Pinterest

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

counting my blessings - perseverance of family movie night

I'm thankful that our family has a tradition of going out to the movie theater together once a month. The theater we go to has $6 tickets on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Sometimes the movies are great, sometimes they don't live up to the hype. Either way, I really like still going out together as a family like we used to when the kids were younger.

We did it tonight. It was opening night for this highly anticipated movie, and our theater does not get crowded, ever.

Great theater. Great family. I am blessed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

counting my blessings - perseverance of public parks

I really like hiking. But there aren't much in the way of mountains here on Connecticut's southeast coast. But we do have great parks. Today, I walked the dog around the big loop of Bluff Point State Park. It was beautiful. I love the coastal forest. I am blessed to have so many great places to take long walks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

counting my blessings - perseverance of the annual get together

For years, before the kids were all adolescents, we had our first Advent gathering with a couple other families. We ate well, the kids played, we sang carols, and went home happy.

We do this almost every year. We talk about getting old. We talk about our kids getting old. We still eat well, the kids don't "play" anymore though, they hang out, and we sing carols (or not).

I'm blessed to know these friends. I'm blessed that our kids are friends. I'm blessed we do this almost every December.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

counting my blessings - all my cubs are home

I like my kids. I brought the oldest one home from school tonight. Now I get to be with all of them at dinner for a few weeks. I am grateful for my nuclear family.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

counting my blessings - the perseverance of the saints at my job

I have worked at the same location for over 20 years now. I have been part of the weekly Bible study there for nearly half that time. As layoffs come and go, as companies are bought and divisions are sold off, the body of Christ has gathered every week to pray together, learn together, and share our spiritual lives together.

Some have a high school diploma and some have Ph.D.s. Some of us are administrative assistants and some are department managers. I am one of the few white males who usually attends; we are Asians and Africans. Many of us learned English as a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language. We are Protestant and Catholic. We are male and female. We are new Christians and seasoned disciples. Some of us quit the job to go to seminary. Some took seminary classes in the evenings and kept our day jobs. Some of us are heavily involved in our churches, and for some of us this is our only church. Sometimes one of the local pastors comes to help our study. Sometimes we do it on our own.

We read the Bible. We ask questions about the reading. We attempt to understand what we read. We tell stories about our lives. We pray for each other.

Sometimes we can't make it to the weekly meeting for months. Yet the group perseveres. All are welcome. All questions are taken seriously. All are loved.

The gates of hell have not prevailed at our Bible study at work. For that, I am grateful.

counting my blessings - Christmas carols

I play in a church band. We play once a month and practice once a week. It is fun for me. This month we are working on Christmas carols.

They are older music.
The melodies are more complex.
The timing is different.
The lyrics are often profound.
They take me our of this decade.
They place me in a bigger context.
They enlarge my world.

They focus me on Jesus.

Monday, December 08, 2014

counting my blessings - perseverance of friends

Today, I met with an old friend and told him I was sorry.

He is a wonderful person and accepted my apology. He had never held that offense against me. He recalls the incident more charitably than I do.

I was apologizing for something I did two decades ago. It had been bugging me for at least a year. I finally overcame my shame of apologizing for something twenty years ago that should have been acknowledged back then.

But this guy is a stand up guy. He forgave quickly and easily.

I know a lot of stand up guys and gals.

I have many, many generous friends. They are generous in love for and tolerance of me.

I am grateful for my friends.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Peace officers

After Mike Brown's murder in Ferguson, I wrote here about the possibility of a different response to critical situations by police. Since other countries have far fewer fatal police - perpetrator engagements, there must be another way for the United States to do it. De-escalation is possible. Today, I came across an article discussing this very topic, it's implementation in the US, and its impact so far.


Can Different Training Make Police Officers Guardians, Not Warriors?
Here are a couple highlights.

By January 2014, more than 8,000 Police Academy graduates had been schooled in the new curriculum — which teaches officers to be responsive, impartial, respectful and fair....

“The most common corresponding emotion to fear is anger, and anger does not facilitate ongoing compliance,” he adds. “We teach recruits that when they mistreat people they actually may make that person more dangerous.”.........

