beyond creed, creedal messianism, reinhold niebuhr

ISO Gary Dorrien — Reinhold Niebuhr Professor at Union Theological Seminary

It’s funny. I am sure Gary Dorrien has never heard of me. And I never heard of him until he showed up as the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Christian Ethics at my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary recently.

My friend George Todd alerted me to this fact.

So I emailed Gary but, as with all emails and other communications I have wafted toward Union Seminary since I have become totally unknown, beginning in the 1970s when my last books on social issues appeared, there was no response.

(Actually, there was an eventual response, a two line email indicating that Gary had not received the first email and a query regarding a reference I had made to John Lewis.)

When I do make contact I tend to elicit a perfunctory brush off. I experienced this at Union during the late 1970s when I tried to suggest I might have discovered in singing songs based on canonical texts a way of doing theology.

I remain lost in the mists of the generation of the 1960s, a decade I pronounced over when John Lewis was made to modify his remarks prepared for the now-nostalgicized March on Washington.

I remember going up to Heath, Massachusetts, where another friend, the late Bob Brown, used to live in summers, to search out a prominent New Testament scholar whose specialty was Mark.

To share my sung Gospel of Mark.

I should have known better.

The point I wish to make however is that I believe Gary Dorrien, interviewed recently in the New York Times, is passing wrong in his analysis of streams of thought in the realm of Christian social ethics.

He notes three such areas:

Social Gospel;

Niebuhrian Realism
; and

Liberation Theology

There is a fourth area

It has no name but it resonates to H. R. Niebuhr’s (the more percipicacious of the famed generation of Christian observers) informal statement I heard at UTS in 1961 — that both neo-orthodoxy and liberalism are dead.

That cut away a lot of confusion in subsequent years and opened the door to move beyond Reinhold Niebuhrian stasis.

The fourth way is the way of people like me and Will Campbell and Jacques Ellul and in some respects Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who refuse to forswear action in the name of the various cautions erected by Reinhold N.

And who refuse at the same time to indulge in the ideological idolatries of liberation theology or the naivete and Straussian Jesus reductionism that one sometimes finds in the liberal realms of New Testament scholarship.

We are people who have fought in the trenches and understood things most academics do not even encounter or think about.

Here is one such thing.

Which of the schools cited by G. Dorrien has given a tinker’s damn (not worth any consideration) to the realities of grass roots ecumenism, the institutional church, polity, the functioning of the actual ecclesiastical enterprise?

I watched Reinhold Niebuhr essentially trash Joe Haroutounian for suggesting a central place for love back at that supposedly classic-time at UTS. Sectarianism was for RN a dirty word.

I remember writing a now lost article in the student paper I edited at Union explaining why things were not so great at the seminary. President H. Pitney Van Dusen invited me to his spacious dwelling to explain myself in the presence of my classmate Geoff Rowthorne, presumably there to offer HPVD a bit of moral support for a more temperate view.

What I suspect G. Dorrien will find in time is that he has been a captive of a world. That is what I found when I essentially lost that world and moved beyond it to where people have no interest in it or recognition of it.

(I have since looked at many worlds including those of the Vineyard, Willow Creek, Jonestown, Las Vegas and Nietzsche. And above all the Web.)

Ah well, I am saying too much, as rem might say.

I am sorry. I am only a few miles south of G. Dorrien and he can reply to my e-mail or leave a comment or otherwise contact me in innumerable ways.

I have thoughts about these matters.

The fourth way is Abba’s Way. It is the CAP way. It is a form of universalism that addresses the prevalence of creedal messianism that still hobbles Christian thought.

It believes fervently in forms of institutional renewal that would require reforms of thinking even to imagine and execute.

Safer to ignore the presence of a fourth way. It always has been. From the very beginning.

NYTimes, starbucks

Breakfast in the Big Apple

I live in the Big Apple.

Out my window I see Macy’s and Herald Square. It’s the junction of 34th Street, Sixth Avenue and Broadway, possibly the city’s busiest corner. Not a cul de sac like the upper East Side, nor the self-selected whatever of the Upper West Side, nor the sleepy wierdness of nearby Murray Hill.

