Monday, December 26, 2016

11 Ways Jesus Fought Patriarchy

Patriarchy is the system of a society which grants a male perspective, power and principles greater pull than women’s, even though both are equally human.  In the Jewish tradition Jesus grew up in, both equality between sexes and a male-centric view was available, but his society was focused on the male.  Only men were granted places of authority, only men were allowed to interpret law (which gave them control over politics and ethics), and men alone were allowed to conduct family business.

It must be admitted that Jesus upheld the patriarchy at points.  Only men were allowed to be in the inner 12, and he allowed men to buster and command as if they were really in charge of his community.  Nevertheless, there are a number of ways that we can see that Jesus was trying to undermine the male-centric society.

1.  Jesus took on female disciples
Jesus was running a religious/political school, and there were some rules about how these schools worked, one of which is that no female students allowed.  They would distract the men, and women wouldn’t be allowed to interpret the law or wield influence (If you aren’t sure on this, watch Yentl).  But Jesus welcomed female students.  There was a small group of women who “followed” him just like the male disciples.  And Jesus openly encouraged Mary, the sister of Martha, to participate in his teaching sessions, saying, “She has chosen the better part.”

2. Jesus defended women over men
While a teacher might approve of something a woman said, in a patriarchal society they wouldn’t support a woman over a man, because this would shame the man.  Jesus, however, publicly rebuked men when they were on the wrong side of an argument with a woman.  Jesus sided with the woman anointing him over his disciple, Jesus even sided with a prostitute over a high-standing politician in the politician’s own party.  In fact, we have no example of Jesus siding with a man over a woman. 

3. Jesus promoted "feminine" virtues over "male"
Most teachers of Jesus’ day upheld the principles of law and justice in judgment was the most essential principle.  Jesus, on the other hand, upheld the more “feminine” or relational, gentle virtues.  He told the Pharisees to learn this verse: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”  He spoke of love, humility and compassion as the principles which causes one to be right with God and to build a spiritual community on.

4. Jesus defended “non-feminine” roles for women
Jesus found himself in an argument between two sisters, Mary and Martha.  Martha insisted that her sister not be lazy, but to take on her proper role in the patriarchy, which was to serve the men.  Jesus took Mary’s side, claiming that her role of being a student is better than her traditional female role.  I’m sure Martha was fuming that she didn’t have help doing the dishes.  If Jesus had been on the ball, I’m sure he would have sent Judas to help her.

5. Jesus taught equality between husband and wife
In Genesis, there are two creation stories of the forming of men and women.  One supports men and women being equally created and unified in marriage.  The second promotes patriarchy, teaching that women were created from the “side portion” of men.  Jesus never mentions the second story, but quotes the whole passage of female equality in relation to a matter of divorce, in which women got the worst end.

6. Jesus kicked the businessmen from the woman’s court
It was the policy of the high priest of Jesus’ day to allow people to exchange image-filled money with temple-approved money for sacrifices.  But Jerusalem was short on space, so the high priest allowed the money-changers to conduct their business in the “women’s court”, which was the only part of the temple women were allowed to worship and pray in.  Jesus threw the businessmen out, changing the high priest’s policy, reserving the space of women’s worship to be for them.

7. Jesus called himself a mother hen
In his sorrow over Jerusalem, Jesus proclaimed, “How I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks.”  Not a great blow for feminine equality, but his heart is in the right place.

8. Jesus defended a woman caught in adultery
The famous story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is often placed in the book of John, but it doesn’t really belong there.  Some old manuscripts place the same story in Luke, but it doesn’t really belong there, either.  We don’t know where it goes, or if it’s really something Jesus did.  But we think it sound like something Jesus would do.  Why?  Because he defends a woman, who was “caught in adultery”, but the men who brought her didn’t bring the other culprit she was caught with.  Again, Jesus in this story promotes the female principle of forgiveness over punishment.

9. Jesus gave a woman primary place in his gospel
There is only one person whom Jesus guarantees a place in his story: the woman (some say Mary) who anointed his feet and who got yelled for it.  Jesus said, “Wherever the gospel,” (gospel =  good news of victory) “is taught, what this woman did will be told.”  This woman’s act is central to Jesus’ victory over the society of the world.  Partly because it was a woman who did it.  Without women, Jesus recognizes, his story would never be told.

10. Jesus recognized a woman’s gift over the wealthy
In looking at the givers to the Temple, Jesus recognized one person over the rest—a woman who had no standing in society, no way to make money because she had no husband to stand for her.  She gave a small coin, but because it was all she had to live on, Jesus proclaimed her gift the greatest.  (He did not, however, say it was just, as he rebuked those who collected the money as “devourers of widow’s homes.”)

