When will they ever learn?

I remember the folk song, probably from the 60’s, with the refrain, “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” That is what I think about when I reflect on the State of Israel’s war with the Palestinians.

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Mid-Summer Update: Living on the Fast Train, Rooted in St. Francis

Peter and Judy Davids

June 21, 2014

Dear family and friends,

It is time that we posted a newsletter on my blog that brought you up to date on where we are at, for that is better than brief notes on Facebook. While the more momentous events are recent, I am going to start with some history, which will be old hat to some of you, but is necessary to review to give the flow of what led up to the events of the past year. Peter and Judy at Reception OLW 140216

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Roots and Fruits

If the roots are bad, so is the fruit, or so the saying goes. I have been thinking about that as I listen to two things: (1) the evangelical infighting going on about homosexual relationships and (2) the Catholic teaching on marriage and its purpose.

As I watch the evangelical world, I think that what we are seeing is a rearguard action. The argument for accepting homosexual relationships is compelling: we shifted on slavery, which the NT accepts, we shifted on women, which the NT does not allow to lead churches, and we shifted on divorce, where Jesus clearly teaches something that we do not practice. So it is time in the name of love to shift our view based on those few obscure verses on homosexuality. The structure for preventing the shift is not existent. The relative independence of the local church has been championed in most evangelical churches for some time. There is also a strong belief in democracy, so if one can shift the people one can shift the local church. There is no central authority that all recognize, and even denominational authorities often cannot intervene in a local church. There will be more blood spilled, more people kicked out of this or that organization, but in the end only a minority will hold that homosexual relations are always sinful. That is what Vineyard is struggling with right now.
Now I think that the “compelling” line of argument is bogus to a degree in that the NT does come to terms with slavery in a world in which they had no say so anyway, but it never approves of it. It is just there, like taxes, and needs to be dealt with. More could be said, but I will just note that Wilberforce and the like came at a time when there was democracy in places like England. 
The women’s issue is also different, for a woman is not a defective person, an abnormality, but a fully functioning half of the human race. What women may or may not do in church will depend on how one defines ministry, and that is another big issue. The Catholic Church, for instance, has many female charismatic leaders, even ones who traveled around preaching. Many of them were later canonized as saints. But it defines the hierarchal ministry differently. Still, it never says that it is sinful for a woman to be a woman and express that within the proper structures of society and the church.
The divorce issue does get more to the point. The evangelical world by and large has given up the ship on the divorce issue. Even a promiscuous pastor can be restored to ministry, let alone a divorced one. Some very strong words of Jesus (and Paul) are rationalized. That is in part because the evangelical world does not get it with regard to sex and marriage. Sex is for procreation. Marriage is a (socially sanctioned sexual) joining of a man and a woman with an openness to having children. The pleasure of sex is secondary – it makes procreation more than a duty, and it helps join the couple so that they are together to raise the children. If what one wants is relationship, then form a different type of community. One can have communities of men and women living together without getting married and without having sex.
This is where Catholic doctrine comes in. They are very clear about the purpose of marriage and that marriage is characterized by unity and indissolubility. Except for the Pauline privilege (1 Cor 7, where an unbeliever departs from a marriage leaving the other person free), no divorce is possible. (And to use the Pauline privilege, one applies to Rome and that takes time.) A marriage can be annulled (which also takes time, but is handled more locally), but that is because there never was a real marriage in the first place: one partner was too young, too related, too coerced, or did not reveal that they were divorced or was not open to having children, etc. This does not have to do with something that happened after a valid marriage, but with something that meant that the marriage was never valid from the start. Divorce for a Catholic is a civil law issue that the Church does not recognize as ending the marriage. In other words, the Church holds to Jesus’ teaching. 
That is where the homosexual issue comes in. While same-sex attraction is just another temptation, the sexual act is “inherently disordered,” for, not only does the Bible forbid it, but it cannot lead to procreation. (Of course sexual relations of any type outside of marriage are sinful in Catholic – and most evangelical – thought). One cannot have a valid marriage between homosexual persons. So the Catholic Church follows the logic of its position on the purpose of sex and on the nature of marriage into rejecting divorce (as Jesus did) and also rejecting the possibility of marriage (in the Catholic sense) of same-sex individuals.
Furthermore, the Catholic Church is not a democracy, so it has the ability to buck the culture and hold its line. There is authority, and while some people are given long leashes, eventually if they go to far they are called on the carpet.
Now I have been very popular and brief in my reflections. I have not done justice to the subtleties of Catholic teaching, nor to a number of other points that I have let drop along the way. But my point is simple. Evangelicals by and large have not had a solid theology of sex and marriage, but have bought into the culture’s concept of marriage being mainly for fulfillment and love. They also lack a theology of the cross, of believers bearing the cross and being conformed to Christ. This bore fruit in their not being able to hold to Jesus’ teaching on divorce. And eventually the crumbling on divorce will lead to crumbling on homosexual marriage as well. Even when they do reject a pastor’s teaching on the topic, they cannot enforce their rejection, for there is a weak authority structure, not enough to hold the group together on such ethical issues. On the other hand, the Catholic Church has a strong teaching on sex and marriage based on both natural theology and Scripture, as well as tradition. It has remained consistent on that teaching for 2000 years. Because of it, the Church has not backed down on the divorce issue (and loses people because of this). Nor will it change on the homosexual issue.
If the theological roots are weak, eventually poor fruit will develop. If they are strong, the fruit will be good.
Time will tell if these observations are in fact borne out, but I am fairly sure that they will be.
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Davids Christmas and New Years Greetings

