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The Anti-Christ Immigration Response of US Governors and the Kingdom of God

Christians are called to be a light to the nations. The world can’t wait any longer for us to live into that mission.

And make no mistake about it – that mission is political. After all, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God.

Kingdom. Of. God.

This is not simply a personal ethic. I often hear evangelicals and conservatives say, “God wants everything from us” and “God demands our all.” But somehow many also claim that “everything” and “all” doesn’t include our politics because Jesus only gave us a personal ethic.

The fact is that the Kingdom of God is more than personal. It is political, but it is a radically different kind of politics because it subverts the political status quo. From the beginning of human history, the political status quo has been run by the same dynamic – violence.

But the Kingdom of God subverts the politics of violence. Make no mistake: When Jesus used the term “Kingdom of God,” he was being politically subversive. He was charged with high treason, because in using that phrase he was directly confronting the Kingdom of Rome.

These two political realms function in entirely different ways. The Kingdom of Rome functioned with violence, terror, and exclusion. But this point is crucial: Rome wanted peace. In fact, Rome named its project the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, and wanted to spread it throughout the known world. Unfortunately, the only method Rome knew to achieve “peace” was through violence. As Rome conquered new lands in the contradictory name of the Pax Romana, it carried the sword and the crucifix along with it. And if anyone resisted, they would likely be killed.

As all Christians know, that’s exactly what happened to Jesus. Why was Jesus killed? It wasn’t because he said, “Hey guys. I’ve got a personal ethic here, let’s all just love each other! Look, bunnies. Yay! Aren’t they cute!”


Jesus resisted the Kingdom of Rome with the Kingdom of God. But let’s be clear: Jesus subverted Rome in the most subversive way possible – he stood up for justice with nonviolent love. Jesus knew that Rome wasn’t the real enemy. As one of his earliest followers stated, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The real enemy wasn’t Rome. The real enemy was the anti-Christ – the forces of evil, hatred, and violence. So here’s the crucial contrast:

Where Rome sought to terrorize, exclude, and kill their enemies, Jesus taught us to love our enemies in the way that Jesus loved his enemies, with self-offering love and nonviolence. Yes, Jesus, along with the prophets before him, stood up to political, economic, and religious injustice. He named it. He confronted it. He resisted it.

But why didn’t Jesus ever kill in the name of peace and justice, like Rome did? Because he knew that violence and exclusion would make him just like his enemies. He would become the enemy twin of those he opposed. On a personal and political level, mimicking the violence, hatred, and exclusion of our enemies makes us exactly like our enemies. And so Jesus offers the only alternative – renounce violence by loving your neighbor, who includes even your enemies.

René Girard makes this point while quoting Jesus on love in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World:

Since violence is mimetic, and no one ever feels responsible for triggering it initially, only by an unconditional renunciation can we arrive at the desired result (of peace):

And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:33-35).

In the face of terrorism in France and throughout the world, those who follow Christ can have only one response – resist violence with nonviolent love.

In the face of refugees fleeing countries torn to shreds by terrorism, those who follow Christ can have only one response – resist the urge to exclude refugees by showing them gracious hospitality that lends without hope of receiving anything in return.

If we choose any other personal or political ethic, we aren’t living by the Kingdom of God. We deny God and worship at the feet of the anti-Christ. And Jesus had harsh words for those who claim to follow him but refuse to live by the love, nonviolence, and radical hospitality of the Kingdom of God:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father. On that day, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”

For those of us living in the 21st century, that prophetic warning is as important as ever. If Christians are serious about following Jesus and being a light to the nations, then we must follow Jesus by living into his personal and political ethic. Otherwise we become just like those we call our enemies.

If the governors of the United States exclude refugees who are fleeing from the violence of ISIS, then that act of exclusion by the United States makes us just like ISIS. But it’s actually worse than that. If we are honest with ourselves, we in the United States will admit that ISIS is just like us. We are the violent models that ISIS is imitating. We are the ones who, like ancient Rome, have been spreading “peace” and “justice” through violence. ISIS is simply mimicking our methods. If the United States really wants to lead the world into a more just and peaceful future, then we need to change our methods in fighting for justice from violence to nonviolent love.

Because if we continue down this path, we will ensure ourselves a future of apocalyptic violence. And Jesus will say to us, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”

But fortunately there is a clear alternative. Jesus calls us to love. That love is risky and can be scary. That’s because love doesn’t guarantee security, but neither does violence. The point for Christians is to not be run by fear, but by love. To follow him means to trust that as we live into the Kingdom of God we can show hospitality and lend to everyone in need, without expecting anything in return, because we know that there will be enough for everyone.


