Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Shut up and listen

"Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. … We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to “offer” something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Presidential Candidate NOT A CHRISTIAN???!!!

The God Makers, one of the most powerful books to penetrate the veil of secrecy surrounding the rituals and doctrines of the Mormon Church, reveals the inner workings and beliefs of Mormonism. Through personal interviews and well-documented evidence, you'll discover the true nature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its hidden worldwide agenda.

Golden tablets revealed to a land speculator in upstate New York?  Jesus came to North America after the resurrection?  Whites only Heaven?  Polygamy?  You (if you're a White male) can become the god of your own planet?  Satan & Jesus brothers? God their father had sex with Mary?  And you thought they just couldn't have caffeine or alcohol. Sure they're good people, but this is not Christianity.

  • Golden tablets revealed to a land speculator in upstate New York? 
  • Jesus came to North America after the resurrection? 
  • Whites only Heaven? 
  • Polygamy? 
  • You (if you're a White male) can become the god of your own planet? 
  • Satan & Jesus brothers? 
  • God their father had SEX with Mary? 

And you thought they just couldn't have caffeine or alcohol. Sure they're good people, but this is not Christianity.

Sorry conservative Christians, but your Republican nominee is the one who's not a Christian and may  even be serving a hidden agenda. Ironic since you've been claiming that Obama is the Muslim Antichrist since the last election.

Okay, okay- to be fair, I don't know if Mitt Romney really believes any of these bizarre doctrines and I'll stipulate that most LDS members are completely unaware of them and in their hearts believe that Jesus is the only son of God who died on the cross for their sins.

However, it troubles me that so many Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and other both fundamentalist and main-line denomination Christians don't realize that the fastest growing religion in America doesn't officially accept the truths confessed in the canonical creeds.

And yes, I'll be honest, it also confuses and obviously really irritates me that so many well-meaning believers were duped by the lies about Obama being some kind of "islamofascist."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why we need Fellowship

"God put this Word into the mouth of human beings so that it may be passed on to others. When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people. God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened." ~Dietrich Bonhoefer
Call it fellowship, community, koinoina, ecclesia, prayer-group, Bible-study group, renovar√©, support-network, surrogate family, Christian friends, or just plain Church- we all NEED to be connected and in relationship- not only with God, but with fellow believers. God made us this way. 

If you don't have a church-home, ask God to find one for you. The three best ways to grow in your relationship with God are Word, Prayer, and Fellowship. Sure, you can read the Bible on your own and you can pray anywhere at anytime, but don't neglect Fellowship. Take a coal out of the fire and it quickly cools.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Enemies List

Enemies list: this fallen world, your own sinful flesh, & the Devil.

Notice who is NOT on this list?
Your classmates, coworkers, neighbors, employer, casual acquaintances, athletic rivals, political opponents, people of different colors, from different countries, and who speak different languages... Pretty much everyone. Keep it that way.

PS- if you do put anyone on that list, remember that Jesus said to love your enemies.

Oh, you say you don't think of THEM as your enemies, but you feel like they treat you like the put you on THEIR enemies list? Well, turns out Jesus also said to pray for those that persecute you. You might want to give it a try.

If you constantly feel threatened by everyone, it might just be that you're the one who's overly competitive... Or insecure... Or paranoid.

Try to connect more and control less. You'll be surprised by how nice life can be when you invest your energy in supporting others instead of defending yourself or defeating others.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. 
Divine God, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.
I will always think of this as "Jim's Prayer." Jim Sullivan was an English teacher and Baseball Coach at Los Angeles Lutheran Jr/Sr High School where I taught years ago. Jim had it memorized, which always amazed me. Most of us are lucky if we get the Lord's Prayer memorized. He used it in meetings , devotions and chapels. He'd grown up in Catholic schools in New York where he learned it.

St.Francis and Jim were both examples of the values Francis has us ask from God. I would like to try to memorize this prayer because prayer transforms us and I want God to use this prayer to make me more able to live out this prayer.

be different from the world

" In judgment and action those who follow Jesus will be different from the world in renouncing their property, happiness, rights, righteousness, honor, and violence. They will be offensive to the world. That is why the disciples will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer (on Matt 5:10)

Sure enough, if you live modestly, humbly, in deference to others, with empathy, compassion, altruism and respond to violence with non-violence, you are going to be viewed derisively. Even other Christians will resent your adherence to this path.

Maybe that's part of what it means to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16) behaving like Jesus presents a contrast with the selfish, materialistic, power-accumulating, aggressive, ambitious values of this world.

Like salt brings out a food's own flavor and light exposes one's "true colors," maybe living out Micah 6:8 creates so much cognitive dissonance for some people that they (subconsciously at least) know that they're choices aren't so godly after all and it irritates them. Nobody wants to be accused of being self-serving or short-sighted. That's why I love that bumper sticker so much that says, "annoy a conservative, live like Jesus."

As 19th century social activist Mother Jones might say, the Gospel is going to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." (Garrison Keillor modified it a little and I put that one on the top of this page.)

