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Don’t Should On Me!

Brett Gallaher —  January 20, 2014 — 5 Comments

Port-O-Potty-e1381947235468

So I went to see an R-rated movie the other day. Well, first I sat through the forty-five minutes of commercials about buying the giant discount popcorn bucket, and then I watched an R-rated movie. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. After the popcorn propaganda came the previews (including the preview for that upcoming Coca Cola bears movie, aka the upcoming 90 minute commercial about Coca Cola). Since I had paid to see an R-rated film, the previews were for many R-rated films as well. One time I read the description of the rating itself, being told that minors must be accompanied by an adult. For some reason, it made me laugh. I mean, the content of the film doesn’t change simply because your parent is sitting next to you. Obviously the message is “We don’t care if your kid should see decapitations and raunchy sex scenes at age nine. We just want to make sure you don’t mind if your kid sees it. And don’t sue us by the way.”

Can't beat the real thing!

Can’t beat the real thing!

~

I had to catch myself, because my inner monologue had begun should’ing all over the place. You see, I think one of the un-evolved elements of humanity is our propensity to tell other human beings what they should and should not do, think, believe, or feel. We do it all day long. It saturates every conversation from religion to politics to education to… who should see an R-rated movie. I mean, I was sitting there in the theater thoroughly enjoying the adult humor and language used in the film. Honestly, a few years ago I would not have felt comfortable with such content, but I have changed. Depending on your own beliefs you may think I made a change for the worse, letting my morals slowly decay and allowing my mind to be infected with unholy influences. Maybe not. Maybe you think R-rated movies are more in-line with the real world, unfiltered and consistent with our modern society.

What really struck me was the fact I couldn’t simply enjoy the show without first dealing with these kind of thoughts; I was somehow compelled to entertain fabricated debates in my head regarding the nature of morality. That’s annoying. I mean, I paid $10 (plus the nearly $15 for the giant discount popcorn bucket) so I could yell internally at my third grade Sunday School teacher (who was a lovely woman by the way). Why was I letting people “should” on me from the past? From decades ago?

"Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!"

“Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!”

~

I observed the actions of the characters on screen. The uncensored tone of the dialogue was refreshing, but it reminded me of how any truth or lesson lying behind the film would be totally lost on certain individuals. The unmarried couple laying in bed after sex, having a real human conversation filled with laughter and joy and hope… none of that would come across to those only preoccupied with condemning the “sin” of premarital sex. The woman abused by her husband of fifteen years shares a dance and a kiss with a younger man in a bar… but she’s an adulteress whore and a drunkard to some. You see, characters in films may not be real, but they represent very real ideas, people, situations, etc. Movies are truly art imitating life.

So, who is to say how we should live? What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? It’s easier for us to get those answers from other people. For some that is as easy as picking a religion. Right and wrong are able to be defined, creating a framework for living. In such a scenario, one must simple do all they can to avoid what is wrong and pursue what is right. This creates a tendency to dismiss “gray areas” as confused or twisted logic, created by dark forces conspiring to trip you up at every turn. Reality is only black and white to many people, therefore anything gray is to be met with suspicion at the very least.

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon...

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon…

~

While I won’t fall into the verbal trap of attempting the phrase “You shouldn’t tell people what they shouldn’t do” …I’ll propose what I see as an obvious downside of should’ing on people. To define life (and particularly your life) as existing within any pre-defined framework is to reject the experience of life. If you tell someone else how they should feel, who they should love, what they should do, etc., you are telling them that their own experience, their own journey, their own path is pointless. Their unique existence? Meaningless. And worse, you are tell them that your unique existence isn’t unique either. You’re kindly (or often unkindly) breaking it to them that life isn’t about doing the work of discovering your own place in the universe; you’re saying life is already decided to be [fill in the blank]. Get use to it.

And much worse, you can rob people of some of the most beautiful moments. You have the power to take something miraculous, or freeing, or life-giving, and write it off as selfish, sinful, or even demonic. Any particular brand of happiness not grounded in your particular worldview can be met with ridicule, dismissal, or scorn. And again, the real tragedy is that you reject the truth behind the packaging. You miss out on life, trading it for a concept you’ve elevated to the place of God.

Obviously we can have our convictions. We can believe strongly in principles that guide our lives. We can fight for what matters to us. But it must be the fruit of our own labor, to work out who we should be as individuals. It will involve trial and error. You will mess up. You will get discouraged. But if you pull through, if you discover what is good and pure, what is dark and empty, what gives you meaning and what poisons your soul… if you experience pain and rebirth, if you conquer yourself and find who you really are…

…No one should ever be able to define life for you ever again.

——–

brettBrett 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.

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I have been writing on the subject of how the concept of idolatry applies in our modern age.  This post is a continuation on this theme – if you have not done so already, you might want to read the beginning of the series:

  • Part I explores the idea that God is not like an idol which can be manipulated to fulfill our desires
  • Part II explores how our limitations prevent us from understanding infinite reality

An Idol of Paper and Ink

In my last post, I touched on the idea that when we accept finite, unchanging views of God, we have created a conceptual idol.  I touched on the idea that inerrancy is one way this kind of conceptual idol is expressed.  I explored how, even if the Bible is inerrant, this does not guarantee that our understanding of it is.  And to believe that our own understanding of it is not flawed is to ignore two thousand years of history.

Yeah, that's how it works...

Yeah, that’s how it works…

 

Now, one of the problems you’ll find with claiming that the Bible is inerrant is that it raises the question: which one?  You see, what we call “the Bible” is a collection of various writings that were voted on in a council hundreds of years ago.  And if you study your history, you’ll find that in 367 AD, Athanasius came up with a list of books which was later approved by Pope Damascus I in 382 AD and ratified by the Council of Rome the same year.  This canon contained 73 books.  Later on, councils at Hippo in 393 AD and Carthage in 397 AD confirmed this canonization.

In 405 AD, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to the Bishop of Toulouse affirming this canon, and the Council of Carthage reaffirmed this list in 419 AD (which Pope Boniface agreed upon).  But, the Council of Trent then removed 7 books from this canon in 1546 AD, and now the Protestant Bible holds 66 of the original 73 books!  Additionally, the original King James version of the Bible, published in 1611 AD, held 80 books!  So if you wish to say that the Bible is inerrant, the first question would be: which one?

itsallgreektomeNext, you’d have to ask the question: which translation of the Bible is inerrant?  It is exceedingly difficult to accurately translate the extinct, ancient languages of Greek and Hebrew into English for a number of different reasons.

One issue that translators have to deal with is that Greek and Hebrew words often had multiple meanings, and the authors would often play on this by choosing words that could work within the text with more than one of the meanings – perhaps indicating that the author wanted us to consider all meanings of the word in the context.

Another problem is that these languages often had more than one word for a concept – for instance, Greek has three different words for “love”, which all have a different nuance to them.  Furthermore, one should always consider this little headache when considering the difficulties of translating from Greek to modern English:

THEGREEKLANGUAGEDURINGTHETIMETHATTHEGOSPELSWEREWRITTENDIDNOTUSEANYPUNCTUATIONLOWERCASELETTERSSPACESBETWEENWORDSORPARAGRAPHBREAKS

But that’s not all – perhaps the biggest problem with inerrancy is that it claims more about the Bible than the Bible claims for itself.  Actually, the Bible makes specific claims that it is not inerrant.  For example, in I Cor. 7:12, Paul clarifies very specifically that what he is saying comes from himself, not the Lord.  So if we believe that the Bible is the direct words from God dropped down from the sky in whole-cloth, how do we distinguish between this statement which Paul claims did not come from the Lord and every other statement?  Is this the only one that didn’t come directly from the mouth of God without any filter whatsoever?

Further on in the same chapter, in verse 25, Paul states that he has no commandment from God but that he gives his judgment anyways “as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”  There’s another one that didn’t come directly from the mouth of God!  Then again, in 2 Corinthians 11:17 Paul says that what he just stated earlier in the chapter was not Paul talking as the Lord would, but as a fool!   Paul deliberately said something foolish in order to prove a point!

And then we have the scientific problems with taking the Bible as inerrant – if you know your history, you know that Martin Luther (who invented the phrase sola scriptura) interpreted Joshua 10:10-15 as indicating that the sun revolved around the earth, not the other way around.  When scientific views began to contradict this view through Coperinicus, Luther said:

There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.

Well, Luther lost this battle, and now this passage is interpreted metaphorically.  But the question is – would the original authors have understood it this way?  There are plenty of scholars who would say no:

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

Add to this the problem of dealing with the many contradictions within the Bible – which I have written about at greater length in another post – and you have a massive headache to deal with.

Now, if you ask someone who believes in inerrancy why they believe this, they will most likely point to 2 Tim. 3:16-17 as the “proof” that the Bible is inerrant.  But this passage does not say that the Bible is inerrant.  It says scriptures are “God-breathed” – or in some versions, “inspired by”.  So the first question that is raised is: what is included in the word “scriptures”, since the canon had not been developed at this time?

(The fact that Christians lived without a canonized Bible for the first 3 centuries is problematic for inerrantists and sola scriptura believers in and of itself.)

Also, being inspired by God is not the same thing as “coming directly from the mouth of God to us without any filter whatsoever” now, is it?  I’ve been inspired by many things in my lifetime – art, music, poetry, my wife and children, events in my life – and it meant nothing like that.

