Sunday, January 18, 2004

Of Love and Power

What do they value more on average? money/career or better relationships? If the latter, follow the love part of the diagram, if the former follow the power part of the diagram. (Note: people who prefer power don't trust people enough, whereas people who prefer love trust people too much.)

This quote comes from an interesting site,, which features a plethora of self-inventories giving Myers/Brigg Personality types and Enneagram types. Being a certified administrator of the MBTI, as well as having a long interest in the Enneagram, I was interested to see if my scores had changed from previous self-evaluations. Usually, I self-report as a 2, Helper, with a 3 wing, Achiever. Sometimes it comes out 2 with a 1 (perfectionist) wing. Both are true to an extent. But in the not too recent past, I self-reported as a 4, sensitive artist, and in all inventories I report a high score for 7, the Adventurer/Generalist. MBTI type is consistently ENFP though my E and I scores are a lot closer than before. I recommend this site to people seeking a little self-knowledge with the caveat that all such inventories should be taken with a grain of salt.

That being said, I turn to the quote. About 15 years ago, I was enrolled in the Institute for Christian Studies, a diaconal school for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida here in Orlando. I remember how excited I was about these studies, learning for the first time about source and literary criticism of scripture, about the history of the faith and the Episcopal Church particularly, about theology and the interface of sociology and psychology with religion. It was an incredibly expansive period in my life. And I have a fine priest, Bob Vanderau, who was then canon at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando to thank for what has become my life's work if not obsession. Things in this diocese and at the cathedral are very different today, I am sad to say.

What sparked this memory was the dichotomy between power and love that the Enneagram explanation on the similarminds site featured. I remember saying to Bob years ago that what I saw in tension within the Episcopal Church and probably throughout the Christian faith was the conflict between love and desire - if not a perceived need - for control. It seemed to me that Jesus represented trust embodied: trust of G-d, trust of the creation, trust of his fellow human beings. Trust like that could only be understood as originating in a love of self, others and G-d. But it also seemed that Jesus met with unrelenting, fear-driven forces which manifest themselves in the perceived need for control, power over others. Surely that was true of the Sadduccean temple cult he encountered who were unwilling to see their place of privilege in the Roman province of Palestine threatened, not unlike the brokers of power in religious heirarchies today. It seemed true of some (though hardly all) of the Pharisees who believed that by exercising control over their own lives they could feel efficacious and thereby superior to others, not unlike our religious right today. And clearly it was true of the Romans who lived for power, control and domination of their conquered foes, not unlike the neo-conservative Machiavellians of our current administration.

But what seemed saddest to me is that for Christianity the tension didn't die with Jesus. Indeed, in the broader history of the Christian faith, I continue to be haunted by the question raised by my church history professor: "Is it possible that for the most part Christianity has been a destructive force in the universe?", a question followed by "Have a nice Thanksgiving!" and a disarming sweet smile. I've thought about that question for 13 years now and I have to admit I am still troubled by the possibility that the answer to her question is yes. And I also have to wonder if the primary reason for that being the possible answer is the inability of Christianity to live into the calling of Jesus to love, opting instead for mechanisms of power and control in their many guises, not the least of which is exclusive claims to absolute truth and ultimate salvation.

What the similarminds site added to this mix is a plausible explanation: People who prefer power don't trust people enough. Indeed, one has to wonder when reading the negative anthropology of people like Augustine and Calvin on the religious side and Hobbes and Machiavelli on the secular side whether people who prefer power can trust people at all. Seems to me that the root of not being able to trust is simply fear. Such fear is abundantly clear in theologies of original sin and Hobbesian/Machiavellian realpolitik. In the former, fear/distrust of the other manifests itself in an otherworldly fixation in which getting the right religious formula in this life determines whether one escapes the fearfulness of this world in the next life. In the latter, fear/distrust of the other results in authoritarian approaches to life in this world. While fear makes a very poor basis for public policy or religion, it also provides a very common basis for both.

I have to admit, I've never much understood how anyone could find such worldviews plausible, much less attractive. Of course, being an Enneagram Helper 2, that makes perfectly good sense. To boot I am a Myers/Brigg iNtuitive Feeler Perceiver (NFP) which approaches the world in terms of concern for human relations, openness to others and preference for the big picture rather than the immediate details. The other is generally not frightening to me; rather I find them intriguing, people I could learn from.

