Friday, November 30, 2012

Mystical Union And Sneezing: A Brief Hermenutic Of Mysticism

Recently on a discussion thread I am involved in someone wondered about the difference between mysticism and prophecy. I started to reply but that reply quickly got out of hand. What follows is characteristically dense. Each paragraph could relatively simply be expanded into a chapter with full citations and completely fleshed out reasoning; something I may do sometime if I have nothing better going on. I here speak more about mysticism than prophecy because that was more pertinent in the discussion this came out of and not because I think that prophecy is a settled matter. Rather, there is a huge amount of goofy thinking about prophecy as well but it is of a different sort.

I should note that I define mysticism as a separate entity to contemplation. Contemplation treats an object, text, or activity Iconically. To treat something Iconically (that is in the same manner as the Eastern Christian tradition treats Icons) is to take that thing as pointing to something beyond itself rather than as an object taken in itself and to pursue or contemplate the thing beyond. Great value as well as great foolishness can come from this approach to things. Simultaneously, the same value and foolishness is manifestly true of the non-Iconic treatment of the same things.

Mysticism pursues union, the sense of being fully taken up, a sense of direct connection.

My deep thinking on this began when I was living in India and Nepal. Naturally I was exposed directly to a wide variety of traditions and understandings of reality. Something that caught my attention was the striking similarity in the form of experience described my the mystical branches of the various religious traditions. Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, all these traditions have mystical branches. Each use language and images from their conceptual universe to describe their mystical experience. But, they all describe an experience that involves a loss of distinct selfness where the practitioner feels as though their existence ceases to be distinctly separate from anything else in space or time, they feel as though they absorb into the infinite. Muslims will use Muslim words to describe the experience. Christians will use Christian words. Hindus will use Hindu words. And so on. But, they are all describing exactly the same experience.

I then found that I was not the first to observe this. I discovered that there have been many voices within the mystical paths of the various religions that have observed this striking similarity of experience across traditions and took that to indicate that all paths lead to the same place. They take the common mystical experience as evidence of the truly unified ultimate foundation all the religious traditions.

I became more curious about what this experience is. I noted the strong similarities of practices among the different traditions. Looking past what the traditions said their techniques meant they all had the same form. All the traditions engage in some collection of repetitive action, extreme treatment of the body, practices of focus/centering/meditation. I started to get familiar with the neuroscience research on mystical experience. There is quite a bit. What it shows is that the similar practices lead to the same effects in the brain. In particular they affect the sections of the brain that produce our sense of self. Either by deprivation or over-stimulation those sections of the brain lose the ability to clearly define our selfness to our consciousness. This results in the sense of release and union with something beyond our self. Mystical union is a brain state. It is a physical response to the techniques used my those earnestly seeking that experience just like a sneeze is a physical response to irritation in the nasal passage.

Some have linked the beliefs of the "all paths" school I just mentioned to this neurological research to say that all religion is a response to this brain-state. I don't think that this is the case, and dealing with this is not my purpose here.

What I find interesting is the way in which the mystical experience takes on meaning. The experience takes on the meaning attributed to it by the person working to achieve it. When a Christian engages in the mystic disciplines they are seeking a union with Christ. When they achieve the brain-state they experience it as union with Christ. When a Zen Buddhist achieves the same state they experience satori as that is the meaning they brought to it with them.

Now, it would appear that the experience itself can better be understood as an Icon. This would place mysticism as a sub-set of contemplation where the thing in itself is the brain-state and what is important or truly meaningful is the thing beyond that it is taken to point to. The difficulty is that the thing in itself is an internal physical state rather than a painting on a board so it is far more difficult to make the separation between it and the thing it points to. This is why the meaning brought to the experience has historically been conflated with the experience itself.

This conflation has given rise to theological problems in Christian mysticsm. There is a consistently Gnostic flavor to it. Thinking about it has been directed toward escaping the mundane physicality of this world to experience a more purely spiritual reality. This has significant theological problems. Primarily, we were created as bodies with Spirit put into us to make us alive and not as spirits trapped in bodies thus it denies the absolute goodness of our bodyness. It is a force that relativizes our presence in this world that we were created to live in and bring to completion. It takes away from the true experience of union with Christ through participation in his redeeming work in the blood and dirt of this world.

