Monday, May 30, 2016

I am a conservative, white, American Christian

I am a conservative white christian and I fled Europe for religious freedom.

In 1635 I banished Roger Williams from Plymouth because he exercised religious freedom and thought differently. As St. Paul says, if anyone preaches a different gospel, let him be accursed.

In 1692-93 I supported the execution of 20 people, most of them women, for the crime of witchcraft.

I continually applied rules of property exchange to the indigenous tribes who did not operate in the same way. When they realized we were taking advantage of them, and subsequently lashed out at us, we killed their women, children, and old in places like Mystic Connecticut.

I converted the indigenous people to my Christian faith which necessarily included a culture that looked and acted like mine. But my fellow white American christians did not like living near them, so we gathered them into "praying towns." As we encroached on their homelands, we forced them farther away. When they didn't convert, we would enslave them and sell them to sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

I led revivals among fellow whites, who didn't know they were sinners in the hands of an angry God, holding them by a thread over a white hot fire, because that's what the Bible said. Meanwhile, I owned African men, women and children, because the Bible does not condemn slavery.

Religious liberals condemned slavery. They were deists, Quakers, unitarians, and even atheists. They had no Bible verses. In response to these liberals I made laws banning the unilateral freeing of slaves. I also made laws requiring escaped slaves to be returned. I fought a war of rebellion to protect my right to own fellow human beings. I joined in fasts and prayer vigils, asking God to deliver us from an oppressive federal government.

Communists and religious liberals argued for the right of employees to have rights to living wages, limited hours, days off, and age limits. The Bible does not support these things, especially when communists demand them. They are godless and anything they ask cannot be from God.

As slaves were freed and workers were allowed to make demands on employers, we started down a slippery slope. Soon everyone would want the same rights I as a conservative white American christian had. Unexpectedly, women demanded the right to vote. As St. Paul writes, women are easily deceived and cannot be trusted in such matters.

I refused to become political when black Americans also demanded to be treated equally. They did not like substandard schools, bus seats, voting restrictions, wages or criminal justice. I refused to march with them. As St. Paul says, God has placed our governments over us to keep order. They were disturbing the order. I would not get involved with them. Communists and Jews did. They are all Christ haters.

Women again wanted more rights. We let them vote and work with us, they did not want to stay home and raise children. They wanted equal pay for equal work. They wanted the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies. They wanted the right to divorce abusive spouses. God hates divorce. Feminists hate God.

Next on the slippery slope to godless communism, homosexuals demanded civil rights. It's clear from the writings of St. Paul that God hates fags. They are all going to hell for rejecting the ancient faith. If they are given equal rights God will judge our nation. We will become communist.

Then those gays wanted to have access to marriage contract rights. Well I wrote a constitutional amendment to defend heterosexual marriage. If I did not, God would judge the nation.

I told gay kids in my church they could not be gay. They had to repent. God would help them un-gay themselves.

Now trans kids would like to be accepted. I do not understand their thinking. It does not fit into my Biblical categories or favorite texts. So I will defer to my conservative approach. If it's new, it's wrong. I don't pay attention to those verses about making all things new or forgiveness for the whole world or their is neither male nor female, slave or free or the greatest of these is love. New things terrify a conservative christian male like myself. I prefer to drive in the passing lane, instead of meander on the margins of the road, looking for the wounded and injured.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Parable of the Fig Tree

I live in Connecticut where we have plenty of pick-your-own apple orchards to visit in the autumn. I love the crazy looking old trees like this one. They look like a lost cause, but the only reason they are around is because they can still pop out the fruit in season. These warped trees are especially fun when you can still put your kids on your shoulders to "help" you pick the fruit. However, these trees can also be fragile. This is not a tree I would let my helpers play on. The deformity does not prevent it from producing fruit, but the deformity does make it susceptible to damage. In other words, there is plenty of fruit to be had if we protect the tree from stresses that other trees could endure. Additionally, much of this tree's productivity would be limited if it were brought into conformity with how a tree should look like. To judge the tree and take a saw to it before it has an opportunity to demonstrate its fruit production would be foolish.

In Luke's gospel, chapter 13 Jesus tells a brief story about a fruit tree and patience.

Luke 13:6-9 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

My previous on treating our transgendered neighbors as equal human beings in need of some public accommodation generated a heated discussion on my Facebook account. It seemed to me that those who disagreed with my idea were those who saw their neighbors unacceptable to God as long as they lived out their transgender identities. Transgendered neighbors are expected to conform to their equipment and expected to repent of their sin of transgenderism and choose to not be transgender anymore by the grace of God (even though there is no proof text condemning transgenderism in the Bible that I know of). However, as @XianJaneway shared on Twitter, the church has an extremely high tolerance and patience for child molesters who look fine externally but bear mealy, wormy, poisonous and harmful fruit in their lives. The examples are practically new every day...the Catholic church moving rapist priests around, rapist missionary boarding school teachers, rapist pastors, pastors who defend predatory parishioners. All of them claim God's grace. And congregations will even give that grace, foolishly. The offenders know all the right words, dress all the right ways, help all the right people, but are socially dangerous people. Transgendered people are not dangerous. Even when they can say the right things, even when they can exhibit the good Christ like fruit of love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control, so many can't make time to wait and see.

I don't know about fig trees, but an apple tree around here can take up to five years before it starts to produce fruit. The church that demands branches sawn off to conform to what a tree should look like in their group, may miss out on an extremely abundant production of good fruit. "Ugly," non-nonconforming trees might be the most productive in the orchard if left to the Caretaker instead of the criticism of all the other trees.