In the wake of the Mike Brown shooting, one city, Richmond, California, emerged as the poster child for the police reform movement for going five years without a single fatal shooting by its officers despite the city’s long history of violent crime. Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus credits the achievement to the expanded use of non-lethal weapons and monthly firearms training focused on accuracy and accountability.
           Over the last five years, the Richmond PD has expended just eight bullets on five people. That’s nearly as many bullets that Officer Darren Wilson fired into Mike Brown. (It’s worth noting that Wilson’s grand jury testimony also suggests that Ferguson police are given the discretion over whether to carry non-lethal weapons such as Tasers.)

Go read the rest of the article. It is encouraging.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

counting my blessings - perseverance of the bicycle commute

I bought myself this bike around my birthday in 2009. Wintertime is a great season in New England to find bicycles on sale. I wrote a review on it back then.

I bought another bike a few years afterwards, but this one is my favorite.

I ride in all seasons, as long as the path is not icy, or unplowed, or wet. Wet is no fun, but cold can be dealt with by more layers.

My ride to work is only 6 and a half miles. But it can take me 30-45 minutes, depending on how my legs are feeling. It's all hills. I'm riding in comfort, not speed. Also, I am less about the destination and more about the journey. This journey is my blessing.

I listen to a podcast, or the news, or some music. I get to hear the critters on the parts of the path that are off the road. I see the same faces over the years. Some have nicer bikes than me. Some are older than me. Some are walking. Some sleep in the woods off the path. In the winter, I see fewer people out, mostly those who do not have options. A couple are true believers in year round cycling in Connecticut.

I like the time on my bike to think. Even when I have my earbuds in, my brain will drift from the words, distracted by the views up the Thames River, or pursue an idea mentioned as an aside. I will think about what I will make for dinner or which child I need to pick up from somewhere.

The bicycle commute is a buffer between work and family. The exercise can destress me, except when cars nearly brush me off the road, which happens more often than it should. On those occasions, I consider my mortality.

To choose the harder, slower thing usually ends up as with the greater reward.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

my blessings - Perseverance of the Lord's Prayer

When I'm left speechless, I have this gift from Jesus that keeps on giving.

Our Father who are in heaven......I need someone bigger than the most powerful country in the world, who is above all, knows all, and can bring justice to all.

Hallowed be your name........all other names are corrupt, the United States of America, the justice system.

Let your kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven......bring to earth the ethos of love of neighbor, of justice, of mercy.

Give us this day our daily bread....because in weeks like this, our food is tears, where justice is denied to minorities, where men of color are presumed guilty until proven innocent, if they survive to be proven innocent. Without hope in you our souls will starve.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.....Forgive us of cynicism, despair, nihilism, self-righteous anger, selfishness, and forgive those who murder out of fear and selfishness, cynicism and nihilism. Because if we don't forgive, who will?

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.......Some of us are tempted to take vengeance, a role that belongs to you. Lead us away from subtracting what little good is left and towards the path that can only be seen with eyes of faith. Align our hearts with yours and not with the accuser.

Hebrews 11: 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

my blessings - perseverance of the gay saints

Keeping with my commitment to count my blessings this Advent season of 2014 I raise my glass to the gay saints in America. This group knows how to persevere despite the buffeting from the wider culture as well as the smaller church culture they don't quit on. When I want to quit, I think of their struggle to see Jesus when his people, their brothers and sisters, represent him as hateful and bigoted, as I have in the past.

This blessing stood out to me yesterday as I listened to an interview with Jennifer Knapp, a Christian singer/songwriter who lost her very large church fan base when she came out of the closet. Her interview appeared on the BadChristian Podcast # 48. Two things in this interview lodged in my memory. The three guys interviewing her asked her how she felt about them believing homosexual activity is a sin. (To be fair to them, they think elevating sexual sin over any other is wrong of the church, and they all admit to their own sins.) She responded with so much grace and confidence. With grace she told them she's fine with them being where they are on their faith journeys. With confidence I think she knows she stands in the place of love, and that well meaning people seeking true love will end up near her. She did not sound threatened at all. Her peace encouraged me so much.

The second thing in the interview is a story she told about a friend who she initially avoided. She describes an evangelistic pentecostal guy, who leads people to Jesus and is open to the supernatural encounters with God's Spirit, who is a gay drag queen. He kept showing up at her shows until she stopped fearing him and got to know him. His life is much more complicated and confrontational of our culture's norms than hers, but both of them have not given up on Jesus as he has not given up on them.

