Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jesus' Death and Revolution

We often spend time interpreting Jesus death on the cross by analyzing Paul, John or the book of Hebrews.  But we should spend time looking at what Jesus said about his death, understanding how he interpreted his death.
1.       Free the abused
“The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.”
Jesus looked around him and he saw masses of people who were suffering.  People who were running around insane, desperately poor, horribly sick, blind, and imprisoned for their debts.  Instead of helping these needy people, the leaders of his people punished them more.  Preachers spoke to the abused, claiming it was their fault they suffered.  Priests kept them from God because their suffering was seen as a punishment.  Elders passed laws that made their plight more difficult.  Jesus saw the oppressed as “sheep without a shepherd”, a people without a leader, and the leaders as “whitewashed sepultures”—containers of death with a fresh coat of paint on them.  So Jesus had a plan to deliver these people—to give them a new exodus, a deliverance from slavery.  And that deliverance plan included his own death.

2.       Martyrdom
“Blessed are you when men hate you… be glad in that day… for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way the fathers treated the prophets.”
The first deliverer of Jesus’ people, Moses, was a shepherd who had a deep connection with God, and God enacted the deliverance of the oppressed using Moses as a conduit.  There were many like Moses offering deliverance through the years: Deborah, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Esther. These were prophets, people whom God used to deliver his people from oppression.  However, these people, every one, suffered horribly.  Their lives were miserable.  But the misery of their lives was worth the deliverance they brought, and also because they were given the opportunity to live at peace with God after this life was over. Jesus knew that he was to live like these: be led by God to deliver people, suffer horribly, to be resurrected to be at peace in the end.

3.       Demonstrate Love
“Greater love has no one than this: that one lay his life down for his brothers.”
Jesus declared that the law is all about love.  Not just any love, but love for all people, love which helps those in need and love that sacrifices oneself.  Jesus lived out this love every day.  He healed the sick, brought sight to the blind, fed the hungry, raised the dead, delivered the mentally ill, and gave to the poor.  This was good, but he needed to provide a final demonstration of how one should live.  When Jesus died on the cross, he showed what real sacrifice was, and the kind of love we all should share with one another.

4.       Jesus On the Campaign Trail
“This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”
At the moment Jesus was baptized, he had a vision of God the Father quoting Psalm 2 to him, declaring him to be the Son of God, the new king of the Jewish people, the leader of the people of God, and the next emperor of the world.  From this point on, Jesus was campaigning to be this king, to prove himself as more worthy than the current rulers.  But Jesus was never campaigning to the people of God, but campaigning for God himself.  He was showing himself to be more compassionate than Moses, more obedient than David, and having more faith than Elijah.  His death was the ultimate expression of all of these characteristics.

5.       Principle of Humility
“If anyone exalts himself, he will be humbled. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
There was one principle, however, that Jesus needed to demonstrate above all.  If a person was to rule under God’s power, the one aspect they had to demonstrate above all is humility.    Jesus understood humility to not be an inner sense of unworthiness or lowliness, because he considered himself the next emperor of the world.  Rather, humility is accepting a low standing and allowing God to give you a higher one.  Jesus had to accept the lowest place, the station of ultimate shame and rejection, and then God would establish him on high.  In Jesus’ time, the lowest station he could take on is to be hung in shame on a cross.

6.       Kick the Bums Out
“The vine-growers said to one another, ‘This is the heir, come let us kill him…”
Like David before him, there were already God-appointed rulers over God’s people: the Sanhedrin and the priests of the temple. Jesus couldn’t establish a revolution and kill them, for that would prove him to be unworthy of rule.  Instead, Jesus had to demonstrate the unworthiness of these rulers, and then God himself would take them out of power.  So he established a situation in which they would kill someone making a claim that was true.  That despite their laws and focus on justice, they would kill God’s representative because they didn’t like his claims.  Jesus, of course, put himself in that situation.  He declared himself king by riding on a colt into Jerusalem with followers honoring him as a great conqueror.  He undermined the high priest’s rules by kicking businessmen out of the temple.  He publicly declared them killers of the innocent.  And then, only to them, he admitted that he was king and would be judging them in God’s name.  That was enough for them to crucify him, causing them to be set aside as rulers.