Friday, May 13, 2016

getting opposite "feels" for trans people

The national conversation on transgendered persons has boiled down to feelings.

Some feelings are of the "creeped out" strain.

Some feelings are of the religiously guided form.

But feelings are not a useful guide to policy on civil rights.

Because some of the people do not have "creeped out" feelings.

Some people are religiously guided to acceptance.

Feelings do not move towards solutions on a political level.

Fortunately, our country is guided on the principle of no state church. All religions are treated equally. All minorities are entitled to the same civil rights as the majority.

So if feelings and religious sentiments are not valid considerations for guiding civil policy, what is left? Facts and figures of the observable and reproducible variety.

Transgendered persons are a normal variant of the human species, just like intersexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, and bisexuality. For all of these, the outworking of these genders and sexes does not harm anyone else, including willing intimate partners. This is a fact. Fear of national judgment by the deity of your understanding is a feeling not a fact. Fear of nor disgust with non-majority sexuality/gender identity is a feeling not a fact. Not understanding that sexual organs does not always correspond to gender identity could lead to those feelings, and education can solve that.

Facts are that ostracism of minorities from their fully entitled civil rights leads to higher suicide rates among adolescents and poorer mental and physical and even economic health, inhibiting the pursuit of "life, liberty, and ... happiness."

Comparing those with harmless minority gender identities/sexuality with harmful proclivities is a category mistake which can cause mental, emotional, and physical damage to the harmless minorities. One lawmaker compared a trans person to an anorexic, saying both need treatment. However, an anorexic is slowly committing suicide, whereas a trans or gay adolescent is also more likely to attempt suicide than his or her peers. For the first, intensive intervention is necessary to prevent death, for the other, social acceptance, recognition and accommodation will also prevent death.

Some people are born with an arrested sexual attraction to children who can never be consenting partners. When pedophiles and pederasts have intercourse with children it is always rape. In pure numbers, most convicted pedophiles are heterosexual. Their sexual compulsion as rapists brings them often to occupations of trust around children, often in churches and education settings. Children need to be protected from them. This is a fact. Children do not need to be protected from transgendered people. Transgender homicides and suicide are very high for their population. They need to be protected from society, which is why they are entitled to their full civil rights.

We are entitled to our feelings, but when it comes to policy, we have to look at data. Trans people have been using restrooms for ages without issues. Suddenly, those civil rights they have enjoyed, though usually without the majority's knowledge, are being threatened, putting them at risk of violence in public restrooms by those with wounded feelings. Those are facts. Facts need to guide our discussion on civil rights.

Cartoon and more great artwork from David Hayward, the Naked Pastor.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Bible is literary and sometimes literal Part 2: Jesus words

I heard this proof text used today from Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew's gospel , Matt.5:17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." This occurs in the same message where he overrides Moses' eye for an eye teaching.

Fundamentalist Johnny (FJ) would use this proof text to retain whatever Old Testament moral teaching that seemed to be in contradiction with Jesus. But Jesus does this so much. Jesus is not a religious lawyer. He is a humanist (someone who emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively) who values people enough to say when the Mosaic law conflicts with human flourishing, the law loses. When his followers get criticized for "working" while grabbing some grain and eating it off the stalk during the Sabbath, a violation of one of Moses' 10 commandments, Jesus replies the Sabbath was made for humans, it serves them, not the other way around. When the religious leaders bring a woman condemned to stoning for adultery, another violation of one of the 10 commandments, he points out to them their own hypocrisy resulting in her deliverance. Jesus is a lover, not a lawyer. He loves people. Part of this demonstration of his love is to abolish laws by calling them inapplicable, or even wrong. Nevertheless, if that weren't enough, how was his self-sacrifice and resurrection not when "everything is accomplished"? The author of the New Testament letter of Hebrews says all those sacrifices and cultic rituals of Moses were foreshadowings, now fulfilled in Jesus.

So if that's also true, then there is nothing to appeal to as a guide for life post-Jesus that is "assholery." But I'm speaking as if it's all literal.

When Jesus uses these absolutist terms in Matthew 5:17, where FJ raises his literalist flag on, but uses the same absolutist terms 10 verses later about cutting off my own body parts if they cause me to sin, where FJ no longer finds a literalist flag to plant, more right brained (code word for "liberal") Johnny can walk up to both spots and raise a literary flag. The words are not the end of the discussion because they are placed in conflict either with each other or with his actions.

The big question is how then to arbitrate the objective these words point towards? It will depend on the descriptions of God that are given the highest priority. If the ground of your Christian theology is "God is love" you will assemble these parts in conflict differently than if your foundation is "God is holy" or "God is judge." If your experience with your father is damaged and unexamined or unrepaired, then your understanding of "God our father" will also result in different assemblies of the pieces.

For me, the loving Father God, as represented by Jesus, values his children so highly he always makes a way for them to get to him no matter what circumstances they come from, religious, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, age or mental capacity. Those passages FJ focused on where he saw a vindictive, nasty, assaholic god are reevaluated in light of those other passages where he is amazing - the good shepherd, the woman in search of her lost treasure, the father who rejoices over his whoring, partying son, the prophet who protects a woman from her judges, etc. A literary approach gives that flexibility. Not all passages are equal because they are not literal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Not everything biblical is Christian Part 21 - Phinehas the murderous priest esteemed for his zealotry

I have two Bible stories for you.

