Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, April 28, 2006

The REAL Gospel of Judas

Occasionally (admittedly not often) The New York Times gets something more or less right in the area of Biblical studies. The recent tiresome flap about the so-called "Gospel" of Judas yielded a couple of good observations (Friday, April 7, front-page article by John Noble Wilford and Laurie Goodstein). James M. Robinson (part of the Jesus Seminar crowd, but he is the real thing when it comes to ancient texts) said, "Correctly understood, there is nothing undermining [of the New Testament] about the Gospel of Judas." He correctly noted that both John and Mark have passages suggesting that Judas was part of God's (and therefore Christ's) purpose.

Best, though, was the Times' quotation from Irenaeus: "They [the Gnostics] produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the gospel of Judas."

For an authoritative word on the theological significance of Judas in the New Testament Gospels, I offer a passage from the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar's often-dazzling Mysterium Paschale. He is examining the interplay in all four Evangelists' use of the word paradidõmi, to hand over, to deliver up. The next three paragraphs are his words:

Beside the Father who hands over, and the Son who is handed over, there appears as a third actor the traitor who is a hander-over also. Judas, one of the Twelve, is "he who hands over," the traditor. On the other hand, by his action, he becomes the representation of unbelieving and faithless Israel, which rejects its Messiah, and is thereby delivered up (for a time: Romans 11). The interplay between the God who hands over and the sinners who, in handing over, betray, has an extremely paradoxical character, although as early as the Old Testament, God has human executors of his justice who are nonetheless not exonerated from the blame of their actions....

The interplay can be interpreted by reflection as a mystery of God's providence (Acts 2:23) and in terms of the relative ignorance of the Jews (Acts 3:17)...but it can also be misused in a polemical fashion as the means of identifying a personal or national "black sheep." The eschatological situation requires us to see a link between this betrayal and all powers hostile to God (John 13:27)...

On the one hand, Judas steps forward with Israel, for the time of the world's history, in the visible role of reprobation, but on the other hand, from the perspective of the universalist affirmations of the New Testament, he is the visible agent of all that sinners-- Christians, Jews, pagans-- do in common (Romans 5:12ff; I Timothy 2:6; John 12:32, etc.).

--Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 110. (Original German edition, Theologie der Drei Tage, 1970)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

God's children need us

World Vision eNews is an excellent source of reporting about some of the world's crises from a Christian agency that gets consistently high ratings for its fiscal responsibility. World Vision is one of my favorite charities. If you click on this link you will see what I mean:

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lacrosse teams, debate teams, Barbara Jordan

Did you ever hear of a debate team gang-raping women? What is the matter with these football teams and lacrosse teams, and what is the matter with their coaches? "Boys will be boys"? What a craven excuse for genuine masculine leadership, mentoring, teaching.

These thoughts are occasioned not only by the lack of any suitable response thus far from the lacrosse coach and/or the president of Duke University to a recent highly publicized incident, but also by a stunning hour-long program just heard yesterday on NPR about Barbara Jordan. Are your children and grandchildren looking for heroes? Don't let them be satisfied with basketball players and hip-hop stars. Tell them about Barbara Jordan, for whom the Constitution of the United States was a decree straight from heaven.

She was raised in the New Hope Baptist Church in Houston, where she was expected to spend the entire day on Sunday. You might think that sounds like drudgery, she said, "but it was very important for me and it remains important today." Who were her major childhood influences? Her father and her grandfather. She spoke, with her signature eloquence, about the expectations they had for her, and the standards they held her to. She was "not self-effacing," she said with a chuckle; "if my grandfather was going to tell me to be my own person, I was going to get out there and be it." But this was not some program of "self-expression." Intensely hard work and dedication were called for. The self-confidence gained from her father and grandfather were essential to the ascendancy of a dark, large woman, because lighter-skinned, petite black girls were generally more favored. She arrived at all-black Texas Southern with a supercharged work ethic and the good fortune to find herself in the care of famed debate coach Tom Freeman (an African-American original, to judge from his interview on the program-- he still coaches debate teams today). Freeman's young black men and women won matches against universities all over the country. Freeman said later that beating Harvard was like winning the World Series.

Barbara Jordan was trained as a star debater by Freeman. She was always a superb speaker, but was not able to formulate positions on the spot, to rebut without preparation, until she had had four years under his tutelage. From Texas Southern she went on to Boston University (historically welcoming to blacks) for a law degree, and then back home to Texas and the House of Representatives where LBJ took her under his wing and pushed her into key positions (over the objections of his aides, as Joe Califano ruefully remembered on the program). She was only a freshman member of Congress, but already her fellow Representatives were seeking her advice and counsel. It was not long before she was catapulted into stardom.