11. Jesus’ first resurrection witness was a woman

The greatest thing for woman Jesus did was for Mary Magdalene.   She was the first--and for a while, only—witness of Jesus’ resurrection.  This was in a society in which woman couldn’t be a legal witness, where men didn’t have to believe women’s testimony.  But Mary was the one Jesus trusted to tell the story without twisting it.  No matter what, every man who told the story had to admit that a woman knew about Jesus’ resurrection before anyone else.  That she had to tell them, because they were in the dark.  This is a fitting beginning to a society built upon equity.

Too bad it fell from that lofty position so quickly and firmly. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Seven Kinds of Misfits in the Christmas Story

Mary, Joseph and Jesus,
known by Joseph's family as the
Unholy Trinity: "slut, wimp and bastard"
There isn't a single Nativity story, but most of the story is found in two sections of the Bible: Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2.  If there is one theme that runs through this story, it is that the soon-to-be-born and newborn Messiah, king of the earth, attracted the most unsavory people.

1. An adulterous wife
Mary, the mother of Jesus, received a great "blessing" of a pregnancy from God... the blessing of being accused of an unfaithful slut.  She was already engaged to Joseph, a trade-worker, so when she shows up pregnant, it's clear that someone wasn't following the rules. Frankly, under the rules of first century Palestine, she could have been stoned to death.  Her (soon to be) husband kept her from this fate because he was...

2. A mystical wimp
Joseph didn't want his fiancee killed, he just wanted her drama to go away.  That is, until he got a dream about an angel.  He didn't even get a face-to-face like his woman, he just had some spicy pizza and dreamed up an angel telling him to go ahead and marry the slut.  He even told the wimp what to name the kid when he was born.  He woke up and said, "Well, I know what to do now."  Really, how many people take their nighttime fantasies as commands?

3. A Communist
Mary decided it was a great time to hang with her cousin in the country, and while she was there she was singing communist propaganda. She sang about revolution and the proletariat taking over.  She also sang about communist deeds like feeding the hungry and taking possessions from the rich.  She was a real party-goer, that Mary.

4. Judgmental family members
We know that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem.  But he had to go there because that was his family home.  He didn't try to go to an "inn" but to a "guest room" that his family home had for visitors.  The room was "full", meaning they didn't have room for a socialist pregnant slut that their wimpy nephew decided to hook up with.  They can go out into the stables.

5. Smelly homeless people
Shepherds, back in the day, didn't smell like mothballs or the back of a church closet.  Rather, they smelled like sheep.  Take  a wool sweater, get it wet, roll it in some dirt and grass and then stick it in a box for a month.  NOW you know what shepherd smells like.  These "workers" just hung out with sheep, trying to find someone's lawn for the animals to chomp on.  So everyone within a hundred miles of every flock (read: everyone) hated these wandering guys who liked sheep a bit too much.  For some reason, the angels thought these were the guys who needed to see the great King pop out from a vagina.

6. Nasty Old Fanatics
When Jesus' parents brought him to the temple to have his foreskin ripped off his penis with an ancient "knife", two old people accosted them.  First was Simeon who was "told by God" that he would see the Messiah before he died.  Perhaps he knew the day was coming and just picked out a likely looking male baby and declared his allegiance to that slobbering, wetting-himself King.  Then eighty four year old Anna "who never left the temple" to like eat, or anything saw Simeon fawning over the brat, so she had to have a piece of the spiritual action.

7. Slackers
Those "wise men" we hear about?  They were actually astrologers, who saw a sign in the stars about the king to be born.  So they decided to pop over and see the king.  Only problem?  They lives in Persia, and cars weren't to be invented for a couple thousand years.  So they hoofed it, not having anything better to do, which took them a couple years, so the kid wasn't a baby anymore, but a toddler.  Meanwhile, they got the attention of the local king (read: serial murderer). and gave him the kid's whereabouts.  Then the bums scooted out of time before the genocide began. If it wasn't for another vision of the wimp, the toddler king would have bit the big one.

The whole point is this: the King of Jerusalem, the Teacher of Love, the Jewish Emperor of Heaven, the Son of God... or the Nazarene Bastard, whatever you want to call him... seemed to have a habit even before birth to hang out with people who had less-than-pristine reputations.  Maybe he wanted to have a community made up of the same, you think?  Perhaps he picked up his mother's communist tendencies?

Thursday, December 15, 2016


"NO! I don't wanna go to the doctor!  I wanna watch Dora!"

