December 11, 2017

Christmas is not a pagan holiday...

So, it's that wonderful time of year. Trees, lights, presents, family meals, etc. Christmas carols, Advent candles, midnight Christmas Eve church services. Things that many people look forward to since the previous year. But not everyone thinks this is a wonderful time of year. Today I'm writing about a subset of Christians who think this is a time of malevolence and deviltry. You know who I'm talking about; the people who start railing that "Christmas" is a pagan holiday, stolen by the Romans to make it easier to draw pagans into the Byzantine empire. I've heard this for many years now, and have known some who are militant in attacking everything about Christmas. I think they're horribly misguided, and I'm going to lay out just three of the reasons why I believe that to be true.

1. Christmas refutes anti-semitism.

What could be more Jewish than to be born, circumcised on the eighth day of life, and to learn Torah in the Temple under the most learned of scholars of the day? To declare that the moneychangers in the Temple are defiling "My Father's house?" To quote the prophets to the Pharisees, telling them to "go and learn what this means; I desire mercy, not sacrifice?"

Marcion of Sinope (c. 85- c. 160) was the first major anti-semite voice in the church. He denied that the God of the Old Testament ( יַהְוֶה, Yahweh, YHWH, Elohim, etc.) was the "Father" of whom Jesus spoke. He referred to the OT God as the "demiurge" who created the physical world, while the "Father" to whom Jesus referred was a completely alien deity not in contact with our universe outside of His creation Jesus.

Matthew and Luke take pains to give us a genealogy of Jesus that shows He is of King David, and of Abraham. Why would this be important enough to write about were it not to demonstrate that Jesus IS, not was, a Jew?

2. Christmas refutes Gnosticism.

Gnosticism posits that the physical and spiritual realms are entirely different and separate from each other. It also holds that the man Jesus and the spirit Christ are two entirely separate and different persons. In this way, they claim that the "Christ" did not suffer death on the cross, or decay in the tomb.

What could be more "physical" about an existence that to be born, nursed as a baby, be cleaned up as any other baby, and to go through the physical rituals of Judaism? If Christ was nothing other than a spirit which descended upon the man Jesus, then why do the Gospels spend any time at all discussing His birth?  Why would an angel have appeared to the shepherds proclaiming "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, The Lord" and "Glory to God in the highest Heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" had this not been the true presence of God in physical form on the Earth?

3. Equating Christmas with Paganism is superstitious.

If, and this is a big if, we actually believe what the Bible says about Jesus and our salvation, then why would we fear a supposedly pagan holiday when we have been told, Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." (Hebrews 2:14,15)

The devil has been rendered powerless, and we are no longer slave to the fear of death. How then shall a supposition of paganism in a holiday affect us? In Colossians, Paul wrote, " See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10\and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority" and, "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." Christmas and any religious opinions of it are dim images of what is to come, and these dim images are sanctified because their essence belongs to Jesus, who has freed us from the slavery of the fear of death.

Enjoy the holidays. Live a life of "Peace on Earth, and goodwill towards men."
Proclaim Glory to God in the highest because God is with us.
Smile, and enjoy the wide-eyed children looking at lights and Santa Claus.

As Therese of Lisieux put it, may we all become victims of Love.

April 7, 2017

In Defense of Love

As happens occasionally when my two brain cells collide, my thoughts got sparked yesterday during a conversation with my best friend, accomplice in thoughtcrime and philosophical conversation partner, Ed. We use these conversations to have a sounding board to crystallize our own thoughts most often, and sometimes find a new avenue of exploration. Yesterday, Ed's lead-in was a topic we really haven't covered specifically on its own: the dichotomy in the contemporary American church of a wrathful and punishing God that is the darling of fundamentalists and new Calvinists, and the newer trend of seeing God as love and nothing more. The thing we immediately agreed upon is that the church in America needs to have more discourse in seeking a viewpoint of God that has balance. (Yes, I know that there are plenty of churches that discuss God in this manner, but it's not the viewpoint that gets much publicity.)

So, let's dispense with some preliminaries. First, God is as perfectly balanced as can be possible, simply because of His nature. The problem lies in how we perceive and define that balance. Second, that in His nature He is ineffable, that we can never truly define or comprehend that nature. Given those points, the problem lies not in God or His nature, but how we perceive Him, present Him, and live in Him.

Addressing the three previous problem I mentioned, perception and presentation are inextricably linked. Much of our perception is based on how He has been presented to us by others, and by our own experience in our earlier lives. Likewise, the presentations given us are formed by those people's experiences and how God was presented to them. These perceptions and experiences are powerful enough to persist through our whole lives, even in contradictory experience and evidence. But, at some point in our lives, to become mature in our spiritual belief, we must put our ideas to some rigorous examination. That is what I wish to discuss here.