This makes people who have been raised to believe in inerrancy very uneasy – they say “if the Bible isn’t inerrant, how can we trust it?”  Easy – do you trust your mother?  Is she inerrant?  No?  Well, have you learned many things from her?  Did she teach you how to live before she sent you off into adulthood?

The way I look at the Bible can be summed up in the phrase: progressive revelation.  I believe that throughout history, God progressively revealed bits and pieces of his character through the various writings, people, and events in Biblical history.  And this reached a culmination in the character of Jesus Christ.

In John 5:39-40, Jesus says:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

This verse is saying that the Scriptures themselves are not Truth – they are finite signposts pointing towards infinite truth!  And infinite truth is embodied not in paper and ink, but in a person – the person of Jesus Christ!  If you want to understand Truth, you need to get to know this person!

In the Jewish culture, a Rabbi would teach children the Torah starting at a very young age.  And then, when these children reached the age of 15, children would request to be disciples.  This process was somewhat similar to applying to college – the best Rabbi’s would have many applicants and would choose the best of the best, much like Harvard would.  What’s very interesting is that Jesus reversed this by choosing his disciples – he asked them.  And he didn’t go after the richest, best, and brightest – he went for the “dregs” of society.

The Jews had a phrase they used to describe how a disciple behaved when he was an apprentice to a Rabbi – “in the dust of the Rabbi.”  What this phrase meant was that the disciple would follow his Rabbi so closely that the dust kicked up from the Rabbi’s sandals would scatter all over this disciple – he didn’t want to miss a single beat, but wanted to observe everything his Rabbi did.

This phrase – the dust of the Rabbi – illuminates the hubris of those who claim to be able to understand the scriptures without having ever studied the historical context they are set in.  And it also shows the weakness of claiming to understand them simply by reading, rather than through practicing them – living them out in real life.  When a “Christian” refuses to find understanding of Jesus’ words through living them out, he makes Jesus into a static, dead idol of stone.

In John 15:4, Jesus says that if we abide in him, he will abide in us.  To understand Jesus’ words, we must live the way Jesus lived!  Paul says in Romans 13:14 that we should clothe ourselves in Jesus, and in Galatians 3:27 he repeats this theme.

To live the Christian life is to enter into dialogue with peoples of all tribes and all statuses in unconditional love, just as Jesus did, and to give with no expectancy of the returns, accepting whatever comes.  This is the surrender of love that Jesus showed on the night that he was betrayed, giving himself as a gift and pouring out God’s love into the world.  In the act of the cross, Jesus showed us the mystery of the paradox of vulnerable power.  To live like Christ is to accept this vulnerability and express it in whatever ways are possible – entering into dialogue with all who are available to us and making ourselves available as a gift, even unto death.

Jesus is the door...but you have to step through to infinity...

Jesus is the door…but you have to step through to infinity…

 

Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word, thus the true fulfillment of the scriptures.  And if the Word is infinite, then no understanding of this person fully encapsulates this reality – Jesus is a finite point of reality which opens the door to knowledge of infinite reality, and thus “knowing Jesus” means that one has become fluid and open to infinite change.  Christ is the perfect union between an infinite God and finite creation, and Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane that we would have that same union (see John 17).

To understand this is to understand that the reality of Christ is not exhausted through Jesus’ historicity – rather, Christ is the center of reality itself which incorporates all.  Christ is the very life of the universe itself in a union with finite creation – infinite expressed through creaturely union.  Through this view, we see that Jesus is not an exception to creation, but the fulfillment of the purpose of Creation.  In him, we find the meaning of what it means to be truly human in its very fullest sense – that is, the union of finite humanity with infinite God.

This transforms the finite, static view of Jesus Christ as an ancient superhero we merely observe from our viewpoint into a fluid, living and present reality – New Creation continually arising and changing and shaping the Universe.  If we solidify our views in rigidity, we enter into death, but even this will not conquer Christ as Christ has conquered death itself.  But by embracing the change of the Holy Spirit working in the world – the act of New Creation – and by accepting the death of our old, rigid selves, we are able to say, with Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

If God is infinite and eternal, than no understanding we can ever have of this being is ever truly representative of this God, but can only be incomplete and very likely incorrect in some ways.  To understand this is to understand that every understanding of God is an idol, and we must continually strive to destroy our own idols without judging our neighbor, for by judging our neighbor we judge ourselves (Luke 6:37).  This does not mean we cease to try to understand, but rather we should embrace the journey of understanding itself.

In “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith“, Brian McLaren wrote:

…idols freeze one’s understanding of God in stone, as it were. This approach also warns us about the danger of another kind of idolatry to which we today are more susceptible. Although few of us today are tempted to freeze our understanding of God in graven images, we may too quickly freeze our understanding in printed images, rigid conceptual idols not chiseled in wood or stone but printed on paper in books, housed not in temples but in seminaries and denominational headquarters, worshiped not through ancient ceremonies and rituals but through contemporary sermons and songs.

To guard against these conceptual idols, we must understand that an infinite God is a God of eternal mystery.  We must understand that each new day, if we are truly experiencing God, we will be continually evolving our understanding of Him/Her (that’s right – God has no sex, but is both sexes and neither sex at the same time, and it’s a grave misfortune that English has no sexless pronoun with which to address this being).

In “The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots“, authors T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley write:

In the mid-twentieth century, the German theologian Paul Tillich formulated the phrase “the God above (or beyond) God.”  Tillich’s words remind believers that in Jewish terms, at the heart of monotheistic faith is the enigma of “I am who I am,” that in Christian terms, “we see through a glass darkly,” and that in Muslim terms, even the ninety-nine names for Allah do not suffice. The God of the cosmos, a universe eons old and light-years big, is only hinted at in human theologies, however accurately.

This eternal mystery of infinite being is also hinted at in The Tao Te Ching:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name

Likewise, in the Lankavatara Sutra it is written:

These teachings are only a finger pointing to the Noble wisdom…. They are intended for the consideration and guidance of the discriminating minds of all people, but they are not the Truth itself, which can only be self-realized within one’s own deepest consciousness.

In my next post, I would like to explore how infinite reality expresses itself through the resurrection.

Paul and the Greek Poets

gglenister —  January 2, 2014 — 2 Comments

I have been writing on the subject of how I believe that Christianity is not supposed to be like religion – that is, a system of insiders and outsiders where we are the right side and everyone else is on the wrong side.  This post will be a continuation on this theme – if you have not read my other posts in this series, I recommend you do so:

  • Part 1 explores 5 reasons I believe Christianity is not supposed to be a religion in the sense I described.
  • Part 2 explores the balance between Orthodoxy (right belief) and Orthopraxy (right action)
  • Part 3 explores how one could go about analyzing their belief structure to find out if it was poisonous
  • Part 4 explores how preaching works within the new paradigm of “religionless Christianity”

So I’d like to try to tie things up in this post.  The idea of this whole series has been about moving beyond a system of belief that divides people, and moving into a way of life that brings people together in unity.

The Evolution of “Religion”

In his 1962 book “The Meaning and End of Religion“, Wilfred Cantwell Smith – a professor of comparative religion at Harvard – draws a distinction between the modern word “religion” and its Latin root, religio.  The root of this word is ligare – to connect, tie together, bind, unite.  This is the same root of “ligature”: the stuff that holds a skeleton together.  We see from this history that religion is meant to be a reconnecting – to bring together people who should have never been separated.  It is not intended to be a system that separates people into hostile tribes.

ligamentsBut Professor Smith demonstrates that through the centuries, the meaning of this word slowly changed:

…in pamphlet after pamphlet, treatise after treatise, decade after decade, the notion was driven home that religion is something that one believes or does not believe, something whose propositions are true or are not true, something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible, is up for inspection before the speculative mind.

We have found in these modern times that this way of treating religion has poisoned it from within and turned it into a weapon tribes wield against each other.  So it has been my argument in this series of posts that what we need for this time is a new kind of “religionless” Christianity which is based primarily in love for our fellow man, and is more focused on uniting over the common goals of the good of society than on common “beliefs”.  This new kind of religion would be based more on fellowship and experience than on assertions of truth.

This is not to say that truth is not important, but rather that I believe the nature of truth is something that binds people together and heals rather than something that should cause strife and conflict.  In “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening“, Diana Butler Bass writes:

healing-touchIndeed, the word “doctrine,” a word fallen on hard times in contemporary culture, actually means a “healing teaching,” from the French word for “doctor .” The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life-giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.

I believe that it is important to realize that truth is not an exclusive thing – truth is not some physical thing that one tribe possesses to the exclusion of all others.  Rather, we are all able to perceive truth to varying degrees, and when we work together with different people groups we will have greater understandings of the truth.  In order to understand truth better and more fully, we cannot act as if our tribe has an exclusive grip on truth and all other tribes are lost in darkness, but rather we should realize that there are some truths our tribe may understand better than others, and most likely many others that other tribes understand more clearly than our own.

Paul and the Greek Poets

Paul_Preaching_On_Mars_Hill

A depiction of Paul preaching on Mars Hill in Acts 17

I believe we see this attitude at work in the way the Apostle Paul draws on the wisdom of well-known Greek poets in Acts chapter 17.  In verse 28, we find Paul quoting two distinct figures: the Cretan philosopher Epimenides in the first half of the verse, and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus.

