Showing posts from March, 2018

God is love - a Lenten series 33 Love is the only commandment

John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Unique to John's gospel is the upper room discourse. As I prayed through it this morning on Goo…

God is love - a Lenten series 32 Love includes

At the last supper, recognized today during the Holy Week before Easter, Jesus ate with a dozen friends. He knew 10 would flee into hiding after his arrest, one would betray him for money, one would deny him for safety, and only one would follow him all the way to the cross, where his women friends would not abandon him. Anticipating all of this, he not only dined with them, he took on the role of a house slave and washed each of their feet, saying this is what leadership looks like in the kingdom of love.

The church has an unloving history of table fellowship. It continually tries to keep "bad" people away from the table. Some of the bad people it tries to keep away are those churches who keep adding another leaf and pulling up another chair. If Jesus welcomes to the table two cowards who denied him for profit or for fear, abandoning him to a torture then a lynching, who is worse than Peter or Judas? Are you not-white? Neither were the disciples, let me get you a chair. Ar…

God is love - a Lenten series 31 Love is worship

Definition of worship from Merrian Webster
worshippedalsoworshiped; worshippingalsoworshiping
transitive verb : to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2: to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion 
a celebrity worshippedby her fans intransitive verb
When one worships, one regards another being with respect, honor and devotion. Now consider this parable of Jesus.

Matthew 25:31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
 I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a…

God is love - a Lenten series 30 Love faces opposition

Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

I am reading Richard Beck's book, Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted. As a progressive believer and professor of psychology, Beck reconciles the concept of the devil/Satan/Old Scratch with the evil systems in this world and our own selfish ways. One of the outworkings of his thinking, as I read last night, is the falsehood of separating Jesus' two commands, love God and love your neighbor as yourself as two loves, instead of one. He writes,
...loving human beings is loving God and loving God is loving human beings. Only one love is at work, with no daylight between th…

God is love - a Lenten series 29 Love mourns with the mourning

Luke 6:21b, 25b "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh....Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep."

One of the weirdest things going on in our society today is the refusal of those who will not empathize with the students who have lost friends and classmates to school shooters. This is an extension of the racist refusal to empathize with African American men, women, and children who have been shot in cold blood by American police forces.

In the first circumstance, which I saw first with Sandy Hook, and now with Marjory Stonemam Douglas, the accusations of "crisis actors" portraying grief and horror instead of real students and real parents and real teachers and real first responders actually witnessing mass murder and suffering horribly from it. Then I see media figures mocking the appearances of these survivors; adults are actually bullying children from their high profile positions. Instead of mourning in sackcloth and ashe…

book report: The Divine Magician by Peter Rollins (2015)

Instead of introducing the book I hope you, my dear reader, will read this image of the back cover to get the gist of this "incendiary" reading. Dr. Peter Rollins has his PhD in Post-structural Thought. I don't know what that means either, but I've heard him many times on multiple podcasts and have always found him intriguing, especially when I heard him promote this book, The Divine Magician. How can I best summarize this? And remember to have mercy on me, because I am not nearly as well read as Dr. Rollins on Freud and the continental approach to psychology. So this is equivalent to a third grader trying to explain to classmates drug metabolism...

A magic act has three components, the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. The pledge is the rabbit being placed in the top hat. The turn is the turning of the hat to show the rabbit is not there, defying physics. The prestige is the return of a rabbit but in a new, completely irrational or unexpected location. For the ca…

God is love - a Lenten series 27 Love does not exploit

In John ch. 4 we learn a story about Jesus meeting an ostracized woman who was alone at the community well. They have a conversation about water, religion, and her background of having multiple husbands and currently living with the 6th man in her life.

There are many beautiful theological nuggets in this story, but there is also theological actions of note as well.

He crossed gender norms to speak with her.He crossed religious norms to speak with her.He did not exploit the opportunity to harm her.
The last one may come across as slightly odd. Why would we expect Jesus to take the opportunity to exploit a woman while he was alone with her, someone who did not have a reputation to defend her if she were assaulted, having been with six different men over the years.

There is another reason to not expect this behavior from Jesus. His own mother faced accusations of her own, while pregnant and unwed. Those accusations are still flung at her, raped by a Roman soldier or slept around. His da…

God is love - a Lenten series 28 Love does what is before it

Luke 9:61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”
 62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

As I look at all these facets of love I get overwhelmed with how much God's love does. I find myself making mental checklists of all the things I have to do to love like Christ loves. Pondering on this topic can be overwhelming, so much so it crowds out the actual work of loving my neighbor. In this moment, right now, my neighbor is not destitute, but a lab partner who depends on me providing high quality work and keeping the lab clean. Last night it was helping an excessively intoxicated homeless person get a safe and warm place to sleep for the night at the homeless shelter I volunteer at. Sometimes I put myself out there. Sometimes out there comes to me. It means nothing to love humanity and not love the actual humans next to me.

