Moving Targets

encyclopedia – noun. a book or set of books giving information on many subjects or on many aspects of one subject and typically arranged alphabetically.

worldbookWhen I was a child, my parents bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I remember the ivory cover with the green edging (to match our hideous green living room, I suppose). I occasionally enjoyed flipping through their pages, and found them indispensable for my 6th grade magnum opus on the country of Switzerland. And in my opinion, World Book was FAR better than the suspect Encyclopedia Britannica.

In the mid-1990s, long before Wikipedia and Google as we know it, I purchased a current set of World Book Encyclopedias for my family. It’s still on the built-in bookshelves in our living room to this day. This collection is not the same as the one my parents purchased 30 years prior. Some subjects are added, some modified, some completely gone. Because the encyclopedia merely provides the current understanding as it relates to its subjects, and knowledge is a moving target.

If a friend came to me with the question “what is the plot of the encyclopedia? What is its over-arching story?”, I’d furrow my brows and think my friend had lost his mind. And if – by body language, tone, or spoken word – my friend indicated that he knew the “right” answer to that question already… I’d have to just shake my head and laugh, because he’s my friend. But if he wasn’t a friend but rather a stranger, I’d think him an even stranger stranger for it.

Likewise…

Whenever I hear people talk about the plot of the Bible, or its over-arching story, I likewise cringe. Because if the Bible is anything, it is an encyclopedia. It is a collection of writings across millennia that represents the current understanding as it relates to its subjects…and as knowledge is a moving target (as I said above).

The reason the “God of the Old Testament” sounds different from the “God of the New Testament” is not because God has changed or that there are different Gods or that you need to have some man teach you the one right way of harmonizing all of that. No. It’s because each book reflects the current understanding of God at that time, in that culture, for that author. And sometimes, in hindsight, we see how far off base they were in their understanding, just like comparing my 1990s World Book with my old 1960s World Book.

If you want a clearer understanding of who God is, then jump all the way to the books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Listen to what Jesus has to say about God…because his view of God trumps all the prior views expressed in the earlier writings. I’d even argue that they trump the understanding of people who came along later like Paul, Clement, Irenaeus, Augustine, Francis, and every pope, bishop, and pastor who followed afterward.

Man-Made

There is no plot or over-arching theme to an encyclopedia other than what men FORCE upon it according to their system and perspective. But that doesn’t mean they are right; in fact, they simply are NOT right because it was never intended to be viewed that way. Same goes for the Bible. We must take it for what it IS, not what we wish it to be and not what men have fashioned it to be.

I don’t need to harmonize the God who ordered the slaughter of every Canaanite man, woman, child, and animal with the loving, merciful, compassionate, patient father of whom Jesus spoke. Moses and Joshua simply got God wrong. He was never a vengeful tribal God, and any mention of God telling them to kill every thing that breathes is about as authentic as a radical Muslim crying for jihad because “God told him so”. It’s poppycock, a human projection onto God that isn’t consistent with the God presented by Jesus.

The whole need for a religious system of sacrifices, special clothing, dietary restrictions, etc. is a human invention, probably adapted by Moses from that which he learned in Egypt. It was a way to unify and control this new nomadic nation, and to a certain extent it worked. But from another perspective, it kept the people enslaved – in this case, spiritually – living in fear of a distortion of the Creator. And as that perspective was propagated for centuries, it took on a life of its own that was far removed from the “spirit of the law” that Jesus later embodied.

Out of Order

Now, while an encyclopedia lays things out alphabetically, the Bible appears to be more chronological. However, while there are portions of the Bible in chronological order within certain groupings, other books are actually listed in order of decreasing size or seeming importance. There isn’t a clean sequence to it all the way through, just like there isn’t a plot.

You can’t even count on words meaning the same thing from one part of the Bible to another because words change over time within and across cultures. Idiomatic use of words makes it even more challenging because you have to understand the cultural meta-narrative to know what the author intended the reader to understand.

Just like you can’t take a World Book encyclopedia from 1920 and put your own interpretation on it, you can’t do that with the Bible either, because things have changed, words have changed, the world has changed. The best we can do is say “this is how they viewed things in 1920 in the World Book” or “this is how Joshua viewed things in his day”… and then do our best to match it up with what we know now about creation and its Creator.

