Showing posts from 2018

Not everything biblical is Christian part 24: great, greater, greatest

Today's gospel reading in the lectionary got me thinking about this problem I used to have with the Bible.
Mark 12:28 One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?”
 29-31 Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
 32-33 The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”
34 When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re alm…

me the Pharisee and Trump the publican

This story is the context for my thoughts on President Trump.

Luke 18:9-14  (NIV) The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector 9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In the King James English, a "publican" is a tax collector. In Jesus' times, the Romans recruite…

a true parable about christian art and iconoclasm set in summer camp

I went to Christian summer camp quite a bit as a kid. We sang a lot of choruses with catchy melodies. They were fun and theological. One of my favorites when I was 12 started out with the line "Somewhere in outer space, God has prepared a place, for those who trust him and obey." Here is a cute video of some kids singing it.

I was a very enthusiastic singer of this song back in the day, though I'm not keen on its theology anymore. The song moved me so much I was inspired to draw a picture about it. I drew my cabin flying through space, including comets and moons and spiral galaxies in the background. I had my multi-color pen with me at camp so it was also a polychromatic picture and the cabin was drawn in perspective! I spent a lot of time on that picture, probably an entire free period. I was quite proud of it when I finished and showed it to my cabin counselor, who was nice about it.

I left it on my bunk and went to dinner and evening chapel. When I got back that night…

church abuse by white men

Pope Francis writes this week a letter to the People of God in response to the horrific abuse unsealed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General.

It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.
I think this is a good example for other churches to follow as Evangelical churches are facing it's own #metoo and #churchtoo scandals, e.g. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek.

If only churches would get ahead of these before they become public scandals. If only the church could proclaim, "we heard complaints, we believed the victims, we …

Not everything biblical is christian - raspberries

The wild raspberries in my yard are in full flourish! We've been picking them for the past couple weeks, but have not pulled in a haul like this one last night! I could have picked more if it were not 90% humid, if the mosquitos were not picking me, and if I had more than shorts on to protect me from the thorns. I do have a few scratches because the delicious fruit kept beckoning me. If I could just stretch a little further...each scratch from the thorn was worth going in a little deeper into the hedge.

But what if I cut off a bunch of the thorny raspberry canes and sent a picture to Instagram with the caption, "can't wait to eat these raspberries, stems, leaves, thorns, and fruit" #itsallgood #allfromGod #nopartwasted #highfiber? People would think I was nutty and may even be concerned with my health, risking perforation of my esophagus, stomach, and on down. On the other hand, people who were part of the #eattheentirecane movement would cheer me on. They would defe…

The parable of the wicked immigrant

In the early 1600's religious separatists fled their country from fear of persecution. The location was known to other explorers, but an epidemic had left the native population decimated and weak. The immigrants considered the epidemic and the stores of food left behind as God's blessing. However, they suffered terribly adjusting to the new world, nearly half of them died. The indigenous people had mercy on them and helped those remaining.

Other immigrants came and joined the struggling outpost. They made treaties with the people who owned the land and cared for it for hundreds of generations. Then they violated those treaties, over and over and over. Not one treaty was kept. Natives were captured and sold into slavery in the sub-tropics where they died. Since they were no good as agricultural slaves, african slaves were imported. The natives were continually pushed out of their land, even the ones who converted to the immigrant religion.

Natives were promised an entire territ…

I'm an ex-vanglical but not an ex-christian

There is a lovely chap on Twitter, Blake Chastain, who I first heard use the appellation "exvangelical." He even has a podcast about it. I find it a helpful term and want to explore it in my own experience. This has been a long evolution and I will use my blog to look back on my spiritual journey out of white american evangelicalism.

I have written 359 book reports. I have read more books than I have written about, but I read a great deal on genocide, inspired by the atrocities recorded in the bibilical story of Joshua, conqueror of Canaan. In his story, his god tells him to have no mercy and kill men, women and children. This was explained to me by my evangelical leaders that it was more merciful to kill the kids then raise them as their own.

