PEARS & POOPS (AND ANOTHER KINDS OF HOMELESSNESS)

My parents were Neil Diamond fans, and I grew up hearing his many classic hit songs like Brooklyn Roads and I Am, I Said.  I was very young when I asked about this music.  Not being a major fan of Diamond or that kind of music today, I have to admit, he holds a nostalgic place in my heart and mind.  To hear the old songs “takes me back,” as we say.  I remember them fondly.

My reference to that will become clear shortly.

I have young people living with me now, very young.  People who are now my family, but who were born homeless.  As another famous song says, they “once [were] lost, but now [are] found.”  Innocent babies who did not belong, but now they do; they belong to me – to Jesus.  They are claimed.  I am “Pops” in their world.

I think about how when I was their age, my parents gave me toys to play with in the backyard, about the little imaginary adventures and explorations I embarked on within the bounds of the fence.  I dragged toys out; I found interesting bugs; I imagined myself as a “scientist,” an “explorer,” a “soldier,” or a “policeman.”  I was afforded the place – THE PLACE – in my parents hearts and on the physical property to explore my imagination as it connects to this world.

I provide that place for the little people, the kids I claim as mine and who claim me as theirs, in my backyard today.  But I am the one who cuts the grass.

I am the one NOW who picks up all the clutter in the yard, sets it all aside, and cuts the grass, a task that takes more than an hour.  Somewhere in the midst of that hour, pushing a mower around, I encounter a small pile of stones around the corner, up in the side gate area, and I realize that one of my kids had a little adventure just there.

It’s right about then, I recall Neil Diamond’s songs.  The lyric opens with “If I close my eyes…” and midway through says, “I can still recall…” suggesting the song not only is nostalgic, but is about nostalgia.  And the feeling of HOME.  Diamond recalls his mother, the smells of supper, and the warm embrace of his father, but even more, he recalls his vivid imagination, when he built castles and chased dragons.  As I recalled his song, and thus recalled my own imaginary world, I realized I was looking at the physical evidence of that very thing in my own son, AND I realized that Diamond also said, “Thought of going back, but all I’d see are strangers faces….”

Diamond claimed he was homeless.  This was far more obvious in his other song, I Am, I Said, but he still in no way depicted bums living on the streets.  He took his listeners on a tour of soul-homelessness that is undeniable, yet itself not given legitimate concern.  A fleeting feeling of nostalgia that somehow we all ache with, certainly enough of us to sell a LOT of records!  But somehow it just remains elusive as we strive to get on with our lives, to get up and go to work, to ache another ache as we snooze the alarm, suck it up and make the commute, as we send our kids to day care, to school, to soccer practice, and when we all get back “home” at the end of the day… to their room.

As I continued to cut the grass, I ran over premature pears scattered all over the yard after having been pulled from low-hanging branches on the pear tree, and I ran over dog poops scattered all over the yard after the kids found some imaginary use for them (ick!).  And right about there, I began to consider Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh’s case (in their 2008 book, Beyond Homelessness) that homelessness happens to the rich as well as the poor.  Not all homelessness is a matter of street-homelessness and poverty – though there certainly is that!  It also is a matter of rootlessness, of drifting through society – even the upwardly mobile.

Why do I talk about all this dreamy stuff and relate it to homelessness?

Because there is far more to “helping” than giving money.  There is far more to “effective helping” than not giving money.  In fact, it seems there is a precursor needing to be addressed which is that we ourselves are suffering a form of homelessness by virtue of the social world we have built and in which we live.

The need here is LOVE.  Love like you give (or not) to a small child who needs a ‘home.”  We don’t give the kids the standard calories, the standard clothing and shelter, encourage them to bathe and go to school – THOUGH ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE INVOLVED!  No.  We give them ourselves.  We GIVE them our time, our patience, our sweat, our best, our care at any and every given point of the day and night as they LIVE WITH us, as they encroach on our budget, our patience, our energy so they can scatter pears, poops, and rocks in little piles around the yard.

Mrs. Agent X and I provide a HOME to the homeless, and these kids (before coming here) qualified as homeless.  Not the standard picture in the dictionary you would expect, but ever bit as homeless as that too.  Meanwhile, I am homeless too, discovering God’s HOME, the HOME that The Carpenter builds – a temple made up of sons rather than bricks.  And I find healing for myself there as I join in the healing of the world around me too.

I have devoted my life to serving the homeless and the church, but I find that for the last three years, I am increasingly alienated from both, except for this work with these little ones.  While I in no way intend to abandon the streets with my thoughts and words here, I believe I need to increase my attention on the OTHER kinds of homelessness that Bouma-Prediger and Walsh write about, that I experience and which Neil Diamond highlights, and that my kids are plucked out of, and hopefully by doing so help my readers imagine a more holistic, Spiritually-orbed ministry to everyone experiencing homelessness, from the bums and the babies to the CEOs and VIPs.

THE LOG IN MY EYE

It is very hard to see an elephant in the room when you have a log in your eye.  It’s hard to see anything with a LOG in your eye.  I have a log in my eye.  It’s hard to see anything but the log with a log in your eye.  Even the log in your eye is hard to see when it’s IN YOUR EYE.  I have a log in my eye, and it is hard to see.  It’s hard to remove.

Neo wanted to see the matrix.  It was hard to see the matrix.  The matrix was overpowering his eye; I mean it was right up in his face!  But he took a red pill that changed everything, and suddenly (not too unlike the man and the woman in Genesis 3:7) his eyes were opened and he could see what he was seeing but which he couldn’t see before that because it was all he could see and how that cleared it all up for him.

Is it that simple?

Is that simple??

Is that even a fair analysis???

Well, Neo and The Matrix are a fiction movie packed with eye-candy action and special effects.  That’s not real, even though it calls reality in for review.  I am thinking that as a Christian, I need to hear from Jesus.

Jesus talks about the log in my eye.  I got that from him.  He talks about that log, specifically, as part of his sermon about judging others.  It is a sermon we find in the Sermon on the Mount, which in Matthew’s Gospel functions similarly (though with obvious significant differences) to Luke’s Jubilee sermon in chapter 4 of his Gospel.  Jesus is kicking off his bid to be King of the Jews, and these are his opening remarks which will set the agenda for his Kingdom Cause.

“Judge not, lest you be judged,” Jesus says, “by the measure you use, it will be used for you.”  He continues, “Why do you see a speck in your brother’s eye, yet do nothing about the log in your eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?”

Turns out, I am not seeing clearly.  I have a log in my eye.

Jesus says so, and I trust him; I believe him.  He is a better authority than Neo, even if – IF – if they happen to agree at some interesting point(s).

Actually, the notion that I am not seeing clearly is well established, even if hard to see.  I have always known it – at least I kinda knew it.

When I came in to this world, this matrix, I was naked and vulnerable, completely and utterly dependent on my mom and dad.  I especially relied on my mom, and I sucked on her breast, looked into her eyes, her smile, and felt her warmth and love, and I did all of that from before I could remember.  In fact, quite honestly, I am trusting now that she really did those things with/for me then.  I was too young, too ill equipped (immature) to remember any of that.

Point being: I have no objective memory of how I got here.  In fact, I have no objective memory of the day my eyes were first opened.

I recall quite a lot of first experiences which were eye-opening after a fashion, but even those experiences built on previous eye-opening experiences which I experienced before those, and which I cannot recall in anything like an objective way.

I really could just be a “brain in a vat.”

 

I cannot prove otherwise.  That really is kind of a showstopper.  There are some aspects of reality I just have to take for granted.  Some are mythical in nature – mythical, not as in lies (necessarily), but as in stories which give non-objective, and not-necessarily complete explanation boundaries (usually of origins, but also of endings) behind which I cannot see.  These myths give me the bits I must take for granted so that I can move forward in the things that I do see.  Some of them I find in family, friends, school, and some in church and the Bible.  To believe in any of them, and thus to order my world accordingly, requires that I trust in them.