 Davids Christmas 2013  2013 Christmas and New Year’s Greetings from Peter and Judy Davids in Stafford, TX.

After spending many Christmases in Canada with our family, we have chosen to stay at home in Texas this year. Christmas 2012 was spent in Calgary, AB with Elaine and her family,
Christmas 2011 was spent in Mission, British Columbia with Ian and his family
and Christmas 2010 was spent in St. Stephen, New Brunswick with Gwen and her
family. 2009 was in St. Stephen as was 2008, but 2008 was different for the
entire family gathered in St. Stephen that year and we were altogether. We’ve tentatively
decided to limit our visits to Canada to summer, and in fact, Judy has spent
about six weeks in Canada during each of the last two summers; as you can see,
our family spans the North American Continent or 3000 miles east to west.

Our big news this year is that we not only await the celebration of the birth of baby Jesus and his
second coming; but we also await the birth of our ninth grandchild to be born
to Ian and Buffi at the end of May, 2014. Judy plans to fly to Mission, BC to
help out, especially by watching Adana Davids, who is now two and excitedly
awaiting the new baby.

Last January through May, Peter and I spent every Thursday at Lanier Theological library writing on our two books. We both finished them as summer began. Peter had to revise his in
the fall and it is now off to the publisher moving towards a 2014 publication
date (A Biblical Theology of James Peter and Jude in the Zondervan BTNT series(. Judy’s book came back with a request to revise it because there were two books hidden inside the manuscript, both of which were deemed publishable. This project has barely been restarted; whereas Peter has begun writing a new book.

Last spring at Houston Baptist University, Peter and I co-taught a course called Spiritual Formation. This fall we co-taught a graduate course called Pastoral Care and Spiritual
Formation. That was fun and a very meaningful experience for both of us.

Peter has continued as a voluntary assistant at our church all year and taught at Houston Baptist
University as a ¾ time visiting Professor; he has also taught one course each
semester as a Visiting Professor at Houston Graduate School of Theology.

On Sunday evenings during much of the year, Judy trained a team of 15 in BridgePoint Bible Church, (her sister’s church) to do pastoral care. Her sister has led the resultant lay
counseling ministry since October and an assistant pastor oversees the support
groups led by the rest of this trained team.

Judy has spoken at three different retreats and has done the training for the new Daughters of the King at All Saints Episcopal Church. She also does spiritual direction for several
leaders in various churchs.

Peter and Judy both have been in good health during this past year for which we are thankful.

When Judy was in New Brunswick with Gwen’s family, we celebrated the 1st birthday of her fourth boy, Ian and Canada Day. Then she went to Calgary and celebrated Elaine’s
birthday and an early birthday for 11-year old Janelle. Finally in Mission, BC,
she visited the zoo, a big lake and a Farmer’s Market BBQ-tasting contest with
Ian and family.