Image Copyright: adrenalinapura / 123RF Stock Photo

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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 4 – The Politics of Terrorism and the Politics of Jesus

The Discussion:



Show Notes*

How should we respond to terrorist attacks in Paris?

Nearly 90% of people killed in American drone attacks were not targeted. American violence is terrorizing the Middle East, labeling all “unknown people it kills as ‘Enemies Killed in Action,’” but they are often civilians. (The Intercept: The Drone Papers: The Assassination Complex.)

Last Thursday, the United States killed “Jihadi John” in a drone strike, killing the man responsible for beheading Western journalists. (In the discussion, Adam mistakenly said he beheaded monks. That was a different ISIS group.) The Huffington Post wrote, “Britain said the death of the militant would strike at the heart of the Islamic State group.” Tragically, killing Jihadi John didn’t stop ISIS from striking back. The mimetic nature of violence reveals that violence is imitative and it escalates. Jesus gave the prophetic message that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” We are experiencing the horrific pattern of escalating violence at work.

The logic of terrorism hopes to get a violent response in return for violence. That way terrorists can continue a narrative that they are actually the victims of Western aggression. In striking back, we give terrorists exactly what they want.

The Politics of Violence and the Politics of Jesus

Our violent political message isn’t working. Francois Hollande, President of France, said, “We are going to lead a war that will be pitiless.” He vowed to show “no mercy.” For Christians, this is in stark contrast to the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites us to living into. In the Beatitudes, Jesus claimed, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Just as violence is mimetic and will lead to a future of more violence, mercy is also mimetic. In other words, violence only ensures a future of violence. Mercy is our only possibility for a future of mercy and peace.

Negotiations alone won’t work. We also need reparations. So, what is a better solution to terrorism than responding with violence? Girardian Jean Michel-Oughourlian provides the answer in his book Psychopolitics,

Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace. (page 23)

*You may hear sounds in the background. That’s Lindsey’s toddler, which is also the reason for Lindsey’s side-glances.

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Tears of Friendship, Birth-Pangs of New Life: An All Saints Sunday Meditation

(Below is a slightly modified adaptation of a sermon I preached for All Saints Sunday, 2012, based on the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses 32-44, or “The Raising of Lazarus.”):

Friends, there are at least two themes to this familiar Gospel story: resurrection and friendship. How appropriate for All Saints Sunday, when we celebrate our eternal friendship, united in the joy of resurrection in God’s holy reign! I want to suggest that friendship and resurrection are deeply connected. It is not merely that we will all be friends in heaven. In a very real sense, friendship is resurrection.

Saint Paul says that to be in Christ is to be a new creation. And to be in Christ is to be in friendship, in free and voluntary love, with him. And if we are in friendship with Christ we are also united in the body of Christ as friends.

I once found it strange that Jesus wept moments before raising Lazarus from the dead. After all, he knew that joy was about to conquer sorrow. Why, then, did he weep?

Yet the more I meditate on Jesus, the more I see that he could not have done otherwise. He wept because he was human. He wept because he was God. And he wept because Lazarus was his friend.

To be human is to feel the urgency of human need, even when you have faith that, in the end, all will be well. It is to weep with others, to shoulder their pain so that the weight of sorrow does not crush them.

As God in flesh, Jesus understood the suffering of Lazarus and his sisters more deeply than they themselves ever could. He mourned the pain that Lazarus endured in his final hours. He felt the anxiety of Mary and Martha, missing their brother and facing the double oppression of occupation and sexism. Impoverished women, living without a man under an occupying power, could hardly make a life for themselves and were often left behind by their society.

And Jesus mourned the violence that permeates human nature and creates such unjust systems, which burden people of all times and places.

But beyond all of that, Jesus had lost a personal friend. He had lost someone with whom he had shared laughter and stories and tears. Grief was the only possible response.

We tend to think Jesus wept before he raised Lazarus from the dead. But what if tears were part of the resurrection process itself?

It wasn’t just Jesus’ power that raised Lazarus. It was Jesus’ love. Love is the power, love is the whole being, of Jesus, indeed the whole being of God revealed in Jesus. And love is vulnerability. It is sharing another’s pain. It is weeping.

If Lazarus could not have been healed without Jesus’ love, does that mean that he could not have been healed without his tears? I think so. And I believe the tears are the birth-pangs of the same suffering love that would be fully borne on the cross.

We know that God is Love, and Love is the power that gives us eternal life. But love can seem abstract and fuzzy. We can say we love humanity and truly wish to help all people. But an awareness of the suffering of the world rarely makes us weep, unless we see that suffering manifested in a friend.

