Sunday, January 29, 2017

book report: Tempting Faith by David Kuo 2006

Before he passed away from brain cancer, David Kuo, a Republican speech writer and political activist wrote his memoir about the clash between his earnest faith and the politics that kept prevailing over it, Tempting Faith, and inside story of political seduction.

Kuo's last job in the White House was in George W. Bush's office of faith based and community initiatives. This office was formed from Bush's campaign promises of compassionate conservatism, which promised to unleash public funds to faith based groups in order that they may serve the needy alongside secular or non-religious aid programs. A promise of $8 billion dollars for this program was never followed up on and only 1-3% of that amount ever trickled down from the Bush White House and Republican controlled Congress. Kuo fought hard for that funding, his faith in Jesus Christ, aligned with his desire to see more people aided not only materially but also spiritually.

His credentials include a long list of Republican checked boxes. He worked at the National Right to Life Committee when the elder Bush was president. He watched the NLRC and the Republican White House and Congress make a deal with the NLRC to support the nomination of Justice David Souter in exchange for support for NLRC's pro-life policies. However, Souter turned out to be a judge who interpreted the 14th amendment as a right to privacy and turned the court even more pro-choice. And the NLRC did not benefit. This pattern of promises and compromises which usually left the well-meaning and naive christian political operatives with nothing to show for their support of Republican politics happened over and over before Kuo's eyes in D.C. He ended up leaving the NLRC shortly after. He writes,
After the Souter moment passed I stayed at National Right to Life another six months. By then I knew I didn't want to make abortion my life's fight. I suppose that as much as I wanted to be an American WIlberforce by ending abortion, I couldn't equate abortion and slavery. Yes, I was still pro-life. But abortion wasn't slavery and it certainly wasn's, as some suggested, like the Holocaust. It simply wasn't murder. For the sake of both mothers and babies, I wanted it to end, but by means of a more caring, compassionate culture rather than by judicial fiat. p. 34
He eventually found work in the office of Senator John Ashcroft, someone he deeply admired for his honorable politics, his commitment to the constitutional rights for all americans (not just christians), and his deep faith. He also left politics to form a non-profit that identified high quality charities that generous people could fund. However, he encountered little walk behind the talk Republicans made of charity to replace government assistance.  He heard their assurance that they were not just the party of big business and tax breaks at the expense of the needy, but they never came through on the latter.

But one day, out of the blue, Governor George W. Bush asked him to come visit him in Texas, to talk about joining his campaign. Kuo was smitten with Bush's earnest testimony of transformation from alcoholism through faith in Jesus Christ. And Bush's musings that small local ministries can do so much more as they are the neighbors of those in need, not out of towners simply doing their charity job for the government. Kuo helped Bush formulate the message of "compassionate conservatism."

He worked hard to make this come true. But Dick Cheney did not consider it a White House priority, which is important when it came time to negotiate with the Republican Congress over the budget. The Republicans controlled both houses and the White House. "Compassionate conservatism" had swayed many voters to choose Republican. There was political capitol to be spent to make this campaign promise happen. But they didn't. Kuo fought for 5 years to make it happen. When he finally gave up and resigned he told the White House,
The president had made great promises but they hadn't been delivered on. Worse than that, the White House hadn't tried. Worse than that, we had used people of faith to further our political agenda and hadn't given them anything in return...And finally staff frequently refers to the faith-based initiative as the 'f***ing faith-based initiative." p. 243

Kuo's faith in Christ lasted, but his faith in Republican politics ran out. This story happens over and over. During the Nixon administration it was written by Chuck Colson. During the Reagan administration it was written by Frank Schaeffer. The prophetic voice of the church always gets compromised inside government. It is the outside voices that sustain and bring progress. Martin Luther King, Jr. affirmed he was first and foremost a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ with no interest in serving politically.

And so the cycle repeats itself. Except now the Republican president does not even try to act Christian, but throws them unconstitutional promises, preferring their religion over others. The church's outside voice needs to stay strong, affirming the full equality and dignity of every individual, no matter color, creed, gender, disability, bank account size or orientation. What's good for rich white men has to be good for the rest.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Greater works than Jesus's

In John 14 Jesus tells his disciples "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." This is the gospel section of today's lectionary reading.

As someone who was part of the Vineyard movement for years and still have affection for it and it's founder, John Wimber, I had long read the "greater works" as greater than the miraculous stuff Jesus did. But now, as I am certainly pre-disposed to look for the love of God on every page, I wonder if Jesus is referring to greater acts of mercy than what he could do as a single human.

Paul refers to the church with a metaphor of Christ's body. Although Christ is physically departed, the church remains in his stead, to perform greater works of love. Obviously, miracles are not commonplace, or they would not be miraculous. So the Christian church is not known as a regular source of miraculous healings. But it is known as the source of local hospitals and leper sanitariums and front line disease fighters. These are examples of mercy and compassion much greater, 3 years vs. 2000 years, than what Jesus did. The church was able to bring the life or death gladiator battles entertainment to an end. Even slavery was brought to an end by certain parts of Christ's body.

These are great works of the body of Christ. They are not negated by all the inhumane things the church also did in the name of God. I am ashamed of the church for those works, not done in love. I'm also glad I can be part of the greater works of Christ today even though I am not personally or supernaturally raising the dead or multiplying loaves and fishes. But I am part of a body that brings food to liberated areas of Mosul, or the outskirts of Aleppo, that rebuilds homes destroyed in Haiti by natural disasters, that heals poor children with cleft palates, that provides obstetric care to women in slums, etc. Most of these outreaches are solely supported by voluntary donations from the body which really is miraculous, comparable to the multiplication of Jesus' loaves and fishes.

I was looking for the exceptional works instead of the greater works of love and mercy. I'm glad I see them now.

Friday, December 30, 2016

interim book report: The Jesus Driven Life by Michael Hardin

I have been taking The Jesus Driven Life slowly over the past month because Michael Hardin has many important things to say and I can only hold a few of them at a time in my cluttered mind. My 22 part ongoing series, Not everything Biblical is Christian, tries to do in part what Hardin is able to do more substantially. I started the series because I shared the issue Hardin raises,
The ‘standard’ Protestant view of the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture is unacceptable. It is not simply a question of ‘historical errors’ (was Jesus crucified before or after the Passover meal) but the deeper theological ones (why is God as reflected in Jesus so substantively different than God is portrayed in many Old Testament texts) that have caused me to rethink the nature of the Bible. loc. 4375 Kindle
Like Hardin, I was raised dispensational fundamentalist with an adoration of the Bible instead of the person who is the living, embodied, incarnate word of God. My blog series has tried to expose the faultiness of inerrancy, not through historical errors, but through direct contradictions or overrides by Jesus himself. As a dispensationalist, I could solve (temporarily) the problem Hardin points out by telling myself God's approach has changed since the arrival of Jesus. A dispensationalist would, ironically, rather negate a verse in scripture, "Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews) than posit the Bible is imperfect.

