Posts Tagged God

Know, You Don’t


I just know that it’s going to rain. And it does. Or, just as likely, it doesn’t.

I know just what kind of person she is. Actually, I really don’t.

I never win anything, so why would I win this time. But then I do.

I know exactly what you are thinking. Of course, I am wrong.

So then, why are so many of us so certain that we know what God wants? Why do so many of us claim to know what God has in store for us? Why are we so sure, so definite, about what he is saying to us? And why do we assume he is saying the exact same thing to everyone else?

Why is it that, if the Bible is the undisputed Word Of God, so many who believe this cannot agree on what it says?

Don’t ask me. I…just…don’t….know. And I am cool with that.

Are you?

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Michael Gerson on Open Arms Conservatism


Michael Gerson There was a nice piece written by Michael Gerson in the Post yesterday. For those who don’t know him, he was a senior adviser with the Bush administration but left over idealogical differences. He has a book out; “Heroic Conservatism” in which he talks about those differences.

In this article he says;

This obligation to protect has never, in Jewish and Christian teaching, been purely private. Hebrew law made a special provision for the destitute — requiring that a portion of harvested crops be left in the field to be gathered by the poor. The Hebrew prophets raucously confronted the political and economic exploitation of the weak.

A significant portion of the Republican Party and the American public is influenced more by the social teachings of the Jewish and Christian traditions than by the doctrines of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Religious conservatives, broadly defined, prefer free-market methods. But they believe that the goal directing all our methods must be the common good.

You can read the rest of his article here:

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/30/AR2007103001822.html?wpisrc=newsletter

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Enemies at the Gate: Christian Intolerance


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Your Jelly Fish version of Chrissianity (sic) is well documented…great job “coverting”(sic) souls to Christ with you gummy bear Jelly bean Jesus version of the Gospel! You guys are well defined by this little piece appropriately called “Back Rubs 4 Jesus” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=mohixsVRNdc ) Ha! That suits your sweet, sweet, candy cane Chrissianity (sic) just fine! What a farce! Chocolate Soldiers every one of you!

www.officialstreetpreachers.com

This was a recent comment on an article I wrote about the largely negative consequences of extolling a gospel of hell and damnation; https://sharpiron.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/intimacy-not-intimidation/#comment-1209

There were other more reasoned responses, some of them even suggesting that my position may be exaggerated, but I think the digestion of this one particular remark is the proof of the pudding. Although this fellow’s ‘ministry’ is a little over the top and would garner little sympathy among many of us, his wording is not really that outrageous. I find it to be similar to what has been expressed by many conservative Christians.

There seems to be a lot of resistance to the idea of remembering Jesus primarily as he has been portrayed in the Gospels. Many of the arguments I hear say that the image of Jesus found in the Gospels, the patient, loving, peaceful and tolerant peasant, fond of little children and the lame as well as lepers, prostitutes and thieves, represents only one aspect of God. There is also God the punisher, the wrathful, the one who hates sin to such a degree that he cannot tolerate sinners. It is said that this picture of God can be found throughout the Old Testament as well as in John’s Revelation. I personally don’t see this vision in scriptures, but nevertheless, I don’t believe that this is the real reason why so many are fond of this stern and vengeful depiction of God.

I think this attraction stems from an ingrained need for people to identify with a group and the accompanying urge to keep those who do not conform outside of the tribe. A sense of insecurity pervades many churches, a fear that the flock will be corrupted by the sin of others. In practice this makes it easier for us to ignore some of the deeper meanings of Jesus’ teachings; those about unconditional forgiveness, love, mercy and tolerance. We often find it easier to accept Levitical exhortations against homosexuality rather than Jesus’ command not to judge others. (Matt 7: 1-2) [For more thoughts on why we have this tendency towards conformity check out this thread on ‘Suddenly Christian’ ; http://johnshore.wordpress.com/2007/09/21/why-must-others-be-like-us/]

We pay lip service to our slogans welcoming everyone to our churches, becoming gate keepers instead. When we forget that our churches are made up of nothing but sinners we find ourselves taking pleasure in our own salvation, even cultivating a sense of pride in our privileged position with God. We learn to notice those characteristics of the ‘saved’ versus the ‘unsaved’ and find ourselves, perhaps unconsciously, avoiding those who do not meet what we believe are God’s standards. We forget that God loves the sinner, the pagan, just as much as he loves each of us within the church. If he can find value in our lives, working through us and with us, what makes us think that he is not doing the same with them?

