Archives For November 2013

Cultivating Empathy

gglenister —  November 29, 2013 — 3 Comments

In my last post, I spoke of how I believe the main problem in the church to be a lack of humility . Or, put another way: pride.

I don’t believe that this applies to all churches in America, but I do believe, generally speaking, that pride is the number one threat to Western Christianity.  So, how do we go about solving such a problem?  What is the game plan?

I think that what the church should do is to focus on cultivating empathy.

empathy

flickr: Caitlinator

Empathy is at play when we:

  • take the focus off of ourselves and put it on the suffering of others
  • observe the suffering of others and in some sense feel that suffering ourselves
  • are then driven to seek solutions for this suffering

In Romans 12:15, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

We are not to invalidate those who mourn.

Empathy does not look at those who mourn and say to them, “You big baby!  Toughen up!” No, empathy seeks to understand the sorrow of the other and to feel it with them.

When we are only thinking of ourselves and our own importance, we are unable to truly understand the sorrow of others, and as a result we belittle them. You’ve heard it before:

“You know, it could be worse.”
“It’s just a phase you’re going through. It’ll pass.”
“Come on, get over it already.It’s been a month/a year/six years.”
“Just wait til you’re my age, and you have real problems.”

To counter this tendency of ours to belittle other people and their problems, we must seek to understand those around us and to understand their sorrow.

Philippians 2:3 (NIV) says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

By placing significant value on others, we can learn to empathize with them. 

When I became a father for the first time, I had a striking revelation when I realized that I cared so deeply for my son that if anything were to happen to him, it would hurt me far more deeply than if anything were to happen to me.

This was because I valued him more deeply than I valued myself.  I considered his well-being to be my responsibility, and I considered my own well-being to be a secondary responsibility to this.

In order to cultivate empathy for others, we must do the same: we must put other people’s well-being ahead of our own.

Jesus gives us another very important clue for cultivating empathy:

Matthew 7:12 (NIV)
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

In order to cultivate empathy for others, we must learn to see ourselves in their position and seek to understand what our desires would be within their position.  We must “walk a mile in their shoes”, as the old saying goes.

In order to love others, we must understand them!  Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, in Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers:

In Buddhism we learn that understanding is the very foundation of love. If understanding is not there, no matter how hard you try, you cannot love. If you say, “I have to try to love him,” this is nonsense. You have to understand him and by doing so you will love him. One of the things I have learned from the teaching of the Buddha is that without understanding, love is not possible. If a husband and wife do not understand each other, they cannot love each other. If a father and son do not understand each other, they will make each other suffer. So understanding is the key that unlocks the door to love.

This is difficult for us, because we spend so much time drawing caricatures of those we disagree with. 

We set up straw man arguments that paint those we disagree with as ridiculous, and then we mock them using these false images.  We dehumanize those we disagree with when we do this, and we make it easier to view them with hostility in the process.

Do yourself a favor and google "love graffiti."

Do yourself a favor and google “love graffiti.”

flickr: MaxiuB

If we see the other person as human, and we see their viewpoints as being reasonable and valid given the evidence they have seen, we cannot remain hostile towards them.  But this is dangerous to our system of views, because in the process of understanding those we disagree with, we may change.

But this is the dangerous nature of love. Love seeks the best for all, even if this comes at the cost of “me.”

I John 4:7-8 (NIV) says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

If we wish to know God, we must start with cultivating empathy for those around us.  We must see through their eyes, and feel their sorrows.  We must turn our enemies into friends through the power of love, for this is the only way to understand the heart of God – because the very nature of God is love itself!
——–

Oh yeah, I'm a rockstar! Geoff is a Pub Theologian and a geeky/nerdy programmer with three super cute kids and an awesome wife who puts up with his quirks. He is also a Progressive Metalhead, which means he listens to loud music that’s also snobbish. Geoff reads way too many books – especially the ones he’s told not to read - and is proud to have been called a “dangerous hairy tick”.

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The Nature of Love

jordanmb08 —  November 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

Oh, love! Some of the greatest works of literature have been written in the name of love.

 

hold hands

 

flickr: Denise Mayumi

Byron, Shelley, the Brownings, all wrote about love. Another work of literature that comes to mind is The Song of Solomon or Psalm of Psalms. Seriously. Read it and think on what the author of that particular book of the Bible is saying; the imagery used, the words. *sigh* So romantic!

For many people, when they hear the word “love” they think of being “twitterpated,” to quote Thumper from Bambi. People think of the joy of falling in love, the joy of having companionship with someone that you are sexually attracted to, and the joy of each person being the center of the other person’s universe.

But love is more than that: It is a verb, a noun, and a promise.

Love is something that you feel, and when you say, “I love you,” you are promising to accept that person’s faults and mistakes, and to show mercy and compassion to them in their times of turmoil.

One love that few people consider is the love of self.