"Just let me sleep in, dad.  I don't want to go to school."

"Don't take away the Wifi!  I can do the stupid dishes later! Stop!"

"Why shouldn't I have a car?  I'm 16 and I've passed my driver's exam.  I'm old enough."

"You never understood me!"

"I hate you.  I HATE YOU!"

And the parent waits, patiently.  She waits expectantly. The child must grow, become more than he is.  Not that his present state is bad.  Just unfinished.

The parent does understand.  He had to pass through all of these minor deaths, these sheddings of the past self. He needed someone to stand for him, to press him on toward maturity, when he wouldn't do it himself.

Growth is always better when accomplished by one's choice-- most of the time it doesn't happen any other way.  But every single one of us have faced a time when growth had to be forced on us, when we did not have the discipline or wisdom to accomplish the next step of maturity on our own.  When we were so caught up in ourselves, in our problems, in our pain, that we had no idea that we were the problem.  That we had to be taken out of the equation in order for growth to occur.

Forced growth is anger-inducing, forcing us to face our greatest fear: that we are inadequate for the future.  Although surrounded by many who have been through that same process, we scream about our complete solitude, how no one could possibly understand.

Thank you, Father, for patiently leading us to greener pastures, even through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

26 Anabaptist Distinctives by Dr. William Higgins

Dr. Higgins collected these twenty six themes about 20 years ago.  These represent the communal bible study of the Anabaptist communities throughout Europe in the 16th century.  Not all communities held to all of these distinctives, but they are generally representative of Anabaptists at that time. -Steve K.

#1-- Scripture Alone
Scripture is the supreme authority over the church. Catholic popes, councils or traditions are not the authority. Theologians like Luther or Zwingli are not the authority. City or national governments are not the authority.

#2--The Precedence of the New Testament
The Bible is not flat. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles takes precedence over the Law and Prophets. We come to understand the Old Testament through Jesus and the apostles. The Old Testament has the character of promise. The New testament is all about fulfillment. Now that the promises are being fulfilled this should be the primary focus - especially the gospels and the Sermon on the Mount.

#3-- The Bible is Accessible
The literal meaning of Scripture is available to the common person - Matthew 11:25. Although learning is not bad, there is no need for elitist popes or scholars to dictate to all what the Scriptures teach. On the other hand, all interpreters must rely upon the Spirit and desire to obey the Scriptures to truly understand them. Only these are truly qualified to interpret Scripture.

The end of all Bible study is to do what it says. We literally do whatever Jesus and the apostles teach, whatever the consequences.

#5-- Restorationism
The goal is not so much reform as it is a restoration of the apostolic/New Testament church. It is not enough to take the medieval church and tinker with it (Luther, Zwingli). One must get back past the fall of the church with Constantine and restore the practices of the New Testament church. This is all that is important.

#6-- Saved by Grace Through Faith
Salvation is a gift of God’s grace, based on what Jesus has done, that must be received by faith. Salvation is not based on deeds we do, religious or otherwise. Anabaptists learned this from Luther. But they emphasized that this grace, if it is real will produce acts of righteousness. Only the one who does the will of the Father in heaven will ultimately be saved - Matthew 7:21.

#7-- Human Choice
Although all people are sinners, God makes it possible for all to choose to have faith and be saved. Luther’s concept of predestination is wrong. People do have a choice. God does not predetermine everything. Also Luther’s idea of total depravity is overstated. We are sinful, but by God’s grace we can choose to turn to God.

#8--Spirit Regeneration
The one who believes is born of the Spirit. Believers are new creations in Christ and are thus able to do God’s will. We are not simply forgiven sinners, who continue in sin. We are forgiven and transformed by the Spirit so that we can obey God. For Luther God’s grace is best emphasized when we see God as accepting us despite our continued sin. This keeps us from thinking we can earn our salvation. For Anabaptists God’s grace is best emphasized when we see God’s grace powerfully transforming us. All the good we do is a testimony to God’s powerful work in us.

#9-- Non-Sacramental Ordinances
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are simply outward signs of God’s grace working in you by the Spirit. A sacrament is “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” In Catholic thought the visible sign conveys the invisible grace by the mere performance of the act. There are seven Catholic sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Ordination, Confirmation, Penance, Marriage, and Extreme unction. It is through these acts that God’s grace (salvation) is given to people. For Anabaptists, the two outward signs do not convey the grace. They are a means by which a person testifies to the presence of grace already within them.