The fear of the fundamentalist is that if one part is considered imperfect then what part is trustworthy? My simplistic answer is any part in disagreement with Jesus is not of God, but provides the negative space to contrast with the beautiful parts from God. Hardin offers a more refined perspective, using the anthropology of Rene Girard.
Some may object and say but if that is the case how do we distinguish between what is “man’s word” and what is “God’s Word?” This has already been answered by suggesting that revelation comes through the voice of the forgiving victim. It is the Crucified that speaks the eternal word: shalom. loc. 4400 Kindle
This line "revelation comes through the voice of the forgiving victim" clearly applies to the last words of the martyr Stephen as opposed to the martyred prophet Zechariah, as explained in the previous post. In order to "get" the Bible, we need to gain the outsider perspective. Do we have friendships with those who are blamed for society's problems? How do they perceive Jesus? Why do they see him that way? They can give us eyes to see and ears to hear if want.

Here is the 22 link 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 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.
Part 21 discusses religious zealotry that approves of murder.
Part 22 discusses how two prophets responded to their murderers.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

two Biblical martyrs but only one a saint

The day after Christmas is a day to remember the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Acts 7:59 – 8:8 (NRSV) While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him.

As Stephen dies, he prays like Christ for his oppressors forgiveness. But Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps intentionally, contrasts Stephen's response to his enemies with another prophet from Israel's history, Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada.

2 Chronicles 24:17-22 (NRSV) Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the LORD; they testified against them, but they would not listen. Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has also forsaken you.” But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. King Joash did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. As he was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge!

Jesus has challenged the religious norm he was born into and was executed by the religious leaders in collaboration with the state. However, even in his death he continued to break with tradition. As he gasped for breath he was still able to pray, "Forgive them." He did not follow the example of Zechariah. Zechariah rightly challenged his religious culture but believed God had run out of mercy for them. Jesus revealed that God's well of mercy has no bottom. Zechariah's view of God, though biblical, is not Christian. Stephen has the understanding of a more Christ-like God, who would rather die at the hands of his enemies, because he loves them, than avenge himself on them. God will love his enemies into relationship instead of destroying them, like a good Father.

This contrast was gift wrapped for daily lectionary readers. I am merely presenting it to my fellow believers who do not have this practice.

This is part 22 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 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.
Part 21 discusses religious zealotry that approves of murder.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

eyes to see but cannot see

It has really not been until this election that I understood Jesus' use of parables and his justification for them. The parables weed out those with confirmation bias. Let me explain. Jesus, and the prophets he quotes, likes to say about their critics they have eyes to see but cannot see and ears to hear but cannot hear. This clicked with me when I read the same idea expressed by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter in a science fiction novel, "The Long Cosmos." They write this in the context of a extraterrestrial message "Come Join Us."
Some believed it must be what it most obviously looked like, some kind of SETI message from the sky...Others believed it couldn't be that precisely because that was the most obvious explanation." (p. 8)
In the same way, a significant minority of the American voting public refused to apply Occam's razor of reasoning, the simplest explanation is the best one, and chose conspiratorial explanations over and over again. Benghazi acquittals - didn't matter, guilty. Bragging of sexual assault - didn't matter, just jokes. Private email server acquittals - didn't matter, guilty. Assertions to reinstitute torture - didn't matter, hyperbole. Family foundation accusations documented untrue - didn't matter, guilty. Family foundation admitted violations and fines and self-serving or undelivered donations - didn't matter. all oversights.

This year's advent readings in the Old Testament mostly come from Isaiah. Yesterday's reading is from Isaiah 43:8-13. Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, “It is true.” You are my witnesses.

The American voting public were warned over and over again about voting in a kleptocrat with ties to the oligarch nation of Russia. Yet despite his associations with Russian political apologists, his own dissembling about his real estate dealings and personal relations with Russia's oligarchs, his voters chose not to see. But they were warned.

Today's Isaiah reading is from Isaiah 10. Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth, so as not to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain? For all this his anger has not turned away; his hand is stretched out still.

Disenfranchisement of minority voters happened in many red states. This is documented and being adjudicated. In some states a school to prison pipeline is a reality for minority students. In some states, instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, they let the infrastructure of poor communities fall into disrepair so that their water is poisonousPrivate charter schools are enriched at the expense of public schools in poor districts. One Georgia lawmaker claimed a free lunch for hungry children deprives these kids of their dignity even though he gets plenty of free lunches from taxpayers.

Today's Advent reading in the Psalms comes from the 50th. Verses 16-21 But to the wicked God says:  "Why do you recite my statutes, and take my covenant upon your lips; 17 Since you refuse discipline,  and toss my words behind your back? 18 When you see a thief, you make him your friend,  and you cast in your lot with adulterers. 19 You have loosed your lips for evil,  and harnessed your tongue to a lie. 20 You are always speaking evil of your brother  and slandering your own mother's son. 21 These things you have done, and I kept still,  and you thought that I am like you."

When a president of a Christian college allies himself with a candidate who defrauded students in a fake university, that is befriending a thief. When church leaders excuse the serial adultery of their candidate, they have cast their lot with him. When a christian evangelist labels progressives, whether Christian or not as godless, that is speaking evil of his brothers and sisters.

This is a willful blindness from people who claim to know God and his book.When one of their own tries to point out the duplicity, his group is threatened with withdrawal of financial support. Perhaps if they did their advent readings everyday they might repent. In the meantime, I will try to love these folks into an eye opening experience as someone like William Barber is doing with the Moral Mondays movement..

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Is God Love or not?

One of my conservative Christian friends on facebook shared this comic by Christian comic artist Adam4d. I used to take this line of reason, but now I disagree with it because the "bottom line" for Adam's theology is not what I find in Jesus.

