Thursday, November 12, 2015

Holiday cups…and stuff….

Here we are….right around the corner from another holiday season. Christmas 2016. My FB feed has been ablaze lately with talk of “the cup.” Starbucks recently debuted a new holiday cup for the 2016 holiday season. A plain red cup….bright red with shades of maroon. And of course, the Starbucks trademark logo, which, if you ask me, is kind of creepy….but whatever.
So online pastor took offense to the minimalist cup and made a video about how Starbucks is taking Jesus out of Christmas. He came up with a plan to not only force Starbucks to write Merry Christmas on these plain, red holiday cups…but to even make them say it. Out loud. His new name is Merry Christmas. YOUR new name is Merry Christmas. At least it is if you have even a shred of Christian decency and happen to find yourself in a Starbucks ordering coffee.
So far the American Family Association has been silent on the matter. Oh, the 2015 “Naughty and Nice” list is posted on their website but the only mention I could find of Starbucks was their name listed among the other marginal retailers. Retailers are judged on several criteria and are placed on one of three lists. Green - Christmas friendly, the Nice list. Yellow - the Marginal list. Red - not Christmas friendly, the Naughty list. According to the AFA standards, Starbucks made the yellow list. So did Walgreens, Best Buy and CVS. Among those on the Naughty list this year are Office Depot, Staples, Family Dollar….and the list goes on. Disclaimer....the list is fluid. A retailer can move to and fro on the list depending on their advertising etc.
But about the cup thing.....the outrage seems to be lopsided. It does not appear to be even steven. As my daughter Emily observed in a text message, “Honestly, I have seen more outrage about the outrage than I have seen actual outrage.” And she is right. My kids are so smart. I glean valuable insights from them all the time.
The folks on the left…the progressives, the liberals, the atheists, the non religious….are making a bigger deal out of this than the conservatives, evangelicals, fundies, religious - the folks on the right. Were they pre-preemptively shamed at the first peep of offense....the first accusation of taking Christ out of Christmas? Perhaps it is an overreaction to witnessing the battle they wage each and every year in response to the "war on Christmas." The mantra for many Christians this time of year could well be, “Me, me it’s all about me.” Grudgingly other holidays have been allowed to exist during the holiday season….but please, do not expect your Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or whatever second rate holiday you celebrate to upstage CHRISTMAS. This year, however, the pushback has been bigger than the push. At least so far.
I write about this every year. Every year I get more fed up. I repost the Christmas letter from God to His children every Decemberish. Perhaps it didn't take much to instigate a reaction from me and other like minded folks. 
Or maybe far right, fundamentalist, evangelical Christians are getting smarter. They realize boycotts and such really do not work. The companies they target (like Disney, the Ford Motor Company, Crest toothpaste, Tide laundry detergent, Ellen, Desperate Housewives etc. etc. etc.) go unscathed by their boycotts. 
Whatever the reason, it is a welcome change. Stay tuned to see if it is a trend or an anomaly.
This Washington Post opinion piece, Most Christians do not actually care about Starbucks cups, is worth the read. It also includes a link to the video that started this whole thing. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Which Kingdom?

I came across one of John McNaughton's paintings a few years ago. I found it offensive then....I find it offensive now. Apparently, I am not the only one. If you go to his website, he addresses a laundry list of criticisms about his painting, One Nation Under God. He's gotten complaints from far left, far right and everywhere in between.

Complaints about who is in the painting and who is not. There are not enough minorities represented. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Payne (who he recognizes as Deists) were included. There are complaints about who is standing where. There are complaints about the quality of the artwork, that he explains too much, says too much and that some of this should be left to the imagination of the viewer.

There is not a lot of ambiguity in the symbolism he uses in the painting. A white and gold robed, glowing Jesus is standing in the middle of the painting, in the forefront, and he is holding the constitution of the United States of America.

Yes, really. Jesus is an American, didn't you know? But He is getting fed up with our liberal nation that has taken prayer out of schools, removed nativity scenes from government property, passed Obamacare and can marry. This nation has gotten on his last nerve. And it has gotten on McNaughton's last nerve too.

I spent an hour or so on McNaughton's website this morning. Many of the paintings are interactive so when you rest your cursor over an image in the painting, a paragraph or so pops up on the right explaining the symbolism and his beliefs. McNaughton is very opinionated.

The opinion that shines through in paintings like Obamanation, One Nation Under Socialism (he's burning the Constitution), The Demise of America (Washington is burning in the background), Wake Up America (Obama is giving a speech and the audience is in chains) is that Obama is a terrible president who is doing irreparable harm to America. Some of the symbolism he employs is oblique and vague. Some of it is in your face right wing propaganda.