Peter stayed at home to teach summer school, volunteer at our church and write on his book. During this time, the washing machine upstairs broke and the town home was flooded. So Peter had to deal with the drying out and the repair of the damage.

In September, Judy went with her sister to Nashville, TN for the international conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors: this was a stimulating time for both of us
and we had a lot of good sister time.

In October, Peter and I went to Berryville, Arkansas for the national gathering of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, which is a Franciscan-rooted, Catholic-based, ecumenically open “public community of the faithful” led by John Michael Talbot and really enjoyed the conference.
It was a spiritually refreshing time for both. We are presently postulants in
the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic expression and hope to become novices shortly.

In November, Peter went to the Society of Biblical Literature Conference in Baltimore, MD and read a paper, chaired a section and preached and celebrated on the 50th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis at the meeting of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars. That also marked 50 years of preaching for him. Judy spent the week at Peter’s brother’s home and then the entire Davids clan (except for our children and grandchildren in Canada) gathered for a Thanksgiving and birthday celebrations for John and Peter. This was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

As we approach Christmas 2013, we are so grateful for God’s gift in the package of baby Jesus – what a surprise! God surprises us with His goodness over and over again. How has He
surprised you this year?

Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Peter and Judy Davids

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Memorial Day – the Mixed Bag

I have mixed thoughts about Memorial Day. First, it is often forgotten that it is about dead soldiers, not living ones. We have Veterans Day for the living ones, and Memorial Day for the ones who died in battle or at least in association with their military service (in many wars more died of disease than died of enemy action). 

Second, while there are many soldiers who enter the military for idealistic reasons, such as protecting their loved ones, in many of the wars I have known more entered because of a legal requirement (i.e. the draft) or because of misplaced idealism (the enemy was not really the threat that the government made it out to be). I have never heard a drill sergeant talk idealistically – you are in the army, you are trained to kill, and you will either do your job or else your sergeant will make you wish you had.
Third, while there are soldiers who die selflessly, usually trying to protect or save comrades in arms, the is not the situation for most soldiers. They went into the military to win a war, they were trained to destroy the enemy, and their goal in battle is to kill the enemy, not sacrifice themselves. They paid “the ultimate price” because the enemy was better or luckier at killing them than they were at killing the enemy (or perhaps because their comrades killed them accidentally, i.e. friendly fire). They are not martyrs, for they died while trying to kill others.
Fourth, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the size of one’s army, the quality of one’s armaments, or even whether or not one has an army at all make no difference. One’s righteousness does, one’s God does, but not one’s army. That theme runs through the Former and Latter Prophets, and it is also found in the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament ends with a battle in which the only one described as armed is the King of Kings and his armament is speech, “the sword of his mouth.” So, the question arises, was the “sacrifice” (one’s death while trying to kill others, many of whom are trying to kill you for the same noble reasons for which you are trying to kill them, or one’s death protecting comrades who are trying to kill others, which can indeed be a sacrifice) really necessary?
Fifth, no war in the modern period and probably most wars in the medieval period fulfills the requirement of being a just war, so even if I believed in the just war criteria as worked out by Augustine, I would have to say that Christians involved in war are involved in an unjust exercise. The last wars that appeared to be just were WWII and possibly the Korean War, but WWII was hardly fought justly, since there were deliberate attempts to bring about mass civilian casualties. 
Sixth, Memorial Day does not memorialize those who died for refusing to fight, such as Mennonites who were killed in the USA (or else chased to Canada). They truly did make a sacrifice for conscience, for they were not trying to kill anyone, far from it. They were trying to serve the Lord Jesus.
Seventh, Memorial Day assumes that liberty (as defined by the USA) and freedom (as defined by the USA) are worth giving one’s life for. Within the context of the New Testament these are just other forms of the slavery in which the human race lives, not better not worse. I would contend that the USA is not founded upon anything like Christian principles, but upon genocide, nor was it founded for liberty in the sense that we use it today  (Plymouth Colony did want religious liberty, but only liberty for one particular religious group, which group was quite ready to kill other groups that encroached on its territory; Jamestown was a commercial venture, not about liberty at all; Georgia was a prison colony – Rhode Island and Maryland did seem to be tolerant). And Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor 7 that liberty is the political sense is something quite indifferent. 
I could go on. Let me sum up: On one hand I do honor those who voluntarily go to war based on their idealism of protecting and caring for others. I suspect that this idealism is misplaced, but it is sincere and at least some of these believe that they are serving God. I want to honor this desire to serve others even at the risk of one’s life. On the other hand, I believe that this picture of military service is idealistic, that it flies in the face of the realities of modern war, that it flies in the face of the reasons for modern war, and that it flies in the face of the fact that often war is fought for other reasons that the stated ones and that it kills far more innocents than “bad guys.” This would make the “sacrifice” a mistake at best.
Furthermore, since I have a freedom from Jesus that no one can take away, etc., the whole war venture is unnecessary, making gratitude difficult.
It is, as the title says, a mixed bag.
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Two posts: a surprise about what excites people’s emotions

