Tuesday, November 24, 2015

sharp knife, dull mind

When I was ten years old my dad gave me a folding buck knife with a 3 inch blade. I had never used a real knife before. I used a butter knife to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches regularly, but nothing as sharp and magnificent as this piece of steel. I still have this very knife in my adulthood.

One of the first cool things I wanted to do with my new knife was to cut off slices of an apple and eat each slice off the blade like my dad would do. The first attempt did not go so well though. The apple was not slicing. My dad could do it so effortlessly. Why was my knife not working? I figured my dad was so much stronger than I and I only needed to apply more thumb strength on the back of the blade. The apple then did start to open up, but not in a slice, but more in a smash and my thumb was really hurting. I stopped to re-evaluate my technique.  Was this apple extra tough? Was my knife extra dull? I looked at my thumb. No, the knife was not extra dull because it was making cutting into my thumb.

Yes, I was trying to cut my apple with the back side of the knife, pushing on the blade. When I turned the knife around and reapplied the knife, it cut a slice of apple smoothly. The knife was sharp enough, the apple was not a fruit leather, the problem was the incompetence of the operator, me.

I recalled this experience from the deep vaults of my memories this morning as I self-righteously read today's Daily Office reading.
Psalm 123:4-5  Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt, Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,  and of the derision of the proud.
I'm reading this particular passage and joining in with the Psalmist complaining about the rich and the proud who are ruining everything. "Yeah, God, down with those oppressors. I'm sick of them." But just like my prayer the other day, my aspersion boomeranged back on me. In someone else's eyes I am proud and I am richer than them. No matter what other circumstances I can point to, unavoidably I am an american upper middle class straight white man of privilege. I am extremely wealthy compared to most of the world. I am sure some of my consumption of food and clothes and products has involved slave labor or oppressive working conditions of others. Those others may also be crying out to God for mercy and justice. I also know my proud heart. What I may believe as confidence, others consider tone deaf obnoxiousness.

I then responded to this passage a second time. "Lord forgive me."

Back to the knife story. The author of Hebrews says this,
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. Heb. 4:12
As I was bearing down on those verses from the Psalms against my enemies, those same verses were carving into me. Those words cut both ways. They are sharp but this operator is dull. Hopefully, one day I will be more careful in the future.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Not everything Biblical is Christian: Part 17 - Psalm 51 a prayer of confession

In Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance is written in light of King David's affair with Bathsheba and the battlefield murder of her husband. It's a tragic and vulnerable prayer, but in the middle of it comes this non-Christian part in verse 4.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

Hold on! He forced himself on a woman, some even say it was rape. He got her pregnant. He tried to get her husband to come off the battlefield and sleep with his wife to cover up his offense. The soldier was so honorable, he refused to sleep with his wife as his men on the field did not have the same luxury. David let's the guy go back to the battlefield with a message for his commander to leave the guy exposed so that he would get killed. Done and done. After the wife finishes her time of mourning, David has her move into his palace with his other wives. Yet he thinks that he has only sinned against God!? It's good to be the king.

I'm sure there are a few exceptions, but I do believe most Christian pastors who are counseling abusive husbands will not tell them, "Well, confess it to God only...Naaah, don't worry about your wife and kids, you only sinned against God, not them."

Christ teaches us to be reconciled with those who have something against us. That is Christian doctrine. This is a great prayer, but it has to be read in light of Christ's teachings. In this case, we can know David was wrong. He did not only sin against God. He needed to confess to Bathsheba and her husband's family and his army and his commander and his nation.

Not everything biblical is Christian.

Series review----------------------
This is part 17 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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

will you make it to heaven?

The Protestant denominations have not reached consensus on the afterlife of all humans, nor even of all believers. Some are universalists who believe all will go to heaven. Some are minimalists who think that only their tribe will make it. Some think "once saved, always saved." Some think "once baptized, always saved." Some think that unless salvation is worked out one who was saved could lose it. The ways to read the Bible literally and puzzle it together in a systematic theology are so myriad, protestantism has also fractured in a myriad of tribes.

There are verses that indicate all these options.

I think my wild and crazy perspective on hell let's all of these verses be true. I haven't contrasted my view yet with the Roman Catholic understanding of purgatory, but I admit, there are similarities, but there are differences. I think everyone is waylaid in a purgatory/hell that acts like an afterlife version of a truth and reconciliation commission. Certainly innocents like children will zip right through this into eternal fellowship with the God who is love. But even Christians who have forgiveness to ask and forgiveness to give need to take care of this business before the final state. I also think non-Christians will also go to this intermediary after-life. I will also have to explain this in another post as well.