There are other gay Christians who love Jesus and want the church to know how great is the love of God for them and the world. I am blessed by them.
Blessings on
Jennifer Knapp and the crew at BadChristian
Vicky Beeching
Justin Lee
Matthew Vines

Monday, December 01, 2014

my blessings - perseverance of the black saints

My personal challenge for the Advent 2014 season is to count my blessings.

I saw on Richard Beck's blog today a post on counting our blessings as the cheapest form of therapy. I tend to see the shadows instead of the light that makes them possible. Thus, I miss the light and the ensuing joy.

Today's blessing is the perseverance of the black saints. I am not speaking in Calvinistic terms though. I'm speaking of the black american saints, who persevere despite the social opposition they endure daily. The opposition that has come to the forefront of a national conversation sparked by Ferguson. Many of their white brothers and sisters in the church, and some of their non-white brothers and sisters, are not interested in their painful stories. But they persevere.

Jesus talks about them. They are the proof to Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew 5.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Christena Cleveland wrote a beautiful advent reflection this week which helps me so much.
Advent is an invitation to plunge into the deep, dark waters of our worst world, knowing that when we re-surface for air we will encounter the hopeful, hovering Spirit of God. For when we dive into the depths of our worst world, we reach a critical point at which our chocolate and pageants no longer satiate our longing for hope – and we are liberated by this realization. Indeed, the light of true hope is found in the midst of darkness. 

So, this Advent season, let’s engage and lament darkness as we seek the Light. In doing so, we participate in the ancient longing of the coming Messiah — a longing that began when the earth was still formless and empty, persevered in the hearts of Anna and Simeon, and continues today.

Advent/Darkness
Advent/Ferguson
Advent/Hunger
Advent/Apathy
Advent/Fatherlessness...[go read the rest]
I'm thankful for a sister who has shown me how to not drown in despair over our society's inhumanity to it's less privileged members.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Repressed dignity and the "Liberation Complex"

I took vacation days before the Thanksgiving break to enjoy an entire week of vacation. Enjoyment for me includes reading big and difficult books. This week I read the final installment of Rick Atkinson's World War 2 trilogy, The Guns at Last Light. In light of this week's riots in Ferguson, Missouri after the grand jury conclusion, this observation of Atkinson's struck me.

Liberated prisoners from German work/prison/extermination camps were asked to "'Keep disclipline ...Let your behavior be a credit to your national honor.'"
Instead, starvation, revenge, indiscipline, and chaos often created what Allied officers called a "liberation complex." SHAEF had presumed refugees "would be tractable, grateful, and powerless after their domination from two to five years as the objects of German slave policies." As an Army assessment concluded, "They were none of these things...newly liberated persons looted, robbed, murdered, and in some cases destroyed their own shelter." Freed laborers plundered houses in the Ruhr, burning furniture for cook fires and discarding slave rags to dress in business suits, pajamas, and evening clothes ransacked from German wardrobes. p.599
Domination by their German oppressors did not extinguish their spirits, but capped them, either to die with their bodies or to explode upon their liberation. This liberation complex manifested even more drastically when the Americans reached Dachau.
Other prisoners cornered kapos and suspected informers, clubbing them with shovels. Howling inmates pursued remaining Waffen-SS troops, some of whom were masquerading in prison garb. "They tore the Germans apart by hand," a soldier reported. Rabbi Eichhorn, who arrived at Dachau that afternoon, wrote, "We stood aside and watched while there guards were beaten to death, beaten so badly that their bodies were ripped open... We watched with less feeling than if a dog were being beaten." Inmates desecrated dead and dying Germans with sticks and rocks, crushing skulls and severing fingers. One guard's "body was strewn all over the place," a witness reported, arms out of sockets." p. 612
I believe most, if not all, of my friends on Facebook can sympathize with the response of these liberated prisoners, yet several cannot see how the same "Liberation Complex" is in play in Ferguson, Missouri.

Martin Luther King, Jr. also wrote of this in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," 1963. Every paragraph in this letter is a facet of a majestic jewel. If only every reader of this blog would read King's letter in its entirety. I offer one paragraph here with a few pertinent highlights.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Some of my Facebook friends tell me this mess in Ferguson is not about racism. I think racism, when defined by those with privilege, is never committed. A better term is needed. This is about human dignity. I've been sharing multiple perspectives of black Americans on Facebook so my white friends can hear for themselves why this is a human dignity issue. A majority white grand jury, overseeing a white police officer in a nearly all white police station with a long history of dignity-stripping of a black neighborhood, cannot gloss over this repression of dignity. When a young black man is executed at 150 feet from an officer whose procedural guidelines encouraged rather than discouraged escalation of emotions and instead of clear thinking, injustice is apparent to all who want to change the status quo. The status quo strips dignity from neighbors and their moment when the national press descends enables a "Liberation Complex" in Ferguson, a bubbling up of suppressed human dignity, with mixed results.