As with anything else, love of self is not a bad thing. But, like anything else, too much or too little of it can cause problems. Many go too far with self-love, putting themselves above all else. Others do not go far enough, putting others above themselves to the detriment of their own well-being.

A healthy amount of self love causes you to love yourself enough to take care of yourself, to get what you need, and to spoil yourself with a new book, or some chocolate sometimes. Self-love primarily means being willing to take care of yourself health wise, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It means helping yourself grow, and also being who you are meant to be, who you were born and created to be.

There are other types of love in the world, like love for your fellow man, love for animals, and familial love.

No matter the type, they all require two things: action, and hard work. It’s not as easy as falling in love and then riding off into the sunset. Love requires so much work. It’s not all unicorns, rainbows, sunshine, and flowers.

But...but...I made this really epic display...

But…but…I made this really epic display…

flickr: alwright1

There are dark days, and, for some of them, you may be alone. But, on those lonely days, you can love yourself and help yourself grow.

It is the nature of love to love.

That is, it’s the nature of love (the noun) to love (the action verb).

The nature of love sees the broken people, the hurt, the sorrow, and offers compassion, mercy, kindness, and support. The nature of love also sees the joy, the happiness, the light, and it rejoices in truth and in good, with no boasting and no evil intent towards another.

Love is the greatest action of all and leads to so many other good things. Mother Teresa once said, “I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no hurt, only love.”

———

Jordan Michelle BlaylockAbout Jordan
Jordan is a student of truth (and biology) and ambassador for love of all kinds. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found fighting Pharisees in killer boots. Find her all over the interwebs: Tumblr  Facebook Writerscafe  Smashwords

blue-heaven

~

Heaven. That place beyond this world. Not the overly humid one I’ve written about before. The other one. You know, that place where God, Jesus, their friend Casper (i.e. The Holy Spirit), and all those people who abstained from sex get to party for all eternity. That place. For many I would expect it means everything. It is the only reason they get out of bed, endure a job they hate, volunteer in the church Easter production, or whatever else it is that they’d rather not be doing. It is all going to pay off one day. It has to. Otherwise, wouldn’t life be one big waste?

Let’s forget about the implications of that last sentence for a moment. Let’s just assume there is a Heaven. Let’s assume that you and I are going there, whether it be due to old age… or a very unfortunate and catastrophic roller-coaster failure. Let’s first consider some basic questions. As is customary, questions have a way of challenging your neat and tidy reality built out of rainbows and smores. It sucks, but we have to do it. Why? Because I don’t want you getting to Heaven and then be tragically disappointed by all the Mormons running around.

Anything is possible, folks.

Anything is possible, folks.

~

And I mean, haven’t you ever wondered where exactly Heaven would be? If it was a planet? Maybe you have never considered Heaven to be a real place in our physical universe, and that’s a damn shame. Just think of the implications! We’d be living on an alien world, essentially making us aliens. We’d be immortal, ruling the universe alongside our extremely powerful, loving, sometimes-jealous Lord and Master Overlord of the Galaxy, Hey-Zeus… err… I mean, Jesus Christ. Somehow on this magical planet everything would be perfect and sustainable. Somehow this planet would never even be destroyed, not even in the wake of a localized Supernova event. Jesus would beat back the shockwave with his telepathy, then create a new type of perpetual fusion to warm the planet, powered by his love for you and me. In the evening he’d fight off that trickster Devil who always tries to ruin the fun.

Of course I'm talking about Loki.

Of course I’m talking about Loki.

~

As awesome as this sounds, I think it is safe to say that Heaven is not a planet. Perhaps the majority of Heaven-believing readers are thinking, “Of course it’s not a planet. Heaven is beyond time and space.” I’ve even heard folks say “Heaven is outside of existence.” While most people would interpret such a statement as saying “Something outside of existence… doesn’t… exist” …many people think it is very reasonable to imagine Heaven as being completely reserved for a reality separate from our own. And there’s almost universal agreement that Heaven is somewhere “out there” …somewhere we go. Somewhere that’s not… here.

Well, that’s fine and dandy, but there’s a problem.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Not A Kingdom!

yao_ming_true_story_plz_by_mingtruestoryplz-d5qtvjo

When Jesus talks of the Kingdom of Heaven in the book of Matthew, he is really speaking of the Kingdom of God. The author of Matthew was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, so he swapped the word “God” (which they believed should never be spoken out loud) and replaced it with “Heaven”. While the difference may not seem all that significant at first, my trusty Seminary education begs to differ. Let’s look at the other word in the phrase. What about the word “Kingdom”?

The Greek word for Kingdom being used in the Gospel of Matthew is Basileia.

Definition:
royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom
of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom
a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king
used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah. [per The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon]

So you can see how things get all wacky when you don’t have the above definition. If you’re imagining a Kingdom named Heaven, or a Kingdom in which God rules, you’re expecting a literal country, realm, or perfect place. But that’s not what the text is suggesting. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is the place where God is present, where he is ruling.