For Adam's comic, the basic gospel message is about us. I think instead the basic good news from Jesus is God is a loving entity that seeks everyone who is lost to restore them to full relationship, like a widow and lost coin, a shepherd and a lost sheep, or a father and lost son. As Jesus' brother James writes, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." As his beloved disciple John writes, "God is love." I join many great theologians in the church's history who start from this ground floor instead of an anthropolgical statement.

 Catholic monk and scholar Meister Eckhart (1200's) writes "How long will grown men and women in this world keep drawing in their coloring books an image of God that makes them sad?"A view of God that starts with his love instead of his justice has unexpected hopes. A justice-first God makes sure an adulteress woman is stoned to death. A love-first God makes sure she lives and gives her accusers a different perspective. 

 Catholic Saint Francis of Assissi (1100's) writes "God came to my house and asked for charity. And I fell on my knees and cried, 'Beloved, what may I give?' 'Just love,' He said. 'Just love.'" Francis gets that Jesus, God's icon on earth, is love. His orientation is love, first and foremost.

from Adam4D

One of the church's greatest philosophers, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes in the most merciful way, "One may never have heard the sacred word "Christ," but be closer to God than a priest or nun." The answer to the "mind-boggling" question in the last panel, "Why does God save anyone?" is because God is love. Even us wicked fathers, as Jesus tells us, won't give our kids a snake if they ask for an egg. How much more the good father of all creation will do. A good father rescues every kid drowning. God loved the world so much he created it and redeems it, all of it, even Trumps.

The quotes are from the book "Love poems from God." I highly recommend reading it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How to get Russia interested in your blog

I've written about Trump with his name in the blog title twice. Suddenly, I have more interest in my blog posts from Russia than I ever have. Here is a picture of my stats, courtesy of Google's Blogger platform, over the past week.
I am a very little guppy in the big pond of blogs and social media and I have never had Russia more than the lightest green on the stats map.

Why do Russians care about my blog? The CIA says they are so invested in Trump's victory that they leaked the DNC's emails but have kept the hacked RNC's, presumably for leverage. They filled comment fields with Trump trolls, making false assertions (blatantly lying) and overwhelming social media conversation with dis-information. Senator John McCain has called this digital meddling a form of war.

I turned off comments on my blog ages ago because of spam and trolls. Russia has become America's troll in chief to support Trump.

It's creepy that I am a repeat destination for Russia's webcrawlers.

I did not vote for this deplorable man. I did not ally with an oligarchy that seeks to remake America in its image, no longer the land of the free or the home of the brave.

Monday, December 12, 2016

I still love Donald Trump

As a straight white man in the modern United States, I live a privileged life. I do not worry about sexual harassment. I do not worry about being killed for a traffic violation. I do not fear being killed for my sexual orientation. I live in a society that makes good assumptions about me because I am a white man. Yet, I want to empathize with my brothers and sisters of color. I want to empathize with my sisters. I want to empathize my LGBTQ neighbors. I listen to their stories. I read their tweets. I read their blogs. The voices of the minorities are the voices in many of the Psalms, most written while the Jewish people were in exile. The Psalms are the blues hymnbook of the Bible. But I have been blind, as a majority male to the power of these songs of lament. I do not feel the weight of oppression.

But because of Donald Trump, I begin to really know the soul of the Psalmists as I read through the lectionary. The Advent readings are chosen for the anticipation of a deliverer. Until one feels the need for rescue, though, one can't feel the desperation in them. Here is Psalm 52 for today.

Psalm 52
1  You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
against the godly all day long?
2  You plot ruin;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
O worker of deception.
3  You love evil more than good *
and lying more than speaking the truth.
4  You love all words that hurt, *
O you deceitful tongue.
5  Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
6  The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at you, saying,
7 “This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”
8  But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9  I will give you thanks for what you have done *
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.

This is biblical poetry I get. When I read this I am reminded the more things change, the more they stay the same. Judaism really congealed in the exile. In the same way, Christianity blossomed in persecution. Because of Hitler the church got the writings of Barth and Bonhoeffer. Because of the genocides of WW2 the church's theologians realized their theology needed to stop dehumanizing the Jews.

Because of Trump, I get the Psalms better. Because I get the Psalms better I get my fellow non-majority neighbors better. I love him for that. I think Trump is all those things the poet is ranting against in Psalm 52, but because of that tyrant we have this poetic prayer. I will pray this with the Psalmist. So I'm also thankful the Trump has made me someone who prays more.

May his administration of greed and wickedness end soon. May he come to repentance for greed and lies and deception soon.

Monday, December 05, 2016

If you ignore your Nazi history, you may repeat it.

image source
People don't like it when I compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. They think I am claiming he plans on committing genocide. I do not think that. However, his strident white nationalist supporters do compare him to Hitler, so I am agreement with them on at least one topic. Trump is a master at propaganda and uses disinformation techniques, something useful to any demagogue in the making. He also routinely scapegoats entire groups of people as the source of the problems his supporters endure. He also encourages the majority to feel like a persecuted minority. White christian men like being told that consideration of others and laws that facilitate economic equity for women and minorities are just "political correctness" or "anti-white racism" or "feminazism." Allowing for the full constitutional rights of gay and transgendered citizens is "social depravity engineering" which will turn white children into flaming queers. Diminishing white male superiority is terrifying for the self-centered who have been enjoying that privilege for hundreds of years but exciting for everyone else, 3/4 of the planet.

The Nationalist Socialism Party of 1920-30's Germany felt similarly. When they came to power politically, they made similar assertions toTrump's white supremacist supporters today.

"We are a master race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population here."  — Erich Koch, 5 March 1943, (Wikipedia)

White workers are horribly upset that they are being out competed for jobs by Mexicans and Chinese. It has nothing to do with racism, but with the lower cost of business outside of the United States for unskilled labor. This has been happening for decades, but the black president is somehow to blame, even though the white president before him did not fix it either. And they forget the black president has replaced most of the jobs the white president before him lost. I don't think it's due to short memory but to racism.