Dr. Christina Cleveland, a Christian social psychologist (who is also a black American) observes,
       Yesterday, my neighbor broke down while we talked about the realities of police brutality toward young black men. Her hands trembled and tears showered her face. Experiencing the unique mixture of rage and sorrow that black moms know well, she described the numerous ways in which the local police have already treated her 8 year old son like an animal.
        Based on data from communities all over the U.S., a recent study found that local police officers kill black men nearly two times a week. Beyond this, black men suffer from the crushing indignity of being regularly stopped and frisked, harassed by the police for simply “driving while black”, and generally assumed guilty before proven innocent.
...............
       Seeing the suffering Christ in these young men isn’t achieved by theological gymnastics, deep pity, or altruism. It’s done by listening to their stories, sharing life, standing in solidarity with them, and experiencing their rage.
      I’ve written elsewhere that when oppressed people are angry, privileged people should listen up.

It is hard to listen. If a friend tells us that something we are doing causes them great pain, wouldn't we at least listen? Can we listen to a neighbor who tells us we are hurting them? Can we see Christ among the least of these? If Christ is not asking for a glass of water but empathy, do we tell him to bug off, as the Bible does not literally commend empathy, just water or clothes? Can we invite the stranger in, to hear their story, to acknowledge their humanity, their pain, their struggle, their dignity? See Jesus's teaching in Matthew 25: 40-45. Can we join with protestors in Ferguson and MLK, Jr. and Jesus Christ and be extremists for love?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 10 - women as spoils of war

Dear Johnboy
The extremist Islamic partisan group ISIS, has made headlines for their wholesale slaughter of infidels, defined by them as anyone who does not share their strain of religion. The headline above those headlines is their treatment of captive women and children who are enslaved either for labor or for sex.

Here is a first person account in the Washington Post of a 14 year old Yazidi girl who was captured, enslaved, and rescued.
Here is a video and story in the Daily Mail of ISIS fighters discussing the purchase of captured girls and their prices.
Here is a CNN story with ISIS's theological justification for the treatment of captured women.

Nauseating, isn't it?

As you know from your history reading, ISIS's behavior is not unique to conquering armies. Unfortunately, their behavior is biblical. But then, not everything biblical is Christian.

Here is the biblical case for the capture and enslavement of human beings. When Israel is not attacking cities genocidally, Moses gives them this plan in Deuteronomy 20.
10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
In the next chapter, the instructions for women as war spoils gets more specific. Deuteronomy 21,
10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
Numbers 31 counts virgin women among the spoils to be divided among the tribes. Before the rise of ISIS, the theoretical defense of God-ordained sex slavery was a little easier for Christian apologists. Their defenses of Israelite behavior fill up the first few search engine results when researching Old Testament women as war spoils. The defenses range from, those evil nations were shown mercy by letting some survive to God only allowed that for a certain time. None of these defenses explore the corollary of those assertions, women who "survive" only to live a life of rape/concubinage, often prefer death, and God for a while in his relationship with humanity thought rape/concubinage was not a bad idea.

A commitment to inerrancy, the fundamentalist belief that everything in the Bible is God-breathed, forces good people to explain wicked passages with wicked defenses. But when you read the Bible through Jesus's lens, as he is the full and final picture of God, the Word of God revealed in the New Testament, concealed in the Old Testament, you can say, God would never condone the treatment of women (human beings) that way so God could not have commanded this. You can also say, if Moses did write this, he is revealing his own depraved humanity, not the good and loving God.

None of these conclusions takes away from the value of the Old Testament. The story worth seeing is that God has grace on utterly depraved people. This is why Jesus tells us that loving our friends and not enough. He calls us to love our enemies. He modeled this enemy love when he was lynched, crucified on a cross. Jesus wants us to emulate him. He loves Romans and Jewish religious leaders. He loves invading soldiers, both Israelis with Moses, and insurgents with ISIS. He loves the women who are violated, and the soldiers who violate them. He loves the people who misrepresent him.