Now, we could spend all sorts of time delving through scripture after scripture to build a case for what Jesus was talking about, to refute the popular view of Heaven, but seriously…
Who wants to do that? Let’s go back to that first question.

If there’s no Heaven, is life meaningless?

Perhaps, in a very Jesus way of answering a question, another question would help.

Why would we need the promise of an eternal reward to find meaning?

This is what drives atheists crazy (along with those Seventh Heaven marathons). So many Christians think that nothing has any meaning without God, or Heaven. It’s not inherently good to rescue an old woman from a burning building; it’s good because it’s the Christ-like thing to do. It’s not good to have personal integrity and be a person of your word; it’s good because the Bible says lying is wrong. And worst of all, God isn’t good because he is actually a noble being who cares for us; he’s Good because he’s God, therefore anything God does is good by default.

That’s like saying Zeus would be a good god because he’s a god. If he killed your son and took your wife back up to Olympus, that’s good, because Zeus is good.

So, why is it that Heaven means so much to us? What if we got there (or it came to us) and it was really filled with egocentric pricks who didn’t give a damn about us. Would it be Heaven then? What if your soulmate didn’t get in because she wasn’t a Christian? Would you really want to spend eternity without her? How could that be Heaven? And what if Heaven was a place filled with all the superficial things God specifically told you not to do on Earth? Isn’t that what you’ve been hoping for all long, that Heaven would be somewhere you get to over-sleep, over-eat, play on your smartphone, and watch football 24/7? Is that really Heaven? An extended edition of your day-to-day gluttony?

Heaven isn’t out there. It is closer than you think. It is within you. It is for believer, atheist, agnostic, muslim, Jew, buddhist, gay, straight, black, white, man, woman, and child. Heaven is harmony, balance, and peace. The Kingdom is a rebuttal to this world that says “Get the hell out of my way.” The Kingdom says “There is a better way.” Heaven is a son reconciled to an estranged father, it is a slave forgiving his master, it is a girl who finally stops cutting. Heaven is a mother who holds a laughing child, it is that first moment of Summer, it is the negative result on a cancer screening. Heaven is…

…a blogger from southeast Tennessee who made a post about Heaven that he gets to share with his friends, and it helping even one reader feel better about something in their life.

If you ask me, Heaven is gray. Let me show you what I mean.

#weoccupyjesus

—–

bretttttt1Brett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

Thanksgiving – the day of the year that is all about thankfulness. The day that families come together and gorge themselves on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, potato salad, deviled eggs, and a lot of other food that actually inspires hunger when writing about. We come together on this day to express our thankfulness in memory of the three day thanksgiving feast that was held at Plymouth by the pilgrims and the Native people that were here.

But how thankful are we?

Are we truly thankful for what we have or do we just think of the food and the subsequent Black Friday shopping after the dinner to feed the consumerist monster that has been created with these holidays? Do we just focus on the football games and who will win the big game? Where is our thankfulness on this day?

 

thankful

flickr: Nick Saltmarsh

Here is the history of Thanksgiving: In October of 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag tribe came together for three days of feasting in thankfulness of surviving the harsh winter and a plentiful harvest. From this first thanksgiving celebration, and for more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. This continued until 1863, when during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared an official Day of Thanksgiving to be held every November. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved the date up a week to increase the number of shopping days before Christmas in an effort to help the economy, still struggling from the Depression.

President Lincoln fixed the day for Thanksgiving to bring a war torn country together.  President Franklin Roosevelt fixed the day to help the economy.  (Sources for this information: http://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/holidays/thanksgiving2.htm and http://history1900s.about.com/od/1930s/a/thanksgiving.htm).

This history lessons shows where the door was opened for Thanksgiving to be more about consumerism than thankfulness. Why do we still allow it today? Simply for a football win, a full stomach and the biggest, newest gadget that we think we need?

Thanksgiving is a day for being thankful, for spending time with families, and reaching out to help others. Thanksgiving is about realizing what you have, not gorging yourself, then fighting crowds to get good deals on stuff you don’t need. It’s a shame that this holiday that once brought two separate groups of people together, and then brought a war-torn country together, is now all about sales and consumerism.

We need to look around us and realize how addicted to material goods we are. Instead we need to look within ourselves, asking if this is truly how we wish to live. We see sales for “amazing” items, and think that we must have them. When the truth is that it’s all a gimmick to make us believe that we need it.

I urge everyone this Thanksgiving to celebrate the real meaning.  To focus on what you already have; friends and family, goodness in your life, things that you have been blessed with throughout the year.  Make a concentrated effort to help your fellow occupants of the Earth. There are so many that do need the help and the blessing.

Thanksgiving used to be celebrated by whole communities coming together to celebrate in the town square. THAT is the proud American tradition and needs to stay.  Be thankful this Thanksgiving, and enjoy your time with your family.

