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November 2007

Can't Ride the Fence: Post 3

The on-line conversation over Broadway Baptist continues (go to Jesus Politics and see all the links to various blogs, plus the comments).

Another point that I want to make is about the hermeneutic of moderate baptist churches.

Historically the easiest way to pick out the moderate churches from the conservative and fundamentalist was that the moderates ordained women. In so many ways the result of the split after the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC was a group of baptist who had adopted a hermeneutic that allowed them to stay true to scripture, while also ordaining women.

The point I want to make is that once one had adopted this hermeneutic, its full implications must be adopted as well. And that includes the welcome, inclusion, and full sacramental equality of LGBT folk. If you find scripture to be culturally conditioned (and, as an aside, every intelligent person must) and that the interpretation of scripture is conditioned by changes in culture, then you simply can't retreat to a conservative hermeneutic when an issue that makes you uncomfortable arises.

Fundamentalists often made this sort of argument against moderates, saying that you can't just be moderate, you are or end up a liberal. And, on that point, I agree with the fundamentalists. If you are going to consistently apply a hermeneutic that allows for women in ministry, then that hermeneutic can't close off the sacramental equality of LGBT folk.


GMA this morning said that Huckabee has now moved into a statistical tie for first place in Iowa with Mitt Romney.

For about a month now I've been saying that Huckabee is the best candidate the GOP has. I came to this realization watching him in some interview where, when asked about health care, he redefined the issue as a "health crisis" and talked about the poor state of America's health and how to address that.

Plus, as a political junkie I'm interested in a Huckabee surge, because the more wide-open the campaign is, the more interesting it will be.

Oklahoma Reading

I decided to go on my Western Oklahoma Excursion about a month before when I was hiking at Lake Arcadia. A week or so before the trip I began my preparations. I first pulled out a map and looked at options. Then I spent a couple of evenings on-line researching possibilities. I printed off enough material to fil a binder.

Then the Friday before my trip I went shopping to prepare. At the top of my list was finding some Oklahoma history to read.

A friend had already loaned me "The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears" by Theda Purdue and Michael D. Green.

I was looking for a good, recent history that was not a textbook but was more of a narrative and a people's history. Many books fitting that description had been published in the past, but I assumed there would be something out this year.

So, I went to the History Center gift shop assuming that was the best place to look. Though there were many books on various episodes or topics in our history and a couple of textbooks, I could find nothing that fit my description. I even asked the woman at the counter, but she said there wasn't anything fitting my description. Nothing new like that had come out this year. Only picture books. While there I did pick up an Oklahoma travel guide "Off the Beaten Path: Oklahoma" sixth edition. It proved interesting and helpful during my travels.

A little frustrated I next went to the downtown library. One thing that this library doesn't do enough of is create thematic displays of books in the main lobby. Fayettville library did that a lot and I often picked something up that I hadn't gone in there looking for. But I was sure there'd be an Oklahoma display with lots of relevant books.

Nope. The two very minimal displays in the lobby area were on India and Cats and Dogs.

So, I went searching in the shelves and there wasn't much and nothing fitting what I was looking for. There are some wonderful histories of Oklahoma written fifty years or so ago. I remembered my grandmother having a whole collection of such books. So, I picked up an Angie Debo book. She is sort of a patron saint of Oklahoma history, and I'd never read anything of hers. I read "Oklahoma: Foot-Loose and Fancy-Free" from the late-forties.

It was the type of history I was looking for, only sixty years old. It told about people and places and interesting stories. What was most fun about this book was reading what all was different and what all was the same. She criticized Oklahoma's political immaturity, for instance. I was fascinated by her descriptions of events from the early days. For instance, she told about an annual Easter pageant that Lawton did that drew crowds of 200,000 people and was done outside in the Wichita Mountains. She clearly felt Oklahoma was a place with great potential still to be realized.