Lesson learned, evangelical cognitive dissonance is real.To be widely read is dangerous in a small minded theological construct. Studying genocide makes such absurd explanations even harder to swallow. Even then I found the dis…

"you brood of vipers!" - Jesus

The gospel of Matthew has this well known tirade of exasperation against the religious leaders who opposed Jesus. It's sometimes referred to as the "seven woes." He's furious with their religious duplicity. We get famous metaphors from this like "straining a gnat and swallowing a camel," and "you all are like white-washed tombs, pretty on the outside, full of rot on the inside." One of the outstanding admonishments is, v.23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." In other words, the religious leaders were too busy with weighing out their spices for the church to be bothered with justice, mercy, and faith. Their priority was retaining the power they enjoyed over serving others, as God's representatives. Jesus calls them actors (the translation of…

how to respond to dehumanization

On Thursday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders endorsed this interpretation of Trump’s remarks, saying that “I don’t think the term the president used was strong took an animal to stab a man 100 times and decapitate him and cut his heart out,” referring to a particularly gruesome murder committed by MS-13 gang members. - Vox
We once kept runner ducks in our backyard. I woke one morning to let the ducks out of their overnight shelter and found the plywood and cinder blocks shoved aside. The ducks had been killed but not eaten. It was possible a fox, a fisher cat, or a bobcat. It's as if the ducks were killed for fun by the predator. What the predator did not do was arrange a display of the victimized ducks.

Unlike MS-13, their hearts were not cut out. Unlike some Mexican cartels, the victims were not hung on an overpass as a warning to others. Animals are not intelligent enough to "send a message" to rivals or snitches.Animals do not keep body parts of t…

He's come to set the captives free

Jesus said. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18

The United States is known as a Christian nation.
The united States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Both of these statements cannot be true at the same time.

Cuba and Russia and China have lower incarceration rates than the US.
Post genocide Rwanda has a lower incarceration rate than the US.
Racially-divided South Africa has 1/2 the incarceration rate of the US.
Post-Christian Europe, the bogeyman of fundamentalist preachers has 1/6 the incarceration rate of the US.
Muslim Egypt has 1/6 the incarceration rate of the US.
Muslim Indonesia has 1/6 the incarceration rate of the US.
Non-religious Japan has 1/10th the incarceration rate of the US.
Muslim Pakistan has 1/15th th…

conditional unconditional love??

Three of the things I'm really grateful for from my experience in the Vineyard churches was the emphasis on the unconditional love of God, the grace of God, and the loving, fatherly heart of God. These principles undid a lot of the spiritual damage I had acquired in my upbringing. However, one of the things I had to hold with cognitive dissonance was the condition placed on God's unconditional love. Here are a few analogies I was told to explain this.

It's a free gift, you just need to unwrap it.It's a blank check, you just need to sign it.Will you consent to be loved?
I turned to Calvinism for a while to break this log jam in my brain. Today's Calvinists will say something along the lines of, God knew I would unwrap/sign/consent from eternity past so I really had no choice it was all God's work. But Calvinism creates so many more problems than it solves and I eventually dropped it.

One of the pushbacks from non-Calvinists is the analogy of divine rape. "If…

stock markets and global warming

Today is April 2nd and 5 inches of snow fell in my yard today. At least half of it has melted away this afternoon. An April snow storm does not mean that global warming is a hoax, played by mean scientists on poor Americans. But I think an analogy would be helpful for dubious Americans.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is used as a representative gauge of the economy over many decades. Today the DJIA fell 458 points. However, that is only a 2% drop. In ten years the stock market index has grown over 300%. The impact of 2% on one day is massive for someone just starting out, but for someone who has been invested over 10 years, it's merely a hiccup.

Today's spring snowfall is like today's drop in the stock market. The temperature of both fell, but the upward trend is undeniable.
A heated up stock market can be a good thing for most people. A heated up planet can be a good thing for a few people. But for most people a hotter planet will be a bad thing. And it's not just r…

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…