Jesus offers salvation to all of them. This is the scandal of God's grace.

The war rules of ancient Israel are biblical, but not Christ-like, because not everything biblical is Christian.

Series review----------------------
This is part ten of the series, Not everything Biblical is ChristianPart one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story. Part nine asks who would Jesus hate?

Friday, November 07, 2014

book response: The Bible Tells Me So... by Peter Enns (2014)

Every book that I have read about critical Biblical scholarship and Biblical theology has been a difficult read until the new book by Enns, The Bible Tells Me So...why defending scripture has made us unable to read it. At points, it is laugh out loud funny. Dr. Enns, a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University practices the Sound of Music maxim, "a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down."

I'd say most American evangelicals like C.S. Lewis so much that he gets a free pass on his non-fundamentalist ways. But that means some of his books are not as popular among us evangelicals, like his Reflections on the Psalms. But Enns wants us to know he is not writing anything crazier than what Lewis wrote, and if we aren't keeping Lewis out of heaven, we shouldn't immediately write Enns off either. Enns opens with a quote from said book of Lewis's.
The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not 'the Word of God' in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its message.  p. vii
If the reader does not fear Lewis, then she need not fear Enns.

Enns addresses three big issues in the Bible apparent to any of us who read it often (and have for a long time): God ordained killing/genocide; unverifiable Bible history, and Biblical disagreements/contradictions.

The first topic is very interesting to me as I have been wrestling with the concept of Biblical genocide for years. Enns reviews the typical evangelical//fundamentalist responses to this problem and the teaching of Christ, who is presented in the New Testament as the clearest manifestation of God. I have heard all these responses. I have even used them. But they do not satisfy. Enns proposal is the command to kill all the Canaanites is not God's command, contrary to the claims in the Bible. Just because Moses or Joshua supposedly say God told them to massacre Canaanites, does not mean that they said it or that God told them to say it. The latter part makes sense in light of Jesus' teaching on enemy love. The first part is riskier for American evangelicals who have made inerrancy creedal. However, Enns gives many examples of why this "creed" is more work than it is worth. Enns is able to do this with humility and humor. He let's us eavesdrop on scholastic conversations across the ages and Bible reading communities.

My book is full of highlights. There is at least one passage underlined every third page in my copy. I can't even begin to pick my favorites to share.

This is the end result of his observations;  the Bible is a collection of conversations about God, sometimes made by assuming God's voice. For Christians, the key to discerning which voice correctly represents God is Jesus and his teaching as presented in the New Testament. Trying to force every statement to agree, even when they contradict, is to miss the forest for the trees.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

on me not getting the Romans 1 clobber verses

Let me say it for any critics. I'm stupid. I'm blind. I am an ally of minorities, including sexual minorities. I do that poorly as well. This is one stupid, blind guy's attempt at re-reading Romans 1.

I am trying to continually learn.

Today, my reading plan took me into the beginning of Romans, St. Paul's magnum opus on grace and faith. Romans 1 is called a clobber passage because it seems to categorize all homosexuality as bad. Here is the second half of the first chapter.
Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.  
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.  
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.  
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
My mind goes a couple ways with this passage.

One direction is to a past conversation I had with at church, before I was an ally. The context was the rise of gay marriage and all the gays. Knowing this passage, I spoke like Balaam's ass and said, "maybe this is God's judgment on our country," in effect saying, our country is being punished by Jesus with an onslaught of gay people. Even as I said it, I knew how stupid it sounded. I sounded Biblical, but not Christ-like. Paul's argument seems to be, "people were wicked and idolatrous, therefore, because of this, in other words, as a consequence, God turned them gay, men and women. Before, they were hetero idol worshipers, then they became homo idol worshipers by an act of God." God makes people gay. It's not their choice or by demonic possession.

Has this ever happened in anyone's experience? that is anyone reading this blog. The testimonies of gay Christians that I know and read is orientation has been fixed from childhood, whether raised in the church or later converted to the faith. Strength of orientation is different for everyone, full on hetero, no preference, full on homo. The norm for human beings is mostly hetero. But the flipping of the switch Paul talks about does not seem to happen. Gay conversion therapy has a very poor success rate and that is a long process but people desperate for its success. I do know of people who have left straight relationships for gay ones, but they would say they are bi-sexual, or were trying to make themselves straight by marrying hetero. There are also stories of those leaving gay relationships for straight, for the same reasons. But none of these straight to gay stories include idol-worshiping. The only unnatural relationships were the mixed orientation marriages that were a mistake from their beginnings.

