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…

Advertisements

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.

Perfect Imperfection

2 Samuel 24:1 Occam
Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

1 Chronicles 21:1
Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

Is God Satan? Is Satan God? These are two logical conclusions one could draw from reading these two passages in the Bible about the same event.

Scripture is filled with contradictory statements like this. For those who care about scripture, there seems to be two standard responses:

1. Those who think scripture has human origins that express the evolving thoughts of the authors over time look for historical reasons why the authors would express that. These people are not threatened by contradictions and typically have their faith and understanding strengthened as they learn the historical reasons for these contradictions.

2. Those who believe scripture has divine origins and assert there are no errors in the Bible look for ways to explain away or harmonize these apparent contradictions. These people see these apparent contradictions as threats to their perspective and aim to defend their viewpoint.

Accept or Defend – these seem to be the two basic options.

Occam’s Razor

The Franciscan Friar William of Occam is known for his theory called “Occam’s Razor”, which says if there are several possible ways something might have happened, the way which uses the fewest guesses is probably the correct one (assuming the simple explanation and complex explanation work equally well).

Here’s an example of applying Occam’s Razor: Two trees have fallen down during a windy night. Think about these two possible explanations:

1. The wind has blown them down.
2. Two meteorites have each taken one tree down and, after striking the trees, hit each other removing any trace of themselves.[13]

Even though both are possible, several other unlikely things would also need to happen for the meteorites to have knocked the trees down, for example: they would have to hit each other and not leave any marks. In addition, meteorites are fairly rare. Since this second explanation needs several assumptions to all be true, it is probably the wrong answer. Occam’s razor tells us the wind blew the trees down, because this is the simplest answer therefore probably the right one.

Accept or Defend

What if we apply Occam’s Razor to the above scripture contradiction? How would that look?

Option 1 – Accept

  • Actual humans actually wrote scripture in their times and places.
  • Realize the 2 Samuel passage was written 600 years prior at a time when the Israelites still saw their God as one of many (but the most powerful) and did not have the concept of Satan.
  • Realize the 1 Chronicles passage was written 600 years later after the Jews had become more firmly monotheistic and borrowed the pagan foil of Satan as the excuse for people being tempted.
  • Conclude that there is no contradiction, just two presentations of the story based on differing cultural norms across 600 years.

Option 2 – Defend

  • Start with assuming scripture is of Divine origin based on… scripture (circular reasoning and a huge presupposition)
  • Create a definition for “inspiration” that is unlike any other time “inspiration” is used elsewhere in history
  • Create a series of ideas based on that definition of “inspiration” that implies God dictated (in some capacity) all of scriptue through humans.
  • Assume that every time scripture mentions “the word of God” that it means all of scripture (even the scripture that hadn’t yet been written).
  • Assert that scripture has no errors based on other Bible verses that mention “the word of God” as being “perfect” without regard to definitions of “word of God” and “perfect”.
  • Force a scenario to explain away the contradiction based on the presupposition that there can be no contradictions since “the word of God” is “perfect”.

Are both of these “possible” explanations? Sure.

Do both of these explanations work equally well? Based on the numerous presuppositions, re-definitions, and vested interest of Option 2, I would say absolutely not. Option 2 has many more moving parts, defies history, defies linguistics, and includes logical fallacies in its approach.

People who support Option 2 often say that if Option 1 is correct (that scripture is of human origin), then it’s totally useless and not worth studying. And from their vested interest standpoint, it probably seems that way.

But for Option 1 people, scripture is more sensible, reasonable, and functions as ancient, diverse, and often ambiguous “wisdom literature” that requires our interaction, careful consideration, and the freedom to apply it as we see fit rather than having such applications determined and controlled by whatever “religious authorities” oversee their tradition.

A word from the Word

Jesus said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” He’s not referring to the Bible, which only existed at that time as the 39 books of the Hebrew scriptures.

Jesus promised that when he was gone, the Holy Spirit (not the Bible) would guide his followers into all truth.

Jesus is referred to as The Word of God in scripture. He used that authority to reframe, restate, and at times subvert texts from the Hebrew scriptures to make his point. He misquoted passages of scripture (as did the apostle Paul) in his teachings.

Jesus said “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The example of his life clarifies what God is really like, regardless how God is described in the Hebrew scriptures.

When scripture is read with presuppositions overlaid like rose-colored glasses, of course everything will appear rosy. All the real colors will be thrown off and obscured. I used to see it that way. But now I prefer to approach the sacred writings without the presuppositions, appreciating it’s perfect imperfection.

This is how far…

Once upon a time there was a young man of suspicious background who had an idea…

utopia

He proposed a way to repair the heartache and injustice in the world, a way that would set things right, restore relationships, help the marginalized, rouse the satisfied, strengthen the weak and humble the proud. It made sense… but it was costly for most to actually do it, to actually be that honest and open and compassionate. He decided to show them exactly how far they might have to go and what the cost might really be…

He started with the religious leaders who seemed hyper-focused on guilt, shame, and fear of their “god” and his rules. He said they were missing the point, that all the negativity they zeroed in on only led to more and more negativity and turmoil. He tried to show them the benefits of his way, even helping people who were desperate and in need. This only further angered the powerful religious people, some of whom were quite wealthy. They decided to get the government involved to stop this young man.

The government was happy to let the police beat this young man badly, hoping he would just shut up and go away. But he didn’t – he spoke truths to the governor that were unsettling. They threw him in jail while the governor considered what to do…

Meanwhile the religious leaders gathered a crowd together to demand this young man be punished. They screamed and protested outside the governor’s mansion until the governor finally relented and agreed that they’d had enough of this young man and his idealism. They scheduled his execution for later that day.

The young man didn’t protest. He didn’t plead for his life. He didn’t try to escape, fight back, or anything of the kind. He was saying, “This is how far love will go to help those who need it.” This is how far…

A month and a half later, his students were still hiding out, confused and lacking motivation to move forward. And then it finally hit them – something crystallized in their minds and hearts and they GOT IT. It was right around a national holiday where thousands came to their town to celebrate – the perfect time to keep the message of the young man alive. So they got on their soap boxes and started proclaiming the same ideals the young man had proclaimed… and people in the crowd started to get it, too.

Some of the out-of-towners decided to stick around for a while and learn more about this. Those who ran out of money were taken care of. Those who needed food were fed. Those who were sick received the help they needed. It was an amazing and thrilling time!

Unfortunately, as these things go, people lost the vision. They traded the ideals for peace with the government. They turned the ideals into just another religion, one that would ultimately oppress and shame those who still held to the ideals and practiced them. Sometimes the religious leaders would even invoke and involve the government to help them manage these who remained idealists… but the idealists didn’t care, because they remembered the actions of the young man many years ago that said, “This is how far love will go to help those who need it.” This is how far…

And so the cycle continues.