However, I do not reject the disciplines that lead to the brain-state. If for no other reason than that they are demonstrably therapeutic, bringing a calmness of mind, having beneficial effects on blood pressure, as well as on several other body systems. Moreover, when taken Iconically the experience can function as a deep heuristic for internalizing the reality of the union already established in the incarnation and of the full loving adoption by our Heavenly Father.

The difference between prophecy and mysticism is pretty clear to me. Prophecy is the concrete calling of the people of God to God by God with specificity. Mysticism is founded on a particular feeling of spatiotemporally disconnected floatyness that is produced by a specifically identifiable neuro-chemical brain-state that is caused by particular intentional practices. Prophecy must in itself have positive truth content, and must be effectively specific even if it is not entirely lucid. Mysticism is, strictly speaking, neither true nor false but is meaning-absorbing while prophecy is meaning-excreting. Mysticism takes on whatever meaning or content is given to it while prophecy looks you in the face with it's own meaning. While prophecy, if it is true, is always valuable, the value of mysticism lies in what we bring to it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Start Of An Incarnational Theology Of Worship Based In The Imago Dei

Worship, whatever else it is, is proclaiming the glory of God. It is telling the truth of the greatness of the creator.

My understanding of what the image of God is is somewhat different from a more dominant understanding. The more dominant understanding that I grew up with and most are likely familiar with takes image language to refer to something like the reflection in a mirror as if we are a sort of reflection of God. This in turn is understood in terms of  human attributes that match divine attributes: creativity, rationality, freedom, etc. Though I believe there is some merit to this it misses the main thrust. The image language in genesis has more to do with idols than reflections. This becomes clear when we read about God’s making of man in genesis against its contemporary cultural background. In that cultural context we need to remember that idols are not inherently evil rather they were understood as the very presence of the god they represent. That is what it is to be the image of God. It is to be the very presence of God in this world. The indwelling of the breath of God whereby the man became a living being produces this existence as presence.

In the fall we died. We lost that which made us living beings. We lost the spirit of the living creator that made us his presence in the world.

To be what we were created to be is the foundation of worship. As the actual presence of God in the world we inherently manifest God. We proclaim the creator. It is to naturally participate in God’s own self-proclamation through us. Our true being is to effectively demonstrate the greatness of God in the world.

This is only possible if we are the living beings we were created to be. Thanks be to God that he has redeemed us from death and sent his Spirit again to again create us as his presence in the world.
This is the foundation of all worship. Truly, we are to live lives of worship. We, being filled with the breath of God, live as his presence in this world. We proclaim the glory of God by walking by the spirit that makes us his presence. God’s own glory shines as he is present in the world through us who are living beings by the quickening of his breath. Our entire life is worship.

Nepali, Lahu/Shan, Burmese, working the tunes
The specific case of music is special. God created us as humans. With the indwelling of the Spirit we are living beings, truly human in the original sense. All that he created us to be is good and proper. It is absolutely not the case that the physical and that which essentially comes from it are inferior to the spiritual. God created us physical and said it was good. Who are we to disagree? This is important to recognize in all of life but it is particularly important in understanding worship in terms of music. We are complex beings with a huge range of capacities, physical, mental, etc. Music, more than anything else we do, has the capacity to engage and activate the full spectrum of those capacities. Good music engages more of these capacities more effectively and more integratively than bad music. Now it should be noted that I am making a quality distinction and not a moral distinction. You can have morally acceptable music that is crap. You can also have morally damaging music that is powerful and well done. The quality of music is a function of its ability to integrate and activate the full spectrum of human capacities.

