Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Donkey, The Elephant, & The Lamb


I’ve been thinking about the language, the currency if you will, of politics. It has to do, almost exclusively, with the marketing of three interrelated commodities: fear, anger, and hate.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It is the engine that drives every single election cycle.

The typical political discourse goes something like this:

If we don’t get the politician we want, they’re gonna take away our ___________ (fill in the “right” of your choosing). We’re in danger of losing everything we’ve fought so hard for. For the love of God I hate those traitors!

Wherever one is on the political spectrum…that’s pretty much how it goes.

Fear.

Anger.

Hate.

But Jesus shows us a different Way.

Recently I heard Brian Zahnd say something to the effect: “Don’t follow the donkey. Don’t follow the elephant. Follow the Lamb.”

It seems to me that one simply cannot follow the donkey or the elephant and follow the Lamb because these are two entirely different ways.

Now, you may be thinking, “Wait minute. Aren’t these three different ways?”

Not really.

You see, the donkey and the elephant are dissimilar but only superficially. Both worship the Empire. Both crave power. Both traffic in fear, anger, and hate.

Jesus’ Way is radically different.

The politics of Jesus runs on faith, hope, and love.

Yes, fear is a great motivator; but Love is greater still.

God is love…

And Love will save the world.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
~1Cor. 13:13

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Jesus & Jordan Peterson


A long-time friend recently suggested that I listen to the sensational Jordan Peterson. While I’d heard all the Peterson hullaballoo I was quite unfamiliar with him. So I happily obliged.

First came a rather contentious interview; then a friendly debate; and finally a longish lecture.

I know what you’re thinking. “Wow! 2 ½ hours of YouTube? Steve’s like a Peterson expert now.

Well, I’m flattered. I really am. But no…

However, in the indomitable spirit of amateur bloggers everywhere, I’d like to share my impressions upon being introduced to him.

It seems to me that he espouses what I would call Christ-less conservativism.

In the interview he speaks from a quasi naturalistic view of human life and flourishing—what is natural/biological/instinctual is what is right. (“Right” in this instance should be understood in an amoral or pragmatic sense.)

This view is reiterated in the debate. Peterson contends,

Reality is that which selects . . . what’s selected by that reality is what’s correct . . . the central claim of pragmatism.

Correlatively he talks in terms of competition, dominance, power, and hierarchy. Not surprisingly, he espouses a rugged individualism, if you will.

From the lecture:

The individual is the center of the cosmos . . . that image of God . . . that brings order out of chaos through the power of truthful speech. That’s the core idea of Western civilization. And it’s the greatest idea that humanity has ever produced.

And while he often uses a language of faith (Bible stories, Jesus, and “God”), he does so in a very ambiguous way. That is, he uses the terms, but not the meanings associated with historic Christian verbiage.

For example, in the debate he was pressed as to whether he believes in God and the divinity of Christ.

He replied,

The sovereignty of the individual is the divinity of the individual. . . . “God” is what you use to make sense of your life, by definition.

Yeah…I don’t know what that means.

But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord.”

Furthermore, he utilizes “us vs. them” fiery rhetoric. In Peterson’s mind “the Left” is pure evil.

Even so, does evil reside only on one side? I’m reminded of Solzhenitsyn,

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.

I’m thinking Jesus wants to liberate peoples’ hearts Left and Right.

Thus, the follower of Jesus must reject Christ-less conservatism and Christ-less progressivism alike. No Christ-less ism will do. So...eat the meat and spit out the bones. 

The Jesus Way: it’s not the way of Jordan Peterson and it’s not the way of those Peterson so stridently opposes.

Jesus shows us an entirely different Way—the way of self-sacrificial, enemy-love. “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

Dare we take it?  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

To Obey or Not to Obey—That’s The Session


I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.
~Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the USA

Just when you think the “divine right of kings”1 has gone the way of the pay phone…along comes a fiery evangelist Attorney General fanning the flames of its revival.

It’s got to be absolutely intoxicating for a politician to cherry-pick Romans 13:1 in effort claim God’s support and authority to do whatever he or she wants!

The Romans 13 trump card has been played many times before. It’s “been cited by Nazi sympathizers and apartheid-enforcers, slave owners”2 and multiple other politicians and their Bible-believing loyalists.