God’s love manifested itself for us in the most personal and profound way – in the life of our best friend Jesus, who weeps with us in our darkest hours even as he leads us into the splendor of eternal light and life. We are bound to him at our most vulnerable by mutual tears. What a friend we have in Jesus.

And if our new life in Jesus is this profoundly intimate friendship, then we are bound to each other in friendship as well. I began this article with the word “Friends” because you, dear readers, are my friends. Friends forever. It’s not just a catchy phrase to write in a yearbook; it is our eternal destiny in Christ.

We are united in a love that transcends all bounds, a love not compelled by family bonds or common associations, but freely given and received in grace. This is what it means to be the communion of Saints.

What if, today, we all commit to deepening our relationships with those around us, and journey further into the new life we have received in Christ? This doesn’t mean looking past differences, but exploring them more deeply, with open minds and hearts. It means setting aside judgment and listening with empathy. It means taking a risk, making ourselves vulnerable, as Jesus was when he wept.

We are called by Christ to love all people, regardless of race, language, politics, sexual orientation, or creed. But because we are human, we must wait until we are united in the fullness of God’s kingdom before we can know them all. We cannot offer personal friendship to every single person on earth. But we all know those to whom we can offer it. It is in particular friendships and concrete acts of kindness that we transcend our prejudices and deepen our love for humanity.

We can take the time today to make a new friend, or deepen a relationship with someone we know only by sight or name. The more we open ourselves to others in friendship, the more we will see Christ revealed, and the deeper we will feel ourselves fall into the secure embrace of God’s love.

In the name of God who models the perfect friendship in Triune Harmony and unites us in eternal friendship as the Communion of Saints, Amen.

Image: “The Raising of Lazarus” by Davezelenka. Available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 1 – Mimetic Theory, Cancer, and Jesus

Show Notes

Welcome to Talk To Me Tuesdays: The RavenCast. Each Tuesday we plan to post a video and mp3 discussing mimetic theory. Sometimes these videos will be an individual discussing mimetic theory and sometimes we will have interviews with people engaging mimetic theory.

In this video, Adam Ericksen introduces the RavenCast and mimetic theory by telling the story of his mother as a model of faith. Through her experience with cancer, she taught Adam how to live. When death is so close, we begin to discover what really matters in life. Our cultural models often tell us the things that matter are success, wealth, buying bigger house or more expensive car. Those are the ways we become good enough and lovable. But confronting death can teach us that what really matters is not our wealth, or even being good enough. What matters is receiving the love of God and sharing it with others. Adam’s mom ultimately learned that from Jesus, her model. And she passed that lesson to Adam.


Book Feature Friday: Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Accidental Saints” and the Atonement

In her latest book, Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People, Nadia Bolz-Weber has a beautiful reflection on the Atonement. Nadia writes about failing a member of her church during his time of need. She confesses to a friend and fellow pastor named Caitlin. After she confesses, Caitlin responds, “Nadia, Jesus died for our sins. Including that one.”

“Jesus died for our sins.” The phrase is enough to make many progressives like myself cringe. But, in her characteristic style of raw honesty, Nadia flips the statement upside down so that our eyes are opened to the transformative grace of God. She writes,

It feels like a strange and abstract thing to say. “Jesus died for your sins.” And I’ve squandered plenty of ink arguing against the notion that God had to kill Jesus because we were bad. But when Caitlin said that Jesus died for our sins, including that one, I was reminded again that there is nothing we have done that God cannot redeem. Small betrayals, large infractions, minor offenses. All of it.

Some would say that instead of the cross being about Jesus standing in for us to take the really bad spanking from God for our own naughtiness (the fancy theological term for this is substitutionary atonement), what happens at the cross is a “blessed exchange.” God gathers up all our sin, all our broken-ass junk, into God’s own self and transforms all that death into life. Jesus takes our crap and exchanges it for his blessedness.

Nadia describes perfectly what the nonviolent Atonement is all about. God doesn’t respond to human sin and violence with God’s own violence. God didn’t kill Jesus on the cross; humans did. The Atonement is about God in Christ absorbing human violence and exchanging it with God’s love.

On the cross, we discover that God would rather die from our violence than inflict a violent death upon anyone. In other words, Jesus died for our sins in order to transform our understanding of God – God has nothing to do with violence, but everything to do with transforming “all that death into life.” As Nadia claims, that’s how “Jesus takes our crap and exchanges it for his blessedness.”

