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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?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Healthcare needs more than Jesus

In the last month, a Canadian family who let their son die of diabetes because they believed Jesus was enough to cure him were condemned in court for murder. Children's death by believers in the christian tradition of faith healing happen every year in the United States and Canada. It is obvious to those outside of their sects that they have read the Bible too literally.Yes, in the gospels Jesus does heal many people of illnesses. In the Acts of the Apostles, his disciples heal some people as well. There are indeed promises that some afflictions just need more prayer and that anything good asked of God will be granted. But experience has proven to be a regulator on how literally some promises should be taken. (Evidence photo found here.) Jesus is not always enough to keep people alive. Sometimes insulin is needed as well.

Most devout christians do not follow Paul's advice to Timothy when they have an upset stomach and drink a little wine to treat it. We understand Paul's advice was appropriate to the time he wrote and level of medical understanding in his time. We do not believe his instructions are for all generations of Christians. In fact, some teetotaling Christians in the early 20th century United States deliberately ignored such holy instructions.

If we are honest, Jesus and the Bible are not enough to treat our medical conditions. Medicine, surgery, and long term treatment are often required. The times have changes. Humanity has progressed. We have a better understanding of the cause of ulcers and their treatment. Smallpox has been exterminated. Polio is almost gone. Leprosy is now treatable. Heart disease does not kill so many so early as it used to; the same is true of cancer. People with diabetes can live long lives. A stronger faith in Jesus, or a deeper prayer life, or a more intense devotional life did not cure or prevent these diseases. None of that discredits the miracles that do happen in people's lives who are cured from these things by prayer and devotion. But they would not be miracles if they were routine. By definition, a miracle is an exception. Certainly Jesus can do it, but usually he doesn't.

Jesus tells his disciple what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. We get to adjust as the occasion calls for it. As medicine improves we let it's proven track record step in where prayer has failed.

The early Jewish dominated church wanted to impose 4 rules on the Gentile churches that were springing up all over the Mediterranean because of the efforts of people like Paul. They were don't eat blood, or meat from strangled animals, or meat sacrificed to idols, and don't screw around. Paul was like "cool, cool. i'll tell everyone." He kept forgetting to ever again mention the blood or strangled animal issue. Those were very Jewish concerns and the church neglected those commands soon after. Paul goes back and forth about the meat sacrificed to idols issue. He seems to settle on, don't do it if it's going to freak a Jewish person out; basically, "keep it on the down low." However, his expansive definition of sexual immorality might be shrinking. Even the Catholic church under Pope Francis is recognizing the great harm it has caused by denying community to remarried divorcees.  It used to be a big deal in some Protestant churches as well. Didn't Jesus say remarriage is adultery unless the divorce was for an affair? But now people have allowed their compassion to even overrule Jesus and support divorces from abusive spouses, and abusive has a wide definition. But before this loosening, people remained trapped in terrible marriages for fear of the church's condemnation. Many protestant churches even allow divorced and remarried people to pastor churches, even though they do not meet Paul's requirement to be a person of one spouse.

The church has loosened in response to the terrible experiences of places where the church convinced societies to outlaw divorce. The church has loosened in compassion by choosing to not add extra pain of community rejection to the wreckage of a divorce. The church has loosened in compassion for the innocent children who were cast out of church because their parent's divorced.

The church matures when it lets charity guide what it loosens and what it binds. When love is it's guide, and God is love, and it acknowledges the advancement in understanding that comes from study, both of it's own scriptures and the world we inhabit, the church grows. When it denies medical science, people die too early. When it denies emotional care, people die spiritually.

The church is learning on medicine. The church is learning on minority experiences. The church is learning on science, from astronomical to genetic to evolution to psychological. The church does not need to have all the answers, but it can always be a sanctuary for those in need of love and a sanctuary for the vulnerable. Broken people want to be part of church but are often barred from it because they are not good enough. But all that's required is that Jesus loves them. The sexual minority community has been rejected by the church for centuries. It's time for the church to be the sanctuary of love and recognize that most gay people are not "healed" by Jesus. The church may not understand the LGBTQ experience, but their testimonies are remarkably similar. Like most of us, they seek love in companionship. Their lifestyle is a life like any other, in search of love. They are not sexually immoral when they marry someone of the same gender, or when they transition to their true gender. They are not the norm, which is why they are minorities. Jesus is not enough, unless Jesus includes his church embracing them and loving them as they are.

Some blogs worth reading.
Registered Runaway - Some thoughts on Orlando.
Samantha Field - yes, you hate me...
Eliel Cruz - My Pride Is Bulletproof: A Queer Puerto Rican on Life After Orlando
Kevin Garcia - Why “Welcoming, but Not Affirming” is Not Welcoming at All
Broderick Greer - Gay nightclubs and black churches are sanctuaries. Here's how to make them safer

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

a life of charity

Bible translation is not simply replacing a hebrew, aramaic, or greek word for an equivalent in the receiver language.