I next went to Barnes and Noble. They had a nice display of multiple Oklahoma-related titles and a whole Oklahoma section. Though I felt they should have also had books about and by Oklahoma authors displayed as well -- Ralph Ellison, S. E. Hinton, Grapes of Wrath, Cimarron, etc. Here I got two books.

One was "It Happened in Oklahoma." This wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but was the closest I found. A new book that recounts some of the stories of Oklahoma life. It was here that I learned about the Cooper site, for instance. This is a quick read and I recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about the state and feels that their Oklahoma history class in school was boring.

All through my reading I kept calling Michael or friends to talk about things I was learning. And I've been sharing little tid-bits in conversation ever since. For instance, I knew that Oklahoma had early on been a most progressive state. But I didn't realize that in 1914 we had elected over 175 socialists to state and local office nor that we had had a people's revolution, the "Green Corn Rebellion," in 1917 intent on overthrowing the government.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to "It Happend in Oklahoma"

Oklahoma defies easy label and preconceptions. It is not especially flat, treeless, or dusty. It is not particularly rural, backwards, or quaint. It has a large number of lakes, none of which is natural. Churchgoing is popular there, and so is gambling and divorce. Oklahoma is the fast-food capital of America, and it is home to a prestigious international literary prize.
Oklahoma's history is surprising and never boring. At least five great historical dramas have happened there: the Trail of Tears, the land runs, the Tulsa Race Riot, the Dust Bowl, and the Oklahoma City bombing. These events transcend time and place in their compelling human interest. Everything else that occurred in between is merely fascinating.

Oklahoma's history is a focused lens through which to see much of American history, everything except the Revolutionary era. The removal of the native tribes connects us with the whole continent. And folk have come here and left here in various migrations from around the world (e. g., a huge SE Asian immigrant population after the fall of Saigon) and the country. Race has been a continual theme in our history. for instance, we had a thriving African-American culture. Tulsa's Greenwood district was once called the "Black Wall Street." And Oklahoma City was home to Ralph Ellison, Charlie Christian (who introduced the electric guitar to American popular music), Clara Looper (who started the sit-in movement), and the court case that set the stage for Brown, George W. McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education.

But, you'll have to wait for more reflections. I need to go get ready for a lunch appointment. The final book I got was "Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie" by Roxie Dunbar-Ortiz. More on that soon as well.

A Whirlwind Day

That morning I woke up in Woodward and got around. The night before I had trouble finding a room. Though I got into town about 6 p.m., I had to go to four hotels before I found a vacancy. And there I got the last non-smoking room and paid for one that could have slept six.

I grabbed a quick breakfast and went to Boiling Springs State Park. It has two calling cards. It is the only deciduous forest in the plains and the springs bubble up through the sand making it look like it boils. The latter is kinda kitschy. I took a nice morning walk through the woods down to the North Canadian River, scaring a handful of white-tailed deer. It was a nice walk to get some fresh air and start the day.

I drove back through Woodward, but it was still to early to go the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum, which I hear is good. But I didn't want to kill more time, so I drove on.

My next stop was Fort Supply. This was a military post used during the Indian Wars. Sheridan and Custer had both spent time there. The state historical society is currently refurbishing what original buildings are left. The state has used it as a mental hospital for about a century and the last decade also added a correctional facility to the site. In fact, the historical area is right there in the prison (low security, thank goodness). It was kinda creepy driving up to it with all these signs warning you to stay in the historical area and keep your car doors locked. Prisoners were walking around working on maintenance and construction at the historical site.

It was there that I saw the Cooper site historical marker and had the adventure that I've already written about here.

I drove on through Buffalo to Freedom. Freedom has done something really smart. Instead of having an empty, ugly main street like many of these old, small towns, Freedom put wooden, wild west facades and boardwalks on their Main Street buildings. Currently most of them are full. I stopped for lunch and had a "Frisco Burger" in a cute little diner. They sit near the Cimarron River which has stunning views all along it. There is landscape along the Cimarron that I didn't know we had in Oklahoma.

