Sunday, January 10, 2016

Old Testament Violence....Start at the Other End

I happened upon a website a few weeks ago. Don't ask me how I got there....but as always it was a result of clicking a link that led to another another link and so on and so forth. Just another case of divine serendipity, I suppose.  

The name of the site is Redeeming God. It is authored by Jeremy Myers. I landed on a longish series of blog posts that take a close look at God's culpability for the violence, bloodshed and carnage in the OT.  

Like me, the author cannot reconcile the OT scriptures, taken at face value, with the expressed image of God that we see in Jesus.  

When we seek to understand the violence of God in the Old Testament, we must begin by looking at the end. We must begin by looking at the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Jeremy Myers

My intention is to post excerpts from his series and any of my own thoughts that are sparked by what I read. That is my intention...... 

I've already written about this topic in years here....and here....and quite a few other posts under the tag Old Testament.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Season's Greetings (done the right way...)

Keith and I went to the bank on Saturday to do the bulk of our Christmas shopping. We have three young adults (one 25, one soon to be 24, and a 22 year old) so we give them money every year. Somewhere around $500 each. Easy for’s what they need the most and they can use it for whatever they choose to. It beats $500 worth of presents that are not quite what they wanted, wrong color, wrong size etc…

It is a fairly small bank. There were two tellers working. Our teller was also taking care of the drive-thru. As we were in the midst of our transaction (that included cashing one check and writing another) she attended to the car in the drive-thru. As she was concluding that transaction….putting the envelope in the tube system thing….she wished him a Merry Christmas. Her tone was warm and friendly. Over the intercom we could clearly hear him reply back, in an equally cordial tone, “Happy Holidays.” To which she replied……..”Thank you.”

I took note of the interaction because this nonsense about Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays aka Season’s Greetings has always rankled me. What is the big deal? Accept the salutation your are given with grace no matter what holiday you celebrate.

Another example. We were at a small, holiday gathering at the very small airport where Keith is a member of a flying club. (I haven’t written much...anything?....about his flying exploits. I should really get on that because it is a huge part of his life. And by default, my life) But anyway….the hosts of the party are Jewish. As the gathering of about 10 people was breaking up, she wished us all a Merry Christmas. They don’t celebrate Christmas….but the rest of us do….and she graciously extended her hope that we all have a happy one.

That is how it is done, people. Whatever your faith, religion, political alliance….when someone wishes you is absolutely rude and dishonoring to be offended because they did not use the right words.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men is the spirit of the season.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Uh-oh...'Tis the War on Christmas Season....

Today, on Facebook, I happened upon a post called Top 10 Reasons Christians Should Stop Whining About Secular Xmas. This time of year I usually write about the oft lamented but fictitious “War on Christmas.”  This blog post was obviously written by a kindred spirit. It was from the Patheos Blog called “irreverin.”

Out of the ten reasons, these two are my favorites....

1- Season’s greetings,” refers to that broad expanse of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Multiple holidays=holiday season. It’s nothing against Jesus, really.

7 - Speaking of shopping–if you are bothered by all the secular expressions posted around malls and big box stores this season, might i gently suggest that you spend less of your Christmas season at the freakin mall? If you don’t like the signage, spend more time serving the poor, going to worship, getting out in nature, and spending time with the people you love. I’m pretty sure the birthday boy would be all for it.

Check out the blog post (written by Rev. Erin Wathen) for the other eight reasons…..

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

If someone becomes nuts, you don't represent the religion anymore...

I came upon several quotes related to the recent shooting in California that I thought were worth sharing.

About the incident, Bill Maher tweeted, 

"Religion is why "people who 'always acted normal' drop a baby off to go to a massacre"

That IS what happened. This seemingly normal young couple dropped off their six month old child then went on a murdering spree with pipe bombs and automatic weapons.

Some, like Bill Maher, blame it on religion....all religions....any religion. He is pretty much anti religion across the board. Others see the problem as specific to Islam.