I do think salvation, defined as an eternal fellowship with the God who is love, is for all of us, but our process to get to that final station can be hastened or hindered in the lives we have now.

So yes, you will make it to heaven, but the life of love, acceptance, peace, and forgiveness that God wants to bring us into can begin today. I think this life looks like the blessed life Jesus describes on the sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"...if you do not forgive"

Today's readings from the Daily Office challenged me to think some more about heaven and hell. Can I still read these passages and continue to rethink hell and heaven?

I think so.

The New Testament reading is from John's Apocalypse.
Revelation 22:14-15 “How blessed are those who wash their robes! The Tree of Life is theirs for good, and they’ll walk through the gates to the City. But outside for good are the filthy curs: sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters—all who love and live lies.

The Gospel reading is Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant.

Matthew 18:21-35
21 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” 22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
23-25 “The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.
 26-27 “The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.
 28 “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’
 29-31 “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.
 32-35 “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.

What is the debt Jesus is talking about? To spiritualize the parable is to see the servant's debts as those sins like the ones described in the Revelation passage above. But there might be a bigger debt, the debt of forgiveness. Permit me to jump back to the end of the Lord's Prayer, earlier in Matthew's gospel.
Matthew 6:14-15 “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part."
God's forgiveness sounds conditional in both passages. Perhaps one of the lies that keeps people out of the heavenly city is the lie that entrance can be gained without forgiveness of those who have hurt us. In my crazy view of hell, all of us after death will spend our time outside of the heavenly city until forgiveness and justice, grace and truth*, peace and repentance are sorted out between all of us. Those things listed in the Revelation passage are the kinds of things that injure others. These are examples of things that need to be sorted beforehand, outside of the gates of the heavenly city. The torture of hell, the weeping and gnashing of teeth, is the effects of the process of reconciliation. It's painful to admit we are wrong. It is painful to see the impact of our selfishness through the eyes of those who have been hurt by it. Our opportunity now, in this life, is to seek that forgiveness and reconciliation and peace and love now as much as it depends on us**. Some of those who hurt us will not be able to stop hurting us until the next life. Some relationships will not, or cannot, be fixed until the afterlife. But there is hope. Grace and truth will eventually meet.

*John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
**Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

Friday, November 20, 2015

a musical night

Seeing my kids perform in theater is such a wonderful escape for me.

Tonight, my youngest performed in a cabaret show.

I don't know much Broadway. I didn't even like show tunes before my kids starting performing. Sometimes, even most of the time, I don't even hear the words, not because of poor diction, but I simply enjoy the voices as musical instruments.

Kids creating music. Kids making art. Kids making beauty. "Beauty will save the world" is the title of a book I will someday read. The sentence expresses so much hope and redirects my eyes from the ugly to the good.

I'm grateful for beauty.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Land of the free, home of the brave

A country was attacked this past week by terroriests who killed over a hundred citizens enjoying their life in a free country. These terrorists are from a war torn nation fighting for it's own freedom. People are fleeing that war torn country because they don't want to choose between terrorists or a totalitarian demagogue. People are fleeing by the tens of thousands to a land of the red, white and blue. They share the skin color, the background, and the religion of the terrorists, but they hate the terrorists.

What did the attacked country do?

It fought back against the terrorist bases and announced they will still take in 30,000 refugees from the land of the terrorists. France's national motto is "Liberty, equality, and fraternity." France is living up to their national aspiration.

One of my country's national mottos is "land of the free, home of the brave." However, political candidates believe out country should increase it's internal surveillance of it's own people, and are afraid to let 10,000 refugees into it's much larger land and population. Is security our highest value? Do we really want to be the "land of the suspicious, home of the cowards"? How can we seriously consider a political candidate who wants to shred our Bill of Rights, removing the guarantee of freedom of religion, wanting to close down mosques? How can we even listen to an American politician who wants people to be officially labeled by their religion?

Hate unites. Love divides. Ironic isn't it?

Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword." Matthew 10:34 He obviously was not speaking literally although his followers have taken him very literally. But he did foresee division because of his good news of God's love, our equality before him, and our brotherhood/sisterhood under him. People hate that message; unless they love it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

what you have done for the least of these...

It is highly ironic to me that the Bible belt and the Rust belt have governors declaring they will not accept Syrian refugees, despite our nation's already extreme and over long refugee vetting process. Whereas the liberal west and east coasts, except for northern new england, seem to exhibit the kind of faith in action the Bible talks about.