Freedom is close to Alabaster Caverns State Park. A little hiking there and a tour of the caverns. Only one other person was on the tour with me. He was a tourist from Colorado traveling down to go to an OU game with some friends. He had last been in the caverns in the late-forties before they were a state park. He had fun stories to share.

After Alabaster caverns I drove some of the scenic roads though I don't think I was on th right ones. I saw some breathtaking scenery and drove some really steep, slick roads up and down these canyons and mesas. I wish I had some pictures, but I just admired the rugged scenery and didn't stop to take the pictures. Some of these places can't be viewed from any highways, so I really recommend getting off on the side roads.

I stopped at Little Sahara State Park to see Oklahoma's sand dunes. Unfortunately, unless you have an off-road vehicle, there's really nothing for you. It's not conducive to an pedestrian just stopping to see the dunes. Though I took the time to walk out on them and get a picture.

I next drove on to Gloss Mountains State Park . The drive along here is fantastic, but I wish I had done it from the other direction. Coming from the east it must be really dramatic. East of Gloss mountain is all prairie and farm land. Then suddenly here arises these mesas. It is quite dramatic evidence of where the ancient coastline was -- the farm land is in the Permian basin, the ancient in-land sea.

I hiked up to the top of the Gloss Mountain and enjoyed the view. But I was tired from my whirlwind day. It is also interesting how much Oklahoma slopes down from the west to east. The top of Gloss Mountain is a lower elevation (1,651) than the city of Wooward (1,906) and a full thousand feet lower than the Antelope Hills (2,604) that I had been on top of the day before. Yet they rise dramatically above the landscape around them.

Centennial Celebrations

I have had a blast celebrating the Oklahoma Centennial the last few weeks. I still need to get Danny's camera's cord so that I can download the pictures from my vacation. And there are still stories to tell. Plus, I was reading Oklahoma history and memoirs the whole time and have things I want to write about.

Last Thursday night Michael and I cuddled on the couch and watched Oklahoma! on OETA.

Friday morning I got up and ran some errands and then Neal Hampton and I headed to Guthrie for the big celebration there. We didn't make it in time for the re-enactment of the proclamation of statehood, but we did enjoy shopping in all the cool shops downtown. Downtown Guthrie is the largest historic landmark in the country. Though for years I've wanted to go, I never have. Now I'm in love with it and plan on going again. I've asked Michael to take me for my birthday.

The centennial parade was so much fun. I liked it better than the big one here in OKC. This one allowed groups to enter their own entries, which was less professional, but more fun. There was also a much larger Native American representation. And some of the cities from around the state did their own entries -- I particularly liked Woodward's. But there weren't enough dignitaries there. I thought all the living governors, our senators, and congressmen should have been there.

It was also annoying how many employers and schools violated the holiday. The state had declared it a holiday for everyone to have the day off. I'm sick and tired of a culture where holidays are ignored. This has been a growing pet peeve of mine that really boiled up when I had friends working on Labor Day! Why are we like Europe or like we used to be that when the government declared a holiday it would have been a violation of the law to work people.

Anyway, back to Guthrie.

I was really looking forward to the barbecue. The entire state was invited to the centennial barbecue that was to re-enact the barbecue from 100 years ago. The same meal was served for free -- a piece of beef, a piece of bread, and a pickle.

But, I didn't get to stay for the barbecue. I got a call that Mom had fallen and was rushed to the ER so Neal and I skipped the barbecue and headed back to Oklahoma City. She ended up being fine -- she hadn't damaged the new hips.

Jokingly I complained that I had not gotten to eat my free pickle from the state of Oklahoma. A little later Revis came walking into the hospital room carrying a bowl and offered it to me and I turned it down saying I wasn't hungry. Then he uncovered it and it was filled with pickles. Mom said, "Where'd you get that?" And he said he'd gone down to the cafeteria to get them for me. I was so excited. He's such an amazingly nice and thoughtful guy. So, I made him and Mom share in our "centennial pickle."