No wonder Hitler had Bonhoeffer killed. Not only did Bonhoeffer's liberalism expose Hitler's fascism and authoritarianism for the tyrany it was, his authentic Christianity exposed Hitler's pharisaical hypocrisy for the mere political appliance that it was.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Good vs. Evil? Get real.

There is no possible source of evil except good. 
~ Saint Augustine 

When I first read this quote, I thought that the theological implications are staggering. Its too much to even consider. But THINKING is what good quotes provoke.

Is this the kind of axiom that people chew on for eons without coming up with anything that satisfies everyone, like "why do bad things happen to good people?" (One answer, by the way, is "there's no such thing as 'good people.')

I had a student once who was incensed with God. After all, God, they reasoned, had created Satan. How could a loving God even ALLOW Adam and Eve to sin in the first place? If He REALLY is both all-knowing and all-powerful, how could he let that happen?

The issue is not the answer. The issue is the question. In stead of asking "how?" The student should be asking "why?" 

Consider a perhaps more corny proverb, "Without the dark, we'd never see the stars."

Once you start thinking this way, less easy, less simple, you may end up considering more nuance. For example, the difference between God's causative and permissive will.

Currently there's a huge (and absurd) uproar in the media since the CEO of a major fast food chain expressed his religious views on a controversial issue. Whatever you think of this topic, his tone of voice didn't sound belligerent to me when he said it. I imagine that he's sincere, although cynics will note that the flare up in the "culture wars," served him well , creating a PR bonanza.

The issue is that he fears God's causative will. He anticipates that God will punish us as a nation if we continue down a certain path of tolerance for what he understands as something offensive to God.

It seems to me however, that God is a patient parent who permits us to be responsible for our predicament, rather intervene incessantly like some kind of control freak. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe He's distant, removed or indifferent, like some Deist clock-maker imagined by many of our nation's founders during the enlightenment. I'm just saying that I think that God chooses to allow us to have to work things out between ourselves instead of spoiling us by making things too easy all the time.

Thank God. If He really were constantly sending hurricanes, volcanoes and earthquakes to chastise America for our corporate sin, we surely would've been wiped off the map LONG ago. Didn't we begin with slavery, greed, rebellion, and abuse? From the Spanish conquistadors to the Dutch, English, and French, This continent has been wrought with war, corruption and abuse of the earth, its resources and of the indigenous peoples.

But let's say that God does operate in the absolutist, black-and-white manor in which many of us either assume or even with that He does? 

Who's to say that when His punishment comes, it is for requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control? 

Maybe God's angry with us for allowing Wall Street to sell mortgages to people who couldn't afford them, and make obscene profits off of bundled derivatives while executive salaries rise to insane levels, anywhere from 500 to 5,000 times those of workers and piling on massive bonuses on top of it all, meanwhile restricting the rights of those workers to collectively bargain for reasonable compensation?

Those who believe God uses only His causative will, refuse to believe that we can remotely influence the environment. God is sovereign, therefore, we aren't capable of damaging the Earth. That's their view.

If you suspect that God may, in His permissive will, allows us to face the natural consequence of our own sinful nature- you might just see that maybe our refusal to do anything about global climate change is why we face so many extremes in weather lately, including the hottest summer and deepest & widest-spread drought since the great dust bowl of the 1930's. Thank God we understand more about erosion and soil conservation than we did back them.

I'm not about to say that God never actively intervenes- His greatest intervention was sending His only begotten Son to die on a cross for us. But I think that it is short-sighted and frankly Pharisitic to assume that He ONLY acts in such an angry, punitive manor. 

I don't pretend to have all the answers and solutions for all of society's controversies. But I do believe that God is Himself, and allows (perhaps might even prefer) for us to be more pragmatic and less intractable in our politics, our ideology and our dogma. That does not mean being soft or gullible or unduly influenced by the World. It simply means not letting the letter of the law eclipse the spirit. It means not letting the tale wag the dog. 

Being tough minded does not mean being thick-headed, hard hearted, slow-witted, and stiff-necked. When we think that we're the only ones who know what God wants, we may as well be saying that we know better that God and we're no better than those who don't know God in the first place.

Maybe God permits evil to challenge us, to make things complicated. After all, He created us in His image, didn't He? He didn't create us to be dolls, puppets or action figures that He constantly directs or plays with. He created us to be creative, thoughtful, and capable of managing complexity.

One of the gifts God gave us is free-will. Ironically people are constantly arguing for their own liberty, but are fast to deprive other people of theirs. As long as we have free will, we will make decisions that will make things complicated for each other. And until He's ready to take us home with Him once and for all, I believe that God's going to keep allowing us to have to deal with that complexity. 

Thinking that life is all good verses evil is ridiculous. In the first place, Satan and evil are not equal to God, they are part of creation, not co-equals to the Creator. In the second place, Christ has already defeated Satan. In the third place, if you believe that God is sovereign, then we need to trust Him and be patient both with God and each other- in stead of throwing tantrums and pitching baby-fits all the time.