There is so much to recommend about this book, but what makes Accidental Saints so engaging is Nadia’s vulnerability, inspiring stories, and ability to connect life events with a grounded faith. Brian McLaren said it well in his endorsement:

This is a collection of stories about how liturgy (who would have imagined?), ritual (what?), church (really?), and a bunch of flawed people (like us?) can catch the light of grace and catch fire with the beauty of God. For so many reasons, you really should read it.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Image: “Accidental Saints” book cover. Find out more about “Accidental Saints” by clicking here.

Jeb Bush and Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. (Screen shot from YouTube)

The Political Wisdom of Jeb Bush, Stephen Colbert, and Jesus

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about Bernie Sanders. My point was to highlight how Bernie refuses to play the game of political scapegoating. He was baited by an interviewer to attack Hillary Clinton and he refused to do it. Instead, he spoke about the issues. I argued that we need political leaders like Bernie Sanders.

Well, I was accused of endorsing Bernie. The accusation might be fair because I am feeling the Bern.

But I’m also feeling the Jeb.

Jeb Bush was recently on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Before taking a few late night obligatory jabs at the “Big orange elephant in the room … Donald Trump,” Stephen asked Jeb about the political hostility that divides Washington.

Stephen: Do you think that you could bring people together? Because everybody says they want to bring people together, but when you get down to the campaigning or get down to what passes for governing now, it often ends up being just a game of blood sport where you attack the other person and the other side can’t possibly do, say, or have planned for anything good.

Jeb: So I’m going to say something that’s heretic[al] I guess. I don’t think that Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues … If you start with the premise that people have good motives you can find common ground … Look, in state capitals all across the country this doesn’t happen to the same extent that it does in Washington. In the mayor’s offices there are people who disagree with one another and they are allowed to talk to one another. You can be friends with people that you don’t agree with on everything. I mean, we have to restore a degree of civility.

Assume the Good

Jeb has provided some important political wisdom. Politics has become infected with what René Girard calls “mimetic rivalry.” We often think that rivalry is based on our differences. For example, we might think that Republicans and Democrats are in a bitter rivalry because they have differences of opinion about how to govern. Political rhetoric emphasizes the differences, of course, because each side completely believes in their own propoganda! If only they were really arguing about their different objectives, then we would be having substantive discussions on solutions to the problems that we face as a nation. But political rivalry isn’t based on differences; it’s based on similarities.  For example, Republicans and Democrats are in a bitter rivalry because each side wants the same thing – they each want to win and each views the other as a threat to their desire. In order to win, Democrats and Republicans forget their political mission to promote the common good and instead spend much of their time demonizing one another and telling us why electing the other side would be disastrous for America.

In human relationships, mimetic rivalry quickly escalates to the point where the object is completely lost and the only thing left is defeating our opponents. In other words, winning becomes the all-consuming objective rather than finding solutions to our nation’s problems. It’s a dangerous scenario that leads to verbal, emotional, and physical violence.

We need political leaders like Jeb Bush to guide us beyond the trap of mimetic rivalry. Jeb’s advice to “start with the premise that people have good motives” is an excellent place to start healing the political divide.

But as Jeb points out, to assume the good in the other is often viewed as heretical. There may be a price to pay when we stop demonizing our opponents and acknowledge that they are motivated by something good. We may be seen as traitors if we reach across the political or religious or racial or economic divide. We may even become our own group’s scapegoat.

Jesus and Jeb: On Being Heretics

This is the danger of fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies. When we love our enemies, which includes the ability to assume that they have good motives, our friends can quickly turn against us. Jesus knew the tragic outcome that his message of love would bring to a violent world. His message of love for even our enemies wouldn’t bring peace, rather it would bring division. It would split families and social groups apart because our group identity is so often based on uniting in hatred against a common enemy. But Jesus doesn’t allow for that kind of unity. He commands that we love our enemies as we love ourselves. Yet, he’s also very clear about the cost,

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Jesus’s call to love all people evokes the paradoxical truth that all-inclusive love brings division within group dynamics. He was accused of being a heretic because he challenged the status quo of hatred and hostility that divides groups from one another. When we love with the radical inclusiveness of Jesus we will be labeled as heretics by our own group. And that’s okay, because when our friends become enemies, we are still called by Jesus to love them. We are called, to paraphrase Jeb’s comment on the Late Show, to “start with the premise that our enemies, even our friends who have turned against us, have good motives.” Once we find and acknowledge those good motives, we have a better chance of working together toward the common good.

We need political leaders who will reach across the political divide and assume the good motives of the other. We need political leaders like Jeb Bush.

