Wednesday, May 27, 2015


You rest in your study and you hear a knock at the door.
The face before you is solemn, grave.

“What ails you, sir?”

 “The ailment, I fear, is yours, my lord.
Your mother was arrested in Holland but a month ago,
And they swiftly executed her.”

A cry rose, unhindered, from your throat, a wailing from your chest as you fall upon your knees.

In a moment, you realize, “How can this be?  The king’s command is to cease such executions.”

Your messenger bows his head and murmurs, “Nevertheless.
“Your mother wrote you a letter, and I am here to deliver it to you.”

“Please, let me see it!” 

  “As you wish.”

Dearest Johan, my child according to the flesh, but Alas! Not according to the spirit.
I must leave you young.
May the Most High permit us to meet in the world to come.
I cannot leave you gold or silver or treasures of this world
For I took this not with me, rather I sought eternal riches.
I drink now the cup of the prophets and martyrs.
For Christ says, 'I have a cup to drink of,'
And his sheep hear his voice and follow Him.
Therefore, my child, heed the discipline and instruction of the Lord,
Bow your shoulders under His yoke and easy burden.
Wherever you hear that there is a rejected little flock,
Despised and cast out from this world, join them.
Wherever you hear of the cross of Christ, do not wander off.
Love your neighbor heartily and with a liberal heart.

You weep, for how can anyone follow the bold heart of such a woman?

Maeyken van Deventer, put to death in Rotterdam, Holland in 1573, wrote a letter to her children who did not hold to her same faith.

Paraphrased from Martyr's Mirror, pages 977-978.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Exercising Compassion

I hear a lot about needing love for oneself before giving to others. It is true that if we are emotionally exhausted or overtaxed that it is all the more difficult to give to others with sincerity and love.

But I find that the most frequent block between us and loving others isn't lack of self love, but a lack of reaching out to others. Compassion is a muscle, and the less we use it, the less we understand it. We can build this muscle up, strengthen it and build it. But if we don't exercise it, force ourselves to build it up, then it will never come naturally. For many of us, our minds naturally gravitate toward judgment and feeling put upon. To remain in that place is simple laziness or ignorance.

Here are some compassion exercises we can do to strengthen our mind to be closer to Jesus':

-Every time a judging thought about another enters our heads, let's think of the suffering they endure, and how they can be healed.

-Whenever we feel put upon by another, let's consider how God might use that circumstance to build us up in love.

-If there is a person we feel disgusted by, let's think about their lives and how they might have ended up in that circumstance.

-For every person we want to punish, let's consider how love might change their lives.

-When we watch movies, rate it's compassion. See if the drama would be greatly decreased if love were more involved (which would make a poor movie, perhaps, but an easier real life situation)

-Give generously. Start with once a week, then increase it to daily until you find that it is a regular practice. 

-Think about what you have that you don't need. Then think about who could use it. Then give it to them.

-Be generous with your emotions. Laugh with people, thank people, compliment people. Practice with strangers, like store clerks, and then move on to people who ask you for money on the street.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Africa's Poor v. America's Poor

It is pretty easy to look at the homeless in the United States and say, "Yeah, they're poor, but they aren't as poor as the starving people in..." (name impoverished country, usually in Africa).

Certainly, if we are talking about physical depravity and lack of what helps us survive, those in the poorest countries in the world are worse off than the homeless.  The homeless are resourceful, and often live off the toss-offs of the wealthy country they live in.  A dumpster behind a single grocery story in the United States has better and more plentiful food than what is offered a whole city of beggars in a poor country.  In impoverished cities or nations, the problem is scarcity, and while some use that scarcity for their own advantage, the major problem is a universal one.

But if you look at the poor people of other nations, you can see a major difference between them and the poor of the United States:

Do you notice the differences?  The non-Americans were all obviously starving, that's one difference.  But the more obvious difference is that the non-Americans are with others, working with others, but the Americans are alone.  This is probably just a result of the style of the photographers, but it also reflects a reality both live with.  The poverty of Africa is a poverty of resource to certain communities.  The poverty of America is a poverty of community which results in scarcity.

The poverty of the homeless person or of the welfare mom or of the mentally ill is not a lack of food, but a lack of meaningful community.  Poverty is not primarily an economic reality.  Rather, it is a social reality that has an economic result.  The poverty of the third world is a poverty of a community.  The poverty of the United States is a poverty of individuals.

The poverty of the United States, which might also include starvation, but certainly includes dangers of hypothermia and dehydration and sickness due to stress and unsanitary conditions, but also has an added layer of daily rejection from society.  

Not only is a poor individual in the US facing a lack of their survival needs, but they also have people telling them how bad they are, forcing them to move on a regular basis, assumptions that they are criminal and people telling them how they are not doing enough.  They are rejected by a whole society, outcasts from community, forced to not only be poor, but to be isolated.

I am not sure which poverty is worse. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mending the Divide: Homosexuality in the Bible, Two Views

This blog post proposes to solve all the problems of homosexuality in the church.  After this, there will be no questions, no problems, and peace and harmony will rule and Jesus will return.  Well, maybe not.