That evening Neal, Michael, and I went out for chicken fried steak -- the official state meal. And then to a Centennial party that was thrown by some of my church friends. We were asked to come as our favourite Oklahoman. I first suggested that Michael and I exchange each other's clothes, but he didn't seem to want to do that.

So, I went as Woody Guthrie. Not sure if he's my favourite Oklahoman, but I thought I could put the costume together. So, I looked up his official portrait that hangs in the State Capitol and copied it. I got the hair pretty close and walked around with the cig in my lips.Woody_guthrie

We only saw the end of the Spectacular and loved what we saw. I had hoped that they'd encore it this weekend, but they haven't. Anyone tape it? Can I borrow it?

Then Michael and I laid in bed and listened to the fireworks show (which occurred close to eleven) and watched the light play on our ceiling.

Spent the weekend on retreat with the pastoral team at Roman Nose State Park.

Sunday at church I preached a centennial-themed sermon (see below) and we closed the service with a rousing "Oklahoma."

My Oklahoma Centennial Sermon

River of Joy

Psalm 46

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

18 November 2007



    "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God."


    Have you heard the story of those people from that place they call Oklahoma? It's a pretty interesting place. They've got dense forests and wide open plains, prairies with rolling hills and wide, lazy rivers, ancient mountains, rugged canyons and tall mesas, a few swamps, and even salt plains and sand dunes and alabaster caverns. A land carved by a primeval sea, the upward thrust of the earth, and the power of the wind and the rain.

    Ten thousand years ago there were people here. Hunters of bison. Nomads. They'd trap the herds in gullies and leave the bones as a reminder of their prowess. One of these people, up there in what is now Harper County, took one of these bison skulls from an old kill and painted a red lightning bolt on it and placed the skull on the ground to serve as a talisman, drawing more bison to the hunting grounds. And that skull, with its red lightning bolt, is the oldest known piece of art in the United States.

Not bad for a "brand new state." A centennial? Pshaw. We've got ten thousand years.

For thousands of those years people roamed this land, hunting the bison, camping in the canyons and along the rivers, sometimes building cities that were part of ancient trading cultures. The first Europeans hardly left a mark in their explorations.

A disputed land, owned by great powers who never saw its beautiful landscapes, fought over on battlefields and in palaces of statecraft far removed from its open prairies. Caught up in the struggle to expand – America!, Mexico!, Texas!

And, so, it became a place of journeys, a place of suffering, a place of surprises. A story of promise and hope.


"though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult."


The new nation had a plan for these indigenous people, Indians they called them. Let's make them civilized. Let's teach them to read and write, to become Christians, but, most importantly, to buy and sell. Mostly sell. And by civilization, of course, we mean abandon your own and assimilate with ours. Either that, or get out of the way.

Because it ultimately wasn't enough to become civilized. Civilization failed, so we'll have to remove. And keep removing. Tribe after tribe, nation after nation. People and cultures displaced, again and again. Exodus after exodus. Exile after exile. By the Illinois and the Arkansas and the Canadian we sat down and there we wept when we remembered. On the blackjacks we hung up our flutes. How could we sing one of the songs of [Note: did not use native names because they would be unfamiliar to most of the audience and would not convey the point] Georgia, of Florida, of Ohio, of Indiana, of New Mexico, of the Dakotas. How could we sing our songs in a foreign land?

One November day, on the banks of the Washita, we settled in for winter camp, under the protection of Black Kettle, a peace chief who carried the flag of the United States and the medal given him by President Lincoln. One cold November dawn we were aroused by a band, playing a jaunty tune, that merely presaged the gunshots and screams to follow.


And the people came. On their long journeys west to promised land. In search of streets of gold and the land flowing with milk and honey. And they crisscrossed with herds of cattle, blazing trails that fed the hungry masses in new cities up north.