However we do perceive God, we must consider how we might perceive God. When we look to scripture to see who and how God is, we always view this through the lens of our experience, learning, and environment. As we gain maturity in mind, soul, and spirit, we become able to choose the lens with which we view the scriptural portrayal. I was raised in a church culture of legalism; the Bible said what it said, and that was it. As I aged, I realized that we all tend to cherry-pick the scripture to support our internal viewpoint; we give more weight to some scripture than others, even when we deny that fact. Several years ago, I was challenged to consider Grace in its fullest, and to look at scripture through that lens.

This led me to try and reconcile some scriptures that are seemingly in contradiction. But the conclusion that I came to is that there is one over-arching concept and several subordinate concepts with which we might want to view scripture and God. All through the Bible we read that God is (wise, angry, tender, protective, saving, condemning, joyful, sad, ever-faithful, wrathful, etc.); a list of adjectives. These adjectives describe God in terms we can grasp, but not in His fullness. God = adjective, a word that only describes an aspect of His. However in 1 John (as well as 2&3 John and 1&2 Peter) we see God equated with a noun: "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 John 4:8. This is an equation God = love. From the context, we can also deduce that love = God, since not loving equals not knowing God. This is not a description of an aspect of God, it is a declaration of His essential being.

Since the basic essence necessarily underlies, informs, and controls His aspects, it may be very beneficial to us to view Him through that essence, and then fit His aspects into that viewpoint. This can bring a greater depth of understanding to the seeming contradictions we may see in scripture, and bring a deeper wisdom and compassion into how we live in and present Him. We can find a balance between the "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" God of Johnathan Edwards and the laissez faire flower-child God of the nouveau hippies.

But, truly finding this balance in our view of God requires a drastic internal shift. Subordinating our ideas of God's aspects under the idea of love as God's essential being is a radical idea from any side. For some it might mean diminishing concepts of punishment and wrath under the essence of love. For others, it can mean bringing ideas of justice and judgment into the idea of love. For all of us, it needs to inform our internal and external reactions to others.

How does this work out in our everyday lives? That's the hard thing. Should we refuse to use violence to defend the defenseless? I certainly think not. There's nothing loving about allowing someone to be injured, nor to continue allowing someone to injure others. Mahayana Buddhists understand that very well. This is bringing the uncomfortable aspects of God under the essence of love.

What about the other side? Should we confront "sin" in others when no one is being harmed? (Yes, I'm talking about gay people here, not alcoholics, addicts, or other people causing a real and tangible harm to themselves and others) Putting the Law and judgment underneath God's nature as love itself demands that we not cast any stones unless we are without sin. That's the point Jesus was making, IMO. This brings the essence of love to the uncomfortable aspects.

All of that was merely my long argument in support of having the tough discussions about God to reconcile his essence and aspects in our faith communities and relationships. It's far too easy to preach and defend and extreme, but these extremes ultimately wind up hollow and unfulfilling. The narrow path demands we walk between these extremes, and this is where Christ has asked us to follow him.

Love your neighbors as you love yourself.
So, love yourself.
Love God with all your heart.
God is love, so where love is, there God is.
May His peace be with us all.

March 23, 2017

The Human Stock Show

Grey and drizzling, I approach you, a smile and a
Quick turn away the welcome given me
Provisions are needed for this journey
However long or short it may be

Your guards arrive, an unsecret service of
Your protection, not knowing the stranger beside
Walking hesitantly, masked in my unease
In plain sight, I struggle to hide

Swerving through the herd of steel and bone
You laugh, they laugh, I can only smile
Abducted from my better judgment
I am both safe and on trial

Wet crowds pour through the sieve of
Counting and control, into the concrete
Pasture of color and light, wandering
With purpose as the footstep's beat

A march of hunger to feed the senses
With sound light color taste scent
We feed, we wait, we watch the rain
The herd huddles under a tent

The corral awaits, a funnel for eyes
Ears hands feet hearts heads
Tension oppresses; in your hair
there is a kiss to relieve the dread

In the arena, we live through pain pleasure
Fear treasure disappointment relief delight
Memories spring from music, songs bring
Wistful nostalgia, old smiles shine bright
We arise to cross the bridge of sighs; you
Relax, our hands join to enter the night

March 22, 2017

To Dream, Perchance to Sleep...