We are an island of folk here, awash in a sea of tourists come to view the Empire State down the block. And of workers of all sorts who move in and out of the underground subway area where you can sometimes hear better music than you will find in a pricey club, get to Yankee Stadium with no changes amd take a local all the way to Coney Island or Brighton Beach.

My office is right here and has been since I left the editorship of CHOICES at UNDP a few weeks after 9/11. I had decided to leave before the Towers fell. The editor they hired to replace me lasted about a year and then a friend became editor and then the whole thing ended. Sic Transit Whatever.

(Hint: See The Girl in The Cafe for a good footnote to almost four years in the UN world.)

In the morning my first stop is SenSatiaFruit, Nutra Maxx, Total Immune Booster, Ellagic Acid Formula and a tasty swallow, held beneath the tongue, of Cardio Arginine mixed with M Powerment water. To which I add an enteric baby aspirin, some Tenormin and some Lipitor, a concession to the medical profession.

The fridge is filled with bottles of cold water, Poland Spring with some M-water mixed in.

I almost never have breakfast here. I walk out. Today I will probably go to a place in back of our building that does bagels and cappucino. I will have my usual Bialy toasted wuith butter and jelly and cmall Cappucino. $3.70. All I do is walk in and nod. They know me. No big deal. A neighborhood is what you make it. If I walked up to Jimmy’s it would be the same thing.

Starbucks is all over but I have given up on it. It is a display place, a new singles bar, a high tech show. Boring and too expensive and crowded for me. I bought a Gevalia coffee maker and some Gevalia coffee on a $29 online deal and have never looked back. I get some more coffee — some Jamaica Blue, French Roast and Colombian — every six weeks or so, delivered and paid for automatically. What I do not use I give to my 98 year old mom.

At home I out-Starbucks Starbucks. I make about six cups and let them sit there until desired. Then I heat up a half a cup and fill the top with whatever sort of whipped cream I can buy, usually sugar free. Then I spoon it out with my Plaza tablespoon. Sitting here and looking at the monitor.

I think the Gevalia deal saves me tons of money but I am an uncelibate monk so I don’t count. Life is stages and moving from thing to thing.

Well it is 7:32 and I need to get cracking. Do the vitamins and the bialy and the cappucino. And read the NYT of course. The Times is delivered to me daily on the couch next to me by my incredible spouse who will have already been up and running, Today’s Times contains the aftermath of George Bush’s power to appoint Supreme Court Justices. Messrs. Thomas and Scalia now have the support they need to create the backlash I have been waiting for since the 60s collapsed in a vale of tears and hypocrisy.



The Story of Job

Here is a very rough demo of original music composed and recorded in 1977 in a small 8-track studio in southern Connecticut.

“The Story of Job” is my attempt to make sense of one of the most profound and consuming texts in all literature. The theophany in Job must rank as the greatest self-revelation of the One who spoke to Moses from the bush and proclaimed that he was who he was and would be who he would be.

While Job deals with the problem of suffering, the deeper theme is that of smoking this One out and engaging in direct dialogue. Job exposes virtually all of religion as tending toward false or erroneous conclusions regarding the aims and being of this one. And The Story of Job loses no time in creating songs which hold up and mirror the fatuous nature of most religious advice.


As is true with most of my musical work, I am a writer and composer, not a singer and performer. Shamelessly I offer my own unfinished demos because I know from past experience that in the hands of others they take on the life they are meant to have.

As time permits I will in successive notes publish the lyrics and narrative text of The Story of Job.

Below is the full narrative text of the Story of Job, including song lyrics.



Once upon a time, in the land of Uz, there lived a man named Job. He was a holy and upright man, a leader and very, very well-to-do. He had servants, cattle, houses and children. All of these he had in abundance.

One day a meeting was declared in Heaven and when Satan arrived, God asked him, “Where have you been?”

“Wandering to and fro on the earth”, Satan replied.

“Have you considered my servant Job, how there is none like him in all the earth?” God asked.

Satan had considered Job and had even pondered further, that in this fascinating creation called the world, there were some who moved with ease and lived in regal splendor, while others suffered deprivation and pain. And what’s more the wealthy and powerful seemed very often to attribute their success to the favor of God. Thus Satan responded with a challenge and a suggestion.