Admittedly, the other part of the equation can be true: Love-oriented people can be too trusting of others. I have found that to be true to my great dismay far too many times to detail here. It certainly was true in the hypercompetitive business of legal practice. It was very true of the process for ordination in the Episcopal Church. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the halls of academia are not immune to untrustworthy academics. There is something refreshing about Polyanna naivete and the child-like trust that it evidences. But those of us whose natural tendencies are to approach the world with these presuppositions can often find ourselves rudely awakened and disheartened. It is possible to trust people too much. Human beings are a mixed bag on any given day.

The struggles within the Episcopal Church today are a current example of this conflict of love and power. The move to expand inclusiveness within ECUSA to gay clergy elected bishop and to make available the blessing of unions to gay and lesbian couples has provoked a major firestorm not only within the American church but within the larger Anglican Communion. The general rubric for the convention's decisions has been that of justice though I would agree with any number of liberal theologians who rightfully understand justice in such terms as little more than love incarnate on a collective basis. While ECUSA is hardly a bastion of love-based practice, decisions such as those of the General Convention 2003 have brought the theory of our faith (to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself...." and to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being..." Baptismal Covenant) a baby step closer to its actualization.

Of course, it's not surprising that fear-driven theologies of power and control would find such actions anathema. People who don't trust the other will find solace if not a sense of security in rules to bind both themselves and others. They will come to worship the work of their own hands as the absolute, eternal revelation of the deity even as they ignore the history of its social construction. Fear has a way of blinding people.

The reaction to General Convention was fast and furious. The bishops of Central Africa, locked in a death grip with the fundamentalists of Islam, believe they cannot allow the Muslims to appear more homophobic than themselves. Pronouncement after pronouncement has rung out of places like Nigeria declaring themselves out of communion with ECUSA. Similar stories are reported from the Caribbean and Latin America where homophobia is the official policy if not always the actual practice. And within the US, Episcopal fundamentalists armed with tons of money from far right think tanks like those of Scaife and Ahmanson secretly plot ways to destabilize and destroy ECUSA from within.

And so, once again, the message of love - of self, of others, of the good creation and of the G-d who created it and in whose very being all exists - is eclipsed by the driving power of fear. Those who cannot trust others make a mockery out of their promises to love their neighbors as themselves (although one must wonder how much one could love a life driven by fear - perhaps they DO love their nieghbors as they love themselves!). Once again, the crowd cries "Crucify them!" as power-driven Pilates and priests ponder how to retain power and protect privilege.

Perhaps this is just the human condition. Perhaps all of us have a little Pilate deep in our souls even when love is our primary motivation. And perhaps all of us have a little trusting Jesus in our depths even when we desperately seek to repress it. And perhaps the best we can do is to be as aware of those two Enneagram poles within each of us and to be as conscious as possible and open to the call of Jesus and countless other enlightened souls who have embodied a higher example of what it means to be fully human and called us to "Follow me."



The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


Monday, January 12, 2004

The Broken Heart of a Good Creation

And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:31

This past week saw several reports regarding the health of our planet and its occupants. The first, a report in Nature magazine, suggests that if the current rate of global warming continues, within 50 years one quarter of all extant land animals and plant life will be driven into extinction. One of the more agonizing aspects of the report was the prediction that many life forms will be unable to relocate and thus left to languish and ultimately die in habitats once hospitable but now deadly. It's a bit analogous to a human being imprisoned to ultimately starve to death or die for lack of water in a prison cell whose walls increasingly converge toward the center. Would we not call such inhumane if it involved human beings (presuming, of course, that they were not inhabitants of the "axis of evil" in which case inhumane treatment is not only acceptable, it's mandated by the bloodthirsty tribal god of George Bush)? How much less inhumane is this sentence for one-fourth of our biosphere?

A second report from Thomas Karl and Kevin Trenberth of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC, details the source of the problem: "[T]here is no doubt," they say, "that the composition of the atmosphere is changing because of human activities, and today greenhouse gases are the largest human influence on global climate.'' They estimate that by the end of this century there is a 90 percent chance that the world's climate will heat up between 3.1 and 8.9 degrees Fahrenheit because of those human influences.