Mahmood Navdi, the imam at the mosque Farook attended, Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah in San Bernardino, made this profound statement

"If someone becomes nuts, you don't represent the religion anymore."

Take note - this does not just apply to Islam. This applies to all religions. The criteria for “nuts” might be subjective and could mean different things to different people, however, the situation that went down in San Bernardino clearly fits the definition

In the New York Times, this same imam is quoted as saying the shooting is a shock and a mystery and that…..

"Mr. Farook does not even represent humanity."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

About the Refugees....

Articles, memes and opinions about the refugee crisis have been lighting up my facebook for the past few weeks. A lot of the stuff is clearly….bullshit….and is based more on knee jerk reactions than truth. Some of the links, though, lead to insightful, informative and thoughtful articles. Some of the opinions are balanced and not hateful. I am going to post some of the diamonds I found in the dung heap.

Two articles that might be helpful for Christian trying to make heads or tails of the situation were, of all places, on the Desiring God website. That is John Piper’s website. I’m really not all that fond of Piper or his Calvinist theology. He didn't write either of them. One of the articles was written by D. Glenn; the other by David Crabb.

We shut ourselves off so that we only hear voices from a narrow slice of the political spectrum, and then we listen to these voices day after day and week after week, so that they begin to shape our thinking in profound ways. 

How would we view Muslims if we were steeped in God’s words so that we were thinking his thoughts after him? What would be our perspective on the refugee crisis if the Bible, and not our favorite news channel, was guiding our thoughts and directing our behavior?

Good question…..

The article by D. Glenn ponders Eight Words from Jesus in a World with Refugees

Reminders of what Jesus actually said and how we might apply it to orphans, widows, sojourners, foreigners and enemies.

And I found the following comments in a short post written by Harry Monroe on his Facebook wall....

However, while I agree with those that insist ad nauseum that compassion is not the final word, I wonder why they don't acknowledge that it must be at least part of the equation. The fact that the second great commandment requires thought with regard to present realities does not mean it can be ignored: it only means that we must wrestle with realities in light of our convictions. God's Word is intended for the place where the rubber hits the road. Christian thinking must be both hard nosed and warm hearted in facing a depraved world as a redeemed people.

Remember Jonah? He didn't want to go to Nineveh, because he FEARED God's MERCY. God might be so merciful that he would have the audacity to hear the Assyrians' repentance and forgive them. Jonah didn't want that to happen. And, for all his faults, he was honest enough that he admitted he preferred that the Ninevites be damned. I read many of my friends essentially saying the same thing,

Me, too. There are people who post the most hateful messages about Muslims....all Muslims....and about their go to "love to hate" guy....Obama.

And another article I happened upon on FB….written by Scott Hicks, an immigration attorney (and UMC pastor)….details the vetting process for refugees. It is a realistic look at what the requirements and time frame for the process really are. He explains the interview process for refugees with very little documentation. It is rigorous and repetitive. Families are interviewed multiple times, together and separately, by trained investigators. He also talks about the much easier and quicker ways to gain entrance to our country if you are bent on destruction and terrorist acts.

Frankly, there is more screening of refugees than ever happens to get on an airplane. Of course, yes, no system can be 100% foolproof. But if that is your standard, then you better shut down the entire airline industry, close the borders, and stop all international commerce and shipping. Every one of those has been the source of entry of people and are much easier ways to gain access to the U.S. Only upon passing all of these checks (which involve basically every agency of the government involved in terrorist identification) can the person actually be approved to travel.

And check out the comments. While most were overwhelmingly positive, there were a few “Obama is a liar” ssdd remarks and some have even tried to get his post removed from Facebook. If the Facebook link does not work, you can read his comments within a blog post on Patheos.  

I am still sorting and pondering. The authors of these articles are all Christians. They write from a Christian perspective. I think as Christians we have to remember that we are not merely citizens of an earthly kingdom...but also of a heavenly kingdom that holds us to a higher standard of love and compassion.

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.