The Nazis implemented Aryan laws to "preserve" it's culture, which, in their eyes, was being diluted by the success of Jews. They wrote a booklet Why the Aryan Law. It open with lines like these.
The Jewish people, once only tolerated, knew how to raise a hue and cry about discrimination and persecution, winning the sympathy of the world for the “poor Jews.” They increasingly infiltrated deep within our national organism, growing to have power over every single area of our national life. The old saga, the “Edda,” observes that one blocks a river at its source. The failure to do that was the great mistake of the German people. Thank God, it is not too late. Our F├╝hrer Adolf Hitler recognized the importance of the problem for Germany’s rebirth, and outlined its solution in his program.
Now I can replace the word "Jewry" in this paragraph and replace it with "Muslim" or "homosexual" or "black-lives-matter" and hear similar sentiments from some of our nation's governors, legislators, and president elect. The blind racist/xenophobe/sexist/homophobe believes any successful person who does not match their identity is out to destroy their country, even if the non-majority person is successful precisely because of the culture and it's laws. White Christians have told me that the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros wants to destroy this country. White Christians have told me the influx of Syrian refugees is diminishing European culture. White Christians have told me compassion for Syrian refugees and letting them into the U.S. will result in terrorist sleeper cells which will eventually turn on us.

The U.S. has always been a stew of nationalities. Yet it has always been xenophobic as well. Jews fleeing Hitler were denied entry to the U.S. because the nation did not want to expand it's quota of immigration, not even for 500 refugee children. Before World War 2 the U.S., like the rest of the world, was recovering from the Great Depression. Millions were out of work. Sound familiar? Jobs were limited. Prosperity was concentrated. Competition from cheap labor was not acceptable. As explained in this article on the St. Louis a ship full of Jewish refugees turned away by the U.S., compassion had reached its limit for most Americans.
Quotas established in the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 strictly limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted to the United States each year. In 1939, the annual combined German-Austrian immigration quota was 27,370 and was quickly filled. In fact, there was a waiting list of at least several years. US officials could only have granted visas to the St. Louis passengers by denying them to the thousands of German Jews placed further up on the waiting list. Public opinion in the United States, although ostensibly sympathetic to the plight of refugees and critical of Hitler's policies, continued to favor immigration restrictions. The Great Depression had left millions of people in the United States unemployed and fearful of competition for the scarce few jobs available. It also fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism. A Fortune Magazine poll at the time indicated that 83 percent of Americans opposed relaxing restrictions on immigration. President Roosevelt could have issued an executive order to admit the St. Louis refugees, but this general hostility to immigrants, the gains of isolationist Republicans in the Congressional elections of 1938, and Roosevelt's consideration of running for an unprecedented third term as president were among the political considerations that militated against taking this extraordinary step in an unpopular cause.
People wanted laws, not feelings, not compassion, not hope for all. Letting in more Jews was impractical. These people were not vetted. Who knew how many were communists or anarchists? Even children could not find room in America's heart.
Roosevelt was not alone in his reluctance to challenge the mood of the nation on the immigration issue. Three months before the St. Louis sailed, Congressional leaders in both US houses allowed to die in committee a bill sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.). This bill would have admitted 20,000 Jewish children from Germany above the existing quota.
Even children could not be trusted. Every time a Somali immigrant commits a crime, xenophobes wag their fingers and claim, "We told you so," as if anyone could guarantee children will grow up to never choose poorly or to never hate those who mistreat them. Additionally, the refusal of non-white immigrants to immediately forsake their own culture and embrace (white) american culture uncritically is viewed as a danger to white americans. Yet white Americans living overseas gather together as ex-pat communities. White Americans also tolerate Polish-american clubs or German-American clubs or Greek churches or black churches, but not Syrian neighborhoods or mosques.

He's afraid of the foreigner, the definition of xenophobia. Yet he's from a state represented in Washington by a black Muslim man. Like Germany in the 1920's and 30's facts are replaced with racist tropes to assuage xenophobic citizens, who choose disinformation over true information.
It's riddled with conspiracy theories about how Muslims who come to the US are spreading jihad and Sharia law. Back to Trump and Hitler, a Trump apologist, Scottie Nell Hughes insists, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”

For this American, if there are no facts for our democracy, then can we function without our founding political document's assertion "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."?

Segregation never works because segregationists keep sub-dividing. West Viriginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War. Jones County tried to secede from Mississippi. Those segregationists in Mississippi were able to keep the other segregationists from their goal, unlike Virginia. Culture is not to be preserved. It is to be enjoyed. Even isolated cultures change over time. The only static cultures are dead cultures. This country was founded on a political philosophy of hypocritical egalitarianism. This country has improved by acknowledging the hypocrisy of the founding fathers who owned slaves, who would not let women vote, On the other hand today's culture warriors tend to forget the presence of Muslims in our country since before the revolution, mostly as slaves. But the country's founders sought to ensure freedom of religion included more than christian denominations.

In his autobiography, Jefferson recounted with satisfaction that in the struggle to pass his landmark Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), the Virginia legislature "rejected by a great majority" an effort to limit the bill's scope "in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan." George Washington suggested a way for Muslims to "obtain proper relief" from a proposed Virginia bill, laying taxes to support Christian worship. On another occasion, the first president declared that he would welcome "Mohometans" to Mount Vernon if they were "good workmen" (see page 96). Officials in Massachusetts were equally insistent that their influential Constitution of 1780 afforded "the most ample liberty of conscience … to Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians," a point that Chief Justice Theophilus Parsons resoundingly affirmed in 1810.

But now, we have a President elect who campaigned on the idea of the immigration of those who are Islamic. The Nazi propaganda booklet I quoted from at the beginning of this post warns about jews destroying their culture, In their view it was "The Jews" had caused the Bolshevik revolution; it was "The Jews" who put Germany into crippling debt because it lost the war it had started in 1914. This is scapegoating, boiling down very complex situations to a simple people group. It is no different from the American nazis today who warn about the muslims in our midst. Muslims crashed planes into our buildings, Muslims blow themselves up around the world. Therefore, all muslims are terrorists. Muslims have more children then Christians so therefore msulims want to destroy christian societies.


One billion human beings follow Islam. Some are white, most are brown. They are as complex as any white christian family. Some are more devout than others. Some are hypocrites. Some are terrorists (most terrorists in American history are white christians). Some are peace makers. Some are artists. Some are freeloaders. Some are hard workers. Most just want a home, a job, and time to be with their family, like the Jews of Nazi Germany, like gay Americans, like black-lives-matter activists, like anyone else who is outside the mainstream.

Our culture does need to change. It needs to change toward even more compassion and away from exploitation and fear mongering based on racist tropes and scapegoating. The world is our neighbor and our collective survival depends on generosity towards each other. Love will save the world.

image source

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The God who compromises

Last year I wrote a number of posts about the plain fact that not everything Biblical is Christian. (You can use the 21st entry to find all the previous ones). One of the aspects of this rejection of biblicism is Jesus' overruling of Mosaic laws in favor of merciful, compassionate and even graceful responses; instead of Mosaic "eye for an eye" view of justice, a way of non-violent turning of the cheek, instead of execution of adulteresses caught in the act, a refocus on self-judgment, instead of his intended mission, an enlarged one. It's this latter example of compromise with compassion I've been thinking about today.

