Rich People Playing Church

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God,” says Jesus.

I have often reacted to that passage thinking: Wow!  That should keep every Christian I know up at night with worry!

But then it dawned on me: Why am I going to a “church” full of rich people?  I mean, since I don’t see camels passing through the eyes of any needles, why am I expecting to see all THESE PEOPLE in the Age to Come?

What makes me think I will inherit life in the Age to Come?

I learned nearly everything I know from all these rich people whose entry into the Kingdom of God is harder than passing a camel through the eye of a needle.  Like the rich man who asked Jesus how he might inherit eternal life in the Age to Come, who when told to sell all he owns, give it to the poor, count his treasures in heaven and come follow, who instead turned away from Jesus, thus prompting this hard teaching, so have all these rich people turned away as well (and I their disciple with them).

The early church, at least the one in Jerusalem, took either this teaching, or some teaching very much like it, to heart.  They sold all their property and gave their wealth to the church so that none of the poor among them lacked anything.

That’s a church I just have never seen.

What do you think street homeless people would do with a church like that?

I have a funny feeling my street homeless friends would take to a church like that like a duck takes to water.  In fact, I bet they would take to a church like that like all those needy thronging mobs and multitudes took to following Jesus on all those dusty Galilean trails.

I think I want in on that.

How about you?

THE ART OF LEARNING (THE BIBLE (and politics))

As both of the readers who come to this blog with any regularity already know, I am chewing on Lee Camp’s book, Scandalous Witness, in recent weeks.  These readers already know that I am enthused about it, but also know that I am quibbling with some bits (though I have not exhaustively described the things I am enthused about or the bits I quibble with to this point).  I have NO DOUBT that my opening paragraph here amounts to a welcome mat for the next exit on the freeway of blog reading.  If this is of no interest to you, then click off now and join the millions – even billions – of people who also don’t care for it.

Thanx for stopping by!

Now… bye, bye.

Okay.  For you, the one left, I probably should do a psyche profile on you, but I don’t want to discourage you any further.  I sense, though, that the things I want to talk about in this post are quite important AND have relevance to our shared world far beyond reading a couple of books or the upcoming presidential election.  However, I in no way claim to be the best person to address them.  But, I am glad to have you, so let’s move forward now.

Here is the thing I want to explore in this post:  The art of learning, of unlearning, and of coming to terms with meaning and truth.

I sense that as a thesis statement, that is really vague.  So, let me relate it to Camp and his book and the election a little bit and see if I can sort this out.

Lee Camp is providing us modern, American “Christians” a lens through which to view our world and the place of politics therein as well as our place within the politics.  He is revealing, showing, manifesting the Jesus Way amid the mist and clouds of so much socio/political upheaval.  He is sorting things out which have become hard for American “Christians” to rightly sort out with sensitivity to the Lordship, purpose(s), and goal(s) of God’s Kingdom Rule vis-a-vis American politics and culture.

That is an ambitious idea, I think.  It’s ambitious, especially considering the depth of division and hostility partisan politics have created.  American’s are not very patient with one another anymore.  Fear, hatred, meanness, rudeness, and other such ugliness have gripped our public discourse, and sober-minded, caring, patient listening, compromising, and shared interests are all but gone.  And in the midst of this, American “Christians” have largely (not entirely, but to an overwhelming extent) chosen a side, enabling and empowering the fear, hatred, meanness and rudeness and so forth.

Camp gives us reason to “pull out of that whore, Babylon.”  He doesn’t merely cite the passage, point at it, and say, “There!  The Bible said it, and that settles it.”  No.  Camp reasons our way there, warning us not to take sides with evil, division, and strife, but to seek the peace of the city where we are planted instead.

All this sorting means we need to come to some shared, foundational ideas.  We need to establish some fundamental, bedrock elements of our discussion and build on them carefully.  But in the mist and confusion of our times, in the cloudy worldview and the dust kicked up in our field of vision by so much fervor and animosity as we find in our public discourse anymore, we may find that some of the things we are holding on to are not what they seemed.  We might have gone into the tool shed seeking a flashlight by which we could then search for the screwdriver we need, but in the darkness we have taken hold of a hammer instead.  The hammer will not light our way to find the tool we ultimately want, but you sure can hit stuff with it, and in our frustration, we might be tempted to do that.

Someone else sees us through the mist holding a hammer and hears it banging on stuff, things breaking, and wonders why on earth you would do that.  Don’t you need a flashlight in these conditions?  But just asking that of a frustrated person holding a hammer might just “set them off” all the more.

Bang! Bash!! Bonk!!!

Someone else might find the flashlight, but the batteries are dead.  Suddenly, the flashlight serves as a hammer!  Pretty soon, everyone in the tool shed is full of people hitting stuff in the dark with hammers and other objects, some of which they don’t even know what the object is, getting more and more frustrated, and this illustration, as absurd as it is, still betrays the complexity of the real problem AND the depth of the absurdity really at work here.

However, it does, in rather simple terms, illustrate that if you want a screwdriver, none of this is going to achieve that goal at all.  Each person in the tool shed absolutely must come to terms with the fact that they are not actually working with the real tool they really need.  In some cases this will mean discovering that you are holding a flashlight and not a hammer … which is now two steps removed from the issue you really want to be dealing with.

Okay, let’s get out of the proverbial tool shed.  Here’s the thing: We have some UNlearning to do as well as learning.  This is true of all manner of arts and sciences.  The theories that advanced cancer research in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s were very important, and contributed much to the elimination and survival of cancer, but the theories developed on the 1990s, 2000’s, and 2010s, in some cases, required the jettisoning of some of the theories that had previously served the science so well.

Maybe we should even think of the Pony Express from the old days.  No matter how fast the first pony in the circuit, that pony had to be changed out because the trip was just too far for one pony to make.  The message would have to change out ponies along the way.

