Perspective

Perspective. How you see and understand what you see. What facts you allow for and what facts you conveniently ignore or disregard. Everyone has their own perspective. Everyone. perspective2

Even in a cultish situation where a charismatic leader attempts to make the thoughts of the group uniform, there still exists an essence of individuality in each member even if their actions have been homogenized.

So in any organization – work, politics, religion, family, whatever – each individual ultimately makes up their own mind regardless of what is dictated to them as the “official viewpoint”. That’s not only our individual right… it’s also our individual responsibility. 

Let’s take an example from religion. Many faith communities have a printed statement of what they believe, and leaders who teach accordingly (or usually are asked to leave). Those being taught – whether or not they actually agree deep inside – tend to go along with it all for the sake of unity and harmony. But when one’s actual beliefs conflict too much with the official viewpoint, such dissenters must make difficult decisions. 

One technique used to bring dissenters into conformity with the official viewpoint is threat – the threat  of being outcast, excluded, shamed, and ridiculed. This is often enough to reign in dissenters. It’s manipulative.

Another technique is to appeal to a higher authority as proof that the teacher is right and the dissenter is patently wrong, ill-informed, and requires additional education, more faith, or is covering up dark secrets. Again, this is clearly a manipulative way to constrain and conform behavior. 

When all else fails, the higher authority approach plays the trump card of divinity – that “God Himself said it” and any dissent is an argument with God, not with the teacher. Phrases from a sacred book are quoted as the very voice of God and the dissenter is presented with the manipulative devices of fear and more threats. 

When the dissenter questions the validity of the sacred book (or at least of the teacher’s understanding of the sacred book)… that’s when all hell breaks loose. Because at that point the teacher and the techniques the teacher uses have been exposed. The teacher has lost control of the dissenter and will either desperately try to reign in the dissenter with strong threats, force, arguments filled with logical fallacies… or the teacher will strongly condemn the dissenter, often with presumptuous accusations, derogatory labels, and insults.

Everyone makes up their own mind. Everyone. Nobody in any faith community, place of employment, political party, etc. thinks exactly the same way. Everyone ultimately believes what makes sense to them, what resonates deeply within them. There is a kind of knowing that is deeper than a logical construct. Manipulative teachers hate that kind of knowing because they cannot control it. And, in truth, neither can the dissenter – this heart knowledge is something that can’t be reasoned away or reasoned into – it just is. You might call it that person’s “individual, personal truth”. It’s not created, it simply exists. Dissenters just happen to listen to it. 

I know for a fact that actual human beings (and primarily if not entirely males) penned the collection of writings known as the Bible. The more I read and process it, the more I see the beautiful, messy humanity in it. The more I see the evolving perspectives of people grasping at the divine in their times and places, informed by their cultural stories. I see some paint harsh, angry pictures of a Creator, while others declare the Creator’s love, mercy, compassion, and understanding of our human frailty. 

Some teachers take a passing poetic statement about the scriptures being inspired (literally “God-breathed”) and latch onto it as their power tool of divine authority. They assume that inspired means certain things that work in their favor as they attempt to control dissenters with their higher authority. They will forcefully teach that this inspiration implies a kind of divine perfection without error, and that the teacher is the one that has the correct understanding of what God meant. WOW! What a power play! 

There is another time earlier in the scriptures where God is said to have breathed… into dust… and a man came alive for the first time. And this man was far from perfect… he made bad choices and tried to cover it up. Whether this story is legend or not, we can at least see that God’s breath doesn’t imply perfection… though it might imply life. 

But we also have to consider that inspiration – “God breathing” – is something that Greek mythology was talking about regarding The Muse long before Paul wrote his letter to Timothy and used that term in passing as he was actually telling Timothy that reading the scriptures are profitable for many reasons (he lists four). Paul’s point wasn’t inspiration, it was that there’s a lot we can learn by reading the scriptures. And there is.. when we read them for what they actually are and not what some teacher manipulatively wants to cast them as. 

Maybe this discussion resonates deeply within you. Maybe you (like me) have been emotionally abused by controlling individuals who wanted to silence your heart and overrule your mind for their purposes. Maybe you (like me) have been one of those controlling, manipulative people. Maybe you still are. 