Matthew the tax collector, a despised profession among his fellow Jewish citizens living in occupied Palestine, who followed the merciful Jesus tells a curious anecdote.

Matthew 15:21-28 The Voice
Jesus left that place and withdrew to Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman—a non-Jew—came to Him. 
Canaanite Woman (wailing): Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is possessed by a demon. Have mercy, Lord! 
Jesus said nothing. And the woman continued to wail. His disciples came to Him. 
Disciples: Do something—she keeps crying after us! 
Jesus:  I was sent here only to gather up the lost sheep of Israel. 
The woman came up to Jesus and knelt before Him. 
Canaanite Woman: Lord, help me! 
Jesus: It is not right to waste the children’s bread by feeding dogs. 
Canaanite Woman: But, Lord, even dogs eat the crumbs that fall by the table as their master is eating.
Jesus—whose ancestors included Ruth and Rahab—spoke with kindness and insight.  
Jesus: Woman, you have great faith. And your request is done. 
And her daughter was healed, right then and from then on. 

There are so many topics to cover here, but I want to focus on one. Jesus will compromise when it comes to mercy. This scene hearkens back to Abraham's negotiation with God on his way down to judge Sodom and Gomorrah.

It seems to me compromise is a mark of holiness; not compromise in general, but compromise in particular when more mercy and compassion are available. Within the early church a compromise was found to fully include Gentiles who did not follow Mosaic traditions. Like the Canaanite woman in this story, they had great faith and exhibited the radical lifestyle of love. Instead of walling them out completely or forcing them to humiliate themselves physically to conform to Jewish cultural norms, the church exhibited its own radical lifestyle of love and chose to compromise with inclusiveness. The church did not compromise with those who were pretenders or money grubbers or exploiters of the poor and ignorant.

I live in a country that has a difficult time with compromise. It's seen as a weakness. When judges exhibited mercy in their courtrooms, legislators took away the freedom to compromise by making laws imposing minimum sentences or three crimes and a life sentence laws. The perceived weakness of the judges was met with "no compromises" laws which have resulted in great abuses and miscarriages of justice. For six years the national legislature has refused to compromise with a president it despises, even when compromises will help so many citizens, because compromise is viewed as weakness by the electorate.

My country's inability to compromise once resulted in a Civil War that cost a million lives. I see my country in a similar position 150 years later. "All or nothing" is the mindset.

But Jesus, supposedly the model for my Christian nation, compromised. He was also considered weak and a threat to society. When violent people perceive weakness, they attack. People like to assert their dominance when they feel insecure. Jesus felt secure in his humility. Does the church today?

After the election an exasperated co-worker asked a friend of mine, "What do you evangelicals want?" The implied question is "How much dominance do you guys want? Since you can't humbly persuade people to your theology do you need laws outlawing other religions or the freedoms of other religious adherents? How can you say out of one side of your mouth you are about love and out of the other choose a political leader who has a record of lying, cheating, exploiting, and money grubbing?"

The church that compromises to the benefit of the marginalized is the church that looks Christlike, and deserves the moniker "Christ-ian". The church that practices "true religion" as Jesus' brother James writes, James 1:27- 2:7
Real, true religion from God the Father’s perspective is about caring for the orphans and widows who suffer needlessly and resisting the evil influence of the world.
My brothers and sisters, I know you’ve heard this before, but stop playing favorites! Do not try to blend the genuine faith of our glorious Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, with your silly pretentiousness. 2 If an affluent gentleman enters your gathering wearing the finest clothes and priceless jewelry, don’t trip over each other trying to welcome him. And if a penniless bum crawls in with his shabby clothes and a stench fills the room, don’t look away or pretend you didn’t notice—offer him a seat up front, next to you. 3-4 If you tell the wealthy man, “Come sit by me; there’s plenty of room,” but tell the vagrant, “Oh, these seats are saved. Go over there,” then you’ll be judging God’s children out of evil motives.
5 My dear brothers and sisters, listen: God has picked the poor of this world to become unfathomably rich in faith and ultimately to inherit the Kingdom, which He has pledged to those who love Him. 6 By favoring the rich, you have mocked the poor. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it the rich who step on you while climbing the ladder of success? And isn’t it the rich who take advantage of you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones mocking the noble name of our God, the One calling us?
 I don't even know how to begin to provide commentary on James. It is such succinct writing. A philosophy that believes, contrary to evidence, that enabling the rich to get richer will eventually trickle down some pennies to the poor, is not a philosophy James agrees with. If America was great in the 1950's, the rich paid up to 3/4 of their income in taxes. With all that money in the government's coffers services were plentiful, infrastructure was great, wages were sufficient, and the middle class swelled. But it takes legislators willing to compromise to restore this historical aspect of America. An uncompromising legislature and citizenry may revisit the historical aspect of American of 150 years ago.

May we all follow the example of the God who compromises.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

compassionate christianity

I do not find the liberal-conservative antonyms of Christianity useful. Usually the labels are applied to how one approaches the Bible not how they live out the teaching of Jesus existentially. Liberals are just as likely to be hard hearted as conservatives are to be full of mercy of grace. Fundamentalists can make space for gay people while retaining their fidelity to those seven biblical passages that seem to condemn it. I encountered this recently in an article by the current head pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Cali. Pastor Brian Broderson believes a Christian is free to attend a sinner's wedding but not a backslidden believer's wedding. I call that progress.

It seems strange to someone outside of the more conservative branches of the faith that this is even a topic worth debating. But when I was deep into this branch, I worried a great deal about this choice if presented to me. As I think back, my head said no but my heart said yes. If I were to go to such a wedding and face censure in my faith community for such an action my heart would no longer belong to such a community even if my head kept me there. The head is the home of pride, not wanting to admit error. The heart is the home of humility, wounded, tender, tentative, and sensitive.

Children live from the heart. They are impulsive and not well thought. Their heads have to be trained. But Jesus taught that his followers not to keep the kids away from him because the kingdom of heaven is made up of children and their like.

When I was 7 years old, during recess on the playground, I saw some bigger kids bullying a boy in my grade, making fun of his afro. I ran over to defend him. I knew nothing about race relations. But my heart had compassion for another child being bullied.