So music as worship has the potential to activate and integrate the fullness of the human presence of God, more so than any other activity. Intellect, skill, emotions, aesthetics, physicality, the better the music the more fully the fullness is expressed. That is to say that the quality of music as worship is judged by the degree to which it activates and integrates the fullness of this truly human expression of the glory of God.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Difficult Power Of Love

Here is a special treat. A guest post by my brother Wayland. He is a co-founder of The Charis Project, an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and one of the more spiritually aware people I know. A heads up: he prefers to work in shocking and uncomfortable imagery.

I spend a lot of time working through the choices thrust upon me be the sex and violence of day to day existence. Things like, what do I do now that I know the reason I don't see my students anymore is because they got sold to people who gang raped them? How do I keep the other kids I try to protect from having the same thing happen to them? Or, and this is much more banal, how do I keep the people I'm in charge of from doing something really stupid like marrying the stripper they met this weekend? Or how do I deal with my friend having killed himself after coming back from war? Or how come after doing everything I possibly can for this girl, in the most uncreepy, honest, and open way I could, it still seems like I have to use an ice pick to chisel my way through bitch mountain to get through to her?

We all face hardship and suffering, and for those of you who wish to change the world, you know who you are, the biggest sources of suffering come from the dissonance between the way things should be, which is obviously not the way things are, and the way things actually are. (Just admit it. Sh..y.) Now just try and follow the same path of self sacrifice and selfless giving up of yourself to change this and see how long it takes to, either end up drinking every night and generally feeling depressed, or, and I would argue that in this economy with gas prices the way they are this is the worse choice, becoming super conservative religious and trying to shut out all that pain with yet more small groups, even more volunteering and yet ever more advice from spiritual teachers. Not that there is anything wrong with any of this IN IT'S PROPER CONTEXT. That goes for the drinking every night also by the way. But the reason I, we, engage in these types of self destructive behavior is because we have taken our sacrifice and the love behind it and bent it out of it's proper context. Actually we have taken ourselves out of the proper context because we have fallen into the all too easy and most banally evil path of defining ourselves in opposition to what we oppose and in so doing become less than what we are.

When you really care about something, it gets really easy to define yourself in terms of opposing what is bad for it.

On a scale of twisted to perfect, that leaves us twisted, just like everything else that's wrong, including Lucifer, but I'll get to that at a later and undisclosed point. And don't think for a minute I'm about to say something about just embracing universal love and there is good in all. Find out about the girls you spent your time and effort looking after getting gang raped and see how long it takes for you to come up with new and exciting ways to dismember someone unto death and be absolutely right to feel that way.

I'm actually going to take this in a whole other direction. I'm really more interested in penetrating to the guts of the problem, and splitting it wide open to the point that it turns inside out and becomes something new. In doing so, I had to go looking for inspiration. I still find it strange that such would come from my work, which is really a lot more boring than people give it credit for. There is this concept we have called maneuver warfare, by which we seek not to kill off the enemy, but to destroy the enemy's system in key ways that cause him to collapse with as little real destruction as possible. It turns out God does the same thing.

Which means I'm about to go off in yet another direction. Those of you who know or, better yet, are mothers know what real selfless sacrifice actually is. Consider that God describes himself as a mother. He also calls himself love. Now, that word has been corrupted in the modern context to mean something more along the lines of, I love you, but…

I love you but you need to be more open.
I love you but you need to not not push me away.
I love you, but change or I can't do this anymore.


Or, "I care about poverty/love poor people, but we will always have the poor." Read: "I can't deal with this right now".

(What does that even mean? )

In other words the modern context of love has become hugely self centered and ends up leading us into defining ourselves and what we care about in opposition to what we don't like. Mothers, or at least good ones, know better. I'm not, nor will ever be one, but I am aware enough to see that waking up at all hours of the night to let a screaming, completely self centered little mammal literally suck nutrients out of you demands something else to be going on. Something very unselfish and rather embracing of the way things actually are and addressing them as they are, i.e. a screaming little mammal that needs to be fed.

Now, tying this back to maneuver warfare, I'm going to have to make an all too tantalizing jump into the mystical world of ideas. Ideas like, love is actually more than an emotion (it is that too, and that's totally fine) it's a choice you make. In fact it's one of those choices you make when confronted with the sex and violence of everyday existence.