When I was in school, one of my instructors asked us students to read a little book called The Art of Teaching the Bible: A Practical Guide for Adults, by Christine Eaton Blair.  The premise was that in modern America (maybe other western nations too, actually), the tendency is/was for children and youths to get the bulk of their Bible education in Sunday Schools and youth groups.  The average age for this education to cease was about 14.  Of course, in more modern/post modern times, that has become the age at which more and more people drop out of church altogether too.

But for those who stay with the church as life-long believers (presumably), this means that the adults main means of any Bible education for the bulk of such population is Sunday sermons accompanied (one would hope at least this much) by bestselling Christian books.

This means that the larger bulk of the ever-shrinking adult church population relies on Bible education from childhood – early childhood at that.  Most of the more abstract doctrines of The Trinity, or of Justification by Faith, or Original Sin and so forth go almost entirely unknown to the church, and the bits that are known, the action/adventure stories such as Moses and the Exodus, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, filtered through a small child’s eyes and understanding, are pretty much all that is left serving the church and of loving God with all of our mind (as well as heart and strength).

One of the sensitivities Blair’s book addresses is that adult Christians need to have continuing Bible education, but that will entail some UNlearning before the new learning can take hold.  Her book seeks to guide that delicate process as respectfully as possible.  Just acknowledging there is such a phenom is delicate.  Finding it at work in your own life of faith is all the more humbling.

But humility is the name of the game.  We need not bog down in an any-thing-goes, free-for-all revamping of everything we believe.  If we are like that, we may well get tossed around by every wind and wave of doctrine, but even Ephesians 4 will tell us that we combat that problem with maturity.  A humble maturity coupled with a mature humility will be important for our knowledge of God.

It also is important for finding tools in a dark tool shed.

It would serve America well in our politics too, and that is part of what “seeking the peace of the city” always entails.  God’s people are God’s answer to the world’s problems.  Wanna know what is wrong in America today?  Well, there is cancer, heart disease, earth quakes and forest fires to be sure, but down at the root of it all is a lack of God’s Rule.  (Even earth quakes and dry trees adhere to God’s Rule, but if God’s people (his image bearers) fail to represent him, there will be no peace – certainly not in the politics.

So, Camp’s book requires us grown up Christians to do some UNlearning as part of our learning.  What exactly needs UNlearned?  Well, there are a number of things.  But for this post, I merely want to note the phenom.  As we sort out in what has become something of the typical, modern, American “Christian’s” worldview, and it requires we have some humility to look closer at that tool we have in our hands and discover it is not the screwdriver we were looking for, on the one hand, and all the banging, bashing, and bonking we are doing with it like a hammer, will not address the situation that calls for a screwdriver, on the other.

This still leaves open the possibility that Camp is mistaken too.  He may be right in the broad strokes about the phenom – that we have the wrong tool in our hands and we are not using it the way the right tool should be used either, but he may be wrong in telling us we are holding a flashlight and not a hammer.  He is peering into the mist too, and he might not be able to see that we actually are holding a real hammer that he perceives is a flashlight being used as a hammer.

But some of THAT would really just be incidental.  If what we really need is a screwdriver and to stop bashing and start twisting the screws instead, then even though he has some details misconstrued, he is still plenty right in the big picture.  (Even this is conceivably debatable, but I happen to think Camp is either right on target or a lot closer than most, so I am going to give him the benefit of this doubt.)

In my estimation, Camp is misconstruing the term “religion” in his book.  He manages to make a good point anyway, but the more I read and re-read his book the more I think I understand his use of that word, and I believe it to be, in the final analysis, a misuse.  Perhaps he is deploying a popular usage (which I think he is) and working with it at that level, but he splits hairs later in the book over other terms, and so I think he needs to address his use of the word “religion” with better clarity.

But that could be me.  I might be wrong.  I don’t think so, and I am willing to lay out my case and see what holds up under scrutiny, but then I would need some studied discussion partners to help discern that more clearly at that level.  As it is, I have only myself to discuss this with.  But I will do my best to come at it humbly.  Practically no one is 100% right about everything they say.  This goes for scholars at the top of the profession all the way down to the slave girl at the millstone.  However, we may presume, with a strong measure of confidence, that the more disciplined thinkers come closer to the target than those less disciplined – in general.

This kind of observation gives Camp the benefit of the doubt, not me.  I acknowledge that too.

But there are other elements of Camp’s book that I wrestle with, elements perhaps I must UNlearn or perhaps he must UNlearn.  This also is hard to determine.  Here in the dark tool shed, I have a perspective he does not have, yet almost no peers with which to review.  He has the disciplined credentials and the peer review process, but even he is making a case that the larger pool of humanity and of thinking minds which make up the American politics AND within that, especially, the church, there are some huge overarching problems with almost everyone’s understanding.  He is claiming that his vantage point will correct the vision of the masses.  I am claiming mine provides some corrective to his.

Again, I don’t wish to open a door to an anything-goes, free-for-all critique here.  Nor do I wish to demolish his work.  I think, in the broad brush strokes, Camp’s book is invaluable!  But I am hitting a few snags along the way, and I think my offerings might help the otherwise really good lens he is providing.

I have 3 criticisms – having read the whole book once.  I reserve the right to change my mind as I study it closer, but having breezed through the whole book now and the opening chapter several times, I think (#1) the way Camp uses the word “religion” short-changes the word and his thesis, (#2) his lack of thorough examination and use of both the word and concept of “LOVE” and (#3) the lack of meaningful engagement with the theological concept of image bearing inhibit Camp’s thesis from reaching a actual, tangible goal.

Maybe Camp does not want to take the book that far.  I wonder why not, if that is the case, but it is possible that he wants merely to correct the lens through which we look at the world (and politics especially) and then leave it up to us to map out that world.  If that is the case, then his goal is rather open-ended.  If that is the case, I think his book achieves its goal more or less.