Maybe those godless liberals have never read these words from Jesus.
Matthew 25:40-45 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

The godless liberals have surely missed out on St. James words,
James 2
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

It's not surprising that believers who have trouble finding mercy for our gay neighbors also have the same trouble finding mercy for Muslim refugees fleeing terrorists.

Meanwhile, several Syrian families have been patronizing the local library where my wife works for the past few months and have not terrorised her yet.

I'm a descendant of immigrants, German farmers and hungry Irish and European Jews. Some spoke the wrong language. Some had the wrong religion. Some were associated with bad actors from their ethnic background. But this country took them in.  Our country is a mish mash of immigrants and refugees, yet for some reason our country has always been xenophobic. It's one of our many national faults. Our ideals welcome the world's poor, tired, and hungry but our reality often trails long behind those ideals.

I hope my country will welcome in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in their time of need. I'm glad my state is one of them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

scape goat theory

I recently awoke with a fresh remembrance of an event that happened nearly 35 years ago. I remembered in junior high school, during an outdoor assembly, perhaps because the fire alarm had gone off, participating in community scapegoating.

This poor boy, who had a recent growth spurt, as young adolescents do, was wearing pants that no longer came down to his shoes but only to his ankles. Kids around him started laughing. Then more kids saw him and started laughing. Finally, at one point, a teacher tried to help him by escorting him away from the crowd. But instead his ankles were exposed to the rest of the school. We all laughed, like ignorant, insensitive, immature, insecure kids.

I can't imagine what it feels like when you are an awkward insecure 13 year old boy to have hundreds of your fellow students laughing at you without any protection from your teachers. I joined in that mocking and laughing. In my mind, if I join the laughter I am safe from being laughed at. I joined in the catharsis of our collective pubescent insecurity by participating in the emotional scapegoating of an innocent victim.

Rene Girard is a recently deceased French anthropologist who developed a theory of society and religion called Mimetic Theory. The scapegoat, the innocent sacrificial victim is an essential part of that theory. Here is a link to an introductory essay, by himself, to his theory from 1996.

There is always more reading on this, but Richard Beck has done a great job recently delving into this. The Voice of The Scapegoat: Parts 1, twothreefour, five, and part six  is a blog series by Beck exploring this concept from Girard's perspective. Please read.

In part six, today he writes,

But here in the gospels everything finally gets exposed. In the death of Jesus the final revelation occurs: Scapegoating must end, forever, because it is simply a ruse and strategy to accomplish our self-interested goals. In the cross there is one final scapegoat: Scapegoating. As Heim says, the "sacrifice" of Jesus was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Violence must cease because we just might be killing God.

To put the matter crudely: After the crucifixion of Jesus you just can't kill anyone with confidence anymore. You have to deeply question your motives for violence, to consider the possibility that the person you have so righteously nailed to the cross just might be God Incarnate.

I'm only a newbie at this scapegoating theory, so I do not know if this qualifies, but it sure seems to me that our society is afraid of terrorism. But instead of focusing on the guilty few, we scapegoat an entire nationality, Syrians, and paint all Syrian refugees with the brad brush of terrorists-in-waiting. Instead of seeking to help them by delivering them from their trauma, many political leaders in America declare that these victims are not welcome, contrary to the teachings of Jesus, who as Beck writes, has provided the final answer on scapegoating.

I was immature at 13. I refuse to be as immature as some of my country's political leaders today. I empathize with France. I empathize with Beirut, I empathize with Kenya. I empathize with Syrian refugees. There is no them, only us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

There is no room in love for fear

The point of terrorism is to instill fear out of proportion to the capability of the terrorist organization. Terrorist acts are also recruiting tool for finding more recruits/cannon fodder for the terrorists.Violent counter-terrorism can also assist recruitment and propaganda. Even precision weapons like American drones with laser guided munitions have up to a 90% "collateral damage" rate. Punishing the families of the terrorists alongside their terrorist family members is wicked, hence the euphemism, "collateral damage."

Terrorism can also be countered economically and with counter-propaganda. Economically, funders of terrorists should be sanctioned. It is not that difficult except for the complication of international relations and embarrassment of public figures.