Be thankful.

———

Jordan Michelle BlaylockJordan is a martial artist, follower of the Way of Christ, feminist, biology major, and a whole slew of other things to describe me. She is also on the way to becoming a nurse practitioner in due time. She loves words and she has an affair with them. Writing, learning, reading, reaching others, and shopping are her passions. She writes on topics of faith, social issues, and some poetry. She also write what inspires her, to reach others, and to show the hypocrisy of those who claim to speak in Christ’s name when they act more like Pharisees. She is also on Tumblr, Writerscafe, Smashwords, and Facebook! Feel free to look her up: Tumblr: http://jordiebear08.tumblr.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jordie.bear1990 Writerscafe: http://www.writerscafe.org/JordieBear Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JordanMBlaylock08

The Nature of Hope

jordanmb08 —  November 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three..” - 1 Corinthians 13:13

    The archaic definition of hope, according to dictionary.com, is “a feeling of trust.” Like in my previous writing, “The Nature of Faith,” hope and trust go together. When you feel faith, you feel hope and have trust that whatever is going on will get better. With a feeling of hope, you trust it will get better, and then belief is faith in action, either through prayer or thoughts. When you have hope, you have no concrete evidence that it will get better…but you trust it will.

    In Greek mythology, the gods give a box to a girl named Pandora. They tell her not to open it because it will unleash terrible things into the world. Her curiosity gets the best of her and she opens the box. What she unleashes is famine, poverty, death, and many other nasty things. Once they are gone, she looks in the bottom of the box to see if anything is left. At the bottom, a tiny winged creature is there, beaten, trodden, but still alive and still shining, albeit somewhat dimly.

flickr: Michell Zappa, cc by-sa 2.0

flickr: Michell Zappa, cc by-sa 2.0

The thing about hope is that it is hard to kill.

If a person has hope left and nothing else, then it is so hard to kill–but if it is killed, it can utterly destroy that person. There are so many things we hope for ourselves and we may not seem them in this life; but, because of our hope–because of what doors it opens on the spiritual plane–our children or our grandchildren may see the fruition of that hope. Hope can be beaten, down trodden, but it is always there, shining a light. Regardless of how small that light is, it can still penetrate the darkness. That is the essence of hope–a light in the darkness.

When we reach out  through the giving of alms, a kind word, a smile, or offering a helping hand, we are offering hope.

When we stand with our brothers and sisters against social injustices, against evil, against the darkness, we are offering hope.

When we forgive and when we love, we are offering hope.

By these offerings of hope, we are softening the terrain that we are trying to plant in, we are sowing seeds of hope, or we are watering previous seeds that have been placed there already by another person along the way. This is the nature of hope; to offer light in the darkness and to soften hard, rock terrain, or to sow seeds, or to water the seeds.

hope candles

flickr: ElTico68

Hope, in its very nature, is a light unto humankind.

That’s why we can’t allow it to be hidden, can’t allow it to be extinguished. It is not just for ourselves and our generation, but for the future of our children and their generation and the generations that will follow. Hope is what enables people to work together and to make huge changes; hope for a better life for others, hope for social justice, hope for equality. Like faith, hope opens the doors to love.

 “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” - 1 Corinthians 13:13.

The greatest of these is love; the other two open the door for love, and then love rains down upon all, encouraging more change, more hope, more faith. It is a circle that is beautiful! But it MUST start with hope. It must start with the smallest light, into the darkness.

____

Jordan Michelle BlaylockAbout Jordan
Jordan is a student of truth (and biology) and ambassador for love of all kinds. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found fighting Pharisees in killer boots. Find her all over the interwebs: Tumblr  Facebook
Writerscafe  Smashwords

The Nature of Faith

jordanmb08 —  November 13, 2013 — 2 Comments

When the storms of life are raging/
Stand by me.

“Stand By Me,” Charles A. Tindley

This song is not just a cry for help, but a declaration. Instead of asking, “Will you stand by me?” it declares, “Stand by me.” Those are words spoken in hope and in faith.

Faith is the belief or trust in things unseen, without physical proof.

According to Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” When living by faith, you live in the belief and in the hope that everything will be okay, that it is not over yet, that your trials and tribulations are just stepping stones, not permanent fixtures in your life.

This is not to say that the days you cry, or the nights you want to scream, or the times that you just give up mean you are less faithful or that God has forsaken you or that you are worthless. Truly, each and every one of you reading this are priceless and irreplaceable. If there is any lie from the bowels of hell, it is the lie that a person is worthless and undeserving. Your cries just mean that your spirit is weary, you are weary, and you are hurting.

flickr: John Steven Fernandez

flickr: John Steven Fernandez

The nature of faith is a nature of trust and belief.

It is the nature of holding on tightly to your prayers or your good vibes, whatever you wish to call them, and knowing that everything will be all right. Even on the days that seem the darkest and the nights that seem longest, you still have some faith.