But even Camp claims that for Christians world history is aimed at a goal.  If he is right about that, then equipping Christians to see the world more clearly ultimately implies we need to see that goal too.  What exactly are we going to use the screwdriver on and to what ends?  He does a great job of calling us to put down the wrong tools and pick up the right one(s), but what for?  Otherwise, why even be in the tool shed at all?

So, let me back up and devote just a paragraph or two to each of the 3 items I list above.

After studying on it and reading it over several times, I have decided that by the term “religion,” Camp is referring to the notion of private, personal piety – especially of a pie-in-the-sky kind.  He says that Christianity is not a religion, but it is a politic.  Whereas he does flesh out his meaning of the word “politic,” even there I sense he might define it a bit more concretely than he does.

I, of course, believe Christian faith is a religion, a religion which happens to not be separated from politics at all.  But Camp claims otherwise.  Yet, I think he is using the word significantly different from the way I do.  Camp, like me, rejects the idea that our Christian faith is merely private and only consists of things having to do with other worldly faith, especially “going to heaven when you die.”  I reject all that too, but I don’t use the word “religion” to convey that idea.  And while I, like Camp, see Christian faith as a public matter impinging on public and this-worldly history, I don’t reduce that to the word “politics.”

One other aspect of this criticism, one which to my way of thinking appears lost on Camp, I think many people today are attempting to have it both ways, and not one way or the other.  It is not logical, but that has not stopped people of faith, not that I can tell.  I believe I am old enough to recall a time when many, if not most, “Christians” attempted to live out this other-worldly, pie-in-the-sky, go-to-heaven-when-I-die, private, piety AND thus believed “politics didn’t matter” and that “this world would just go up in judgment flames at the end anyway.”  I think I was born into THAT “Christian” mentality and had to that a long time ago.  But I believe plenty of “Christians” have yet to UNlearn that stuff yet still feel compelled to join the coercive political agenda of the Right and thus try to order this world which is doomed for judgment through policy and partisan politics anyway.  It doesn’t make a bit of sense, but that is what I think I see in many of my “brothers and sisters” anyway, yet Camp never pays any attention to this stuff at THAT level.

Moving on to my second criticism: Camp’s book lacks an agenda of LOVE.

I did read the book from cover to cover once, and I breezed through it when I did.  So I point this out somewhat tentatively.  I am working my way through the book yet again, and I think it is possible that perhaps there is a paragraph or a page or two in there somewhere which highlights Christian love, the love of God, and how this love might order the world, and I might have just missed it.  However, I am thinking that even if that paragraph, page, or chapter exists in Camp’s book and just escaped my attention the first time through, I kinda think it is a big enough deal that should be addressed so deeply (if not pervasively) that missing it would be very hard to do.

The LOVE of God is not just other worldly, not just oriented for when we die, and not just some private matter.  It is for THIS world, and in a very mysterious way impacts this world, historically and publicly.  LOVE is a politic.  It is religious too, I believe, if St. James is to be believed (Jas. 1:27 (if not all of chapter 1 and 2 with it)).  God, in Jesus, comes to take the crown of his own people in LOVE.  This is all about LOVE and politics.  And it seems to me that the separation of church and state in America is now completely reflected in the separation of LOVE and politics.  It seems to me that Camp should have a lot to say about this, but if he said anything, I missed it on my first read through.  (Hope I find it and need to come back here and correct this observation.)

Lastly, I think that image bearing is all about politics, history, LOVE and public relations as well as private.  Perhaps Camp could produce a completely worthwhile book with no in depth analysis or even references to humans bearing the image of God, but as I have studied on these things in my career, I find it indispensable.  I feel sure that at the very least, Camp’s book would be enhanced dramatically with a chapter or at least some reference to this all through.  In the beginning of Genesis, God creates the humans in his image and gives them dominion and rule over creation.  The image bearers sort out the creation and do so largely by virtue of the image they bear, and this has everything to do with history and thus politics.

Of course, the criticisms I bring to Camp’s book are just as counterintuitive, I think, as the rest of his observations.  If this stuff were just sitting there being overly obvious, then it would probably be easy to get it all right, and our national politics would not be such a mess.

Well, there is a lot left unsaid in this post, which might be surprising considering how long it has grown.  But I need to quit while it is still somewhat manageable.  I doubt strongly this post gets much, if any, traction with readers, but these are matters I would very much like to discuss – especially with someone else who has read Camp’s book and feels it’s impact.

I hope my observations and critique don’t take anything away from Camp’s message.  I hope, on the contrary, to ENGAGE the otherwise very fine and skilled theses he develops, to internalize this stuff for myself and help others in the world in which we share to engage this stuff too – maybe even… dare we say… make a difference with our lives.

I expect to write at least one more post on this book where I develop more the thoughts that really jazz me, challenge me, and that I find increasingly valuable.  But for now, this will do.

If you are reading this far… please… let’s talk.

INSIDE VOICE

I have been reading and re-reading Lee Camp’s book Scandalous Witness for a couple of weeks now.  I very much appreciate this book, and I think it is timely for the church in America.  So, I recommend it.

It challenges me at a couple of points, clarifies a few things for me, and in a general way offers a message like I already want to see getting out there.  Basically, I “agree” with it in the big brush strokes and promote it.

That said, there are bits I quibble and wrestle with despite that.  The introduction is the main part I have the most trouble with.  So, I have read the opening chapter now about six times.  Some of it remains stubborn for me, but I am coming to grips (I think/I hope) with the gist of it.  (I mention this only to be on record with the notion that I approach even Camp with a critical eye and not like a sycophant – something I think a lot of political endorsements and yacking is really all about.)