Such a view makes the Bible a lot more challenging to actually understand and make strong assertions about… but that’s actually a GOOD thing. There are too many arrogant people speaking with seeming authority based on a flawed premise – that their perspective of the plot of the encyclopedia known as the Bible is the only right one. Cringe if you must. Laugh if you can. But don’t cave in to their desire to control you. It’s OK to not have all the answers. Sometimes it’s even more “right”.

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Not at Home

I’m sitting in the megachurch lobby again. On my right is a video kiosk repeating on a 30-second cycle the ubiquitous wordless vocal from Phil Phillips song “Home” (just turn on HGTV – it’ll be there on the next Home Depot commercial). On my left is the rockin’ “worship” of the 4th and 5th graders, as well as another video screen blasting the rockin’ “worship” of the grown-ups from inside the “sanctuary” that repels my soul these days. I’m inside a building supposedly dedicated to connecting with the God of the universe, and yet I can’t think straight because of all the cacophony. It’s just a giant audio blur, a din that beats against the brain and numbs my soul.Not at Home

I have a choice whether or not to be here. That choice impacts my wife and children in various ways – some good, some bad. Being here is both a sacrifice and an endangerment. It’s just not simple anymore…even though the thinking and teaching here does indeed try to assert the simplicity and understandability of their position.

I usually look over the church bulletin when I arrive in order to get a feel for what I’ll probably choose to miss out on. Today it’s the beloved review of the end times based on the dispensational model the Plymouth Brethren forefather Darby created out of thin air in the mid 1800s. This was popularized among fundamentalists and evangelicals as “truth” in the Scofield Reference Bible, and then later reinforced by Hal Lindsay, Salem Kirban, and Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind Series”.

It is the self-assured certainty from this relatively recent interpretation of scripture that causes brash teachers like Mark Driscoll to say that he drives an SUV because this planet is all going to burn up anyway so what does it matter if he contributes to its advanced destruction.

Rather than be caretakers of this planet – stewards like the mythical Adam and Eve – those who hold this interpretation of scripture are free to be rapacious jerks while absolving themselves of the evil. I am not at home here.

Whether or not this will all be burned up, I am not to live in fear or in wanton disregard of the planet.

Whether or not there is a one thousand-year reign of Jesus on a literal throne in Jerusalem with his followers acting as governors and mayors around the world, I am to treat others without anger, condemnation, or abuse.

Whether or not a single being known as The Antichrist is on the scene and about to wreak havoc through global domination and an ultimate Armageddon battle against the armies of God after having tortured and killed the followers of Jesus on the earth, I am to press on without fear, living in faith, hope, joy, and power as I choose to sacrifice my desires for the benefit of others and the expansion of the society of love founded by Jesus.

The speculation about the future is irrelevant. We are to be people of the NOW, the moment, the good that we can do while it is still today, amid the cacophony of the so-called “knowledge” being spouted weekly in multi-million dollar structures like the one I’m once again not at home in.

Making Sense of Making Sense

A while back I read a blog post by Tim Keller, a leader and authority in the “Gospel Coalition” movement. These people have it all figured out, and aren’t afraid to say so. Here’s the link.Image

I felt compelled for my own sake to respond to the claims made in this article. They are expressed with such self-assuredness that if you’re prone like me to believe things people say forcefully and passionately, you could get quickly fooled into accepting their assertions.

However, as I forced myself to push back on their points, it became more and more clear to me what was really going on. Maybe you’ll find it helpful. Quotes from Tim’s article are in italics, while my responses are in plain text. Note that if you don’t read Tim’s article, then the context of many of my responses will be lost on you. Enjoy…

 “the whole Bible is about Jesus and
God’s plan to redeem his people”

Said who? That’s an awfully big assertion and incredibly subjective, based on your point of view, interpretation, and desire to manufacture a simple way to encapsulate this sacred collection of writings.

“ Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that (v. 12), persons should abstain from marriage and sex”

This is an argument from silence and therefore it is invalid.

