Sunday, September 17, 2023

Freedom Love and Morality

           Love cannot be love unless it has a choice. Choice requires freedom to choose, which can be very scary, especially in the face of so much potential for ‘wrong choices’. In our contemporary western culture we have turned this freedom inward-“I have the right to”-as opposed to upward (to God) and outward (to our brothers and sisters, particularly those less well off). 

          Contemporary Republicans, while claiming the moral high ground, have been systematically eliminating true freedom to choose; freedom ‘to choose’ has been replaced by freedom ‘from choice’, which isn’t freedom at all. Behavior control has become the ‘new freedom’ which, on the surface, may look like saving us from our own bad choices but, in reality, is nothing more than a platform for scoring political points.  

(Cf. Isaiah 30:21”And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it;  Psalm 32:8,9 “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.”)

        True morality, like true love, also requires freedom to choose (Cf. Colossians 2:8; 23: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ..…These [regulations] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.”

      Jesus taught ‘checking self-indulgence’; Jesus also required personal choice from all his followers “…does this offend you…do you wish also to go away?” (John 6:61; 67); to which the answer must always be “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”(vs.68).

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Too Radical

 “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

Colossians 1:13;15-16

As a conservative evangelical Christian I struggled with the meaning of Colossians 1:13. What exactly is the ‘dominion of darkness’? The radio preachers I was listening to at the time weren’t much help; it seemed to me they had all lived charmed Christian lives since childhood, never struggled with personal sin and, as a result, specialized in theory (renamed ‘theology’). I had a head full of knowledge-head knowledge-but no real transformation. Eventually I came to believe they were all saying something different and just quit listening altogether. 

All this was happening in the ‘90’s, a time when evangelicals appropriated the old hippie counterculture phrase “tune in, turn out, and drop out”. They had the ‘drop out’ part down pat-‘Christian music’ (most of which was very poorly produced, although there were a few bright spots), Christian books, Christian TV. You name it-slap the word’Christian’ in front of anything and you had instant credibility among the faithful. I actually had a ‘Christian’ yellow pages for businesses. 

I’m sorry not say my local Presbyterian church-where I was ordained as an elder-was not much help either (long story there). Eventually, much to the chagrin of my family, I reclaimed my Catholic faith. I might have been ok there but after my marriage broke up and I remarried (another long story) that avenue was closed to me, and to my new wife (also Catholic).

I’m not sure exactly what happened, or how, or even when (perhaps the culture shock of moving bro Northwest Florida) but I suspect it was a combination of discovering an excellent Presbyterian church where my wife and I were fully welcomed, my time as an adult student at Geneva College, and finally coming under the influence of the writings of Richard Rohr and N.T.Wright. Whatever the reasons, slowly a transformation in my thinking occurred.

The Gospel, simply put, is this. God came down and showed us how God intends for us to live. God allowed himself to be tortured, executed, and was resurrected so we can live the life he showed us. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Homelessness and the Kingdom of God

  I work part time in a local homeless shelter that provides street outreach services three days a week to those in our community experiencing homelessness. During the last few years we’ve had several clients pass. Hold that thought; I’ll be coming back to it shortly. For now I’d like to say a few words about the Kingdom of God and the nature of salvation.

Most-if not all-of us (I’m speaking to Christians here) were raised or taught to believe that if we live a certain way, believed certain things, pray certain prayers, we will be assured a place in heaven. By extension we were raised or taught or have come to believe that anyone who does not live the same way or believe the same things or pray the same prayers we do will be assured a place in hell. Based on my understanding of the Bible-particularly the Gospels-I no longer believe this to be true.

I believe, again, based on my understanding of the Bible, the Gospels, and my life experiences, places in heaven are assigned by God, and God assigns them to whom God will without consulting with us first. I further believe it is our purpose in life-our vocation, if you will-to demonstrate God’s presence on earth, here, now, in whatever place and circumstance we find ourselves. Which leads me back to our homeless shelter, and our clients who have passed.

I firmly believe our clients, no matter how distasteful we may find them, are sent to us by God to teach us humility and how to love unconditionally (and I will be the first to admit those things are often particularly difficult for me). Which leads me to my main-and final-point.

I fully expect to see our clients again, in heaven. The first thing I intend to do is seek their forgiveness for failing to love them the way Messiah Jesus loves me and expects me to love others. And, because they will have spent much time in God’s unfiltered presence, I fully expect to be forgiven.

Pax et Bonum

Peace and All Good  

Sunday, April 23, 2023

When He Speaks Our Name

 “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb…But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb…she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).”