Silence screams at me, a painless deafening hush
I turn away, searching for quiet in the quiet
The flesh is weak, the strong mind weaker still
Talking to myself, I cannot listen

I screams at I, pain roaring in my soul
I turn to nowhere, peace laughing at peace
Flesh becomes strong, Mind strengthens Mind
Talking to myself, I hear every silent word

Sleep snores at me, an amused whimpering quiver
I turn towards it, smiling at its simplicity
Bones creak and pop, Mind sinks into its Flesh
Pulling sleep towards me, I enjoy its contented sigh

Sleep walks away from me, when did he arrive?
I turn to somewhere, finding only Sleep's oppression
Flesh pulls at Bone, barely able to speak to Mind
Speaking to Sleep, He licks at my addled Soul

A Heron is in my Yard

The intruder steps lightly, wanting no attention
Imminent death shining in his eyes
Unsuspecting victims move through their day
Not knowing that Fate waits without patience
Why have you come to my house?

Hunger stomps heavily, demanding satisfaction
Caring not about death or destruction
Instinct is a knife moving through the mist
Destroying life to give life, thinking only of its own
You cannot succeed here; I am not prey

I fire my gun; Brown and Black death screams towards you
My bullet is fearless, having slavering fangs
You turn towards me, the predator become prey
A knowing fear flashes in your eyes
My house devours intruders

My bullet steps quickly, wanting my attention
Slavering fangs smile back at me
Pleased by his obedience, the gunfire keeps barking
Wanting to feed on flesh and bone and blood
Next time, my friend, next time

March 21, 2017

The Way of Things

Sol rises, blinded by Earth's transient cataracts
The unseeing eyes of all wait upon Thee, desiring to grasp glory and grace
Small ones rise, seeking power for their existence
Patient and expecting, knowing You provide
They toil not.

We rise, blinded by our enduring prejudice
The unseeing eyes of all wait upon nothing, grasping anything in case of need
Small ones fall, trampled in the fearful confusion of existence
Impatient and demanding, not seeing Your plenty around us
We toil in vain.

You rise, seeing slowly through the veil of sleep
Your unseeing eyes wait to adjust to the view, desiring knowledge
Of love rising, love faded but cherished, seeking the gift of
Love. The supreme gift of Creation, the knowledge of His provision
We rest, fainting in His arms.

December 24, 2016

A Child is Born...For This?

Christmas, in whatever mode you celebrate it, seems to be pretty irrelevant for America this year. What should be a time of joy and hope is this year little more than a ceasefire in the political battlefield our country has become. We’ll all be nice to others over this weekend, while secretly hating them simply because they disagree with us. Is hate too strong of a word?  To me, it describes very well the increasing stridor in political discussion over the past 10+ years. It would be one thing were this a strictly secular phenomenon, but it is increasing in the Church, to the detriment of the underlying message of this season.

Celebrating the birth of the One who came to bring us unity at such a time of division not only seems absurd, it is absurd. Yet much less absurd than Christ’s existence upon Earth. The spiritual purity of Divinity took on the physical taint of human flesh. The independent Creator became a dependent and interdependent creation. The impassible God experienced all the passions of our mortal life. He who is deathless and eternal became temporary and died. These concepts are contradictions of such an irreconcilable magnitude to make them completely absurd to any logical examination. Yet this absurd space between these wildly unreasonable extremes of existence is the space in which we are called to live.

Why then is is so difficult for us to try to bridge the much smaller gap between political opinions? That’s pretty simple. The scandal of the Incarnation isn’t that God experienced these mortal things, it’s that He willingly reached out in love to do so. We’re just not doing that these days. We prefer the certainty of our issues than the uncertainty of searching for compromise. We pay more attention to Megaphone Martyrs than to Silent Servants. We claim to be open-minded when we’re secretly terrified to admit to ourselves that we may be wrong.

We celebrate the solidified diversity of temporal physicality while fearing and avoiding the diverse ebb and flow of thought and spirit. Meals have become something merely for physical sustenance or solidifying in-group status instead of the welcoming of strangers and building of community that ancient peoples practiced. This is something we should be especially mindful of at this time of the year.

“For unto us, a child is born...” A child born for us to despise and forsake, as written in Isaiah. Most of us would be mortified at the thought that we despise and forsake Jesus, but what else are we doing when we refuse to live in the absurd space defined by the Incarnation, to seek understanding in the gap of opinions, to seek peace in the war in the gulf between us?

Titus 3:10 talks about “a divisive person”; the Greek word is hairetikos, from hairesis, where we derive our words heretic and heresy. While hairesis naturally implies a choice of opinion, in biblical terms, we are not warned against it unless we are actually being divisive. What better time of year for us to fight divisiveness in our homes, churches, and communities?