On the propaganda front, ideologically, Islam is battling for its soul. Over a thousand Muslim clerics have joined together to condemn ISIS. But Christians can also combat this ideologically, by acts of neighborliness. Pope Francis has already offered Europe's Catholic churches as resting points for Syrian refugees. Unfortunately, the non-Christian country of America has states governors declaring no Syrian refugees allowed, and un-Christian political candidates for the American presidency want to disregard collateral damage concerns or rules of war and just "bomb the shit" out ISIS. Bombing is ineffective without boots on the ground. The Germans in WW2 rebuilt factories days after Allied carpet bombing. Like the Iranians today, they also moved factories underground. Bombing did not stop the Viet Cong. Additionally, does bombing the shit out of a country equate to genocide? Nevermind, we have a candidate who does care for the rules of war.

Anti-propaganda is love in action. The Apostle Paul tells us our battles are not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities. Our "weapons" as Christians are those of love. When we love, we deflate the power of the terrorists, fear. As the Apostle John writes, perfect love displaces fear. ISIS wants a Western backlash against Muslims. ISIS would lose if we loved them.

Certainly, ISIS needs containment, economically, border control, digitally, and ideologically. All of these fronts are more effective than violence.

It's simply a bonus to try out Christian ideals at the same time.

17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
19 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
20-21 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kung-fu Jesus

The Twitter and Facebook feed is an interesting theological study.

Some people believe in Kung-fu Jesus, who will come back one day and kick some heathen ass.

Unfortunately, his delay is frustrating and they want to start the ass kicking now.

Muslim refugees - *KAPOW* - keep them out of our Christian nation.

Muslim terrorists - *KAPOW* - let's go beat up some Muslim neighbors.

Palestinians waving flags - *KAPOW* - support the Israeli army for shooting that kid.

Following Jesus is hard.

Luke 6:27-36The Message 

27-30 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

justice against suicidal murderers

When a killer sprays a crowd with bullets from an assault rifle then kills himself before he can be apprehended, where is the justice?

When a killer walks into a crowded venue then sets off the belts of explosives under his coat, where is the justice?

An eternity in hell, tortured by flames, is cruel vengeance, not justice.

A face to face confrontation, killer with killed, one by one, each story fully known, all mental incapacities healed, all delusions cleared away, all prevarications inhibited, when a full acknowledgement of guilt has to be made, is what I believe justice looks like in the afterlife.

Suicide is not an escape for those killers, just a hastening to justice.

Friday, November 13, 2015

who doesn't make it into heaven?

St. Paul makes a few lists.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, 1 Cor. 6:9-10 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

He writes to the churches in Galatia, Gal. 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

He writes to the church in Ephesus, Eph. 5:5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

The writer of Hebrews asserts, Heb, 12:14-16 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

John the Revelator writes, Rev. 22:14-15 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

By all these criteria, I don't see how anyone can make it into the gates of heaven. Jesus says anyone who hates is a murderer, anyone who lusts is an adulterer, anyone who covets is an idolater, etc. Churches are notorious for bitter splits. Pastors are notorious for being fornicators. So do none of us, despite believing on Jesus, get to enter the pearly gates?

Revelation 21 says a couple intriguing things. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Some take this to mean an eternity of burning torture. Some take this to mean annihilation of those souls. But I'm intrigued by the verses a little way down.

Rev. 21:25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. 26 And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. 27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This is symbolic language. What does it mean there is no night? What does it mean that the gates of the new holy city shall not be shut? What does it mean to be walking around yet unable to enter the city? How can those who work abominations or make lies still be around?

I don't know enough about the Apocalypse. I know there are many approaches to understanding it. But if this is some form of the afterlife, can those outside the walls, who are in a baptism by a fiery lake coming out of it with their uncleanness purged?

I do think justice is finally satisfied in the afterlife but not to the exclusion of love and grace.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jesus is not Harvey Dent

If you are not interested in the Batman comic franchise, you don’t get the title. If you are still interested, let me explain Harvey Dent.

In the comic world of Batman, Harvey Dent was a district attorney in the city of Gotham. But a bad guy threw acid on Dent, leaving half his body wrecked. This brought out the wickedness in Dent who decides whether to do good or evil with the flip of a coin. His evil persona’s name is Two-Face. He does not have a moral code. He acts arbitrarily, indifferent to the effect of his choices.

Let me explain what I mean by my blog title, "Jesus is not Harvey Dent" with a simple illustration. If I’m walking down the road telling my non-Christian friend about Jesus and the love of God, and my friend starts to let his guard down and wants to learn more about Jesus, but just then a truck runs off the road and hits us, killing us instantly.