World Order

 

We are, by nature (by design, I say) world-ordering creatures.  This is a fairly plainly observable fact about humans.  We are always building, setting boundaries, exploring, mapping, looking, arranging, setting, stacking, standing, laying, storing, destroying, tilling, planting, harvesting, planning, saving, spending, talking, going, staying, cutting, sewing, killing, studying, and expanding in our effort(s) to order our world.

I built my house.  I picked a location close to the… _________ (fill in the blank) and put a driveway leading to the garage on this side, the front door on the front, the back door on the back, the large window facing the beautiful view, the bathroom adjacent to the water heater and on the opposite wall from the kitchen sink to centralize the plumbing.  I built it with archways for the aesthetic appeal, I planted trees here, here, and there for the shade value and for the beauty value.

I shop at a supermarket around the corner that was planned and zoned for the commercial district just adjacent to the residential district, well away from the industrial park.  The commercial district provides a buffer between the freeway and the residential district.

I drive a truck so I can haul things and pull things.  My second car is a sedan so that when I travel or otherwise want to carry people in comfort, I can do that.

I have insurance on my life, my home, and my cars.  I have a 401k, an IRA, and my job provides me with health insurance with dental, but I have a second savings account for my eye doctor visits.  I also have a savings account in which I maintain $1000 to cover the deductibles which I keep high so that I can pay lower premiums month to month.  I have another savings account for vacation plans.  I have yet another for long-term savings and emergency funds.

I use birth control so I can plan on having 2.6 kids.  When I built my house, I added 2.6 bedrooms to it in addition to the “master bedroom.”  My house has 2.5 baths to cover these needs.

I have a weight bench and a treadmill so I can keep myself physically fit.  I use an app to plan my diet and meals each week.  I do these things to stay healthy.

I have said enough now to show how I order my world.  Yet I have not said anything about my education, saving for my kids’ educations, my career plans and goals.  I have not said anything yet about my worship, my church, my tithes, my faith, my vaccinations, my gun cabinet with a safety lock on it, my liquor cabinet with a lock on it, the hiding place where I keep the keys for these things so the kids cannot get into them (in a secret box at the back of my closet right beneath my porn mags where I know they are safe from my kids!).

I have not mentioned the taxes I pay, the politics I vote for and/or promote, or the penguin theme my wife and I decorate our salt-n-pepper shakers and curtains with.  I have not mentioned that I have a light switch next to each door to each room, an electrical outlet on each wall, central air conditioning and heating, or anything about my home security system.  But I have now thoroughly demonstrated that I am a world orderer, and so are you.

It is easy to get just a little drifty at this point in all my world order and think I have it all mapped out, figured out, arranged, and even conquered.  Well, maybe there are a few bits that need a bit more adjustment, but in the broad strokes, it’s all very close to complete.  Just one or two adjustments shy of utopia.  I mean, I do have to finish paying off that credit card at the high interest, I need to talk to the OTHER bank about their better rates on the CD’s, and I need to run a vacuum cleaner over the carpet in my den, but otherwise, seriously, it’s getting really close to perfect!  Well, okay, I do need a little more money, really, just a little more, and then I am pretty much there.

It’s hard, in these circumstances, to admit that I see as in a mirror dimly!  It is hard to admit that I have a log in my eye!  I tell myself that I am not greedy, I am just ordering my world responsibly!

But when I see a bum on the street corner turning to the drink or opioids rather than getting a bath, a job, a savings account, and a home, then I think – oh yeah… he has a speck in his eye!  He needs to learn the value of a dollar!  Then he will be okay.

When I see black people marching in the streets protesting, chanting, shouting and carrying on after yet another black man dies needlessly at the hands (or knee) of a white police officer, all holding their “black lives matter” placards and all, I think to myself – oh here we go again!  We are so close to UTOPIA here, but these clowns just get riled up by liberals and think they aren’t getting their free ride free enough!

Now, I am judging.

 

Judging is part of how we order our world.  One aspect of many, but an important one all the same.

But now I am judging, and not only am I judging, but I just pulled a very clever trick on you and made it appear I was talking about me all this time, but then sucked you and your politics and all that into the orb of my judgement.

Ain’t that clever?  Ain’t that cute??  Aren’t I just really smart???

Actually, thanx for saying that, but no.  I am not that smart.  Smart? Yes, but not THAT smart.

No.  If you’re still with me, hang on a moment.  I didn’t post this to talk about YOU per se.  I posted about the log in MY eye.  Jesus makes a statement there in Matthew 7 that pretty plainly tells me that I have a log in my eye!  I trust him more than my own vision.  His remark did not say “if” or “when” as though to suggest the log might not be there or that it might only be temporary – as in a come-n-go type eye log.  No.  He says I have a log in my eye.

NOW…  He didn’t single me out alone for this.  You got it too.  So if you feel the heat in this, then take it up with him.  But even so, I am not writing this post to explore the log in your eye or to help you get the speck out of your eye, but to deal with the log in my eye.  So, that clever bit there is not actually my point, even if you find it applies to you at whatever level (and there are deeper levels at which you might get that point than just the mere surface level).

Definitions and redefining BUT not running from conviction

 

In order to do a thorough examination of the log in my eye as presented by Jesus in Matthew 7, I may need to redefine a few terms or re-contextualize them at least.  What counts as “judging” or not and what counts as “seeing”?  What counts as a speck or a log?

The thing really coming home to roost for ME personally here, as I write this stuff, is that Jesus is talking about judging!  He first off commands us not to judge!

Sit with that a minute.

If you are protesting – especially burning and threatening your city – for the corruption you find in it, you are judging.  If you watch that protest – and the accompanying mayhem – and claim it is not right, you are judging.

I bet I just captured everyone with any awareness of the recent events (and some old ones like them) in the orb of this passage, and I just pointed out that Jesus says NOT to judge!

It sounds so simple if I just leave it without comment, but the moment I plop down this observation about a recent event that everyone AND their a-hole has an opinion about along side Jesus’s command, it suddenly becomes clear that we can’t help but judge!

We are world-orderers by nature (by design, I say), and judging is part of ordering our world.

Even if we employ a been-to-law school, duly-elected, qualified public official to judge matters for us in a sanctioned court of law, we will look at his/her judgment of the matters they decide, and then WE will decide if we agree or not.

Is there something in the Greek here that specifies a different kind of judging?  Does “judging” here mean “condemning” specifically, as opposed to aquitting, which also is a judgment?  Does Jesus mean, No nitpicking?  No armchair or unnecessary criticisms?

On the other hand, Jesus puts this judging in the context of vision and specks or logs inhibiting our clarity.  Surely we cannot, in fairness to the biblical context just turn this discussion away from matters of judging, but perhaps the idea that our vision is obscured might stand to be enhanced as we look at passages like Genesis 3 where the man and the woman ate the forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened, or like the passage alluded to above where St. Paul says we see like in a mirror dimly.  There seems to be an irony we are meant to wrestle with in the statement that by the measure we use, judgment will be measured to us.  This has me thinking of Haman impaled on his own gallows in the book of Esther.  He certainly aimed to put the Jews under the jugdment that he himself suffered.  The justice was poetic!

Quite frankly, there is more to this redefinition business than a single post such as mine can account for.  Such questions, I think, are important, but most of us are not qualified to answer them, and there is a very real risk that in chasing after the answers, I will find a way to excuse myself for judging others.  There are hairs to split down that path.

I in no way aim to let myself off the hook with conviction here either by asking such questions for by avoiding them, but this post is getting pretty long already, and I am sure I will not satisfy all by chasing them further, but I do want to acknowledge them.  I want to acknowledge these questions and questions like them, to validate them as important on the one hand, but to challenge us not to just run from conviction by asking them either.

We didn’t finish the passage yet.