 “ When he died on the cross the veil in the temple tore, showing that he had done away with the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its cleanliness laws”

This is an interpretation or application of that passage, but not a “fact”. At best it is conjecture or wishful thinking.

 “ It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we continued to follow the ceremonial laws.”

Jesus followed the Torah. The apostles followed the Torah. Many Jews of the day (including Paul in some situations) followed the Torah.

 “ If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.”

 Said who? This is nothing more than a man-made teaching.

 “Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. “

This is the main premise? Said who? Then all the various parts “make sense”? Really? These are amazingly arrogant assertions, and in no way must be embraced as fact.

 “Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. “

 Repealed? Said who? This is completely made up. The “church” was never  a nation-state, but ISRAEL was (though it wasn’t at the time of the giving of the Torah). And when the “church” came into existence, it was a Jewish thing that Gentiles were invited into later; it was never a thing separate from the Jews until the Gentiles co-opted it and usurped power.

 “if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.”

This seems both backwards and unnecessarily bundles separate issues together. One doesn’t have to reject scripture as foolish based on its inconsistencies and errors (and worse yet, human perspectives of the original authors embedded as the very voice of God).

Yes, one can find inspiration and wisdom… one can even find the way to global shalom in the kingdom gospel of Jesus (regardless of what “Son of God” means and whether or not  Jesus was in some way or shape “divine”). And whether or not one views Jesus as divine, one can still surrender to his way and live the kingdom mission.

 “There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But you can’t say in fairness that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to follow the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing the other ones.”

This is illogical. These things do not necessarily follow except in the minds of those who make these presuppositions. And who said Christianity’s basic thesis is that we believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God (along with the 21st century definition for what that loaded statement means)?

Gentile Christians explain away lots of inconsistencies that Jewish Christians don’t feel the need to explain away (though I suspect there are far more circumcised Gentiles these days than in Paul’s day).

This ceremonial vs. moral distinction is an invention of man. There are greater questions regarding ALL of the law without having to artificially divide it into manageable chunks. Did God ever really give such a law, or did Moses co-opt the wise laws of his day and say that it came from God? How can one know this without the suspension of disbelief?

 “If I believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

This only makes sense if you’re viewing the keeping of the laws as a means of earning something from God. But if you believe they are a way to live the “good life”, the best “Way” (what the word Torah actually means), then you would argue (like the Apostle Paul did in Romans) that the law is “good”.

But whether or not it actually came from God himself and whether or not the sacrifices ever really appeased God or if that was simply an adaptation of what the nations practiced…well, that is another question altogether.

Jesus spoke of himself as a ransom, not a sacrifice. John the Baptist did speak of him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world/cosmos – so did Jesus actually do that? Or was it only for the “lucky ones” who hear the message that they should “ask him into their heart” after saying they believe certain teachings about him? Is that all God wants? Or are we truly created for kingdom relationship?

Seems like you have to reject most of Jesus teachings to embrace the Gospel Coalition brand of Christianity…or should I say rather “Paulianity”. Except even Paul wouldn’t assert such things.

The Sum of All Hopes

We’ve covered a lot of ground here and I’m wondering if I can somehow summarize it all. A recap may be helpful to you; I know it would be helpful to me…

God is a loving, patient, passionate Father. The story of the Prodigal Son exemplifies the Father’s heart for his children (both the externally rebellious and the internally rebellious).  He throws a party for the one who squandered his money and time on wild living. He invites to the party his resentful, self-righteous, judgmental son. The Father wants EVERYONE at the party.SumOfAllHopes

Those who love both know God and are born of God. Period. And that’s not just me saying that – it’s a direct quote from 1 John 4:7. Too many religious people fail to love, thereby showing the lie that their religion is. We don’t need more knowledge – we need more LOVE. While the mythical Adam & Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge (which kills), we desire to eat from the tree of LIFE. Knowledge puffs up, it inflates out of proportion; love builds up – it constructs, reinforces, strengthens. It is the identifying mark of those who actually follow Jesus with their lives and not just their mouths.