If so, I’d suggest it’s time to start listening to your heart, to that inner voice that you can’t really turn off and never really turned on in the first place. Be honest with what really resonates within you. Be honest with what aggravates or repulses you deep within. May you refuse to let controllers control you. May you refuse to let manipulators manipulate you. May you learn to own your own, unique perspective and never apologize for it.

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My Unique Journey

As I look back on the journey I’ve taken in the last 15 years, I find it intriguing the path I was led to walk.MyUniqueJourney

Fifteen years ago I was a Calvinist who defended the inerrancy of scripture (with leanings toward the King James Version as the best translation) and the importance of praying a prayer that gets you into Heaven when you die and avoiding never-ending torture in Hell. Now I’m not. How did that happen?

I think the seed for this blooming was Dallas Willard’s magnum opus “The Divine Conspiracy”. I didn’t fully understand the implications on first read, just his point that Jesus is not just nice – he’s brilliant. His “Sermon on the Mount” acted as a de facto “Kingdom Manifesto” and it’s architecture is genius. The flow, the way the logic builds, what it commends and condemns… genius. I’ve since read it twice more.

It gave me new appreciation for Jesus as more than just my surrogate whipping boy. I started to take the very words of Jesus seriously rather than ignoring them as being from an “Old Testament Dispensation.” My on my how we explain him away when it doesn’t suit our preconceived ideas!

Then I discovered through some friends that N.T. Wright was arguing for a “New Perspective on Paul”, one that viewed Paul’s writings from the lens of Jesus rather than viewing Jesus from the lens of Paul. This connected with Dallas Willard’s focus on Jesus’ “kingdom of God” proclamation – that when Paul talked about having citizenship in heaven and being ambassadors… he actually meant that. And he lived it out – his first priority was neither to the Roman Empire (of which he was a citizen) nor to the Jewish culture into which he was born; no, it was to this alternative society, this new family/househould to which he now belonged. That resonated with me.

Around the same time I read Rob Bell’s “Velvet Elvis”. I found his style engaging, but what really blew my mind is how he exposed what certain terms actually meant back in that culture – words like bind, loose, and yoke. It made so much more sense than the arrogant, ridiculous conclusions my trusted teachers provided. It made me wonder what else they totally misunderstood because they didn’t really understand the cultural context… and I started to find out more and more examples.

When I learned how totally wrong the “Romans Road” reading of Romans 10:8-9 was, when I learned it had nothing to do with praying a prayer and confessing sin in order to get into a blissful afterlife but was rather a subversive political statement that encouraged citizens of Rome to say “Jesus is Lord (NOT Caesar)!” and encouraged them to not fear the repercussions of such a stand. That’s when most of the house of cards really tumbled down.

Over the next few years I read a number of other authors who affirmed this viewpoint, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore (even though I was from a local church standpoint). So I kept silent but kept traveling.

Around this time I started to question the genocide (which is supposed to be bad) that God himself commanded the Jews to commit on the inhabitants of Canaan. I came away with the untested conclusion that the author of the book of Joshua probably did tell the Jewish people that God was commanding genocide… but that doesn’t logically mean that God actually did command it. It could just as easily have been Joshua’s excuse by appealing to a higher authority… we see right through that whenever anyone calls for jihad (Holy War ordained by God). We know it’s not God commanding that, but rather some angry man. Now the house of cards was knocked to the floor.

I came to understand that the real good news Jesus proclaimed was that there are no barriers of access to participate in the Kingdom/Society of God, and this way of living is available right now. It’s about the principles and values Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not about “individual salvation” to “get out of Hell” – it’s about the salvation (healing, restoration, rescue) of the entire world, and there’s a hope that in the end (in this life or the next), ALL people will experience this salvation. That’s GOOD!

I also was able to finally be free of the notion of Hell and  of the angry, sociopathic God who would torture people in fire endlessly for them not praying some prayer during their short lifespan. When I learned that Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus were all different things that the KJV translators dishonestly translated as Hell (which is really a mythological Norse underworld “Hel”), I realized there is no biblical basis for this absurd teaching. The God who is love doesn’t manipulate with fear.