 

But Jesus calls me a hypocrite too though.  Just another sentence below where we left off, he says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your eye and THEN you can see how to help your brother with that speck in his eye.”

Hmmm…  I was still trying to get a handle on the log in my eye.  Without the handle, how can I take it out of my eye?

Jesus doesn’t explain it at that level for me.  But he did just call me a hypocrite.  I am a faker, a play actor, a stage actor, a pretender, a couterfeit, but NOT THE REAL THING.  He does not tell me to avoid helping my brother with his speck, but on the contrary to do exactly that.  However, he insists I deal with the log in my eye first.

Interesting.  This was the complaint he had for me at first.  I try to take the speck out of my brother’s eye while I have a log in my own.  This was how he fleshed out the statement: Judge not, lest you be judged.  This is how he fleshed out the poetic justice where the measure I use in judging will be used against me – sort of a spiritual Miranda warning.

It’s like he is saying, Don’t judge; you can’t see clearly enough for that.  He starts with DONT JUDGE, and that is rather final, but it almost looks like the judgment I am prohibited from doing is the seeing of the speck in my brothers eye, which in turn is ironic considering the log in my eye, which is doubly ironic since I see anything at all with a log in my eye!  But now after calling me a hypocritical phony, Jesus is telling me to help my brother with the speck in his eye, alright, but to get the log out of mine first.  There is a fine distinction there between judging and not – or so it seems.

Look this passage up in Matthew 7:3 and 5 and compare/contrast the two verses.  They say almost the same thing but with almost opposite meanings.  Verse 3 is asking a question; 5 making a statement.  Verse 3, despite being a question, fleshes out the prohibition of verse 1, but verse 5 is my command.  I am told to do the very thing in verse 5 that I am prohibited from doing in verse 3 – ALMOST.

What are the very important differences here?

Well, in verse 3 I was SEEING the speck in my brother’s eye, while I had a log in my eye.  In verse 5, I am helping my brother with the speck in his eye, AFTER I remove the log from my eye.  The one is judging, the other is not, and in between, I was being a hypocrite.  A phony, an imposter.

I can’t help but think again about the greed in my life, masquerading as fiscal responsibility – an important aspect of ordering the world – and seeing the bum on the street who I am now going to “help” using my “effective” methods.  Basically, I am judging him, and not only judging, but any “help” I am giving him with that greed/log in my eye will only make him greedy too (assuming I am actually successful) or will increase his inferiority if I am not successful.

But I am not talking about YOU in this post, I am talking about me (maybe us, but me for sure).  I have a log in MY eye.  What is that log and how do I get rid of it?

Well, I feel sure this will be a stretch for most anyone reading this far, but that “hypocrite” idea is trying world order and judgement to Genesis 1, 2, and 3 for me.  In Matthew 7, Jesus is launching his mission with the Sermon on the Mount message of which this bit of the sermon is a part.  Jesus, the Last Adam (I Cor. 15:45), is the One truly human person there on the scene.  He is the target at which all other humans may or may not aim, but which they all fall short.  He is the real thing.  The rest of us are pretenders, fakers, counterfeits.

A funny thing about phony people, they are constantly trying to rearrange the world in a way to justify themselves.  Not content to be the image of God, these poor creatures (among which I am one) try to be God, and God is the Judge, not the humans.

We humans have so much God-likeness going for us, even in our sin.  How much more without sin?  But we are not Judge and never were.  We were not intended to be Judge.

It gets hard to iron out the wrinkles here, but we are made to bear God’s image.  We are created in love to love and to be loved.  God is love.

Jesus, the real thing, the true image bearer, comes and preaches this sermon at the opening end of the saga, but at the climactic part, he is taking the worst judgment the would-be humans can pass on him.  All through the parts in between, Jesus is healing the sick, resoring the lost, raising up the humble, and loving the unlovable.  All the people others judge, Jesus is showing kindness to instead.  He is helping them with the speck in their eye, among other things like feeding them, healing them, partying with them.

In the broad strokes, Jesus is coming along side the lowly, the needy, broken, and entrusting himself to God in doing it.  Rather than setting up a throne or a judgment seat from which to hand down rulings, Jesus loves those being crushed by those who do such things.

I find Matthew 12 sitting there in the wings about this point waiting a chance to step on the stage.  There we see Jesus getting into all manner of dangerous controversy with Scribes and Pharisees, some early skirmishes with opposition midway through his ministry.

I have a log in MY eye.

I just take a minute and imagine myself in ministry trying to love the poor and needy, the broken and down trodden, and finding all manner of conflict with “religious leaders” as I go about it.  I see myself getting upset, haggard, beat down.  I see myself saddened, frustrated, and angry about the treatment I get at the hands of people who not only should know better, but who are tasked with doing better, and who, if they don’t, there is no plan B to fill in the gap!  I see myself more and more alienated as I try to manage my words and acts so as to be righteous and certainly not to condemn people, but to call them to repentance (to help them get the speck out of their eye).

Do I dare to compare myself to Jesus?

Aboslutely!  Who else should I aim to imitate?

But I in no way think I have mastered myself as he did.

But it’s right about here that I despair.

What does Jesus do?

Jesus withdrew, and people followed him, and he healed them, and then he told them not to talk about him (the first two rules of Fight Club!).  And he did this to fulfill what Isaiah had said about the Servant in his book, chapter 42.

 

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Did you catch that part about being the Chosen One, about how with God’s Spirit he will proclaim JUSTICE?

Proclaiming justice without judging, but by being wrongly judged, he does it.  And he proclaims this justice to the Gentiles without a quarrel or without crying.  People do not hear him in the streets, but he doesn’t bust anyone’s chops when their are bruised or smoldering until he brings justice to victory.

That is a LOT of DEEP faith right there.  And Jesus draws on it from the Bible he read, the book of Isaiah specifically.

Hmmm…

I got a log in my eye.  

No doubt there are things that means and entails which I so far have not dealt with and maybe as of yet don’t understand, but I sure see Jesus saving rather than judging – especially as per his own initiative (John 12:47-50).

Jesus takes the judgment of others and bears it on their behalf, and in so doing, he is crowned King of the Jews and bears the image of God supremely.

You can’t do that as a Republican.  You can’t do that as a Democrat.  You can’t do that AS A PARTICIPANT in American politics at all.

I have this log in my eye.  I keep proclaiming justice by pointing out the speck in my fellow conservatives’ eyes.  I keep pointing out the speck in my fellow liberals’ eyes.  I keep SEEING those specks there as if somehow I have a God’s eye view of things.  And strangely, it seems as if I do, and it seems as if I have a moral and ethical responsibility to point that stuff out.  And try and try as I may to point it out, no one, and I mean NO ONE has come close to persuading me that I am mistaken in my view, that there are specks in those eyes, and HERE THEY ARE. Just look!

But I am a hypocrite.

Jesus is the real thing.

And if I want to be like him, and thus remove the log from my eye so that I can be like him, then I must do like him and NOT JUDGE.  Then I must do like he says and HELP my brother get that speck, which I plainly saw before, out of his eye.  Not by LOOKING at it and pointing it out, but by taking the judgment in his place after removing the log from my eye.

One more bit to the passage

 

The last part of that sermonette on judging others is a bit of an archaic command.  Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy; do not throw pearls before pigs, lest they trample these things under foot, then turn and attack you.”

No doubt in Jesus’s context, up on the mountain preaching that day, the dogs and the pigs were the Gentiles, the pagan occupiers of God’s Promised Land who had charge over God’s people.  Jesus, ON THAT DAY, gave this sermon to the people of God FIRST, and only after the time had come was it made available to all.

Today the holy things and pearls are available to all.  That time has now come.  Thus in a direct sense, this statement no longer applies to us like it did the first hearers.  But perhaps there is still wisdom in it for us.  It’s meaning and application for our context up for interpretation with a longer leash.