Song Lyric One Satan’s Challenge and Suggestion

It’s not hard to be good
When you’ve got it as good
As this Job that you speak of
It’s a scandalous sample
A glaring example
Of the problem of fathoming your love

Surrounded by servants
And weighted with wealth
Protected by property
And hearty with health
No wonder he worships a God who’s been tried
A God who’s been tried
And found to be on his side
No wonder he’d pray at the end of the day
Lord I’m a sinner
Lord I’m a sinner
Lord I’m a sinner
But thanks anyway
Lord I’m a sinner
Lord I’m a sinner
Lord I’m a sinner
But thanks anyway

Gracious Lord a suggestion
I suggest a mild testing
I believe such a testing
Will prove interesting

Take away your favor from this rich man
Take away your favor Lord remove your hand
Then watch him waver at first he will waver
Then watch him curse and hate you and do worse to you
You’ll see your error in this Job at the end
He’ll prove a faithless, fly-by-night, fair weather friend
You’ll see your error in this Job at the end
He’ll prove a faithless, fly-by-night, fair weather friend

God listened and granted Satan’s request. Within a day all of Job’s wealth was in ruins. His children were dead and despite it all Job bore up. “Blest be the name of the Lord,” he said. Satan convinced God that Job memely held on because he himself had escaped harm. So God permitted Satan to cover Job over with loathsome sores.

“Do you still hold to your integrity? Curse God and die,” Job’s wife cried. And Job did curse the day of his birth.

Job had three friends, well-to-do colleagues from neighboring lands, who shared with Job a religious interest. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were their names. When they heard of Job’s great misfortune, they travelled to condole with him. Though they had somewhat different interpretations of Job’s misfortune, they were at first united in believing that with the right attitude, Job would certainly recover his losses.

Eliphaz was the first to speak:

Does one venture a word with you?

And without waiting for a reply, he continued:

God is the good man’s friend
All good men are gonna win in the end
Even when you’re down you’ll be on the mend
Because God, God, God is the good man’s friend

You’re a good man Job, you’re a help to the week
You’ve sailed the seas of virtue and you’ve sprung a little leek
And now you’ve been a suffering for more than a week
It takes a heap of goodness to keep you so meek

Now it’s time to turn a brand new leaf
Radiating convidence, exuding belief
If you’l;l just believe, you’ll have no cause to grieve
You can give your troubles the old heave heave

Just a heave heave heave and a ho ho ho
Give those troubles the old heave ho
Ho ho ho ho

God is the good man’s friend
All good men are gonna win in the end
Even when you’re down you’ll be on the mend
Because God, God, God is the good man’s friend

And you’re a good man Job
You’ll win in the end
Because God is the good man’s friend

Job replied, “My pain cannot be weighed.” And then to his three friends he said, “You see my calamity and you are afraid.” Then to God he said, “I will no longer restrain my mouth. I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

Then Bildad said to Job:

I believe that thngs will be better soon
But let me phrase a few thoughts in a tune
Your kids must have done some pretty wild sinning
I figure that’s the reason they all were done in

Cause even in a family as good as yours
Someone’s bound to be a little impure
And all you have to do is let a little evil in
And the watchword will soon be sin, sin sin

Now the sins of the children sometimes rest
A little unfairly on their parent’s breast
God sometimes consents to tests
Usually it’s all for the best

Sin sin sin sin
sin sin sin sin
Sin sin sin sin
I figure that’s the reason they all were done in

“No!” Job cried. “I am so crushed that I cannot see. God, I can’t even see. You mock the innocent. I loathe my life. If you would listen, I’d not believe it. If I should speak, you would prove me perverse. It is a contest, but there is no winning.”

Lord, why have you covered the faces of the judges
Allowing the wicked to reign on the earth
And if it’s not you Lord then who has the power
To bring down the innocent to sit back in mirth
Ah the pain Lord the pain Lord
Is it you Lord is it you
God where’s the worth to be condemned from birth
I am condemned Lord I give up the search
I am condemned Lord lay me in the earth
Leave me alone Lord is it you Lord is it you
Leave me alone Lord is it you Lord is it you

To what seemed unproductive and incoherent rambling, Zophar, who was a man of positive thought and robst faith, offered a resounding challenge to the miserable Job.