The good news – the “gospel” – is that the kingdom of God is available to everyone right here and now. It is an economy that transcends all boundaries – social, gender, political, economic, religious, etc. It frees those held captive by their poor choices or by the evil will of stronger men. It heals those deeply wounded by life and violence. All who embrace this kingdom find they never lack what they need (whether or not they ever get all they had originally wanted out of life). Those captivated by the values and principles of this way of living reveal it by how they invest their lives (despite doing so imperfectly as humans do). This good news transforms and restores the world at the grassroots level, beginning with a single human heart and radiating outward. And those who enter into this society (NOT a religion) trust that when this short physical life is over somehow they will continue on in this kingdom forever but leave the details of that in the hands of God.

We make that vital connection with God through terrifying risk. This is faith. It is a leap into the unknown with the possibility for serious damage to ourselves if God does not somehow rescue us, assist us, come through on that which we believe God called us to. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” wrote the author of Hebrews. The first time is of course the most difficult; later opportunities to exercise faith at least have the history of God’s power to refer back on. But each time, faith is a tremendous choice that in the end enables us to boast on how powerful and great God is (not ourselves) and to cultivate a comprehensive attitude of gratitude.But we still must do that which is within our power; it is a partnership with God, an apprenticeship with the Father who is guiding us into becoming more than we ever dreamed we could become.

We listen for God whenever, wherever, and however it occurs. We realize that interaction with the Divine is not reserved to a weekly club meeting for an hour or so, but that God is speaking to us far more often than we usually tend to realize in things both huge and miniscule. Our lives become saturated with expectancy and hope, and grand adventure where we play a unique role in the restoration of this planet and its inhabitants. We are open to finding truth anywhere, boldly considering everything and holding on to what we find good while not fretting over the bad. We realize much is uncertain – in fact, most is uncertain… and that’s okay. There is great freedom in not having to have all the answers, and great power in loving anyway.

We view ourselves as conduits of blessing, pipelines for God’s grace to be channeled to those who in need. It’s not about us. Instead, it’s about what God is up to – we get in sync with that and let the rest take care of itself. We value what Jesus valued – which if you review what he taught comes down to one main thing: relationships. That includes relationships with others, with God, with creation, and even with ourselves. We are not meant to live a groveling, self-abhorring life saying over and over to ourselves “We’re so unworthy…”. God has called us worthy – worthy of Divine love, mercy, grace, air, food, sunshine, beauty, hearts that pump blood and tongues that taste delightful things. God wants us to enjoy REAL living – life “exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think.” That’s not to say there won’t be difficulties – how could you appreciate light without living in darkness? But the amazing thing is that this life manifests joy in spite of the circumstances.

Whether or not the entire Bible is the actual words of God, regardless of whether humankind was created or evolved, and whether the future is all predicted and understood by a select group of people who have their particular “rigtht” interpretation… we are to love. We are to forgive. We are to learn to let go of anger and condemnation and manipulation. We are to heal, to forbear, to hope for the best, and to resist thoughts of fear that are enemies to the spirit of God. We trust, we hope, we love because… well, because that’s what we were made to do.

Lightning Rods

In April 2013 I shared an interview with philosopher/author Peter Rollins on my personal Facebook page. It’s a great read – check it out.lightning-rods

Some of the things that struck me from it were:

“…when we reduce God to that object that will make us complete and whole and happy, we just put our own product in the vending machine. The church becomes the shop front, the clergy become the salespeople and the worship becomes the jingles.”

“My broad critique of fundamentalist and conservative communities, is that in them we verbally affirm a God that is basically a guarantor that we’re right. The critique is more subtle than simply saying that we don’t really believe it. We say God takes care of everything, but still put a lightning rod on top of the steeple.”

A few of my regular friends responded in ways consistent with their personalities and beliefs (not all agreeing). That’s fine – I’m learning to love without demanding agreement. We’re all on a journey, and none of us are now what we shall become down the line.

But then I received a sharp reply from of all people my high school youth pastor. He also happened to be the one who officiated our wedding. He was one of the people responsible for guiding me into an intolerant fundamentalist mindset, including the notion that the King James Version of the Bible was the only perfect translation and actually improved upon the original manuscripts of scripture. I bought into that as a teenager.