With that liberty at hand, I suggest that by posting about MY log in MY eye, I aim to attract the interest of readers with soft hearts convicted.  No doubt hard hearts will trample this post and may well turn to attack me.

 

PRAYER REQUEST FOR AGENT MAMA DJ

At this time, I am seeking prayers for my dear friend and partner in the cause, Agent Mama DJ.

I do not have any details, and I am not sure at this point what I can share of the little bit I know, but I found a message from DJ on my phone this morning sent last night stating she is admitted to the hospital possibly for a heart attack or stroke.

I have not yet spoken to her myself, but some readers here are very familiar with her, in fact a few have met her and understand how dear she is to Jesus and to this ministry.

 

Thanx for your prayers, and I will update when I have more word.

X

“I UNDERSTAND AND DON’T CARE” VS. CHRISTIAN LOVE IN PANDEMIC

(Disclaimer: This post does in fact argue the case, but I am under no delusion that I will influence you.  If that happens, please let me know!  And I certainly try to be an open-minded sort if you want to argue with me.  But honestly, my view of this issue and the climate in which issues are argued these days does very little to persuade people to go a different direction.  Maybe to intensify the direction you were already headed and to thus move people from moderate positions into the extreme, but not so much to change their direction.  THUS, I am not writing nearly so much to persuade as to stand up and be counted, and to hopefully give encouragement to those who hold views similar to mine.  You are not alone.  Even if we don’t see all things eye-to-eye, this is my case for adhering to precautions in a pandemic, and I see LOVE as my guide.)

 

First The SIMPLE Stuff

How to LOVE someone who might potentially get your cooties and contract disease or even die:

Wear a mask around them; keep a six-foot distance to the extent feasible, and wash your hands a lot.

How to LOVE someone who might potentially get your cooties and contract disease or even die who wears a mask:

Wear a mask around them; keep a six-foot distance to the extent feasible, and wash your hands a lot.

How to LOVE someone who might potentially get your cooties and contract disease or even die who refuses to wear a mask and even ridicules you if you do or preaches against you if you do:

Wear a mask around them; keep a six-foot distance to the extent feasible, and wash your hands a lot.

 

This ain’t Rocket Surgery, ya’ll.  It’s pretty simple.  If you CARE about other people, then you do CAREFUL things on their behalf.

 

Wearing a mask, washing your hands, keeping your distance is in no way the totality of LOVE, but your willful disregard of those things definitely is unloving; it’s indifferent, hateful, and FEAR CAUSING, but not loving.

But I find people I love, know, respect, and associate with in all manner of contexts totally disregarding this care for others.  Many of them just for pure selfish reasons – even stupid selfish reasons.  Others for expedience, and still others making all manner of hifalutin claims (some religious in nature).  Yet deep down, the sense I get underlying MOST of it is political (power-grab) in nature.

Suddenly I have Dax Riggs on my mind again.  I strongly doubt any of MY readers are familiar (and perhaps for good reason), but I discovered the grave-celebrating, nihilistic music of Dax Riggs back when he was a member of the band Acid Bath.  There is a line from the very dark, evil-spirit song Diab Soule that just keeps ringing in my ears as I watch and listen to so many of my Christian friends and the indifference or even scorn they express for mitigating precautions promoted by epidemiologists and historians.

The line?  “I understand; and don’t care.”  The pentacle, or should I say the abyss, of the song.  “I understand; and don’t care.”    Here it is in context:

 

Summer feels like death

Godless we run

In my eyes there dreams an ocean

Hell beneath my tongue

I understand and don’t care

Well the skyscrapers look like gravestones from out here

Throwback With blood in my cum

In my heart the song plays on The Insects Requiem

I understand and don’t care

Well the skyscrapers look like gravestones from out here

In my eyes there dreams an ocean

Hell beneath my tongue

I understand And don’t care

Pissing your life as fast as they consume you

Killing everything as fast as they can bleed you

Pissing your life as fast as they consume you

Killing everything as fast as they can bleed you

 

 

Do you follow that?

Neither do I.  It doesn’t even make sense, but I am clear that it celebrates death, indifference, and evil in an effort to have a good time.

Pretty dark stuff.  Great rock music!  But really terrible worldview and attitude for a Christian.  For Christians especially, of all people.

Why on earth would Christians ever think they can just shirk the LOVE for any lesser agendas?  Doesn’t that reduce us to a noisy gong???

“I understand and don’t care.”  Better left a sentiment expressed in a truly dark rock song than in my family, friends, and neighbors – I think.   Especially the “Body of Christ”!  Goes to show my church has been failing on a number of fronts.  Some I was not aware of at all.

The Arguments (or lack thereof)

I got friends and family who know, who have been well informed, about the risks and the precautions necessary to preserve good health and life itself.  FREINDS AND FAMILY.  Christian people.  Yet they either disregard precautions or even thwart them and come truckin’ right into my house.

So much for “social distancing.”  So much for washing hands, for staying home, for wearing a mask.  I got friends and family who feel at liberty to come right in my house and potentially expose those of us in here who are dutifully abiding with life-preserving precautions and putting us at risk.

Two of us in this home have “underlying issues” and another is a foster child who doesn’t actually belong to us in the fullest sense.  I have a dear OLD dad to care for as well.  But this hasn’t stopped or slowed some of my own friends and family from putting them at unnecessary risk.

And for what?

A party?  To beat boredom??  Because it feels like all the hype over precautions is a liberal/Democrat and Socialist agenda???  Some are even claiming this supports biblical ethics, faith, religion!

Really?

Hmmm…

We as a nation are LOST.  A lot more LOST than even I realized, and I have been looking at the church questioning that for a long time already.

Immaturity

Oh yeah.  I got friends and family who are young and want to be out socializing.  I get it too.  I was young once.  And I was fortunate to be young when there was no pesky pandemic jamming up my social calendar.  But that is just NOT a worthwhile reason to put your loved ones at risk.  IF, and of course “risk” means “IF,” IF grandma or little brother gets severely ill and/or dies, I am going to wonder if YOUR need to party with your friends was really THAT good.

Our times call for maturity.  We need to grow up fast.

In this case, LOVE (like in the Bible) means putting others’ interests above your own.

Politics

Oh yeah, I got friends and family who think this whole thing is just a liberal agenda masquerading as a problem.  A gimmick invented by liberals to counteract conservatives.  In fact, we have some politicians fanning the flames of this idiotic nonsense.  Where was all this talk of liberal/Socialist agendas when I was studying world history in high school and we came to the chapter on the Black Death Plague?

Oh… that wasn’t in the history books 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago?  (I think I just discovered “talking points” at work here – opportunistic “talking points” which arise with your fantastic and urgent need to counteract the failings of your conservative leadership in a time of urgency – therefore just discount the urgency!)

Faith

Oh yeah, I got friends and family who think that wearing a mask, washing your hands, keeping appropriate distance suddenly makes fear your master and does a disservice to Jesus and his Kingdom Cause.

Now, just one minute there.  I don’t recall you speaking out against operating rooms at the hospital!  They do all of those things in the OR as a matter of serving you, your fellow man, and even Jesus explains to the expert in the law who his neighbor is by describing a dreaded Samaritan providing medical care to a Jew in need.  They name hospitals after this parabolic hero!  But up until just recently, I don’t recall any of my religious minded, Christian friends calling the bluff on any of that.

To be honest, I don’t think that is really about Jesus at all.  It is all just a little too opportunistic and riding the political wave.  A religious smokescreen for political agendas.  A backdoor way of discrediting liberals and Democrats and endorsing conservatives and Republicans with hifalutin theological arguments that just don’t hold water.

I’m not a liberal.  I don’t want Hillary Clinton for president; I never did.  But as a conservative myself, I am fully capable of separating scientific evidence from theological and political agendas.  I say this because I have the same motivations at work in me too, but stooping to this smokescreen is just ridiculous – dumb.