Though Mr. Sessions’ comment holds more errors than words, he is right about one thing: The Apostle Paul wrote Romans 13.

So let’s think about it.

What first comes to mind is Paul the apostle, for a brief time, was Saul the persecutor. That is, at one time Paul himself was granted powers by the government to split up families, apprehend, bind and imprison people for crimes against the State. 

But then Jesus appeared to him and persuaded him to stop.   

My second thought is this: the man who wrote Romans 13 is the same man who was often arrested and finally murdered by governing authorities. Presumably, he was mistreated this way for disobeying them.

In fact, I suggest he committed acts of civil disobedience—not despite being—but because he was a follower of Jesus.

Early followers of Jesus were resolute in the face of power: “We ought to obey God rather than men [government]” (Acts 5:29).

So, no, Paul does not say, “obey the laws of the government,” as Mr. Sessions wrongly claims. Rather, Paul says, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities” (Romans 13:1).

Big difference!

When the first Christians rightly disobeyed unjust laws, they meekly suffered whatever punishments ensued. They didn't revolt. They disobeyed and they submitted. Christ-followers have been doing the same ever since.

Mr. Sessions misquotes Romans 13:1 and ignores Romans 13:10 altogether: “Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God's law.”

Human rulers are never absolute, but Bible-believing loyalists tend to lose sight of this.

Open our eyes, Lord.

Wake up from your slumber . . . put aside
the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 
~Romans 13:11, 12

__________________________




Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Of Knives & Guns


Last week I talked about Americans’ love for drugs and guns. In a car ride with one of my dearest friends, the subject came up. (His doing, not mine. The fault is totally his.)

During the conversation—to be clear, that he initiated—I said I wouldn’t mind if certain types of guns were made illegal. He replied that he read somewhere that someone killed 10 people last week in Japan with a knife.

You know what comes next…

Should we therefore ban knives?

My knee-jerk thought was, well, that or we could just ban Japanese people. (It seems to me that ninja-like murderers have been slaughtering Asian folk “last week” for about 4 years now.)

At any rate, this oft-repeated pro-gun argument seems misguided.

I responded that killing 10 people with a knife is much more difficult than killing them with a gun. And…I’d like to make killing me as difficult as possible (especially if I find the courage to publish this).

That murdering people with bullets is easier than with blades is, in my mind, self-evident.

This is why we send soldiers to war with big guns, not long knives; why we say, “You don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight.”

I’ve entered many a kitchen chock-full of knives—some of them right on the counter. I've never given it a second thought. Would I have the same non-reaction to a kitchen crammed with guns? (I’d compliment the chef! That’s for sure.)

So, no, I don’t follow the illogic that says if we outlaw certain types of military-style weapons we might as well ban knives.

Nor do I believe the illogic that says gun owners are bad people. The fact is, most of the gun owners I know—myself being one of them—are absolutely harmless. They We are a threat to no one.

All of this to say: There are no quick fixes and Band-Aids aren’t going to cut it. But can we—gun owners and non gun owners alike—work together to peacefully better our world? Can we think about it more fairly and clearly? Surely we can. 
Those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death. ~Wisdom
(Proverbs 8:36)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Guns N’ Doses


The United States is plagued with drug abuse and gun violence. It seems to me that drugs and guns are killing us literally, emotionally, intellectually, and morally.

(If you’re reflexively muttering: “Drugs and guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” then you are likely among the walking dead of whom I speak.)

My question is: How can drug abuse and gun violence be deadly epidemics and also hot-button topics? (I mean, when’s the last time you heard someone take a pro bubonic plague stance?)

I think the answer is clear: Americans (no, not every single one or even a majority) love drugs and guns. We absolutely love them. We can’t imagine life without them.

And because we can’t imagine life without our cherished drugs (legal and illegal) or guns, we will do anything—and I mean anything—to keep them.

Americans die and kill for and with drugs and guns.

That we will not easily part with the objects of our addictions is nowhere more evident than in the impotent “war on drugs.” The “war on drugs” is a colossal failure.

I believe the same would be true of a “war on guns.” Guns, like drugs, are ubiquitous in America; and no amount of laws or force will deprive us of what we hold so dear.