Such talk I’ll answer such talk indeed
Shame Job shame where does it lead
You say you are pure but you’re getting off easy
Why I’ll explain now listen to me

You wallow in pity you question your state
Your groveling self-pity makes me want to regurgitate
So I’ll sing a positive song that I know
Here’s how it goes Job here’s how it goes

Set your heart right
Stretch out your hand
Chin up and fight
Strike up the positive band
Deapair is out
Learn how to shout
Learn how to praise the Lord
Positively step lively take three deep breaths
Read good books turn new leafs and do what the good Lord saith
And plug into the divine energy machine
It’ll mellow your mind and keep you from being mean
It’s better than clever despair
No hit or miss affair
It’s better than tearing your hear
It’ll wrap up your sorrows and take away all of your cares
Because God on high is an available friendly power
And if you smile at him and pray at least once an hour
You’ll see those teardrops fade away
You’ll be celebrating joyfully creating
Chock full of dedication
Celebrate a brand new day
When you let those little teardrops
Those sorrow in your eyes and ear drops
When you let those little teardrops fade away

Set your heart right
Stretch out your hand
Chin up and fight
Strike up the positive band




But Job grew so he could not abide the wisdom of his comrades.

Wisdom your wisdom is ashes
Wisdom poor little platitudes
You try to explain God and arrange God
You try to arrange God and change God
Accept my condition be done with you all
Accept my condition you’d laugh to see me fall
I want to shout that it’s God don’t you see
It’s God it is God who has done this to me

Then Job questioned God:

First I would ask you what have I done
Next I’d demand of you why are you hiding
Finally I ask you why do you punish me
Keeping such silence
And why do you countenance
The pillage and the violence

Then Job thought of his own death.

A tree has hope
To be reborn
At my last breath
I shall be torn
Torn from life
Condemned to death
There’ll be no life
After my last breath

A tree has hope
To be reborn
At my last breath
I shall be torn
Torn from life
Condemned to death
There’ll be no life
After my last breath

Or are we like the perennial seeds
That sleep yet are reborn indeed
Lord when we die is there hope we might rise
Lord when we die is there hope we might rise

I do not believe it. I shall not rise.

Then Job thought of his former glory.

Oh that I were in days of old
When God smiled down me
Oil was abundant
I was clothed in regal costume burnished gold
Oh that I was in days of old

Oh once I gave to all who asked
When God smiled down on me
I was important did all tasks
In greatest glory I did bask
Oh that I was in days of old

Then Job cried out for judgment.

Come thou and judge me Lord
My case is prepared
Come now and judge me
Though all my sins be bared
Speak to me speak to me

At length Job’s three friends ceased to respond to him because he was righteous in his own eyes.

Another who was righteous in his own eyes, one Elihu, a student of theology, a young man, had become angry listening to the answers of Job’s friends and to Job’s replies. For in nothing that had been said, thought Elihu, had anyone the decency to defend God.

And so Elihu spoke:

Hail the true God who lies beyond all gods
Beyond all power to control
Ineffable and strong
Hail the true God who lies beyond all gods

Before the true God innocence is sin
Before the true God protest is in vain
Before the true God rebellion is insane
Truly the true God feels no pain
Truly the true God feels no pain

The true God for redemption’s purpose guides both weak and string
Through every minute motion the true god does no wrong
The true God for redemption’s purpose guides both weak and string
Through every minute motion the true god does no wrong

Hail the true God who lies beyond all Gods

Then God spoke to Job. God answered Job out of the whirlwind.

“Gird your loins, Job. Now we shall talk,” God said.

Where were you Job when earth’s foundations they were laid
When first the morning star was made
And anthems of the dawn were played
Who set the boundaries of the waves
Who sang with joy on the first day

Where were you Job when all creation sang with pride
Birth of the hind did intertwine with hawk’s high flying
How the sky echoed the cry on the first day

None were enslaved proud creatures ranged
New mountains where pure streams did flow
Ah son of man oh daughter of the moon
How strong and proud they stood
On the first day

Job can you see the traces of the sight you’ve lost
Job can you see as I would have you see
The sights of the first day
Speak to me Job Job reply
Speak to me Job Job reply

Then God spoke of the wonders of creation. Of birth and death. Of things beyond Job’s comprehension. God shared much with Job. And Job, who had once erefused to speak to God, replied.