The Complications (okay not everything is so simple)

Look.  I know there are some situations and even aspects of what is happening in our world now that is more complex than just the simple comments I have made thus far.  I will touch on a few of them in a moment.  Not so I can exhaustively argue every detail, but so that I can demonstrate that I am aware of them.  But if we Christians want to take an attitude and the accompanying behaviors of LOVE as our guide in these matters, then most of this gets simplified rather dramatically.

Taking precautions, like wearing a mask, keeping appropriate distance to the extent it is feasible, and washing your hands is not really bowing to fear, it is prudent, and in this case a sign of respect for others, even LOVE for others as you put the interest of others above your own.

It costs next to nothing to do it; the downside(s) are minimal; and the refusal to do it, unloving.  The preaching and teaching against it is extremely unloving and borders on blaspheme of the Holy Spirit.  If you are going to refuse the help of the life giver, then you will not have life, and there is nothing can be done for you at that point.  When you call others to do the same, their blood is on your hands.

Perfect LOVE casts out fear.  Let us unite and cast this one out with our love for the vulnerable people in our midst.  Let us pay the (for many of us) very minor price to pay in showing our Christian LOVE to the world around us.

I was concerned the homeless, those with so few options and so little resources, would be the spreaders of contagion, fear, and scorn.  But now I find it is my fellow Americans bored at home, itching to get back to the bar or the beach, or my fellow Christians AFRAID this love is a slave to fear or afraid it turns our government in a Socialist direction.

Not cool.

I understand that matters become more complex especially for those who work in essential jobs that put them at risk.  I understand that we must take risks as we put people back to work and school, at jobs and activities which, though we can take a hiatus, are essential in the long run.  I understand that as people are out of work, their ability to afford food, shelter, and vital services is diminished – which requires we take risks to manage those things too.

I am not unaware that risks must be taken, but we can manage them carefully and imaginatively, in ways that are not nearly so reckless.  (Assuming I get a reader who would like to discuss careful and imaginative ways to mitigate problems AND risks – especially AS A CHURCH, I would love to discuss that further in the comments below!)

I am not against facing fear either.  If a gunman stormed into the church service where I was praying with my fellow parishioners and started shooting and killing randomly, I would advise AGAINST armed guards shooting back.  You cannot LOVE the gunman and shoot at him at the same time.  Churches are doing that these days, but that is not LOVE either.  Good conservative politics, but not love.

If my house was located next to a busy freeway, I would insist my children not go past the fence, to just stay in the yard to play.  When they are old enough and the time for such concern is past, I will back off of that rule.

If I wear a mask to protect you, that is not shooting at anyone (nor is it good self-protection either), but it is keeping you out of unnecessary danger during a pandemic, which eventually will be eradicated like those which came and went before.  Historians tell us the world has suffered pandemics before.  They might devastate us, but they have a track record of being TEMPORARY.  And that means the precautions do not have to be permanent.

The more we learn about the virus causing this one, the more we can target our efforts to eradicate it.  Once that happens, we will not need the precautions.  UNLESS, of course, the antivaccing stupidity plagues our ability to fight this plague.

Complications with my Complications

Are there other complexities at work here than just the ones I mention?

Yes, absolutely.  But they need not muddy the water.  But to name a few, I see the government shutting down churches and I find that alarming too.  The government should have ASKED for that, not demanded it.  And the audacity of our president to think that he can open them back up, or that he can even claim to, is such an arrogant misunderstanding of his place.  I don’t even appeal to the US Constitution for this, though obviously I could.  But that blasphemous document won’t help anyone when the books are opened at the end of the age.

If we have to go underground like the church in China, well that would be ironic on Trump’s watch, but most things on his watch are….

But still, I am troubled by all of that too.  Yet I don’t in anyway see the church’s noncompliance as LOVING, and if we abandon LOVE, then we have abandoned our post in this world.  Better to be wronged and return evil with good than to go around thwarting the authorities just because they are stupid.  Or better yet, why didn’t we offer our fancy church buildings as shelter to the homeless?  That would have shined our light, but maybe that was too scary.

If you really want to lay down your life in LOVE for God so that it can be seen by men, then do like Shane Claiborne did during the Shock-n-Awe of the Iraq War and go to the enemy lands and find Christians there to pray with WHILE THE USA BOMBS THE CRAP OUT OF THEM!  Or, maybe just do like Jesus told that one rich guy and sell all you own, give it to the poor, count your riches in heaven and come follow!  Of course that kind of very risky, LOVING obedience might not be demanded of EVERYONE, but why not YOU?  But if you do like Jesus says there, you sure won’t be a good capitalist long.  No.  You will probably need to find a church like the one in Jerusalem, according to Acts 2 and 4, who shared everything they had so that the poor did not have need.

And in this time of pandemic when our economy is tanked and sooooooo many people are out of work, children going hungry, and all that, perhaps if more Christians did THAT, then our light would really shine!  And we would not be fearful people, but fearless!  AND save the world with the opportunity God give us to shine!

And we can do all of the latter, all of the more, without sacrificing all of the earlier, the lesser bits like wearing a mask, washing our hands, and keeping an appropriate distance!

LOVE – It always come back to the LOVE

Let LOVE guide our actions now.  The world will know who Jesus’s disciples are by the LOVE we have for one another.  The world needs to know Jesus.  The Republican Party and the conservatives in no way have that all figured out, nor are such assemblies the authorized representatives of Jesus.  In fact, though we conservatives get a fair bit of the Jesus/Kingdom agenda worked into our politics, there are some huge, gaping blind spots too, and have been for decades or more.

Funny how we conservatives, not all of us to be sure, get all riled up about abortion but not the death penalty and somehow get away with calling that “Prolife.”  We send our kids off to fight our wars, and that is not Prolife.  But we worry that the unborn are the most vulnerable among us, that they don’t get a say, that we must speak up FOR them.  … Well?  Speak up for your neighbor (and all the elderly in nursing homes who are really taking the brunt of this pandemic for us!) and wear a mask!  (Remember when we conservatives were afraid the liberals were going to have “death panels”?  Why are we so willing to put our neighbors at risk like this if we feared liberal “death panels” just a few years ago?)

Show some cooperation with others and be peaceable!  We conservatives have more work to do.  But actually, that is just talking politics.  Let’s talk KINGDOM, between brothers and sisters, and seek THAT first.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, liberals AND conservatives.  And you may be surprised to see the abortionists, the whores, and the intergenerational welfare recipients coming into the Kingdom before you.

The fact of the matter is: You do understand.  You should care.  There is nothing in God’s Word that negates that or excuses it.  Certainly nor for some political agenda.

Christian, Please Wear a Face Mask: Part 1

How do I say this? This blog post is even wordier than me! It is researched well beyond what I would have published. I would have just said that LOVE guides us to the same place all this research does, but maybe this needs to be said too. I hope you will visit this blog, consider the blood on your hands carefully BROTHERS and SISTERS. And yield your liberty to the LOVE of others. (And no, this is not a back door way to worship “safety” – even IF that were a thing coronavirus does to us. No. You can’t love people you put at risk of killing for your own vain interests. Pray on that.

Practically Known Theology

antimaskby John Ellis

While his novel The Plague has been studiously read for over half a century, Camus’ prophetic parable has taken on extra resonance these last few months. In the book, the plague haunting the Algerian town of Oren is Camus’ metaphor for his belief that we live in the absurd situation of waiting for death to claim us, and, make no mistake, death will eventually claim each and every one of us. Front and center in the book is the thematic claim that no matter how much we believe otherwise, none of us have any say in our destiny. For the atheist Camus the reality of death meant that the absurdity of life is a given. Our responses to that given – the absurd – is what interested the great French writer. Do we live in denial? Do we engage in fruitless escape attempts? Do we resign ourselves…

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POWER OF DEMONS

This just in….