Photo: Jeb Bush and Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. (Screen shot from YouTube)


What We Say About God

Christians say a lot of things about God. If asked to describe the Creator, many answer: “God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is loving, merciful, and forgiving, but also holy, just, and wrathful.” Without really even consulting the Bible, answers such as this are often rattled off. Sure, many of these attributes are used in various passages throughout Scripture, but what is missing is one of the only two axiomatic statements about God in Scripture, namely, that “God is light.” (1 John 1:5) The other is that “God is love (1 John 4:8),” which often gets twisted—as in the stock answer above—reinterpreted incorrectly to “God is loving.” You see the difference? When God is merely “loving,” he must be compared to a love that is greater, namely the very essence of love itself. So, right off the bat, you can see that a God who is described in only two truth statements leads you in a different direction than a god based off a litany of attributes—which is the god I would like to talk about in this article.

When you take the approach of the Westminster Confession of Faith, where God is reduced to a laundry list of properties, you fall into the trap of presupposing who you think God is. Let me explain. If you say that “God’s justice is perfect,” what are you really saying? How are you defining “justice” and what makes you think your definition is appropriate? Certainly, the only direct revelation we have is that of Christ Jesus. Yet, ironically—as they predate that revelation—many use the writings of the Old Testament as evidence for an understanding of divine justice. This hardly seems proper handling of something as important as the justice of God. Are we called to be followers of Christ or followers of the Bible?

Since we are on the topic of justice, and since the Apostle Paul spent considerable time as a follower of both Christ and of a collection of human writings, I think it is appropriate to consult him for some insight into the matter of divine justice. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes the following: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) So, we should gather that the Father’s judgments are not paralleled by how humanity judges things, which can often be summed up with such phrases as “an eye for an eye,” and “the punishment must fit the crime.” In other words, humanity’s justice is often retributive.

How, then, did Paul view God’s judgments?

Well, just one sentence earlier Paul states that God is “merciful to all.” Even though all are disobedient? Yes, even though all are disobedient. Even those whom Paul refers to as “objects of wrath” in Romans 9:22? Yes, even them!

Is it any wonder Paul then concludes with: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”? God’s justice is not humanity’s justice, at least not in Paul’s opinion.

Now, to make sure Paul is not saying something about the Father’s justice that would contradict that of Jesus, let me ask the following questions: Was Jesus ever not merciful during his life? How did he treat the woman caught in adultery?[1] How did he behave in the Garden of Gethsemane?[2] How did Jesus react to Peter when Peter was about to go all Rambo on Christ’s captors?[3] What did Jesus do when he was tortured and humiliated?[4] What did he utter over and over on the cross?[5] What words did Jesus say to his disciples after the resurrection?[6]

He brought peace.

He brought mercy.

Her offered forgiveness.

I know this interpretation of things will strike many Christians as lacking a certain justice. I get that! In fact, I agree with them. It does lack a certain (retributive) justice. But that is a good thing or we’d all be in trouble. Remember, prior to making the claim that God will be merciful to all, Paul also said that all are held over in disobedience[7] and that “all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)” Given that fact, are we sure we really want God to possess the justice most are arguing for?

Now, before anyone suggests that I believe God is letting unrepentant rapists, murderers, child-abusers, and wicked dictators “off the hook,” let me say that I believe some will experience a form of punishment. That punishment is mentioned in the conclusion of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The Greek verb used is kólasis and denotes a corrective form of punishment. This contrasts with another Greek verb, timōría, which translates to “vengeance.” So, yes, there very well may be correction for some—perhaps me, as Paul states that fire will test everyone’s works[8]—but that doesn’t mean that (corrective) punishment should continue on ad infinitum. Not only would that not be God’s justice, but it is hardly even retribution. Nay, it must be a lower form as retribution requires that the punishment fits the crime. Infinite punishment cannot possibly fit with finite sins.

I understand devoting only a few sentences on word meanings is not a sufficient study. For a deeper understanding of some of the punishment texts contained in the New Testament, I recommend pp. 75 – 101 in The Inescapable Love of God by philosopher Thomas Talbott. For now, a brief mention will have to do.

My point, then, in this article, is to simply suggest that presupposing attributes of God and their definitions is often erroneous. As I hopefully modeled, this seems true with how the justice of God is understood by many. With justice presupposed as retributive, much of what Jesus taught us about God seems to fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. This could be said with other presupposed attributes like wrath, vengeance, and even omnipotence. In my opinion, a theologia crucis, or theology of the cross, changes how we should talk about both the “wrath of God,” as well as the “power of God.” When one begins their theology at the cross, they will inevitably draw different conclusions then if they start their theology at Genesis 1:1. Western Christianity needs to start at Calvary and work backward, rather than forward from page 1 of the Old Testament.