One day the Israelite people are camped on the border of the country of Moab. They were getting along swimmingly and romance blossomed. Moses, their leader, was upset because the Israelite men were enjoying not only Moabite ladies but their tribal god as well. Moses hears his God tell him to kill all the leaders who tolerated this behavior. Moses orders his priests to kill the offenders. Just then some Israeli dude and his Midianite (another tribe) girlfriend walk into his tent before Moses and his priests. One of the priests, Phinehas, took Moses literally and walked into the guys tent with a spear and skewered the two of them. Apparently this stopped some sort of plague going through the camp. Moses tells them God totally approves and honors Phinehas for his great deed and God wants them to kill all the Midianites. It's all in Numbers 25.

Jesus appears and acts like a new Moses. He overrules Moses, see parts two and four. Jesus even gives a law from the mountain like Moses. In Luke 9 he even has an encounter with Moses who then disapparates and God says listen to my son. Later in the same chapter, Jesus and his crew are hanging out in non-Jewish territory and those people have zero interest in Jesus. Two of the crew, fiery brothers (probably red heads), ask Jesus if they can go nuclear on those people for rejecting him. They are feeling all Phinehas. Jesus tells them to knock it off. Later on, in Matthew's Passion narrative, Jesus is betrayed by one his crew, and about to be arrested. One of his main guys, Peter, tries to get all Phinehas and whips out his sword and manages to take a swing at the one unarmed guy. Jesus shuts him down as well, Matthew 26:52-53.

Phinehas is not cut from the same cloth as Jesus. But plenty of Phinehas wanna-be's swarm the ranks of the unofficial internet Christian defense league. I used to be one. In the confrontation at Jesus' arrest, Jesus tells Peter, "if God wanted to change this situation, he's got way more resources than your lousy sword play."

Phinehas is not an example of love. He is not a Christ-like model. Christ's model of interaction with his enemies is to love them and absorb their evil. Phinehas is biblical but not Christian.

I talked about a similar situation with Ezra the priest. The stories of the Maccabees, post-Ezra pre-Jesus, Israeli terrorists are also cut from the cloth of Phinehas. But they are not cut from the cloth of Jesus. Jesus is the flesh and blood embodiment of God, see Paul's discourse in Colossians 1. Phinehas got God wrong.

Jesus is the surprise ending to the story. But the story includes false starts, including people with good ideas but bad implementation of those ideas, like Phinehas and Ezra. Although they were not judged at their part of the story, Jesus' appearance in the story, the climax of the story, is their evaluation. The short of it is, not everything Biblical is Christian.

This is part 19 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? Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war. Part 11 discusses divorce. Part 12 discusses the imposition of Bronze Age social constructs onto our diverse and complex modern world. Part 13 discusses women as property in the Biblical world. Part 14 discusses dehumanization of people with Biblical support. Part 15 discusses the evangelical culture that tends to proclaim the terrible day of the Lord is around the next corner. Part 16 shows how the end of the book of Job overrules 90% of the soliloquies in the book. Part 17 discusses a Psalm of confession. Part 18 discusses more Psalmist theology. Part 19 discusses something in the New Testament writings of Paul. Part 20 discusses condemnation.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Not everything biblical is Christian part 20: condemnation

In the series "Not everything biblical is Christian" I've stayed on Bible texts specifically. For those who know the lingo, I have been proof-texting, pulling up a text, contrasting it to the life of Jesus and "proving" that they are in tension and resolving it by giving Jesus the final say. This post is different in the lack of a Biblical text. Instead I have included a screenshot from my Facebook timeline, about a month ago, with two different approaches to homosexuality, the way of the law and the way of love. I have lived most of my Christian life with the focus on the former, so I completely understand where the first writer comes from. Yet I have come to embrace the way of love and grace. So the day these posts appeared in juxtaposition I saw myself in two acts. Act 1: the letter of the law, a Javert. Act 2: the way of love. not even a Jean Valjean, even less a little Christ. The law is fixed. Love ever expands.

Now the screenshot.

The first post sees an error in the application of law. The second post sees an opportunity to love, comfort, cherish and enjoin. Our years are short on this rock floating through the universe, why was I so certain, like the critic, that it would be better to make life worse for someone? Some of my friends would say I have never been so cruel, but I know in my heart how I was. And I have many stories here on this blog of when I have been cruel in the name of Jesus.

I want to tell the critic, "it gets better," he can move on from condemnation, but that slogan has been used to encourage gay youth so that they do not kill themselves before they have an opportunity to love themselves and be loved for who they are, not for who they are not. Not enough kids have parents like Austin's who affirm him for who he is, a beloved human being made in the image of God.

A theology of love and affirmation will have a tremendously different impact on anyone over a theology of depravity and self-hatred.

If God is love, and there is a proof text for that, then God loves all of us the gays and the stone throwers. For this, I am grateful.

This is part 19 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? Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war. Part 11 discusses divorce. Part 12 discusses the imposition of Bronze Age social constructs onto our diverse and complex modern world. Part 13 discusses women as property in the Biblical world. Part 14 discusses dehumanization of people with Biblical support. Part 15 discusses the evangelical culture that tends to proclaim the terrible day of the Lord is around the next corner. Part 16 shows how the end of the book of Job overrules 90% of the soliloquies in the book. Part 17 discusses a Psalm of confession. Part 18 discusses more Psalmist theology. Part 19 discusses something in the New Testament writings of Paul.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

the means is the ends

It is a frequent assertion that "the ends do not justify the means." In our current American political climate, the ends promised by means of straight talk without political correctness will not differ from those means to achieve them. The scare quotes around "political correctness" in our national discourse prevent us from recognizing that it means consideration. To speak politically correct to speak with consideration of those affected by that speech. To conflate all Mexican migrants as rapists and murderers is to not consider the majority of Mexican migrant farm laborers who work for less than our minimum wage for more than eight hours a day to provide us with most of our national produce. To shout down "Black lives matter" is to ignore the absurdly high proportion of police brutality directed to minorities and the devastation that brings to those families. As Malcolm X crudely and said at an inconsiderate time, "the chickens have come home to roost." Or as the Bible says, "we will reap what we sow. If sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind."