Now first of all, this provides a stark contrast with what seems to be the common attitude of much of American Christianity these days.  It seems that much of the Christian world in America has adopted an isolationist sort of attitude that encourages those within to avoid the outside world, and to see them as dangerous liars who are devoid of all truth.  And this sort of culture encourages its adherents to avoid “secular” things in favor of “Christian” things – trade “secular” music for “Christian” music, “secular” movies for “Christian” movies, “secular” books for “Christian” books, etc.  But Paul seems to draw a contrast with this attitude in Acts 17:28 by drawing on the wisdom of well-known “secular” figures in order to communicate with his audience.  Why is Paul willing to draw from the wisdom of those who are not part of his religion?

I think a major clue is found in what Paul is quoting, specifically.  In the first quote, Paul says that “in him [speaking of God] we live and move and have our being”, and in the second he says that we are God’s offspring – His children.  Paul makes no exceptions in these quotes – he doesn’t specify that you have to be members of a particular religious “tribe” in order to be God’s children.  Rather, he seems to imply that all people live, move, and have their being grounded in God and are children of God.

Over All, Through All, In All

To understand more fully how Paul understands the nature of God, I’d like to examine another statement found in Ephesians 4:4-6:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [emphasis mine]

The statement at the end of this passages lays out a profound mystery – God is over all things, working through all things, and is in all things.  There is a simple term for this view: panentheism.  Panentheism is the belief that all things rest within the being of God, God is working through all beings and all events, all beings are a part of the life of God, and yet God transcends all things, beings, and events.  In this belief, we cannot isolate God to any one place or time, but we can find God in all places and times.

Cosmos01

This is not a belief that the Apostle Paul invented either – we find traces of panentheism in “Old Testament” passages like this one:

Psalm 139:7-10
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

The prophet Jeremiah writes:

Jeremiah 23:24
“Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

The gospel of John has a brilliant explanation of panentheism in the first chapter.  The author of this gospel has a very artistic way of using words – often playing on double meanings, and layering multiple meanings over-top of each other.  In the first verse of this gospel, John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This single sentence is packed full of meaning.  The word translated as “Word” was the Greek word “logos”.  This is a very interesting word, because it draws on the Greek belief that the entire cosmos was grounded in a rational system of rules.  We could call this “science” or “physics” in modern times.  But John is also drawing on the fact that to the Jews, “the Word” had a rich meaning as well.  In Genesis, God creates through his “Word”.  When God speaks, things happen.  For human beings as well, a word is an interesting thing to think about: a word that we speak conveys our thoughts to another person and has an affect on them.  They perceive a piece of our nature through this word.  When a word leaves our lips, it is no longer us, and yet it has its source in us.  An instruction from one person to another might result in actions being taken.  For Jews, they believed that creation was a direct result of God’s word, and thus was a way to perceive the nature of God and to perceive God’s thoughts.  Additionally, the Hebrew Bible was considered to be God’s “Word” – a direct revelation of God’s character.

andromeda-orbit

The Logos of the Universe

But John is saying that the Word is more than the matter of creation, or even ancient scriptures.  The Word is a person.  But this person has existed from the beginning, was with God, and was God.  More than this, all things were created through the Logos (see verse 3), all life comes through this Logos (see verse 4), and all knowledge comes from this Logos (see verses 4 and 9).

Making Sense of Panentheism

These are bold claims, and very difficult to understand.  It would be easy to dismiss this as nonsense if one had no desire to understand.  But I think there is a fundamental truth to this idea.

InterrelatedThink of it this way: all existence is grounded in relationship.  I would not exist were it not for the relationship my parents had, and I would not have continued to have life after I began to exist if it were not for relationships, nor would I have known anything I claim to know if it were not for relationships.

In the classic Christmas movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, George Bailey learns that he has touched many lives in a profound way.  He sees that if his own life had been removed from the tapestry of history, many other lives would experience loss.

We are all the same way – our lives are dependent on the lives of others for their ground of being.  Without the many lives whose paths we had crossed, we would be very different people, and if you removed enough threads from the tapestry of life, we would cease to exist.  Every being exists within a web of relationships through which that being’s character is shaped.

What panentheism teaches us is that all beings are interrelated.  When you eat a piece of bread, you are not just eating bread.  The grain from which this bread was made was nourished by sunlight, it grew using the nutrients from the earth, the water from the clouds, and the air.  So when you eat this bread, you are eating sunlight, earth, clouds, and air.  And you are benefiting from the work of the people who tilled the fields this grain grew in, and the work of the baker.  So you are experiencing interrelatedness with each bite of bread.

In the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is talked about, the word that is used for “Spirit” is “pneuma“.  Like many Greek words, this word has another meaning as well: breath.  In Genesis, after God created man, he breathed life into him.  We are dependent on air to live – without breath, we die.  But when we breathe, we are experiencing interrelatedness, because the air we breathe has been breathed and expelled by thousands of people before us, as well as animals and plants.  This air has been circulated countless times through the lungs of countless creatures.

deep_breathI believe that it is impossible to understand the doctrine of the Trinity outside of panentheism.  The idea of the trinity is that God exists as “three in one” – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But this idea also holds that God is not more three than He is one, and no more one than He is three.  That one is a head-scratcher.  But if you understand that God is the very ground of being, you can start to understand the trinity.  The Father is the unknowable and unfathomable source of all life, the Son is the knowable manifestation of God, and the Holy Spirit is the interrelatedness of all things.

Imagine it this way – you are standing at the bottom of a waterfall.  The top of the waterfall is unknown to you, and is the source – the Father, for the sake of this analogy.  The water spilling over your face is the manifestation of the waterfall through which you experience and understand the waterfall – the Son.  The water spilling out below you and touching other life-forms is the Holy Spirit.

You experience the waterfall through individual drops of water, but these drops are part of a much greater whole.  If you think deeply about this concept, you realize that the water evaporates in the sunlight, rises to form clouds, and then rains back down to the earth to become part of the waterfall again.

Additionally, creatures drink from the water of this waterfall and this water passes through them back into the ground to become part of streams, to evaporate and become clouds, and to precipitate again down to the earth.  In this way, all creatures have a relationship to this waterfall, and in a way have a relationship with each other through the waterfall.

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17 that we will be One, as he and the Father are one (verse 11), “as you [the Father] are in me and I am in you.”  (verse 21)  This is the force of perfect love – relationship so close that the members of the relationship, in their continual self-sacrifice for one another, cooperate in such a close relationship that they become “One”.  Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:4-5:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We are supposed to belong to each other, as cells in a body belong to each other.  The cells of a body serve the body, and in serving the body they are nourished and upheld by the body.  When a group of cells stops serving the body, and the cells seek to serve themselves, this is competition/separation/non-love and in the human body we call that cancer.

human-body-cells-25962548In “Christ In Evolution“, Ilia Delio writes:

To live in the experience of Christ is to live in the experience of relatedness, to be a member of the cosmic family, because Christ is the Word of God through whom all things are related.

The early Christians understood Jesus as a revelation of God’s character – they saw a man whose entire life was marked by radical love, and whose life caused a ripple effect throughout an entire empire.  Because of the effects of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul believed that it is through the universal relationship of divine love that all things are created and sustained, as he writes in Colossians 1:15-20:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

We find through this passage that universal love is not only the goal of creation, but also the means of creation.  When I combine this idea with John 12:32 – where Jesus says that through the act of the cross he will draw all men to himself – I am reminded of the science of a black hole.  Science teaches us that it is because of gravity that all bodies in the cosmos are formed, and at the center of each galaxy is a black hole.  The galaxies themselves owe their very existence to the incredible gravity of these black holes, which are continually drawing all members of the galaxy inward towards them.  I believe that God’s love is a bit like this – drawing all men in to relationship and forming the fabric of being through this love.

Because of the proclamation of universal reconciliation in Col. 1:20, we are freed from the fear of the world, our fellow man, “demons”, and even God, and empowered to reach out with bold acts of love and join in with God’s creative work.  This doctrine helps us to understand that being made “in the image of God” means that at a very deep level – in the core of our being – we are marked by the radical potential to receive the mystery of divine love, and as a result to pour out God’s presence in the world.  And through accepting and extending this love, we enter into partnership with God to become agents of creation through His love.

This idea gives us a whole new understanding of “salvation” – salvation is not being saved from God, but being saved in, to, and through God.  For many Christians, the word “salvation” brings an understanding of being saved from “hell” (for more on this subject, see my series “Checkmate For Hell”), but the word’s Latin roots mean “whole”, “sound”, “healed”, “safe”, “well”, or “unharmed”.  Often people will talk about “finding love”, and will talk about this love making us whole or healing us.  But panentheism teaches us that love was always inside of us – we just needed to give it away.

When we understand that the goal for creation is interrelatedness, we can understand more fully the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:25:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

When we seek to live our life at the cost of others and independent of them, we will lose our life.  But when we draw in to the fellowship of the unity of all things (see Eph. 1:9-10), we will find a well of Eternal Life that will flow out from us into the world (see John 4:10-14).

water-of-life2

The understanding of the full integration with love helps us to understand many other facets of faith.  For example, we understand through this framework that our relationship with creation should be – it is not a relationship of domination and forced control, but rather a relationship of harmony.  We can also understand that the true nature of sin/evil is a resistance to unity that causes division and chaos, but we also understand that this cannot last forever but will be conquered by love in the end.