A more recent painting, Separation of Church and State, shows Jesus (still glowing) sadly leaving a joint session of Congress to boos and jeers. The flag is ripped from top to bottom. Yep....just like the veil that separated the Most Holy Place in the temple. Below is McNaughton's description and inspiration for the painting from his Facebook page.

Separation of Church and State, by Jon McNaughtonOnce a year, the President of the United States makes a speech to a joint session of Congress, reporting the condition of the nation and outlines the priorities of his administration. It is called, “The State of the Union Address." 

I envisioned Jesus speaking to this joint session where all the leaders of our country are gathered. He looks at them from the pulpit; He pauses, and then begins to address the assembly. 

He reminds them of the covenant which was made with the Founders of our Nation that He would protect and bless us if we would remember Him; and then Jesus opens the Holy Bible to Psalms 33: 12, and reads the verse:“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” 

At this moment the Chamber erupts into shouts of anger and disgust, as the body of the joint session turns into a hostile mob - reminiscent of the mob that shouted out to Pilate, “Crucify him!” 

Jesus, with a countenance of gentle peace, although saddened by the rejection of his offer, looks across the assembly at the angry mob. He turns and begins to exit the pulpit. The large American flag rips from top to bottom, like the veil of the temple ripped as He hung on the cross and said, “It is finished!” 

A woman, unable to bear His glance holds her face in shame. Words of mockery, angry shouts and venomous threats fill the hall. 

Above the torn flag, engraved in the marble stone of the Congressional Chamber of Congress are the words, “In God We Trust.” Oh, the irony! A shaft of light from the Courts of Heaven shines upon the word “God” as a reminder of whom they have rejected. O, America – why have you abandoned the rock from whence you were hewn! 

As Jesus exits this unholy chamber he turns to gaze at you, the viewer of this painting, and asks the question, “What will YOU do now?” 

The painting is meant to be a symbol of our government’s abandonment of God and His Covenant; for surely, He has not abandoned us, but we have abandoned Him.

This is all kinds of messed up. Mixing and matching patriotism with the kingdom Jesus revealed is like mixing oil and water. News flash...The United States of America is a kingdom of the WORLD, a political system. Jesus' kingdom is an entirely different place/realm/reality. Mixing His spiritual kingdom with a political system bastardizes it.

“I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry.” Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation

Idolotry, indeed. We all have our idols that we hold near and dear. But there is hope for all of us....because buried within everyone is that "hole in every heart" that longs for the kingdom. THE kingdom. Not the kingdoms of the world....not political regimes or totalitarian governments, not democracies, theocracies, republics....but THE kingdom that Jesus came to model, proclaim and establish. The one he calls us to live in.

Another one of McNaughton's paintings caught my eye. It is called Peace is Coming. It was inspired by Isaiah 2:4 that reads, "They shall turn their swords into plowshares…neither shall they learn of war anymore." 

Again there is a white and gold robed, glowing Jesus standing front and center on cobblestones. The background is a lot of McNaughton's paintings. Jesus is surrounded on both sides by kneeling soldiers and warriors. They are from every era and country. There is a Roman Centurion, a WWII Pilot, a Union soldier, an Egyptian soldier, a Knight, a Conquistador, a Viking, a Spartan, a Samari, a Palestinian.....

And they are all bowing, relief and awe on their faces, hands over hearts, overwhelmed with emotions.. every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Check out McNaughton's website...HERE.

Friday, July 24, 2015

He Turned Out All the Lights

I’ve been listening to the audio version of a book written by Barbara Brown Taylor, “Learning to Walk in the Dark.”
I’ve listened to it on several recent road trips. On the 4th of July when I went to help Emily move her stuff out of the house where she was temporarily staying. And again, recently, when I went to visit my mom. I also checked out the ebook version so I could find and reread the snippets that caught my attention.
I am mesmerized by this woman’s voice. She narrates the book herself and does an amazing job. She was an episcopal priest for years but eventually left the church. (She wrote a book to tell about her experience….Leaving Church)
Perhaps she honed her speaking skills behind the pulpit....? I am also intrigued with her writing style. Sometimes she conveys her thoughts in very long run on sentences, cobbled together with commas, colons, semicolons and dashes. She gets her point across in an almost long winded, lyrical way.
My last post talked about a late night (very dark) journey when Shasta met Aslan. It broaches the subject of learning to walk in the dark. While Taylor acknowledges that, at first glance, darkness in scripture seems overwhelmingly negative there are also verses that say something different. There are stories that tell of great things that are said/done/accomplished at night or in the dark.