Faith is not of man but of God. Often, religion is confused with faith, but the two are completely different. There are far too many people who insist that your lack of religiosity is what gets you into scrapes, or that you do not have the proper religious training, or that you aren’t religious enough; but, instead of “religious” and “religion”, they use “faith” and “faithful”. They instead say that if you were more faithful, you would not have your troubles or you would be blessed or this or that. And it’s wrong.

flickr: John Steven Fernandez

flickr: John Steven Fernandez

Faith recognizes how frail we are as humans and that is not a bad thing.

While we have the highest ability to reason in all the animal kingdom, we are also the most emotionally vulnerable to others–even those that come to us like wolves in sheep’s clothing. We seek out emotional and spiritual attachment, and faith is a way that it will all work out–that we’ll be safe. You have complete trust when you have faith. And, like with anything, trust can be broken. But that does not make you less human! It makes you more human, it means you feel, you seek to understand and be understood. And there is nothing wrong with that!

In closing, hold on to your faith, hold on to your hope.

Things will get brighter in time, things will get better. It WILL be okay. And it is not because you lack faith that you have trials and sorrows–it is just part of life. You can get through it and the sun will come out again soon. Just try to breathe and try to hold on tightly.

I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

“Living by Faith,” James Wells

____

Jordan Michelle BlaylockAbout Jordan
Jordan is a student of truth (and biology) and ambassador for love of all kinds. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found fighting Pharisees in killer boots. Find her all over the interwebs: Tumblr  Facebook
Writerscafe  Smashwords

Understanding Jesus’ teachings can be tricky. Most often because we did not live in his culture, and because they were originally recorded in what is now an extinct language.  I have written before on the subject of the political edge of Jesus’ message that becomes clearer when we understand the historical context.  In this post I try to demonstrate how five of Jesus’ well-known sayings teach non-violent resistance to the tyrannical government of empire, but are usually misunderstood outside of his historical context.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

This statement seems to commonly conjure up images of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

Aw, look, he’s so meek! And very mild!

I think a common misunderstanding of “peacemakers” is that if two people have a disagreement, they should just drop it and be cool!  But the Greek word for peace, eirene, means not only an absence of conflict, but also a reconciled relationship that results in a condition of health, prosperity, and well-being for all parties. You can’t achieve peace by just “dropping it” if one party is involved in practices that harm another party or prevent them from arriving at a condition of health, prosperity, and well-being.  In order to achieve true peace, you must find a way for all parties involved to avoid practices that harm, whether directly or indirectly. I think Thomas Merton best highlighted the problems with a misunderstanding of peace , in his book “New Seeds of Contemplation“:

To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference.  To others peace means freedom to rob others without interruption.  To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving.  And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure. Many men like these have asked God for what they thought was “peace” and wondered why their prayer was not answered.  They could not understand that it actually was answered.  God left them with what they desired, for their idea of peace was only another form of war.

The point is that peace is not merely walking away from a fight and pretending everyone is “ok” with each other. Peace is removing the sources of conflict; the practices that harm each other (whether directly or indirectly).

Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Mark 12:17)

This statement is commonly used as a sort of proof that Jesus was for “separation of church and state” – or to put it in other words, a depoliticization of Jesus.  The message many people want us to take from this teaching of Jesus was that we should not concern ourselves with political things, but concentrate on spiritual matters so we can “go to heaven” (which, by the way, is not a Biblical concept).

But there are a number of problems with this interpretation of the scenario in this passage. The larger passage shows us that the officials of the religious authority complex were looking for a way to arrest Jesus, and were planning to catch Jesus in his own words.  When they asked Jesus if it was right to pay the imperial tax, they expected Jesus to answer in a way that would implicate him in treason so that he could be arrested on the spot.  For Jesus to answer in the affirmative would have negated his teachings up to this point, but to answer in the negative would result in an end to his movement.  So Jesus had to come up with a clever answer to get out of this trap that they had set.

When you put Jesus’s statement above into context, you find some interesting things–first of which is the fact that Jesus asks someone to bring him a denarius, the coin which would have been used for this particular tax.  What’s interesting is that Jesus didn’t have a denarius of his own.  Why wouldn’t Jesus have one of his own sitting in his own pocket – why would he have to ask someone to bring him one?

A Roman denarius.

A Roman denarius.

A denarius bore a picture of Tiberius on the front with the inscription: “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”. This inscription indicated the divinity of Caesar – he was to be regarded as a god in the Roman culture of the empire cult.  This did not mesh well with Jewish beliefs, which included a little command that went “you shall have no other gods before me” and another command about not making graven images.  To even possess this coin could be seen as idolatry to a Jew.  So Jesus didn’t even have one on him!

Additionally, the way Jesus words his statement in Mark 12:17 is very interesting.  He starts his statement with: “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s”.  The question this statement raises is: what belongs to Caesar?  In other words, some things don’t belong to him.  Also, how is it that you’re giving back what already belonged to him?