Needless to say, he did NOT agree with any of the above, and felt the urge to point that out and correct me on my Facebook page (something of which I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion). So I guess I had it coming – you know, karma and all…

At one point he included a reference to a passage in the book of Job where one of Job’s “friends” was “correcting” Job’s thinking. I found that really funny because this friend (Bildad the Shuhite) was later corrected by God for basically talking out of his posterior. After that came a slew of scripture references and challenges typical of his paradigm.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having an argument – by that I mean and exchange of ideas where neither side is in agreement but hopefully both are trying to clearly explain while also trying to understand one another. After an exchange or three I could see this was not that kind of argument. I understood his perspective, but he had no intention of understanding mine. I had to stop it, so I took it off-line in a direct message that in retrospect seems worth sharing on this platform. Here is how I replied:

I don’t mind answering your questions…and I do have responses. I just didn’t want that particular post to look like some argumentative exchange because I have no interest in debate for debate’s sake or to make myself appear “right” to anyone. I’m just being honest about where I am, and I’m confident in God’s love and mercy because I know he knows my heart, I know he still provides for me and my family in amazing ways, and I don’t live in fear of the wrath of my own Father. So if you’re really interested, here goes:

Q. Are you an evolutionist?

A. I’m uncertain about the distant past. But I do believe however it all happened, there was a Creator/Designer who initiated it. I can at least say for certain that I do not believe Genesis is literal history; it is Hebrew poetry, probably documented during the Babylonian captivity, for a distinct purpose and agenda: to encourage the Jews to hope in God who brings order out of chaos, redemption out of bondage. Pete Enns “Genesis for Normal People” provides a good discussion of that and resolves a number of anomalies I’ve noticed in the past and turned a blind eye to.

Q. The reference to Bildad is not hilarious – some of what God drew from was what Bildad was thinking….was true…..based on what God in other places had declared. (“Thus saith The Lord”)

A. It wouldn’t be hilarious to you; it is to me. Proof-texting is comical to me, as it ignores the plain meaning to the audience of its day and ignores the cultural meta-narrative  thus robbing the text of its intended meaning. It is based on a pre-supposition that God himself “wrote” the whole Bible (which is a man-made teaching based on proof-texts ripped out of context).

Q. What can you know about God without the Book?

A. “…that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…  (Romans 1:19-20)” Now, it is circular reasoning to say that I can know about God through creation because the Bible tells me so. I’m just including that passage because you already know the answer to the question based on your paradigm. God is known in creation, and he is known in my heart, and he is known in my history as I look back and see his hand and trust him. And yes, some of what I understand about God is based on the sacred writings where God affirms them to my heart and confirms it in my life. These are the things I “really know”; the rest is just wishful thinking or arrogant assertion, and I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t believe it honors God.

Q. I don’t worship a book…

A. Then you don’t understand the meaning of the word “worship”, because your book comes before your God, and you use the book to rationalize that behavior “…for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” (which is an out-of-context proof-text).

Q. …but if God cannot write a book….what kind of God is He? How unfortunate and sad would He be?

A. You would consider the God who created the friggin’ UNIVERSE weak because he can’t write a book? That’s absurd. You’d consider him weak because he needs a book to communicate with humans? That’s absurd. To NEED a book -THAT is what would make God weak.

Q. John 3:16 must not be true than! Man wrote it, according to you. Every thing that Jesus said and did was just the recollection of some deluded men ….according to you. –

A. It’s unhelpful and unkind when you try to put words in other people’s mouths. And you’re revealing your inability to think logically, which is sad. To say that men wrote the Bible is NOT to say it’s all a lie. It does NOT logically follow that John 3:16 is untrue, nor that the followers of Jesus were necessarily deluded. They were just HUMAN…they had agendas, they fought, they dissembled, they let pride get in their way… and this is AFTER the resurrection! They were HUMAN…like you and me. So I have to take that into consideration when I’m reading anything they wrote, and – like Paul recommended – I “test everything and cling to what is good”. It’s a personal judgment call, as is EVERYTHING. For me to go along with your teaching just because you said it – that is irresponsible, and I believe God would hold me accountable for that. He gave me a brain to USE, and he WANTS me to test everything… I do believe that.