In the Message, in Job Chapter 19 Job laments:
God threw a barricade across my path—I’m stymied; he turned out all the lights—I’m stuck in the dark. He destroyed my reputation, robbed me of all self-respect. He tore me apart piece by piece—I’m ruined! Then he yanked out hope by the roots. He’s angry with me—oh, how he’s angry!

Perhaps the treasures hidden in the darkness are not easily seen until we are back in the light once again. We think God is mad at us but it is often in our darkness that we meet God. I met him there during a very tumultuous period of my life that was indeed dark, scary and overwhelming.
I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. 
So does God really turn out the lights? That is the age old, oft pondered (and more oft argued about) paradox of determinism versus free will. That has been a major sore spot for me in my relationship with God but it’s true; scripture indicates that He does, sometimes, turn out our lights ..for his purposes....and for our good.
God dwells in deep darkness. God comes to people in dark clouds, dark nights, dark dreams and dark strangers in ways that sometimes scare them half to death but almost always for their good--or at least their renovation. God does some of God’s best work in the dark. From a sermon delivered by Barbara Brown Taylor at the 2014 Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, Minn

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

When God Hides Himself....

The inspiration for my last post was several quotes by Milada Horáková; excerpts from a letter she wrote to her teenage daughter the night before Horáková was scheduled to be executed. She urged her daughter to learn the difference between dazzling tinsel and real gold...and not to "drop real gold from her hand" in pursuit of tinsel.

One of my favorite, yet most irksome, verses in the Bible is in the book of Job Chapter 23

8“But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him.9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. NIV

It seems to me this verse in Job and Horáková's advice are related. I'm not sure if Horáková was a person of faith or not...and after reading several articles about her principles, her career, her courage and her execution, I'm still not sure. But her thoughts on real gold versus tinsel run deep and true. Job declares that he will emerge as gold when it is all said and done. He will surely know the difference between gold and tinsel.

I found it comforting that the Young's Literal Translation renders Job 23:10 this way:

For He hath known the way with me, he hath tried me -- as gold I go forth.

With in you are not alone even though you may feel like you are….

And I came upon another excerpt while researching (okay...googling) for this series of posts.

The following looooong excerpt is from The Horse and His Boy. Thanks to Gavin Ortlund for posting it on his Soliloquium Blog….and thanks to to CS Lewis for originally writing this scene in his tales of Narnia series. I find it beyond profound when I remember that the lion represents Christ.

And to C.S. Lewis, Aslan did represent Christ. When replying to a fan who wrote to tell him how much she enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis said:

The idea in my mind was, “supposing there were other worlds, and if one of them was like Narnia - and if it needed saving - and if Christ went to save it as He came to save us - let’s imagine what shape and name He might have taken there.” And the answer was Aslan.”

Keep that in mind as you read….

And being very tired and having nothing inside him, (Shasta) felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.

What put a stop to all of this was a sudden fright.

Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.

The Thing (unless it was a person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope that he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn’t be imagination! Anyway, he has felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.

If the horse had been any good – or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse – he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop. But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop. So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.

“Who are you?” he said, barely above a whisper.

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta.

“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. and then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion.” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two lions the first night, and -”

“There was only one, but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.”

And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you as you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?”

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.

The mist was turning from black to grey and from grey to white. This must have begun to happen some time ago, but while he had been talking to the Thing he had not been noticing anything else. Now, the whiteness around him became a shining whiteness; his eyes began to blink. Somewhere ahead he heard birds singing. He knew the night was over at last. He could see the mane and ears and head of his horse quite clearly now. A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun.

He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than a horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else could not see it. It was from the lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or more beautiful.

Luckily Shasta had lived all of his life too far south in Calormen to have heard the tales that were whispered in Tashbaan about a dreadful Narnian demon that appeared in the form of a lion. And of course he knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia. But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.

The High King above all kings stooped towards him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the man he, was all around him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. He was alone with horse on a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.

I. love. this. More to come....

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tinsel or Gold?

But in order to be a truly positive person in all circumstances, one has to learn how to distinguish real gold from tinsel. It is hard, because tinsel sometimes glitters so dazzlingly. I confess, my child, that often in my life I was dazzled by glitter. And sometimes it even shone so falsely, that one dropped pure gold from one's hand and reached for, or ran after, false gold.

This quote was written by Milada Horáková the night before her execution on June 27, 1950. She was convicted of high treason; found guilty of plotting to overthrow the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.  It is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her 16 year old daughter.

I came upon it on a blog called Letters of Note, a website that features under the radar correspondence from/to famous people. If you love obscure quotes that you can't find on sites like BrainyQuotes, it is an interesting place to visit.