#10-- The Lord's Supper
This is a memorial of the death of Jesus and is only for baptized believers who are committed to obedience to Jesus. The idea of the supper as a memorial was learned from Zwingli and/or the Dutch Sacramentists. The bread and wine are only bread and wine. They do not change in essence as in Catholicism. They point to the death of Jesus.

#11-- Believer's Baptism
According to the New Testament baptism is only for believers. It is the pledge of a believer to live a new life as a part of God’s community. It is about discipleship. Since the water is only water, it does an infant no good. The scriptural pattern is always that faith precedes water baptism. Baptism is like a monastic vow. All who choose it commit to walk according to Jesus’ teaching. It is the beginning of a life of discipleship, set apart from the world.

#12--Children are Innocent
On the basis of texts like Matthew 19:14 children should be seen as innocent. There is no need for a sacrament such as infant baptism that can wash away the effects of original sin for them. They are not punished for sin until they come to the age of accountability. Therefore they should wait and be baptized as believers.

#13-- A Visible Church
The church is not invisible - made up of those with faith in their hearts alone. One’s inner experience of God (if real) will show up in an outward conformity to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Thus the true people of God will be marked by baptism and a godly life. The spiritualists thought that inner spirituality was enough. Anabaptists insisted that the inner and the outer are connected. Real disciples are known by their fruits - Matthew 7:16.

#14--Two Kingdoms
The church is a separate social entity from the rest of society which is “the world.” These two kingdoms have different standards. You are either among the people of God or you are a part of the world. There is no neutral ground. The dividing line between these two kingdoms is believer’s baptism. This is a rejection of the Christendom conception of a church that is fused together with the state into one social entity, living by one standard. True disciples who live by the teaching of Jesus will not fit in with the world system around them.

#15-- Political Nonconformity
Followers of Jesus must be faithful to the teaching of Jesus, even if this brings them into conflict with the political authorities placed over them by God - Acts 5:29. The church is a prophetic voice to the powers that be of the new way of Jesus. It also calls governments to account for their actions of injustice that go against God’s will for governments. This was especially the case when governments persecuted the Anabaptists.

#16-- Volunteerism
Each person must decide in their conscience what they will believe and should not be
persecuted for this. Each person should be able to choose what they believe without coercion or pressure. If someone wants to be baptized, let them choose it. If not, that is their choice.

#17-- Localism
Each local congregation is qualified and responsible to decide what should be taught in it. They should also call, support and discipline their own pastors. Luther thought that political leaders should decide what the faith of their people would be. Anabaptists taught that each congregation should decide for themselves - not the state or the clergy or the scholars.

#18-- Community Egalitarianism
Within the congregation there is no sharp difference between leaders and followers. Anabaptists did not like the Catholic scheme whereby priests are placed on a higher level because they mediate God to the people. They taught that God is no respecter of persons. They had leaders, but they were common people from the congregation who seemed gifted and called to serve the rest.

#19-- The Ban
When a person breaks their baptismal pledge to follow Jesus the church is to call them to repentance. If they do not repent, they are placed out of the church - Matthew 18:15-20. This is the proper way to purify the church, not persecution and death. The Christendom model either overlooks issues of immorality or it uses the criminal justice system to kill people for matters of faith.

#20-- Enemy Love
Disciples are literally to love enemies and not to resist evildoers - Matthew 5:38-48. This means that Christians cannot be political leaders or in the military. This separates all disciples from the world system which demands warfare and violence.

#21-- No Oaths
Disciples are literally not to swear oaths - Matthew 5:33-37. This also meant that Christians could not be a part of much of the civic and economic life of the day which required oaths.

#22-- Common Goods
Disciples must share what they have with those in the church who have needs. This has more recently been called - “Mutual Aid.” This comes from the teaching of Jesus (Luke 12:33) and from the example of the early church in the book of Acts. Salvation encompasses one’s economic practices. Hutterites went on to say that there could be no private property, but everyone in the congregation must hold all goods literally in common. Other Anabaptists simply held a common treasury, used for those in need in the community.

#23-- Suffering
Disciples must be prepared to suffer for their faith. The true church is characterized by suffering. Anabaptists experienced this from both Catholics and Protestants. There were thousands of Anabaptist martyrs.  This helped spread Anabaptism as others saw that their faith was real. But it also caused great distress and eventually quenched the movement. The leaders were killed and the rest went underground.

#24-- Mission
The church must spread the gospel and establish communities all throughout the world. Protestants and Catholics felt that the great commission had already been finished. Anabaptists saw all of Christendom as a mission field. They set up extensive itinerate systems for evangelism. They were very successful for a time, threatening to become the dominant group. But intense persecution counteracted this.