Not only do the ends not justify the means, the means are the end themselves.

A white, male bully will not make America great again, but make America crass even more and belligerent than she already is.

If we daily pray to God as Jesus taught, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," then shouldn't we believers be practicing the kingdom ways now, of loving our neighbors as ourselves, of turning our cheek when we are hit, of giving more when we are sued, of blessing those who slander us, of feeding the poor, caring for the sick, housing the refugee, and providing for women and children? The means are the end. Love is the method. Love is the goal. To support another method to get to a "better" kingdom is to sow the wind to our own destruction.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

forgive us our debts

I do enjoy shrimp cocktail. It turns out I was likely enjoying the product of slaves. That story broke big at the end of 2015. At the end of last month President Obama signed a bill into law banning the import of slave produced seafood. There are so many products I consume that have slave labor as part of the supply chain. I'm reminded of the English abolitionists who denied themselves sugar in their tea as a highly symbolic stance against the Caribbean sugar plantations known for atrocious treatment of enslaved human beings who were literally worked to death.

It's a complex world we live in. Even if I am not aware of the sins of my consumption, I still benefit from those injustices. No matter how delicately I walk through life, I will get mud on my feet. I live on land stolen from it's original inhabitants. I wear clothes that were probably made in sweatshops. Knowing this, I have to acknowledge my debt to these dehumanized workers.

I am a straight white male scientist in America. I have looked down on those who have not been as successful as myself. I have judged them. I have blamed them for their circumstances. I have called them names. I have used minority slurs. I am guilty of dehumanizing people in general and in particular. The occasions in particular I am able to reach out to directly and repent, but where do I go for those I've dehumanized in general? I have put myself in debt to God who made all these children in his image. I can admit my debt here on this little corner of the internet. I can live that apology by using my little social media presence to amplify the voices and needs of the oppressed. I also pray daily, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" as Jesus taught in his sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:9-15.

It's a plural prayer. I am not only asking for my forgiveness, I am asking for our forgiveness. I do not believe I am drawing a circle for "us" just to include my family, my church, my religious tribe, or my country. I reckon if I need to forgive everyone who hurts me, I need to ask for everyone else's forgiveness as well, the slavers who run shrimp boats, the sweatshop owners who make children work 12-14 hours a day, the racists who burn crosses, the pedophiles who traffic exploitative pornography, all of my enemies. I think Jesus is teaching in his sermon that we are in this together. For every sin I can point a finger at, their are many more I am complicit in whether I know it or not.

How many degrees of separation are sufficient to keep the stain off me?

I think if Jesus is God become man so that man may become god, a motto of the church father Athanasius among others, then this prayer is indeed Jesus' prayer as well. As a full human being, he is understood by the church to be sinless in the first degree, but what about the second or third degrees? When he healed the Roman centurion's slave, he did not condemn slavery, an observation by pro-slavery theologians in the pre-Civil War United States. When he compared a Gentile woman to a dog, well, it seems rude from this many years later and has been used to justify rudeness by his followers. I'm simply saying, the Lord's prayer was not only for his followers, but for himself as well. He asked his Father to forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Not everything biblical is Christian part 19 - parts of Paul's letter to the Romans

I started thinking this week about a section of St. Paul's letter to the Romans and wondering if this might be another candidate for this series. I do not have it all worked out in my head, hence I am here puzzling it out.

First the passage...
Romans 2
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.
3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

Those verses I bolded, 6-10, simply do not jive with the message of the apostle of grace, not within this letter nor in his other letters to the early church.

In the next chapter Paul argues from his reading of the Hebrew scripture that all are unrighteous. However, the appearance of Jesus has revealed God's plan of salvation all along. He writes, 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. In chapter 4 he appeals to the example of Abraham and a psalm of David's. In chapter 5 he makes massive claims about God's plan as revealed in Jesus, 5:18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. He goes on and on about God's plan as revealed by Jesus, a completely one-sided plan, it's initiated, continued and finished by God who it love.
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us ALL—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? ... 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
He develops this in his other letters as well.
1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
Ephesians 1:9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Philippians 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Colossians 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

The question is why has Paul put these words from Romans chapter 2 in his letter if he doesn't even believe these things? We know in some of his other letters he refers to questions he has been asked, but without the techniques we modern english readers are familiar with in our familiar typography today. Paul could not use quotation marks. It wasn't an option in Greek. He did not have any punctuation. Everything was written in all capital letters squished together in the limited space of parchment. There were not even spaces between words. Therefore, his readers, even us 2000 years after the occasion, are left to read critically. Some modern Bible's are typeset to suggest how the argument flows. Some even add notes or headings to indicate their favored understanding. Even the words selected for translation are not unbiased. As my Greek professor liked to say, translation is commentary.

Since not all parts of the Bible are equal, but Jesus, as the best representation of God, gets the final vote, I approach passages like this wearing my Jesus lens. Jesus taught in his sermon on the mount that not everyone who says of Jesus "Lord, Lord" and does miracles in his name qualifies as citizen in his new kingdom. In fact, they might even be evildoers, Matthew 7:21-23. It seems to me that Jesus does not agree with the voice in Romans 2, but rather agrees with Paul's other thoughts in Romans and elsewhere, that it's all grace, God's love realized.