So now I’m left with a Bible where the authors are sometimes saying it’s God speaking when it’s clearly not, a Bible that contains all kinds of cultural euphemisms that cannot simply be read as a 21st century white Western male, and a Bible where the translators sometimes had vested interests. I still want to “trust” it, but only within its appropriate context. Enter Pete Enns.

Pete Enns is a scholar my age who loves baseball and beer and ancient studies. He’s the kind of guy I would have hung with in high school. And, like me, he found himself good at things he hadn’t expected.

I started with his book Genesis for Normal People, which was a simplified version of The Evolution of Adam (which I also read). Then I read his book The Bible Tells Me So (Why our defending the scriptures makes us unable to read them) and his latest How The Bible Actually Works. These provided the scholarly and philosophical foundation for me to now approach the scriptures more realistically.

To summarize what I learned from Pete:

  1. The Bible is ancient (so we have to approach it on its terms)
  2. The Bible is diverse (there are many different voices that conflict at times)
  3. The Bible is ambiguous (it doesn’t spell everything out; how do exactly you honor your parents?)

He therefore argues that then entire Bible works like the book of Proverbs: as wisdom literature. You don’t go there for a single answer so much as you go to it to see the different answers and you use that input to cultivate a mind and heart of wisdom. That’s especially important when you read conflicting advice and have to figure out which apply – for example, “Answer a fool…” and “Don’t answer a fool…”.

This journey is now to the point where I at least have some confidence to speak what I think rather than shrinking back from discussions. But I will definitely shrink back from arguments – I don’t need to prove to anyone that I’m right, I just need to keep following Jesus.

Perhaps…

For some my friends who claim to follow the way of Jesus…

You already know Jesus clearly says “Don’t judge/condemn others”.
You already know he wants us to care for “the least of these”.
You already know he values peacemakers, the meek, the poor in spirit.
You already know he was kind to “sinners” and harsh with close-minded conservative religious folks.

So at what point does none of that matter?

At what point are you encouraged to slam those you disagree with?

At what point are you free to call them a piece of shit because they “took a knee”?

At what point are you led by the Spirit to call them idiots, assholes, worthless?

At what point are you cleared to create and post memes that insult and belittle anyone?

At what point are you OK with kids in cages crying in soiled diapers stripped from their families?

At what point are you fine with your own country committing the official definition of genocide? (look it up)

At what point exactly did you simply reject the way of Jesus and your role as an ambassador of the kingdom of God for mere nationalism?

Does Jesus actually matter?

Forget your imagined ticket to paradise
while others flail and scream in never-ending flames
because you affirmed some man-made doctrinal statement and they didn’t.
Your fictitious ticket has nothing to do
with actually doing what Jesus taught and lived.

So I ask again – does Jesus ACTUALLY matter?

If your response is to keep doing what you’re doing, then at least realize this:

– YOU are big part of why the label “Christian” is a culturally negative thing.

– Your hatred divides and destroys. Only love can build and restore.

There is a better way.

And there is one who actually lived it
and encouraged others to follow.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him…

The Least of These

“‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of
THE LEAST OF THESE brothers or sisters of mine,
you did it for me.’”
– Matthew 25:37-40 (NET)

In this parable Jesus talks of a king who is accepts people into his kingdom based on how they treated people. And not just any people – the LEAST of his citizens. The lowest class. The most marginalized in his society. Who is the most marginalized in our society?

I could list a number of groups based on ethnicity, economics, even faith tradition or lack thereof. One group I think we all would obviously exclude is those who have prospered and are well off – we’re at least that smart. Allow me to suggest another group…

Imagine your parents live in an extremely poor country where the government and military are highly oppressive. You fear for your life daily, and your parents have an insanely difficult time making ends meet. You’re hungry. You’re just a little kid.

Your parents hear of a foreign country that has historically accepted people from other nations and given them a chance to not only start over, but to thrive – completely opposite of your home country. And so your parents decide to take you and the rest of the family and travel to this foreign land – on foot. Many, many, many miles.

This foreign country has a process to help people like your family – it’s called “political asylum”. You don’t know what that means because you’re just a kid, but it sounds wonderful. And so despite the hardships, the wearying walks through jungles, deserts, and hills you arrive in this foreign land…

But instead of realizing your dream, you are stripped from your parents and grandparents and put in a cage.