And they came to stay. On that April morning the energy filled the crowd waiting (and those who didn't wait) for that cannon shot. New beginning. New hope. A new life in this land of promise.

More and more came. German farmers, Czech immigrants, freed slaves. A huge population of South East Asians. Latin Americans, Persians, Hindus, and Arabs.


"the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of it; it shall not be moved."


    With vigor they settled and planted and built. Farms and towns and cities sprang up. Literally overnight there were merchants, doctors, hospitals, and banks. Soon to follow were universities, museums, orchestras, and parks. All arising through hard work.

    And soon they discovered how rich the land was. Land that overflowed with its riches – literally. For example, one cold March morning, Wild Mary started spewing her black gold for eleven days, all over Oklahoma City, covering her with over 200,000 barrels of oil (which comes to about twenty-two million dollars on today's market!)

    But its richest resource was its people. Artists and businessmen, musicians and authors, evangelists and astronauts who transformed the culture with their frontier values.

    Here is the home of the world's greatest athlete. Here the people gather in their temples of sport to celebrate prowess and skill.


    "The nations are in an uproar, the kingdom's totter; God utters his voice, the earth melts."


    Yet this land of new beginnings, this land of prosperity, became an unfulfilled promise for many.

    For the natives who lost their land and their share in the plenty.

    For the blacks who came and settled their own towns and built their own cities and produced great musicians, artists, and authors, only to see it burn in the worst race riot our nation has known.

    For the political dreamers who thought this land would bring justice and equality for the common man. This state elected over 175 socialists to local and state office in 1914. Frustration was great enough by August 1917 that rebellion broke out in Seminole County, intent on overthrowing the government. We went from being the reddest state in the Union to now being one of the reddest states in the Union, but not the same shade of red. A dream, whether good or bad, of many, that went unfulfilled.

    For the poor whites, those heirs of settlers, who like something out of the biblical story were thrown off of their land by drought, mortgages, and mechanization and headed West to a land they thought was a new Eden.

    In Job God's voice thundered forth from the whirlwind. And for those in Snyder in 1905, Woodward in 47, Tinker Field in 48, Blackwell in 55, or Moore in 99 who saw their homes, businesses, and loved ones destroyed by the awful wind, it must have seemed that they too were enduring the trials of Job.

    And of course April 19, 1995, a day none of us will ever forget.

    Yes, not all was promise and plenty.

    After all, remember fifty years ago, as we were celebrating fifty years of statehood, on that Black Saturday, the Irish came to town.


    "Come behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire."


    Ours is a paradoxical history. Rich natural resources that turn against human civilization in tornadoes, droughts, and floods. A multicultural place, where racism has and remains an issue. A place that was founded to be a new society with new freedom and more equality and more hope for the common man, all dreams that have been frustrated along the way.

    Our Oklahoma story allows us to connect so easily with the biblical story, because our story shares so many themes – land, exodus, exile, race, economic justice, suffering, and celebration. Ours is a story of journey, suffering, and surprises. A story of promise and a story of hope.

    Where does the promise and the hope remain in all the paradoxes of our history?

    As I drove through Western Oklahoma two weeks ago, I couldn't help but see this as still a land of opportunity. We may be ten thousand years old, but we are still so young. We have empty land, untapped resources, and creative people who have yet to really demonstrate the full glories of the Oklahoma spirit.

    Stanley Hauerwas says you can know that Christianity is true because it produced Dorothy Day. Taking the same analysis to Oklahoma this week, I thought, you know that we've done something right because of someone like Clara Looper. Filled with a sense of justice and a passion for equality, this woman began the national movement of sit-ins protesting for the civil rights of African-Americans. Right here. And it wasn't easy. It took incredible courage and hard work. And she still hasn't stopped fighting for civil rights causes. Now the area around the Oklahoma State Capitol is named the "Clara Looper Corridor." Every time we see that marker, we should see it as a sign of hope.