I do not think Paul is contradicting himself in Romans 2, but quoting a religious foil, someone who believes contra Jesus that a good life obligates God to reward the do-gooder. Paul argues against that in chapter 3 saying no one, except Jesus, is purely good. No one can love perfectly. Everyone is wounded, crippled by ourselves and our fellow wounded human beings. As the well attested aphorism goes, hurt people hurt people. As Jesus says, he is the physician who has come to heal the unrighteous, not the self-righteous.

Even in the New Testament, there is plenty there that require discernment, a christianese word meaning "critical reflection." If something in the Bible does not align with Christ and his teaching it's not Christian. It seems like a tautology but most christians reared on an extremely simplified doctrine of biblical inerrancy (every word in the Bible is God's word) fear such critical reading.

A much deeper reflection on Paul's application of the revelation of Jesus in the letter to the Romans, one would have to read a thousand page tome by Douglas A. Campbell, professor in the Duke Divinity School, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. I have not read it myself, it's a little out of my price range. For a short and free introduction to his thought, see this post at Andrew Wilson's blog, Do You Read Romans Like An Arian?.

This is part 19 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? Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war. Part 11 discusses divorce. Part 12 discusses the imposition of Bronze Age social constructs onto our diverse and complex modern world. Part 13 discusses women as property in the Biblical world. Part 14 discusses dehumanization of people with Biblical support. Part 15 discusses the evangelical culture that tends to proclaim the terrible day of the Lord is around the next corner. Part 16 shows how the end of the book of Job overrules 90% of the soliloquies in the book. Part 17 discusses a Psalm of confession. Part 18 discusses more Psalmist theology.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The hound of heaven

I have been long familiar with the poetic metaphor of God as the "hound of heaven" (see Francis Thompson's poem). Thompson's view of God is as the untiring pursuit dog, never losing the scent. It's a poem which has inspired esteemed Christian writers of the 20th century including Chesterton and Stott. Our first dog had that kind of approach to life; our current dog, Korra, not so much.

Here she is on the left. When I meditate in a public space, she prefers I not forget her. She will push her nose under my hand, lay her face on my leg, and even jump on me. All she wants is to love and be loved. She really likes hanging out with us. She really likes when we pet her, scratch her chest, rub her belly; anything that involves us touching her. If I stop, she will put her paw on me, indicating I need to continue petting.

When she did that to me this morning, I thought of Thompson's metaphor, the hound of heaven. My understanding of God is changing. I can now recognize God as a persistent puppy, not seeking a prize, but love, affection and intimacy. Even if the reality is more like hunter and prey, powerful and weak, the incarnation of Jesus, who let's himself be killed by his enemies reveals a deeper dynamic. God took on the form of a servant, a dedicated, never discouraged, persistent, affectionate companion. God is like my dog, Korra.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Bible is literary and sometimes literal Part 1: Talking animals

Dear Johnboy

As a diligent Bible reader you know Jesus likes to tell stories to communicate an important point. Parables, as they are known, are literary devices. When Jesus tells the story of the 10 bridesmaids, we miss his point if we try to find out what their names are and where they lived. Even when Jesus mentions a location, like the good Samaritan from Samaria, we know that trying to figure out which road he was on and which Samaritan village he was coming from is a wasted effort. Even when Jesus tells a story with a guys name, like the poor beggar Lazarus, we again miss the point if we try to figure out who this guy might me literally, or if it literally happened. The literary point is what matters, not the literal point.

Knowing all this, why are you wasting energy trying to find the literal garden of Eden? It is very obvious within the story itself that it is a parable, myth, or fable with a purpose. What is that obvious indicator? The talking snake is a literary device known around the world for ages.

In the Jungle Book, Mowgli talks to a snake, among other creatures in the forest. Even though the boy has a name and the snake has a name and the bear and the tiger, etc. at no time do you think, "Huh, I wonder if Rudyard Kipling really met this kid and these creatures?" Actually, when you were little, before you understood that none of your stuffed animals were ever going to talk to you, you did think stories like this were literal.

Talking animals are an obvious way to distinguish a (literary) story from a (literal) event. The bible is not unique in this way. Because so much of your upbringing emphasized the literalness of the bible, you tried to make it fit into reality, a process known as cognitive dissonance. It gets harder as a scientist who knows a little about how sound is produced and the need for skeletal sturcutres, soft tissue structures, and neurons to make it all work. To read the story of the Adam's fall into sin as literal news is to ask the story to do much, much more than it was intended.

I have one more example, Balaam's ass. What is so interesting about this talking donkey is how much less weight this story is burdened with than the snake story. In fact, in most of the sermons you have heard about Balaam's donkey have referenced it in a literary application. Such as, "what foolish way is God trying to speak to you and get your attention?"

These are good literary stories, but they are not literal. Donkeys and snakes are not, nor have they ever been capable physically of communicating orally with humans using words. When you get bogged down wondering how this actually and literally happened all you are doing is bogging yourself down. Get out of your scientific left brain and enjoy the multiple layers of meanings in your right brain.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mercy and sacrifice

Matthew 9:3 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Matthew 12:7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

 Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Dear Johnboy
When you were condemning "the gays" because of the clear teaching of the Bible you forgot this clear teaching quoted above. Matthew's gospel records Jesus referencing this on two separate occasions. Love is the primary obedience. All obedience flows out of love and compassion. This teaching lines up with Jesus' teaching on not judging others, etc.

But then you came across the blog of Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, who later wrote a book called
Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church, who wrote from a conservative perspective yet really trusted the Triune God's ability to move in someone's heart to sort out their sexual identity. 