The real power of demons is the love you have for them.

Think about it.

 

 

 

 

The demon Jesus meets in Mark 5 is a thoroughly Roman demon commanding the allegiance of his subjects.  He is a pagan among the tombs, gashing himself, destroying himself, yet stronger than can be chained and subdued.  When this demon identifies himself, he uses the very Latin word for a very Latin idea – he is legion!

Legion is from the land of the Garasenes, which we might call the Little Italy of Judea.  The folx living there are pagans over ruling the locals and representing that empire that is conquering the whole known world for the glory of Rome.  The area of Asia particularly shows extreme devotion to this demon, but the Jews are tempted to also, and a fair number of their leaders in fact do collaborate.

This Roman demon collects tax and allegiance to his flags.  He is a ferocious demon!  But notice how at merely getting out of the boat, this demon comes running to bow down to Jesus!  This is exactly what Rome does on the stage of world history.  But first, this demon asks to be cast into the pigs, and the pigs rush back into the sea from which this demon came!

 

The power of Rome is the LOVE the world gives him.  He will defeat you, you cannot bind him with chains, but you will give your allegiance to him when after he wins the fight he then wins your hearts and minds.

 

We meet another “unclean spirit” in Mark 9 – a stubborn one that the disciples cannot cast out.  This one is very uniquely a Jewish demon.  This one resists the other demon, but that is not really the tip off.  Notice this demon is found inhabiting the son of a nameless father!  If this demon had a name, it would be bar Abbas – Barabbas (son of the Father).

Notice the Jewish history looming in the background of this demon, this helpless father trying to represent YHWH, God, and trying to do so with a son whose spirit throws him into the water and the fire to destroy him!  The disciples are unable to cast this one out.  They have not had such problems before now, but now they are helpless before the one they themselves suffer as the sons of the Father.

We know from Jesus in Mark at some points and especially from St. Paul and St. Luke that being hung up on your fleshly Jewish background will be a stumbling block.  To be the child of God will not require this Jewish lineage in the usual sense, but on the faith even non-Jews have in Jesus alone.

 

This kind comes out only by prayer.  The more stubborn demon, the one you need to pray about is the one that has you tricked into believing your own flesh is your salvation.

 

This one infects YOU and ME.  This one is very personal to the people of God.  Just ask the Jews, the bar Abba people who would petition Pilate to release Barabbas and kill Jesus, even though Jesus is the real Son of God.

 

Actually, the Roman demon steels your heart and mind as you devote your allegiance to the flags of empire.  The Jewish demon claims your heart and mind and strength as your devotion throws you into the water or into the fire to destroy you.

 

It is no mistake that once Jesus casts out this unclean spirit, the boy lies as if dead before waking up.

 

The power these demons have IS the love you give them.

 

And that may well come as a shock to some of us.

 

The Story of Jason/David (Jesus)

Another blast from the past: This one is long, but broken in parts easy to take a break from if needed. They all tell a single story about one homeless kid going by two names… and a church that may have helped him, and the Jesus I found loving him from within me and some of my brothers and sisters.

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

The post below is a series of publications from THE FAT BEGGARS’ SPOT.  Four issues copied and pasted together and republished here.  They tell the story of a young man who came to church homeless and left WHOLE.  They tell the story of a church wrestling with how that would work, and of one family rising to the challenge.  They tell the story of several lives transformed – not the least – MINE, since I had a front row seat to the action.

The post is long, I know, but it is broke up in segments.  I hope you will find it worth your time (and I suggest taking a break from it at each segment and coming back as it is convenient).  But mostly I hope it challenges your imagination and blesses your efforts to care for the homeless.

Year 1                                                                      Rocktober 9, 2014                                                                        Vol. 25

The…

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Churches and Whores

Another blast from the past, here is one I posted when I was working at the county jail and happened to become privy to a little drama unfolding at the visitor intake.

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

Many years ago, as part of a neighborhood evangelism/outreach sponsored by the very white, upper-middle-class church I was a part of, I came in contact with a cheap hooker.  This was only a few years after Julia Roberts portrayed the “Pretty Woman” in the movies, and the contrast could not have been more profound.  The hooker caught in my fish net wore the suggestive clothing of a whore, but she did not look the part.  She was repulsive to talk to – except for the fact that she was the only person we reached out to who seemed genuinely receptive to the invitation to come to church!

I was just a young man.  I was not one of the power players at church.  I did not live in one of the fine upper crust homes; I did not earn a big pay check; I had not been trained in ministry. …

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Homeless Boy Crying Abba

Here is another Blast from the Past post. I hope you are blessed with it.

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

He.

He missed his visit with his son.  The son who lives in my care.  I wept and prayed for him then.  Born premature and hooked on drugs, the boy was born into foster care where I put my claim on him for all I am worth, and with all its limitations.  Only a few months old, he has no idea, of course, but I do.

I do, and I already feel the pain storing up for him when he is old enough to “understand” it.  I am haunted by the Pearl Jam song as I think about it.

Well, I’ve got a little story for you too.  I am not at liberty to tell his, nor would it help.  But I will tell you mine – mine and yours.

I knew my dad, and he raised me.  He loves me to this very day.  But there was a day…

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IF YOU ARE READING THIS, WHAT KIND OF PHARISEE ARE YOU?

(Disclaimer placed at the end*)

Bloggers are the new Pharisees.  Don’t think so?  Consider this: Democratic opinionating is the new holiness.  You aren’t writing blogs (typically) and reading them just to maintain the status quo, but to influence others.  You either support some agenda or attack one or possibly present a new one.  Otherwise, you would keep it to yourself.

I am a legalist, by the way.  But…

What kind of Pharisee are you?

Let’s talk…

Yeah, when I was a kid, and even today in more than a few Christian circles, “Pharisees” are considered the bad guys and “legalism” was the problem with them.

That is already a bit confusing, I know, and by far most people of the world will read something like that opening bit and tune right out.  Personally, I think THAT had a lot to do with empty pews in the church way before pandemic.

I mean, think about it.  For so many Christians, sin is not the problem; “legalism” and “legalists” are.  I mean, just when the church gets across the idea to the world that killing, lying, lusting and coveting are sins, the good folx in that church begin talking about how God doesn’t really care about all that; he is GRACIOUS, you see, but he has a problem with legalists who have a problem with the problem.

Got it?

Yeah.  So does your “un-churched” neighbors.  I mean, they understand how confusing that is and how little they care.  You?  Maybe not, but them?  Yeah.  That’s MAYBE why they prefer being “un-churched.”

Wait. What?  You think I don’t know what I am talking about?

Okay… just look at all the things that used to be on the church’s list of sinful behaviors that don’t even so much as make the dishonorable mention anymore: Divorce, dancing, drinking, pre-marital sex, homosex, greed, and even gossip (sometimes).  None of that is a problem for your life anymore, not according to the church, but if you speak up against any of that, you are being “Pharisaical” or “legalist.”  Right?

Complicated enough yet?

But wait, there’s more!

This is biblical, you see.  Just read your gospels.  It’s all in there.  Jesus, the Son of God – in fact, God incarnate – is forgiving everyone and pissing off the Pharisees insomuch as he does it.  They, the Pharisees, adhere, so goes this “wisdom,” to the law of God and thus want to see sinners punished.

Furthermore, these Pharisees have some deep, psychological, faithless need to spoil the grace of God.  I mean, Pharisees, if you look carefully in the gospels, actually hide in the cornfields just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting sinners even for minor infractions of the law such as rubbing the heads of grain in your hands to thresh it and eat it as you walk along on a Sabbath otherwise minding your own business.  They are constantly “testing” Jesus with their pesky and revealing questions, and on at least one occasion, Pharisees catch a whore right in the act of doing the nasty – I mean THE NASTY!  Think of it!  All naked and doing it and all.  And like puritanical, post-Victorian prudes on steroids, they drag the poor hag out to the streets, throw her to the ground at Jesus’s feet, and accuse her citing the Law of Moses and seeking the death penalty.