#25-- Non-Speculative Theology
One should accept traditional orthodoxy, but the real business of the church is that of forming disciple communities through catechism that uses biblical categories and terms. Anabaptists used the apostles creed. They were orthodox in their understandings of the Trinity and Christology. (Although some early Dutch Mennonites had a distinctive Christology.)

#26-- Apocalyptic
Jesus will return at any time to judge the world, and save his own people. The world can be seen in the terms of apocalyptic according to the Anabaptists: the beast and the whore (the persecuting state and the unfaithful church) verses the saints of God. This reinforced their two kingdoms outlook. It also placed their suffering in the wider cosmic context of God’s plan for all of creation.

And then...

And then, all that has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both men and women will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another's will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of the many
And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old...

-Judy Chicago

If we seek only eternal life, our eschatology is too small.

Unless we seek the redemption of relationship, of love, of the church, of God Himself, then we are looking too small.

We must be continually dissatisfied with the earth, continually praying, continually seeking until we find the path of love for all, in all, of all, over all the earth. 

If we only seek heaven, our eschatology is too small.  Remember, Satan was in heaven until he was thrown out, seeking the judgment and hatred of even the most righteous man on earth. Heaven itself must be redeemed. It is not enough to be placed in the spirit realm.  We must long for eternal love in all places, even places that cannot be reached from earth except through the Holy Spirit.

We know this new hope begins at the cross.  What is the next step?  What is today's action to allow this eschatology to be imparted?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Paths of Compassion

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”Thomas Merton

Merton sought to pave a road between his two good masters, Jesus and Buddha, but it is at this very point that the two masters diverged. Buddha's philosophy of compassion is to create peace by first placing oneself into a place of peace, and then enacting compassion out of that place. Should one find oneself out of that place of peace due to acts of compassion, one must return into peace in order to maintain compassion.

Jesus' philosophy was different. Compassion is a gift of God and must be given at all times, in all circumstances. Compassion can come from a personal place of peace, but it does not need to. Compassion is done to the detriment of oneself and, in the end, if the world is going to be changed, some must sacrifice themselves-- through allowing violence to be done to oneself.

These are two different philosophies of how the world can be changed for the better and those who seek peace must choose one or the other, the path of the Dali Lama or the path of Martin Luther King, Jr.

What we must avoid at all times is the third path toward peace-- that peace must be won by sacrificing others. By dividing the world into good people and bad people and the "bad" people can be harmed or destroyed in order to create peace for the good. This is the philosophy of suicide bombers, of racism, of war. This is the dangerous philosophy we, as activists, can fall into and this is what perpetuates injustice on the earth.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

My Problem with Prayer

Henri Nouwen, in his book The Way of the Heart, speaks of two main problems pastors have when we think about prayer.  We consider prayer to be talking to God, but we don't get a response.  Or we consider prayer to be thinking about God, but that wears down over time.  He suggests to think about prayer as appreciating God's presence and being, to get out of the intellect.

I've never reached the place where I experience God's presence and being in prayer.  Maybe I need to try harder, or that's just not what I'm looking for.  I am certainly in the "talking with God" category, but I rarely have the difficulty of not having a full conversation.

In a purely selfish way of looking at prayer, which seems to be how Jesus approaches it, prayer is requesting a more powerful lord for a boon (for example Luke 11:1-13).  We are requesting something.  Sometimes this prayer is found in a formal request, but sometimes this prayer is in a life of dependence on God.  

Jesus promises us that if we pray in this way (life and request) God will provide us with three things:
1. Our basic needs (Matthew 6:25-34)

2. The power to love others (Mark 11:24-25)

3. Wisdom (Matthew 10:19-20)

These are three main categories that the Holy Spirit works in us, which makes sense, since Jesus said that prayer results in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).

I live the life of radical faith.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to descend.  But I daily have trouble loving.  I daily struggle with any wisdom that would be helpful.  Why should I pray when my prayers are not answered?  I have no control over my reactions, which the Spirit is supposed to grant me.  So why pray?

When I speak to God, for the last six months, he's only told me one thing: Rest.  It is as if he's been saying, "Your head is addled by too much work, too many needy people, too many issues, too much suffering.  It is time to find your calm."

Of course prayer won't do me any good if I have no context in which prayer can work.  I have no fertile soil for the seed of prayer to grow.  I need silence, I need solitude.  From there the Holy Spirit can grow love and wisdom.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"It Was Good for Me to be Afflicted"

I knew I was heading into depression, and here I am.  

I have an addiction to adrenaline, so whenever I step out of the serious crisis-oriented occupation that causes me to face suffering people daily and hear their stories of woe and oppression, then I go through withdrawals.  I am a drug addict, it's just that the drug that I long for is created within my body.  No need for pipes or needles.

And so I read about suffering in the Bible.  And there's a lot of it.  And I'm trying to figure out just how true it is for me.

Some may say, "You're an addict! That's not the same as the suffering for righteousness."  Well, I can understand that point of view.  But I'm not really an addict any more than Jesus was.  Jesus was supposed to take a time of rest, but when faced with the suffering of his fellow humans, he was "moved with compassion" and so worked more than was good for him. That's what gets me in this place.  So indulge me for a moment, and consider my depression-- the deep sickness in my stomach, the uncontrollable outburst when I look into a human face-- a form of suffering that might be acceptable in God's sight.

Paul and James and Peter have a pattern by which they prove that suffering is beneficial:

Suffering causes endurance
Endurance causes character
Character causes hope. 

Let's break this down.

The hope that they speak of is the hope of the Beatitudes-- the peace and mercy and kingdom of God in it's fullness.  The suffering and poor and mourning and persecuted do not experience it now, but it is the promise of God, the result of the sufferings they now experience.

The other NT writers spell out the secret steps between suffering and the future hope.  They say that suffering produces endurance.  That we persist in doing good and mercy through the suffering.  And that endurance produces character-- we display who we really are through remaining loving and pure in the midst of trials.

But what if we don't?

The patter assumes that the sufferer will endure.  But not everyone endures through suffering.  Some endure, but some break. I think they are correct that suffering is the step that indicates the character of the one put on trial.  But we make a mistake when we think that the NT writers were saying that suffering automatically leads to a display of positive character.

I know that my internal suffering causes me to be impure at times.  I am not loving through my suffering.  I sometimes endure, and sometimes I clearly do not.  And I think that's most of us.  Our lives are messy, not so clean cut, black and white to stamp "enduring" or "not-enduring" on our foreheads.

I think Jesus knew that.  Pretty sure he did. So he had us pray "Lead us not into trial."  It is often translated "temptation", but the Greek word periasmos in the gospels has a fuller meaning of, "a trial or suffering that causes us to fall away from faith."   It's a specific temptation-- a suffering that we can no longer endure through.  

Jesus is saying that we should beg God that such trails that break us be cast out of our way.

However, I am here to say, that such trials certainly come our way, despite our prayer.  It came Jesus' way in the cross.  It came Paul's way in his thorn of the flesh.  It came Peter's way when he denied Jesus.  We get caught in an affliction, a trap that causes us to fall.

I guess the real test of endurance is not that we break.  We will have times of deep failure.  Times when our love crumbles like a sand castle under a wave. That is a given.  

Endurance happens when God gives us the strength to step over the corpse of our failure and keep walking anyway.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The American Religion

The central tenets of the American religion are these:
1. If you can get rich, you should.
2. You can get rich.
We have churches dedicated to these beliefs, for which there is no evidence (you have to take it on faith). There is a whole mass media dedicated to this religion, including "Think and Grow Rich", which sold 70 million copies and somehow did not end the depression. Every presidential election (the election of the new priest of America) has one major candidate which promotes this religion.
And this religion has their sinners: the poor. They are the ones who, according to this faith, reject wealth and then demand to be assisted because of their own decision. And these sinners try to make the faithful guilty for their "filthy, disgusting" lives. So they are forced by this religion to live a hell on earth by increasing their poverty and pouring shame upon them.
Reject this religion. Be freed from it's condemnation of those who are not rich, which likely includes you. Recognize that being rich or poor is chance, more than anything else, and that the poor have the responsibility to work on surviving and the wealthy have the responsibility to be grateful and to help those who have fewer resources than they.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why Do Churchies Not Read Their Bibles?

Most church-goers do not read the Bible, even though almost all of them have one. There’s a couple reasons for that.

First, because the Bible is way more difficult of a book than sermons make it seem. We want our Bibles to be like children’s Bibles, full of stories and to the point. However, it turns out that this millennia old volume was written to ancient people, not us. It is full of genealogies, laws, architectural notes and rantings about ancient politics. It has an extraordinary amount of cultural detail that isn’t explained. Most people who pick it up to read it cover to cover give up by Exodus, if they even make it that far. Frankly, its much easier to pay someone else to study it and explain it to us, like churches have done for thousands of years.

Second, the Bible isn’t necessary to live a spiritual life. Love is, Jesus is, God’s spirit is, but the Bible isn’t the only door to open up a person’s spirituality. For some people it really works and for others it causes them to kill their spiritual life by diving into arguments about detailed interpretations.

 No one should complain to people about not reading their Bible. They should complain if they fail to love as Jesus loved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Where is God?

Wherever one's heart is filled with compassion and they act for the benefit of another, God is present and working.
Even in spaces where apathy, violence and unjust anger rule, God is right around the corner, looking for the opportunity to create love.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Brokenness

Once there was a blind man named Bill.  Bill was a kind person, always helpful, he had a pretty good sense of direction, really, for being a blind person, and he could tell people how to get anywhere.  He was generally of a friendly disposition and he loved children and pets.

His main problem was that he didn’t know he was blind.

He strongly suspected it.  He knew he wasn’t perfect.  He made mistakes.  Heck, everyone does.  But he couldn’t admit that he had a problem that no one else had.  He thought that everyone listened to the television, lost in mystery.  He thought everyone ran into poles on a regular basis when they walked down the street.  He thought that perhaps he was a bit more clumsy than others.  But it wasn’t a big deal.

Of course, everyone who spent time with him knew.  He kept his eyes closed, since they were useless, so at first people just wondered why he kept his eyes closed.  Then they realized the obvious truth, so they figured that he was just a really independently-minded blind man.  They didn’t say anything to him about it.  After all, it wasn’t their business.

All this was fine until one day Bill ran across a child who was lost.  When he would meet an adult who needed directions, he would just tell them verbally in his even, precise tone.  And the adult would get there, no problem. 

This time Bill considered that he should direct the child by hand.  After all, the child needed more protection.  So he took her by the hand and led her down the streets and paths that he knew so well in his mind. 

But he couldn’t see the ditch he ran her into.

And he didn’t see the tree that he ran her into.

He didn’t see the silent dog that bit her on the path.

When she just cried, louder and louder, he comforted her and told her, “Don’t worry, we’ll be home soon.”

When he did take her home, she was so beaten and broken that the child’s mother called the police and had him arrested for child abuse.   When he was told of the charges, he said, “But all I was trying to do is help.”

* * *

I am broken. 

Some of my brokenness is sin, but not all of it.  I have weaknesses, injuries, trauma and mental deficiencies that make me less capable, less of a loving person.  It is not accurate to say "I am a sinner".  Rather, I am broken.  I can't accomplish all that I should.  Or that I feel I should.  I am broken.

So are you. And everyone we know. Which means we need to be patient with each other. We are all broken in different ways, and we don't trust the way other people are broken. 

We could understand if everyone were broken in the same way. But because we are all broken differently, it is even more important to work at understanding.

But it is not enough to know that we are broken.  We must know what our brokenness is, and how our brokenness can hurt others.  There are people all around us who are vulnerable to our weaknesses, and we may not know how we can hurt them, unless we look into it.

We need to know ourselves.  Not just our personalities, not just our types, but we need to know how we are broken and how we can hurt others.  We might be able to be fixed, in some ways.  We may not.  But we have to take care not to be ignorant enough of our brokenness that we hurt others.

Part of loving others is to know how we are broken.

Part of loving others is to give ourselves space so our brokenness doesn’t harm others.

Part of loving others is to take care around people who might be especially vulnerable to our brokenness.

It is not enough to see how my brokenness affects myself, but also others.  I must be aware of those who will be hurt by my brokenness, although I never meant to hurt them.

This week I hurt people.  I was wounded by trauma and I ended up wounding others because of the trauma I experienced.  

I was hurt enough that I shouted at a mentally ill person, who experienced her own trauma.  Later, I apologized.  And she wept, openly, because I admitted my own weakness and response.  That didn't heal her.  But perhaps it healed part of our relationship.  I hope so.

I want to be more aware of how I harm others because of the harm placed upon me.

Father, may my brokenness never cause another to be broken.  Let the cycle stop here.

On Holy Artifacts

There are no holy books.

There are no holy places.

There are no holy objects, no holy artifacts, no holy clothing.

A single artifact can be used to bring someone to God or to rape a child. The same book or phrase can be used to stir love or hate. The best an object can be is potentially holy, not objectively so.

The Spirit infuses in us a desire and drive and energy toward compassion, love and mercy. We choose to obey that drive and so produce a holy, compassionate act. A holy act of love can lead to a holy, merciful habit. A holy habit can become a holy, loving life.

Father, deliver us from those who use what seems to be holy to produce unloving action.

Friday, August 12, 2016

How Should we Read the Bible?

“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.  You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life…”  -Jesus

There’s a lot of people who think that salvation is found in the Scriptures.  I’m here to tell you, it isn’t true. 

That’s a pretty shocking thing to hear from a guy who’s still pretty much evangelical.  I mean, aren’t we supposed to be all about Sola Scriptura—salvation by Scripture alone?  As an Anabaptist, aren’t I supposed to believe that anyone can find salvation, the truth and hope of God, by just picking up a Bible and reading it?

Well, if you’re looking for me to believe something just because its “evangelical” or “Anabaptist” I think you will be pretty much disappointed.  Mind you, I certainly believe that the Bible holds the truth and that this truth can lead you to salvation.  But the Bible isn’t salvation in and of itself.  And clear-thinking people can get the Scripture wrong.  Really, really wrong.

Look at the Jewish leaders Jesus was speaking to.  They knew the Scriptures quite well.  Better than you or I do, that’s for sure.   But here is Jesus, in John 5, telling them that all their Bible studies and memorization and analyses were wrong.  They were doing all they could with the Bible, and they were dead wrong.  Dead, as in God’s judgment dead.  That’s pretty dead.

There’s a right and wrong way to read the Bible.  Let’s talk about the right way, and we’ll look at some wrong ways.

How to read the Bible:
You're Reading it Wrong
1.      Look for God’s care
Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 NAU)
People often look at the Scriptures and they find a horrible God in the Old Testament and a loving, kind God in the New Testament.  But Scripture was not written to terrify us, but to give us hope.  God is and always has been a God of love.  Yes, in the NT it says that God is love, that God so loved the world.  But in the OT the foundational statement about God is: “Yahweh, Yahweh God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness…” (Exodus 34:6).  If we are looking for God’s hatred, then we are reading the Bible wrong.  Certainly the Bible says that God hates sin, but he loves all people, no matter who they are, what they’ve done or how much they personally irritate you.  We need to look for God’s deliverance, God’s compassion, God’s mercy and God’s acts of salvation.  If we look for destruction or hatred, we are reading it wrong.  Throughout the Bible God is the Father, not the Destroyer.

Pastor Edwards, you're doing it wrong
2.      Look for Jesus 
And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me...You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me. John 5:37-38

When we read the Bible, we should be looking for Jesus, if we are reading it right.  Some want to see Jesus’ death in every verse, or look for Jesus’ presence behind each bush.  I think this is the wrong approach.  I think Jesus lead us to play the game “Where’s Jesus”in a couple different ways:

a.       See Jesus as fulfillment
Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Scriptures.  This means that he came to live out prophecies, but also to fix all that was wrong about the Bible.  The Bible contains a lot of failures (one of the best things about Scripture), but for every failure, Jesus is there to be the success.  David sinned, big time, Jesus was without sin.  Israel didn’t trust in the Father, Jesus completely trusted.  For every prophecy, for every failure, we should see Jesus as the answer.

b.       See Jesus’ principles
Jesus taught the Scriptures himself, and He taught how the Scriptures should be used as a guidebook to life.  Jesus taught us to look for mercy, for grace, for love.  We should re-interpret the Bible as a way to understand what Jesus taught us.

Calvin, you're doing it wrong
3.      Look for what we should do
Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (James 1:22)
Many people see the Bible as a book of doctrines, of a list of things to believe.  They want to find precisely what the Bible teaches so that we can have our teachings in line, believe the right things, and so be saved.  However, the Bible tells us that we should see the Scriptures as a way to live, a guide to a particular lifestyle.  If we are only looking for things to believe, we are reading the Bible wrong.  Rather, the Bible should change how we live, point at what we should do in order to be pleasing to God, and to live in harmony with each other.

Guess who's reading it wrong?
4.      Look for love
If you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matthew 12:7)
You search the Scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life... I know that you do not have the love of God in you. (John 5:39, 42)
And now we come back to the beginning.  Even as we should be searching the Bible for God’s compassion, so we should be seeking out our own.  If we use the Bible as an excuse to hate or to reject someone, we are reading it wrong.  The Bible is there, according to Jesus, to teach us to live in compassion, grace, mercy and encouragement.  If we use the Bible to enact our prejudices, our oppressions, our greed or our ambition, we are using it wrong. 

According to Jesus, the context of the Bible, the whole Bible, is love.  If we read hate in it, then we are reading wrong.  Yes, there are acts of hatred, vengeance, prejudice in the Bible.  I won’t deny it.  But these acts should be even more startling when we learn “God is love” and we are to love all people, even those who do us wrong.   Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, and all scripture should point to God’s deliverance of the needy, and the hope that God gives to all of us. 

Please, don’t read the Bible wrong.