Theology can be found justifying racial segregation, slavery, xenophobia, and misogyny. All of these theologies threaten God's wrath if we disagree with these visions of God as filtered from the Bible. Will God be mad at me if I link arms with a black kid who is being raised Muslim? Will God be mad at me if I go to my gay friend's wedding? It's a self-protective stance towards my neighbors. Jesus, however, compares God to a good shepherd who looks for lost sheep (even ones who do not belong to his flock) or a single woman who searches all over her house for a missing coin. Jesus celebrates radical generosity, something he pointed out in the action of a poor widow, but can also be seen in children. Children can be scandalously selfish one moment and even more scandalously generous the next. As a parent, I tried to discourage the first and encourage the latter.

I want to do the same with my fellow believers today. I want to encourage Pastor Broderson to enlarge his generosity towards his gay neighbors. Perhaps he will continue to reason within his Biblical lens and think of what Paul instructs regarding backslidden believers: treat them like Rome's tax collectors. Jesus was so compassionate to those tax collectors many became his followers, one even wrote one of the gospels. In short, when a believer backslides love them as much as you love an unbeliever, which means he can go to any gay wedding.

This is not a liberal or conservative debate. It's not a progressive or regressive debate. It's a life of love and generosity and compassion. The Bible can be understood differently, even wrongly, but, as Jesus said, the measure we use against others will be used against us. The more generous we are with others, the more generosity we allow for our own mistakes and failures. The more we seek out the lost and the hurting, like Jesus did, the more we stand alongside the downtrodden and scapegoated, like Jesus did, the more we resemble the God who is love.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

book report - The Divine Dance by Rohr and Morrell 2016

This book is not one you want to blast through in a few weeks like I did. I really like Franciscan friar Richard Rohr and have been receiving his daily emails for about a year now. I have only read one of his books before this one, Simplicity: The art of living. Simplicity captures a series of lectures by Rohr from the 1990's. His new book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, has a similar origin. As described in one of the afterwords co-author Mike Morrell took material from two of Rohr's conferences, The Divine Dance and The Shape of God, wrote down, arranged, condensed, expanded, and subdivided them into this amazing book.

The chapters are short, usually two or three pages, which lends itself to more of a devotional read. In fact, I'm planning to re-read this as a spiritual supplement this next Lenten season. The Christian theology of the triune God distinguishes it from the other Abrahamic faiths, Islam and Judaism, and has been and continues to be a source of division within the Christian church. One of the metaphors the early church leaders used to describe the one God who is three persons is a dance, a divine dance. Rohr admits this is a mystery. He writes,
“Remember, mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand—it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you! “Circling around” is all we can do. Our speaking of God is a search for similes, analogies, and metaphors. All theological language is an approximation, offered tentatively in holy awe. ” Page 42 
This celebration of the God who is a trinity is not akin to the blind describing parts of the elephant, but more like the ants discussing the works of Mozart. It will always be inadequate, but never insufficient for delight to the degree one can apprehend with Rohr his adoration of the Happy Trinity. As a kind and generous Catholic follower of the way of St. Francis, Rohr is an inclusivist. He sees where God has revealed himself to cultures before and apart from Christianity. An orthodox Roman Catholic will say, "Grace perfects nature." What other cultures see in threes spiritually, Rohr can affirm those things and point to the revelation of Jesus as the culmination of those hints hidden in plain sight in nature. This book is also about the victory of God's love, which flows centripetally out from the dance into all of creation. The fallen creation is not greater than the love of God. He writes, “I think penal substitution is a very risky theory, primarily because of what it implies about the Father’s lack of freedom to love or to forgive his own creation.” p. 282 (That's some inside baseball talk for modern Christianity.) He is hopeful because his understanding of the trinity makes him exude with hope. The ugly parts of the Bible do not drag him down, because Jesus settles all the craziness that seems unloving in the Bible.
“We get the promise of free love (grace) now and then, but it is always too much for the mind and heart to believe.
The biblical text mirrors both the growth and the resistance of the soul.
It falls into the mystery, and then it says, “That just can’t be true.” Scripture is a polyphonic symphony, a conversation with itself, where it plays melodies and dissonance—three steps forward, two steps back. The three steps gradually and finally win out; you see the momentum of our Holy Book and where it is leading history. And the text moves inexorably toward inclusivity, mercy, unconditional love, and forgiveness. I call it the “Jesus hermeneutic.” Just interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did! He ignores, denies, or openly opposes his own Scriptures whenever they are imperialistic, punitive, exclusionary, or tribal.” p. 294
He has so succinctly summarized where I myself have struggled to attain after finding the Christian fundamentalist hermeneutic inadequate for the complex realities of life. Rohr's "Jesus hermeneutic" can also be called a love hermeneutic. Whatever does not reflect trinitarian love is not of God. What does that trinitarian love look like? I encourage you to buy this book and begin the dance.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

I love Donald Trump...

...because Jesus loves Donald Trump.

However, I do not think he is presidential material.

  • I believe a president should desire the uplift of everyone in society and not by scapegoating some. He has scapegoated Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and African-Americans. 
  • I believe a president would make a good neighbor, not someone who brags about sexual assaults, seduction of married women, engagement in multiple affairs, lewd comments about his own daughter, and repetition of white supremacist conspiracy theories. 
  • I believe a president should have a track record of public service. He has none. 
  • I believe a president should have experience in negotiating the labyrinth of political bureaucracy with its intentional and constitutional checks and balances, not only decisions by fiat. The executive branch is not superior to the legislative or judicial branches. 
  • I believe a president needs a thick skin who will hearken to a rebuke without responding by attacking the messengers. on the contrary, Trump has believed it productive, despite all evidence to the contrary, that attacking parents whose child died in combat, or women who gained weight, or name-calling politicians, and bullying his opponents is more appropriate.

The nation's founders, for all their flaws had high aspirations for the republic. Their words are worth heeding.

GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732-1799) "Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."

What is the character of this candidate?

ABIGAIL VAN BUREN ("Dear Abby") advice columnist "The best index to a person's character is (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back."

WOODROW WILSON (1856-1924) "If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig."

CALVIN COOLIDGE (1872-1933) "Character is the only secure foundation of the state."

DWIGHT EISENHOWER (1890-1969) The qualities of a great man are "vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character."

Source of quotes.