Q. I Cor. 1 & 2 are something you might read. Hebrews 4 might also help.

A. I’ve read them many times; I’ve read the entire book from cover to cover at least 8 times in my life. It isn’t about more reading; it’s about actually DOING what Jesus said, learning more and more to take on his character and live as an ambassador of his kingdom. Yes, I got that from the sacred writings, and it resonates within me. I LOVE Jesus and I LOVE his way. I’m humbled to be a citizen in his kingdom for the restoration of the world.

Q. My only prayer is that you were really “born again” before you “swallowed all this claptrap!” Anyway, I am praying for you.

A. How condescending of you. It’s that very attitude that many find repulsive about you. My wife was wondering why in the world I was even writing back to you… but I think clarifying matters is a loving and kind thing to do.

Q. By the way, God is not the Author of confusion!

A. I agree with that statement, which is why I wanted to clear up any of the confusion you were posting about me and my position. It would help if you actually tried to understand rather than to assume you’re right and engage in a condescending diatribe and misrepresent what you don’t understand.

I realize that posting such things makes me a lightning rod for certain kinds of criticism, but that’s ok…I don’t mind having my steeple blown off.

“He is risen; you are not”

Easter Sunday for a Jesus-following agnostic is an awkward time.  I woke my son this morning to go to the multi-million dollar church building where the high-tech light and multimedia show will serve as the backdrop to one of the better rock shows in the area…all supposedly in the name and for the glory of Jesus.

Image

We were running late and he was unresponsive. I tugged the covers away from his feet to get his attention, then I said to him, “He is risen; you are not.” Snail-like, he stirred and correctly answered the math problem I posed to him (my usual test of wakefulness).

His youngest sister – 10 years old – loves going to the 4th & 5th grade class where they have a smaller version of the multimedia spectacle, and reinforce it with video game stations, air hockey, pool tables, and other essentials for teaching the way of Jesus to the pre-pubescent. These are essentials, right?

We pulled into the expansive parking lot filled with upscale automobiles to signify the socio-economic status of their owners – Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, etc. On the rear window of one car I passed on the way into the mall-like structure I saw a sticker that read “Visualize No Liberals”.

I felt like a complete misfit. An outcast…though cast out by myself, not anyone else. After all, I am the one who has changed over the last few years.

Sadly Repulsed

I am saddened by the fact that I find going into that “sanctuary” a repulsive thing. If my wife is helping out with the small children, I cannot bring myself to enter that room to be bombarded by music I find poorly-written, thematically mis-focused, and pre-calculated to manipulate a response that some call “worship”. The thought of listening to another pedagogue (even one skilled at oration) speak at me things I either already know or disagree with strikes me so hard I feel it in my gut.

And yet…I love Jesus. I believe in the resurrection. I am irrevocably attracted to his way. I long to be more and more like him. And I have a long way to go.

I reject the notion that Jesus would have us “Visualize No Liberals”. And I find it absurd the way “good Christian people” condemn those who are not like them, when the only ones Jesus condemned were the harsh, self-assured religious folk who neglected the spirit of the law, added to the letter of the law, and didn’t live up to any of it. Jesus was not a Republican. Though I also know he was not a Democrat, nor was he Libertarian or any other man-made party.

But what I find him to be is not what I find when I pull into this parking lot and step into this lavish suburban multi-purpose structure. I can’t see a connection between his lesson on private prayers, private charity, and humility and this public spectacle that seems to appeal more to human sensibilities than spiritual development.

Higher, Better, Above, Beyond

His way was/is higher, better, above, beyond. He is both inclusive (“he who is not against us is for us” and exclusive (“he who is not for us is against us”). He didn’t fight against the empire of his day, but paid his taxes, taught people to go the extra mile when faced with government oppression, and encouraged people to make peace quickly rather than litigate. But when it came to religious oppression and unjust practices, he was outspoken and brazenly offensive to the powers-that-be.

It was the most conservative religious people that urged the crowd to cry out “Crucify Him!” It was these same people who proclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar!” This was the powerful group that had him arrested in the Garden, brought before Pilate for a kangaroo court session, rejoiced in his being beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails 39 times, and considered themselves “righteous” in the process.