    The universe bends toward justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said. And I have faith that the Oklahoma story bends that way as well. That the promise in which we were conceived is working its way out through the difficult birth pangs known as life.

    Psalm 46 is a reminder that no matter what is going on in life, that God's will is working itself out. It doesn't come suddenly or easily. There will always be conflict as God's dream for the world encounters the forces of opposition. But to those forces of opposition God thunders forth,


    "Be still, and know that I am God!"


    I have always mistaken this to be a call for silent, pious contemplation. Silent contemplation is a good thing, but this week as I studied this passage, the commentary pointed out that this verse was not about our individual spiritual practices. This was God's cry to the forces that oppose God's will. This is God's answer to the warring nations, the chaotic nature described earlier in this Psalm. God calls the powers-that-be to come and behold God's power and then God shouts, "Be still, and know that I am God!" Like Jesus calming the storm, God is calming the storms of human history. The powers of this world must ultimately acknowledge the sovereignty of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace.


    Today I want us to see our Oklahoma story as part of the larger story of God's work in this world. That calls us individually to examine how our story – the Scott, Bill, Diana, Susan, David, Archie, Garland, Donna, etc. story is part of God's story.

    One way to begin is by being still -- by opening ourselves to God working in and through us. We do that through prayer, bible study, meditation, and worship.

    The next thing is to practice gratitude. There is no greater antidote for the bitterness, fear, and anxiety that threaten our well-being than adopting an attitude of gratitude. Every day we have more things to be thankful for than we could ever realize. But intentionally taking the time to be thankful toward other people and toward God will transform us spiritually and emotionally.

    As you open yourself to God and practice gratitude, then the Spirit will lead you to participate in God's on-going work. What is your calling? How can you serve God? How can you show God's grace, compassion, and liberation to other people?

    I'm convinced that the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City is part of God's work in this time to draw the Oklahoma story forward. We not only preach hope, we are ourselves a sign of hope. That this ministry of radical, inclusive welcome exists is a sign that God's reign of justice and peace is that one step closer to realization.

    I don't participate in the ministry of this church just because it's my job or just because I find personal pleasure in it. I intentionally came home to this church because I wanted to work to make Oklahoma a better place. Because I saw this work as a crucial part of God's work in the world. In other words, I wanted my story to be a part of God's story.

    And your participation in the life and ministry of this congregation is also your share in that on-going story. You are a part of God's work in the world, bringing liberation and hope to a state and people who need to hear that message. In this stewardship season, I ask you to pray about how your support for this congregation enables it to continue to grow its ministry and touch more people with God's message.


    Prayer, gratitude, participation lead to joy. Joy doesn't come from everything going perfectly in our lives. Joy doesn't rely on us being healthy, rich, and beautiful. Joy comes from a content spirit. One who knows that no matter the ups and downs in life, God abides. "O let me ne'er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet." "The battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one."

    What does it mean to say that God abides, that God's reign is forever? That God is our mighty fortress, and that this is our Heavenly Parent's world?

    It means that God's dream of justice and peace will be realized. This is our hope. And through conviction it becomes our faith. And from these joy arises.

    And we get that hope, that faith by prayer, gratitude, and participation. Because these make our story part of God's on-going story.


    "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of it; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns."

Immigration and the Oklahoma Experience

Just alerted to something. Used to when I linked to my column, the link stayed active to an archived page long after the current page on the website was changed. But that is no more. If you link to a story after it has gone off the page, there is no archived copy. So, all of my blogposts linking to my past columns now will get you something else (a nice piece by Rob Howard this week on war). That means I need to start posting the entire text of columns here at the blog. My most recent column was this one "Suffering and Displaced Persons: Immigration and the Oklahoma Experience."

I'm also considering going back and re-posting all my previous columns so that they are at least available in their entirety here.