The way Jesus’ statement is worded indicates that if you have received benefits from Caesar, you should pay him back according to your debt.  In other words, if you want to protest the unjust taxes, you have no right to do so if you are living off of the benefits of the government.  If you want to protest the unjust system, you should remove yourself completely from the system first – which we see that Jesus has done, since he possesses no money at the time he is asked this question. This idea has some interesting implications for the modern American political culture as well:

You built that?

You built that?

Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote about this passage:

Jesus evaded the direct question put to him because it was a trap. He was in no way bound to answer it. He therefore asked to see the coin for taxes. And then said with withering scorn, “How can you who traffic in Caesar’s coins and thus receive what to you are benefits of Caesar’s rule refuse to pay taxes?” Jesus’ whole preaching and practice point unmistakably to noncooperation, which necessarily includes nonpayment of taxes.

The second half of the statement in Mark 12:17 is also very interesting – Jesus says to give to God what is God’s.  This statement is a parallel statement – in the first half of the statement, Jesus says to give a coin which bears the image of Caesar back to Caesar.  In the second half of the statement, he makes a parallel statement – the Jewish belief is that all people were made in the image of God.  As the coin bears the image of Caesar, so all people bear the image of God.  So what Jesus is saying in this statement is that we should give the whole of our being over to God! This was a radical message of resistance, because Jesus was saying that Caesar’s authority was limited, and God’s authority was unlimited!

Dale Glass-Hess wrote:

It is inconceivable to me that Jesus would teach that some spheres of human activity lie outside the authority of God. Are we to heed Caesar when he says to go to war or support war-making when Jesus says in other places that we shall not kill? No! My perception of this incident is that Jesus does not answer the question about the morality of paying taxes to Caesar, but that he throws it back on the people to decide.

Next I’m going to examine three statements that appear back to back within Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, in Matthew 5:39-41.

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew. 5:39)

Once again, the picture many seem to draw from this statement is the gentle, meek, and mild Jesus who taught us to lie down and take our beating like a good little slave.  It’s as if Jesus was telling us to accept the abuse of the unjust.  But when you examine the historical culture in which this statement was set, you may find that this statement had some interesting connotations.

The first question I think the reader should ask is: why does Jesus specify the right cheek?  To answer that, I’d first ask: how would a person be struck on the right cheek?  The answer is that there are only two ways this could happen: 1) by an overhand blow from the left hand, or 2) by a backhand blow from the right hand.

Backhand

See? Right cheek, right hand.

In the Jewish culture of that time, they did not have indoor plumbing with hot water heaters and disinfectant soap like we have today.  So in their culture, it was customary to reserve the right hand for eating and the left hand for “unseemly” uses.  To put it in plain English – you used your left hand to wipe your butt.  Thus, your left hand was considered the “unclean” hand, and to use it to strike another human being would also be considered “unclean”.  In other words, if you strike someone with your left hand, it would be seen as a distasteful and vulgar act and you would be seen as morally questionable as a result.

But a backhand blow from the right hand indicated an authority structure in that culture – a master would strike his slave that way.  You didn’t hit an equal with an awkward backhand blow like that – it was specifically meant to humiliate the person being struck.

So what Jesus is doing in this statement is teaching his audience how to resist abusive authority in a non-violent way – if someone puts them in a position over you and then uses their power abusively, “turn the other cheek”.  In other words – force them to stop using backhand blows!  Turning the other cheek forces the other party to switch to overhand blows which would have been used in a fight between equals!

As Walter Wink writes in “The Powers That Be“:

By turning the cheek, then, the “inferior” is saying, “I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I won’t take it anymore.”

Jesus continues this theme of non-violent resistance in the next statement:

If anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak also. (Matthew. 5:40)

This statement becomes hard to understand due to weak translations.  Some translations seem to indicate that the garment involved in the civil suit is the inner garment–a shirt.  But this distorts the picture of non-violent resistance Jesus is painting here.  In the law of that time, if someone failed to pay a debt, the creditor could sue the debtor for their coat.  If you were poor, your coat also served as a blanket at night.  Confiscating a poor man’s coat was essentially taking away his only method of warmth, and was an act of cruelty.

So what does Jesus say to do in this scenario?  Give the creditor your cloak as well.  Typically, if you were poor, this was the only other garment you wore.  So to remove this would be to strip naked, and in that culture it was a shame to be exposed to the nakedness of the other human being.  It should also be considered what condition the body of a poor person would be in underneath his/her clothing – it would not be a pleasing sight.  So what Jesus is saying is: if someone cruelly demands your only method of warmth, publicly shame them by stripping naked in front of them and revealing what the unjust system is doing to you.

Jesus finishes this trio of non-violent resistance teachings with this:

Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. (Mt. 5:41)

Once again, without an understanding of history, this teaching sounds like Jesus is telling his audience to just be super nice to people who are trying to take advantage of you.  But when you look into the history, you might find a different story.