But perhaps the greatest lesson panentheism teaches us is the true nature of love: that in order to experience love, we must love others, and in doing so we will find that we have always been loved and lovable ourselves.  Love does not act in a way that causes harm to a single living being, but seeks to integrate all life – Ilia Delio sums up this idea in “Christ In Evolution“:

Christ, the fully integrated person, is not a person but the Person, the integration of all human persons fully united in the one Spirit of love and thus fully integrated in relation to God.  The resurrected Christ is the prolepsis of what is intended for the whole cosmos — union and transformation in God.

In the community of God, we will find true peace.  The loneliness caused by isolation will end, as well as all acts of violence and injustice.  The mutual destruction caused by the selfish struggles of rampant individuality will be replaced by a community of peace built on self-giving mutual servant-hood in which all created beings are there for one another, with one another and in one another, and through the interchange of their energies keep one another in life, for one another and together.  And in this community we will truly experience the presence of God, and the power of death will be overcome.

everyday

I taught a class a couple of years ago called Everyday Theology.

The main idea for the class was that we are always living out our theology. With every little decision, we are revealing what we value and the concepts we believe to be true. The most interesting part of the class was talking about and revealing some concepts that are not based in reality – what I am calling here ‘Bad Theologies.’

Of course, I’m using the word theology to mean something both bigger and more mundane that the academic discipline of study about God. By theology, I mean those often invisible ideas that permeate our thinking about what is real, how we know what we know, and how we are must live. I hope you’ll get a feel for what I mean by exploring this Top 5.

1. Cheap Karma

Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about Cheap Grace… a way of misunderstanding God’s grace that ends up meaning that everything is just okie dokie. Cheap karma is similar in that it takes a religious concept that has value and turns it into a greeting card.

Cheap Karma is that idea that good things happen to people who do good things. The corollary is more dangerous – that bad things happen to people who do bad things.

Occasionally, it works: you are cut off in traffic by a person driving dangerously and a mile later you see them pulled over by the highway patrol. “Ha! Karma’s a bitch!” you think. But the idea that you do good things for a reward is really awful.

Plus, there are lots of people suffering in the world that surely don’t deserve it. Karma of course is a Hindu belief that the universe works in logical, cause-and-effect ways over many years and many, many lifetimes. Cheap karma is just a “what comes around, goes around” falsehood.

2. American Exceptionalism

I won’t say too much about this one, except that if you think the USA is somehow a shining city on a hill on a mission from God… you need to pay closer attention. My first exposure to this Bad Theology was in high school when an evangelical youth pastor explained to me that America is now God’s Chosen People. Even at that tender age, I could smell something off.bad smell

3. Transactional Salvation

This one is a biggie.  The crux of the idea is that God requires something specific from us in order to escape the fires of hell.

For evangelicals and fundamentalists, it’s the Sinner’s Prayer or ‘inviting Jesus into your heart’ or a personal relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior.

For Catholics, the requirements are more subtle and more complex.  But any kind of thinking that involves I do/choose/perform/pray/vote/act a certain way to get heaven/blessings/grace from God is a nonstarter for me.

Around here (Shadow Rock UCC – a cool, progressive church… and my place of employment), we call it “gettin’ your ticket punched.”  Two huge problems with this particular Bad Theology:  1) it totally discounts and misunderstands the nature of Ultimate Reality or in traditional language, God’s grace and 2) after folks get their ticket punched (or pray the magic prayer or whatever), they tend to stop growing and learning.

4:  Redemptive Violence

The Myth of Redemptive Violence might be THE Bad Theology.  It’s everywhere.  The premise is that violence is useful, even NECESSARY, for problem-solving.  For the background and history of redemptive violence, see Walter Wink.  For an on-the-ground feel for it, check out Batman, Rango, or any superhero movie or any children’s cartoon ever.  “Good guys” use violence to defeat the “bad guys.”  But if both sides are using the same violent methods, who can tell the difference?  That’s why it’s so useful to get an intuitive grasp of this through fictional settings.  It’s less jarring than looking at the newspaper, where the same exact thing is happening.  I’ll start with two problems with this Bad Theology as well:  1) it keeps us from looking at more peaceful and creative ways to change bad things and 2) if we make good things happen through causing pain, it makes us more likely to assume that God does the same thing

.rango

5.  Certainty

Human beings, in my estimation, are most likely to go off the rails when we think we have it all figured out.  When we imagine that the universe works in a certain way through certain rules that we can grasp with our gigantic frontal lobes, we are foolish.  Things change.  Perspectives can be radically dissimilar.  There is so much we don’t know.  Yet at the same time, humans are meaning-making, meaning-grasping, meaning-creating creatures.  THIS IS WHAT WE DO.  We make rules, draw conclusions, see patterns.  So it’s possible that I’m being too harsh on the species.

Religion and faith and spirituality are the sources for much good in the world… when they are grounded in reality (more on this in future posts… this is getting long).  This Top 5 is just a start.  Where do you see people – even yourself – living out Bad Theology?

In my last post, I wrote about five reasons that I believe show Christianity is not supposed to be a religion–at least not in the sense that the word seems to have taken in our modern age, that people are divided by either being in the right religion or the wrong religion and battle lines are drawn around these religions.

This sense of the word ‘religion’ is marking one group of people as being favored by God and all others as cursed–and I do not believe God works this way.

But instead, I believe Christianity is meant to be a different kind of religion: a way of life that reaches out to those who are left out; those who are looked down upon; those who are seen as culturally taboo.  This different kind of religion is about love, compassion and empathy.  This is a kind of religion that transcends labels and boundaries.

Writing a letter

Towards the end of his life, German theologian, author, activist, spy, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter to Eberhad Bethage about a concept he called “religionless Christianity.” He believed a time was coming when people would simply not be able to be “religious” any more, and that somehow Christianity would take on a new meaning within this framework. Bonhoeffer pondered in his letter what this would be like; what it would look like. 

What would Christianity be if it were stripped bare of clergy, religious practices, and dogma?

To explore this question, I want to ponder the true meaning of the word “belief“.  Nowadays, the word carries with it the sense of asserting that something is true, as opposed to something else.  It is a claim of knowledge–an acceptance of doctrine into one’s head.  But this is not always how beliefs were thought of.  Around the time that the King James Bible was translated, the word “believe” meant “to hold dear; to trust.”

When you hold something dear and trust in it, there is a big difference from asserting what is fact and what is not fact.  The latter leads to debates and arguments and generally makes people into jerks.  But to hold a belief dear to one’s heard changes how one lives.

Consider the following analogy regarding what it means to believe: Imagine that you and I are on a hike, and we come upon a rope bridge.  You tell me that you do not believe this bridge will hold our weight. I disagree and say I believe that it will.  You tell me “Well, prove it!”

If I refuse to cross the bridge, I am proving my own unbelief. I have stated that I believe in the rope bridge, but my actions prove otherwise.  But if I do cross the bridge, I have shown my belief to be a true belief.  It does not matter whether I have other reasons to trust in the bridge–perhaps I know the man who built it, and know his work to be excellent.  This does not make it any less of a belief. The truth of my belief is proven in my action.

True Belief

True Belief

 

In the same way, the Christian belief is supposed to be a way of life–a framework through which one lives in the world.  George MacDonald – a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister who was a mentor to C.S. Lewis – wrote in one of his “Unspoken Sermons”:

Yes; for to hold a thing with the intellect, is not to believe it. A man’s real belief is that which he lives by; and that which the man I mean lives by, is the love of God, and obedience to his law, so far as he has recognized it.

This is not a foreign concept in other religions, either.  In the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings in verse attributed to the Buddha, it says:

The thoughtless man, even if he can recite a large portion (of the law), but is not a doer of it, has no share in the priesthood, but is like a cowherd counting the cows of others.  The follower of the law, even if he can recite only a small portion (of the law), but, having forsaken passion and hatred and foolishness, possesses true knowledge and serenity of mind, he, caring for nothing in this world or that to come, has indeed a share in the priesthood.

Karen Armstrong, a scholar and author of over 20 books on religion in the modern world, once said in an interview:

Religion isn’t about believing in things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.

This is not a concept Karen made up–it is absolutely Biblical!  Jesus said we should do as he has done for us (John 13:15), the Apostle Paul instructed the Ephesians to “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:1-2), and the writer of 1st Peter instructed his audience to follow in Christ’s steps (I Peter 2:20-21).  Over and over again, the author of 1st John drives this point home:

I John 2:3-6
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.  Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

The message of this passage–the message of the whole book of 1st John–is that if you want to know Jesus, you have to live like him.  Jesus showed us what love is by laying down his life, and we ought to lay down our lives for others as well. (I John 3:16)  If you want to know God, you have to live a life of love, for “everyone that loves has been born of God.” (I John 4:7)

"Neo, sooner or later you're going to realize just as I did that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. " - Morpheus, "The Matrix"

“Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. ” – Morpheus, “The Matrix”

Love helps us to find the balance between Orthodoxy (right doctrine) and Orthopraxy (right conduct).  Love is where a person transcends religion.  Cultivate empathy within yourself and you will find the balance.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship:

Human love has little regard for the truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person.