That’s why drugs and guns are so often pried from cold dead hands.

As I think about our deep love and dependence upon drugs and guns, and how they decimate so many lives, my thoughts turn to the proverbial saying (a paraphrase of Jesus): Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

In other words, a nation that lives by drugs and guns dies by them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not vilifying drugs or guns per se. Both are used for good and ill. (Full disclosure: I have both in my home. You know…for high blood pressure and would-be marauders and such.) Nor am I equating drugs and guns.

My point of comparison is singular: Americans love drugs and Americans love guns; and as long as we do, not even deaths—thousands upon thousands—can separate us from them.

Those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death. ~Wisdom
(Proverbs 8:36)


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Works & Fruit


The works of the flesh are evident . . . But the fruit of the Spirit
is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
~Galatians 5:19, 22-23

After a friend’s question regarding the Spirit’s gifts and fruit, another asked, “What do you make of Paul's usage of the ‘fruit’ (singular) of the Spirit as opposed to the ‘works’ (plural) of the flesh?” 

My answer is below.

************************

I'm not sure I have a textual reason to explain the plural "works" and the singular "fruit."
But here are my thoughts at present...

The works of the flesh—all destructive to ourselves and others—flow from our sin and brokenness. We humans are fractured in all our relationships to God, others, and even ourselves. The works (plural) flow from our lives lived in pieces.

The fruit (singular) of the Spirit however, is like a seamless garment, if you will.

Think of it. How much sense would it make for someone to physically or verbally abuse another, and then claim: "Well, I have the Spirit's love. I just don't have His kindness or goodness"?

Thus it seems to me that the fruit here (and elsewhere in scripture) emanates—as a single unit—from love. The fruit is the wholeness and holiness of Jesus' character being formed and maturing in our lives.

The one undivided Spirit of Christ—to mix my sewing metaphors a bit!—is weaving us back together (individually and corporately); repairing all that was broken, and fitting all the pieces together into the recreated image of the Son of God. 

I may be reading too much into it...but this is the picture I have in my mind. It seems beautiful to me. It seems like this is what I am experiencing as the Spirit works in me and in others I see around me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The God of Abraham, Isaac, & Ishmael


In the book of Genesis we read of Abraham and two of his sons: Ishmael the firstborn and Isaac the promised-born. Isaac’s mother was Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and Ishmael’s mother was Hagar, the slave of Sarah.

Not long after Isaac’s birth, in a fit of jealous rage, Sarah demanded that Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael to the desert. And though he was wealthy, he sent them away with only “bread and a skin of water” (Gen. 21:14).

End of story.

The Sunday school version, yes, THE END. But in reality the story continues.

Though he is not the child of promise, though he is rejected by his father and sent away empty-handed, Ishmael is not abandoned by God.

Genesis couldn’t be clearer: “God was with the lad” (21:20).

But for some reason I was never taught this verse. And though I’d read it many times myself, I never saw it until last week.

God was with Ishmael.

God was with Ishmael then and I believe He is with him now.

And Ishmael now, as then, is being kicked in the teeth.

While the Israelis are the most powerful nation in the region, how long can they keep 2 million Palestinian Arabs confined in the penal colony that is the Gaza Strip? How long can they keep the 2 million Palestinians of the West Bank living in conditions even Israeli leaders have begun to compare to apartheid?1

Good questions!

I have another one (or two).

How long will Dispenstional-Trumpangelicals dehumanize and even demonize Ishmael?

How long will people who claim to worship the Prince of Peace support “God’s chosen people” as they violate Ishmael in the name of real estate?

Stephen Sizer observes,

 . . . for Western Christians, especially evangelicals, to ignore or stereotype their Palestinian brothers and sisters, now threatened with extinction, is not only deeply offensive, it is surely a contradiction of our faith, and ultimately immoral before God. It is nothing less than to perpetuate the evil of the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan who walked by on the other side.2

Does Jesus love Palestinians every bit as much as He loves Israelis? He does. Is He with Ishmael and all oppressed people of the world? He is.

I wonder how many other folks God is with but my eyes fail to see it.

“Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:37-40)

Open our eyes, Lord!


_______________________


2Stephen Sizer, “Christian Zionism,” p. 13