This kind of observation translates, among Christians over the course of my life, into accusing fellow Christians who frown on sinful behavior and who hold to moral high standards of being “Pharisaical” or “legalists.”  And there seems almost to be a witch-hunt for “legalists” in my view (especially in times past), except that in this case it was more like a witch hunter-hunt – which is starting to get confusing on the one hand, but on the other, given what I know about witch-hunts, also seems to be the right direction all things considered.

There is something a little inside/out going on there.  You might neutralize a voice, an opinion, a whole ministerial career even, if you effectively pin that label “legalist” on a person.  It has become fashionable to label people you don’t like, or with whom you disagree, as “Pharisaical” and “legalist.”  And this marginalization has power to be wielded alright.  Even St. Paul HAD BEEN a Pharisee who repented after persecuting the church as such, and later he reviewed his own life and found his personal righteousness had less value that filthy bum wipe rags.  So with that kind of precedent and the ease with which besmirchment using that label has, it is a power many cannot resist trying their hand wielding.

The problem with all this (Did I say “THE” problem, as if it were one single, simple, little problem?) is that it mistranslates a whole lot of complex stuff into very simple labels and puts the power to misuse all of that into the hands of the flock.  The sheep become wolves, wolves disregarding the carnage as they feel empowered to wield power instead of being sheep.

But let’s get back to the skinny.

First off, the Pharisees of the Bible have become a punching bag for modern, American Christians.  The word “Pharisee” in our contemporary setting depicts a strawman, not real historical Pharisees, even if the strawman shares a few important characteristics.  Secondly, the word “legalist/legalism” is not a word from the Bible at all.  In fact it is not even a biblical idea, and is extremely problematic when you consider how central God’s law is to Moses, who is central to all things Jewish and who Jesus, though he eclipses, never slights or faults for his legalism.  In fact, Jesus tells his disciples that their righteousness must surpass that even of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20).

These observations have NEVER, in my presence, been addressed by any of the Christian brothers and sisters who accuse one another of being “Pharisaical” or “legalist.”

Who were the Pharisees?  Where did they come from, and what were they all about?

There is not a simple roadmap. Evidence from the Bible or from history are a bit more complicated than that, but there is a lot of evidence to work with and to develop theories with nonetheless.  AND for that matter, we know that the Pharisees were not some monolithic, self-appointed, religious/faith police promoting self-righteousness.  No doubt there were some among the ranks of Pharisees who behaved in such offensive ways, alright, but it is completely unfair to paint them all with that brush – or even most.

The Pharisees seem to have arose among the Jewish people after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and the people dispersed in exile.  They held no official appointments, and their purpose(s) were not prescribed in the Bible.  They were not some authorized group at all, but became instead a socio/political and religious “pressure group” – we might say.  (Sound like any bloggers you know?)  They had noble intentions, AND to claim that Jesus championed “inner” heart obedience whereas Pharisees championed “outward” compliance with the law also misses their contribution.  In fact, that was the Pharisees very reason for being!  (They also were, in that sense, rather LIBERAL.)

After the temple was destroyed and the people dispersed amid foreign cultures, foreign gods, foreign languages, foreign customs and all that, the Jews faced a problem that is common to all such conquered people: assimilation.  If the Jews were to assimilate with the dominant cultures where they were exiled, they would lose their distinctive identity as God’s people.  The temple had provided a central focal point for them, the place where heaven and earth met, where God was “encountered,” as we like to say.  But with that temple, that focal point (that outer expression of devotion rather than the inner devotion of the heart), gone and no longer available to the Jews, the Pharisees sought to apply the biblically prescribed rules and lifestyle once reserved for the priests and Levites who attended to the temple and liturgies by way of leading the people of old to God in worship now transferring all of that to the whole of the Jewish people.  (In this sense they were rather CONSERVATIVE.)  It was a way of democratizing, after a fashion, the special relationship God had with those charged with leading the rest of the people in worship and making that special relationship apply to everyone!

Hmmm… Did I just use that word “relationship”?

Yes, I did.  And it was the very foundational idea behind the Pharisees whole program.  How ironic is that???

Yeah, it turns out, under the Pharisees, the Jews were just beginning to come to the idea that you don’t really NEED the outward expression of a temple to serve as some symbol where you could meet with God, but actually, you could live out the holiness of that place in your heart!  The place God really wanted to dwell all along!  And to dwell there communally among all the hearts.  God wants to live in your heart, and thus your heart is a holy place!  (Now clean it up!)

But wait, there’s more!

There is a very bad mischaracterization which has developed suggesting these Pharisees would just hide in the bushes and jump out pointing accusatory fingers at anyone and everyone just to get their self-righteous jollies.  To be fair, I cannot say that such a thing never happened; it probably did on a few occasions.  I remember when I was an undergrad in Bible school working a job as groundskeeper among the student staff.  Our school recruited a LOT of foreign kids, many of whom were black and spoke with thick accents.  The good-ol-boys who managed the grounds keepers at that West Texas institution saw fit to put me, a white kid from America, in charge of my crew.  So when a nosy, busy-body secretary in the admin building looked out her window down on my crew one day (probably taking a candy-bar break by the water cooler) and observed some of my crew “standing around doing nothing” which I contested when it was later brought to my attention, I felt like I was being accused by Pharisees!

But the fact is that actually, even if there were a few busy-body Pharisees pouncing on unsuspecting Jews minding their own business from time to time, there were whole schools of Pharisees who were actually quite lenient about interpreting the law, and of those who were very strict and zealous, they by far spent their energy criticizing, not average, unsuspecting Jews but, Jewish leaders – especially those taking King David’s crown (or those making a bid to take the crown).

Judaism (as we call it) was not a democracy, it was a theocracy, but it had a monarchical history.  The politics were still politics, but they presented a bit differently from what we Americans are accustomed to, to say the least.  Also, there was no division between religion and politics for them.  And even though the Jews still lived in Diaspora and in occupied Judea and Galilee, there were plenty of people popping up claiming to be King of the Jews endorsed by God and promising to usher in the age of freedom and God’s Kingdom Come.

Herod was one of those, and the key difference in his case was that he managed to get Rome’s endorsement.  But both Herod the Great and his sons after him faced fierce criticism for their ungodly lives.  The people as a whole plainly saw the Herods as NOT God’s choice for King of the Jews, but that of pagans in Rome.  And the people leading the charge of such rightful accusation?

The Pharisees.

Even John the Baptist lost his head playing this game!

But there were other targets of this pharisaical scrutiny too.  Tons of others.  More than we know, but we do know some of these characters too.  These we might call “wannabe” kings.  Scholars in the guild tend to call them “messianic pretenders.”

Yes, during Roman occupation, “messiahs” were a dime a dozen.  It seems nearly everybody AND there dog (as we say in my part of the world) claimed to be Messiah, to have God’s special anointing to be King of the Jews.  They all had good precedent too.  David had been anointed as King of the Jews in the most unlikely of circumstances and obscurity.  So practically anyone could make this claim, and hundreds, if not thousands, did.  Typically when a young Jew made such a claim, he would run around from village to village making such claims and gathering up a following.  The following normally consisted of other young Jews “of about fightin’ age” who would build up a steam and then follow this “Messiah” headlong into destruction!

This happened A LOT!

A LOT!!!

And you couldn’t necessarily tell before hand whether the “Messiah” – the wannabe – really had God’s special anointing or not until he got killed.  Once he was killed, it was obvious; he was not the one!  But until he was killed and it then became obvious, his claims had to be taken seriously, for after all, God had anointed David in obscurity too, and being God – totally free to do it again!