In my next post, we’ll continue this theme, and explore the idea of guarding against false beliefs.
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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 - and is proud to have been called a “dangerous hairy tick”.

wafer2

flickr: York Minster

 

Perhaps I should have titled this post “5 Reasons Christianity Shouldn’t Be About Religion,” because there’s a common misconception that Christianity is a religion.  Not only that it’s a religion, but that it’s supposed to be a religion.  This misconception is shared by insiders and outsiders alike, it seems.  And it’s completely wrong!

Now, I should pause here and define what it is that I mean when I say “religion” – I’m talking about religion in the sense of being an identifier, or a way of distinguishing one person or another.  What I’m talking about could also be described as “tribalism“.  It’s the insiders and outsiders paradigm–the view that there are some who are favored by God, and some who are not, and that there are easily distinguishable traits which can tell you which group a person is in.

This is a completely warped idea, because Christianity is supposed to be about following Jesus, and there are so many ways that Jesus contradicted this insiders-vs-outsiders view.  Here are just a few of those ways:

1. John’s Baptism

Baptism seems to be one of those Christian ideas for which the historical context has been almost completely lost to the general populous, and as a result some very superstitious ideas about it have risen up.  Denominations battle over the method and timing of baptism: is a sprinkling ok, or should you be immersed?  Can babies be baptized?  Many seem to even connect salvation itself with baptism – I remember hearing one leader assure someone who was worried about salvation that “if you’re dipped, you’re in!”

But when you get a picture of the historical context that “John the Baptist” was set in, you might get a different picture of what this was all about.  In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, there was a practice known as “mikveh” – a ritual immersion bath.

Mikveh

Mikveh at Jerusalem temple

The mikveh was a purity ritual, and would be performed after a person experienced various “unclean” events and before entering the temple. A priest would practice mikveh before conducting various ceremonies, and scribes would even practice it before writing the name of God!

What mikveh communicated was that a person had been dirtied by the outside world, and must clean him or herself before entering into communion with God.  The practice of immersing before entering the temple did much to communicate the “insider/outsider paradigm” or the “us vs. them paradigm” that the Jews in Jesus’ day lived within.  It said “those who are not part of our religion are unclean, and we must wash off their filth before entering into communion with God.”

But John the Baptist did something new–he started immersing people in the Jordan river, right out there in nature!  This was a bit of religious theater, if you will, and to the people of the time, the message was clear:

“The real filth that must be washed off is not out there–it’s the temple religion!  Their self-righteous arrogance and apathy towards the people trapped within unjust systems that create poverty is the real dirtiness that must be washed off!” 

John’s baptism was a symbol of washing off the attitude that there are insiders and outsiders–of putting aside the attitude that somehow you’re special and others are not.  In Luke’s gospel, the story of John’s practice of baptism is accompanied by his instruction to share your possessions with the poor (Luke 3:11), indicating that this is part of a larger mission to break down the barriers between classes of people.

When Jesus meets up with John, does Jesus rebuke John for this rejection of the religious practice of mikveh?  Does he say “John, you know that mikveh should be practiced in the temple, so people can prepare to worship God properly!”  No!  Jesus affirms John’s practice in Matthew 3:13-15, and says “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan

In Luke 10:25-37, there is a story that begins with an “expert in the law” testing Jesus by asking him what must be done to “inherit eternal life”.  What follows has been covered in different ways in other gospels, but in this version of the story, Jesus throws the question back at the “expert” and asks, “what’s in the law, and how do you read it?”  The expert responds by summarizing the entire law with two commands: love God, and love your neighbor “as yourself”.  The version of this story in Matthew has Jesus saying:

Matthew 22:40
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

One thing I find interesting is that the apostle Paul skips over the “love God” part and says that the entire law is fulfilled in the commandment to love your neighbor!  (Gal. 5:14)  This might sound curious, but it is a logical inference based upon the fact that Jesus implies that the way to show love to God is to show love to others in such teachings as the “parable of the sheep and the goats” (which can be found in Matthew 25:31-46).

But to return to the story in Luke 10:25-37, in verse 29, it says:

But he [the "expert"] wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

So Jesus tells a story which we commonly refer to as “The Good Samaritan”.  I think that the cultural impact of this story is largely lost on us today, because we don’t understand the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.

044-044-TheGoodSamaritan-full

To really understand the story, I think we need to retell it in today’s terminology. 

I think the modern equivalent of the story would involve an Evangelical minister being beaten up and robbed on the side of the road, and as he lies there, another Evangelical pastor passes right by, and then a Southern Baptist deacon as well.  And then, as he is beginning to despair, a Muslim Imam walks by.  When this Imam sees him there, he comes to his aid, taking him to the nearest hospital.  At the hospital, they find out that the minister has no insurance, and this Muslim says “I will pay his bills – just make sure he is taken care of.”  After the hospital has patched up the minister, the Imam takes him back to his house to stay with him until he is back on his feet again.

You see, Samaritans were not seen by Jews as being other Jews–they were seen as another religion altogether.  Not only were they seen as another religion, but they were altogether detested as enemies.  The comparison between how Jews saw Samaritans and how Christians see Muslims today is an apt one, in my opinion.  Just as there were similar religious beliefs between Jews and Samaritans, there are similarities between Christianity and Muslims.  But the differences are considered irreconcilable, and so the “other” is considered a dangerous foe.

But when Jesus is asked “who is my neighbor?”, he deliberately chose an icon that would be seen as dangerous and religiously “other” by his audience.  He did this to challenge his audience’s priorities.  He did this in order to raise the question: What’s more important–your customs, or how you treat other people?

3. The Woman at the Well

In John 4:1-42, there is a scene where Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well.  There is so much that could be said about this scene – things like how Jesus challenged the cultural views of his day about women and how evangelism ought to work – but I want to focus on one interesting piece of the conversation between Jesus and this woman.

Christ-Encounters-The-Woman-At-The-Well-a-painting-by-Richard-Serrin

But first, we need a little background.  In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament, the nation is Israel is split due to irreconcilable differences after King Solomon’s death.  The two nations were then called Israel and Judah.  Judah contained the city of Jerusalem, where the temple was built.  The Samaritans were part of the area that had been known as Israel–the area that did not contain Jerusalem and the temple.

The Samaritans had taken up the custom of worshiping at Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem.  This had caused a bit of animosity between them and what was now the Jews in Jesus’ time.  The Jews considered the Samaritans’ worship to be illegitimate because of their refusal to come to the temple.

The_Kingdoms_of_Israel_and_Judah__1_2_4152

With this background in mind, we find that Jesus makes a curious statement during his conversation with the Samaritan woman – in verse 21, he says:

…a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

And then, a little further along in verse 23, he expounds on this idea:

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

Jesus is indicating that a time is coming when the place of worship will not matter–it is the attitude of the heart that indicates true worship.

Earlier in this gospel, in John 2:19 Jesus had already alluded to the concept that a body can be a temple when he had said: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  This was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, as the reader finds at the end of the book.  The apostle Paul picks up on this concept of the temple when he says in I Cor. 3:16:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

The idea Jesus presents is that a place is not holy because of its location–any location can be holy. It is the people in the location that make this place holy!  And it is the attitude of their hearts that make these people holy!  So a person who worships the Father “in spirit and truth” can be in the presence of God anywhere and everywhere they go!

4. The Last Supper

The “Last Supper” gave birth to one of the great Christian sacraments–the Eucharist.  The scene of this last supper is set in a celebration of the Passover.  The history of the Passover is set in the Exodus story of Israel – the story goes that even after 9 plagues, the Pharaoh of Egypt still would not release the Israelites from slavery.  So Moses had instructed the Israelites to smear lamb’s blood on their doorposts, and an angel of death would “pass over” them as it went around the land of Egypt killing first born sons.

Passover-doorpost

Jesus takes this symbol and re-frames it in the scene of the Last Supper.  He breaks a loaf of bread and says “this is my body which is given for you.”  And then he passes around a cup of wine and says that it is “the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk. 22:20)

What he is essentially saying is that the days of scapegoating and killing other life in order to save yourself are over. God Himself has willingly given His life and blood to end this cycle, establishing a new covenant. Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of him–and all around the world Christians eat bread and drink wine (or grape juice) in order to remember that night.

But what if there was supposed to be more?  What if, along with accepting the free gift of the nourishment that God gives through bread and wine (which come from His good creation), we are supposed to go out into the world and give ourselves sacrificially to others just as Jesus did?  What if we are supposed to look for the cycles of violence and the victims of those cycles, and stand in the gap in order to break those cycles?  What if this is the deeper meaning behind “do this in remembrance of me?”

In Brian McLaren’s book “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World“, he writes of a “table of reconciliation and fellowship” understanding of the Eucharist, rather than an alter based understanding where God demands blood before his anger can be satiated:

[I]n a table-centered eucharistic understanding, atoning or appeasing sacrifices are simply unnecessary.  Nothing need be done to appease a hostile God, because through Christ, God has self-revealed as inherently gracious and kind , seeking reconciliation; not hostile and vengeful, needing appeasement. If we need to speak of sacrifice at all, we speak of it in its root meaning: sacred gift. So as we gather around the eucharistic table, we bond to a meaning very different from that of the conventional eucharistic altar; we bond to the sacred self-giving of a gracious God.  As we remember Jesus, from incarnation to crucifixion (and beyond), we see God’s self-giving to the whole world in Christ. Christ himself is God’s sacred love-gift to the world.  At the communion table, then, we manifest God’s self-giving in Christ.