They don’t give you basic necessities, so you’re just alone, helpless, crying, and confused along with many other children just like you. Some die; no one seems to care. Some guards are taunting and you don’t understand. You just miss your parents and wonder how they believed such a lie that left you imprisoned.

I think that qualifies under the ranks of “The Least of These”. Don’t you?

Now hear how Jesus describes the heroes in this story:

I was hungry and you gave me food…
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
I was a stranger and you invited me in
I was naked and you gave me clothing
I was sick and you took care of me
I was in prison and you visited me.

Does that describe you? Or would you rather let the little children suffer, full well knowing that Jesus himself will take your actions as being done to himself personally? It’s your call. Just don’t tell me how much you love Jesus if you don’t give a shit about the least of these.

A Better Way

“Most important of all,
continue to show deep love for each other,
for love covers a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8 NLT

“Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV

“…it is God’s GOODNESS that leads you to
change your mind for the better…”
Romans 2:4 (my paraphrase)

When someone has harsh words for you – condemning what you think or what you are – better-wayhow do you typically respond? If you’re like me, your options include ignoring them and walking away or taking offense and fighting back.

Judgment – and by that I mean condemnation, not discernment – never attracts anyone; it repulses. It’s a repulsive way to relate.

I grew up in a faith tradition that was very much about judgment. It’s one of those traditions that says “love the sinner, hate the sin”… but we all knew that meant it was just fine for us to condemn those who weren’t like us… even other people in our same tradition. Christians condemning Christians… which is SO NOT Christian.

The “Christian” high school I went to condemned the “Christian” high school my future wife went to because they allowed boys to have haircuts that extended below their ears and girls could wear – GASP! – slacks in the winter instead of dresses that went below the knee. I’m not making this shit up.

The chief method of trying to get new converts was to tell them how horrible they were, but don’t worry – God is even MORE horrible because he’ll torture you forever for a few decades of not ascribing to our list of rules and beliefs.

Yes, I rightfully reject that stuff now… but when you were in that echo chamber, it was all fear and guilt and shame and condemnation trying to keep you in line.

Yet the verses above (and your own heart) say that the way to sustainable change and harmony is LOVE.

Not judgment… LOVE.

Not angry boycotts… LOVE.

Not shaming people… LOVE.

Not inflammatory memes… LOVE.

You’ve taken the time to read this far. There must be something about this that is calling to you. I know it’s calling to me, and that’s why I have to write stuff like this.

So let’s make a pact, you and I. Let’s drop the condemnation in favor of something more productive, more peacemaking (blessed are the peacemakers, right?).

Yes, there is PLENTY to be angry about in this day and age. There are plenty of conflicts we all face, especially within ourselves. I can be quite certain within myself about a particular thing, yet have some other position that someone can point to as seemingly hypocritical. My hope is that in the end it is LOVE that drives my views, that drives my words and deeds, that drives my car (really – you should see my commutes sometimes!).

And beyond that, let’s try to actually understand people who don’t think like us. When I started doing that, I discovered that people with an opposite position from mine weren’t evil, stupid, or any other pejorative… and that sometimes they had actually thought this through BETTER than I had and their view demonstrated God’s love much better than what I had been living for years. It changed me.

And it wasn’t their hateful expletives and powerful shout-downs that had that impact. No, it was their compassion, their love exemplified despite how it initially seemed to me with my arrogant views that were in the end not really road-tested.

“…it is God’s GOODNESS that leads you to
change your mind for the better…”
Romans 2:4 (my paraphrase)

Let’s aim to be more like that… because when that kind of goodness and acceptance and love changes US inside, then and only then are we in a position to truly show compassion and acceptance and love to others. And then maybe… just maybe… it will encourage them to give this better way an honest try.

The Bridge to Cross

I grew up in a subculture that assumed it’s understanding of scripture passages equaled “God said it, that settles it.” I bought into that for decades. Questioning such things was not allowed and usually resulted in condemnation and ostracizing (typical cultic tools to insure conformity).BridgeToCross

When I finally had enough serious questions that I actually started asking them… AND getting satisfying answers… well, I saw “the man behind the curtain” for what he was – not a wizard at all, but just a guy who had opinions and was confused about how authoritative his opinions were.