Once I did hear with the hearing of the ear
But now my eyes do see
You have spoken wonders that I could not understand
Things too wonderful for me
To wonderful for me
Yet henceforth I will demand of you as you declare to me
Wherefore I turn, turn, turn
Repent in dust and ashes
To live and die in Thee
Wherefore I turn, turn, turn
Repent in dust and ashes
To live and die in Thee
Once I did hear with the hearing of the ear
But now my eyes do see

And so Job and God were reconciled. Then the Lord approached Job’s friends. “You have not spoken of me right or really even known me. Job has.” he said.

Job’s fortunes were restored. He was given children again. This time three daughters. They were named Jemima, Kezia and Keren-happuch. And these daughters were given inheritance equal with their brothers.

After this it is said Job lived a prodigious number of years. And died old and full of days.

(Note: “and full of days” has been dropped from the demo tape.)

The Story of Job was written in 1977 and a demo recording was made in the summer of that year in Connecticut at at an 8 track studio. Stephen C. Rose, vocals and guitar. Bill Horwitz, guitar, base, harmonies. There has never been a public performance of The Story of Job.

Here is the text of God’s speech to Job at the conclusion of the Book of Job:

40:6 Then answered the LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 40:7 Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. 40:8 Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? 40:9 Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? 40:10 Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. 40:11 Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him. 40:12 Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. 40:13 Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret. 40:14 Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.

40:15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox. 40:16 Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. 40:17 He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together. 40:18 His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron. 40:19 He is the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach unto him. 40:20 Surely the mountains bring him forth food, where all the beasts of the field play. 40:21 He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens. 40:22 The shady trees cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about. 40:23 Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth. 40:24 He taketh it with his eyes: his nose pierceth through snares.

41:1 Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? 41:2 Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn? 41:3 Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee? 41:4 Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever? 41:5 Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens? 41:6 Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall they part him among the merchants? 41:7 Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears? 41:8 Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more. 41:9 Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? 41:10 None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me? 41:11 Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine. 41:12 I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion. 41:13 Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can come to him with his double bridle? 41:14 Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. 41:15 His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. 41:16 One is so near to another, that no air can come between them. 41:17 They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered. 41:18 By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. 41:19 Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. 41:20 Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. 41:21 His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. 41:22 In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him. 41:23 The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved. 41:24 His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone. 41:25 When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves. 41:26 The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. 41:27 He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. 41:28 The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. 41:29 Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear. 41:30 Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire. 41:31 He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment. 41:32 He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary. 41:33 Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. 41:34 He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.

story of job

abraham, jesus

If Abraham’s Religions Could All See

If Abraham’s religions could all see
They’d look within and Abba would be there
Where Abba’s been since Jesus set us free
To forge a future loving just and fair.

— Stephen C. Rose

daily meditation
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inspirational thought
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Mark, new testament

"The Community of The New Age" by Howard Kee

Theology Today – Vol 35, No. 1 – April 1978 – BOOK REVIEW – Community of the New Age

Digging back a few years, I once visited the author of the book under discussion but failed to make much contact. Perhaps this review illuminates the difficulty. I was convinced from my “sung Gospel of Mark” — the effect it had on those who participated — that Mark was not primarily an apocalyptic work, but an iconoclastic vehicle for presenting Jesus as the carrier of a new age to humankind, one based on repentance and the receiving of the presence of Abba.

I was also convinced that the fundamental conflict in Mark had to do with the defeat of a pattern of binary thinking — dualistic thinking — reflected in the notion of Satan as an explanation for evil.

The conflict in Mark comes to a head when his overcoming nature which is Abba-infused us taken to be his capitulation to Satan or Beelzebub. Jesus’s passion and death in Mark is primarily the result of the world’s rejection of him and his tesurrection is best understood as vindication.

Or so I have thought. I uncovered this review today as a sort of footnote of my 1970s effort to have a discussion, one which never was joined.

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