Roman law allowed soldiers to command people from the cultures they had conquered to carry the soldiers’ packs for a mile. This was a way of asserting their dominance over the conquered people–to put them in their place. But because this law had been abused too often, the law also strictly prohibited the soldiers from requiring any more than one mile.

So what Jesus was doing was telling his audience to put these soldiers into an uncomfortable situation.  This law was a way for Roman soldiers to be legally abusive.  A mile take a bit of time out of your day–time that is precious to those who work in manual labor that pays on productivity; and to those who are burdened by debts they have to pay.  So once again, Jesus is not merely teaching his audience to just be super nice and lie down and take your beating like a good little slave–he’s telling his audience to put these soldiers into a compromising position.  If you come to the end of your mile, and you keep walking, the soldier has a choice between risking getting into big trouble, or scuffling with you in an attempt to wrestle back his gear!  And this struggle would have caused enough of a fuss to call attention to the situation!

When we put these statements into their proper context, we find that they are radical ways to empower abused people without compromising integrity.  So if we are seeking to be followers of Jesus, I think it would be a good idea to look for abusive situations in our modern culture, and then seek ways to empower the abused to stand up to their abusers without compromising morality.

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Oh yeah, I'm a rockstar! Geoff is a Pub Theologian and a geeky/nerdy programmer with three super cute kids and an awesome wife who puts up with his quirks.  He is also a Progressive Metalhead, which means he listens to loud music that’s also snobbish. Geoff reads way too many books – especially the ones he’s told not to read.

In an online forum I occasionally haunt, I saw someone post a topic on the following question:

What is the greatest problem that western Christianity faces?

I watched the replies go by for a little bit, and saw a lot of the same, tired answers you might expect if you’ve hung out in certain circles.  And it’s not that none of them were legitimate problems–it’s that I find it hard to justify making them the number one problem that the western church faces.

Answers like Biblical illiteracy, the phenomenon called the “rise of the nones” (where youths are leaving the churches in droves), and lack of empathy for the poor are all valid issues.  And then I’d see other answers that I am inclined to argue are not issues at all: answers like “belief in evolution”, “allowing sin” (whatever that means – doesn’t everyone sin?), or “allowing heretics in the church” (wouldn’t that be the best place for them?  And who gets to decide who the heretics are?  The Biblically illiterate?)–these are all answers that I’d say are indicative of the very problem that I think is the number one problem in the church.

"C'mon, Timmy. That church had more issues than all your mother's sisters combined." flickr: joguldi

“C’mon, Timmy. That church had more issues than all your mother’s sisters combined.” flickr: joguldi

 

I think the number one problem that western Christianity faces is a lack of humility.

Oh sure, I thought of a number of other possible answers to that problem.  I thought of how there is a tendency for churches in the West to have an “us vs. them” mentality–pointing fingers at invisible assailants that are supposedly persecuting them by not allowing them to force public prayer in schools as the Pharisees would do (Matthew 6:5-6).  I thought of how there is a lack of empathy for the poor, even to the point of scapegoating the poor as the cause of our economic woes because of their supposed laziness.  I thought of how churches can sometimes be supportive of abusive behavior, and at the same time can be far too quick to cast people out of their communities.

I thought of how churches can sometimes put far too much emphasis on “right belief” and not enough on “right conduct” or “right character”.  I thought of how churches can be so busy about the task of pulling specks from eyes without attending to logs within their own, or being the first to cast a stone.  I thought of how churches go about the business of making themselves richer and building enormous monuments in self-promotion, while ignoring the suffering world around.  I thought of how churches spread shame and fear in Jesus’ name – both things I believe he would’ve opposed.

greed protest

flickr: Sam Wolff. cc by-sa 2.0

 

But I think all of those things are all part of the same root issue: a lack of humility.

The western church is set in a particular culture – a culture that prizes capitalism.  Within capitalism, everything is reduced to a product and spoken of in terms of worth.  And it’s so easy, within this culture, to become enslaved to the view that everything revolves around me and my satisfaction.

We choose churches and even friends from within this paradigm: If someone is not enhancing my life in the way I’d like, I don’t need ‘em, and if a church doesn’t have music that makes me feel happy and sermons that I find interesting, I don’t need to be there.  And then, within these churches, the primary goal often seems to be promoting that church. Tithes go towards building projects, or to advertising to bring more people into the church so it can grow bigger and bigger, or maybe to “preaching the gospel” (meaning: going out and presenting doctrinal ideas to “unbelievers” rather than showing unconditional love).

But this doesn’t look much like Jesus, if we’re honest.  This doesn’t look much like the guy who went around serving people–feeding them, healing them, and inviting them into his friendship circle even when society considered them to be undesirables.

flickr: Chris Yarzab

flickr: Chris Yarzab

 

The western church is far too concerned with teaching doctrine, and not concerned enough with teaching love.  Paul said in I Cor. 8:1 that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”  All this emphasis on having proper knowledge is puffing up our churches – filling them with pride.  And this pride stands in the way of loving those who need it most.  And the question I think we need to ask ourselves is: does God really care that much if you know the right things?