[1] Answer found in John 8:1 – 11

[2] Answer found in Matthew 26:53

[3] Answer found in Matthew 16:23

[4] Answer found in Matthew 26:67

[5] Answer found in Luke 23:34

[6] Answer found in John 20: 19 – 23

[7] Romans 11:32

[8] 1 Corinthians 3: 12 – 13

Image: St. Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin De Boulonge (1591 – 1632). Available via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.


The Urgency Of Joy

The urgency of joy.

The phrase has captivated my imagination for some time now, as I seek joy in the midst of a world crying out in pain. In a nation of mass shootings and executions, in a world devastated by war crimes and the crime of war, where working for peace means learning the depths and pervasiveness of violence, despair threatens to seep in through the air I breathe. Hope often evades my grasp, and fear like a weight drags down my every movement.

But when I find myself in a morass of bitterness, my soul gets a jolt of energy from my laughing toddler, or the accidentally insightful comment from my precocious 6-year-old, or the warm hand of my husband on my shoulder. I savor the comfort of these gestures and let them lift me out of my cynicism. And as the tears clouding my vision disperse, I remind myself that joy, too, permeates the world and can be found by those with eyes to see it.

I am training my eyes and mind and heart to find this joy, and it is not always easy. But it is essential. Because these moments of joy are windows of light streaming into a suffocating world, revealing the truth of God’s kingdom beyond the walls of violence we have built up around ourselves. Glimpses of this great truth enfolding us all keep me striving, or at least enduring, for the time when the peace that surpasses all understanding will be consummated.

Knowing that all of creation was made by Love, in Love and for Love grounds and uplifts me. Knowing that Love became flesh in a world of danger and cruelty and tragedy and carved joy out of pain keeps hope from slipping completely from my grasp. But the world remained a dangerous, cruel place for the generation that saw the resurrection, and it certainly remains so today. Jesus came to a world that rejected him and brought joy to those the world rejected by enfolding them in his love. The shunned, the lonely, the victims of economic and military violence, the suffering, the broken – these were the ones to whom Jesus ministered the good news that they, too, were cherished. He held them in their pain. But he did not transform the dangerous world in which they lived, except to release the gradual cure of forgiveness into the atmosphere and model a life of humble compassion for others to follow. The early Christians held onto the joy of finding themselves embraced in Love even as the surrounding world maintained hostility and violence against them. Jesus brought joy to the world not by transforming it into a paradise, but by befriending the broken and broken-hearted.

I know, then, that I am called, as a member of the body of Christ, to reach out in compassion to the suffering in the world today, to spread joy by embodying the love I am continually discovering in Jesus. Followers of Jesus are called to walk where Jesus would walk and love whom Jesus loves – everyone, but especially those who feel shunned by the world. So as my heart and my thoughts go out to the suffering in my own hometown and across the globe, I try not to let grief extinguish the joy that I must carry with me to a hurting world. Indeed, I know that sorrow is but the shadow of joy, for sorrow born of compassion is an expression of love that will turn to joy when the God who loves us all draws us in and wipes the tears from our eyes.

But I am in need of that joy myself, of centering myself in the Source of that joy. It is all too easy for sorrow to choke out hope and become despair, and for despair to become resignation. I know that following Jesus allows for a wide range of human emotion, but it also calls for vigilance against despair and apathy. Yet, with all the horrors of the world, the task of co-suffering with the vulnerable but remaining grounded in the joy of Christ is often overwhelming.

I am striving to open myself to the moment, to keep my eyes and my mind on the people right in front of me and be present to them – my children, my husband, my friends. I can only do so much to help the troubled world, and I can’t let it be at the expense of those whom God has put in my immediate care. So I want to carve out time to give my worries to God and leave them, at least for a while, so I can fully open my mind to those who are with me.

I find joy when I open myself to the presence of people grounded in joy. They need not always be cheerful. But they radiate a security in the knowledge that of all the forces in this world, love is the most powerful and the most permanent. I find joy in my toddler, who knows I love her and runs to me with pure delight in her eyes. The eyes of my 6-year-old fill up with joy when I finally put my work aside to spend half an hour of uninterrupted playtime with her. Joy embraces me in the quiet gentleness of my husband, who knows when to make me laugh and when to simply listen to my concerns and fears. I find joy in genuine friends, in the moments when authentic connections are made. Joy surprises me in the unexpected kindness of strangers. If I lose myself in the sorrows or even the distractions of the world (like Facebook), I shut myself off from God’s image-bearers right in front of me, and thus shut myself off from the joy of God’s love reflected in the people by whose presence I am blessed.