Suffering & Displaced Persons: Immigration and the Oklahoma Experience


As House Bill 1804 takes effect on November 1, I think it is important for us as Oklahomans, especially as we celebrate our Centennial, to recall the particularly Oklahoman experience and reflect on how it illumines the debate over Latin American immigration to the United States.


I would begin with John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which tells the story of an Oklahoma family displaced from home by forces beyond their control, who become wandering strangers in the promised land of California. It's a story wrought with biblical symbolism, routing the Oklahoma narrative in the narrative of the ancient Israel, particularly the themes of exodus and exile, the economic and agrarian justice of the jubilee, and the vision of the prophets.


Let me call your attention to chapter 22 of the novel, with this excerpt (please read the entire chapter):


The moving, questing people were migrants now. Those families which had lived on a little piece of land, who had lived and died on forty acres, had eaten or starved on the produce of forty acres, had now the whole West to rove in. And they scampered about, looking for work; and the highways were streams of people, and the ditch banks were lines of people. Behind them more were coming . . . In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property . . . And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They're degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned Okies are thieves. They'll steal anything. They've got not sense of property rights . . . The local people whipped themselves into a mold of cruelty. Then they formed units, squads, and armed them – armed them with clubs, with gas, with guns. We own the country. We can't let these Okies get out of hand.


Steinbeck writes about ho the mass migration led to exploitation of labor with wages too low to support a family, resulting in something similar to serfdom. The financiers and the mechanism of agricultural forced folk off the land. Then too many people were fighting for too few jobs, forcing wages down. He writes how this situation was exploited by businessmen to maximize profits, with no concern for the conditions of the laborers or the commonweal.


So, Oklahomans were once the victims of similar issues, similar economic conditions, similar rhetoric, and similar prejudice.


And the Oklahoma voice responded with an anthem of national greatness. Do you know all the verses of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land"?


This land is your land, This land is my land,

From California to the New York island;

From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.


As I was walking that ribbon of highway,

I saw above me that endless skyway:

I saw below me that golden valley:

This land was made for you and me.


I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps

To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;

And all around me a voice was sounding:

This land was made for you and me.


When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,

And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,

As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:

This land was made for you and me.


As I went walking I saw a sign there

And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."

But on the other side it didn't say nothing,

That side was made for you and me.


In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,

By the relief office I seen my people;

As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking

Is this land made for you and me?


Nobody living can ever stop me,

As I go walking that freedom highway;

Nobody living can ever make me turn back

This land was made for you and me.


Let us hear our own Oklahoma voice. We were once displaced persons. We know that this land must be for everyone. That is the message of justice born out of our own experience of suffering.

Can't Ride the Fence: Addendum

I didn't write the most important thing.

Such an issue gets to the heart of what you remember, proclaim, and practice as a congregation. If you remember, proclaim, and practice the gospel as Jesus' radical message of grace, compassion, liberation, and hope, then you must be an inclusive and welcoming congregation.

You see, we aren't inclusive and welcoming because it's fun. And definitely not because it is easy. It is, in fact, quite difficult. It takes training and continual maintenance. It is a highly intentional process. To get people to consider the differences of another person and not just respond from their own position is quite difficult (and the crux of compassion, I think -- "love your neighbor as yourself"). We have educational opportunities regularly and training events to better our welcome and inclusion. For example, in January our leaders will undergo training on how to be more welcoming of deaf people.

We are inclusive and welcoming because the gospel as we remember it compels us to be. To not be welcoming and inclusive would mean we would not disciples of the gospel of Jesus as we remember it. In other words, to not be welcoming and inclusive would be sinful.

If you aren't welcoming and inclusive as a congregation, then you must remember a gospel of Jesus differently. Your gospel must not be one of grace, compassion, liberation, and hope. I then question for whom it is "good news."

Of course, you would find yourself in large company. I can't help but feel that these folk are not encountering the Jesus I encounter.