"Natural" and "shameful" are interesting adjectives for Paul. In his first letter to the church in Corinth he also uses these categories,
1 Cor. 11:13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
When I was a young man, who tried to follow Jesus as best I could, I had long hair. I know in some church circles I was a disgrace, because those circles were Biblical. Yet some believers in those same circles thought this assertion of Paul was not applicable to today. In their minds, Paul was speaking to a local situation in Corinth. In their minds, the "nature of things" in Corinth was not applicable to all cultures across all times, not unlike Paul's teaching on slavery.

Maybe the nature of some other things in the early Mediterranean basin church culture are also not applicable to today's culture. The rest of Romans chapter 1, after the gay clobber passage, seems familiar to our human condition across all times and cultures. Verse 31 in particular stands out to me, "they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy." Over the past 25 years, I have sought to understand my gay friends and neighbors and fellow believers. This understanding, which has taken way too long, has revealed to me my lack of love and mercy towards them, and in some cases my lack of fidelity to them when I judged them false believers. I am among the condemned in Romans 1. My gay friends, neighbors, and siblings in the family of God are not victims of God's judgment for idol worshiping. They do not need to repent of their orientation or their relationships. We need to repent of the same things, selfishness, love of self more than each other or God. Part of my repentance is becoming an LGBTQ ally.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 9 - Who would Jesus hate? WWJH

Dear Johnboy,

Forget WWJD, you need to figure out WWJH, Who Would Jesus Hate. Because there are some verses in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that declare God's hatred for some people. In fact Jesus even commands us to hate some people.

Wait a second. God can't tell us he loves the world in one place then tell us to hate those he in fact loves, can he? Is he self-contradictory? Is one of these paths the Christian way and one not?

Some Christians, really intelligent ones even, refuse to resolve this tension and hold these opposite commands in tension. They refuse to prioritize "God is love" and believe that the God who is love hates. Here is a link to one example. Here are a couple videos (1, 2) of pastors preaching about God hating people. We all agree the Westboro Baptist Family Cult focuses on the hate verses and tries to share the bad news as often as they can.

The thing is, does hate mean what we think it means in the Bible? There is little help from the original languages. Hate means hate in Greek, as well. You have to look at context and genre to figure this all out. For example, Jesus tells us to hate in order to be true believers.
Luke 14:26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
I don't think even the Westboro folks take this verse literally and hate each other. Then again, hardly anyone takes the next verse literally either and lugs crosses around. How can we not take Jesus literally here? Well Jesus has a tendency to say crazy things, like this one from the Sermon on the Mount,
Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
Jesus is not speaking literally, he is speaking literarily. There is a term for this in literature, it's called hyperbole. Here is a definition from wikipedia, "the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally."

The Bible is chock full of hyperbole. In fact some evangelicals appeal to this literary device in regards to Joshua's genocidal conquest of the promised land. In brief, the detailed command to kill every living thing was hyperbolic and not literal and the history recorded after the command agrees that plenty of enemy nations that were supposedly destroyed were living and breathing quite well. For more on this, check out my book report here. When the Psalmist says in 5:5 that God hates all sinners, he certainly cannot believe himself sinless. The fundagelical work-around is to insert a silent prefix, God hates all (unrepentant) sinners.

The reason this is done, is because no one takes this literally. Instead of inserting silent adjectives, the simplest solution is to understand hatred is a de-prioritization. Jesus's challenge in Luke's gospel, the first verse above, is not to let our love of family exceed our love of Jesus.

We know God loves the world. We know Jesus wants us to love our enemies. We know Jesus wants us to turn the other cheek when we are struck. We know when we see Jesus, we see God clearer than anywhere else in the Bible. We see Jesus asking God to forgive his killers. Killing Jesus couldn't be an easier way to get God to hate you, but Jesus, is not hating but still loving.