Would I awake in the afterlife standing on Jesus’ good side and see my friend standing on Jesus’ bad side? Would my friend look at Jesus and think I lied to him, because Jesus looks nothing like I described him, full of love, grace, and peace? Instead Jesus looks like the devil, intent on making sure my friend’s indecision would result in an eternity of burning flesh and pitchforks? Ultimately, is Jesus a two face? Is he the same yesterday, today, and forever. Is he only good to all humans in this life and a complete dick to those who died without praying the right prayer or getting baptized or joined the wrong church?

Let me share a true story, about Davy Crockett, in his own words. The Creek American Indian tribe fought against the young American nation for their independence, for the preservation of their territory. They attacked Americans at a fort and massacred them. The encroaching Americans wanted retribution. Davy Crockett formed his own paramilitary group, looking for some Creeks to bring to justice. Eventually, they came across an occupied village. Some Creeks fought, some surrendered, and some sought shelter in a house crowded with 46 warriors. Crockett and his men set fire to the house. He wrote about it in a letter to his wife.

It was, somehow or other, found out that the house had a potatoe (sic) cellar under it, and an immediate examination was made, for we were all as hungry as wolves. We found a fine chance of potatoes in it, and hunger compelled us to eat them, though I had a little rather no, if I could have helped it, for the oil of the Indians we had burned up on the day before had run down on them, and they looked like they had been stewed with fat meat. (p. 41, Jacksonland by Steve Inskeep, 2015)

It’s not hard to imagine some of Crockett’s troops were Christian in some sense. It may even be possible that some of the Creeks were believers as well. Some of the Creeks killed were also children. Now when they appear in heaven after that battle, the killed and soon to be grease for the Americans' hash browns, as well as the mortally wounded attackers, does Jesus turn his good side to the believers, whether they were the murderers or the murdered, and welcome them in, and turn his disfigured side to the unbelievers, whether they were the murderers or the murdered, and shoo them off to another burning?

Is Jesus Harvey Dent/Two-Face? 
Is he Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde?
Is he a good shepherd?
Is he who he says he is?
Is he the one in whom “all will be made alive” as St. Paul tells the Corinthian church?
Is he love incarnate?
I believe the latter.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The tax plan of the billionaires club

I listened to the Republican candidate economic debate last night. When it came to tax plans, it sounded to me that they all supported a flat tax. It's an idea that has been shot down numerous times by economists over the decades, yet they keep rolling it out. Some are even claiming since God used it for an ancient, tribal, agrarian economy to fund its religious ceremonies and staff, and was closer to 30%. But how can a brain surgeon who does not understand current national economics or Old Testament studies be held to such a high standard?

There is a tax plan billionaires have already formulated with success and satisfaction that has been in place with modifications over the last few decades. It's a progressive plan with exemptions and penalties to ensure that the poorer billionaires are able to deliver as viable a product as the more successful ones. The redistribution plan enables the dream of the underdog success to even come true once in awhile.

Where is this plan implemented? Right here in America. Where? In our professional sports leagues. Let's take baseball for example. The Yankees are an extremely successful franchise in a large market that can put those easy profits into a consistently high returning entertainment product. However, the other billionaire owners, even though jealous of the success of the Yankees, know that the entertainment product is only enjoyable if the team has other teams to play. Hence, all the wealthier teams are taxed by MLB and that money is redistributed to the smaller market teams, like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Kansas City Royals. There is also a limit on how much the teams can spend on their own product, called the luxury tax. If a team spends more than that limit they have to kick more into the redistribution pot, so that smaller teams can also have some money, otherwise unavailable to them, to also increase the talent of their product. Occasionally, these smaller teams have great success, such as the KC Royals this year, keeping the hopes and dreams alive for their markets. The success of the big teams is dependent on the success of the smaller teams.

This is not a flat tax. Rather this is a private sector model that embraces a progressive tax to ensure a great product.

Our government would like a great product, keeping the American dream alive for all the underdogs. The big dogs need the underdogs to buy their products. Hence they need to support the underdogs with enough wages to participate in the economy. Charity is not enough, which is why government programs were started. Religious organizations were not able to address all the physical needs of our society. Our economy is not a farming economy only. It is large and complex. A hammer is not a good tool to fix a circuit board. A flat tax is not a good tool for the American economy, not is it a fair tool for the underdogs. Wealthy people will not become more generous if they have more money in their pockets. Generous people will remain generous, and stingy people will stay stingy. When wealth is redistributed from top to bottom, good things happen economically, which is why unions helped keep the middle class large and well paid.

Just as it would be short sighted for the successful professional sports teams to strike out on their own, as there will be no one to compete with nor a product to sell tickets to, so is a plan to end progressive taxation in our country.