I fo…

God is love - a Lenten series 26 Love shares

1 John 3:17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

The previous two posts on love, Love blesses the poor and Love feeds the hungry come from Jesus' sermon on the plain in Luke 6. I will continue through those beatitudes, but I wanted to pause here and look at John's commentary on love in action.

The needs of the poor are so great. I can do a little. My church can do a little more. A mission organization can do a little more. But a government that represents me as a citizen can levy taxes, not plead for donations. With taxes and laws, a citizen can be provided health care at a price they can afford. With taxes, a family can be given some money to help feed them for a month. With taxes, an laid off person can have enough time to find a job before they lose their home. With taxes, a person injured on the job will not …

God is love - a Lenten series 25 Love feeds the hungry

Luke 6:21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied...25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

In larger societies, people go hungry because of policy. The world produces enough food to feed every hungry person, but some governments do not care if people starve or actively hope their people starve. In the United States we throw away 40% of our food supply! I grew up never wasting food. It was my grandparent's experience of the Great Depression that influenced my parents' use of food and leftovers and mine as well to this day. My wife and I always encouraged our kids to be part of the "Clean Plate Club." In my life, satiation was not a given in life, so I need to get it whenever I can. As an older guy, my metabolism can no longer keep up with that philosophy, meaning I need to modulate what I consider satiation. Jesus tells me I am missing out on the blessing of hunger.

What is that blessing?

I used to practice fasting twice …

God is love - a Lenten series 24 Love blesses the poor

Luke 6:20 Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God...24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

In Luke's account of Jesus' sermon on the plain, Jesus speaks plainly here about economic disparity. It's hard to spiritualize the blessing when the woe to the rich is so stark. It makes no sense to say those who are spiritually rich should live in woe when he is trying to bring spiritual abundance to his audience. Jesus is clearly speaking in the tradition of the Jewish prophets who condemned the oppression of the poor by the rich, and the neglect of the poor by the rich, and the mistaken belief that one's wealth is solely due to God's blessing. In fact, Jesus makes the opposite assertion; God blesses the poor with the spiritual wealth of God's kingdom. Elsewhere Jesus states it is very hard for the wealthy to enter into God's kingdom, which the poor are blessed to already own.

In 258, during the Roma…

book report: Heart and Mind by Alexander John Shaia (2017)

I first heard of Alexander John Shaia on Rob Bell's podcast two years ago. (His interviews can be found here.) His approach to the gospels intrigued me so I put his book Heart and Mind on my Amazon wish list. He came back on the podcast late last year noting an updated version of his book had come out. But I did not get around to purchasing it. Then right before Lent, Mike Morrell at Speakeasy offered a review copy. Not only am I all about free review copies but this book turned out to be especially meaningful to me during this Lenten season.

What makes his take on the gospels so intriguing? He was raised in a Lebanese Catholic family in the deep south, where he watched his grandmother's house burn to the ground from arson because of her faith and skin color. Importantly, her response to her gathered family was "No hate." He grew up expecting to become a priest. He went to Notre Dame and after graduating with degree in Anthropology he went to seminary, which he discov…

God is love - a Lenten series 23 Loves gives up it's rights

Philippians 2:1 If you find any comfort from being in the Anointed, if His love brings you some encouragement, if you experience true companionship with the Spirit, if His tenderness and mercy fill your heart; then, brothers and sisters, 2 here is one thing that would complete my joy—come together as one in mind and spirit and purpose, sharing in the same love. 3 Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. 4 Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first. 5 In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts. Remember:
6 Though He was in the form of God, He chose not to cling to equality with God; 7 But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new; a servant in form and a man indeed. The very likeness of humanity, 8 He humbled Himself, obedient to death— a merciless death on …

God is love - a Lenten series 22 Love goes beyond the book

*trigger warning*

I used to be a "Biblical" Christian. But as I've written before, I now consider myself a "compassionate" Christian. Here is how Biblical christianity plays out.
Can a couple make love when the wife has her menses? - Not according to Moses see Leviticus 15:19.
Can gay people have a loving marriage? - Not if they are men, God hates that. Leviticus 18:22, see also 20:13, 15 - 16 and Romans 1:24, 26 - 27.
Can healers help people on the Sabbath? - No, you have 6 days to work, you must rest on the 7th day. Exodus 31:13; Jeremiah 17:21-23 ; Nehemiah 13:19

But Jesus ignored the book when it interfered with compassion. He healed on the Sabbath. In fact he did it so much his "by the book" religious opponents got infuriated with him and accused him of violating the book. Here is one story from Luke 13.

14 But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for wo…

God is love - a Lenten series 21 Love names

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed (Jesus) was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).” John 1:40-42

Nicknames indicate affection or disdain in groups. I've had many nicknames through my years, depending on the groups I was part of. Some would seem downright mean to those outside the group, but in my peculiar New England culture, the meaner the name, the greater the affection. It's weird, I know. It's interesting how the same nickname used by those who don't like you can bring pain, but within the group, it brings confidence.