These powerful religious people demanded his tomb be guarded by soldiers, and after he come out of the tomb alive conspired to say that his disciples over-powered the guards and pushed the giant stone out of the trough that covered the entrance to the tomb. They had his followers arrested, tortured, killed, ostracized from society.

Same Old, Same Old?

And I honestly have to wonder if this religious crowd that I’m a misfit around wouldn’t do the same thing. These are the ones who are seem so Pro-America (rather than pro-Kingdom of God) that they support war, torture, and execution of criminals. How would they really treat a radical like Jesus if he came along making the claims he made? What would this mass of powerful, prosperous people do to him?

I find much truth in the lyrics of the self-proclaimed “heathen and pagan” Jackson Browne in his song “The Rebel Jesus”:

Well we guard our world with locks and guns

And we guard our fine possessions

And once a year when Christmas comes

We give to our relations

And perhaps we give a little to the poor

If the generosity should seize us

But if any one of us should interfere

In the business of why there are poor

They get the same as the rebel Jesus

So sitting here in the well-apportioned lobby while the music, lights, and speeches echo out the doors to where I sit and think, I remain a confused misfit who feels like we’re talking about different spiritual masters who are unfortunately known by the same name.

And regardless of who they are singing and preaching about, I have to again confess through my doubt and self-inflicted distance, “He is risen!” And in a way, I am, too – risen above the man-made rituals and structures to follow a rabbi whose simple, profound way still resonates as the only hope for peace, harmony, and restoration in this divisive, divided world. “He is risen!” Are you?

 

The New Fair

What’s fair?

Children often have an innate sense of fairness, though sometimes it gets skewed in a selfish way when they don’t get what they want. But when they are viewing a situation that only involves others, they seem to know what’s fair and what’s not.

The lex talionis – the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” sense of fairness Moses probably co-opted from Hammurabi’s code – views wrongs as something that can only be made right by an action of equal wrong repaid as vengeance. In this way a sense of fairness, justice, “setting things right” occurs and peace is restored.

Much of civilization is built upon this principle – that in order to set things right, wrongs must be punished (but no further than the wrongs inflicted). Capital punishment is intended to enact justice based on this principle.

The way of Jesus, as usual, dramatically differs in its sense of justice. Setting things right in the “kingdom of heaven” does not take the form of enacting a punishment of equal intensity. Fairness has nothing to do with insuring the punishment fits the crime. Jesus’ sense of justice, fairness, righteousness (literally “setting things right”, like a broken bone) is actually embedded in what is commonly called The Lord’s Prayer:

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Think about it: when someone wrongs us, when there is a grievance that needs to be “set right”, the fair thing to do in Jesus’ society is to forgive.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the one who did the wrong can’t attempt restitution as a show of repentance; such restitution was mandated by Moses in the Torah. But restitution is no longer required in Jesus’ society. Forgiveness is our obligation, not vengeance.

This is damned hard.

It conflicts with our innate, childish sense of fairness.

Until we further consider…

… that if we desire God to treat us with mercy and forgiveness for every time we did not get the “justice” we deserved, we should (like God) be willing to extend that same kind of mercy to all, regardless of the wrong.

Fairness is not based on person-to-person injustice, but more on person-to-God mercy. It’s a totally different foundation, and I daresay the only foundation upon which lasting peace can be built. Forgiveness in light of all that we’ve been forgiven for.

Sure, maybe you haven’t murdered… but Jesus said anger is tantamount to murder and we need to let go of anger; the only thing keeping many of us back from murder (including myself) is the opportunity.

The same thing is true for overindulgence of the appetites, especially sexual. To Jesus, lust is tantamount to infidelity. To our society, lust is tantamount to selling product – it’s a way of marketing. Coveting (wanting something you don’t have) is how our economy rolls. We constantly live in this tension, and quite often succumb to the temptations that surround us, that lie to us, and that ultimately enslave us and harm others.

What’s fair? How do you really set things right? What is true justice in the context of the kingdom of heaven?

Forgiveness. It’s the new “Fair”.