Take for example the greek New Testament word, "agape". In modern English translations it is translated to the word "love." In Jacobian England, the translators of the King James Bible chose "charity." I think we Americans might need to go back to the KJV word. As many evangelicals know, ancient Greek has at least 4 words  that could be translated into "love". Agape is the word given special emphasis by the New Testament writers. But when we Americans think "love" we water it down. But when we hear "charity" we are forced to think about personal expense, compassion for one in need, generosity, withheld judgment, as well as love. Charity can also remind us of being lied to, of turning the other cheek when slapped, of blessing those who are our enemies, and of taking risks that sometimes turn out poorly. The thing about charity is we more quickly disassociate it from a single feeling, whereas we generally associate love with good feelings.

I am not so optimistic as to think using the word "charity" will make the church more charitable. Plenty of white American christians, including clergy, have perpetuated horrific atrocities and slaughters - for example of native Americans, even though they used King James' Bible. They just used the part about Joshua's invasion to justify their slaughter of Pequot women and children in Mystic, Connecticut and Sand Creek, Colorado among many other places. For the cause of slavery, the devout general Stonewall Jackson ordered the defeat and death of thousands of fellow Americans. For the cause of peace, white pastors urged Martin Luther King Jr. to cease his protests in Birmingham because the christian whites were not yet ready to recognize the equality of black Americans.


When I plead for my fellow followers of Jesus to love their LGBTQ neighbors, some seem to think that means telling them they are sinful and dooming themselves to hell. But how does that change if I plead for my fellow followers of Jesus to be more charitable to their LGBTQ neighbors? Can they suffer long with them? Can they not look down on them? Can they seek the benefit of them? Can they think no evil of them? Can they rejoice in the truth of their identity with them? Can they bear all things with them? Can they hope with them? Can they endure with them? Can we mature?


Can we follow this wise man's idea?
“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”  Billy Graham

Can we hear our black neighbors who want us to recognize that black lives matter without callously replying "all lives matter"? Can we hear the parents of children murdered by men with assault weapons when they ask for those guns to be banned without demanding unrestricted 2nd amendment rights?

Charity hurts. That's how we know we are doing it right. Who is ready to follow Jesus in the way of agape?



1 Corinthians 13 (KJV) 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

America needs more than Jesus

In the wake of another mass shooting in the United States of America, some of us declare our country's need for Jesus. Yet, as this picture shows, Jesus is not enough.

Because people can be faithful born again church goers who are also racists or misogynists or rapists or murderers. Certainly Jesus can work on those issues in our hearts, but in the meantime, laws are useful in diminishing those abusive tendencies in all of us. In 1918 a law was proposed to oppose lynching. This law was passed because Jesus was not enough for the most Christian nation in the world. (A federal anti-lynching law has never been passed though.) The Supreme Court had to affirm the right of an inter-racial couple to be married contrary to state laws forbidding it, because Jesus was not enough. The Supreme Court told states that separate but equal was always separate but never equal and thus unconstitutional because Jesus' teaching on loving our neighbors and the least of these was not enough. The courts had to punish churches financially, and not just the Roman Catholic church, for covering up sexual abuse because Jesus was not enough. The courts have to overrule parental rights when they deprive their children of healthcare because Jesus is not enough to heal them. The Supreme Court told the states and the Congress that they cannot deprive gay citizens of the legal privileges of the marriage contract because Jesus was not enough. Some of Jesus' followers are publicly celebrating the slaughter of 50 "sodomites" as god's justice, because Jesus' teaching on loving their neighbors and blessing their enemies is not enough.  Some of Jesus' followers find Jesus' teaching on love is overruled by ancient rules from god about stoning homosexuals.

In my previous post I listed several examples of American christians doing awful things because it was not a problem in their current cultural milieu. Jesus was not enough for them to change their approach to their neighbors.


So what does America need? In addition to better laws, I think it needs love. Jimi Hendrix is not the first to express this idea, but he has summed it up pithily, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

The love of power expresses itself in the manipulation of laws to privilege one group over another. The power of love forsakes privilege so all can have equal rights. The love of power expresses itself in protecting the predators and ignoring the assaulted to maintain the aura of righteousness. The power of love cares for victims at the expense of reputation. The love of power expresses itself in the declaration that everyone should buy firearms for personal protection. The power of love lays down arms and turns the other cheek and removes deadly accidents and opportunities from the reach of the immature, the deranged, and the clueless. The love of power esteems one religion over others. The power of love sees all as family, all as neighbors, all as fellow children of God who bear his image and all on a path back to their Lover. The love of power is paranoid because it suspects all of wickedness, especially those who are different. The power of love recognizes the spark of love in everyone and seeks to fan it into a burning flame. The love of power is doctrinaire and unmoved by appeals to compassion. The power of love always chooses mercy. The love of power votes for more power even if it's racist, misogynist, and hateful. The power of love votes on behalf of those who would suffer the most.