That's not intended as dogmatism on my part; it is conviction. Not a conviction that came naturally. One that came with lots of experience and growth and with lots of training and study. I wasn't naturally a pacifist; I've only been one for three or four years. My reading of Yoder and my conversations with Kyle Childress made me one. Similar things could be said for what I proclaim about women, transgender folk, capital punishment, racial justice, immigration, etc.

So, I'm not saying that one can remember, proclaim, and practice a gospel of grace, compassion, liberation, and hope easily. It takes experience, training, and growth and then lots of difficult work.

Can't Ride the Fence

A friend forwarded me a link to an article about Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Broadway was one of my sister churches. I'm good friends with staffers and worked with the church a number of times on camps, retreats, ski trips, etc.

It seems that a flap has developed over gay couples wanting to be pictured as a couple in the church directory. The church is trying to do what so many "moderate" baptist churches do and ride the fence. They want to welcome gay people but not actually take a stand on the issue. Here are pastor Bret Younger's statements on the matter as quoted in the Baptist Press article:

"Broadway has for years had an amazing policy on including gay people. It's not a policy that a committee came up with, or the staff or the deacons. It's an unwritten policy that came out of the shared life of this congregation, a policy I believe was inspired by the Spirit," he said. "This church has for a long time included both gay people who are committed to Christ and members who aren't affirming and who have serious questions, but who are willing to share the church. This has allowed us to be a congregation where the conversation can take place about being gay and being Christians."

Now, I know Bret and know that he's much better on gay issues than most baptist ministers. And I respect this position of his, but it is an impossible position.

First off, it might have worked in say 1995 and been a comparatively progressive position. But it doesn't cut in in the current environment. My view was that 2004 was the line in the sand moment. You were either with us or against us, no more middle ground. I think that this is the same that you can judge historical figures for their positions on African-American civil rights. By a certain point, a more moderating position might be okay, but by another point (say 1963) you are either a supporter of equality or a bigot.

Second, as Dr. King said about the civil rights movement, our worst enemies are not those who have what I call "the courage of their bigotry," but are the moderates. Bigots are clear, can be argued against, and their positions are open. Moderates generally assume that time will take care of the issue. But, as King said, time doesn't do anything. People do. You have to be taking productive steps to deal with these potential issues. Some churches avoid even having opportunities for education because they want to avoid the issue, but avoiding education means that sooner or later it is going to blow up, usually in some silly episode like this.

Third, welcoming without affirming doesn't work. Many churches think it does, but as a gay man I can say that it does not. Many gay people go to welcoming but non-affirming choices for lots of reasons, but from first hand experience and through watching many people come through my congregation, there is nothing as empowering and healing as the experience of full sacramental equality. If you don't think LGBT people can serve in leadership, be ordained, get married, or otherwise participate fully in the life of your congregation, then you simply aren't welcoming.

Fourth, this moderate baptist idea that you can become a welcoming congregation without going through the process is a fantasy. Sooner or later you have to have educational opportunities and open discussions. Just look at University or Highland Park in Austin. Moderate baptist keep thinking that they are going to be able to hide their heads in the sand on this issue, but it simply doesn't work, as this episode at Broadway reveals. I will credit Fran Patterson with doing some education of her youth parents and workers on this issue in previous years.

Fifth, what I learned when I came to CoH from my life as a moderate baptist is that ultimately being "moderate" doesnt' work. In moderate churches one is constantly looking over one's shoulder wondering where the next attack will come from. Will you say something too liberal? Will you not be liberal enough to please some folk in your congregation? Is there any agreement on vision and mission? My personal sense, based on my experience, is that being moderate means refusing to take a position, refusing to speak with evangelical courage about war and peace, about equality, about social justice, because if you do, then you might offend someone.

Finally, I really feel for the gay couples at Broadway who are probably shocked to discover how unwelcoming the place they call home actually is. Many of us have been through that experience before.