What the billionaires do in their sports franchises is called smart capitalism. For some reason when the same thing is done for the national economy it is considered socialism. Regardless of what it is called, it is a very successful system and ignored nationally at our own peril.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

the widow's husband who never heard

A true story confirmed by someone I know who was on this mission trip.

“For instance, a couple of my friends and I were visiting with a Hindu priest’s wife. She was a widow and the pastor in that town frequently visited her and read her the Bible. The woman was so glad to see us, and very kind and intelligent and knew a lot about Scripture. We shared the gospel with her, and asked her questions about Hinduism. In the end, she didn’t accept Christ, and when asked why, she explained according to her faith in Hinduism. I beamed in pride for her, because somehow I knew that she would come to Christ. I felt it, and I still can’t explain it. I knew she would accept God soon, and I understood that it wasn’t going to be now. Then, out of nowhere, my team leader said [to the pastors with us], “Tell her that her husband is in hell.”

The pastors looked at him in shock. Had I just heard that? “We can’t say that,” they said, and even though it was the truth, such a saying would hurt more than help. Yes, hell needed to be discussed, [and a lot of churches in America neglect that issue] but we were here to be Jesus.” Lacey’s story at Recovering Alumni.

So who is Jesus? What's he like? Does he want that woman to come follow him, knowing that he flushed her husband down to the cesspool of hell? For all of eternity, does Jesus want her to know her husband is being tortured while she sings worship songs to the God of love and justice and holiness?

Monday, November 09, 2015

Suffer the children

Meet Jaxon Buell.

Picture is from CNN. He just celebrated his first birthday even though he is missing most of his brain. His condition, microhydranencephaly, was determined in the 2nd trimester. His mom says,
"When we first learned there were concerns for Jax during the pregnancy, we were given the options of carrying him to term or having an abortion because there was the unknown issue. No doctor could tell us exactly what was wrong or what to expect, but we did make sure to ask if Jaxon was in pain or was suffering, and we asked if there were any added risks for Brittany during the pregnancy or potentially at time of delivery. Since the answer to both questions was "no," we never came close to considering abortion. Yes, we are Christians, and our faith has certainly been vital during this entire journey for our family, but we're still realists. Had there been any suffering in the womb or a danger involved other than Jaxon possibly not being able to live outside the womb because of the concern for his head and brain, then we certainly would have had a different discussion. However, that wasn't the case, and it was our choice, and only our choice." CNN
He is not a vegetable. Some people with this condition can live into their 30's with some measure of functionality. Most likely, this kid, with Christian parents, will likely never have the cognitive ability to respond to a salvation message and receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. So what is Jaxson's eternal fate?
There are hard line Christian tribes who only take the bible literally, so when Jesus says in John 3:18 "The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God." It doesn't matter if one is capable of believing, belief is the criteria.

There are other hard line tribes that have a little empathy and figure God has predetermined some people for hell and others for heaven regardless of their mental capacities or ages because God is glorified either way. These harder liners take verses declaring we all are born in sin and only those predestined by the arbitrary will of their God will join him in heaven. Source.

The tribe you grew up in was less hard and talked about an age of accountability.

This is an idea approved “biblically” by a story of King David. God killed King David and Bathsheba’s first baby, David took comfort that he would one day join the baby. Somehow, our tribal interpreters thought the God who would kill a baby for the sin of his father was good enough to bring the child to heaven where David, the (murderer, adulterer, polygamist, idol worshipping) poet and friend of God expected to go. Obviously, there are many issues here, but at least your tribe believes their God will make it up to kids who die young. They figure the upper limit is around the onset of adolescence, the age when Jewish boys have their rite of passage ceremony. Even the hard liners recognize their is some flexibility on that date as well - their view of God allows a little victory of mercy over his justice. As John MacArthur writes, “There is nothing in the Bible that says, "Here is the age and from here on you are responsible!" I think the reason for that is because children mature at different paces. That would be true from culture to culture, and from age to age in history.” Source. However, MacArthur’s appeal to no direct verse in the Bible, but the ethos of God's compassion. You understood that your God had some generosity in him, that he was not only moved by justice.

Now, if children and babies who die before their “age of accountability” when God becomes a hard ass, doesn’t make that bridge across the fiery canyon of hell more populated?