Last Saturday I put up two posts of Facebook. The first I thought might be controversial, since it concerned US politics (a vote in the Senate) and gun control. In short, I argued that right after Sandy Hook I predicted that all the drive for even modest gun control would go nowhere, for the USA is too addicted to the service of Mars, either in the form of their military or in the form of their “pistol in their purse.” Thus the Senate vote was no surprise. I cited Jeremiah 2:9. Perhaps the post was even prophetic. The surprise to me was that it seemed to attract little attention and the reaction it did attract was mild. That was no problem. I had said what I had been thinking about. I was pleased about my perception. I was pleased that both the positives and negatives were civil. After all, I live in Texas and know that such discussions can be anything but civil around here.

The other post came from a surprise. I am working on some reflections on what makes a university a Christian university. I thought that St. Stephen’s University, where I once worked, was an excellent example of a brief but good mission statement and a longer, but still brief statement of faith. Since I was working on a blog post, conciseness was important. I went to the SSU website and was surprised. First, the home page no longer had the slogans “travel the world,” “study the classics,” and “worship the One” (the first two are rough remembrances, but the last, the one that was important to me, is accurate), but three attractive slogans without a word of religious import that I could see. I did a site search to find the mission statement, and I had another surprise. It no longer was the statement that I had seen hanging on the wall of the red room, with a focus on the Kingdom of God, but again a decent, but totally non-religious statement. The statement of faith of the university was on the same page, and so far as I can tell it remains unchanged. That page, however, was in a community handbook on the web site, so, buried, unless one was reading carefully. And the link that “worship the One” provided to the trinitarian statement in the statement of faith was, of course, gone.
Now there is no doubt but that St. Stephen’s University is a Christian institution. It was founded on an Anglican basis, its two founding visionaries meeting at Wycliffe College in Toronto, according to the legend that I have heard. It was supposed to be something like a little Oxford college, complete with students and lecturers in black robes, there in small-down New Brunswick. There was a dream of a cloistered campus. While I suspect that it located on the border because one founder was American and thus could not live in Canada without his job being advertised and it being clear that no Canadian was qualified to fill it, the location in St. Stephen was, again according to legend, by divine revelation. Over the years the institution has morphed into what I call a Vineyard school, not with official Vineyard sponsorship, although that was explored, but in its being “joined at the hip,” so to speak, to a particular Vineyard, St. Croix Vineyard in St. Stephen, which was founded by faculty of the university. While not all faculty resident in St. Stephen go to the Vineyard (I believe one does not), nor are students required to attend, when I left the management committee that ran the institution (essentially an advisory committee to the president, like a deans’ council in some universities) included both pastors of the Vineyard and three other Vineyard members (including the university president). The two institutions share a spiritual director. They use the same photocopier. And when the university does not have enough space for an event or class (particularly the Master of Ministry modules) the Vineyard building is used. Most students attend (if they attend church). So while the relationship is not as tight as that of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church or that of a number of other similar institutions and their respective churches, it is certainly very tight, especially when on remembers that the university is very small (8 received bachelor’s degrees in the last graduation according to the picture I saw). Officially it is “trans-denominational,” but practically it is St. Croix Vineyard (that is important, since not all Vineyards are like St. Croix Vineyard – it is one of a kind in many ways). The institution is Christian. And it was Christian from its roots. In fact, its founders are still involved in Christian ministry, although no longer part of the university, the one being a United Church of Christ pastor across the river in Maine (if he is still alive – he was quite ill when I left) and the other being a missionary in Mozambique with Iris Ministries, which is affiliated with the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. Very different directions those are, but still religious and still Christian.