The first issue is one I have long wanted to resolve: Which acronym should we use?  LBGTQ is usually accepted for those of an alternative sexuality, mostly because there are a variety of terms and issues involved in the community, and it seems best to include everyone, rather than exclude some.  Of course, some are excluded, even in this unwieldy and hard to remember acronym.  An alternative has been raised, which solves all of my problems: QUILTBAG (Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transexual, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay).  This term not only includes almost everyone, but it is also much easier to remember.  And it has a sense of humor, which is helpful.

Below, I wish to suggest two valid interpretations of the Bible text, and three biblical conclusions we might draw from these interpretations. 

View #1: Traditional view—The act of homosexuality is a sin
We are only speaking about the act of homosexuality here, not any given orientation.  A person might be sexually attracted to puppies, and to act on that attraction would be a sin, but the attraction itself is not a sin, should a person resist that attraction.   (BTW, ew.)

The evidence of this is found in particular passages:

Leviticus 18: This passage gives a number of sexual taboos, including two men having sex, incest, bestiality, and having sex with a woman during her period.   The importance of this passage is not simply that it is a sexual law, but that it is the foundation of the idea of “fornication”. From this point on, especially in the New Testament, the word “fornication” or “sexual immorality” is used to summarize sexual sin.  This chapter summarized what “fornication” is defined as.  Thus, when Jesus condemns “fornication” (in Greek, porneia, for instance in Mark 7:21), he condemns all these sins, including the act of homosexuality.

Romans 2—Homosexuality as a judgment on society, a release of God to allow men give into sinful lusts.  Thus, the homosexual act is not only a judgment, but also a sin.

I Cor 6:9—Homosexuality in a list of sins which prevents one from entering into God’s kingdom.

I Timothy 1:10—Again, the homosexual act is in a list of sins, and is “contrary to sound teaching.”

Jude—Sodomy as a sin due to their fornication (sexual sin) and going after “strange flesh”, meaning not the opposite sex.

View #2—New View: New Testament Morality is Love, not bans against certain kinds of sex

In Bible times, homosexuality is used in the contexts of rape, pedophilia and violence.   Homosexual acts as a part of a loving relationship is new, and so not discussed in the Bible passages at all. 
Sexual immorality isn’t defined clearly and to apply Leviticus 18 to that word isn’t biblically necessary.  We can see that sexual mores have changed, even in Bible times.  From the beginning to the end of the Bible, monogamy, incest, and other sexual mores have changed.  In today’s mores, having sex with a woman on her period is common, and having sex doesn’t make one unclean (at least no more unclean that a quick wash can’t fix).   Thus, the term “fornication” changed from the OT to the NT, and it has changed with the times.  “Fornication” is never applied to a heterosexual couple before marriage, nor specifically applied to sex with children.  How we use fornication is different today than how they did in the Bible.  Clearly adultery is always wrong because it is an act of unfaithfulness.  But if two men or two women are faithful to each other, then they do not commit adultery, and they do not commit fornication, according to the definition we now use.

Paul specifically was speaking to a Roman context in which homosexuality was common between older , men and children whom they were tutoring.  Is it the kind of sex that is offensive, or the abuse and lack of love?  It is just as likely that the lack of love is the worse offense, as the objective act itself. 

The sexual mores of the NT all have to do with love.  The act of sex between two men or two women aren’t a sin in a faithful relationship, even as they are not in a heterosexual faithful relationship.  The importance of the NT moral code is that  of love and faithfulness, which both heterosexual and QUILTBAG relationships can have.

Abbreviated Discussion between the two views:

1. OT Law
New View: Leviticus is the Mosaic Law, which is set aside by Jesus
Traditional View: However, Jesus also rejects fornication (porneia) and this is based on Leviticus 18.
NV: Does Jesus also then reject having sex with one’s wife during menstruation?  Shouldn’t you also be decrying that sin, according to the definition of Leviticus 18?
TV: If we were consistent in our interpretation, I guess we would.

2. Romans 1
NV: Is Paul really making a claim against homosexuality himself, or is he making an argument from a judgmental point of view against Gentiles and then decrying it with his words in Romans 2: “Who are you to judge?”
TV: Even if Paul is quoting someone else (which there is no evidence of), then it doesn’t mean he disagrees with what is sin.  Yes, Paul speaks against judgment, but this means that anyone can be set free by the power of Jesus.  Paul speaks of judging under the law, which condemns one to death.  The lack of judging happens only under Jesus.
NV: But if we are freed of judgment, then how can we judge QUILTBAG Christians?
TV: We are freed of judgment, but, as Paul argues in Romans 6, we are also freed of participating in sin.
NV:Assuming that the homosexual act, in and of itself, is a sin.
TV: Yes, assuming that.

3. Jesus
NV: Jesus says nothing about the homosexual act, of either good nor ill, so it cannot be declared to be a sin.
TV:First, it is enough for us that Paul says it is a sin.  But we do not think that Paul said this of his authority.   Jesus spoke against fornication, which, we have shown, includes the homosexual act.
NV: But Jesus approves of marriage, and so if a sexual act is done in marriage, then it must be approved by him.
TV: But Jesus defined marriage as being between a “man and a woman” in Matthew 19: 4—“For this reason he made them male and female” in reference to marriage.