Jesus says, "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." Luke 6:45
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person." Matthew 15:18-20

James 3:11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Despite all his obvious faults, Jesus loves Donald Trump. Jesus wants Donald Trump to know his complete love for him. Jesus wants to show him perfect love through neighbors like me. I completely disagree with Donald Trump. I think he would be a despot if president. He does not love his neighbors nearly as much as he loves himself. Yet, I am called to love him. This is my challenge, but one I am willing to accept.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Why are people so angry at IV-USA?

Time magazine broke a story by Elizabeth Dias yesterday with quite the headline, Top Evangelical College Group to Dismiss Employees Who Support Gay Marriage. Ed Stetzer wrote an article in reply for Christianity Today with the headline, Evangelical Campus Ministry (InterVarsityUSA) Decides Employees Should Hold Evangelical Beliefs on Marriage (Updated with InterVarsity Statement). Ed does not engage at all with the personal story of an IVCF campus staffer with a transgender child who was let go by IVCF for not agreeing to their statement. Even Jesus could agree with the gentile woman who had a sick child that the dogs can at least eat the crumbs from the table. The lack of compassion for the church's sexual minorities is what sets people off.

IVCF has made strides to not be a white fundamentalist sect as it engages college culture that encourages multiculturalism and minority empowerment. Women and non-white staffers are placed in positions of leadership. IVCF has reinterpreted passages seen by more conservative "plain readers" of the Bible that forbids women in leadership. IVCF let students of color proclaim from the stage at their missions conference that Black Lives Matter. However, they also backpedaled and released a statement for critics that all lives matter.

In short, IVCF has demonstrated a progressive, non-literal reading of the Bible and continually expanded the tent. LGBTQI students and their allies have seen this progressive stance on these issues as a potential opening into the IVCF tent for them and their spiritual journeys. But IVCF has closed the tent flaps. They write,
Regrettably, many Christians have not loved same-sex-attracted people as we ought. Too often, we have responded with exclusion and caused them shame or remained silent when hatred has been expressed toward them. We humbly own our past failures and offer genuine love.
At the same time, Scripture is very clear that God’s intention for sexual expression is to be between a husband and wife in marriage. Every other sexual practice is outside of God’s plan and therefore is a distortion of God’s loving design for humanity.
As I read this, from an ally perspective, I hear, "we are sorry we've been jerks, but God is a jerk about this, so it's not really our fault." They love you in the same way their jerk god does, who will send you to hell unless you keep your genitals out of the wrong places. Jerk god does not have compassion on his LGBTQI creations. He will only accept them if they choose celibacy or sham marriages that produce children.

IVCF's compassionate and intentional inclusiveness reached a breaking point. But Jesus will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. His compassion is greater. He does not have to worry about losing donor money from an uncomfortable majority who has a hard enough time with the affirmation that Black lives matter. Christian conservatives have a lot of money to give, but not to gay tolerant organizations, as World Vision learned. The financial base needs to be placated. Conservatives place straight monogamous marriage into the orthodoxy category even as the affirmation hurts their neighbors and does not treat them as they wish to be treated. It is truly unfortunate that IVCF does not list any affirming resources in their reading list at the end of their document.

Who has the courage to welcome and affirm the outcasts of the church who harm no one as they live out an essential aspect of their identity? Jesus says how we treat the least of these is how we treat him. New wine requires new wine skins.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

love and pastoral affairs

The New Testament epistle of 1st Timothy has a frequently neglected expectation of church leaders,
1 Timothy 3: 1-7 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
I said "frequently neglected" but it may only be to my limited perspective. What should the church do if a leader is not above reproach, disgrace? Elsewhere Peter's letter states, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 Should disgraceful acts by a church leader be covered up? This seems to be the approach repeatedly across many church groups, whether it be Catholic priests, Anabaptist theologians, missionary boarding school staff, civil rights leaders who were also Baptist preachers, and a revivalist preacher to California hippies among many examples and those are just of the sexual nature. When Christian leaders flaunt their wealth with expensive self-serving things, they have disgraced themselves and none of their followers care. Well, they care if their leader is called out for being reproachful.

Jesus had little tolerance for religious leaders who honored their god with words but not actions. He called them actors, hypocrites in Greek, and whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside and corrupt on the inside. If the "noble task" cannot be done with honesty and integrity by someone, and if God truly can sustain his church such that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, then why conceal what God is revealing? In each of the synoptic gospels Jesus tells his followers that what is hidden will be revealed. Light is a good thing when it uncovers evil. The scandals of the Catholic church, for example, show what happens when the first evil revelation is covered up. It only festers and spreads, making lives much worse when it is finally exposed.

It is loving for me to forgive a sin. But when I am aware of a church leader's hidden sin, which fails to meet up to it's noble task undertaken for the church, then my forgiveness is not enough. The leader needs to step aside and return to being a follower again. If the scandal comes to light after their death, telling the truth about their clay feet does not diminish what God is able to do with such weak instruments.

Later in the first letter to Timothy, Paul writes,
19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. 1 Timothy 5

A public reproof is an embodied sermon. And a favored teacher should not be given a pass, "favorited", when it comes to their stumbling. It keeps pedestals very low to the ground. Paul starts his letter with plenty of pedestal chopping.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1

The way of love is to keep the follower's focus on Jesus, and not a facade, a white washed tomb.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

But we preach Christ crucified

Paul, the former anti-Christian oppressor, had an vision of Jesus Christ that completely changed him. He became a pro-Christ evangelist. He wrote half of the Christian scripture. He applied his deep studies in the Jewish scriptures before his conversion to the surprise ending of those scriptures after his conversion.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth he tells them, 1 Cor. 1
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

He was a highly educated Jew, and no argument from Christians changed him. He was not opposed to oratory, he engaged in it, but he knew, by itself, reason was powerless. For Paul, Jesus was the completely unexpected ending that only made sense post-conversion. The execution of Christ was not what was supposed to happen to the anticipated Jewish Messiah, even though several other pretenders had come and gone promising Davidic deliverance.

Metaphorically, Paul's previous glasses which he read the Jewish Scriptures broke and were replaced with the Jesus spectacles, allowing him to read everything as if for the first time. No longer was Abraham the epitome, nor Moses, nor Elijah, nor David; they all stood in contrast to Jesus (also none of them rose from the dead). In his second letter to Corinth he explains this transition from veiled to clarity. 2 Cor. 3
14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Verse 17 is a hint at his approach to those scriptures. God is found in the passages that bring liberation, not those that burden the readers. I think when Paul writes he preaches Christ crucified, he is talking about pulling back the veil. The veil makes contrast difficult. The bright light of the the life and teachings of Jesus enhance the contrast. Jesus overrules Moses, eye for an eye is out, adulteress executions are out. Jesus overrules Joshua, we are to love our enemies. Jesus negates Elisha, he doesn't feed his opponents to bears. Jesus is greater than David, winning by dying, not by killing.

