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.