7.       Establishing a new nation
“This is the new covenant in my blood.”
After delivering the people of Israel from slavery and giving them a new law, God asked for an eternal agreement between him and his people.  On the day of ratification, Moses had a number of bulls sacrificed.  Moses read the law of God and said, “God wants to be your king and you will be his nation.  Do you agree to these terms?”  All the people agreed.  So Moses had a number of bulls killed and the blood was put in a basin.  Moses then sprinkled the blood on God’s altar and then on all the people.  He said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.”  Jesus used the same words, speaking of his own blood which was to be spilled on the cross.  Jesus made it clear that he was re-establishing the kingdom of God, a new nation established on the dust of the old, with Jesus as the king.  This is a kingdom whose law is love, who gives an opportunity for repentance, who gives the Spirit to empower one to love.  And Jesus’ blood is the ink with which the constitution is written.


8.       Risen
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things… and be killed and after three days rise again.”
All of this was contingent on God’s response.  Jesus had said all along that his death was significant only if God raised him from the dead.
If God raised him from the dead, then Jesus was truly the King, as he claimed.
If God raised him from the dead, then the many scriptures that said God would raise the humble would be fulfilled.
If God raised him from the dead, then the path for the oppressed to live a new life in God is established.
If God raised him from the dead, then the sentence of death upon Jesus is reversed.
If God raised him from the dead, then the old system of temple, priests and elders are declared unworthy and set aside.
If God raised him from the dead, then the law of love is established.
If God raised him from the dead then the new covenant is accepted and the new kingdom of God is established.

God did raise him from the dead.  There is a new nation without abuse or oppression.  It is not led by the church, but by Jesus himself.  And anyone who follows Jesus’ path of humility and mercy to the needy can be a part of it.  All nations are set aside, rejected by anyone who lives in this new kingdom.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A School of Fools

Today is April Fool’s Day, the day of jokes, pranks and attempts to deceive.  A “fool” on this day, would be considered the butt of a joke, the one who is deceived or pranked.  In the range of meaning of “fool” we would include the uneducated oaf, the intelligent person who is unwise in everyday matters and the one who ignores the path of everyday society, usually to their own detriment. 

Paul called himself a “fool for Christ”, not in the sense that he was uneducated, but that he ignored the wisdom of the world to embrace a philosophy and a way of life that was damaging to himself and his very life.  He recognizes that there are those who would be “wise” for Christ, those who walks a careful path not to disturb either their religion or their society.  He was never like that.  He jumped in, both feet, into the abyss that is Christ, not looking to escape with his life.   And so he changed the world.

He was not the first.  Peter spoke out against the powerful body that killed Christ, was arrested, threatened and eventually killed.  Stephen spoke boldly before his enemies who brutally and immediately killed him.  James was arrested and killed, mostly on a whim.  All this within a year of Jesus’ death.  To continue on this path of martyrdom was foolish, but these early followers of Jesus were passionate and determined to bring justice into a world that did not deserve it.

The path of foolishness did not end with this generation.  Although the movement became more than a group of fools, there were always the minority of extremists who pursued the cross, who swam in the pond of non-conformity.

The Pilgrim
An anonymous, barely literate peasant wandered throughout villages of Russia, begging for his bread and praying a single prayer every minute of every day.  “Jesus, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me a sinner.”  Although he seemed uneducated and worthy of mockery by some, others saw him as a fount of wisdom and his inspirational biography is read to this day.

Francis of Assisi
He began an order of monks who would own no money or possessions.  You might think, “Well that was easier in the 13th century than today”, but it was not.  Francis was just more determined, and his followers lived in caves and what churches would allow them to sleep in pews.  He would beg for himself and for his fellow monks, singing and preaching foolishness. Occasionally Francis would be invited to a dinner and he would not even sit down at the table, but find the proudest bishop and beg that man for food, as the wealthy one sat down to eat. He finally died of open wounds that he begged from God so that he might be more Christ-like.