What continues to float to consciousness as I read these reports is the context of the Spielberg film Artificial Intelligence. Aside from the absolutely gut wrenching story line of the created little boy who wanted so badly to become human and to be loved (Spielberg is a real genius at touching the very core of the human heart), in the background of the film is the ever-present rising water levels of a world in which global warming has done its nasty deed. The polar caps are melting and it's only a matter of time until the planet is innundated. The drip, drip, dripping of the rain into puddles only accentuates the sadness of the film, a cosmic weeping. What I found myself feeling over and over as I watched the film was less the immediate heartbreak of the little boy seeking humanhood and a mother's love played so brilliantly in the film by Haley Joel Osment, but rather the profound sorrow for the loss of Mother Earth that served as the contextual setting for the storyline.

The other thing I felt as I watched the film was a white hot anger at either unconscious or conscienceless human beings who had done this to themselves and to all living beings of this good creation. And the absolute mystification over how they could be in such deep denial about this tragedy. As the human beings continued to seek ever greater consumer goods and services -perfumes that were now no longer being produced, parties to forget the impending disaster, more and more advanced technology to serve a human race which had become lazy and turned in on itself and the natural progression of our current obsession with stimulatimg passive entertainment which took the form of a neo-Roman coliseum complete with the slaughter of quasi-sentient beings - the world was dying around them. I see this denial in full bloom even now in our own time as the world is dying around us. Listen to the suzerain oil industry and their client state administrators in Washington as they reassure us about limitless petrochemical supplies to meet the demands of an addiction fed by our advertising industry. Listen as they question the findings of folks like Karl and Treberth, asserting that they have no solid "proof" that the environment is being wounded, perhaps irreparably. Listen carefully and you can hear the drip, drip dripping as our earth gurgles and sputters.

This week begins the season of Epiphany in the western liturgical traditions. The readings for Anglican lectionary cycle C have featured Isaiah with nations streaming to the light of the redeemed Israel, often cast in terms of mountaintops where the light can be seen. I contemplate those mountaintops as I read of the Bush administration's proposed revisions to environmental policies which would allow for "mountaintop mining." What such involves is essentially shearing off the tops of ridges to expose a coal seam. Dirt and rock are pushed into nearby stream beds, a practice known as valley fill. The Interior Department's proposal would eliminate an existing policy that says land within 100 feet of a stream cannot be disturbed by mining activity unless a company can prove that the work won't affect the stream's water quality and quantity. In the proposed rule, the department said that the standard is impossible to comply with and coal operators must instead prevent damage to streams "to the extent possible, using the best technology currently available."

"[T]o the extent possible?" Who are we kidding? These lies and half-truths dressed up to sound like actual considered policy would be laughable if their consequences were not so dire. Human beings always have choices about these matters. The question is whether we are willing to be honest about those choices and resposible for their consequences.

So, what if there were no mountaintops for the nations to stream to, only jagged scars of abandoned coal mines? Might the policies pursued by this very destructive regime be seen as magnets for darkness, not light? As the priest in the controversial but excellent film Priest said, when we destroy G-d's good creation, do we not spit in the very eye of G-d? As I stand on the shores of Lake Underhill each morning, saying my prayers, watching the mist rise from the lake shrouding the reflections of the cabbage palms in the lake's polluted waters, the birds singing G-d's praises as the soundtrack for the rising sun, I wonder to myself, how much longer will these birds have a home in this place? Where will the cabbage palms go if the water rises above their root systems? What will happen to the herons and cranes, the squirrels and mockingbirds, the gopher tortoises and prickly pear cacti, not to mention the little boys and girls who will play in these waters come summer? Where is the light? Where is the outcry from the nations?

This night my Franciscan heart aches for the Creation. It wonders if the image of G-d has not become obscured by the crudeness of greed and selfishness among we creatures who bear that image and hold the potential to grow ever more into the likeness of our maker, a potential neglected if not abandoned in our striving for more and more goods and ever more stimulating (and diverting) entertainment. And it wonders what it will take to cause us to awaken from this very dark dream.