Though told to go out into the world and feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned, we tend to restrict these activities to our fellow church members. Perhaps just the idea of membership is the problem. Our churches take on the character of Coast Guard rescue vessels, our pastors at the helm while the rest of us serve as crew. We gallantly ply the treacherous seas of this world, searching for souls that need saving and hauling them on board. Not a bad analogy, perhaps, until the ‘saved’ realize that unless they agree with the captain’s theology or the crew’s uniform standards he may find himself tossed into the drink once again. It is easy to find yourself shunning the sinner when your theology tells you that God considers them fuel for the fires of hell.

How did we get to this point where we have “captains’ manning the helms and steering us into waters that appear to be Biblical yet turn out to be dangerously shallow? Why do those of us who claim to have met the risen Jesus feel the need for the guidance of generation upon generation of authoritarian pastors, vicars, priests and bishops? Could it be that a man-made hierarchy within the church contributes to the “common sense” that there is also another hierarchy; that of the churched versus the un-churched, the saved versus the un-saved?

In the second century, Irenaeus, Bishop of Gaul and student of Polycarp became alarmed at the lack of cohesiveness within the early church’s theology. He took it upon himself to identify those teachings that were false (heresies) and had a tremendous amount of influence over what became today’s canon as well as much of today’s church doctrines and dogmas. Although not everything he taught has been included in common church doctrine, much of it was first enunciated by him, including the idea that scripture was divinely inspired. Some of what we find most controversial to this day is grounded in his personal theology. http://www.lessonsonline.info/IRENAEUS%20OF%20LYONS.htm

One of the greatest challenges that he faced was how to go about establishing the authority that he (and other church leaders) needed to mandate what was truth and what was not. With this in mind he was able to find biblical and historical justification for “apostolic succession”; the idea, for example, that John the Apostle (allegedly) taught Polycarp who taught Irenaeus and so on and so forth. Once his authority was established those that disagreed with him were labeled as heretics and expelled from the congregation. No dissent, no compromise, no question was tolerated. Unfortunately, this is the model that the church chose to adopt. Elaine Pagels, in Beyond Belief notes that, like our clergy of today ” Irenaeus promises that he will explain for them what the scripture really means and insists that only what he teaches is true”. This stands in stark contrast to the type of discourse that can be found in most synagogues, where the rabbi and congregants remember how Abraham and Moses would question God, even getting him to change his mind on occasion.

Jesus challenged the religious authorities of his time; with their policies of excluding those who did not meet their standards of righteousness. He did not seem to be interested in establishing a new religion in his name but instead on shaking things up for the religious status quo. When asked, he tells people to follow his way, to be like him. He says that all of the law hangs on the commandment to love God and love each other. He tells us to love our enemies. He says that those who feel hate for anyone at all are at great risk. He says that the world will know that we are his followers by our love. He says all these things and then he hangs out with hookers and thieves. He tells one thief that he will take him to paradise, no strings attached. He embraced and healed lepers, who were thought to be guilty of terrible sexual sins.

This new religion, Christianity, soon became something that was rarely identifiable with the example of Christ. When weak they were persecuted by the Romans and displayed the strength one finds with God’s grace and mercy. Upon becoming strong, the church took on the role of persecutor and those dissidents that suffered at their hands now took on the role of Christ crucified, dying for what they held to be the truth. Today there are those who seek God but because their sin is seen so differently from many others they now stand outside the gate. If Jesus would invite them in, who are we to keep them out? Perhaps more importantly, what human has the authority to demand such inhospitality?

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“And On the Eighth Day God Did….What?”


church menGod saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 1:31 -Genesis 2: 3

I think we’re all pretty familiar with the creation story in Genesis; many of us know it by heart. When reading it again yesterday it dawned on me for the first time that there is no mention of an eighth day. I know this may sound silly, but why not?

The seventh day is presented as a day in which God rested from his work. This past Sunday Matthew, my pastor, asked if we really knew what this meant. Was God really taking a rest? Was he tired from all the energy spent during the last 6 days cooking up the universe? Perhaps he was recharging his batteries in preparation for the remainder of eternity. From what we know of God, this doesn’t sound like him.

More likely God was enjoying his creation, his handiwork, and continuing to do so to this day in a very participatory fashion. There is no eighth day because This Is It – the Seventh Day – the Sabbath. We’re in it. The seventh day is all of God’s glorious universe and the gift of life that has been given us. The seventh day has been set aside for us to enjoy all of his creation. There is no dreary Monday morning with God – it’s all Sunday afternoon.