This understanding frames the Christian mission to be one of friendship to the world, where we invite others to dine with us and to talk out our problems – where we sacrificially give of ourselves in order to solve the problems of the world.  This dramatically alters the sacrifice demanding God so many have to the God of Isaiah 1:18, who says “Come now, let us reason together.”  At the table of reconciliation and fellowship, God is not demanding payment – he is inviting us to talk through our issues over supper with a glass of wine.

5. The Cross

I ache when I think of what so much “Christian” theology has done to the beautiful act of the cross.  Theology all too often warps this into something God wanted–as if God had kept a 10,000 year grudge from the first sin, and couldn’t let go of His anger without some serious blood.  But God never demanded blood, and He never demanded that Jesus die the most gruesome and painful death we could imagine. That was us.  God doesn’t demand payment for sin: we do.  So, in Jesus, God said: “You want payment?  Take me.”

Jesus’ whole life and ministry was about standing up for those who were marginalized by society–the rejects, the outcasts, the sick, the deformed, the poor, those of the unfavored gender, the religiously “other”.  He spent his whole life sticking up for those who couldn’t stick up for themselves.

And the response was that the authority structure scapegoated him–that was us, not God.  So what do we do?  We turn around and try to pin that on God, repeating the scapegoating cycle.  We can’t stand to face the fact that God isn’t anything like us, and that He is remarkably tolerant, and had no part in this.

So we make up some story about how God had to have some blood before He’d be satisfied that our sins had been “paid for”, as if it were some sort of capitalistic transaction.

But there are some questions this idea raises, if that is the actual scenario that occurred.  If this is what happened, then what if we had actually responded to Jesus with acceptance?  What if, instead of being rejected by the Jews in power, they had said “well, you’re obviously a really cool guy–why don’t you take over around here for a while?”  Would Jesus have said “wait, wait, wait…see, there’s this plan. You have to reject me.  See, uh…the big guy upstairs?  He’s not going to be happy unless you reject me and kill me in a really gruesome death!  So uh, let’s try this again.”

And if this was really how it went down, then how is it that the author of 1st John can declare that God is love? (I John 4:8, 16)  How can a being who personifies love be a worse father than most earthly fathers?  I mean, if you heard a story about a Dad who had one son that did something that made him angry, and so he turned around and killed the other so he wouldn’t be angry any more, would you say, “Wow, what a loving father!”, or, “That guy is abusive and needs anger management classes”?

And if God really wanted sins to be “paid for”, why did Jesus quote Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9:13 when he said: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice”?  And why would the author of Hebrews say (in 10:8): “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”?

And the question I had always asked myself before I came to the conclusions I now have about the cross is: what was it about Jesus that made people reject him?  If he was so “meek and mild”, why didn’t they love him?  Why did they see him as a threat?

We’ll come back to that later.

But if we re-frame the cross in its historical background, we may find a different meaning behind it.  In “The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction“, Peter Rollins writes:

For Roman citizens crucifixion was the most potent sign of someone being rejected by the cultural, political, and religious systems of the day, all of which were seen as divinely established. Those who were crucified were treated as complete outsiders. They were to die naked, alone, and in agony. But the execution meant more than torture and death; it was a sign that the one being killed stood outside of the divinely given order.

In contrast the Crucifixion of Christ today is seen as a key justification of a cultural, political, and religious matrix, a matrix that Kierkegaard called “Christendom.” It is difficult for us today to understand the extent to which this mode of execution signaled the exclusion of the victim from all systems of meaning, because it is so much a part of one for us. The Cross is so integrated into our religious, political, and cultural imagination that its reality as a mode of execution that placed the victim outside of these realms is utterly eclipsed. Instead of being a symbol of standing outside all systems of meaning, the Cross is now integrated into a system of meaning.

The cross was where Jesus became the outsider and lost all meaning.

And when he was near the point of death, he cried “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34).  Some may try to turn this into some sort of theater, like Jesus was just quoting a Psalm (Ps. 22:1) in order to fulfill a prophecy,without really thinking God had forsaken him (as if it were said with a wink at the camera).

It's OK, I'm just playing 'forsaken'. Fun stuff. | flickr: lecates

It’s OK, I’m just playing ‘forsaken’. | flickr: lecates

But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus spoke this in Aramaic, which was his native tongue, while the verse was written in Hebrew.  Yes, I’m sure that the author of the gospel narrative meant to give a nod to the Psalm, but he deliberately did it in the wrong language, indicating that Jesus actually felt this way!

Jesus’ whole message up to this point had been that God doesn’t reject anyone–and yet here he is doubting that fact in the very moment of his own torment.  And at the point of Jesus’ complete loss, something remarkable happened–in Matthew 27:51 (paralleled in Mk. 15:38), it says that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

To understand the significance of this, we need to understand what this curtain was.

It was a thick, heavy curtain that separated the “Holy of Holies”–the area of the temple that the Jews believed God physically resided in–from the rest of the temple.  This area was so revered, that only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and only at certain times of the year.  And this curtain was torn.

Many theologians have tried to turn this into a symbol that God was saying “now everyone can have access to me–now that I’ve gotten the blood that I wanted.”  But what if it were indicating something else?  What if the Jewish audience would have realized that this indicated that God was not there?  There was no man behind the curtain–just an empty space.  Where was God?

Out there on that hill, dying from the wounds that the Priestly class had demanded be inflicted on Him, doubting Himself and His own faith.

And instead of accepting how this challenges the paradigm of insiders and outsiders, we turn it into a new system of elites and rejects.

We turn it into a new religion, and we invent this silly thing called the “sinner’s prayer” that’s some kind of magical incantation that gets you in (see Chess Move #7 in my series, Checkmate For Hell).

But everything Jesus had done up to this point demonstrated the truth that the apostle Paul speaks of when he says that “God does not show favoritism.” (Rom. 2:11)  Jesus’ whole life demonstrates the truth of the author of James’ claim that:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
(James 1:27)

And what is “the world” that this author speaks of?  It is the authority structures that create systems of insiders and outsiders!  This is what Jesus stood against throughout his whole ministry!  And what do we do?  We turn Jesus into another system of insiders and outsiders!

I asked, earlier, why someone who was “meek and mild” would be rejected and killed so violently. 

I asked what could have enraged people so much that they would do this.  If you’ve been reading my post and it made you upset, I think you have your answer.

We like our systems of insiders and outsiders–we like to think of ourselves as being favored/elite/inside/special while others are rejected/despised/outside/cursed. 

And when someone threatens those systems, it upsets us.

We don’t want to give up our privilege in order to reach out to our scapegoats. 

We don’t want to face up to the fact that we have hurt others unjustly.

We want to be thought of as righteous and holy while those we have cast out are evil and dirty.

We don’t want to give up our reasons for making other people outcast–we want those reasons vindicated.

And when someone calls on us to reconsider these paradigms, it makes us uncomfortable.

We don’t want to think of ourselves as intolerant, so we crucify the prophetic voices calling us to extend God’s radically tolerant love to the outcasts.

So we bicker over doctrine and ritual.  But the mark of one who follows Jesus is not that they believe the right doctrine or observe the right rituals–it’s that they love (see John 13:35).  I John 4:7-8 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.

The religion of Christ calls us to cast off all our privilege and status–to reject categories and religions that separate one human from another–and to simply love our fellow man. The religion of Christ calls us to see Him in others who love – even if they don’t call themselves Christians.

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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 - and is proud to have been called a “dangerous hairy tick”.

 

 

 

 

What did you think of Geoff’s article? We welcome your comments!

Magic Jesus…

Brett Gallaher —  July 6, 2013 — 5 Comments

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Yesterday one of my co-workers told me something. He said he no longer believed in Jesus. My natural reaction was, “Jesus? Like, you don’t believe he existed?” My friend went on to say that he no longer believed in God, Jesus, the Trinity, or anything like that anymore. Whether Jesus, the charismatic neighborhood rabbi from the 1st Century Palestinian “block” existed or not was of no consequence to him. He no longer believed in Christ, the God-Man, or as I like to call him…

“Magic Jesus”.

His reasoning was, as is usually the case, the amount of suffering in his own life and the world around him. He said he’s not worried about blaming it on a god anymore. He doesn’t believe in it anymore. He’s just going to “live life” he said. And I don’t blame him.

Now, I am not saying I share his dim outlook, but I understand the exhaustion that comes with trying to make excuses for a deity (or a set of beliefs about a deity) that seems distant, oblivious, unable, or unwilling to give a damn about the rest of us down here. “He’s God. He doesn’t need defending,” some say (ironically in a defensive tone). But basically it just comes off as “God is good even if all evidence points to him being a jerk.”

Let’s not let him off the hook this time. After all, “Magic Jesus” should be able to show up and do something. Let’s call it like it is. He’s not doing a good enough job.