I must open myself to this joy if I am to reflect it to others as I am called. Because we are designed to be in relationship, we cannot give the joy that we do not receive. We are God’s vessels for multiplying the joy born in the ever mutually-flowing love of the Trinity. With this joy we are called not to escape but to bear the pain of a suffering world.It is a daunting challenge we can endure only with eyes to see the good works of a loving God shining through a fearful, frightening world.

Times of tremendous suffering shake my faith to the core. Lord, I struggle to believe; help my unbelief, that I may reflect glimpses of the joy of your eternal kingdom to a world in urgent need.

Image:  Via Pixabay.

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The Bible’s Authority in Its Proper Place

Since my family recently moved to the Portland area, we’ve been looking for churches to attend. Besides visiting a church, the best way to gain a feel for a church is to visit their website. Specifically, their About Us page.

Since examining church websites, I’ve noticed some pretty strange beliefs out there. Many churches have a list of beliefs that are important to them. What is the first belief on many church websites? The Bible.

On one church begins its list of beliefs like this:

  1. The Authority of Scripture
  2. The Nature of God
  3. Jesus, God’s Son
  4. The Holy Spirit
  5. Salvation
  6. Nature of Man (Sorry, women. You apparently don’t have nature … but if you read the description, you might decide that’s a good thing.)
  7. The Role of the Church

Now, those are all important aspects of Christianity, and I don’t mean to pick on fellow Christians, but the order tells us what’s wrong with American Christianity.

We have elevated the Bible above God. It’s time we stop that form of idolatry. Bibliolatry has no place in Christianity. But, unfortunately, the Bible has become another god, above the Trinity, above Jesus, above the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate the passion that many “Bible believing” churches have. That passion is a good thing, but it’s misdirected. Christians shouldn’t “believe” in the Bible. We are not Biblians. We are Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Bible. It’s an important book and has authority in my life in that it points beyond itself to God. But the Bible is not a member of the Trinity. It deserves to be respected, but it shouldn’t be elevated above God.

“Bible believing churches” tend to think that “the Bible is the very Word of God – supernaturally inspired in every word and absolutely free from error in the original documents. God’s word is the final authority in all that it says. Therefore, it must be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

But the Bible doesn’t work that way. It contains within itself many disagreements about the nature of God and how events unfolded. For example, did Noah take two of every animal onboard his ship, as Genesis 6 claims, or did he take seven of every animal, as Genesis 7 claims? Does God require sacrifice, as Leviticus suggests, or does God require mercy and not sacrifice, as the prophet Hosea claims? Does God punish children for their parents’ mistakes, as Exodus claims, or is each generation responsible for itself, as the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah state? Did Jesus overturn the tables in the Temple at the end of his ministry, as the synoptic Gospels claim, or did he do it at the beginning of his ministry, as the Gospel of John claims?

Those who believe in the Bible’s inerrancy will do all kinds of interpretive gymnastics to put the round peg of the Bible into the square hole of inerrancy, but it just doesn’t fit. That’s because it’s not meant to fit.

The Bible is a document written by human beings who tried to recognize what God was doing in their lives. But it’s not inerrant. Interestingly, if the Bible were inerrant you would think it would tell us. It simply doesn’t use those terms. The Bible never says, “Hi! I’m the Bible. I’m the inerrant Word of God. Believe in me!”

There are disagreements that run throughout the Bible. Those disagreements are one of the things that I love about the Bible! The Bible models for us how to wrestle with God and ask questions about faith.

The Bible contains human testimony about how God works in the world, but it is not God’s inerrant Word. The Bible points beyond itself to God, and in the New Testament, to the God revealed in Jesus. The Bible even claims that Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible itself.

Jesus warned people about elevating the Bible above himself. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus claimed that the scriptures are limited. You cannot have eternal life by believing in the Bible. In fact, when we elevate the Bible above God, it blocks us from our only access to eternal life.

The Bible is important, but we are not Biblians. We are Christians. We are not called to believe in the Bible. We are called to believe in Jesus.

Christians need to put the Bible’s authority back in its proper place. The Bible’s authority rests in the faith that it points beyond itself to the God revealed in Jesus.

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Photo: michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo


The God We Follow: An Unplanned Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to Matthew Distefano’s original article published on Sojourners. That article can be found here. To summarize, that article suggested that God is revealed completely in Jesus as nonviolent and non-retributive. In order to understand those parts of the Bible that attribute vengeance to God, Matthew Distefano suggests we apply the hermeneutic — interpretive lens — of Jesus to scripture.