But here is where you can really see with perhaps some personal empathy the difference between the strawman Pharisee we are used to talking about in the modern church and the Pharisee from history: if you were a father of five or six sons “of about fightin’ age” and lost the oldest one to a bogus “messiah” three years ago, your second son to another two years ago, and your third son to yet another last year, then you begin to look critically at these “messiahs” who come around every year or so drumming up a following among the young men down at the docks.  You begin to look for expert opinions of others too.

Ahhhh…. Pharisees!

Yes.  These rabbis were very well versed in God’s law and the prophets.  They were experts, even if unofficial and unauthorized.  They may have been self-appointed in that regard, but they were good at sniffing out the fakers!  If they had had talk radio programs and blogs and printing presses, they would have been “media,” of ancient times, but as it is, they were just “religious leaders” and Pharisees to us.

When you get THIS scenario straightened out, THEN you can look at a story about some Pharisees hiding in a grain field when Jesus and his “disciples” pass by breaking the law, and they make accusation, they are not jumping out in some self-righteous, psychological need to be right and make life miserable for others.  No.  They are scrutinizing closely whether this “Messiah’s” claims are in line with what they know from the Bible because – BECAUSE – because your kids’ life is on the line AT THE LEAST, and God’s will for his people AT THE MOST.

And look how Jesus responds when these Pharisees accuse him and his followers.  He does not deny they broke the law – not at all.  They were right about this law breaking – something no one would expect from the real Messiah.  Yet, Jesus doesn’t seem to care about that at all, rather he appeals straight to David and the unlawful meal David and his crew ate during a time when David bore God’s special anointing to be King of the Jews, while he had not yet been crowned.  Jesus is giving the perfect defense against THESE accusations in THESE circumstances.  And to characterize the exchange as one of busy-bodies with their outward acts vs. the grace of God and the inner heart, is to totally miss the point of the story.

Translating real Pharisee-like activity to our day.

Okay, so the idea that the Pharisees were just running around promoting outward behavior to the exclusion of the love in your heart or some fiendish self-righteous head trip is pretty well destroyed when we give the idea a close examination.  In fact, the Pharisees were doing the opposite, at least in the big scheme of things.  They were ushering in an age when Jews no longer relied on the temple and the priests to live holy lives on behalf of all the people, but rather called the people to devote themselves more carefully and wholly to God.  And while they did scrutinize the behavior of others, it typically was not a matter of harassing unsuspecting, unassuming fellow Jews, but rather scrutinizing those either in leadership of God’s people or those launching campaigns to be King of the Jews.

Thus the Pharisees were social/relgio/political pressure groups driving agendas, accountability, and hopefully positive changes in “the system” as we might call it today.  They also provided an important service discrediting imposter “messiahs” and saving lives.

They did this by opinionating.

In years gone by, I had looked at American politics and found modern, secular Pharisees doing that on TV and radio – largely in the news media or talk radio.  And sure enough, there were liberals and conservatives doing this – not all just one monolithic voice or agenda.  Not at all.  We might tend to think of the more flamboyant characters like Rush Limbaugh or G. Gordon Liddy who were conservative, and Liddy in particular stood out for me in the mid 1990s when on his radio program he advised Americans when they see federal agents and “jack-booted thugs” surrounding them to “aim for the head shot,” after all federal agents wear body armor.  Liddy was not himself a zealot, and to my knowledge never fired a weapon at federal agents, but he was an opinionator with a microphone.  Just imagine what that message sounded like in the ears of someone like Timothy McVeigh.

The ancient Pharisees did not have TV and radio, nor were they promoting a secular agenda, but they did find public venues to denounce or endorse various public figures and wannabes.  We know that one of the very few critical endorsements a messianic pretender ever earned was Rabbi Akiva’s endorsement of bar Kochba more than a century after Jesus.

Newspapers, union leaders, think tanks, and national organizations (and sometimes famous preachers too) come out to endorse presidential candidates every election year.  They also turn out to denounce candidates.  I recall during the 2004 presidential campaign one night on the ABC news, Peter Jennings broke a story about candidate, Sen. John Kerry’s acceptance of campaign contributions which had mafia ties.  It was a fair question then to ask if the mafia was funding his candidacy whether Kerry would then show them favor if he won!  Jennings, in that case, was acting like a modern, secular Pharisee.

But in more recent times, I have come to see that the blog-O-sphere is also filled with such opnionators.  In fact, such opinionators are a dim a dozen!  There are far more of us promoting agendas, scrutinizing and endorsing people, programs, parties, and candidates here than anywhere.  Most of us have a fraction of the influence of the big names, but we are in the same game.  And not only that, but we do so, quite often (not always) in service to God!  There may be an official separation of church and state in this process, but it is nothing like that phrase seems to suggest.

It is a Pharisee thang.

What kind of Pharisee are you?

I hope you are one that endorses Jesus.  Reading the gospels, I find that NONE of the Pharisees endorse him.  They are all very good at sniffing out the imposters and doing so with GOOD reason!  But when they came across Jesus, the all failed to endorse him.

No doubt the moment they saw Jesus dying on a Roman cross, they felt their opinions fully justified.  This was proof that this wannabe was NOT God’s special anointed, because Rome defeated him.  In fact, just go ahead and rub the insult into the injury and jeer a little… maybe shout out so all the multitudes can hear you clearly, “He saved others!  But he cannot save himself!  Let’s see him come down off that cross….”

We know that at least Nicodemus felt a bit curious about this “messiah” and had to come investigate a little more closely under cover of night, and we know that after Jesus was raised that Gamaliel granted the policy makers that if this movement really is of God, they cannot stop it, and if not from God, they need not worry about it.  He was no endorser either, but we find that at least some Pharisees did bother to look a bit closer than others.

What kind are you?

Will you still be betting on, opinionating on, and endorsing a Messiah as he is being crucified?  Will you see in the crucifixion just one more failed messiah at a state execution?  Or will you see the coronation of God coming back to be crowned King of his own people despite them?  And what will you say on your blog if you do see that?

What kind of Pharisee are you?

Oh… wait.  I did claim to be a “legalist” did I?  Yeah, I did, and then I discredited that idea pointing out it is not a Bible word or a Bible concept and pretty much just dropped it.  Huh?

Yeah.. .  Okay. Sue me!

…Well -never mind, don’t sue me.  So how do I account for this now?

(So glad you asked.)

Well, take your pick.  We have options.  For one thing, there is the ‘law of love” as we sometimes call it, and so in a very generic sense, I am quite legalist about that.  The Bible presents Jesus saying that the most important command in the Bible is to LOVE God and the second, like it, is to LOVE your neighbor.  As a bonus, Jesus goes on to say that ALL OF THE LAW and the prophets hang on these two.

Wanna be a real legalist?  Get these two commands right, and you get all the law right.  Blow these two and you blow off the whole law.  (Hmmm… sounds like these two things are really important, because Jesus hangs THE LAW on them.)

Thus, because of my ambition to take LOVE that seriously, I am a legalist, and I am quite legalistic about it.

Before I close out, let me leave you with this thought.  Next time you see a homeless man on the street, a stranger with no place to belong, maybe see Jesus instead of just a bum.  Huh?

Yeah, so much church reaction to the bums are like the Pharisees, alright (and right while the church is accusing people of pharisaical behaviors and attitudes too!).  Some are ignoring the bums.  Others are jeering at them.  Some are curious and show up to poke at the situation.  Others take a live and let die attitude.  Very precious few, that I can see, open the door and take the stranger in like Jesus says in Matthew 25.

“Behold!” Says Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and party with you…”

I have never been turned down yet making that welcome for that knock at my door.  But I have been blessed to see Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

A good legalistic Pharisee will point that out, I think.

 

 

 

* (Disclaimer here: No doubt there was a strict and seemingly unpenetrable guard in both leadership and the rank-n-file of the church during my dad’s early life and back in the days of Puritans, and the phenom I describe here was, I suspect, to a large extent reactionary to that, but that in no way means the phenom is worthwhile.)