It makes me wonder what I might feel compelled to write to my kids if I knew I was going to die tomorrow. She was a brave woman. She was very wise. I’m not sure I could write anything as profound as what she penned in the letter. I wonder if she wept as she wrote it. I wonder if she questioned the choices she made in her life....whether what she thought was gold what actually tinsel.

One day, when you grow up, you will wonder and wonder, why your mother who loved you and whose greatest gift you were, managed her life so strangely. Perhaps then you will find the right solution to this problem, perhaps a better one than I could give you today myself. Of course, you will only be able to solve it correctly and truthfully by knowing very, very much. Not only from books, but from people; learn from everybody, no matter how unimportant! Go through the world with open eyes, and listen not only to your own pains and interests, but also to the pains, interests and longings of others.

Until my last breath I shall pray for your happiness, my dear child!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cheering, Jeering and Everything In Between

Lots of stuff going on at FB the past few days. All the way from cheers to jeers and everything in between about the Supreme Court ruling on marriage. marriage is legal. In all fifty states. Boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.

Perhaps I should reword that because that is exactly one of the “look at what you did” complaints I’ve seen several times on my Facebook feed. Claims that the push is now on to have pedophilia legalized. Yep, it’s that slippery slope thing the American Family Association, Focus on the Family and Mike Huckabee etc have warned us about. I mean, it makes perfect sense that comes next. Homosexual love, pedophile love and the list goes on and on. “Love is love, no?”

Ahhhhhhh….no. There is the issue of CONSENT. Under the law, kids cannot give their consent to marry the dirty old man who lives next door. They cannot even give their consent to have sex with the dirty old man who lives next door. They aren’t old enough. Just like they are not old enough to drive a car, buy alcohol or get a tattoo. They are MINORS. And the bestiality worry. Different species but the same arguments apply. A dog, horse, cow, cat, monkey, goat etc cannot consent to marriage. They cannot consent to sexual relations. That argument is just ridiculous.

Why this became the evangelical Christian’s battle cry, pet issue, most horrendous “sin,” I can’t say. But they just need to let it go. Fairness and civil rights won. And really, aren’t Christians….followers of Jesus….citizens of another kingdom. The Supreme Court has no say in the Kingdom of Jesus.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world John 18:36

What would Jesus do in the wake of this ruling? Would he be posting on FB about how God will judge America? Would he be worried about hypothetical slippery slope outcomes? Would he be fretting that Christians will be persecuted? News flash...He told us we would be persecuted. Christians will be persecuted. That theme (that I don’t like any more than the next guy) is ALL THROUGH the New Testament.

I think Jesus would be doing what Jesus did….proclaiming the light of a higher kingdom, a light that shines in every man, ministering to the sick, the poor, the outcasts. Proclaiming the Father to a world desperately in need of a revelation of God’s love.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tony Campolo Changes His Mind.....

I’ve written about or quoted Tony Campolo in a half dozen blog posts….HERE.

I love Tony Campolo and have followed his ministry...and his wife's ministry....for years. She has always been for the full inclusion of LGBT folks in the church. Tony, well, not so much, although his heart was always kind and tender.

It looks like Tony finally came around. There has been considerable backlash about his statement published on June 8th but he is no stranger to backlash. He has been riling up fellow evangelicals for years. He was even “tried” on heresy charges. In fact, he is the only living evangelical to have endured such a thing. And at the hands of his fellow believers. From Wikipedia:

Campolo was the subject of an informal heresy hearing in 1985 brought about by several assertions in his 1983 book A Reasonable Faith, particularly his claim that, "Jesus is actually present in each other person". The book became a hot button issue, and the controversy caused Campus Crusade for Christ and Youth for Christ to block a planned speaking engagement by Campolo. The Christian Legal Society empowered a "reconciliation panel", led by noted theologian J. I. Packer, to examine the issue and resolve the controversy. The panel examined the book and questioned Campolo. The panel issued a statement saying that although it found Campolo's statements "methodologically naïve and verbally incautious", it did not find them to be heretical.

What pompous asses Christians can be. It seems to me two of the beliefs that mainstream Christians hold nearest and dearest are their beliefs in hell and the depravity of homosexuality. They are also unwilling to take a closer look-see beneath the surface meaning of words in their modern bible translations to see if perhaps they could be mistaken....if the traditional church could be mistaken. That’s how Tony came to a different conclusion.

I was deeply uncertain about what was right.  It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.

Another quote from Tony….

However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.  

Good for you, Tony….

You can read his statement HERE.

And another article that talks about his change of heart and whether this might be the tipping point for evangelicals is HERE.