To this day when I see people trying to make “biblical arguments” as if their understanding of a collection of scripture passages is “Truth” for all time in all cultures, I want to engage them but they are so deep into a paradigm I’ve discarded that communication on their topic is almost impossible.

You see, they have to start with so many assumptions about the nature of scripture, the validity of their understanding of it, and the quality of their implications about it. In other words, they start off by strongly assuming they are “right”. So what could have been a discussion about actual ideas becomes a serious threat to a cherished paradigm that provides safety and structure to their lives. It used to provide that for me… used to. Whether the topic is the distant future, the distant past, or sociological issues like abortion, homosexuality, feminism, etc., it is incredibly challenging to discuss it across paradigms.

I now view scripture as written by men in their times and places with their evolving understanding of God and the universe. I think it’s obvious as I scan scripture that thought patterns changed from author to author. My job is to try to understand what the authors thought and were trying to communicate to their culture, and to compare that to what we have learned since. I don’t think God was changing at all throughout scripture, I just think humankind had the wrong ideas about God (starting from a place of fear and violence rather than love and restoration). We go to the scriptures to gain insight and wisdom, whether or not we agree with each author’s perspective.

It’s my contention that the words and life of Jesus are the best example of what God is really like. So when I look at who he loves (and how), when I see who he corrects or scolds (and how)… I do not see the smug condemnation and use of fear, shame, & guilt that I have seen all my life in religious circles. That tells me a LOT. I appreciate those who try to follow his way of living, especially the outwardly religious types because they are the few who don’t give “Christianity” a bad name. These are the ones who understand the new commandment Jesus gave his followers before his death: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

That’s the kind of person I want to be. It takes time, effort, and lots of forgiving yourself because failure is guaranteed. Lots of it. Please be patient with me, and I’ll do my best to be patient with you as we aim to exude the kind of love that restores rather than divides, that heals rather than injures, that comforts rather than terrorizes.

Love. Maybe that’s the way to communicate across paradigms. Maybe that’s the bridge. It’s the one I aim to cross at least.

The Mark

John Piper (a Calvinist) was mentioned in an article where he answered a parent who was concerned about what to tell his child about the topic of Hell. This child had an “extreme anxiety” about death.the-mark-of-the-beast_640_426_80_c1

Piper took the time to list “5 Great Realities” on why the fear of hell “is a golden opportunity for treating God as big and glorious and utterly real” whether you’re a “6-year-old or a 60-year-old.”

Piper went on to say, “The horror of hell is a signpost concerning the infinite worth and preciousness and beauty and goodness and justness of God. If He were small, if God were small, hell would be lukewarm. Because He’s great, scorning God is a horrible thing. What a gift for a child to grow up deeply convinced that the whole world will face judgment someday. This will give seriousness to the child’s life.”

My Response

Not only is this a serious form of emotional child abuse…

Not only will it give the child all kinds of issues that therapy perhaps can alleviate in time, but…

Since Calvinism says God chooses (elects) some in advance for “heaven” and most for “hell”, there is no benefit at all.

According to that theology, if a child is not elect, this “seriousness” is absurd because the kid will burn forever anyway according to his theology. And for the lucky kids who are chosen for “heaven”, why be so serious since they don’t have to worry about a psychotic God torturing them forever?

Full disclosure: I was a Calvinist for about 15 years. I had an epiphany one day on the way to lunch 10+ years ago where I realize that according to that theology, NOTHING ACTUALLY MATTERS.

  • If I’m elect, it doesn’t matter what I do, my election won’t be taken away.
  • If I’m not elect, it also doesn’t matter what I do, I’m totally screwed.

It’s a completely absurd theological position that turns God into a psychopathic monster who is anything but “Good”. And if any of us were to act so arbitrary here on earth, we would be rightly condemned.

If you try to act like God and people perceive it as horrible… your understanding of God is really what’s horrible.

God is good.

God is love.

God desires ALL to know the beauty of living in harmony with one another.

There are no barriers to God… the only barriers are in our minds. We are free to forgive and forget the past and move forward for the joy set before us as we do his will “on earth… just like it’s done in heaven.”

Love one another – THAT is the mark of a true believer.