Ignatius of Loyola
A disciplined soldier who was injured in war, he was in bed for months with nothing but a bible and a book of saints to focus on.  He dedicated himself to Christ as his master and attended classes at the University of Paris for years, while he lived in the fields, homeless.  He collected a few followers who began the Jesuit order.

Damien of Molokai
Determined to help the needy, this Belgian priest served at a leper colony on the island of Molokai.  He cleaned wounds, buried his friends and created a joyful community.   Of course, he died of leprosy.

Anthony of Egypt
Ashamed of the “Christian” society that developed in Alexandria, Anthony chose to live in a cemetery instead, and eventually left the safety of the city altogether and lived in the desert. Some would come and seek counsel and then others came to live his hermit-like existence in nearby caves.  His foolishness became the Christian monastic movement.

Keith Green
A rock star who dedicated himself to Jesus, he sold his albums for what people could afford and wrote radical Christian articles for his very popular newsletter. He sang and spoke of radical hospitality and of self-sacrifice.  On a private plane in his organization’s property in Texas, he overfilled it with his children and friends and they all died.  But millions were inspired by his powerful message and music to follow Jesus.

So many in the cloud of witnesses we could name: Martin Luther King, Jr., Conrad Grebel, Mother Theresa, Meister Eckhart, Maximillian, Vincent Van Gogh, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Grandma Moses, Claire of Assisi, Stephen Biko, Mimosa, and more that time does not allow me to speak of.


***
I am proud to call myself a minor fool for Christ beside these martyrs and saints.  I will not boast but in my idiocy, my poor attempt to follow the path Jesus created on his way to death.  I quit my job, making me and my family homeless for months in order to better appreciate and serve the homeless.  My life was threatened and my body was attacked for wanting to serve.  I held poorly attended services, proclaiming the peace, love and power of Christ, which few wanted to hear.  I gave opportunities to serve to the poorest of the poor, some of whom were felons, drug dealers, prostitutes, addicts and thieves.  I invited some of these to live in my home. 

One of my great projects over the last few years was to transform a mostly empty church facility into a vibrant community center for the homeless, immigrants, poor and destitute.  Four separate church groups, of different denominations, met there, and for many hours a day there were showers, food, clothes, garden, shelter, work opportunities, and contacts with other services.  It was known as RedBarn (because of the large red barn on the property) and it was loved by those who used the services.

But the project was hated by many who lived around it and the police, for they saw the poor as reducing the value of their homes, as a center for criminals to gather, as enabling the very people they wanted to drive out of their community to remain.  A few worked for years to drive us out, reporting us to the city for crimes they could not actually see. 

Eventually, one of the people I helped get off the street located his drug distribution business on the property, bringing in the very criminal element that the neighbors and police were so concerned about.  I shut it down, and the city eventually fined the property 3000 dollars for not cleaning it up quickly enough.  I quit managing the property due to the stress of managing the expectations and needs of the poor, the city, the denomination who owned the property and my vision of the peace of Christ. 
I understand now.

There is a reason that the community of Christ is a community of fools.  It is because to fight to meet the needs of the outcast is to declare war against an entire society, and they will not accept it.  They will fight and eventually kill you.  If they can’t tear you down quickly, they will do so slowly.

So I will follow the command of Christ: when they persecute you in one place, go to another.  I will rest, and gather my wits.  But I have not given up on the outcast, who need support.  And I have not given up on foolishness.  No, I am in a lull, but I already feel the foolishness of Christ rising up in me again.  Watch and see. 


Thursday, March 2, 2017

6 Reasons the Bible Sucks (but is Essential as well)

Ever pick up a full Old-and-New-Covenant Bible lately?  It’s pretty heavy.  Now, think about how big and weighty it would be if the book had normal pages, instead of the thin ones you can’t turn and single columns with normal margins and a normal font size instead of the tiny-omg-who-could-possibly-read-this-text monstrosities?  By the way, you know that complaining about text size is the primary sign of aging? 