Of course Adam and Eve go and screw things up and then everyday becomes Monday with all of the attendant blues. Drudge, drudge, drudge and more drudge all week long until we come to that one day of the week when we join with others to thank God for.…..all the drudge. But then the risen Jesus comes along and says, “Hey, snap out of it! It’s Sunday, already!” (Luke 4:18-19)

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The pre-resurrection Jesus made this point when he chose to do his ‘works’ on the sabbath. The Pharisee’s legalistic devotion to a ‘holy day’ led them away from the true spirit of the Sabbath. Keeping the sabbath holy can’t mean just setting aside one day a week, for going to church or synagogue. Of what value can that be to God if we have pride, anger or contempt in our hearts? (Matt 5:23-24) To keep holy the Sabbath is to celebrate daily the beauty and love of God and his creation, not just pick one day out of seven to honor him. Many of us work on Saturdays and Sundays and why not? As long is we daily honor what God has given us then any day, or every day, can be the Sabbath.

Sunday

I don’t think we should ever try to rationalize a workaholic lifestyle. It seems that the majority of us need at least one day of rest per week. Some people, though, have no choice, they have to work long hard hours. The rest of us are blessed with a choice. But for those of us who are Sunday (or Saturday) church goers, what if we learn to celebrate and enjoy life every day? Even among all the challenges and sorrows that we may face, if we could learn to leave our worries in the Lord’s hands, then we may find that we do not need a day of forced rejuvination. We could see Sunday as a gift and not the necessity it has become. We needn’t long for that one day of intense spirituality (as I used to do) but instead see it as a bonus, a day in which we gather in fellowship with and for God. I wonder how different things could be if we understood that one day a week is just not enough. Nor what was intended.

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Bridges: The Old Man’s Yard, Part 2


The first part of this story may be found at: https://sharpiron.wordpress.com/2007/09/20/the-old-mans-yard/

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Things had been going very well in the old man’s yard. There were plenty of fruits and vegetables, a large grassy lawn for games and big shade trees for when the sun got too hot. The Old Man’s house still sat high up on the hill and every once in a while someone said that they caught a glimpse of him.

The kids got along nicely. Some of them became team captains and they worked hard at coming up with rules for the games and making sure that everyone followed them. This was important because many kids wanted to play (although a quite a few of them just sat and watched).

There were lots of things to do besides playing games. The fence always needed mending. The sound of the traffic on the busy street was noisy and distracting and and there were some kids who still had bad memories. So they decided to plug up all the holes that let in the noise. They made mud out of the dirt in the garden and used it to fill in all the gaps. When they were finished they could hardly hear any of the traffic at all.

They still guarded the gate, looking for kids that needed to be saved and also watching closely for any threats to the community. They needed to be very careful and take care of this wonderful gift that the Old Man and his son had given them. It wouldn’t do well to take any chances with the yard. It needed to be protected.

After a while some of the kids began to notice that there were some very different looking people in the yard. Most of these newcomers were watching the games but a few were playing. Some of them had different colored skin and all of them were wearing funny looking clothes. Intrigued, the curious children checked with the gate keepers and discovered that more of these strange kids could be seen marching along the other side of the busy highway. They rarely took advantage of the shouted invitations to come into the yard. Besides, being on the other side, it was too dangerous to cross. No one knew where these strange children went but it was assumed that they ended up unfortunate victims of the brutal traffic. It was sad, but it was their choice not to come in.

But how were they getting into the yard? There must be a hole in the fence somewhere, but where? A couple of the braver kids decided to go right up to one of the newcomers and ask him. He was wearing white flowing robes with a cloth wound tightly around the top of his head. He also had some sort of tiny bright stone stuck to the side of nose and his skin was very dark.

Three or four kids confronted him; “We think that it’s great that you’re here in the garden, but….how did you get in? You didn’t come through the gate – we were watching.”

“Oh, we just came over the sun bridge” he said, smiling. His voice sounded strange but kind of cool at the same time, sort of like he was singing.

“The sun bridge? What bridge? We’ve been here for a long time and there is only one way in, through the garden gate.”

“Oh no, you can come in by walking over on one of the sun bridges. There are many of them in the back yard, behind the house. Come, I will show you.”