You also learned about the work of Mark Yarhouse and Warren Throckmorton, evangelical college psychology professors who acknowledged through their own research that conversion therapy, gay to straight, not only did not work but actually did further psychological harm. You read Mark's book, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends and you reviewed it on your blog nearly six years ago. Like Wendy, a conservative and honest assessment of the American evangelical church's "solution" to this "problem."

 You read Wesley Hill's memoir on being a gay Christian, although committed to celibacy, Washed and Waiting. You also reviewed it here on the blog in 2010. Hill could not pray the gay away. But he also fears his understanding of the Bible enough to refrain from expressing himself romantically, choosing a life of celibacy, though not of loneliness.

Since then, you have discovered many gay saints and their stories of receiving God's mercy and accepting themselves as they are instead of hating themselves.

 God kept showing you Johnboy that he loves people just the way they were. In the same way Jesus loves you just the way you are. Although Jesus never condemned homosexuality, he did plainly teach that his followers should not lay up their treasures on earth, yet, not only do you have a 401k, and own a home, you also taught a couple money classes in church for people to also ignore Jesus' plain teachings. Yet Jesus has mercy on you. I am still in process Johnboy and I hope the process will only make me more merciful and more loving and less and less judgmental. (Obviously, from the last story told here, I have so much growth yet to do.)

Jesus is looking for love and not sacrifice.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Noah the climate alarmist

From Inhabitat
As a younger person encountering the bible story of Noah and the great flood I always wondered at all the neighbors who ignored his warnings for decades and only mocked him. Naively I asked myself, "how come no one listened to him?" Now I am watching a similar sociological event.

Oil company scientists recognized decades ago that the rapid release of CO2 from fossil fuel emissions would overload the natural carbon cycle the planet has been used to for a billion years. Their bosses told them to shut up and prepared an alternate, non-scientific propaganda campaign. Most of the humans in the world live near the oceans. Because of our inability to agree on preventing this, the oceans will inundate great cities and poor countries around the world. Conservative groups, who by definition of conservatism resist change, refuse to believe scientific warnings and label them alarmists and "chicken littles." They prefer the oil company propaganda.

Now I understand how the Noah story so accurately portrays humanity.

Look what will happen to your city here.

Because I think loving my neighbor is how I love God, I think climate change is a very serious justice issue that demands my attention.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Check-out line theology

"Can I get the loyalty card discount?" he asked the kid at the register, "I had one like ten years ago, but I don't know where it is anymore." He went in on in gravelly voice from decades of smoking.
The helpful kid responded, "Just type in your phone number."
"Ahh. I don't know which number it went with. Can you just give me the discount for all these groceries?"

The guy in the cart before me was husky, not fat, not stout either. He was in his 50's. His thick black hair was slicked back. He had two rings on his left hand, both skulls. He was buying a bunch of bottled water, packaged sausages, rolls, condiments. He also had a duffel bag with him, and bought another bag for the ride home, probably on his motorcycle.

I was judging him. No card, no discount buddy. When he got the discount, I resented all those times when I was at other stores and did not get a discount. My excuses of being from out of town or whatever legitimate reason did not get me any mercy. I also did not have skull rings on my fingers. Just get your stuff and move on out.

I wish I could report this happened decade ago in my more immature days. Nope. It was this week. I've been reading Richard Rohr's book Simplicity for the past few weeks. He is a Franciscan priest who shares his journey in the Franciscan life of belief in action, loving others and being loved by God. His theology is also open handed and was such an encouragement to me. He writes much about our tendency to ignore the sermon on the mount, to not turn the other cheek, to esteem ourselves above others, to not love our enemies, to ignore Jesus' example and not live like he did while still saying we follow him. Obviously, Rohr's influence on my was only eyeball deep.

A few days later, I'm praying. I'm trying to focus on Jesus. When I visualize him though, he usually looks like this. He is very white, and he is hanging out with other white people. I'm trying to resist that approach though.

One of the topics Rohr keeps coming back to is Jesus' story about how he is served when people serve the least among them - children, widows, orphans, infirm, prisoners. All of them, as Mother Teresa says, are Jesus in distressing disguise. I then realized I had missed Jesus in the check out line. I had an opportunity to help Jesus out. I could have offered my loyalty card for him. I could have at the very least refrained from judging him. I knew I had an image of Jesus to focus on in my time of prayer and meditation.

If Jesus is still using the same disguise, you will notice him with the two skull rings buying a bunch of food for a party. I missed him. But if you see him, say "Hello" for me and "Sorry."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Identifying with fellow humans (though not Christians) and the trouble that brings

Last week, my Twitter friend Morgan Guyton wrote a provocatively titled post, Is damnation of the other a cornerstone of evangelical belief?, with a provocative hypothesis in regards to Larycia Hawkins firing by the private Christian college in Illinois, Wheaton. I think he is right. I think there is also a bigger issue going on, centered set vs. bounded set theology, a concept I wrestled with a couple years ago here on the blog. Dave Schmelzer of Blue Ocean Faith has developed this concept very well for me. I think it influenced me deeply in my commitment to open handed faith. I was reminded of this and made the connection to Prof. Hawkins situation with Wheaton while listening to the podcast of the Unquiet Life.

Professor Hawkins wanted to identify with her fellow humans, Muslim women, by wearing a hijab during Advent and affirming their shared belief in God. She has also been in trouble for being at a party with gay humans. She has affirmed Wheaton's statement of faith, but for whatever reason, which I will speculate on, Wheaton's administration was not satisfied. Guyton suspects Wheaton's financial donors of influence have a definition of Christianity that necessarily condemns to hell those who don't believe. Condemnation is a line to cross over in a bounded set theology. One must be in or out. But the other issues Hawkins drew attention indicate other boundaries she crossed or blurred. Here is why I think the bigger issue is that Prof. Hawkins has a centered set theology but works at a bounded set school.