Anyway, the point is, the Bible is a big, big book.  Bigger than we generally think.  And that’s because it’s not a single book. It is a bunch of books, a library of ancient texts, collected over a thousand year period of time. We don’t actually know how many authors it had, because many of the texts had a number of writers and editors.  The book divisions have a complex history, as some books are clearly a number of shorter texts (Genesis and Psalms, for example) and some books wouldn’t have been divided if they could have fit on a single scroll (I and II Samuel).  These texts are thrown together because of their history of being read together in synagogues and churches and because of a general theme of people influenced by Jewish culture and their experience of God.

Not creepy at all.  Thanks for the flowers, though.
The Bible isn’t exactly unified in theme, though.  While each text seems to present God as a unique person, when put together, God seems like a schizophrenic nation-abuser.  He speaks of his loving  kindness and mercy in one chapter and in another he is killing off masses of people because they ate the birds he gave them to eat. Sounds like God should be walking around in boxers and a wife-beater some of the time and at others he is dressed in a tux, waxing eloquent.

Perhaps we just don’t understand God’s ways?  Perhaps we need to look at God throughout the Bible to get the whole picture? Or perhaps each writer is just expressing their opinion of God, based on their limited experience?  And perhaps the authors of the Bible only understood the bits and pieces of the spirit world that they could comprehend in the midst of their difficult, struggling existence?

I think we need to give the Bible a break.  Putting on it such words as “inerrant” or “infallible” are heavy words to a text that we tend to see in it the likeness of our own opinion.  That’s the convenience of having such a big book written over a thousand year period of time, is that we can find most opinions somewhere hidden in there, both loving and racist, both philosophical and inane.

I have intensely studied the Bible as the word of God and the source of devotion for almost 40 years now, and I have studied it enough that I have a few concerns that I just can’t shake.  Like these:

1. The Bible Teaches that No Woman is Good
Ecclesiastes is a pretty on-the-edge text, one that’s tough to accept in the canon at times, but this passage is really disturbing:

I have searched and found one upright man out of a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.”

Certainly the viewpoint that people generally suck is found occasionally in the pages of the Bible, and especially in the pages of patriarchal theology.  But we don’t find this point of view very often: Men generally are pretty bad, but every single woman is just plain evil.  “A hundred percent of women are the dust of the ground that I walk, but I found seven and a half million men that are pretty okay”
This theology is disputed in other parts of the Bible, which have people like Tamar, the daughter in law of Judah, and of course Mary the mother of Jesus, but it is just crazy to say that women are absolutely worse than men.  But there it is, right there in your Bible.

What did Luke REALLY do?
2. The Bible says a Woman’s Hand should be cut off
If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.  (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
Again, it’s not if anyone touches a person’s genitals in a fight, but if a woman does it.  According to the Bible, women are special.  Here’s another example:

3. The Bible Says its Okay to Rape Women after Battle
In Numbers 31, the Israelites were battling the Midianites and whooped their butt.  But they kept all the innocents alive, you know, the people who weren’t fighting.  Moses smacked his generals around, “What were you thinking of?” He gave very specific instructions.  “Kill off all the boys and all the sluts… I mean women who have been with a man. But any virgins—go ahead and keep them.  Sleep with them for a while.  If you want to keep them permanently, then marry them.  Otherwise, send them away to do… whatever.”  According to this passage, there were 32,000 young women who were raped and then treated this way.  In general, this is the policy for women of an opposing nation in every battle, according to Deuteronomy 21.

"These are real beards, yeah, sure they are"
4. The Bible says prove a bride is a virgin or kill her
In Deuteronomy 22, there are some regulations about marriage.  One of the first is that right after the “bridal night” the couple must present “proof of virginity” to the community—meaning, blood from a woman’s genitals due to first intercourse.  We now know that the hymen can be broken in everyday activity and that intercourse does not always result in a bleeding hymen.  But even so, the consequence of a non-virgin bride is the death of the bride.  “The community shall stone her to death.”