Still, in spending so much time on the introduction, there are some bits which I have come to appreciate.  ONE of those is the encouraging word Camp gives right at the close of the intro.  There he talks about “inside voice.”  He is purposely talking about prophetic critique of Christian politics and the church.

Camp tells us that the prophetic critique is for insiders, basically.  The kerygma, the Proclamation of Good News, is for the outsiders, but the prophet’s speak almost entirely to those already established as insiders.  The prophetic critique can be harsh.  That is the “tough love” part.  The kerygma for outsiders is much more gracious and inviting, warm and friendly, that is the part where the minister “becomes all things to all people in order to save some.”

In my prophetic ministry, I have drawn on the description I got from N.T. Wright who called the prophets “critics from within.”  But, I like Camp’s way of putting it too, maybe even better.

This, of course, has bearing on the things we have to say about politics, and to whom we address them.  It’s not our job to campaign for a candidate or against one.  I, like anyone else, have my thoughts, my judgments and ideas about them – my preferences for one over another.  But as a Christian prophet, I do not speak to the average voter about which way to vote, I don’t have that KIND of investment in them really.  But I do have critique of the “Christians” (or those claiming that designation) and the way they treat others with regard to politics, and to question them for their power grab ideals.

As a prophet of God, THAT is my aim here.

(This may seem quite a stretch to the impatient reader, but I recall once in high school developing an interest (not exactly romantic, but something akin to it) for a young lady in one of my classes.  Because of the encouragement from a couple of my buddies, I asked her out on a date, and she accepted.  The next week, one of my buddies asked her out, and she accepted, and then I became angry.  Soon word got back to her, and as you would expect from an independent, modern woman, she didn’t like it.  She told me that I didn’t own her, which I completely concurred with.  But I told her, that wasn’t the point; I owned him!  As a buddy of mine, he was the problem I had, not her. … Maybe you see the difference.)

Let’s talk…

THE PATIENT SHOWS SIGNS OF DELUSIONS, HALLUCINATIONS, AND SCHIZOPHRENIC PSYCHOTIC SELF DESTRUCTION; THE PATIENT IS AMERICA

I might be the only one running around claiming that the demon Jesus casts out in Mark 5 is a particularly Roman demon.  I don’t know for sure, but in all the commentaries I am familiar with and all the citations in various monographs from various scholars, I have never found anyone seeing in this demon what I see.  So, you might be excused for thinking I am just some kook.  But, let me be on record at the start of this post saying, I find “Legion” to be very Roman in nature.

“Legion,” for English-only readers this is distorted, is a Latin intrusion into the Greek of the original (or earliest extant copies of) text of Mark’s Gospel.  That is just the first hint.  Not only is “Legion” in the Latin language, but it is in fact a Latin idea.  The story of this demon encounter occurs in the “Little Italy” district of the Holy Land (thus the pigs).  This demon is powerful and scary and cannot be subdued (sound Roman to anyone else?).  And this demon possessed man comes running to bow down to Jesus as he is getting out of the boat (something that sounds like subsequent imperial history, almost).

There, that will suffice as my evidence for now.  I don’t actually want to talk about Mark per se in this post, but this observation lends itself to my topic, I think.  Perhaps there are many aspects that lend credibility to this linkage, but to my way of thinking one of them has to do with the way we modern types often construe demon possession with mental health (and vice versa).  IN MY LIMITED EXPERIENCE, I have encountered people in Bible study frequently who bring the discussion of demons to bear with a discussion of mental health.  I also have met many people suffering from mental health problems who believe they are demon possessed.  Whether the Bible intends us to think this way or not, in my experience we often do, and I think very likely in yours as well.

Okay… with these things in mind, let’s talk about American politics vis-a-vis the Kingdom of God – especially the contemporary state of American politics vis-a-vis the church.  Let’s talk in spiritual terms, specifically, but with sensitivities for the language of mental illness.  (Maybe a strange, and even foreign, idea, but let’s see where this leads….)

There are some stark differences between The Kingdom of God and the Constitutional Law and Order of the United States.  I cannot deal with all of them here, but I can note a few very important ones that surely are not controversial.  For starts, the founding fathers, authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, very purposely set out to separate church and state.  The US, it seems, was welcome, maybe even encouraged, to give lip service to the Judeo/Christian God and Jesus Christ, but most certainly under no obligation or compulsion to do so.  There was a notion that God would be in charge of spiritual matters in a heavenly realm, but down here on earth, the Americans would take charge AND make up the rules as we go.

Yes.  Make up the rules as we go.

The Constitution was designed to facilitate a “rule of law” which would be amended according to the will of the people.  The very point of that inherently expects and intends for changes in the law.  The law would not be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, thus forever, but would change over time AND would answer to the will of the subjects it governs.

This is something detrimentally NOT the Kingdom of God.  And while I am using that terminology, let me make sure to define it carefully, since that terminology in the English language can be a bit misleading.  The KINGDOM of God is not a place – not a territory – such as “heaven.”  It would better (more accurately) be translated as the RULE of God.  It is about his authority, his lordship, specifically, and only tangentially has anything to do with the territory.  However, as the Lord’s Prayer teaches, we petition God’s Rule to come “on earth LIKE it is in heaven.”

God created America.  It is his turf.  But the Americans, and in this case I mean the Europeans (mostly) who came to America rather late on the stage of world history, came to this turf giving God lip service, but kicking his Rule completely out of the governing process.

And up until fairly recently, this all SEEMS to have made a lot of sense to Americans.

However, it is my observation that Americans are finding out now, after almost 250 years, it is increasingly obvious that this arrangement does not in fact make any sense at all – except for the denial which keeps us holding forth despite that.  The continued denial of the Americans seems to make us a danger to ourselves and others.  I can’t help but think how the Chinese and the Russians must be watching the last remaining superpower in the world gashing himself with stones, wandering around in the graveyard of shopping malls and boarded up and shuttered military bases while no one can subdue him, not even with chains.  Our own rhetoric which we direct at one another, rhetoric that used to be reserved for mortal enemies, not only shows dangerous hostility for ourselves, but exposes how little sense it ever made in the first place.