Who does Jesus hate? No one. What would Jesus do? Tell people God loves them. Tell people stop eating the apple of temptation and turning towards death and darkness. Tell people to put the apple down, and turn towards life, light, and healing. God does not send sunshine and happy days only on the good people. According to Jesus, he sends sun and rain on those whose posture is closed to him as well as those who are open to him. Jesus says,
Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  
Perfection is found in the way of love. God keeps pouring out his love. He does not have hate to pour out. Can salt water come from a fresh water spring? Likewise, can hate come from love? How the love is received though depends on our posture towards God. When we receive his love we feel blessed, when we reject his love, we feel oppressed. St. Paul wrote
Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
What does God's wrath and vengeance look like? Just like his love. It all depends on if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and open arms to receive. Eastern Orthodoxy thinks hell is the afterlife condition of those who refuse to see or hear or receive God's love. God who is love keeps emitting love, a blessing to those who receive it and oppression to those who reject it. What is light and life and goodness to those who believe and receive is darkness, heat, and misery to those who refuse God's kindness.

Westboro Baptist, among others, believe in a false Jesus, the "asshole Jesus" (who happens to have his own twitter account). You have friends who have rejected a Christianity based on asshole Jesus, the one who hates. You have embraced asshole Jesus, and have taught about him. He's easier to see in the Bible because that is the Jesus more like you. The God of love is so foreign to you, that you stick with what is safer and easier and more popular. But the God who is love is so much better. You need to find Jesus who is God who is love. Not everything biblical is Christian.


Series review----------------------
This is part nine of the series, Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the  Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed how one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

When Jesus was unclean

This topic is an addendum to my last post in the series, Not everything Biblical is Christian, Part 8 - Jesus and nocturnal emission laws. I concluded that post by saying, "I still don't know where Jesus is in this passage, Deuteronomy 23:10"
If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp: 11 But it shall be, when evening cometh on, he shall wash himself with water: and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again. 
The King James version is more of the Hebrew to English word for word translation. The modern versions are more explicit about what the Hebrew alludes to "in happenings of the night."
10 "If any man among you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp. He shall not come inside the camp, 11 but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp. ESV
Since I raised the question last week, I've been mulling it over, what does this have to do with Jesus? The question before this question is why does this have to do with Jesus?

There are two things Jesus said that make me ask why. In John's gospel when he is disputing with the Jewish religious leaders he says, 5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me... And in his Sermon on the Mount he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them." Matthew 5:17. These assertions by Jesus are why I look for him in the Old Testament. But not everything is a picture, type, metaphor or allegory of Jesus. Whatever is not Jesus concealed provides a setting for him and his life in 1st century Israel.

This rule in Deuteronomy 23:10, which is also in Leviticus 15:16 and (maybe) Numbers 5:2*, is context for Jesus' life. Jesus lived a normal human life, without sin as he is fully God, yet he is fully human as well. Human males, as they enter puberty, start to produce gametes in their gonads that are typically emitted nocturnally. In the vernacular, teenage boys have wet dreams. According to the Jewish law, this made them unclean. Since Jesus was normal, he must have experienced normal adolescent boy ceremonial uncleanliness.

A Jesus without sin is hard to fully identify with. But a Jesus who experienced uncleanliness, (and later rejected such laws and rules) is one who I know has felt another dimension of our souls. Because of this realization, that only comes from pondering some obscure rules in the Mosaic laws, I have a fresh encounter with my savior. These weird laws, for me, make Jesus more immanent. I wish I could have heard these verses taught this way when I was 12 years old.

* For some additional thoughts on the weirdness in Numbers 5, see my blog post from April 2014.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

(Not) everything Biblical is Christian. Part 8 - Jesus and nocturnal emission laws

Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 8. See part onetwothreefourfivesix and seven to catch up. See the briefest of reviews at the bottom.

Dear Johnboy

I know if you read this ten years ago, you would write me off, because I am not dealing with one of those verses you memorized repeatedly through your AWANA childhood.
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I want to clarify how I can agree with verse 16 and write a series called, Not everything Biblical is Christian.

As I tried to remind you of those topics and issues in the Bible that bothered you, and did not align with who Jesus is, as revealed in the gospels, I wanted you to understand that the Bible is not flat. Jesus and the New Testament is unashamed in asserting that a new and better paradigm has arrived. It's like the ending of a great 66 installment story. For example, at the end of the Harry Potter series you learned why Snape was a good guy, despite all his actions that indicated otherwise. Until that reveal, you were certain Snape was working for Voldemort, or was about to turn back to him. After learning the truth about Snape, everything he did was cast in a new light.