In his novel “And God Said, ‘Billy!’“, Frank Schaeffer writes:

The less you worry about God the better. If there is a Creator – and that is an open question to anyone but an ideologue – do you think He, She or It cares about your “correct” beliefs any more than you care about Rebecca’s beliefs about you as the condition for loving her? Think about Rebecca. When you get home someday soon now and see her will you only love her if she remembers the correct date of your birthday and your dietary likes and dislikes and your rules, the correct name to call you and what fruit to eat from what tree in which garden and, when she grows up, when to have sex and with whom?

In many religions, there is a concept of the annihilation of self. Jesus put it this way:

Matthew 16:24b
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

What this means is that we must put to death the desires that cause barriers to go up between ourselves and our brothers and sisters.  Whatever causes division must go – whether it be physical possessions, or political identities, or even religious beliefs.  Because Jesus didn’t say that the mark of a Christian is what they wear, or the lingo they use, or how they vote, or even the doctrine they claim – he said that the world would know if we’re his disciples by our love (John 13:35).

And you can’t love people if you hold something that’s causing division dearer than the beloved – so you must “take up your cross”, and put these divisive desires to death in order to take down the barriers between yourself and those around you.  Humility is the first step towards love.

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Oh yeah, I'm a rockstar!
Geoff is a Pub Theologian and a geeky/nerdy programmer with three super cute kids and an awesome wife who puts up with his quirks. He is also a Progressive Metalhead, which means he listens to loud music that’s also snobbish. Geoff reads way too many books – especially the ones he’s told not to read.

Is heaven a destination or a journey?

Forgiveness.

According to dictionary.com, it is the thought of or action of being forgiven. Merriam-Webster.com says that the definition of “forgive” means to stop feeling anger, to stop blaming, to stop requiring payment.

Forgiving someone is not easy. In church, we are told to forgive so that we may be forgiven and also that forgiveness is for us, not them. What we are never told is that it is a daily act, a daily giving over of something that has hurt us, angered us, and has possibly affected our lives.

We are never told that forgiveness is not easy. It is presented as so easy, and it’s not! The idea of forgiveness is so lovely and beautiful, as are the ideas of love, faith, miracles, and hope. But too many feel that forgiveness is unattainable or impossible.

flickr: Isabel Bloedwater

flickr: Isabel Bloedwater; cc by-sa 2.0

Here’s the thing. Forgiveness is something you have to do. Every single day.

It is something that you have to practice every single day, something you have to make a conscious decision to do every single day. Forgiveness is a prayer of sorts–whether it be to God, Jesus Christ, or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is a verb, an action, not just something that is discussed. It is something you actively do, something that you tell yourself, at the very least. Even if the person you’re forgiving doesn’t ask for forgiveness or say they are sorry, even if they get angry when you say you forgive them because they feel they did nothing wrong, you still have to do it for you.

You’re probably wondering why you should forgive.

Why should you forgive someone? Isn’t that up to God to do? Or maybe you think that you don’t believe in the holy or spiritual, or you just see no need for forgiveness for the hurt that has been done to you. I’m not going to tell you that you should forgive so that you can be forgiven,  or so that you can move on. You forgive because forgiveness will open up your life and your spirit, can ease your hurt a bit, and can help you learn and accept the lesson that came out of the hurt, so that the experience is not wasted.

flickr: timlewisnm; cc by-sa 2.0

flickr: timlewisnm; cc by-sa 2.0

Also, don’t EVER let someone tell you that it is not okay to be angry or frustrated when someone has hurt you.

It is perfectly natural and it is okay. But what is unhealthy–what can hurt you in the end–is hanging on to that anger and letting it poison you and your life. Time and forgiveness can ease the anger and the bitterness, regardless of your belief system. That is what it is for. Some days you will be angry, and other days you will not be.

I first posted about this on Facebook, and, when I did, a friend of mine, Britt Brown, had this to say:

“Forgiveness is a simple choice I think. You simply choose to forgive. Just because you still have lingering emotional turmoil, doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. It just means that you are still struggling with the damage of the act you have forgiven. The practice comes in letting go, in accepting and embracing that pain and releasing it into the world, harnessed as energy toward something good. That takes sooooo much practice!”

He captured what I was trying to say about anger exactly and he is right. The emotional turmoil is okay! But you still have to make a conscious decision to forgive and it is still a daily giving over within yourself.

The nature of forgiveness is the nature of our spiritual side, of our soul. Forgiveness is not easy and the nature of it is a practice you do every day. And it is okay to be angry, and it is okay to hurt. The nature of forgiveness also recognizes that and accepts it.