Christians and atheists alike are tired of Magic Jesus ruining their lives. Instead of the human Jesus being a symbol of what we can all strive to achieve, his influence has been usurped by a narcissistic and easily offended long-haired Swedish Superman knockoff, only interested in weekly self-help seminars with a cover charge. 

Depending on your preferred model, Magic Jesus may even tell you who to vote for, which news outlets are biased, and who isn’t allowed to get married. How does he know all of this? Because he’s magic. 

I am going to suggest something radical. Believing in a certain type of Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person. It also has no bearing on who Jesus actually is/was. If I think he’s magic, that doesn’t make him any more or less divine. It is simply an expression of my current state of mind. That state of mind does not reflect how “on track” or “off track” our spiritual health may be at any given moment. 

If you think my friend is “struggling” spiritually because he no longer believes in (magic) Jesus, then you may be missing the larger point. People have been “Jesus’d”. People have tried for years, since childhood, to come to know, understand, and love Jesus. Some end up wide-eyed in a church camp crying out to God while others run screaming out the door because they can’t pretend any longer. Neither of these two extremes or anyone in-between is any “better” or “worse”; they have run the gauntlet of the Jesus experience, and here they stand, sometimes with the living crap knocked out of them. 

Would you stand over them with your finger pointing down, conjuring the spells of your warlock?

I challenge you to consider that life is more than what we believe. Whether there are gods watching over us or not, we must look out for each other. If there are indeed gods, let them ponder our great love, more powerful than any magician.

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ImageBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Cleveland, Tennessee, the second largest Cleveland in the United States. 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. 

The Law of Love…

Brett Gallaher —  June 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

 

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There’s nothing quite like being ‘in need’ to remind me of what’s really wrong with Christianity: failure to love.
 
There. I said it. And I’m pretty sure each one of us who counts themselves freestanding from the mainstream Jesus culture has—at least to some degree—thought the same thing.
 
Notionally, the Christian faith is one of love and grace, forgiveness and action. It is a “do something” religion focused on seeing the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, now. It is completely summed up in the Law of Love:
 
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40
 
Yet Jesus people are frequently maligned as being hypocritical, unforgiving, judgmental and far less compassionate than their secular counterparts. For good reason. I have often heard fellow Christians defend their lack of love as a misunderstanding. As if “the world” cannot truly grasp tough love and personal responsibility. As if helping a brother or sister in need requires an evaluation of that person’s morality or righteousness. As if Christ’s Law of Love comes with a caveat, even though it was Jesus who said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
 
This great love for a neighbor, this central love for each other… what does it look like? What kind of action might such a love compel? While I might like to quote Paul with surety and tell you that Christian love is indeed patient, kind and everything First Corinthians 13 says it is, I’ve learned that such love in times of need is very hard to find. I wonder if this isn’t because Christians have so idealized love that they imagine it to always feel good, even easy to extend love or assistance to others.
 
What is love? People often say God is love but in the same breath that he condemns us to eternal punishment. I cannot call that love. The best definition I’ve heard comes from Mastin Kipp. He often says that love is the acceptance of what is and love has no opposite. That is not to say that there is no right or wrong, no ethics or morals to be practiced. But the action of love is free from the act of judgment. We accept ourselves and others from wherever we are at, if we love. We deal with reality. We deal with need.
 
Just last week, I found myself jobless, homeless, broke and disoriented within new surroundings. My significant other and I found ourselves in need of a roof, a bed, a couch, a floor—just about anything to not be on the streets or in the car at night. There were some offers of assistance until people learned there were two people as opposed to one needing a place to stay. Others were uncomfortable with what they viewed as our sinfulness or irresponsibility, and so they did not want to get involved. A lot of people said they wished they could help us, but we’d be in their prayers, and I speculate how many people actually prayed for us. Some friends simply said nothing.
 
This is an entirely foreign world to me and I have no interest in justifying, explaining, or defending my position of being a human being in crisis. I do not believe Jesus applied conditions to his Law of Love, nor do I believe Christ followers ought to waste energy analyzing whether they should or shouldn’t give aid to people in trouble.
 
This whole experience has made me evaluate my beliefs and propensity to action regarding love for my fellow man. Do I look for excuses to not inconvenience myself on behalf of others? Do I judge the worthiness of their need? Do I refuse to help those whom I think deserve to live with the consequences of their actions? If and when I do such things, how can I claim to be anything but a clanging cymbal? How can I talk about occupying Jesus if I will not occupy love?
 
Here at We Occupy Jesus, none of us are perfect people. None of us have the answers. That is not a cop-out. That is not an excuse. We may have more questions than answers, but we still ask the questions. We sift the answers for truth. I see this Wojian movement as an exploration of faith and love and social action among individuals from different spiritual paths. We are pantheists, atheists, Christians, Buddhists, theologians, secularists, superheroes, pranksters, and everything in between. We are human expressions of a Divine Love.
 
The remarkable thing about the Divinity of Love is that it does not require belief in any higher power, nor does it negate such a belief. We can all agree that life is somehow sweeter, more complete, a little more of how it should be, when we allow our lives to be ruled by the Law of Love. When we give without reservation, when we offer open arms to prodigals, and when we quit trying to scrutinize the best method to love. Heaven comes down to Earth when you and I give love, unabashedly.
 
At this point in my life, I put my trust in love and from wherever I’m at, I try to occupy Jesus. That’s right, I said try, much to Master Yoda’s chagrin. Still I hope to become more empathetic and action-oriented through my experiences of deficiency and adversity.
 
And so, once I get back on my feet, should you ever have the need, you are more than welcome to crash on my couch.
 
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ImageShannon Ashley is the Director of Social Media for We Occupy Jesus. An aspiring writer, she is currently acclimating herself to life in the “Deep South” of Eastern Tennessee. Of course, she has been told repeatedly that Tennessee does not qualify as part of the Deep South, but like most hipster Minnesotans, she’s just not interested in semantics. When Shannon isn’t kicking ass for Wojian pursuits, she’s working on her novel (no, really!) or dreaming about the finer things in life, like non-toxic, fair trade products and super cute Hello Kitty merchandise. Follow her on Twitter @jashleyshannon.

 

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This is a futile attempt to persuade my conservative friends, that I love and respect dearly, to rethink their position on homosexuality. Regardless of my personal stance on the bible, I will use theirs for a starting point for my attempt at dialogue.

Let’s begin with a little logic. A major argument against homosexuality is that the bible is against it. For a person that holds the bible as divinely authoritative, this at face value is a good argument. However, it quickly falls apart once we look at other things the bible both prohibits and condones. There are many prohibitions such as eating certain foods, a woman’s menstrual cycle, touching a dead body, touching people with skin diseases, women teaching men, blood transfusions, wearing the opposite sexes clothing, farming with a donkey and ox on the same yoke, divorce, not making loans to someone inside their house, and no work of any kind on Saturday, or any type of physical religious imagery such as a cross. You are probably beginning to see the point, yet there are also many things the bible condones such as women viewed as property, the rights of owning slaves, the right to kill children, and adults alike for certain offenses, polygamy, temple prostitutes both male and female so long as they are not from Israel, the killing of animals, child sacrifice, etc.

Many forms of oppression are even justified by some Christian thinkers. This is seen very early on, in account of slavery (Gen 9:20). St. Augustine argued that slavery was justified because of the sin of the person enslaved. One might say that was over 1500 years ago. However just three hundred years ago, Stephen Haynes justified slavery by attributing it as a punishment for sexual sin, and assigning Ham the decedent of Noah as someone of dark skin. James Henly Thornwell in the 1800′s declared that Christians supported slavery and atheist opposed it. Even post Civil war Robert Lewis Dabney defended slavery based on his interpretations of the bible, by saying: “Every hope of the existence of Church, and of State and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of Negro suffrage.”

It would appear another minority group had to suffer even longer and were oppressed even greater at the hand of the biblical text, and in many mainline denominations are still oppressed today. It’s not uncommon today to hear debates going on as to if a woman should be able or capable of pastoring a church or being president of a country. Aside from all the verses in the New Testament that speak of women covering their heads and remaining silent, there is also the Genesis 3 account where women are blamed for the fall of humankind. Christians are ironically hung up on this, although this seems ludicrous since without said event there would be no need of that redeemer they love so much. Moving on, early church theologian Tertullian declared Eve as the origin of sin and women as the devil’s gateway. Cotton Mather suggested that women should only express their views in private that the public realm was reserved for men. Foremost Princeton theologian Charles Hodge not only opposed women’s suffrage, but public education and abolitionism. Theologian Robert Dabney argued God’s curse on Eve was applicable to women for all time. Now we see all of these theologians and pastors although they may have been using the bible, they were using it poorly and hardly perceiving the egalitarian message put forth by Jesus of Nazareth. If nothing else John Calvin got one thing right: “There are many statements in Scripture the meaning of which depends upon their context.”

Using this same logic, it should be obvious that the same thing is happening again to the Homosexual community. However, it would appear once again too many people are not studying the evidence for themselves.