Someone please tell me exactly what “conservative” is.  I once thought I knew, but I am clear now only that it no longer is clear to me.

Were the founding fathers being conservative when they revolted against England?  Were they conservative when the devised a rule of law devoid of meddlesome deity?  Were the founding fathers being conservative when they devised a system of amendments to the Constitution?  If they were, then why is it that any desire to change the “rights guaranteed” therein is considered “liberal”?  What is the standard there of liberal or conservative when the whole point from the start was to make up the rules as you go?

How can you (from either the “Right” or the “Left”) sit there with a straight face and claim you are beholding to what the founding fathers always intended?  That is just as crazy as taking advice from a psych patient in the throes of psychosis!

Now… Someone will say, “Yes, Agent X, you are right… AND the form of government we have here in the US is the very worst possible form in the history of humankind EXCEPT FOR ALL THE OTHERS.”  And I am almost inclined to agree.  I was born into the blessings and comforts and freedom and prestige of the USA in the Nuclear Age.  I expect our nation was truly at its “greatest” (MAGA anyone?) in the late 1940s and early 1950s with only the slightest tarnish on the gleam between the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  However, Vietnam did kinda raise a few questions about just how solid our hegemony really was, questions, some of which, found their answer on 9/11/2001.  Thus, I can see how the non-Kingdom-of-God oriented person would feel a deep sense of urgency and duty to “Make America Great Again.”  But, that knee-jerk reaction just does not hold up to the scrutiny of sound doctrine in the Light of God’s LOVE.

The God our founding fathers marginalized at the start called his subjects to humility, to take up a cross and follow, to offer our lives in loving sacrifice to a world in need of God’s redeeming LOVE.

Of course, not all Americans are “Christian” or even beholding to Christianity at any level.  Plenty are atheist, agnostic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or very marginally Christian – enough that “Christians” certainly cannot be the majority anymore IF we ever really were.  And even when we were, the very idea of “majority rule” was always antithetical to the Rule of God – BY DEFINITION!  So, even when it SEEMED to be the case, that was a psychotic delusion at best or a demon’s lie at worst.

Yet one of the major, driving forces behind the rise of Donald Trump and his MAGA political agenda is/was American “Christians.”  I am referring to people who claim Jesus, who fervently give him lip service as if that means something, and thus take his name in Donald Trump’s vanity!

What kind of psychosis is that?

This man is the ultimate vanity, having his cake AND eating it too!  This isn’t actually anything new, for surely Caligula and Nero were the worst of the worst, but I find absolutely no evidence that the earliest Christians would ever jump on the Make Rome Great Again bandwagon.  On the contrary, the Christians of those days would sooner take center stage in the arena surrounded by lions than to even give in to this kind of heresy – how much more would they not endorse such a freak?

But here we are in America.  It’s been almost 250 years since our founding fathers specifically separated church and state and thus the rule of law from the Kingdom of God.  To be honest, I think (and this is really just me making very Agent-Xish conjecture) it took so long to melt down only because on the one hand, the people lured into this psychotic idea at the start (Puritans and their early descendants) were steeped in a culture of fervent devotion that did not wear off for several generations, and on the other hand, because once we dropped a vaporizing atomic bomb on the world, there were about 40 years of such perceived hegemony, so ironclad on the imaginations of both those inside and outside America, that Americans were drunk on the privileged status it afforded them, thus, the infighting was too pointless to take too seriously.  I think this is why it has taken so long for the wheels to come off the cart.

But the wheels have come off, and are coming off now.  The cart is barely on the road at this point, and was actually going the wrong way all along anyway.  If we really start firing upon one another in civil war now, it will take someone as big as Russia or (more likely China) to step in and help us sort it all out, and they will be only too happy to do that.  But the dread and hate we have for one another in this country now is so dangerous, that we don’t even care anymore, I think.

I recall working in the psych ward some years ago and meeting a beautiful young woman who, for all the world, appeared to have everything going for her.  She was lovely to behold AND a talented musician who would sit and write music during her hours of isolation, just to pass the time.  But she was put in restrained isolation because of her other deeply determined desire to cut herself and bleed profusely.  There was just no talking her out of it.

That is us.

No doubt Christians have a calling to pray for the city/nation in which we find ourselves, and the seek the peace of it too.  We are meant, by God, to play the role of that kind of glue – or to be that kind of salt and light.  But we are not called in any way, shape, or form to give our allegiance to that city/nation.  Our allegiance belongs to the self-sacrificial lordship of Jesus who takes a crown of thorns and shows the world the healing LOVE of God.  We were made in his image, and that is what his image looks like.

Our nation needs THAT, today as much as ever.  And we Christians need to set about praying and working on THAT rather than the vote.  We have Jesus!  And Legion bows to him!

DO YOUR RESEARCH,* IDIOT!

“Nancy Pelosi is a stupid bitch who lies and doesn’t give a damn about anything except her own political agenda” – ([nameless family member of mine], text message, Sept. 16, 2020, last Wednesday afternoon).

(Did I cite my source correctly?)

Here is some context for that conversation:

 

Two days previously, the same family member texted these words:

“The only side that has done anything in the past couple of years that is completely partisan is the left”

To this, I responded:

“Spoken exactly like a partisan from the right”

Nine minutes later, from the same person, came this response:

“Spoken like an idiot from the left that won’t do full research”

 

In this conversation, I am the “idiot.”  Just yesterday, I offered a post I called “Echo Chambers” in which I described at least PART of the dynamic happening in this conversation.  One from my own family, someone who I love and respect – who loves and respects me – felt compelled to interact with me in this way on subject matters involving current national politics.

