who thought they were getting a fun and friendly overview of Jesus and the “Holy Land.” It is more like an intro to Jesus and the Gospels text–deceivingly simple in its format, quite thorough in its treatment of the key issues. From John the Baptist to the resurrection of Jesus, most every topic of significance is addressed.

Third, although Fisk has a leaning, even a sub-textual agenda, there are no easy answers here. “Norm” is not naive, and he is open to hearing even the most radical Gospel criticism, but he can also offer his own come-backs. Under and in the voice, and experience, of Norm we hear a voice that says, “Inquiry is ultimately good for faith, and yet historical investigation has its limits, both in what it can tell us and in how it ‘improves’ our understanding of the narrated Jesus of the Gospels.”

At the end of the book, Norm seems content to have better understood the issues, the dissimilarities and tensions, and is able to rest in the splendor of a many-faceted Jesus who cannot be fully understood or pinned down, yet whose presence in the world continues in people and communities that have been shaped by his story.

So how might one use this book? I suppose it would work well in a course on Jesus, or the Gospels, or NT intro, if not as the main book on Jesus and the Gospels, certainly as a good supplemental text. It makes the key issues come to life, both because they are addressed honestly and because they are addressed “on the ground.” (As a frequent leader of study tours, I am all for on-the-groundness in biblical studies.) The book would also be good reading for anyone seriously struggling with critical questions about Jesus and the Gospels, and it might be a good antidote for those who have had a radical introduction to the subject that seems to leave no place for faith.

Finally, a word about and to Bruce Fisk (whom I do not know personally): as others have said, you make many of us wish we had written this kind of book, yet it seems to me that only someone who had had such a journey could actually do it. Well done!