Christians need to learn what lessons they can from some really dumb people in the Bible.
  • Jonah 4- the prophet gets angry at God's compassion
  • Luke 15:25-31- the prodigal son's jealous older brother
  • Matthew 20:1-16- the parable of the workers paid equally
Thanks to sin, life is always complicated. It would sure be a lot easier if we wouldn't keep making it worse by fighting each other or trying to "tattle" on each other to God in the meantime.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Romans 13
13 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do.Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.

When George W. Bush was in office right wingers liked to pull our Romans 13:13 as a way to tell dissenters to shut-up. Now that a Democrat is in office, they've conveniently forgotten about the verse.

Call me an old fashioned "law-and-order" type, but I think that Rom 13:3-5 says a lot to people on the right wing fringe. There are the Libertarians who want their drugs and the Militia/White Supremacy/2nd Amendment types who cut off any discussion of reasonable and responsible gun regulation with the insistence that the founders "knew we'd need out guns to protect us from government tyranny!"

Look, do you believe the words of Abraham Lincoln or not? If government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people," then you also need to believe the words of a comic strip opossum from the 1950's, Walk Kelly's Pogo who said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us!"

Government in the United States is a tool, that's all. Not a boogie-man. It derives it's just powers from the consent of the governed (that's us). And if you don't like it or disagree with it, if you feel it has become destructive of your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." 

But guess what- we're blessed enough that we don't do that by armed insurrection, we do it at the ballot box, in the media, and by becoming politically active and involved in our communities.

The word "citizen" means someone who participates in government. Civility is respect, no matter how much you distrust or dislike them, is entitled to the same dignity and respect that you expect to be granted. That's called the Golden Rule, do unto others (Luke 6:31).

My contention is that when governors and politicians show disrespect for public workers and union members, police officers, fire and rescue workers, government employees and public school teachers- they are disrespecting all of us. And in a democracy, we the people, not only our elected officials, are the authorities.

Sure, this may be a confusing analogy, but my point it, we must put EVERYONE's best interests ahead of those of party, PAC, and political career. Granted, in this day and age doing so may take courage, but- say, isn't there a book about that? Profiles in Courage. Hmmmm. Seems I remember John McCain talking once about how much he was influenced by John Kennedy's famous book.

I think it may be about time that the likes of Paul Ryan and Scott Walker started reading Profiles in Courage instead of Ayn Rand. Come to think of it, they might want to read some other books too, like Romans, Luke, Matthew...

Tempted by life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

I'm a total geek when it comes to both religion and civics. So last night, I'm teaching at Vacation Bible School on Matthew 4:1-11, when Satan tempts Jesus in the desert and it hits me. Christ was tempted in every way we are- with the very inalienable rights that Jefferson claimed that He (God, therefore Jesus) endowed us with.

Stay with me.

So Jefferson derived his "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" from the writings of royal pediatrician and British natural rights philosopher, John Locke. Part of what Lock believed made us all the same and therefore all "created equal," were what he called natural rights. He believed that he had observed that everyone is driven toward certain things, life, liberty, and property.

Locke isn't the only great thinker to think this. Thomas Hobbes believed that we're all in a constant state of conflict and competition for power and resources. Theologians might call that our state of original sin.

Sigmund Freud felt that we are all driven by the basic survival urges of pleasure and pain, or sex and death.

Abraham Maslow had his hierarchy of needs, including everything from food, clothing, and shelter (the teen equivalent of life, liberty,and property) all the way up to self-actualization.

I try to help eighth grade Civics students understand their common need for civility, reasonable classroom behavior, and Locke & Jefferson's rational of natural rights by discussing psychologist William Glasser's theory that we're all driven by five basic and genetically-driven needs; survival, love, competence, autonomy, and learning.

Before you start thinking I'm on a hopeless tangent, let me bring you back to Matthew 4 in the desert.
After Jesus is baptized by His cousin John in the Jordan, the Bible says that the Spirit led Him into the desert where He fasted for 40 days and then was tempted by the Devil.

First, Satan challenged Him to turn stones into bread... Jesus had a right to LIFE after all. Jesus let Satan know that God's Word, nourishment for the soul is more important than mere food for the body (Deut. 8:3).

Second, Satan led Jesus up to the highest part of the temple and told Him to jump off- why not, God promised that you won't get hurt... take advantage of your LIBERTY. Jesus pointed out in resisting this temptation, that just because God promises to protect us doesn't mean we should push our luck (so to speak, see also Deut. 6:16 & Exodus 17:7).

Finally, Satan offers Jesus the world. Literally. All the power, wealth, and fame He could want (PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS/PROPERTY), if He's just forsake God the Father and bow down to Satan, acknowledge who really ran the show. To which Jesus cited Deuteronomy 6:13 "You shall Fear the Lord your God, serve him only..."

So you see, Jesus knows what we need and He knows what it's like to not only need these things, but to desire more of them than we need. Hoarding any of these things, that is ruthlessly pursuing our own "rights" at the expense of detriment of others- that is selfishness, that is greed, that is sin, THAT is tyranny!