This holiday is about a child that came to give us the life of the ages in abundance. But we let anger and fear impoverish that abundance. Enjoy your holiday, connect with those with differing opinions, give love and compassion freely. And do it again next week and next year.

We all deserve better than this current state of affairs. But if nobody wants to share the blame, then everyone gets more of the same.

May God grant us all His peace.

September 17, 2014

Why I'm Leaving...

It sucks leaving a place you love, even when it's for the right reasons.

But, my heart has been troubled for a while about the church I've attended for the past year, and, as is usual for me, it has taken some time for the reasons to become crystallized in my logical mind.

This is a church of loving, generous people, who give freely of their time and money to help people. But, there are still vestiges of the mid to late 20th century church of Christ, which is to give primacy to the dogma of Paul over the example of Christ Himself, and the spiritual principles Paul expounded.

For me, the biggest issue is how women are treated in the churches of Christ.

You can thump your Bibles all day and proof-text me until the sun quits shining, but I'll never be convinced that God intends for women to be second-class citizens of the Kingdom (and if you're not going to try and model the Kingdom in the church practices, then why bother with church at all?)

Women can't lead prayers or singing, speak to the congregation without a man present on the dais, or even carry the communion trays. The Paulists demand that they remain in their place. The problem arises in that we ascribe God's will to all of Paul's words, even when Paul clearly indicates otherwise.

! Tim. 2:12 reads, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

That "I" is not God nor Christ, but Paul. Which is in blatant contradiction to the principles Paul wrote of in Galatians 3:28 - "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

In Galatians 3:28, all of the verbs are in the Present Indicative Active form, which means, Present Tense (right now, at this time), Indicative Mood (which is the assertion or presentation of that which is real or actual), and Active Voice (the subject/s are performing the action of the verb.)

Right now, as of the time of our baptism into Christ (Gal. 3:27) there is no difference in the status of men and women who are in Him.

Yet we refuse to put that reality into Kingdom practice. "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven" is nothing but an empty platitude.

Why? Because it's easier to point to Paul's personal prohibition, and absolve ourselves of responsibility in making justice and equality a reality in the Kingdom.

It's also because we have become a people that worship the Bible, and seek to serve it, rather than to seek and serve Christ and the Holy Spirit. That's the vestiges of our 20th century legacy of being the "people who are right about the Bible." .

Well, I don't wish to worship or serve the Bible, nor to be a Paulist. I want to be Christ-like, which means for me, following His example as best I can.

And that means putting the idea that women are equal to men, and equally gifted by the Spirit into reality in my life. There is no discussion, nor proof-texting that will convince me otherwise.

We've had a lot of discussion of the function of the body of Christ during the study of spiritual gifts. To carry that analogy to the next logical step, for us to say that women must be under the authority of a man to function in the church is equivalent to saying that our left leg can only move if the right leg carries it along. That cannot be considered walking in any sense; what it is is hobbling along. It's about wholeness; a singular, unified wholeness.

The modern-day church has had far too much of Gnostic dualism creep in to model a real unified wholeness, such as existed in Jesus Himself. We separate reason and emotion by speaking of heart and mind. We divide aspects of our fundamental being into body and soul. We divide people into groups; saved/unsaved, ingroup/outgroup, clean/unclean, etc. And then we claim that this division is "righteous"

What is the righteousness that is given to us in Christ? It is the right-standing before God. Yet we somehow believe we can keep that right-standing before God while we deny the right-standing of equality to our sisters in Christ? What are we saying about the body of Christ when we deny Adam's declaration about Eve: "Flesh of my Flesh, bone of my bones?" We are denying the need for a whole and unified body when we say, "Not my male flesh, not my male bones" to our sisters.

That's not the righteousness I want in my life. I want to share in and partake of the best that everyone has to offer, to bless and be blessed by all parts of the body, and to become poor in spirit by raising up the oppressed members of the body.

What has happened in my life, is that I have learned far more about how to be Christ-like from the women with whom I interact than from the men. If becoming more Christ-like is really our aim here on Earth, then we should treat them as equal members of the Body and the Kingdom, and honor and trust them as Christ did. I can no longer do otherwise and remain true to my conscience and the conviction of the Spirit.

May God bless us, Christ form us, and the Spirit lead us all.

August 22, 2014

Welcome to Texas, Mrs. Detweiler!

Sue Detweiler and I are mutual followers on Twitter. This morning, I read a blog post by her talking about her family's move to the Dallas area to plant a church. So, I want to say to Sue and her family, Welcome to Texas!

So, let me give you the real deal about your new area, Sue.

Hold on.

OK, I'm back.

It took me a few minutes to stop laughing.