The Kadampa Tradition (Vajrayana) Buddhists in San Jose, CA, taught me that the scope of compassion is not properly limited to simply human beings. They taught me that "all sentient beings" were deserving of compassion. And so I close with their Prayer for the Four Immeasurables, noting that "everyone" here means all living beings:

May everyone be happy.
May everyone be free from misery.
May no one ever be separated from their happiness.
May everyone have equanimity, free from hatred and attachment.

And from the Prayer for Generating Bodhichitta, "May I become a Buddha for the benefit of all." Or as the modern Franciscan prayer says it: "Lord, make us instruments of your peace."



The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Blowing off a little steam....

Two things greeted me my first day back to the university for spring term. First, I am delighted that so many former students have decided to take the second half of my class (offered over two semesters). It's not a given and many don't. But about 1/3 of the students yesterday were former students, some from as long ago as last fall (2002). It's nice to see their faces. It's nice to know that, at least for some of them, learning with this instructor is seen as a valuable thing. Of course, that doesn't account for things like fitting schedules and the devil you know v. the devil you don't know. Who knows exactly what drives students? I'm not ever sure I could tell you why I took some of the classes and instructors I took. Nonetheless, it's nice to see them.

The other thing awaiting me on my desk Monday morning was the first round of student evaluations from last semester. This particular batch comes from an honors college group I taught fall semester. As usual, the evaluations managed to stir up a lot of conflicted feelings.

I probably should preface the following comments by noting that the overall assessments were good. My average in the department (this is one of the more moronic aspects of student evaluations) is always above the department average and well above that of the college. Generally the assessments are predominately positive, rating me excellent or good in virtually every category. The comments usually can be categorized as such: good professor, passionate about his subject, cares about his students, too much work. There are also consistent comments from a small minority that see me as disrespectful of them personally and sarcastic. I probably would own up to all of those comments with the caveat that students who feel less than fully respected have often demonstrated through their behaviors, attitude or comments that their performance in class is not terribly respectable. All of this is to say, simply, that the comments I am about to make are NOT the result of sour grapes. In the student ratings game, I generally am a winner. Indeed, on the one student graded professor slam sites I know my name has been placed, my average is A+.

But, the fact it is a game is my first concern. I understand the original purpose of student evaluations to be what they actually state on the forms: to assist the instructor with his/her teaching. Everyone needs constructive criticism periodically. No one has reached the point of performance where they are unable to improve. And a good instructor will want to improve, to try new things, to reconsider old approaches, otherwise they become stagnant. But that doesn't mean that any form or use of evaluation is necessarily helpful, even valuable.

Of course, the first problem with the evaluations is those who take them. While we emphasize to our students that this is not a forum to vent one's spleen and seek revenge for poor grades, loss of face in class or for not constructing the class according to the consumer demands of the student, far too frequently students use evaluations for precisely those purposes. I thought Peter Sacks, author of Generation X Goes to College, had made up the story about the student evaluation which reported a student saying Sack's tie had distracted him/her and prevented their full attention in class until I got virtually the same comment on an evaluation. The question that and other personal comments ("Nice butt," a comment my office mate was reported to have received on an evaluation) raise is simply why student evaluations should be taken seriously. People who are unable to distinguish college instruction from Entertainment Tonight are probably not the best sources regarding the former.

Far too often the very problems the student has experienced with the course manifest themselves in the comments on evaluations. I wonder if students realize how self-disclosing they really are in these comments. One student suggested that my "master thesis" had been to demonstrate "Catholicism as a destructive force in the universe." This, the student noted, had been humiliating. Of course, humiliation is about identifiable individuals being held up in class for scorn. Such does not happen in many classes for long. Singling out students for disrespect or other unwanted attention can readily land an instructor in the unemployment line if not court. And it certainly did not happen in this class. Other than the self-disclosure the student made in a written assignment, no one knew his religious affiliation. Indeed, except for those who discussed their religious backgrounds in class, no one knew anyone else's affiliation. It's a bit of a stretch to see oneself as personally humiliated under those circumstances.