We have since discussed these matters again in a much more civilized manner via audio, telephone conversation in which the notion of “echo chambers” seemed to help the rhetoric simmer down a bit and facilitate more agreement.  (Not total agreement, by any means, but certainly more agreeableness.)

In this post, I want to talk a bit more about “research” in particular.  The “idiot” part still plays a role in my thinking here, but I need to marginalize it briefly.  Keep that thought on standby, but don’t let it get control of the conversation.  (No.  I don’t like being referred to as an idiot, but I am mature enough to set it aside for a moment)

…The Research…

The term is rather broad, actually.  The way it is deployed in the political bickering above, seems common to me.  I have heard it tossed around in that way before.  In fact more than a few times.  “Do your research…. ”

Well, “research” might be a hifalutin enterprise or it might be a college Freshman 3-page paper citing three dependable sources.  We have PhD scientists in labs and on space craft conducting experimental research fighting cancer, heart disease, and developing drugs or weapons and all kinds of cutting edge stuff.  The word we use for that kind of thing is “research.”  The college Freshman writing a three-page paper is doing “research” too.

Perhaps we might call the one “research” and the other “advanced research,” and still keep the language somewhat generic.  But then again, I might go on line and look for that bread maker my wife wants for Christmas and “research” which one has the best features, the best warrantee, and the most reasonable price.  I might even try to determine if the thing is made in a slave-labor country and who endorses it and who criticizes it.  That also might be considered “research.”

Then there is the matter of which expert do we believe.  Go to trial with a murder case and bring in expert testimony from PhD types in the field who give their very well researched opinions on the evidence in the case, but they still don’t agree.

Did I say “research” is a rather broad term?

(I think I did.)

So in the end, “research” is important.  Those who refuse, or fail, to do it, thus do themselves a disservice.  But what exactly do you mean by the term?  And anyway, only an idiot would think that mere research will make everyone come to the same conclusions.

But in the rhetorical way it was used in the argument above, it suggests “research” is the salvation of our mutual understanding and benefit.  That smart people do it, and “idiots” don’t, and that those who do this “research” know better, should speak up and be listened to, whereas those deemed not to have done the “research” have opinions that don’t matter and should not be heeded.

But what if “Do your research, idiot!” is nothing more than the smoke -n- mirrors bluff of a blow hard idiot looking for the Achilles heel in a more thoughtful person’s self-confidence?  (I note that the rhetoric of the conversation above seems to project the insult off of the one saying it on to me as a mirror image.  He is trying to confuse who the idiot is and make it stick to me instead of him.)  We could have just had a respectful discussion, even if we disagreed, but with the “bitch” and “idiot” insults, everything got ratcheted up into a more hostile gear.

(At least it’s more interesting this way!)

And that is the way we discuss politics in my family among people who love and respect each other.

How about you and yours?

Feel like you have been heard?

Feel like your vote matters?

What is the prize if you win?

Funny thing, this family member ironically accused me of insulting him.  He feels I slighted him, disrespected him, marginalized him.

I don’t deny for a minute that he feels that way.

But I am mindful that he put words in my mouth, called me (in a round about way) an “idiot,” used totalizing language for matters which in reality are full of contingencies, and in all of that, any messages I sent to him passed through terrible echo chambers.  And I can’t help but think, if that is true for us (family who love each other) how much more true is this for vast groups and classes of people?  What does this kind of spirit do to a nation of people who are largely anonymous to one another?

Well, it looks to me like something worth a little research.

 

 

*Just to be thorough, I looked up “research” in the online dictionary, copied, and pasted it here:

research

[ˈrēˌsərCH, rəˈsərCH]

NOUN
  1. the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.
    “we are fighting meningitis by raising money for medical research”
    synonyms:

    investigation · experimentation · testing · exploration · analysis ·

    [more]
VERB
  1. investigate systematically.

    “she has spent the last five years researching her people’s history” · 

    [more]
    synonyms:

    investigate · conduct investigations into · study · inquire into ·

    [more]

 

 

PS.

I don’t vote.  Also, I am no fan of Nancy Pelosi.  I think she really did a disservice and set a bad example as a leader when recently she was spotted getting her hair done against COVID protocols.  She could have been more honest and sacrificial and just let her hair go gray.  Not as flattering, but would have showed true character as well as true color.  But then I also find fault with President Trump, our nation’s Insulter -n- Chief.  I won’t defend Pelosi against the charge of lying,  but I won’t take seriously anyone who thinks she has a problem with it but who fails to acknowledge Trump does also – a far worse problem with it in my opinion.  He is flat out blatant about it and does not care.  And the only people, it seems, holding him accountable for it are people like Nancy Pelosi!

Can you say “system failure”?

But in the end, I think secular government has its limitations which it cannot recognize and makes liars, cheats, and two-faced bullies out of the people who put their hands on the mantle of its power.  “Pull out of here, my people!” as St. John would say, “she is a whore!”  I agree.  And I turn for Salvation to Jesus our Lord… who… at the sound of his name, EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus is LORD – including Caesar’s knees and tongue, Donald Trump’s knees and tongue, and Nancy Pelosi’s knees and tongue.

You, my fellow Americans, can either volunteer your knees and tongue humbly now, or you can have them bent and forced at the great coming Judgment.

Choose wisely.

 

BIOLOGY CLASS, A GOOD JOKE, AND POETRY

Wish I could find the exact quote, yet I am sure I got it from N.T. Wright (who probably got it from his grandfather), but he said that if you dissect a butterfly in Biology class, tack it to the board, split it open, methodically pull out all the insides and study them, you will learn almost everything there is to know about that butterfly, but you shouldn’t expect it to fly again.