Jesus calls Simon, Cephas/Petros, which means stone. Maybe Peter was really hard headed. Maybe he was thick and slow to understand things. Well, he was those things, and Jesus recognized them ea…

God is love - a Lenten series 20 Love rescues

Psalm 82
1 God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the “gods”:  2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?  3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.  5 “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

Asaph the psalmist is mad at injustice, at oppression of the poor, favoritism to wicked enablers, abuse of the needy. The gods in the great assembly are the rulers of the world's nations, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, in Asaph's world. The rulers who are not blind, who do understand are rulers who insist on justice, who defends women and children, who champions the cause of the poor and oppressed, who rescue those oppressed by the wicked.

Love rescues. Thus I approach politics the same way. Because I am a privileg…

God is love - a Lenten series 19 Love opens doors

Love wants everyone in the club. Jesus keeps the door open to all who are being kept out. At the same time he is also inviting those who are doing the gate keeping. He eats at a religious opponents house, a Pharisee, but let's a woman of uncertain reputation into the Pharisee's house to anoint him.

Jesus has gone to his religious opponent's house to invite him into the mystery of love. Then the woman of ill-repute comes in clinging to Jesus' feet, crying and anointing. Because he does not see her as a neighbor, but as "a sinner", he closes the gate Christ has thrown open. "Come out of your fenced in corral of fear," Christ proclaims, "and follow me into the wide open fields of love! Don't be afraid, I am with you!"

Evangelicals like to say "Love the sinner, hate the sin," without realizing they are taking the same posture as the Pharisee in this story. I wanted to make a "sinner" a part of my corral Until we say, &q…

God is love - a Lenten series 18 Love serves

John 13:2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Love is so secure, it can serve others in a most humiliating way.

Security comes from self-confidence. Self-confidence has a lack of fear. As St. John says, "Perfect love casts out fear."

God is love - a Lenten series 17 Love protects

John 2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Without context, it seems Jesus is pretty upset the temple is also a marketplace. But context makes it much worse. The temple only accepted special temple money, which had to be exchanged with Roman money. But the exchange rate was artificial. Additionally, acceptable sacrificial animals had to be purchased by those worshipers who were not farmers or had traveled a long distance. The animals could only be paid in temple coin at an inflated price. Those who had traveled to worship God as their heart understood were being ripped off by those who could not care less, capit…

God is love - a Lenten series 16 God's love extends to a thousand generations

Exodus 20: 5b I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.


Ezekiel 18:20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

According to Moses, God punishes children for the sins of their parents. According to Ezekiel, God does no such thing. (I wrote more extensively on this topic in 2014 here.) Even Jesus said to not forbid children to come to him. He did not care what misdeeds their parents had committed. One thing Ezekiel and Jesus did not disagree with Moses about is God's love for thousands of generations.

A little context is needed.

Previous to Mose…

God is love - a Lenten series 15 Love blesses its enemies

Luke 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

I'm sure many of the people in this white mob, incensed at a black woman sitting with her friends at a whites-only lunch counter, were church-going folk. But religious folk are often caricatured for missing the point of their faith, which according to Jesus is about loving God and loving their neighbors. As the man on the left said,
“This was the most violen…

God is love - a Lenten series 14 Love is generous

Luke 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

My wife often reminds me, "You can't figure out other people's money," when I wonder how some people can afford things that I cannot. First of all, I may be guilty of coveting. Second of all, it's none of my business. Third of all, isn't this what Jesus is saying? Not in the sense of physical treasure but spiritual treasure. They might have deep wells of enlightenment I will never know. On the other hand, the wells they have might have been poisoned by religious folk and thus act like people dying of spiritual thirst not out of rebellion to a God of love but in rebellion to a false impression of a spiteful, untrustworthy god. If I knew the…

God is love - a Lenten series 13 Love is not rigid

Paul can be sly in his theological treatises. He sets up eating meat as a "disputable matter." But his list of "indisputable matters" is missing. I'm not saying he doesn't have some hills to die on, but then the provenance of his letters can also be in dispute themselves, as within the corpus of letters attributed to him he praises women apostles and speakers but also condemns them. It does not appear Jesus has a problem with women teachers as they were the first commissioned to tell the news of his resurrection. One thing Paul's letter are consistent on is the lack of efficacy of ritual, cultic/religious rituals because the rituals do not get us a checked box by God, as God is not using a list to evaluate his children.

Romans 14 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not tre…

God is love - a Lenten series 12 Love prevails

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I am constantly challenging in my mind presentations of "good news" of the universality of that presentation. For example, will the version I'm hearing of #gospel sound like good news to an enslaved fisherman on a Thai factory ship? Will this podcaster's version of #gospel apply to anyone who is not a white upper class American? Will this 4 step #gospel mean anything to someone who does not share a european enlightenment intellectual history? Does your #gospel bring any hope to one whose recently deceased uncle never heard that version before?

When I strip away race, culture, accessibility, intellectual capacity, gender, sexual orientation specific gospels I'm left with this.

Love has the last word.
I do not deny that a philosophy which only believes in our brief terrestrial lives may find this hard to embrace. However, even the early Jewish religion as seen in…