Let me extrapolate this a little further. What about those babies who die before they are born? Generally your tribe opposes abortion because it is murder of a child, a fully distinct human being, although small, dependent and less developed. There are natural and induced abortions. The natural ones, miscarriages, happen at a much higher rate than the induced kind, even up to 50% of all pregnancies, source, owing to the fact that most of them occur before a woman knows she is pregnant. This being the case, shouldn’t the crowd of innocents crossing over the bridge to heaven dwarf the crowd of guilty plunging into hell fire and damnation?

One more thing about babies. Older Christian tribes baptize babies, inducting them into the family. They believe this preserves them unto death. Now your tribe doubted they understood God correctly to even get to heaven in the first place, but by college you recognized them as fellow believers, in a distant cousin sense. Their teaching meant that even if they did stray, they would still go to heaven. Since those older tribes compose over a billion humans today, it might be time to add a couple lanes to the bridge to heaven. Right?

At this point, allowing for the innocent, that picture should have made heaven in the bright canyon, and made the other side full of fire and brimstone, that only a few people were crossing over to.

By this point, it's clear I do not think that picture from your bedroom was correct. In my proposal of a truth and reconciliation after-life, babies like Jaxon would get a fast pass through that metaphysical space, on their way to heaven. What offense would a baby have to confess to?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

books of 2015

I try to read a lot of good books every year. Obviously, the books I read influence the ways I think.

I tried to incorporate more fiction into my reading this year. I finished Dosteyevsky's Brothers Karamozov in January. I read a paperback so I do not have any Kindle highlights to share here, although, I do highly recommend it.

Next I read George MacDonald's Salted with Fire about the conversion of a Scottish preacher from a job to an transformed relationship energized by God. Here are a few highlights.

"...his thoughts had for some time been brooding over the blessed fact, that God is not the God of the perfect only, but of the growing as well; not the God of the righteous only, but of such as hunger and thirst after righteousness." Location 895. 

"If he be the kind of person you say he is, why can't I go close up to him?" "I confess the same foolishness, my child, at times," answered the minister. "It can only be because we do not yet see God as he is—and that must be because we do not yet really understand Jesus—do not see the glory of God in his face. God is just like Jesus—exactly like him!" Location 1284

I started Les Miserable in the early spring after Salted with Fire. I am still reading it. It is a great bedtime read right before I go to sleep. These writers from the past took their time, because they had very little other entertainment to compete with. I really enjoy this book even it is taking me so long. Just as Dostoyevsky based his most holy priest on an historical person, so also does Victor Hugo, who has deep admiration for him: "did not study God; he was dazzled by him." Location 1271 churchmen, luxury is wrong, except in connection with representations and ceremonies. It seems to reveal habits which have very little that is charitable about them. An opulent priest is a contradiction. The priest must keep close to the poor. Now, can one come in contact incessantly night and day with all this distress, all these misfortunes, and this poverty, without having about one's own person a little of that misery, like the dust of labor? Is it possible to imagine a man near a brazier who is not warm? Can one imagine a workman who is working near a furnace, and who has neither a singed hair, nor blackened nails, nor a drop of sweat, nor a speck of ashes on his face? The first proof of charity in the priest, in the bishop especially, is poverty. Location 1119

I did enjoy one modern novel, on audio during a long road trip, The Martian. It was better than the movie. It was funnier, smarter, and more stressful.

Speaking of funny, I read or listened to three comedian memoirs by Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Amy Poehler. Fey's was my favorite.

I have not read any history or science yet this year. Edit: I did read one science book, Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution by Fortey which was excellent. I cannot decide whether I will read next a biography of Ben Franklin or volume 1 of Herodotus's Histories.

I did read theology though. I read two books by Pete Enns, his latest one, The Bible Tells Me So, which I did a long blog series on and an earlier book of his, which I did not blog about because I was lazy, The Evolution of Adam , What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins. It has many gems like the following, but nothing personally earth shattering.
Together Genesis 1 and the flood story in chapters 6–9 present not a picture of history but a picture of how Israel sees itself as God’s people amid the surrounding world. This point is essentially self-evident and so shapes our expectations of what Genesis is prepared to deliver for those who read it today. These early chapters are the Word of God, but they are not history in any normally accepted sense of the word today. And they are most certainly not science. They speak another language altogether. Location 1246

I also read the excellent book by Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture, which I was not too lazy to blog through.

My oldest child is an anthropology major so I read a major anthropology work, Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It was challenging and excellent, but also old. Coincidentally, though sadly, another more recent French anthropologist who interacts with Campbell's take on mythology in culture has just passed this week, Rene Girard. His works are suddenly showing in my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I'm reading this one today, Are the Gospels Mythical? You may be surprised by his answer.  He has had tremendous influence on the thinkers of the American protestant church. Another article I came across today by Morgan Guyton helps explain Girard's mimetic theory and the scapegoat and its impact on theology.