I am not saying Snape is a representation of Jesus. What I am saying, as Jesus himself says, is the Old Testament reveals Jesus. As Jesus says in John's gospel
John 5:37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
It could be since you know the solution to the mystery that is the Bible, it's less interesting to play "Where's Jesus" and instead want to become a master at versa obscura and versa obnoxia. As John says in the opening of his gospel, Jesus is the revealed word of God in the flesh. Your task in reading the obscure laws of Moses is not to figure out how to apply to your life rules on mildewed houses and nocturnal emission cleanliness rites, nor is it to talk about how avoiding pork is God's wisdom for all ages. Your task is to seek Jesus, as the church has done since the beginning.

Twice in Hebrews, the temple and its rituals are described as shadows (Hebrews 8:5, 10:1). Before the light appeared, all these things in the OT were complicated and obscure. After the light appeared, what was concealed is now revealed. Shadows and types are replaced with clarity.

It's Jesus who talks about God as Father. Jesus gets God correct. Because of Jesus we know God is love. The Eastern Orthodox church uses this concept as the starting point for all theology. They don't start from the beginning of the series. The answer is in the back. God is love.

Let me assure you that even though not everything Biblical is Christian, Jesus is hiding throughout the scriptures, that is why they are God-breathed and useful. You will enjoy the beginning of the book much more if you use your time in those parts of the Bible looking for Jesus, and imposing back on them the correct view of God, as revealed by/in/through Jesus. Sometimes Jesus stands in contrast to them. Sometimes he fulfills the typology. Sometimes you will scratch your head.

I still don't know where Jesus is in this passage though. Deuteronomy 23:10 If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he is to go outside the camp and stay there. 11 But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to the camp.


Review----------------------
Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the  Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 7 - Slavery

Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 7. See part onetwothreefourfive and six to catch up. See the briefest of reviews at the bottom.

Dear Johnboy

Here is a short summary of the reasons American Christians before the Civil War believed slavery was biblical. They used Bible verses. They used Old Testament and New Testament verses.

Recall the previous letter, part 6. In Acts we see the church retaining a few Old Testament rules but shortly thereafter, dropping even those. Paul says to the church in Corinth, "look, if you want to eat food sacrificed to idols, fine, just don't flaunt it." As far as Paul is concerned, the loving your neighbor law is the one that matters. Otherwise, food is food. We see this principle in action - the church continues to figure out what loving our neighbors looks like.

After the apostles died, some people in the church realized that owning a slave is not the way one would love oneself, thus not fulfilling Christ's Golden Rule. This took centuries to gain widespread acceptance. Shameful, I know. Even great revivalist theologians in America did not see slavery that way. For example Jonathan Edwards owned an African slave and George Whitefield not only owned slaves, while leading the First Great Awakening, he successfully argued against Georgia's anti-slavery laws. As you know, America could not settle this topic theologically, but by an horrific civil war. the south was deeply Christian, yet it seems they were more biblical than Christian.

The early church did not oppose the culture of slavery, but accommodated it. Most of the early church's converts were poor, even slaves themselves, yet slave owners were also welcomed into the fellowship. The cultural imagination of the church was limited. Eventually, the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of individuals who began to champion the idea that slavery, though Biblical, did not conform to Christ's law of love.

Here is the cultural (Biblical) imagination the church eventually abandoned, as reflected in Exodus 21.
20 Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
That is an unhappy story. Yet it serves as part of Jesus' story.  It's the culture he comes from and he challenges this culture by fulfilling it. He considers himself a slave. He tells his disciples that the greatest in his kingdom is the slave to everyone else. Jesus's kingdom is not based on power, but on love expressed through submission and service. Jesus acted as a house slave when he washed his disciples' feet at their Last Supper before his crucifixion. Jesus honors the slave by acting the slave. It is our error to take advantage of slaves, instead of serving them, and if we are to serve them how can we own them. Jesus famously says, whatever we do to the least of these, we do to him. How can we beat him? Jesus is incarnate in the least among us. This is the Christ-like approach to the world.

This is a good story. It is good news. If you want to argue biblically against slavery, you will lose. If you want to argue from Jesus' law of love, you win, because that single proof text of the Golden Rule cannot be overruled. It overrules every other one.

As imperfect human beings, growing into maturity as followers of Jesus, we get this wrong. We don't serve everyone. We do take advantage of the least of these, not to the extent of those  before us. George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards got it really wrong. You will as well. Hopefully, you will stop appealing to Biblical excuses to act like an anti-Christ. Please understand, not everything Biblical is Christian.



Review----------------------
Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the  Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts.