The Baptism of Jesus or Jesus Gets Dunked

This meditation is base on the following text:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus and two of his brothers were working in the carpenter shop. They were busy forming wood implements for the people who tended the gardens around Nazareth. As he worked, Jesus’ mind was somewhere else. A thought kept nagging him. “There is more than this.” Whatever ‘this’ was. Jesus had noticed his interest in the family business had been faltering for quite some time. It wasn’t that carpentry wasn’t fulfilling. It was. But, that thought would not go away, “there is more.”

Eventually, Jesus decided it was time to act. He knew that his cousin, John, had become some sort of holy man. People went to hear him speak and to be baptized. This wasn’t all that unusual in Israel. There were many so-called holy men who claiming some kind of anointing. But, John seemed to be the real deal.

Jesus packed a few things and told his mother and brothers that he was going to see John. His brothers were not happy.

“Who’s gonna run the shop?” James asked. “We’re pretty busy, you know. We could use your help!”

“This is something that I must do,” Jesus replied. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone. Until I get back, you’re in charge of the shop. Take care of mother.”

James could tell by the look in Jesus’ eyes that this was not an argument that he would win. He simply waved him off and turned away.

I met Jesus on the road outside of Nazareth.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
Jesus answered, “To see the Baptizer.”
“Why do you want to go that far to see someone standing in the river?” I asked.
“I’m not entirely sure,” was all he said.

His response caught me off guard. Why would someone want to travel this distance without knowing why?

Jesus continued, “I’ve always had a desire to know the God of my people better. While I am a member of the community and study Torah, I’ve had this one thought that nags me.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“There is more,” was all he said.

As we walked we talked about other things. I found that he did not hate the Romans like practically everyone else.

“The Romans are not the problem here. Yes, they are oppressive and cruel. But, they are more of a nuisance, kind of like these flies that buzz around our heads. No, the real problem lies within us. There is another place, another ‘kingdom, if you will, where our heart desires to live.  How to find that place is the real issue.”

We arrived where John was baptizing. There were a lot of people milling about waiting their turn to feel the cool water of the Jordan River cleanse them. Jesus turned aside and found a large rock to sit on.

“Look at them,” he said. “Chasing a hope; a dream.”
“They work and slave to put food on their tables. They go to synagogue and listen to some career Rabbi read from the scrolls. He tells them that God has chosen them as God’s ‘special’ people. God has great plans for their lives. And, they believe it. Then, they go back to their mundane lives.”
“Then, someone like John comes along. They all run out to receive some kind of ‘special’ anointing.”
“They say, ‘If only he will lay his hands us and wash us! If only he will pray for us! If only…’”
“Promises are made to them. ‘Just do what we tell you and you will be truly blesses! Don’t forget the offering container on your way out!’”
“Poor, blind fools!” He said.
I detected sadness in his voice.

We walked down to the river. Jesus mingled with the people there. He was comfortable with them. And, they seemed so with him.

He was asking why they had come. There were many answers given. But, the one thread that seemed to run through all of the answers was that they all desired “more.”
‘More’ God.
‘More’ money.
‘More’ blessing.
‘More’ more.
And, they all thought that this time they would actually get it.
Jesus leaned over to me and said, “And, tomorrow when they wake up they’ll still be looking for ‘more.’”

Finally, Jesus walked down to John. John looked up at Jesus and smiled. “You should be the One who baptizes me!” he said.
“No, cousin” said Jesus. “This is your time I am here to be washed with all of these others.”
John nodded and laid Jesus back under the water.

As soon as Jesus came up, a white dove lighted on his right shoulder. He took it in his left hand. He suddenly realized why he had come here.

We heard a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son. I am very pleased with you.”

Jesus put his hand on John’s shoulder and smiled. Walking up out of the river, Jesus kissed the dove and released it.

He turned to me and said, “It’s time that I left you. The next part of this journey is for me alone.”

Jesus looked up and found the dove flying above. He pulled his cloak up to cover his head and followed the dove toward the wilderness.


In the first several meditations the stories followed Jesus’ life as a child. Most of the action is done to him, rather than by him. The last meditation on Jesus at the Temple began to transition from infancy to manhood. In this current meditation, and in the several that follow, Jesus is doing things. He is thinking and acting. However, the texts we have don’t give us a complete picture. They are snippets. This was how ancient hero stories were written. There may be an infancy story just to get the person born. After that, the writers touched on some main points to make their argument for why the person was heroic. Then, they climax with the one event that truly reveals the hero. That’s a pretty simple way to explain what we have in the Gospels. But, it’s not inaccurate.

One thing about these kinds of stories, or ‘lives’ as they’re called, is that they leave a lot out. There are scant details to help us really discover what the hero is thinking. This ambiguity allows us to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. In this meditation I begin by considering the fact that Jesus was not fully aware of who he was nor of his life purpose. He is on a pilgrimage, not unlike many of us. We are searchers for many things. I believe that Jesus was, too.

Jesus is at the place in his life where he seems to finally get a glimpse of his calling. At this point he is revealed as the Son of God. He is the One in whom God is well-pleased. From this point Jesus begins to live into that identity.

And, from this point we’ll begin to know him more. I hope.

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Young Jesus at the Temple

We briefly meditated on some of the events of Jesus’ birth. Now, I want to take us on a brief side trip to the Temple at Jerusalem when Jesus was a young boy. This meditation is based on text from the Gospel according to Luke.

I am following the actual text with a brief explanation of why I think that these types of meditations can have real meaning. Later this week, I’ll share the meditation from this text.

Luke 2:41-52 (NASB)

41) Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the
Passover.

42) And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast;
43) and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it,
44) but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.
45) When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him.
46) Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
47) And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.
48) When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.
49) And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”
50) But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.
51) And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52) And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.


It’s important to remember that the purpose of these exercises is to learn to know Jesus better in order to love him more. That’s a difficult endeavor. After all, Jesus died 2,000 years ago. I’m sure that many of you have heard the statement, “dead men tell no tales.” But, the New Testament does tell a tale. It is the story of a young man who lived and loved passionately. He had a special place in his life for those who dwelt on the margins of society. The sick and infirm; the hungry and poor; the oppressed and rejected. These were the people he was drawn to…and, who were drawn to him.

At the end, the tale seems to grow taller. This young man was cruelly put to death by the Roman occupiers of his homeland. He was buried in a tomb. Three days later, so the story goes, he came back from the dead. He was seen by many others who later attested to this miraculous event. Then, he was gone. There are many people who try to say where it is that he went. The consensus opinion is that he went to a heavenly paradise where he lives to this day.

If there is any veracity to this tale, then perhaps it is possible for us, today, to get to know him. Of course, it’s easier to get to know folks on Facebook. At least there we can see text and images that real flesh and blood people share. We can’t know Jesus that way. We can only know him through something that the ancients called ‘faith.’ That’s a really hard word to get a handle on. So, let’s change it a bit. The New Testament was written in a form of Greek. The word that was used to express ‘faith’ is the same word that was often used to denote ‘trust.’ So, let’s say that we can know the person, Jesus bar Joseph, if we trust him. If we trust that when we use our minds to enter the stories as participants or observers, Jesus actually guides us. How does that work? Well, what do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino? But, I trust. I truly think that as I insinuate myself into the stories, Jesus somehow shares a bit of himself with me. He allows me to know him a little better. And, the more I get to know him, the more likely I am to follow him.

Yeah, it’s a convoluted process. It depends on thinking somewhere outside the box. But, for me, it’s reality.

And, I’m sharing a bit of my reality with you. A part of me hopes that I can introduce the human Jesus to you. Not that theological, otherworldly myth created by the church. You know, the one where Jesus stands with his finger on the ‘Smite’ button. Ready to squash any so-called sinner or heathen for the slightest misstep. But, the Jesus who touched and healed a blind beggar. The man who released people from the bondage of disease and death. The person who loved his friends and literally gave his life so that they could live.

I want to introduce you to Jesus, my friend.

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Greetings, Mary!

This is the first meditation on the Nativity that I wrote about. It’s a story that I envisioned as I followed the prompts of Ignatius. This one focuses on what the Church has called The Annunciation, the calling of Mary to be the mother of Jesus.

I heard a loud call from above. Looking up, I saw a great eagle flying in large loops. Leisurely, he floated on the currents of air, rising and falling like the terrain before me. As I watched, it seemed as though my mind was floating, like the eagle. Higher and higher it rose until I was looking out at the world through the eyes of my friend far above.

“Wow! Look at this! I can see forever!” I thought.

We began to fly faster. In and out of clouds, the landscape far below became a blur. I saw rivers and lowlands slowly morph into the checkerboard of cultivated fields of wheat and maze. A sudden updraft carried us into a range of mountains. Alpine forests gave way to snow capped peaks. Dark slices of granite cut its way out of the white world where nothing grows.

Soon we dove nearly straight down toward a small town at the base of the mountains. There were people and animals going about their daily business. Sellers and buyers, traders and farmers. Simple folk. Living life as their forefathers had taught them.

Without warning we were suddenly flying over a large city. What a diversity of people! So many colors and smells. Merchants in their stalls calling out to anyone who would listen, “Come here! We have the most exotic cloth from the far reaches of the world! Come see! Come buy!”

Others were herding animals through narrow streets to sell to those who sold hides and meat. So many people! Laughing, crying, loving, and dying. Humanity.

I also saw many…too many…who were on the margins. Those destitute multitudes whose lives were truly without hope. Poverty and disease stalked them like wolves stalk sheep. They were helpless victims of systems that ostracized them because they were somehow “different.” They looked different and they sure smelled different! Not everything is rosy in this world.

Suddenly, I was standing in a large room with thousands of other beings. It was brightly lit and there was singing throughout. In the center of all of this there was a round table at which three beings sat. One clearly had the shape of a person. But, this person seemed to be the very source of light in the room. Next sat someone whom I can’t describe clearly. He or she did seem to have a feminine quality. But, beyond that I could not tell. The third was simply there. This one seemed to be “Being” itself. No gender, no age, no anything that I could tell for certain other than “Presence.”

I saw scenes like I had just experienced with the eagle. People. Everywhere. But, these people seemed to be walking aimlessly. They simply wandered around as if lost.

“It’s time,” I heard the Third Being say.

“Yes,” the others agreed.

I heard what sounded like a trumpet and suddenly there was another being standing next to the table.

“Gabriel,” the First One said. “It’s time for you to go and prepare for my departure. Hurry!”

This other simply nodded and was gone.

“It has begun.”

I blinked, and found myself on a hill outside of a small village. On my left I saw a young man walking toward the village. I knew that this was the person that I had just seen leaving on some sort of mission. I followed him into the village. The street was lined with buildings built of mud bricks and wood. We walked toward one at the far end of the street. It appeared to be a shop of some sort. Above the shop were living quarters. He walked up stairs on the side of the building to the roof where he found other steps leading down into the main part of the upper floor.

He walked confidently down a narrow hallway. Wool curtains covered the entryways to various rooms. Pulling back one of the curtains, he entered room. Inside was a young girl, maybe 14 years old, sitting on a bed.

“Greetings, Mary!” the young man said.

The young girl, Mary, jumped. She was terrified to suddenly find herself in the presence of a young man!

“Who are YOU?!” she cried. “How did you get in here? Where is my father?”

“Peace to you. You have found favor with God, the Ruler of the Universe!” he said. “God has chosen you to share in God’s own mission. From above, the Spirit of God will come to you and fill you with God’s presence. Soon, you will bear a son who will bring about the redemption of his people.”

Mary sat dumbstruck. Who was this person? How does he know me? Doesn’t he know that I’m not married yet? I can’t have a child! I will be taken out of the village and stoned as a whore!

These thoughts and many others raced through her young mind.

But then, she stopped. What if the things this person said are true?

“Let it be as you have said,” she replied at last.

With that, the visitor turned and walked out of the room. Mary quickly got up and looked out into the hallway. There was no one there.

——————————————————————————————————————

I want to share a couple thoughts about this story. This is drawn from my journal as I was meditating with Ignatius’ prompts. Although Ignatius wanted people to see the sin and depravity in the world by looking at all of the people and cultures, I couldn’t do that. He saw all of these people as destined for an eternity in hell. I saw them as simply lost, like “sheep without a shepherd.”

In Gabriel’s encounter with Mary, (in my imagination angels don’t have wings and wear diapers. In fact, in this case I could almost envision Gabe wearing a brown UPS uniform), there was a reciprocity that most people miss. I wrote in my journal, “Thus began the history of humanity cooperating together with God.” In every other interaction between humans and the Divine, the human is usually “acted upon.” Abraham was told to go to a land that God would show him. He was also told to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Moses was told to go to Egypt and free his people. He protested, but God basically told him to shut it and Go! Now, I know that there are hairs here that can be split. But, I see Mary as being the first person who really had a choice. She could have said, “Uh, no thanks. I think I’ll pass.” Considering the culture, that would have probably been the expedient thing to do. Like I heard her say in the story, she very likely could have been put to death for a pregnancy out of wedlock. Looking at it like this, Mary literally “gave her life” in order to agree with God.

How can I do any less?

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Sunday Musings

I’ve been attending a local Anglican Church for the past couple of months. I really appreciate the liturgy and weekly communion. But, this particular church doesn’t seem like it would be a good match for me. A bit of history…

I first went to this church while in Seminary. I had an assignment that required that I interview local pastors about how they handle pastoral care. I met with the Rector of the church and we had a good chat. I soon attended a few times to check them out.

They are a conservative Evangelical group. At the time I met them they were in the middle of a lawsuit over their continued use of the building they were in. You see, they had split from the main Anglican Church in the U.S. mostly over the ordination of a gay bishop. Like I said, they are conservative evangelicals. They lost the suit and have been somewhat nomadic for the intervening years. They finally landed in a building that’s about a 2 minute walk from my house. So, it is convenient for me. Especially, since any other church I’ve attended has been at least a 30 minute drive.

Anyway, like I said this church is an odd one for me. I’m a progressive who is staunchly pro-LGBT. I don’t hold to an inerrant view of Scripture. That includes things like the 7 day creation and the flood of Noah. The Rector believes all of this. (At least as far as I can glean from what he has said from the pulpit.)

So, the question that begs asking is “Why”?

To be quite honest, I don’t know for sure. I have spent the last couple of years searching for a community of Christ followers that I could be a part of. And, for someone like me, the pickin’s are slim. The choices are usually between liberal main line denominations and evangelical mega-church wannabes. Neither of those fit. My wife even told my that the only church I would be happy in would be my own. (That thought has crossed my mind.)

I continued to pray and reflect and meditate searching for something, anything, that might help.

This small Anglican church kept coming up. So, I started to attend some evening prayer meetings and Sunday services. I found myself comfortable with the traditional style of worship. I even find myself smiling during parts of the liturgy. But, the overtly conservative vibe struck dissonant chords in my mind. The sermons, which I find to be a distraction, are definitely drawn from a neo-Calvinist point of view. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NO flavor of Calvinist. Yet, I have kept going.

Today, God shined a bit of light on things for me. (Thanx be to God!)

The Rector is preaching a series on what Christians believe. He is using the Apostles’ Creed as the outline for the series. Today he used the text from Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus. The second chapter of the letter has a portion that deals with the way that Jews and Gentiles should relate. For those who aren’t familiar with this, these two groups did not play together well. The Jews considered themselves the only true people of the only true God. Gentiles were everyone else. In the nascent Church, these two groups found themselves thrown together under one roof. Both sides claiming worship the same God, but in vastly different ways. The example given today showed a potluck in which the Jewish group brought only Kosher foods. No pork, no shellfish, no meat from pagan sacrifices. The Gentiles showed up with their BBQ pork and lobster. You get the picture. Not on the same page at all. So, here comes Paul. The Jewish theologian and the Apostle to the Gentiles. Weird.

He wrote:

“For he himself, (Jesus), is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”  (Eph. 2:14-16, NIV, 2011.)

The point the priest today wanted to make was that the walls that separate people from God and one another have been broken down. He went to great lengths to show that we are all in this thing called ‘life’ together. And, that none of us are perfect. We all need God, for sure. But, we also need each other.

As I left today, I stopped to great him at the door. I said, “And, the walls that separate conservative evangelicals from progressives have also been broke down by Jesus.”

That’s how I can continue to worship with this group of sinners saved by grace. Cuz, I’m one of them.

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A Walk with St. Ignatius

I’m currently revisiting “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.”
I first went through these exercises a few year ago with my spiritual director.
Recently, in my morning quiet time I have felt a need to go back and take another look. Why? I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. I’ve found that feelings I get like this during contemplation should not be dismissed. They usually lead to something pretty cool.
For the exercises, Ignatius encouraged meditation that involved the use of “fantasy,” or, the imagination. This is a form of meditation is what the old timey theologians described as “kataphatic.” This type of meditation is usually defined “prayer [that] has content; it uses words, images, symbols, ideas.” It involves the conscious memory to place a person in a relationship with God. In the Exercises this involves imagining various situations, mainly from Gospel stories, where the person meditating “places” him/herself in the story as a participant or observer. One is encouraged to see the environment, taste the food, smell the animals, touch and feel things like the wind. The text becomes a tour guide while the imagination supplies the world being toured.
I realize that our own personalities, memories, and knowledge will color these meditations. That cannot, nor should it, be avoided. After all, the purpose of these exercises is to forge a deeper relationship with God for ourselves. So, we must bring our entire self to them.
Yet, God’s grace guides us. That’s where faith comes in. We can trust that we’re not going too far afield. Plus, these exercises are primarily designed to be used with a trusted Spiritual Director. Someone who will assist in discernment and help keep us on track.
With that in mind, some interesting interpretations and understanding can come out of the experiences. I want to share some of mine.

During what Ignatius called “the First Week,” there are a couple of meditations on the Incarnation of Jesus and His Nativity. Those are just a couple of high-sounding words that mean “when Jesus was born.” I am using the following text for the outline of the meditation. For those of you keeping score, this particular passage is taken from the New International Version, Biblica, Inc., 2011.

We’ll begin our journey with my next post.

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God went the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.”
The the angel left her.

Luke 2:1-7
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

As always, please use the comments to add your own thoughts or to ask questions.

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How Can a Follower of Jesus Reconcile Violence in the Scripture?

*Note: This by no means a comprehensive treatment of the question of violence in the Scripture. These mental ramblings are simply meant to inspire thoughtful reflection.

I read and listen to a lot of different people with widely varying worldviews. There are evangelicals and progressive Christians. Over there are the atheists and the Nones. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists. I entertain the thoughts and ideas of many people. Every once in a while, even a fundamentalist Christian sneaks in.

The reasons that I do this are many and varied. I’m not afraid of ideas and questions. We are all passengers on this Pale, Blue Dot hurtling through space. We all have responsibilities to each other and to the planet itself. We neglect these responsibilities at our own peril.

I’ve interacted with folks outside of my own faith tradition, several who question the basic morality of Christians and even the Christian God.

They react to Christians who say “God is love,” or “You can’t be a moral person without God as your moral compass.” They site the number of people who say that they follow Christ, yet live like someone has placed a magnet too close to their ‘moral compass.’ It doesn’t seem to lead them toward true North, but toward some barren desert on the outskirts of BFE, (you can Google that yourself).

It isn’t a far stretch for them to observe that if someone claims to live according to the words of their god, then that god MUST be of similar moral and ethical fiber as they are themselves.

So, the questions arise, “What about how your God commanded His people to totally destroy their enemies”? “Their enemies’ women and children?” “What kind of god would command such a thing?”

And, they are justified to ask such hard questions. The sacred texts of all of the Abrahamic faiths have passages that talk about the so-called righteous destruction of god’s enemies. And, in some cases, people who are not enemies, but happen to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Believers then feel compelled to defend God. (Like that’s even possible.) They respond with things like, “Well, God is God and can do whatever God wants to do.” Or, “God must have given those people a chance to repent, but they chose not to.” Still others simply say, “I don’t know, but if God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Worse yet, many conservative believers use these texts to excuse violence against ‘others.’

Progressives don’t fare much better. They rationalize the text by alluding to the fact that these are ancient texts written by and for ancient people. So, it looks like God simply met them where they were culturally and ‘allowed’ certain behaviors that we enlightened folks in the 21st century find abhorrent. Or, they just ignore these texts. Of course, these are non-answers that simply seek to avoid the hard questions.

In fact, any and all responses like these do nothing more than perpetuate the idea that God is some sort of sadistic monster.

 

Then there’s the curve ball…Jesus.

 

The God that I see revealed through Jesus as recorded in the Gospels looks nothing like the God displayed in the Hebrew Bible.

What should one do with this apparent contradiction?

One person in the 2nd century C.E. came up with a unique way to look at this conundrum. His name was Marcion. Marcion came up with the idea that the God of the Hebrew Bible was not the same God as the Father of Jesus Christ. According to theologian Alister McGrath, Marcion believed that “The Old Testament relates to a different God from the New; the Old Testament God, who merely created the world, was obsessed with the idea of law. The New Testament God, however, redeemed the world and was concerned with love.”[1] Historian Justo L. Gonzalez adds, according to Marcion “Jehovah is an arbitrary god, who chooses a particular people above all the rest. And he is also vindictive, constantly keeping an account on those that disobey him, and punishing them. In short, Jehovah is a god of justice–and an arbitrary justice at that.”[2] Marcion went so far as to create his own canon that eliminated texts that did not conform to his special interpretation.

I suppose that’s one way to deal with the hard sayings of the Bible. Just cut them out and ignore them.

The thing is, we really don’t have that option. We’re stuck with what we’ve got.

So, how do we reconcile God with divine and human violence?

Simply put, we don’t; we can’t.

To explain away texts that the Church considers inspired in some simple, easy-to-wrap-my-brain-around-the-unwrappable isn’t something that we are entitled to do.

But, there may be another way to read these texts without ignoring or reading past them.

Recently, while spending time in contemplation, a thought occurred to me. Human history has been fraught with acts of violence and genocide. We don’t need to look any further than our own history in the U.S. Our very existence as a nation came about at the hands of European domination that was given strength by the Bishop of Rome, himself. In the late 15th century, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal Bull entitled, “Inter Caetera.” Basically, the Pope stated that any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and dominated by Christians. That’s how Columbus could get lost, yet “discover” land that was already occupied.

But, all of this is another post.

Some countries have recognized the abuses that have been heaped upon others. Notably, South Africa and Canada. Both of these countries have taken steps to reconcile their violent and oppressive pasts.

South Africa had a history of treating the indigenous Blacks living there with forced domination and violence. This system of “apartheid” was designed to keep the white minority in power over Blacks and other people of color at any cost. And, the costs were high. Many died and the freedom of all was taken away.

Finally, after much domestic and international pressure, South Africa ended apartheid in 1994. They set up a tribunal type commission whose mandate was to work toward reconciliation of ALL of South Africa’s citizens. The commission allowed people to have grievances and abuses recorded and, in some cases allowed for amnesty for those who came forward to report their own culpability. It was NOT a way for the oppressed minority to ‘get even.’ It was a way to get the wounds out in the open where they could be treated and healed.

The results have been breath-taking. South Africa has created a functioning democracy that they can be proud of.

Canada also began a process to help heal its own genocidal past. As European colonists invaded North America they ushered in an age of systematic elimination of the Indigenous People who had inhabited this continent for many thousands of years. The brutality and injustice of the colonists knew no bounds. From dislocation, to starvation, to the infamous Boarding Schools, Aboriginal people suffered.

“Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts,” one person involved with the process wrote. It is, in a nutshell, the overarching framework for the Canadian effort. There are many who don’t feel that this goes far enough,. Canada still asks the Aboriginal people to accept the reconciliation effort on the terms of the colonists. This is a valid complaint. But, it is a start. The Canadian government is beginning to understand their own culpability in the genocide and are becoming more inclined to work toward a better relationship with the First Nations.

A common thread in these actions is acknowledging and repenting from earlier behavior that caused hurt to others.

What if we read the violence written in the Scriptures in a similar way?

We could truthfully acknowledge the violence. Yes. Whether the violence actually happened or not, the ancient writers recorded them. And, the people who gathered the early Church Councils canonized them. These facts we must accept because, Duh!, they’re written down.

However, we don’t need to accept the interpretations of these texts that have been passed down to us. God gave us rational minds with which to think and contemplate these words. We are, I believe, commissioned to read the Inspired texts and allow them to live and breathe in our contemporary world. Therefore, we can forcefully denounce the violence for what it was: an abhorrent violation of humanity. There really is no way around it. The actions depicted in Scripture are hateful and bigoted. There is NO redeeming value to them whatsoever.

Through confession and repentance we could claim LIFE for ourselves, our friends and enemies, and the whole of the Cosmos.

I believe that the God revealed in the Gospels would be pleased with this. In fact, maybe God has been patiently waiting for humanity to grasp this. Perhaps we can enter into a new aeon of peace and prosperity with all of our co-inhabitants on this Third Stone From the Sun.

[1] McGrath, Alister E., “Christian Theology: An Introduction”, 4th Ed., Blackwell Pub., 2007, p. 126.

[2] Gonzalez, Justo L., “The Story of Christianity:Vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, HarperSanFrancisco, 1984, p.61.

***If you like some of things that I share in this space, please feel free to give me a Follow. Also, please share with others who may be interested in these discussions.

As always, feel free to use the comments to express your own thoughts.

Blessings!

To Know Or Not To Know…That Is the Question

This morning in my time of quiet, that time I center myself in God’s Presence, I prayed for a particular Church leader. That’s really not unusual. I regularly ask God to grant grace, wisdom, and humility to those in leadership.

What was different today was how I felt that the prayer should be directed.

Rather than seeking God’s stability for this person, I prayed for God’s grace of uncertainty. For questions and doubt. I asked that God would grant an ability to see paradox.

In asking these things I am praying for this leader to find himself living in the tension of now/then, faith/doubt, reality/pie-in-the-sky.

I would that all who find themselves serving in Church leadership learn to embrace uncertainty. After all, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re left with.

Perhaps, Pete can help.

Story Reprise – Harry Potter Edition

It’s not often that I sit down to write without thinking long and hard about the topic. I can spend weeks developing a theme to discuss here.

However, today is an exception. Besides, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want to.

Those of you who have followed what I write or have talked with me know that I put a lot of importance on the idea of ‘Story.’ Story provides us with roots that hold us firmly in place. Story teaches us respect for people and the entire Cosmos. Story helps enable our moral compass and encourages us to follow it. Story connects us.

So, today when I read about a conservative commenter showing contempt for Story, I understandably found it necessary to say something.

Apparently,  Hillary Clinton stated to an audience that the Harry Potter stories taught kids tolerance and empathy for others. I agree with her assessment. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times. I’ve seen the movies in theaters and DVD and cable more times than some may think healthy. I love the way J.K.Rowling weaves mythology and history into each story. Simple details like the naming Sirius Black.

We were introduced to this character in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.” In that book we learn that Sirius is an ‘animagus.’ That is someone who is able to shape-shift into the form of an animal. In Black’s case, that shape is a dog. This is quite appropriate since Sirius is the name of the ‘Dog Star’ in the constellation Canis Major, or the ‘Greater Dog.’ Details like this are found throughout the books.

This seems to have rankled right-wingnut commenter Jesse Lee Peterson. Quoted from a podcast, he stated,
“If that is true, immediately stop your children from reading Harry Potter,” Peterson said. “If it’s true that reading Harry Potter causes kids to be more open to immigrants and LGBT people, then you’re going to pay for brainwashing, traumatizing, turning your children away from good toward evil. I would shut down those books right away if that’s true.” (Emphasis added.)

Heaven forbid! Children may learn tolerance and empathy for others! Especially those who are marginalized. Apparently, teaching such things makes Baby Jesus cry!

What is wrong with these people?! Are they so bloody arrogant that there can be NO possible way to understand reality than their narrow, hateful path?

I try to stay neutral on things political on my blog. I want to embrace as many people and ways of being as I can. But, this is simply Bull-SHIT!

I hope that no one is offended too much by what I’m sharing. No, I really do. But, these people are trying to control thought and ideas. Things which by definition cannot truly be contained and controlled. Or, at least should not.

Anyway, thanx for letting me rant for a few minutes.

As always, please use the comments section to share any thoughts you may have.

You Will Be Assimilated

Everyone likes a good story. We grow up with Aesop and Little Red Riding Hood. Stories that contain some kind of moral. There are the stories of Christmas with that old elf in Red. Stories of wonder. Tales of ancient heroes and travelers. Stories of adventure. All good stories capture our imaginations. They carry us to distant lands and worlds. They, in a way, form connections between us and the characters, our past, our lives. Stories can evince within us an emotional, even spiritual, identity with our world and ourselves.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “it is affirmation that story is true and takes us beyond the facts into something more real.” More real than our empirical Western minds can describe. For story unveils the true world that facts and figures cannot possibly discern. Things that reveal the deep longing for that which is truly “real”. The Germans gave us a word to describe this: sehnsucht. This may be defined as “Spiritual yearning; a longing after a higher, unbroken and eternal world in which something that is adumbrated in the images of stories – and in life itself truly perceived – will be real, and a conviction that that world is one’s true “home.”

So, what is story? Why is it important? Do we have one?

I think that many of us, in the U.S. particularly, don’t appreciate the power of story. Or, at the very least, we don’t recognize it in our lives and culture. In most parts of the world there is an ancient culture that has nurtured it’s own indigenous story for many thousands of years. We can look at the indigenous nations of North America and find a rich heritage of story passed from one generation to the next for over 10,000 years. These stories were born out of intimate relationships with Creation, especially the Land. Deep roots grew into the rich earth where indigenous Nations dwelt. This is spirituality that flourishes in gratitude and relationship to each other and every part of the Cosmos. Creator God was busy building God’s own relationship with these people. In a very true sense, Indigenous people understand the mandate to steward the land and its resources.

But, what about us? What is our connection to this land, the beings who live here; the People who live here? I don’t think that we who came across the ocean have a story. Well, we do. It’s a story of conquest and murder. We hail from people who, like the Borg of Star Trek, came to assimilate anything and anyone. “Resistance is futile.” Our fathers uprooted themselves and left their stories behind. In fact, I think that many of our ancient stories were lost as we assimilated another one. We took and owned the story of Israel and her Messiah. That story became ours. We even changed the Jewish Messiah, a Semitic man from the late Temple period, into a white savior with long brown locks and a Roman nose. By taking Israel’s story, her connection with her land, and making it our own we were cast adrift from any true moorings to our own land and history. And, without those deep roots to original cultures, we cast about for any other story that could fill the void of our loss. Yeah, Israel’s story helped. But, it wasn’t quite ours.

As we came to this land, new to us, we brought our assimilated story. This story formed our thinking and our way of life. The grafted connections to an ancient Near Eastern people had mutated and became a story of conquest. We overwhelmed the original inhabitants of this land through force and deceit. We stole their land and their lives in the name of our story. We then worked to assimilate these people. In the words of Steppenwolf, ‘the whole world’s got to be just like us.’

In the process of assimilation we attempted to graft onto ourselves the stories of the Original inhabitants. We appropriate what is rightfully theirs and made a cheap mockery of them and their story.

What would happen, though, if we honored their story as THEIRS and learned from them? If we let them tell their story and, if they were willing, to share in their wisdom and understanding of this land? Maybe we could be equal partners in the care and stewardship of this land. I’ve often thought about the Europeans’ so-called divine mandate to colonize these lands. What if there truly was a divine mandate to sail to these shores so that WE COULD LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED HERE. Instead, we came as rude intruders who burned and destroyed. Our Christian lust and greed decimated the people and laid waste to their land.

The real sad part of this story is that we are the same as our ancestors. Nothing has changed.

We have no story of our own. We have no roots. As the French say, we have no raison d’etre. When will we humble ourselves and seek the forbearance of our Original hosts? I believe that our very survival rests in the wisdom and knowledge of these people. They have the true story of how to live here.

Can we set aside our murderous arrogance long enough to listen?

 

 

Human Trafficking/Human Tragedy…Our Tragedy

As I was going through some old material I happened upon this piece that I had submitted to the NY Times in January 2013. During the current election cycle Ohio Senator Rob Portman is using his work on Human Trafficking for his campaign. So, I thought that I would publish this now. I can’t express how important this issue is now…today…in 2016. Follow the links and do some digging to see if there’s a way for us all to help free the oppressed. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

endhumantrafficking January 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. Few topics engaged human emotions like this one. Battle lines were drawn and the battles fought. The benefactors of the decision found that their rights as human beings in the U.S. were vindicated. Women across the country were released from the shackles of a male dominated culture. And, they are adamant that those rights will not be taken away.

On the other side, people decried the violence that was allowed to be perpetrated on the “unborn innocents.” Their right-to-life beliefs empowered a backlash against the Supreme Court and the government. To this day they maintain that an unborn human must have the same rights and protections as any other person.

The position of those who proclaim Right-to-Life has grown to include topics beyond abortion. They are against any kind of euthanasia or medical procedures that may bring about death. Removal of life support apparatus can be anathema for these folks. But, there is another area that has as much to do with a person’s right to live as any of these. It is something that very few, if any sermons will be preached about on Sunday. It is the problem of slavery and human trafficking. Women, children and men whose lives are owned by someone else; people who have no rights to live, only to obey their “master.”

I first learned of this problem through a fellow student in graduate school. She was from Argentina and became a staunch advocate of human rights for those caught in the web of human trafficking. I began to learn about the problem and realized that it is part and parcel about a person’s right to life. A good definition of human trafficking can be found in documents from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Quoting from their website, at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html, it reads, “Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” This definition is comprehensive in its scope. It reveals the lengths that some people will go to in order to profit from the lives of others.

In the U.S., trafficking shows up in exploitation of some migrant workers and their families. But, perhaps the most heinous result is the sexual abuse of girls and women. One article reported in 2011, “Each year, 100,000 to 300,000 American kids, some as young as 12 years old, are exploited in the sex trade.”[1] This particular article revealed that major cultural events are used by human traffickers to sell their victims.

To me, this underscores the culture of power and dominance that is so prevalent in the U.S. People’s rights, that are supposed to be guaranteed and protected under the Constitution, are trampled upon in the name of cultural acceptance. Rev. Jennifer D. Crumpton wrote, “But we also must go deeper to honestly examine our accepted social structures and our systemic commodification of the bodies of women and girls in our arts and entertainment, our media, our sports, and our general corporate and consumer marketing.”[2] Yet, we do not “go deeper.” We prefer to avert our gaze from the reality that in 2013 America, people are commodified and enslaved for personal gain. We choose not to get involved while the “Right-to-Life” of thousands of our fellow human beings is taken away from them.

There are many resources available that people can utilize that can help to educate and bring to light this horrible blight on our society. One is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their website offers information that can educate as well as provide resources for involvement. (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html?ref=menuside)

The Salvation Army offers support at their PROMISE website for people who are caught in human trafficking, as well as for those who want to help. (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf/vw-dynamic-index/F71E07755654D27A85257440006860F9?Opendocument)

A quick search on the internet for the various state’s Attorney’s General will provide a wealth of information that can enable people to learn what their own state government is doing in the fight against human trafficking.

It’s not enough to sit and point fingers at Pro Choice or Pro Life adherents. It’s also not enough to define Right-to-Life by one issue. Hundreds of thousands of living, breathing people do not have a Right-to-Life. We must stand up for them.

 

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-01-31-child-prostitution-super-bowl_N.htm?sms_ss=email&at_xt=4d4d83322a2ff345%2C0, accessed January 10, 2013.

[2] http://www.newevangelicalpartnership.org/?q=node/109, accessed January 9, 2013.