What the comment does reflect, however, is the problem the student had with the class. It demonstrates an inability to distinguish critique of an idea, attitudes, values, etc. from the holder(s) of said ideas, values, attitudes. It fails to distinguish an ad hominem attack on the person from a criticism of their behavior, thoughts or words. Ironically, the skill of making such distinctions is precisely what most college instructors are seeking to instill or hone in their classes. It is not surprising that students who are lacking in the capacity to think critically would personalize such critique and blame the instructor.

Another comment I received from the same student involved whether classes should be put on-line. His comment (and surely students don't labor under the misapprehension that we can't recognize their handwriting after a semester) was that "a big chunk of the class should be on-line since we watched a number of movies in class..." That illustrates part of the problem here. Might the fact he is unable to distinguish short instructional videos designed to illustrate concepts from the text from a "movie," commonly seen as entertainment, suggest the inappropriateness of such comments being taken seriously?

How is it that college freshmen are somehow seen as holding the expertise sufficient to make judgments about college level pedagogy? The absurdity of a patient stopping a surgeon mid procedure and telling her where to cut is obvious. Similarly the client who tells his attorney how to make motions during a trial. Why would students be in a position to tell their instructors how to teach? Clearly, patients do play a large role in most medical care, advising the physician of how they feel and, hopefully, following their instructions regarding their treatment. Clients who are open and honest with their attorneys provide them with the necessary information to make judgments about strategy and conduct of a trial. But in both cases, the expertise of the professional is only as good as the patient or client is willing to listen and follow. Why would it be any different for college instruction?

Compounding the problems of questionable value of the assessments is the use that is made of them.
College department chairs and deans often seek to reassure instructors and professors that they do not use student evaluations to make judgments about hiring, tenure and promotion. I think the reality is that they could hardly help from being affected by these evaluations. The averaging and comparing of evaluation scores within colleges and departments suggest that these evaluations mean a lot more than simple feedback to instructors. Such practices speak to competition among colleagues, something totally out of place in an institution which derives its names - universitas and collegium - from the notion of cooperative learning.

At some level I suppose I ought to favor student evaluations since they historically have worked to my advantage personally. And if it were just about me, perhaps I wouldn't have written this post. The problem is, this is a fairly common practice. And it speaks to a general confusion of the obsessiveness our hypercompetitive culture has over "accountability" with a rather more diffuse but pervasive consumerism in which, like Disney World taught its employees, the customer isn't always right but the customer is always the customer. Education is not the provision of consumer good or service. And students are not customers. The medieval university recognized that without a collective, cooperative effort of "the whole body," faculty and students, the learning community called the universitas simply could not function. We post-modern academics and the corporate indentured servants in government who maintain the modern university would do well to return to our roots of working together toward a common goal - an educated society. It's not difficult to see how the current student evaluation system falls far short of that noble endeavor, indeed, perhaps even proving counterproductive.

I also suppose I ought to be able to simply slough off the petty comments of students who didn't make the grade they wanted or got their feelings hurt along the way. Things like that happen in human institutions. But instructors are human beings, too. It hurts to have highly personalized vindictive comments made about the part of your life that students rightly recognize as your passion, particularly when it becomes a public record. It is troubling to have your motives called into question. Even in the face of an overall good assessment in a history of the same, it is still unsettling. One of my colleagues who is close to attaining tenure told me she no longer even reads the evaluations given how disturbed they make her. Little wonder. I read her evaluations on public display at the honors college for a previous class. One of her students complained that she had been petty for taking off points for writing errors in composition and grammar. When asked at the end of the evaluation what part the student liked best, they replied "The free food" from the final class party. And remember, these are the honors students.

OK, I've gotten it off my chest. Time to move on.....


Sunday, January 04, 2004

I think it's important for any human being who wishes to be as honest with him or herself as possible to try to identify their presumptions up front before beginning a discourse. It's a rule I practice regularly with my college freshmen and sophomores and, I think, a good rule to follow generally. So perhaps a few words about the title and purpose of this weblog, about who I am and where I am coming from are appropriate for my first real post to Redeeming Barth.

First, let me make clear that I am not a Barthian. Indeed, I have to say that, on the whole, Mr. Barth and I probably have little to say to each other. His neo-orthodox theology rooted in Calvinism makes little sense to me, frankly. Clearly, his circumstances dictated much of his rejection of the liberalism of Schleiermacher between the two world wars. It's understandable how the Progressive Era theology that "Every day, every way, things are getting a little better" would be untenable in the growing shadows of the Third Reich. But I see Barth's error to be the same as that of Augustine: in attempting to explain the reality of evil, both theologians end up painting deities in terms of power and otherness and humanity in terms of the worst aspects of our nature. Such a picture does little justice to either subject.