Her center, her example is Jesus himself. His religious opponents constantly criticized him for breaking and blurring boundaries. He did not maintain their Biblical purity laws. His rule boiled down to love. He was motivated by his love for the world. He kept company with the outcasts. He identified with them. He wooed them with love, not with threats. His warnings were for religious rule makers and self-appointed officials.

Boundaries make one feel safer, but Jesus led a wild life of reckless love, always looking for the lost, and whole-heartedly embracing the prodigal and welcoming all to the party. Prof. Hawkins paid a high price for living the Jesus lifestyle out as she did. To affirm their pursuit of God, was not an attempt to convert them by condemning them but to love them. Love is evangelism. It is spreading the good news in action. It opens lines of communication. It allows the beginning of shared life and community. It is a product of a deep faith which trusts in God to fill all the gaps in our inadequate understanding not just in the other but in herself as well. It no longer deals with "us" and "them" but just us. We are all children of God in various stages of a journey into understanding of that love for us...But I'm speaking as someone whose theology is centered set or open handed.

Friday, January 15, 2016

John 2 and better wine

In this morning's reading from the Book of Common Prayer, in John 2, Jesus, his posse, and his mother, Mary, are at a wedding when the wine runs out. Mary immediately turns to Jesus, bringing this crisis to his attention.

Now this conversation is highly stylized. St. John is making a much bigger point than Jesus is capable of bringing the party or that Jesus is pro-alcohol. One thing St. John is doing is showing Mary's expectation for Jesus to do something, and it was not a package store run she had in mind, as his answer is also highly stylized, "My time is not yet come."

Mary apparently disagrees because she tells the house slaves to follow Jesus' instructions. Six large stone jars are noted, much bigger than beer keg size. Jesus tells the slaves to fill these empty jars to the brim with water.

Again, St. John is highly styling this story. Seven is used as the number of completeness and perfection in the Bible going back to Genesis when God rested from his creation. Six is the day when God made man. It's a step down, not perfect. The party is at a standstill. The jars for ceremonial hand washing are empty. They can no longer ritually cleanse people. This wedding is turning into a disaster. The night for consummation and uniting of families is going down in shame. These parties are public and the host needs to prepare for everyone and anyone. But he did not have enough either because of his poverty or short sightedness.

After they fill the jars, Jesus tells the slaves to bring a sample from the newly filled with water to the banquet master. Miraculously, the master tastes wine, and not the cheap stuff he was serving everyone earlier. He is tasting the top shelf stuff. the banquet master pulls the groom aside and scolds him for getting the order wrong. It should have been really good stuff then the cheap stuff. Instead he started cheap, not knowing the groom only had the cheap stuff.

St. John stylizes the banquet master's scolding to wake readers like myself up. However, I've only noticed the miracle, not the bigger story until now. “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” John 3:10

Here is what I heard from reading St. John this morning, which was new for me coming from a tradition that tended to focus on the trees and misses the forest. What I hear St. John saying is the old way from Moses is empty, the party is coming to a screeching halt. The old way's inadequacy is shameful. It can't even clean hands anymore. Jesus comes to the rescue. Mary knows this. His disciples get a whiff of it.

This falls in line with my ongoing series that not everything biblical is Christian. Before Jesus, it was the cheap wine of Mosaic theology. It was inadequate. But Jesus brings the real stuff....I admit I'm not a wine drinker. I know beer much more. So for me, before Jesus, it was a Milwaukee's Best party.

It would get you drunk if you could stand it. Jesus rolls in with kegs of Russian Imperial Stout. I used to think beer is beer. I used to think all verses in the bible are equal. Now I know, the "Beast" is for cheap alcoholics who have no taste buds and the stout is for a complex flavor and an awesome drinking experience.

Jesus' kingdom of love and mercy is far superior to the previous religious kingdom of judgment. Now I know what St. John was getting at with this story.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Advent and collateral damage

I live in a country that accepts a greater than 50% collateral damage from drone strikes. In other words, most drone bombings kill humans, young, old, women, and children, who are guilty of proximity. Less than half of the drone bombings "successfully" kill their intended targets.

This painting is by Alexey Pismenny of the slaughter of the holy innocents, a liturgical feast day, yesterday, in the church calendar. The day before yesterday, the murderer of an innocent black boy playing with a toy gun, was not indicted for his crime, just like Herod.

We live in a militarized culture that tolerates, no, expects collateral damage, the slaughter of innocents, in order to enforce Pax Americana. "Mistakes were made." If it had happened to an innocent white child, most Americans would expect a different outcome. Our highest court gives our peace officers wide berth to make mistakes in the pursuit of self-defense. Just like our military has an extremely high tolerance for collateral damage.

The majority churches in our country seem to hear this story without critical reflection. The story does not lead to calls of repentance from violence and tools of violence. The 2nd amendment is a deadly political third rail. Not even Jesus' teachings can survive encountering it. Systemic racism cannot be acknowledged. Voting rights denied. Affirmative action dismantled. Military and community police are blended. Half of our tax dollars go to support the largest military in the world by far.