With his long robes flapping behind him, he took off quickly, heading over the shoulder of the hill and towards the back of the old man’s house. He led them to a thick hedge row that separated the front from the back, to a place where numerous paths snaked through the leafy branches.  After winding their way through to the other side they entered a big yard very much like the one out front. It too was surrounded by a white picket fence, but there was no gate. On the other side of the fence was another busy highway, except the speeding cars and trucks looked very different from what the children were used to seeing. Most of them were very small and they all were very fast.

Standing a little higher up on the hill they could see over the fence as well as over the road. On the far side was another white picket fence and what looked like some more yards. Inside the yards children could be seen playing and wandering through the gardens. Each of these yards had a gate and all kinds of children wearing all kinds of funny looking clothes could be seen trying to escape the vicious traffic by rushing through the different gates. There also seemed to be a few ‘regular’ looking kids mixed in with them.

There were some more kids, mostly ‘regular’ ones, on the closer side of the road but still outside the fence. Sometimes one or two would dare to cross the busy highway to safety. Most of them, though, clung closely to the picket fence and kept moving onward. If they could avoid the traffic they might make it around front to where the main gate was.

But the most amazing thing was the vision towering over their heads. Shining bright in the sun and climbing high from each garden was a series of light and airy looking bridges. Though no two looked the same they all shared the same elements of grace, beauty and strength evident in good designs. One end of each bridge was anchored in the Old Man’s back yard. Venturing slowly across the bridges, safe above the roaring traffic, could be seen streams of the exotic foreign children, their bright colorful clothing shining in the sun. Once over, these ‘new’ children walked around dazedly, staring wide eyed at the novel surroundings. Then they slowly made their way up the hillside towards the hedge. Amazed, the ‘older’ children were taking all of this in when suddenly their young turbaned guide began to wave happily at some of the people. He ran swiftly down to meet them.

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“My son finished building those bridges just before he died.”

The children jumped in surprise. Standing right behind them and looking over their shoulders stood the Old Man. There were some tears in his eyes but he was smiling.

“You see, children,” he said. “My son and I understood that not all of you live close to the front gate. And the traffic became so bad that it was very hard for anyone to make it there safely. So we laid out some more yards, just like yours, on their side of the highway. We put up picket fences for safety and each one has its own gate. They have all the fruits and vegetables and trees and games that you children enjoy. It is so much easier for them to make it to safety, since the gates are on their side of the street. So many more are being saved. Sadly, though, some still choose to remain outside.”

“But what about the bridges?” the children asked.

“Well, even though their yards are safe and I provide them with all they need to live comfortably, my house is way over here, in this yard. When they look up, they can see my house and many of them want to come over. I do very much want them to come stay with me so there needed to be some way for them to reach me. They can’t do it on their own. So my son built these bridges, from their yard to mine. It can be scary for them but when they learn to trust in the bridge’s strength it becomes easier.”

“But what will happen when all those other kids come in? Will there be enough room in the yard for the rest of us?” The children looked very nervous.

“Don’t you worry about that. And don’t you worry about them, either. I’ll make sure that there is plenty for everyone. Later, when it gets dark, we can all go up to my house. I have comfy rooms waiting for everyone. I also have a great surprise for you. Though you will remember my son giving up his life to save you – He still lives! Yes, right now he is up in my big house, busy building additional rooms for all of you. My son, you see, is quite the carpenter.”

“So, children, go and greet your new friends. And try to play nice.”

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The Old Man’s Yard


garden gate

There once was a kindly old man who lived in a big house, on a big yard in a town named after him. His yard faced a very busy road, a road that he had laid out himself a long time ago. Back then it was a quiet country lane that meandered through green farmland.

Now this street was so busy that there was hardly any room for all the cars, trucks and buses that zoomed back and forth all day and all night. The air was thick with smoke and noise. In order to make more room for more traffic the street had been widened, leaving no sidewalk for pedestrians. This made travel very dangerous, especially for the poor street children of the town, who could not drive cars. Many of them had been terribly hurt.

The old man watched this happening and it made him sad. So one day he walked down to his white picket fence and hollered to the kids, “Hey, kids! C’mon, get in my yard. It’s safe in here.” The children on this side of the road dashed through the gate. The noise of the traffic was so bad that he had to yell a few more times before those children across the street heard his voice. They were clinging to the Jersey wall and were so scared that they could not move.