We cannot all agree on Jesus. But we can certainly all agree on love. There is a favored metaphor among revivalist preachers that the biggest obstacle between us and Jesus is only 12 inches between our skull and our hearts. As Jesus said, we will be known for our love (heart) not for our doctrine (skull).

Friday, June 03, 2016

History is not hate speech

As the Guardian reports,
Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Berlin after German MPs approved a motion describing the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a century ago as genocide – a decision that the Turkish president said would “seriously affect” relations between the two countries. 
Those whose families were traumatized by Turkey's actions are grateful for the acknowledgment of their suffering. Turkey's offense over this acknowledgment is so notorious there are even several wiki articles about it. Here is one.

Armenian embassy members hold posters reading ‘Recognition now – thank you’ during the meeting in Berlin. Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

It's not like Germany doesn't know anything about committing and apologizing for genocide.

Atrocities are not unknown in the United States either. I have 87 posts here on the treatment of native Americans by the white government. The ongoing treatment of African Americans is no longer as bad as slavery but the current penal system is an ongoing human rights crime against the AA community. Please read Bryan Stevenson's book, Just Mercy: A story of justice and redemption or look at the success stories of the Innocence Project. Telling these stories indicts those who committed the wrongs. But hiding the stories out of some twisted version of Christian charity is to perpetuate the crime by denying the just expression of the oppressed.

However, this week is also the anniversary of the Tulsa race riot when white Oklahomans attacked a highly successful and thriving black community in Tulsa and burned it to the ground in 1921.
The younger Franklin says Tulsa has been in denial over the fact that people were cruel enough to bomb the black community from the air, in private planes, and that black people were machine-gunned down in the streets. The issue was economics. Franklin explains that Native Americans and African-Americans became wealthy thanks to the discovery of oil in the early 1900s on what had previously been seen as worthless land. 
This shameful history was often ignored in Tulsa's american history classes. In 2012 the Oklahoma Senate passed a law to ensure it was taught. As one of the sponsoring Senators said, "It teaches us about how far hatred can go." Author, attorney and historian Hannibal B. Johnson unpacks this brief statement in the opening to his essay, Curriculum counts.
We need to teach and learn about the Riot. We need to know what happened and why. We need to hold people accountable; assign moral responsibility for the gross depredations and injustices perpetrated on Tulsa soil. If, and only if, we teach and learn about the Riot will we begin the process of reconciliation in earnest, recapture a lost sense of shared humanity, and create for posterity a community more open, inclusive and loving than the one in which we live today. We must incorporate this potent, painful, poignant legacy into the classroom in deliberate, systematic ways.

When we sanitize our past, we stifle our ability to analyze it intensively and critically
See a photo of a page from his book on Twitter.




Just this year is the local paper celebrating the teaching of this taboo subject in Tulsa's schools. But the subject is touchy and embarrassing, as it should be. As the first commenter on this article says, "Enough about the race riot. Start back reporting the current news."

History can and should make us uncomfortable when it reveals how people have treated people. But the causing of discomfort is not hate speech, it's an opportunity to heal, reconcile and grow. Those are not the goals of hate speech, which seeks to demean, divide, and diminish. For example a KKK meeting in Tulsa can talk about the Tulsa race riot in celebration, same history, different intent. Books and verse, whether historical or fictional, about this riot recalling the terror and the damage, retelling the stories and the losses, to generate sympathy for the victims by humanizing them is not hate speech. It's history with an intent to warn us about the wickedness that lurks in all of us.

Yesterday, I shared a poem on Facebook by the poet, Emily Joy. She also has a theology degree from the conservative Chicago Bible college, Moody. However, the poem I shared is critical of the conservative mantra, Love the Sinner and Hate the sin, in particular towards the LGBTQ community. I was told by an old friend that this poem was hateful and as bad as the hate speech she was critiquing. Yet she is telling true anecdotes of many interactions queer people have with conservative christians and parents. She is sharing the pain so that christians might realize the pain they are causing.


Parents of gay children who do the things Emily Joy writes about sometimes have deep regrets. These two Christian parents learned from their son he was gay and told him all the things Emily refers too. They loved him but gave him unloving doctrine in response. He died of an overdose a few years later. They want parents to know that the response to a child who comes out is to love them. Not love them the sinner, but love them "Just because he breathes." Both Emily Joy and these parents are sharing their pain and the pain of others. They want the unnecessary infliction of pain because of doctrine to stop. That is not hate speech. "When you do this it hurts" is important communication, not hate speech. It is not a violation of the golden rule of Jesus. In fact it is the fulfillment of it.

Jesus loves sinners. Jesus loves Turks and Armenians, Germans and Jews, whites and blacks and amerindians, straights and gays, pharisees and sinners. But he does have a problem with bullies and seeks to defend the bullied and brutalized. Using words to defend the bullied and marginalized is not hate speech. It's an act of love.

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.