It was the year of Watergate, and Barbara Jordan was the junior member among 38 Congressmen on the House Judiciary Committee. The whole nation was watching-- in bars, at coffee breaks, in store windows-- while the committee debated whether or not to investigate the President. The members gave speeches in turn, beginning with the senior members-- 38 speeches. Barbara Jordan was last. Providence arranged it so that she was on during prime time. As soon as her sonorous tones emerged from her imposing frame, the nation was hooked. "If God were a woman," Bob Woodward reflected, "that would be the voice." In the space of twenty minutes, she became history professor to the nation, the voice of the Framers redivivus, the conscience of America. And because she stated so clearly that "We the people..." had not originally included her, a black woman, but now did, she symbolized both the struggles and the triumphs of every American who had known repression. Once she had finished, Dan Rather remembered later, there was no doubt that there would be an investigation. Nixon resigned two weeks later.

She became an instant celebrity. People mobbed her everywhere she went. They loaded onto her all their hopes and dreams, said Rather. She was a genuine phenomenon. Her subsequent illnesses and premature retirement and death (ten years ago yesterday) feel like an incalculable loss. Indeed, it could be argued that whereas Martin Luther King's death assured his place in history because his great work was done and (as the mural at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery depicts him) flights of angels sang him to his rest, the deaths of Malcolm X and Barbara Jordan appear to this day to have been cruelly out of synch. At least, that is the way it seems to me. All indications were that Malcolm was changing radically in his outlook and was moving to become one of the most excellent influences on young black men that America would see. As for Barbara Jordan, we desperately need some one like her in politics today. How she would disdain the posturing of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney! Alas, there is no one of Jordan’s heroic, unimpeachable stature-- in either party, of any color, of either gender -- anywhere presently in view.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Immigration Debate

It isn't easy to know what to think about this perplexing issue. However, one often-repeated slogan, it seems clear, needs to be challenged. Several articles recently have done so. Here is one (John M. Broder in The New York Times, April 2):

It is asserted both as fact and as argument: the United States needs a constant flow of immigrants to perform jobs Americans will not stoop to do.

But what if those jobs paid $50 an hour, with benefits, instead of $7 or $10 or $15?

"Of course there are jobs that few Americans will take because the wages and working conditions have been so degraded by employers," said Jared Bernstein, of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. "But there is nothing about landscaping, food processing, meat cutting or construction that would preclude someone from doing these jobs on the basis of their nativity. Nothing would keep anyone, immigrant or native born, from doing them if they paid better, if they had health care."

The most comprehensive recent study of immigrant workers comes from the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that, unlike Mr. Bernstein's, advocates stricter controls on immigration. The study, by the center's research director, Steven A. Camarota, found that immigrants are a majority of workers in only 4 of 473 job classifications — stucco masons, tailors, produce sorters and beauty salon workers. But even in those four job categories, native-born workers account for more than 40 percent of the work force.

While it might be a challenge to find an American-born cab driver in New York or parking lot attendant in Phoenix or grape cutter in the San Joaquin Valley of California, according to Mr. Camarota's study of census data from 2000-2005, 59 percent of cab drivers in the United States are native born, as are 66 percent of all valet parkers. Half of all workers in agriculture were born in this country.

"The idea that there are jobs that Americans won't do is economic gibberish," Mr. Camarota said. "All the big occupations that immigrants are in -— construction, janitorial, even agriculture -— are overwhelmingly done by native-born Americans."

...George J. Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said he believed that the flow of migrants had significantly depressed wages for Americans in virtually all job categories and income levels. His study found that the average annual wage loss for all American male workers from 1980 to 2000 was $1,200, or 4 percent, and nearly twice that, in percentage terms, for those without a high school diploma. The impact was also disproportionately high on African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, Professor Borjas found.

"What this is, is a huge redistribution of wealth away from workers who compete with immigrants to those who employ them," he said....

The article does note, however, that
There is one place and one category of work in which the "jobs Americans will not do" mantra appears to be close to true —the salad bowl of California. Tim Chelling, the communications director for the Western Growers Association, a cooperative of big farm operators, said that last winter growers in California's Imperial Valley needed 300 workers to harvest lettuce and broccoli They went to the local unemployment office, he said, and posted a notice seeking workers, who would be paid about $9 an hour and receive bare-bones health insurance. "Apparently one guy showed up, and he didn't last through the first morning," Mr. Chelling said. All the jobs went to Mexican laborers, most of them probably illegal, he said.

Mr. Chelling, whose group supports liberalized immigration laws and guest worker programs, argued that the use of immigrant labor was not a question of money, though growers certainly prefer to pay low wages to keep costs down. Farm labor is back-breaking, he said, requiring endurance, dexterity and patience that few Americans possess.

The article continues with a reference to the African-American dilemma
Last weekend, some 500,000 people took to the streets of Los Angeles to protest a tough immigration bill passed by the House in December...In the crowd were very few African-American faces, noted Ronald W. Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. Their economic prospects are directly threatened by the huge influx of illegal immigrants, he said. African-Americans are competing for jobs in construction, hotels and restaurants, meat packing and textiles, he said, and they lose out to immigrants willing to accept lower pay and fewer benefits.

"The African-American leadership has a lot of angst about this," he said, adding: "It's not just a black problem, but we are the most acutely affected. The fact is, it's hurting us."