Herod's collateral damage did not bring peace. Rome's collateral damage did not bring peace. It is a non-sequitur to expect violence to end violence. Jesus spoke of a new kingdom. He lived out that new kingdom ethics. He received violence and did not return it. There are communities today trying to live this out. The Amish are known not just for pacifism but for complete non-resistance. Yet, somehow, they are a growing and thriving community, not living in fear of the bogey man, or the brown skinned child. They too have known tragedy. They know the experience of Rachel weeping for her children.
There are many cultures, not just Christian ones, that are able to live peacefully. Jesus calls us to this culture of peace and self-sacrifice. These cultures are already living out Isaiah the prophet's vision as those who have turned their swords into plows. It's tragic that so many Christians have their faith in swords instead of their Lord who told them, "that's your enemies...turn the other cheek...give to him who asks."

In 2000 years so much of the church has been too afraid to not be afraid. The church continually forgets that what has begun in the spirit will not be finished in the flesh. Love is the strategy for victory. Justice comes with honesty and repentance, not violence.

I will reflect on the slaughter of the innocents. I will pray for Tamir Rice. I will not hate his killer. I will pray for peace. I will practice a life of love. I will testify to the good news that Jesus brings.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent and the song of the heavenly host

This morning, as I walked the dog, I was thinking about Luke's advent story. An angel appears to shepherds. That right there is a big deal. The angel is God's messenger from heaven and these guys are the dirty low lives of society who are working the only job available to them, cast out by society.

The angel terrifies them so the first thing the angel says is "Fear not." Then the angel tells them the joyful news, a new Davidic king has been born. Ironically, they will find this king in a feeding trough. The new king appears in their area of derision, animal husbandry. Before they go visit the new king a heavenly choir of angels appears singing about peace and God's favor.

Some of our Western cultural milieu makes us ignorant of what words mean. For example, a heavenly host is an army. The greek word means "army." Here is the awesome irony we tend to miss because we think heavenly host means heavenly boys choir. God's "army" does not come with weapons of steel or gunpowder, but of voices of praise and peace and adoration. There is a foreshadowing of this army in the story of Joshua's assault on Jericho. It was an assault of seven days of worship.

Here is the wonderful irony, the great king comes with an army of music who sings of hope and peace. It's the same ironic vision of John's apocalypse, where the conquering lion turns out to be a wounded lamb whose sword is words, not steel or gunpowder.

We can still join the angels and sing along,
Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward all!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent for the abundant life

Why did God incarnate himself as the baby Jesus?

Jesus says in John's gospel,
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10
Jesus continues in this passage, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." v. 16
In Luke's gospel, after a tax collector's life changing encounter with Jesus, he says, referring to himself, "For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

The abundant life only begins in this one. It continues in the next. Jesus will accomplish his task, either in this life or the next one. What then are we to do who have already begun this abundant life? Tell the good news, not "turn or burn."

1 Peter 2:1-10  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Advent is about dawn, when the light breaks into darkness. Judgment has been replaced by mercy.

My hope for universal reconciliation begins now, in this life. I'm like someone who found a great new FroYo place. I'm eager to tell all my friends and neighbors about it. I have no financial interest. I'm just really happy to share the good news of the place. I'm very happy about the Advent of Jesus and the abundant life he brings. So I want all my friends and neighbors to hear this good news.

I was enlightened by this great quote on Twitter yesterday.

"The best way to love someone is not to force them to change, but to help them uncover the best version of themselves."  Raju Bhagwat, Holistic Mission Development in CambodiaProfessional Training Coaching, Anglican Diocese of Singapore.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Advent reading - Jeremiah 31

I listened for the second time in my life to a church service of lessons and carols with a trained choir and a serious pipe organ. There are seven lessons, all readings from the Bible to prepare us for the Advent. One of the readings was a mere 4 verses from Jeremiah 31:31-34. But when I read it today, in its totality, I could not believe they only picked these few verses. It's in Jeremiah 31 where Matthew references a fulfillment of Herod's slaughter of the innocents. But the chapter is mostly about God's unilateral restoration of his people despite their failings.
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[g] says the Lord33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
As I heard this read, I thought to myself, God seems to be overlooking everything contrary to his holiness. It's as if his mercy towards his children love as a Father short circuits the judgment. The reading gets even more ambitious after this. God doubles down.
Thus says the Lord,

who gives the sun for light by day
    and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name:

If this fixed order were ever to cease
    from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
    to be a nation before me forever.
Thus says the Lord:

If the heavens above can be measured,
    and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will reject all the offspring of Israel
    because of all they have done,
says the Lord.
He can't make this more clear. God will forgive their sins unilaterally, and he will never reject his people. The last view verses though, are the whipped topping of this universalist dessert in my thinking.
38 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah.40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.
Do you know what the valley of the dead bodies is? Gehenna. As the NET  study bible notes say in this passage at verse 40,
 It is generally agreed that this refers to the Hinnom Valley which was on the southwestern and southern side of the city. It was here where the people of Jerusalem had burned their children as sacrifices and where the Lord had said that there would be so many dead bodies when he punished them that they would be unable to bury all of them (cf. Jer 7:31-32). Reference here may be to those dead bodies and to the ashes of the cremated victims. This defiled place would be included within the holy city.
Gehenna, also explained in the NET bible notes, (Gehenna is a transliteration from the Aramaic form of the Hebrew ge-hinnom, "valley of Hinnom") is the place Jesus refers to in the synoptic gospels that is usually translated "hell" in our English bibles. The amazing thing is God will make the valley of the dead sacred.

The early creeds speak of Christ descending to hell between his death and resurrection. It is sometimes referred to as the plundering, or harrowing in old english, of hell.

This post is long, and I'm not writing a book yet, so there are many loose ends here. But I do think this section from Jeremiah adds more evidence to my hope in universal reconciliation.