5. The Bible says genocide is required
The Bible doesn’t only abuse women, although they are their most frequent target.  The Canaanites were also supposed to be killed, without exception.  The Canaanites were descendants of Canaan, a huge portion of the world, as he was the grandson of Noah.  So there were a number of peoples who fall under this blood pact, including the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.  These nations were supposed to be burned, every man, woman, child, cattle, building… not even the virgins were spared, so they must be pretty bad.

Of course, if these folks looked back in their own history, they’d see that their own genetic line was full of Canaanites (wives of Judah and other sons of Jacob).  So if they’d kill all the Canaanites, they’d have to kill themselves.  And one nation that they are sometimes friendly with, Edom (decendents of Esau and his Canaanite wives).  But hypocrisy didn’t seem to be a big deal in the early part of the Bible.

6. The Bible has a hard time distinguishing between God and Satan
In II Samuel 24, David is tested by God putting the desire for him to take a census so he knows how big his army could be.  It’s a minor sin of a king to number his army, a sign they are not trusting in God to defeat their enemies.  So, according to Exodus 30:12, any census must include a ransom for the life of the person counted, the money, it is assumed, would go into the priestly treasury.  But David, it seems didn’t take the tax, and his conscience pained him, so God gave him an option of punishments, all of which results in a massive loss of life.  David took a plague. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the same story is told again in II Chronicles.  That’s not unusual, as Chronicles and Samuel/Kings often tell the same tales with few variations.  But the variation here is that in Samuel it was God who tested David, while in Chronicles it was Satan who tested David.  Same sentence, different subject.  Now, theologically it isn’t such a problem because Satan is the prosecuting attorney of God.  But it feels weird that in Chronicles, as well as Job, that Satan, the enemy of God, is the representative of God in some places.  It’s a part of the Bible I wish would just go away.

***

The point is this: there are many parts of the Bible which disturb me and just about everyone in our modern society.  Parts of the Bible that feel very tribal, very hateful and about as unloving as one can get.  There are aspects that feel that they would reflect the worldview of a serial killer rather than the God who is Love.  I’m not using this as proof that the Bible is wrong or evil.  I’m saying that a clear look at the Bible recognizes that we can’t just accept it, point-blank, for what it says.  That idea, if truly pursued, goes into some very dark pathways.

I think that the Bible shouldn’t be accepted, swallowed like a multi-vitamin, as if it will all be good for you.  Because even if most of it IS good, there’s still the cyanide put in the mix that is destructive.

Why I Still Accept the Bible
I accept the Bible, but not as a whole.  I pick and choose what I like.  And frankly, so does everyone else.  I haven’t seen any religious group march on Washington demanding their rights to rape virgins (only virgins, mind you).  In fact, that seems pretty monstrous.  Even though it was a pretty common right in the ancient world, post-battle.  Today, slavery seems generally counted as an evil, and no one is demanding that their slave submit to them, despite both biblical and legal precedent.   Jews follow the Rabbinic interpretation of the Bible, which is a softer, more kind version of Moses.  Catholics follow church teaching, which even softens the ten commandments (like pointing out that wives aren’t possessions, for example).  This is just what Muslims have done with their Qur’an, providing a layer of teaching which helps us interpret the Scripture in a kinder way, which is easier to fit into modern morals.   This doesn’t compromise the basic teaching of the Scriptures, but it does strip away the stuff we can clearly see as evil.

For me, I don’t go for complex teachings over centuries.  I’ll just stick with Jesus, and work with his interpretation of the Bible.  Which is exactly what the New Testament says to do, anyway.

No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him..”

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things…

You are not to have teachers, for you have only one teacher and this is the Messiah.

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

In summary, these passages are saying that the Bible, as a whole, is inadequate to represent God.  Only Jesus accurately represent God.  Which is why I think that having a general Bible approach to theology or truth about God is misbegotten.  The Bible is a bunch of people like us, writing down their experiences of God.  Only Jesus-- the gospels, the teachings that tell us what Jesus did and said while on earth-- can show us who God is really like.  The rest is all guesswork.  And sometimes pretty shoddy guesswork at that.