Let’s move away from this logical argument of why we should accept homosexuality and look at the biblical text itself. Perhaps it would be best to go through seven relavent texts chronologically. Let’s begin with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. For centuries it has been suggested the reason the city was destroyed was because of its sinful homosexual behavior. This is said to be because the town’s people tried to rape two visiting angels. Yet this is not a story about homosexuality or even rape. Rape was a practice used by one’s enemies to show dominance over that person, to show one’s authority; it’s a reflection of the misogynist society in which the bible was being written. But the real point of the story is about hospitality. It is actually contrasting Gen 18; this is why Lot offers his own daughters. A different version of this story is found in Judges 19, to which when the men are approached about his guest. He replies with “Do not act wickedly since this man is my guest; do not humiliate him” once again the emphasis being upon hospitality and the patriarchal structure of the society. Nowhere in the bible are the sins of Sodom related to homosexuality but rather: greed, injustice, inhospitality, excess wealth, and indifference to the poor. Even Jesus in Luke 10 and Matt 10 refers to the sins of Sodom as the refusal of hospitality to travelers.

Now to approach possibly the most common text used when condemning homosexuality and homosexuals: the Dueteronomistic and Levitical codes (also known as the holiness codes). These issues I will deal with collectively, considering they encompass the same passage. It is important to understand how the holiness codes function and their contextual understanding as well. The underlining purpose was to be different from the Egyptians from whom they had just escaped and to not mix with the Canaanites whose land they had now overtaken through mass slaughter of the Canaanite people. The overall purpose was that Israelites should not intermarry with non-Israelites. They understood this as no mixing of any kind, hence why we get passages forbidding two different garments intertwined together. Another point, illustrated by Victor Paul Furnish of Perkins School of Theology, is that engaging in homosexual behavior was punishable by death because it meant a man was being passive rather than dominant, passivity being the role assigned to women. So by mixing genders a cultural boundary had been crossed. It is also important to look at the word typically translated as Abomination: the Hebrew word transliterated as toevah. The word refers to something that makes a person ritually unclean, such as eating shrimp, planting two different seeds, a women’s menstrual cycle, wearing cotton and wool, or having intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating. Abomination is a violation of ritual codes, not moral codes. This ritual purity was necessary to distinguish the Israelites from their pagan neighbors and the Egyptians. However this is not what Jesus seemed to be concerned with: “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out”, “What comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart… but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matt. 15). So if we understand Jesus as a fulfillment of the law (Matt 5:17) we understand that our challenge is not meticulously to maintain culturally conditioned laws by means of proof-texting, but to love God and love our Neighbor (Matt 22). People who pick and choose verses from the Old Testament with today standards fail to understand the ancient cultural conditioned code that is not applicable to them today and their circumstances. This error can cause harm to a great many people, such as those with mental and physical illnesses, disability, women, children, and obviously homosexuals.

To move onward to the New Testament one should have a small understanding of linguistics and the koine Greek language. Both in the Greek and in the Hebrew there is no word for homosexual. In Corinthians 1 the words transliterated as Arsenokoites, and Malakos both occur, and in Timothy 1 the word aresnokoites recurs. The word aresnokoites is a compound word of arsen (meaning male), and koites (meaning bed). This would imply a translation of a man who goes to bed, otherwise known as a male prostitute. This does not imply homosexuality. Prior to this the word arsenokoites can not even be found. To say that this compound word means homosexuality is as absurd as suggesting the English word “understand” means being under something and/or standing. Dale Martin, a Greek scholar, after analyzing many Greek texts both secular and Christian, concludes that the term is probably some type of economic exploitation by sexual means such as rape, or sex by economic coercion, prostitution, or pimping. This is supported by the next verse that speaks of slave trading once again exploitation. No one should conclude at face value that this term means homosexual. The word Malakos which is found much more frequently is much easier to understand. It literally mean soft and connotes a type of effeminacy. So to assume that this is in reference to homosexuality is quite a stretch of the imagination. For example, a high school coach may call his young athletes “girls”, “sissies”, “ladies” but none of the boys on the team are these things in actuality. It is to break them down and humiliate them. This is essentially the same thing happening in the text. Contemporary scholars would be rightly embarrassed to invoke effeminacy as a moral category today. This is once again merely a reflection of the culture in which the bible was being written.

Now for one last verse in the New Testament to deal with, Romans 1. Once again we find the Pauline writer making statements that seem unfounded when looking at today’s technology and science. Many theologians conclude that Paul’s major concern in this verse is not what is natural to man as we might understand it. Natural, for Paul, is synonymous with unconventional, therefore the writer is not talking about a violation of the order of creation. The Greek word used for nature is physis which is hardly a synonym for ktisis, the Greek word for creation. So when Paul speaks of Natural he is speaking of what was conventional for the Hellenistic Jewish cultural. 

Moving onward from the biblical text I suppose it is time to look at some hard science. Many Christians try to hide the fact that in 1993, the Gay gene Xq28 was discovered and 70% of homosexuals carry this gene. This becomes quite problematic for the typical pragmatic argument from Christians and other conservatives that this is a life choice rather than innate. With the discovery of this gene, it seemingly refutes any notion of being gay being a choice. However I’ll play fair and point out that they still leaves 30% of homosexuals that do not have this gene. What would this mean, that all homosexuals should be tested for the gene to see if they actually are sinners or not? The absurdity of this is astounding, but where do we draw the line? I’ll even go a step further and point out that some people who have been tested for this gene do not participate in homosexual behavior and are self proclaimed as heterosexual. However, this hardly seems to refute anything considering many of our genes remain dormant until a certain age and sometimes until death, such as genes associated with cancers and tumors. More awkwardly, for one to conclude that homosexual is not natural is  ignoring all the animals in nature that participate in homosexual activities: black swans, mallards, gulls, penguins, dolphins, bison, bonobo, elephants, giraffes, macaque, lions, polecat, sheep, hyena, dragon flies, lizards, fruit flies, etc.

Lastly I suppose I’ll explore the soft sciences such as psychology and sociology. There are several studies done on birth order, twins, the absences of the fathers, antigens, and antibodies on feminization of the fetus, penis envy, that do not classify homosexuality as a disease or mental illness, but as something that is innate to human biology. I will just point out a few psychological and sociological organizations that do not believe homosexuality is a myth or a choice: The American medical association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers. All these groups oppose attempts at reparative therapy and support the notion that homosexuality is not a choice that can simply be changed through therapy.

To tie things up, I’ll leave on a quote of a well know Christian philosopher and theologian: “the bible is the word of god, speaking through the words of human beings speaking through the idioms of their time, and the richness of it is that we don’t take it as literally so.” – Desmund Tutu.

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ImageCasey Blaylock is a native of Tennessee and a Lee University graduate with a bacholars of art in Biblical Studies and Theology. He is fascinated with all forms of philosophy including political and metaphysical. He also wields a great passion for both high end craft beer and fine wines.
Currently Reading: Matthew Fox; The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.

Headphones…

Brett Gallaher —  February 16, 2013 — 4 Comments

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Has a song ever changed your life? There are so many. For a moment, try to number them. How many have you heard in your lifetime? How many tunes have you hummed? You may find yourself in the same predicament as Abraham, given the task of numbering the stars. Yet you have your own playlist, most likely comprised of a handful of songs that always seem to prevail over the others. These are the melodies that brought you peace and comfort, rejuvenation and inspiration. But ever so often, a song comes along that changes everything. 

I think music is so very powerful because it takes us to places in our mind we are not ready to find in life. We are temporarily transported to another realm. There, true love has conquered. Fears are overcome. Death is romanticized. Pain is removed. New life is found. Other times it represents places in our past we could otherwise never visit again. Long lost friends are found there. Time and space must retreat momentarily. We become their masters. 

We can gaze out over the vast and epic sea, oblivious to the worlds unknown that lie beyond. We can sit on the shore, headphones in our ears. We lie and tell ourselves nothing is out there. We see only water both to the east and to the west. Everything is known. The same songs, the same ocean of life. Any musician can tell you, music is another language. It is another world entirely. It is not something that can be simply learned, but discovered gradually. While there are a finite number of songs, there are infinite ways to experience them. 

So it goes with God.

Do I mean to reduce God to a song? By no means. I do not even mean to suggest I can know God exists. Yet, imagine that we both sit side by side, feet in the sand. One of us has headphones in, the other simply listens to the roar of the waves crashing against the shoreline. One of us sings a song the other cannot hear.

“There is no song. All I hear is your voice in the midst of the waves,” one says.
“There is only the song,” replies the other. “All I see is a silent sea.”

Who is right? We can never hear all that can be heard. We can never know all there is to know. We can never see all there is to see. 

If we proclaim to know with certainty there are no gods watching over us, this does not give us reign over reason, mastery over the elements, status above the faithful. We do, however, look at the vast ocean of life quite differently, with different songs in our head than others. 

If we have divine visitation, a revelation that worlds do in fact lie beyond the deep blue horizon, we may look suspiciously at our brother who gawks at such mariner tales. How can they not see what we see? We can feel it in the air. 

Each new song should remind us that we are but travelers in a foreign land, that there is more beauty to be found than previously thought. When someone tells you about God, they are singing a song only they can hear. Their song is not God, but the song still plays. Who are we to say their song was never meant to be written? It just may be the tune that saves them.

Or saves you.

But how can a song save us? It just may vanquish the deafening silence of despair, depression, and darkness. It just may remind us that there is always more to life than what we’ve made it out to be. It just may remind us that life is to be experienced, to be discovered, to be sung.

And none of us are wearing matching headphones.