I noticed this change in the website, was surprised, and posted my surprise (which was compounded by the fact that I now would have to go elsewhere for a neat little Christian mission statement) on Facebook. I noted that the institution was playing down its Christian basis, which I should have already realized, for it was talked about as the website was being revamped during my last few months there. And this revamping may have a good goal in recruiting students (more students might want to go to a very small, say 30 – 40 student, university, which gives personal attention and does have travel terms, than might want to go to an up-front Christian university). And recruitment is the need, for after all students pay a premium to go to this chartered but unaccredited institution, where they get a good liberal arts education, but without the majors and lower cost of, say, the University of New Brunswick. However, that type of student is not my thing, for I am about “biblical studies for the good of the church,” i.e. building the Christian community through helping its members engage thoughtfully with the Bible. It was, as I noted, a type of deliverance that I was called (literally, for it was a call out-of-the-blue that got me applying) to Houston Baptist University, where my students are more diverse than those attending SSU (in fact, at one point HBU was the most diverse of any university in Houston), but where my department’s up-front goal is building the faith of the students (we just go through surveying to see if we achieved that goal this year). I am not the guy to teach the more secularly oriented student that the website seems aimed at. I am no evangelist.
My Facebook friends associated with SSU did not see it this way. They played amateur psychologist (I was expressing some “hurt” or “bitterness”) or tried shame-based comments. It was as if I had exposed some secret, for the shame was supposedly in doing this publicly. Well, I know that SSU has worked hard to get its website high on the list of “hits” in search engines looking for certain key phrases, so it is hardly a private web site. It is a deliberately public one. It is also a purposefully designed one. I gave my personal reaction of surprise as part of my personal status in a semi-public forum about a totally public web site. I suppose I popped someone’s bubble or was seen as attacking the myth of Camelot or something. I immediately realized that it was their stuff, not mine, that was being expressed. It was “attack the messenger,” so to speak. I was not being consciously prophetic, but bemusedly surprised (even naively surprised, in that I would have certainly picked up more of the changes as they occurred had I paid more careful attention to the discussion around SSU during my last year there), but the response I received was that which most of the prophets that I teach about at Houston Baptist University received. And that is what really surprised me.
And of course as each person commented my post got wider and wider exposure, the very publicity that they were against. Most of the publicity was caused by those commenting, which meant that their Facebook friends were alerted to the post. My actual post probably achieved far less exposure (most of my friends would probably not know anything of what I was talking about or would not care other than noting my surprise). My daughter lives in St. Stephen and so felt “embarrassed” I am told – why should we feel shame at the behavior of our children or parents? – and my son-in-law is newly elected to the board (he graduated from SSU and is a successful businessman in the town), but, of course, the board does not delve into websites and he was not on the board when the website was produced. 
I do not feel shamed or embarrassed or guilty, for (1) the post is fact based, (2) it was about a deliberately public document,  (3) it was written without any malicious intent about which I am in the least aware, and (3) at worse it exposed my own naiveté about what was going on during my last year there as the university invested in trying to attract students amid falling student numbers.
But I am bemused. The posting that I thought controversial, even edgy, and which was based more on opinion and analysis than on raw fact, was not really controversial at all. The posting that I thought was just a surprise, like reporting a surprise in one’s research or an embarrassing event in one’s family, turned out to be controversial. That is the internet for you. It is emotionally driven, and one can never tell when emotions will suddenly go viral, like a flash mob that can be either constructive or destructive. One can only say that God knows, and with him all will be well, it will be very well.
I have also chosen to avoid Facebook for a bit.
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God Hates Violence

Swords into Plowshares

It was early in the story of humanity that we read, “In God’s sight the earth had become corrupt and was filled in violence.” (Gen 6:11) That idea is repeated two verses later. After the Deluge story there is the statement that human beings are still evil (the violence of the Deluge did not solve the problem), but that God will not again try to solve the problem with violence (Gen 8:21). As a result there is permission given to human beings for limited violence against the animal world, with the exception of not eating blood and not engaging in violence against human beings (Gen 9:2-6). That is the background of the rest of the story.

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