So, if you've found this site under a key word like Barth or Redeeming, let me advise you up front that you may be disappointed in the contents of this site. The name comes from one of Barth's more famous quotes that theology should be done with the scripture in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I strongly agree. The besetting sin of western theology has been its tendencies toward otherworldliness, often at the expense of this world. Such a theology says little to me about the spirit of the Jewish peasant from the Roman occupied province of Palestine in the first century CE.

Truth be told, my theology probably is as radical as Barth's was sometimes seen to be. Adverse by nature to being reduced to any given school of thought, I would describe my theology as a mixture of liberation theology, creation spirituality and social gospel with a good dose of mysticism, especially nature mysticism, thrown in for good measure. My churchmanship tends to be on the high side though I am more than happy with mariachi masses and Catholic folk settings (e.g., St. Louis Jesuits). A friend of mine calls himself a "progressive catholic," small C. That's probably a good description of my own theology though my tradition is the Anglican Communion's Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA). Anyone who knows ECUSA knows it is only partially catholic and only sporadically progressive.

I do not come to these views in a vacuum, obviously. I don't claim to have the absolute eternal truth and am highly skeptical that anyone else does either. My educational background includes a B.A. in History and Secondary Education with minors in Journalism and Political Science from the University of Florida in 1976. I hold a J.D. from the University of Florida College of Law (1981) and am a member of the Florida Bar (inactive status). That's the political part. Then, there's the other subject we aren't supposed to talk about: religion. I was awarded a Masters of Divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA) in 1995 and ordained priest in the Diocese of El Camino Real (Central Coast, CA). To put them all together, I completed a Ph.D. in Religion, Law and Society at Florida State University in 2000. Clearly, I've had reason to think long and hard about the subjects I hope to write about here.

Of course, there's also the experiential part as well. John Wesley remains one of my heroes from my childhood in the Methodist and then United Methodist Church. His insistence that Richard Hooker's Three-Legged Anglican Stool of authority (scripture, tradition, reason) required an additional leg - experience (Wesley's Quadrilateral) - makes much sense to me. All of us are products of our socio-cultural and individual contexts. So let me lay out some of mine.

I am the fifth generation of educators in my family, third generation of college educators. My grandparents were named Reed and Wright. (No joke! Apparently education is genetically predisposed for us Coverstons). I taught middle school and special education classes right out of undergraduate and for a time after law school as well. Since 1981 I have taught college level classes at three community colleges, two state universities and one private university here in Florida. My college classes have predominately centered around subject areas of political science/law, ethics/critical thinking, humanities/religion/philosophy. I currently teach at the University of Central Florida where I am a visiting instructor of humanities, religion and philosophy. My home page there can be found at:

But another big chunk of my life has been working with poor people. Many of the students I taught in special ed classes were from working poor families. A good number were African-American and Hispanic. I spent two summers of my life working for the Easter Seals at Camp Challenge, a camp for disabled children and adults in Central Florida. The bulk of my five full-time years of law practice occurred at the public defender's office in Orlando where my clients were primarily juvenile offenders and mentally ill clients facing involuntary commitment. In seminary, my studies were punctuated with trips to Central America, particularly El Salvador during the war where our group served as observers of the cease fire and later as election monitors through the aegis of the World Council of Churches. My last year in seminary followed a summer spent in Panama in a small village named Las Guabitas about an hour north of the Canal Zone. There I saw first hand poverty and starvation. I was not the same person leaving Las Guabitas as the first world man of privilege and limited consciousness who entered it earlier that summer.

So, Mr. Barth's requirement that any discussion of theology (and I would add politics, philosophy, sociology, ethics - all favorite subjects of mine) must proceed with scripture (and/or works of theology, the study of religion, philosophy) in one hand and the newspaper (or works of sociology, politics, ethics) in the other makes much sense to me.

And, so, with this disclaimer, let us begin redeeming Barth.

This is an experiment.