Some will say, at this point, that I’m using the Bible in a willy-nilly, non-objective manner.  And I am.  I’m okay with that. As long as I keep Jesus central. 

 I have Jesus as my savior, not Moses, David or Paul or John.  And so I might ignore some things you might think I should pay attention to.  On the other hand, you might ignore some things I think are essential.  But that’s one of the great things about life.  We get to figure things out.  I’m trying to understand and follow Jesus, not anyone else and certainly not the Bible as a whole.


I’d be happy to have you join me in this quest. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I Met God

I saw a man in a suit walking up to a street woman. He placed a bag next to her. She was nodding out, and so didn't notice him.

I approached him and asked, "I don't mean to disturb you, but she's my friend and I don't want her harmed. If you don't mind, what's in the bag?"

He said, "I don't mind. There's a few sandwiches in there, some candy bars, a warm coat, a Fred Meyer's card and a hundred dollars in an envelope marked 'for a hotel.'"

My eyes widened. "You're very generous. I just need to let you know that she's a heroin addict, so most of that money will go up her arm. She might use some of it for a motel so she could be safe for the night."

He shrugged, "Maybe so. What she does with it is her responsibility. But I lived on the street once, and I used. A man gave me a hundred dollars for Christmas once and I used it on drugs. When I recovered, I realized that he had given me love straight from God, and I wasted it. I wept for a day. From that point on, I made a decision that I would follow God's love. It took me a while, but I quit the drugs because I couldn't focus on God's love. I followed around a homeless advocate who was always feeding people and she showed me her work. Eventually, I helped her with her work, and she got me a job at a shelter.

"I realize that God's love is to just give freely. God gives sunshine to everyone-- it doesn't matter if they are on drugs or a banker or a cop or a priest. He doesn't play favorites. He gives life to us all. I want to reflect God's love.

"Perhaps she'll wake up, like I did, and realize that God's love has touched her. And she'll choose to follow that love, like I did."

As I watched him walk away, I realize that he was the embodiment of God. I don't know if God lives in him, or he is creating God out of the love he has. But the light in him is divine.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Springs

Love is not a still well, waiting for the thirsty to dip in and be quenched.

Love is a spring that flows into a stream, always emptied, always filled.

Should the emptying cease, the flowers would be flooded.

Should the filling cease, the land would be desert. 

***

Each of us seeking a life of love must recognize that we are not love.  Love flows through us. We must seek a source of love and an outlet of love.


Our source might be divine, it might be a community of support, it might be powerful writing, it might be meditation.  We must seek our source, or else our love will wither.  This source is Spirit, it is that outside of us which enlivens the best within ourselves.

At times our source will wither, and we receive nothing from our once-dependable flow of love. We must seek another.  We must not demand a source to continually provide us with love.  They gave us love as long as they had it.  A specific source must be allowed to be re-charged or, at times, to pass away.  Then we seek another source.

***

It is just as essential for us to find a place to give our love.  We must allow the love within us to be firmly attentive to others who need us as a source of love.  We give because we can give; we forgive because we wish to heal; we protect because we are family members.  Love is action that says, "Live! Live and thrive!"


It is in this giving that love flourishes. If we receive love in gallons, but offer it in thimblefuls, then we do not ever know we have love.  We are constantly feeling a lack, always seeking to be filled.  We must have a balance between receiving and giving.

***
To be a spring of love is to both receive and give, to be a container through which love passes.  We take from one source and so become a source to another container who then passes on to another.  True love is not a loving person, but a community of springs, all providing for one another.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Against Hate

It is not enough to be reactionary. 

Criticism, protest, satire points out what is wrong, but cannot, by itself, create what is right.

In order to make a better world, we must form community based on love.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Devoid

It is seeking refreshment
in an ocean of salt.

It is looking for truth
on a flat, black canvas.

It is lingering hope
in a hangman's knot.

It is piercing one's heart
and all pass by.

It is deep conversation
at a drive-thru speaker.

A life devoid of love
is less than a shadow in a mirror.