4. The term arsenokoitai
NV: I Timothy 1 and I Corinthians 5, in their vice lists, use the term “arsenokoitai” which is modernly translated “homosexual”.  However, it is better understood to be homosexual offenders, such as pedophiles and male prostitutes, not homosexuals in general.
TV: There is no evidence that Paul would have used a different term for homosexuals in general.
NV: Since the word and idea of “homosexual” is only used in the last two hundred years, I think we can.
TV: But the term certainly refers to men having sex with each other.
NV: But not two women, and the word “homosexual” implies both men and women.  Paul is clearly talking about a different idea than we have today.  And in his context of an almost universal practice of noble men having sex with their students, it makes sense that this would be what he is speaking of.  Not having a homosexual orientation and being faithfully married within that orientation.  That wasn’t even an idea.
TV: No, just the sexual activity was, no matter what the context.

Three conclusions:

a.       What we cannot agree on:  whether the act of homosexuality is a sin.
Since there are two interpretations, one based on strict textual analysis, and one primarily based on cultural context, both are viable interpretations.  Thus, we need to learn to live together with the two interpretations.  In the past, the church lived with different views of the divinity of Jesus, with different views of pictures of Jesus, different views of worship, different views of the last days.  We can live with two views of whether the act of homosexuality is sin or not.

Paul laid down the basic principles of how we live with different interpretations under Jesus.  First, that we do not judge each other.  We will have disagreements and different actions based on our different ideals, but we still must accept each other as believers.  Just because someone reads the Bible differently than we doesn't mean they are stupid, immoral or not listening to God.  They just disagree.

Second, we must not cause others to stumble.  This means that if we have the freedom to participate in an activity, that doesn’t mean that we should convince someone else to participate in that activity if they think it is a sin.  If a QUILTBAG person believes that participation in homosexual sex is sin, then they must not be convinced otherwise.

b.      What we must agree on:  That we must love QUILTBAGs
We have no right to judge or condemn those who commit the act of homosexuality.  We must love them and encourage them, just like every other person.  We should allow them to have rights and to have decent lives.  We have no right to persecute them or take away their rights, just like any other person.  We must welcome homosexuals into our churches, and treat them like God’s children, as they are.

If a church group or Christian chooses to condemn or judge homosexuals as somehow being apart from God’s love, or the love of God’s people, that is in opposition to the Bible, no matter what our view of homosexuality in the Bible is.

c.       What we need not agree on: How to love QUILTBAGS
If we think getting drunk is a sin, we will encourage an alcoholic to stop drinking.  That is loving and right.  We will not abuse the alcoholic, we will not gossip about them and we will not ask them to leave our church.  Rather, we will encourage them to love and good deeds.

If we think getting drunk isn’t a sin, but that people can sin while drunk like any other activity, we  will encourage moderation, but we won’t necessarily think that denial is the only option. 

If someone takes a different viewpoint on how to love a person based on their definition of whether something is a sin or not, that is to be expected.  The important thing is that both sides love, without abuse, in full gentleness and peace, in the best way they can. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Living With Lepers

Blessed Francis, from the beginning of his conversion, the Lord aiding him, founded himself like a wise builder upon the rock: namely, the great humility and poverty of the Son of God, calling his Order that of the Friars Minor because of his great humility. From the beginning of the order he wished that the friars should live in leper houses to serve the sick, and there lay a foundation of holy humility.  For when gentle and simple folk came to the order, amid the other things which were announced to them, he tended to say that it was good for them to serve lepers and abide in their houses.  

So it was in the first Rule: “They are willing to have nothing under heaven except holy poverty, by this they may be fed by the Lord in this world with bodily and spiritual food, and in the life to come they will attain their heavenly inheritance.”  In this way he chose for himself and others a foundation on the greatest humility and poverty.  He might have chosen to have been a great prelate in the church of God, he chose and wished to be lowly, not only in the church of God, but also among his brethren.  For this lowliness, in his opinion and desire, was very great exaltation in the sight of God and man.
-Mirror of Perfection, Section IV, Chapter 44

Humility isn’t about seeing yourself as some invalid or monster.  Humility isn’t lying about yourself to seem more-modest-than-thou.  Humility is putting oneself in situations that lowers your social standing.  Francis wanted his Brothers Minor to live with lepers partly to assist the lepers, and to give them a better context in which to live.  But mostly he did it because he realized that if they lived with lepers, they would also be outcast from normal society.

Isn’t that the way of it?  If you hang around with the outcasts, the outcastness rubs off on you.  In the Mosaic Law, that was a bad thing.  You didn’t want to be separated from society, to be declared “unclean”.  But Jesus had parties with the outcast, and welcomed their attention.  He touched the leper who was not supposed to be touched.  He forgave those who should not be forgiven. And he loved those who should not be loved.

This is the true way of humility: loving those who “should” not be loved.  Surrendering your own reputation and personal well being to do so.  This is the way of Jesus.