I have so many non-fiction books on my digital nightstand. But I need to think of the next work of fiction as well, perhaps another McDonald novel. Suggestions are welcome. Look on the sidebar of the blog to find me on Twitter or Facebook.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Is justice about restoration or retribution?

In the summer of 2012, an angry, racist man set off a bomb in a downtown, then, while all the emergency responders were helping there, he drove to a summer camp and massacred 60 campers and adults before being captured by authorities. However, because this happened in Norway, which has adopted a justice system focused on restoration instead of retribution, where the death penalty has not existed for over a century, and even life sentences are forbidden, he was given the maximum sentence of 21 years. For many Americans, this is not justice. But many Americans, even the Christians, think justice is about retribution, punishment, and vengeance. This idea of justice colors our American understanding of the Bible when it comes to the topic of hell.

Restorative justice, when examined as practiced today, offers an intriguiging, hopeful, and aspirational alternative to justice as we Americans consider it. In my mind, it also offers a different way to think of hell, that does not add to yet another reason to consider the American Christian God as a monster.

Please consider how this trial proceeded, as described in the Atlantic.

Proponents of this system might argue that it emphasizes healing: for the victims, for the society, and, yes, for the criminal him or herself..."Restorative justice thus begins with a concern for victims and how to meet their needs, for repairing the harm as much as possible, both concretely and symbolically," explains a 1997 academic article, by a scholar of restorative justice named Howard Zehr, extolling the systems' virtues. In the Breivik trial, this meant giving every victim (survivors as well as the families of those killed) a direct voice. Victims were individually represented by 174 court-appointed lawyers. The court heard 77 autopsy reports, 77 descriptions of how Breivik had killed them, and 77 minute-long biographies "voicing his or her unfulfilled ambitions and dreams." In an American-style retributive system, the trial is primarily about hearing and evaluating the case against the criminal. Norway does this too, but it also includes this restorative tool of giving space to victims, not as evidence, but to make the trial a forum for those victims to heal and to confront the man who'd harmed them. The trial itself is about more than just proving or disproving guilt, but about exorcising the victims' suffering.

Every victim’s family is heard. Every victim’s life is honored in the trial. The hope is for the offender to recognize the humanity in those he harmed and to acknowledge the damage, hurt, and immorality of his actions. In this circumstance, the killer has not, but he is only 2 years into his sentence. In the meanwhile he is in a Norwegian high security prison, which is unlike any high security prison in the US.

In a New York Times article earlier this year, the Norwegian prison system is described,

“Better out than in” is an unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service, which makes a reintegration guarantee to all released inmates. It works with other government agencies to secure a home, a job and access to a supportive social network for each inmate before release; Norway’s social safety net also provides health care, education and a pension to all citizens…
In officer-­training school, he explained, guards are taught that treating inmates humanely is something they should do not for the inmates but for themselves. The theory is that if officers are taught to be harsh, domineering and suspicious, it will ripple outward in their lives, affecting their self-­image, their families, even Norway as a whole. Kristoffersen cited a line that is usually attributed to Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Watch a short video from Vice about a prison in Norway.

This transformation can happen before prison, before a crime. It sometimes happens when people practice the enemy love ethic modeled and taught by Jesus. Here are two examples from an article in the Guardian written after a different killer entered a Swedish school with a sword and starting attacking immigrant children.

We know “normal” people can be drawn to extremism and violence, but also that normal people can help bring others out of extremism. One example is Arno Michaelis, a former neo-Nazi who was deeply involved in the white power movement, and who was first shaken from those views by a black woman at a McDonald’s cash register who met his hatred with unconditional kindness.
Another example is the late Johnny Lee Clary, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Clary was invited on to Oklahoma radio to debate with Rev Wade Watts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; he abused Watts and attempted to intimidate him. Clary explained later in a YouTube video how a black man’s kindness and forgiveness defeated his hate.

The Bible teaches that God’s followers should leave vengeance to him. Maybe that is because our attempts at justice are so immature, focusing on the short term self-satisfying retributive justice, instead of the long term community healing restorative justice. As I continue to read the gospel stories of Jesus, and reinterpret the rest of the scriptures in light of his example, believing that God is indeed love in essence and Jesus is the best demonstration of who God is, I think hell is not about retribution, but restoration and healing.