Paul describes what he preaches, not prescribes it. However, in my life time in fundagelical churches, I've heard a lot of unveiled scripture teaching without revealing the concealed Jesus or not about Jesus at all but something spiritual, or political or ethical. Every part contributes to the story, whose main character is Jesus. It's like a great mystery novel. Some parts are misdirections. Some parts are important clues. The minor characters are complex, partly right and partly wrong. It's the bright light of Jesus that reveals all these things. I think everyone should hear how the story and how each part contributes to it. It's the greatest story ever told, according to some.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

You are a royal priesthood

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

In the Jewish scriptures the Levite tribe, which Moses belonged to, were designated a landless priesthood by blood to serve the rest of the Israelite tribes. In the same way, the church serves the same purpose today as the priesthood for the world.

One expectation on this priesthood is to praise God with our stories, what was done for us by Him, from darkness to light, from disunity to unity, from condemnation to mercy. It's more than talk though it's a walk: a walk in love, a walk in unity, a walk of mercy.

This has some important obligations for the Christian church. Peter continues,
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Part of this testimony of praise is a life of love physically manifested by good deeds.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
This royal priesthood of love is one of deference to the leaders who oversee the lands we live in, whether it be a malevolent godless dictator or a kind Christian african american. We do not pray for their destruction but for their conversion, to have a similar transit from darkness to light. We do not testify by our judgment but by our good deeds, our love, and the honor we give to others.

Jesus is the prototype of this priesthood.
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
This priesthood does not retaliate or threaten, but suffers, believing that even death cannot destroy the victory of God. In chapter 4 he writes, 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Love is the priority of our ministry, without it, we are just making noise.

The story no longer stops here for me, because I realized the priests were not the only ones chosen by God. They were a subset of a larger group of chosen ones.

Everyone is loved by God (For god so loved the world...) and will know his love for all eternity. A Jew did not have to be a Levite to be one of God's chosen people, nor does the non-Christian world. In Peter's 2nd letter he writes, 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. What is repentance? a change in thinking, a change from a self focus to a neighbor focus, from selfishness to generosity, from hate to love. In the meantime, those of us who have joined the priesthood pray daily for Christ's kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as in heaven, then live it out - where he is the object of our desire, where those who are in need are fed and clothed, where reconciliation happens - offenses are forgiven and offenders ask for forgiveness, where mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

All God's children are called to his kingdom of love. His patience is eternal. Everyone recognizes love eventually, even if not in this life, Matthew 5:26, I Corinthians 3:11-15. The royal priesthood is the love advance team hollering about the good news that love is better than we can imagine that love has been embodied and died at our hands yet still forgives. Love always wins in the end.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Gays and the New Jerusalem

Disgustingly, some Christian pastors publicly celebrated the massacre at the Orlando gay nightclub in their sermons, on Youtube, and on their blogs. I will not provide links. Other conservative evangelical pastors were actually shaken enough to reconsider their approach to the Bible and the LGBTQ community.

The disgusting pastors love this verse. (Image from here.) So their understanding of god is good with  the slaughter of gay people and their friends who were not gay, because their god is totally offended with these versions of his creation. Even though their holy book says their god made humanity in his image, they think verses like these contradict other verses that say their god's creation of humanity was "very good." There is another verse in Leviticus that says God considers men having gay sex an abomination. Hence the follow up death penalty. The previous verse only said these guys needed to be kicked out of their community but two chapters later god doubles down and decides they should be kicked out by killing them. I've been informed on Facebook that God is disgusted with the gays because the Bible says so. Apparently, God also loves them, if they stop being gay. Otherwise, they are going to burn forever in hell. But my conservative friends do not think gays should be killed anymore, just deprived of their rights.

Why shouldn't Christians kill gays anymore? My answer used to be because that was part of the theocracy in ancient Israel.

My question now is, were those the good old days when those Levitical laws were in place? Then the other question is do you realize this book was not even composed until just before the exile or during the Persian exile? Do you realize this law may not have even existed in those old days? But if it did, was that really God's best idea? Killing people in violation of sexual mores?

How did God react to a similar situation?

John's gospel contains the wandering pericope of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees, a conservative religious sect in Israel, dragged a woman caught en flagrant adultery. Her partner however was not brought to trial. The religious dudes reminded Jesus that the law of Moses, e.g. Leviticus, condemns adulterers to death by stoning. Jesus told them to go ahead, that is anyone who has not sinned. They got the message, dropped their stones and left her and Jesus alone. Jesus tells her he does not condemn her and to not sin anymore. (I cannot imagine that worked out well for her though). Since I'm a trinitarian Christian, I consider Jesus fully God and fully human in some mysterious way. And Jesus did not condemn her. He overruled the law of Moses with love. The apostle Paul wrote something about that, 2 Corinthians 3:6 "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." As I've written many times here, not everything biblical is Christian.

Adultery is a death penalty offense in the Bible, but it is not for Christians. The same is true for homosexuality. That massacre in Orlando was not approved by Jesus. The church, who is supposed to be Christ's representation on the earth, is supposed to stand between the oppressors and the oppressed, the judges and the judged, the violators and the violated, not cheer on the violent mob.

Nor does Jesus say to the woman "I do not support your lifestyle." If he did then he would be condemning her. He doesn't self-contradict. He loves and protects. He preserves her life, because that is what the Spirit of God does, brings life. That is how you know which parts of the Bible are Christian, which parts are, indeed, inspired/God-breathed and which parts are not. Without the living Spirit of God, dead letters kill. When doctrine is more important than relationship, death wins, not love.

So what will the new Jerusalem be like for the literalists who read John's Revelation the same way they read Leviticus?

Revelation 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Image of the New Jerusalem from the wikipedia.

It will be a theocracy again, just like the good old days of Israel. Will the stoning of gays and adulteresses be re-instituted? The nations will still be there, verse 24. There will be shameful people to keep out, verse 27. Will the New Jerusalem be like an Orlando slaughter at a gay nightclub or a place for the weak to find refuge?