You don’t really need a world leading scholar to say that.  Actually, it is rather obvious.  But it occurs to me that we can say pretty much the same thing for a good joke.  A strange phenom, but real enough.  Many jokes are very funny, but any joke you don’t “get” and then must be explained may make all kinds of sense once it is explained, but it will not make you laugh.  Dissecting a joke just kills it, and it will not fly after that.

But, ironically, just the opposite is true for good poetry. 

I am no poet.  I am not good at dissecting poems.  But I discovered, to my great surprise, that the college level English class I was required to take, offered a section on poetry that absolutely fascinated me.  When a skilled poet packs the language with all manner of artistry and meaning into a poem, a guided tour is a opens whole worlds of new flight.

If you never experienced it, I recommend you find a tour guide and give it a try.

By the way, as powerful as this phenom is for poetry, it is all the more dynamic for Bible study.  If you come to the Bible bewildered by it, I recommend you get a tour guide.  It will change your life (Acts 8:31).

ECHO CHAMBERS

I find in today’s world of hotly argued politics and divisions, that everything I say must pass through echo chambers.  It can be hard to hear in them.  It can be hard to distinguish the message from all the rest of the echoes bouncing off the walls.  I get that.  I struggle with it too.

Here’s the thing:

If I say something critical about President Trump, in the echo chambers, many friends and family think they hear an endorsement, even a love for, Nancy Pelosi, whether I mentioned her name or not.  If I say something positive about George Floyd, many of my friends and family think I am proclaiming that confederate monuments should be taken down.  Whether I make any mention of them or not.

No doubt I might.  But in the echo chambers, it seems I did speak to those other matters and in a certain way whether I did or not.

Let me be on record here:

I do my best to think for myself.  I don’t reiterate someone else’s talking points bit by bit, but speak my own mind – which might incorporate SOME of someone else’s thoughts, but almost never follows the same well-beaten path.  I am not committed to either party or ideology.

If I say I want you to wear a mask around me, I am not suggesting you get a burka and strap on a weapon and start praying to Allah.  But there is a tendency to hear me that way in the echo chambers.

Of course, the same can be said going the other direction.  If I say something critical of Nancy Pelosi, it does not mean I endorse Donald Trump.  In fact, if you can dial down the volume in the echo chamber a bit, you will find that I champion neither one of them.  In fact, I REALLY don’t.

TABLE MANNERS IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD

I figure that average, run-of-the-mill Americans, if invited to the king’s (these days, it might better be called the queen’s) table, would be excited for the chance to attend and would brush up on proper etiquette, probably run out and purchase a new suit of clothes, and then would mind their table manners.  It is not usual for commoners to dine with monarchy, and when they do, they have some cleaning up to do in order to get ready.  Americans, who invented drive-thru eating, have lot of adjustments to make.

How much more would you ready yourself for a meal at THE LORD’s TABLE?

(Disclaimer: This post will not directly address Catholics.  I happen to be one who believes in an open communion – open to any and all who merely claim Jesus as Lord.  I don’t believe Protestant churches even have the right to close off communion.  I am not at all convinced the Holy Catholic Church does either, but I am sure that IF any has that right, it would be the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless, my Catholic friends are welcome to read this over Protestant shoulders and know I am not addressing it at them.)

So, if you want to come to the LORD’s TABLE, it looks to me like you probably would want to gussy up on your manners a bit.  Of course anyone who would refuse makes themselves unfit.  Let them refuse.  But those who want to join need to behave properly.  Just the desire to attend might be one of those adjustments.  I imagine some of my American neighbors would be fascinated and enthused at the chance to dine with British royalty and would want to be prepared to honor and respect the traditions and customs that go with that, though I doubt seriously any would feel the slightest bit of British authority over them.

Likewise, I imagine the average, run-of-the-mill American invited to dine with the POTUS would feel similarly.  As a voter, that American is this president’s boss, in a sense.  We are equals under the law.  But of course, even though that is not lost on the American psyche, there is still a sense of awe for the institution and the fancy events like state dinners.  Thus, I imagine your average American sitting up a bit straighter, putting the phone down during the meal, dressing up, and asking someone in the know about security protocols and which one is the salad fork and all about elbows on the table before ever taking that seat.

However, that democratization of power, importance, and equality, I think, somehow translates over to the LORD’s TABLE too, unfortunately and ironically.  In fact, I don’t see modern Christians sitting up and paying special attention at this TABLE really.  In fact, I find them willing to skip the invitation far more often than accepting it.  I find those who bother to show up, slouching in shorts, ball caps, and all manner of equivalents to taking a knee when ceremonial music is played in other venues or less!

It’s all a bit casual when Jesus is Lord – at least in the modern day.

But how would you gussy up for a meal with Jesus?  What does that really mean?

Well, I Corinthians 11:29 quickly comes to mind in a discussion like this.  “He who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment on himself if he does not discern the body rightly,” says St. Paul.

Well, quoting that passage does practically nothing to resolve the matter in a modern debate, though it is an important part of the discussion.  There seem to be two ways of handling that passage which go in differing directions.  On the one hand (and I think MOST people familiar with the passage take it THIS way), Paul might be telling the Corinthians to humbly prepare their hearts to focus on their “vertical” relationship Jesus and contemplate his loving sacrifice as they partake.  No doubt that is a good idea.  But others (myself included) take this passage as if instructing us in more the “horizontal” discernment – our relation with others.  Wait for the OTHERS to partake WITH us TOGETHER in UNITY.

There is no way my post is going to settle that debate.  Thus, I merely reference it and acknowledge my view on it.  I respect the former, but hold to the latter.  (I am entirely okay with BOTH/AND, but I still believe the latter case to be the heavy.)