I did not plan on writing a second part, but one of my friends posed such a great question on Facebook that I had to offer a detailed response. Jim Rogers asked:

I really like this. How might you address it with those who reject the obvious extremes but still get muddled in the literal translations? I am working through this too. I try not to use extreme examples because many will reject such but can’t see their way out of the thorn patch.

To begin answering this question, I would have to take my examples from the global stage to the local one. Sure, we all recognize obvious religious extremes such as the Westboro Baptist Church, Pastor Steven Anderson, and entities like ISIS. However, what are not as obvious are the more restrained examples—the type of subtle violence that one might find in many churches across America.

It can come in the form of voting, campaign donations . . . you name it! Let us take a look.

Since I mentioned Leviticus 20:13 in Part 1, I will use the anti-homosexual “clobber” passage for the first portion of this piece as well.

For the Christian Right—especially here in the United States—this proof-texting favorite (as well as a few others) has dictated their politics vis-à-vis marriage laws. Because of this, the cultural move toward equality for the LGBT community has been painfully slow. Churches large and small continue to attempt to make the moral case for “biblical marriage.” In doing so, they seem to be violating a teaching from the Bible itself, namely Matthew 20. In a July 24, 2015 article, I commented on this:

Jesus also tells his disciples to not declare themselves above the other, but in order to be ‘great,’ they must be servants. (Matt. 20:25 – 28) Jesus himself did not come to be served, but to serve. How is using the political process to enact marriage law based on ‘biblical values’ not ‘lording over another’? In this passage, Jesus invites his disciples to imitate him in serving—putting others ahead of themselves. How can Christians be called to serve all, while at the same time using the political process to interfere with thousands of loving couples (even if they think it is ‘icky’)? How can a follower of Jesus place him or herself over and above anyone, for any reason?

To vote away the right of another in the name of “biblical truth” does not seem compatible with being a leader who serves, as Luke 22:26 states. It is also a form of structural violence, one that does not allow the LGBT person the same civil rights as the heterosexual person.

It is more subtle but still oppressive.

It is as “simple” as a common vote, but its harm is far-reaching.

Just as far-reaching—or even greater—is when one’s hermeneutic directly impacts the foreign policy of a country with a military budget that trumps all others. The Christian Right—at one time spearheaded by President George W. Bush—was all too eager to go to war with Iraq after September 11, 2001. Bush was their guy—a conservative Evangelical who communed directly with God. The President even went so far as to say that God told him to “go and end the tyranny in Iraq.”

While I am confident that the Father of Jesus did not tell the President to go to war with Iraq, I am not so confident that most American Christians would agree with me.

I mean, the Bible clearly says…

  • “Now go and attack the Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”—1 Samuel 15:3
  • “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.”—Numbers 31:17
  • “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘the man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.’”—Numbers 15:35

Jesus’ Abba said it, you believe it, and that settles it!?

Again, not so fast!

As I discussed in Part 1, the hermeneutics of Jesus are through the lens of mercy and grace. To exegete passages like the ones above—which is not the goal of this piece, so I will not be doing so—we would have to keep that in mind.

What my last goal is, however, is to display how Jesus’ hermeneutics then match his actions. Let us take a look at Matthew 26:53, where Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, rhetorically asks:

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

The implied answer is “yes,” and yet, they stay at bay.

Then, there is what Jesus says in the midst of his own murder on a Roman cross. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus, in doing only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49), offers mercy and grace.

And finally, even upon his return, Jesus comes with the word of peace—shalom. John 20:19 – 21 reads:

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

So, all that being said—what could following Jesus in hermeneutics and in action do to change things on both a local scale as well as a global scale? What would foreign policy look like if supposed “Christian” nations like the United States followed the model displayed by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his death? What if those trying to get in the way of non-violence were rebuked a la Peter in Matthew 16:23? What if retribution was removed from the Divine both exegetically and anthropologically by Jesus? What if the church modeled that?

I believe that a literalist reading of Scripture—as well as a nuanced treatment of Jesus’ ethical teachings—without a doubt, leads to extremists. However, it also has led to a version of Christianity that justifies the use of national violence to get a certain result in the Middle East. It has led to structural violence that oppresses entire groups of people. It has led to many more unforeseen consequences, such as the improper treatment of women as well as the justification of slavery. What we believe about God and Scripture will dictate how we view ethics.

So, Jim (and others), I hope this begins to answer the excellent question you posed above. I hope I began to offer some examples of how a literalist reading of Scripture affects the very world around us. This hermeneutic should be traded in for the Jesus-centered one—biblical ethics interpreted through Jesus’ ethics.

Grace and peace be with you all.

Image: Free Vector From Pixabay