John 20:1; 14-16 (NRSV).

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, Jesus was dead. This must be fully understood, or nothing wonderful can come from this story. Friday should have been the end of it. Except it wasn’t. Jerusalem and Rome, religious authority and civil authority, conspired to murder God. Let that sink in for a minute-God allowing himself to be murdered. But just for a minute, that’s not our main point. 

Apart from 1Peter 9-20, which is difficult for us moderns to understand and has little bearing on our present meditation, we don’t know exactly what happened between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. We do know this: John tells us Mary was first to arrive and last to leave. In between coming and going, she encounters the risen Jesus and mistakes him for the gardener. 

Which is one way to read our passage. Another way to read it is Jesus was intentionally masquerading as the gardener. Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus until Jesus speaks her name. Now, this does have modern day implications for modern day readers. 

First, on the ‘passive’ side, we ask the question: who masquerades as Jesus in our everyday lives? Do we-can we-recognize Jesus walking among us disguised as a gardener, or a fast food worker, or a homeless person, a delinquent child, a pastor or politician or police officer? Do we recognize his voice when our name is spoken?

Second, on the ‘active’ side, are we allowing Jesus to walk about masquerading as us? Who hears Jesus speak when we speak? Who sees Jesus act when we act? “

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:24-17 (NRSV).

Those of us who claim the title ‘Christian’, who claim to be a part of that ancient faith, who aspire to be followers of Christ Jesus, must keep these questions in the forefront of our thoughts, words and deeds at all times. Notice the order here. Thoughts. Words. Deeds.

Amen. Let it be so.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Erosion of Freedom

 Genesis 3:3-6 (NRSV)

“…God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…”

The phrase “I have the right to” is just another way to eat the fruit in the garden with Eve. That is to say, it’s all about me, the ego-driven me that needs to have its own way. The irony is, individual rights and freedoms are being stripped away, one by one, unseen, unrealized, by the masses precisely because they are so focused on ‘I have the right to’ they can see nothing else. 

Jesus says “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness

(that is, seek what will gain God’s approval). What is it that gains God’s approval? 

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NET)

“Jesus said to him, “ʻLove the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.ʼ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ʻLove your neighbor as yourself.ʼ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Pro Life or Pro Birth

 Psalms 139:13-14 (NRSV)

“For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.”

Many in the pro-birth camp like to pull out these verses as Biblical justification. But if we follow these verses home and see where they live, and compare them with the following lines from Paul, we see a slightly different picture. 

Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Colossians 3:10 (NRSV)

“…[clothe] yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

And there’s more.

Galatians 5:6 (NRSV)

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.“. 

The point is firmly established here as well.

Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)

“So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.”

And again Paul says:

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Formed my inward parts. Fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God. Renewed in knowledge. Created in Christ for good works of faith working through love. Fully known even now by our Creator. Life affirming. Beginning to end. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Be Not Afraid

     Both sets of my grandparents-my mom’s parents and my dad’s parents-immigrated from Europe in, I believe, the early 1900’s (I could be off a bit on the dates). That was back in the days when, if the customs officials couldn’t pronounce a last name they changed it to Smith or Jones. The complex where Ginny and I lived before we moved to Florida became home to immigrants from all over the world-Iraq, Bosnia, Nepal, Russia, India. 

I noticed a interesting phenomenon common to those immigrant families and my immigrant family. The first generation-the elders, my grandparents-retained most if not all their European customs including the language (so they were English-as-second language). The second generation-my parents-retained the the language-as a second language-and some of the customs but were well on the way to ‘Americanization’. By the third generation-me-we we’re completely Americanized (much to my later regret I never learned my grandparents’ languages). Although I didn’t realize it at the time it was a wonderfully rich way to grow up.

I saw the same progression in the immigrant families who lived in my neighborhood. They got jobs, opened small ethnic shops (with lots of really good stuff), bought houses. And when they bought those houses they moved all three generations in. Our school district had an English-as-second-language program that was a model for the entire state. Now, I haven’t been back for several years but when I left things were moving along nicely in a positive direction. 

I say all that to say this-I’m not afraid of becoming a racial (or ethnic-probably already am) minority in my country. Immigrants bring in a richness and diversity that benefits all those willing to embrace it. At our core we are all basically the same. We are all quite literally God’s children and it should be apparent to anyone with a modicum of Biblical knowledge-anyone paying attention-that God loves diversity. So to those who say we are no longer a ‘Christian nation’, I wholeheartedly agree. Where we disagree is why.