The old man opened the gate wider but still the petrified children would not come. From the other side of the street things looked too dangerous, and with good reason, thought the old man. Cars and trucks continued to rush on by. So the old man called for his son, who was working out back in the garden, to come and help. As soon as his son saw the terrible situation he ran out into the middle of the road and held up his hands. “STOP!” he screamed.

There was a screeching of tires and a loud honking of horns and then a sickening thud. The traffic had come to a halt, the first time in years. The young man was lying on the ground, his body broken. Blood was everywhere.

The children ran over to him. They were crying because they knew what he had done for them. He tried to talk but he kept choking on the blood filling his throat and mouth. They leaned closer to hear him.

“Quickly, children!” he said, coughing. “Run for my father’s house. The gate is open. The yard is safe – the house is yours. But remember your brothers and sisters.” And with that he died. Just then hundreds of horns started blaring, engines revving impatiently. A siren wailed in the distance. The traffic was tired of standing still.

Sobbing, the children quickly dashed into the yard. There the old man stood with the other children, tears streaming down his face. They ran to him and he put his arms around them. They all cried together, sad because he lost his son.

After a while, the old man spoke to them. “Now, now my children. Don’t be too sad. My son died for you but he died happy, because you are all safe with me in my yard. If any of you had died in that traffic he would have been very, very sad. But now you must carry on, in his memory. There are other children to be saved. You must help them cross the street and show them this yard. If you do this, his spirit will live on in you. Meanwhile, rest awhile in the garden.” And then he went up into the house.

The children looked around and they saw how beautiful the garden was, full of bright flowers and all kinds of fruits and vegetables to eat. The old man was so kind, so cheerful and hospitable that they decided to stay. For the first time in their lives they felt safe. Safe and loved. The old man was happy that they loved him and loved his garden.

The children remembered what the son had told them before he died and right away they ran to the garden fence and began hollering for the children across the street to run for the open gate. They yelled unto their voices were ragged. Some of the street children heard them and those on this side of the street were able to come through the gate easily. A few on the other side tried to make it through the traffic towards the open gate. One or two of them made it but many more of them were struck by the speeding vehicles. Most ran back, afraid of being hit.

Eventually some of the children got tired of calling to the kids outside and began to spend more of their time on the green lawn, laughing and playing with each other, singing songs and making up poems about the young man, his father and the beautiful garden. One day, a few of them, after looking nervously at all the traffic on the other side of the fence, suggested shutting the gate. They were afraid some of the more dangerous cars or trucks might make it through and that would just ruin everything. The gate looked way too small for even a little car, much less a big truck, but the majority agreed. Just to be safe.

“But what about the other kids out there?” one of them asked.

“We been calling ’em and calling ’em and they just don’t listen. If they wanted to come in they would have. Besides, mos’ everyone on this side of the street is inside already” they said.

“But what if they’re scared? Remember, we were scared once, too. And how can they get in if the gate’s closed?”

“The big kids’ll keep callin’ and if they see ’em crossing the street they’ll hold the gate open.”

“Maybe we should go out and help them?” she asked.

“What, are you nuts! Look at that traffic, it’s busier than ever!” They were getting tired of his questions. “Dontcha see? They gotta wanna come in. We can’t make ’em. Besides, if the old man really wanted ’em he’d come down outta his house and grab ’em. Like he did with us.”

Time went by. Soon the bigger kids got tired of calling and watching and wandered away from the fence. Sometimes the gate would inch open and a shy little face would peer in. Usually the children were so busy playing with each other they didn’t notice and the new visitor would slip quietly back out. Once and awhile a kid might make it all the way in and eventually, after some time watching, might be noticed and invited to join in the games. Most of the time they just sat down and watched.

Eventually they locked the gate, to make sure that no one came in unannounced. It was important that all the children knew who was in the yard with them. Some could be allowed in, under strict supervision, but there was a simple catch; To get in, they all had to ask politely and humbly for someone to open the gate. No one should be allowed to come in on their own. This way, someone who didn’t appreciate the old man’s generosity and the son’s sacrifice couldn’t just wander in by themselves and start using the garden in the wrong way. In fact, if someone wouldn’t ask in just the right way they probably didn’t really want to be in the garden in the first pace. They were probably trouble makers and would be happier outside with all the others. Now, everyone in the yard understood the importance of proper behavior.

It had been so long since any of the children had seen the old man come down out of his house. He probably had all the kids that he wanted. After all, his garden wasn’t for just anyone.

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