Jesus prays, in John 17, very movingly about the unity of his disciples at one of the most poignant moments of his life and ministry.  Right when it matters most!  Shortly before his loving sacrifice.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians seems to be occasioned at least in part by his concern about factions in the congregation.  It appears that some people in this church are of rather high and powerful social standing while others low.  It may be that those of low status (due to shift work hours?) wind up joining the congregation late, but those of high status eat the Church feast and leave crumbs and scraps for the lowly when they arrive late.  IF that is the concern being addressed by St. Paul, then it tells us the manner of TABLE MANNERS which bring honor to Jesus as opposed to those other kinds of etiquette we show to earthly kings and presidents.

At THIS TABLE, you come in LOVE for one another. 

This puts all of us Protestants on notice.  We are partaking of Eucharist in an unworthy manner every time we come to the LORD’s TABLE just because we failed to discern the Body and so easily ignore the Pentecostals, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Cowboy church, and black church, Chinese church, and on and on it goes.  (This goes back to my disclaimer above then, since all of these groups AND MANY MORE LIKE THEM split with each other AND with the Holy Catholic Church – all Christians claiming the same Lord but not each other as his Body!  We don’t even desire to attend the meal anymore – not the one where THOSE guests are allowed.)

But in all of this, there seems to be one more – even more particular split of special interest, and that is when we fail to wait for the poor.

“If you do it for the least of these, my brothers, you do it for me,” says Jesus (Matt. 25:40).  If you fail to do it for the least, you fail to do it for Jesus.

TABLE MANNERS in the Kingdom of God appear to involve especially and specifically our love for the poor.  What is it Luke’s Jesus says?  He was sent to proclaim the Good News to the poor.  It is a Jubilee we are invited to, not some “state dinner.”  All that pomp is nice, but not necessary.  Without LOVE, you are just a noisy gong! (I Cor. 13:1).  When you throw a party (Eucharist? – Is there a bigger party???), do not invite your friends, family, relatives, and rich neighbors (so that you will be repaid in kind)… NO… invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and THOSE WHO CANNOT REPAY you, and THEN you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just! (Luke 14:12-14).

This is TABLE MANNERS in the Kingdom of God.

“Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up to me, I will come in and party with you…” (Rev. 3:20)

 

 

FAT BEGGARS HOME FOR WIDOWS, ORPHANS, AND SOJOURNERS EATS 5 LOAVES AND TWO FISHES

LET’S CALL THIS THE THANK YOU POST

 

As announced recently (though secretively at the same time), we here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners are slated to receive a new guest.  Without sharing ANY details, I only tell you that this is a young person with special medical issues.  It also is ANOTHER person.  We already have 3 received in similar manner, and are about to make it four.  Four where the fourth brings a whole new set of challenges in addition to the regular kind.

I am not at liberty IN THIS VENUE to publicly thank those stepping up.  We must remain anonymous HERE.

But I can, and I think should, tell you about the kindness shown here, for which we are deeply grateful.

My wife’s sister, knowing the challenges before us, decided to go on Facebook and seek friends and family to bring meals to us over time.  And as of last night, the meals are now arriving!  Food brought from home, food sent from restaurants (nice restaurants), and money collected to provide for more.

It is a wonderful blessing to eat a gift.  Especially a heavenly gift of love.

Thank YOU Jesus!  And Praise God.  And I get a share in this wonderful blessing!  (I am so pleased.)

If you read here, I request a prayer of THANX tonight for the love shown to the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners.

THE WEATHERMAN SAYS

I feel sorry for the weatherman.  Not too much, but some.  (You might prefer I say “weather forecaster” to avoid sexist language, but wait until I am done.  You might be glad I use the male terminology.)  I think there is a level of second-guessing that goes against nearly all professions.  If your doctor says, “cancer,” you BOTH go into denial AND get a second opinion.  Politicians are constantly getting harangued by the comedians and pundits and analyzers.  But preachers and weathermen are the really easy marks.  Preachers because in the final analysis, no one in the empire really wants to know the truth, and weathermen because their chance to “get it wrong”  goes pretty much minute by minute everyday and frequently has drastic consequences.

I bet it stinx every time he visits his favorite café and everyone in the joint knows his name, his face, and how wrong he is.  I bet he hears about it all the time.

But there is one thing he never seems to get criticized for that probably is more important than getting the correct wind speed, temperature, or cloud cover predicted.  What could that be?

Well, as Fall Season sets in, we begin to have cold fronts and cold snaps.  The temperature and moisture at night time become deadly to anyone stuck out in it.  The weatherman suddenly adds a little quip to his forecast, a reminder to “bring in your pets and potted plants.”  That part is good, of course, but it is the part he leaves out that concerns me most.  He didn’t say anything about the people left out there.

Why not?

Bring in your potted plants and your pets, y’all, cuz tonight it’s gonna freeze.  You don’t want your plants and pets to suffer.  Right?  Right.

Just a friendly reminder.  Might make the difference between life or death or fifty dollars of unexpected expense.

But it neatly ignores the image of God in “the least of these, my brothers” who will tough it out, possibly getting harassed by law enforcement for taking cover in a “no trespassing” or “no loitering” area.

I don’t mean to devalue the plants or pets one bit by pointing this out.  On the contrary, I mean to tell the weatherman to stop devaluing God by ignoring him so casually.  Lubbock, Texas is a “Christian” community – historically.  At least that is how we have viewed ourselves over time.  Just drive through this town and see all the huge, monolithic church buildings on street corner after street corner.

But then look close at the small signs posted in the covered areas around those properties and see how much those “churches” care about “the least of these” who might be taking shelter from the cold there.

Perhaps there is something wrong with this self perception.

But the weatherman is in a position to very easily call all of that to account by adding the simple words “and the homeless” to his list.  Be sure to bring in your potted plants, your pets, and your homeless tonight.  It’s going to freeze.  I, personally, think of this missing bit every time I hear this message.

You know what?

Even if he is wrong about the freeze, even if it only gets down to 33 degrees, he will still be right to say it.