You moved to Texas in AUGUST???!?!?!?!
Well, the good thing is it won't get any hotter than this.

Next, is that Dallas-area people have strange difficulties in relating to the weather.

They'll complain about how humid it gets. They're deluded. As a life-long Houstonian, I can vouch that none of them understand humidity. August in Dallas is much more pleasant than August in Houston. It feels like a desert to me up there.

They don't seem to understand how to drive safely in the rain. Actually, they don't seem to know how to drive safely at all. Dalllas drivers are aggressive, and those are the friendly ones! They do things on the freeways that would get you shot in Houston.

I don't know what Winter is like where you're from Sue, but up in Dallas it can get pretty cold. The bigger problem is that it gets windy. Really windy. There's a good reason for the old joke about the only thing that blocks the North wind in Dallas is the three strands of barbed wire on the Oklahoma-Kansas border.

Speaking of North. After you're here a bit, you'll notice that when used in conjunction with the word "Texas", direction words are always capitalized. There is no such place as "north Texas" or "east Texas." It is ALWAYS "North Texas", "SouthEast Texas", etc. "West Texas" is sometimes "West, Texas" but the latter is in Central Texas.

I'll let you learn about Deep East Texas on your own. Besides, you probably had hillbillies in Tennessee, I'm guessing.

I'm guessing your church plant will do well in the Dallas area. Dallas people love to go to church. The only place I can think of that might have more churches per capita in Texas is possibly Abilene. And they love to talk about which church they go to. Try not to get caught up in the name-dropping, celebrity preacher ethos up there. You'll find tons of super good folks that do Christ's work in the shadows if you just preach the truth of His love first and foremost.

I love Dallas and Dallas people, even if they do need to learn to drive better. I hope your church is fruitful, and that you get a chance to see more of this beautiful state. Oh, in these parts, distance is measured in hours, not miles. A four-hour drive is not a long drive in Texas. I've done Houston to Dallas and back as a day trip many times.


One more thing...

You will eventually learn that Satan lives in Dallas. He owns the Cowboys.

July 29, 2014

Let Me Tell You a Story (or, You Just Never Know...)

This isn't a blog post I want to write. I don't want to bring any additional pain to the family members involved, but the situation surrounding convicted child molester Greg Kelley and his supporters in Leander, Texas, makes this a necessary story to tell.

Back when I was in High School, there was a girl that could easily be described as the nicest girl in school, and stunningly beautiful, to boot. I don't remember anyone that disliked her, and her family was held in high regard by everyone. She had a brother a couple of years younger than us, whom I never met, but he had a nice sister and a nice family, so he had to be a nice guy, too.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago to see a link to a news story on a local message board concerning him. It turns out that he had just hanged himself in jail after being arrested for possession of child pornography and the rape of over 56 children which he had videotaped. I would have never imagined that he would have been the guy from my school to have done such a thing (and I even knew a guy from school that murdered a couple a few years after graduating.) The FBI is still seeking information regarding his victims.

What does this have to do with the people of Leander, Texas that are holding rallies and vigils to support Greg Kelley? The fact that You Just Never Know... If he weren't guilty, then why would he admit his guilt in a plea bargain? You all think you know this guy so well, but you really don't. None of you live inside his head, and you have no idea what thoughts might be in there.

I get standing by a friend, and that's an admirable thing. But, to come out and say that the very young victims are lying about this is abominable. You can support your friend in a way that doesn't ridicule the victim in such a public manner.  What is especially disgusting is that a local church and its pastor are sponsoring events to support this convicted child molester.

I'd like to ask Pastor Bob Brydon of Generations Church in Leander how he can reconcile his dismissal of the victim's statements with Christ's admonition not to cause little children to stumble? Do you think this nonsense will make them want to be Christians later in life? Your church claims to seek daily guidance of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Brydon, perhaps you should do some deeper soul-searching and seeking of guidance from the Spirit before you jump so whole-heartedly behind Greg Kelley. Have you had a face-to-face, man-to-man talk with him since his conviction and acceptance of a plea deal? I doubt it, knowing the way TDCJ works, but when he gets established in a housing unit, I'd urge you to go and visit him and demand that he tell you the real truth. You might be surprised at what you hear.

This is all a sickening situation, and I urge Greg Kelley's supporters to spend some of their energy in prayer for the victims' healing. Put yourself in their shoes, instead of your friend's. I do understand your disbelief, because it still triggers a disconnect in me when I consider what that boy from my school did. But, Matthew pronounced judgment upon himself, and a jury pronounced judgment on Greg. Some things you just have to accept, no matter how hard it is to believe.