This means I'm going to have to get to the point, which is that there is nothing wrong with pouring yourself out in self sacrifice for what, and who, you care about. And to make sure you don't end up being selfish about it you destroy the system that leads to that outcome. I have found the fastest way to totally overcome it all is to decide to be a slut about it. Love everything. The brokeness, the twistedness, the retrograde behavior. Try turning it on yourself if you want to get real kinky. Forgive and love everything about yourself. I know this feels strange at first, but we have to learn to take care of ourselves, you know. This works because love isn't a two way exchange between something or someone you are trying to get something from. It is a one way transformative (read redemptive) force that changes the twisted, broken things to what they, we, were meant to be. Destroy the system by embracing it and thus causing it to adapt to you, to the light that lives in you.

What better way to damage an agenda of damage than by applying a transformative and redemptive force to it. Instead of pushing away that which we are revolted by, and thus bringing it's existence into more clear relief, why don't we get right up next to it, assume that everything we hear about us being bigger, better, and more powerful is true and thus compel the that which is weaker to adapt to that which is stronger. It's a law of biology that the larger organism absorbs the smaller. It seems to work in all of life as well.

This makes dealing with your former students, if you can ever find them again, a lot easier because you can love their brokenness, and thus have any hope of changing it. You can love your friend who killed himself and leave it at that. You can love the people you are in charge of, and for that matter who are in charge of you, do your job and leave it at that. And you can love the passivity and sadness of the girl making you use an ice pick to chisel you way closer to her, which has a dramatic effect on determining how committed you are and how much you really care and actually produces positive changes. At least that is how it all works for me.

As for Lucifer? God loves him.......                                               

Monday, November 19, 2012

On My Father's Shoulders

I grew up saturated in the belief that the ultimate source of the universe is actively loving and that our highest notions of love reflect that ultimate source*. That is to say that God really loves us perfectly and his love is recognizable to us through our experience of it's reflection. Even more simply: God loves us completely in a way that makes sense to us.

My father did not grow up in this. Rather, he has had to fight for it. This fight has been most clear in his longstanding and often controversial teaching on the grace of God, speaking in defense of it for thousands of hours, all his writings, outworkings of defending the grace of God. The grace of God needs defending because it is and has been for much of history under attack.

To be more accurate, the grace of God does not need defense. It is quite secure in itself. Rather people are in need of being released from bondage to false notions of God that see him as vindictive, judgmental, irritable, distant, etc.

My father has worked at this for most of his life, pulling and pulling  because he needed the truth he knew to train his own heart. He has needed release from the same bondage he fought for for others. This understanding of God is something he has defended. This understanding of God is where I start. I grew up in this environment, starting with a radical notion of the grace of God, early saturation deeply setting the way I think and feel about the world and my life and my place in both. This deeply rooted understanding that reality has such a bright truth at its core grounds freedom and joy at the foundation of my life and work, but at the same time, not having to work for it, impedes my ability to articulate that very grace to people who do not yet truly know it.

The grace of God is not an "issue" for me. That God really loves us and this world he has created is where I start. The difficulty that arises from this is if other people do not start from the this same place, especially on such a fundamentally vital point, what I say can be very horribly misunderstood. Especially since I talk a lot about our responsibilities and the work we have to do in the world. One could very easily think that I am teaching that we in some way earn, by these works, our position with God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nothing I say has anything to do with securing a better position with God. Everything I say is predicated on the foundation that we are all already completely secure in the love and acceptance of God.

We are all fully loved and accepted by God, right now exactly as we are. That is bombproof. That is true whether we feel like it or not. That is just as true for the person across the street and across the ocean as it is for you and me. Jesus has already taken up all of humanity into the embrace of the Trinity. The Spirit is always already present in every place and person, ready to be honored and embraced. The Father has, from the very beginning, chosen each and all of us to be adopted as his true children.

That is my foundation. There is nothing I need to do to "get right with God." There are no hoops I need to jump through, no manual I need to read, no cross I need to nail myself to. All is grace. It is by  the grace of God that I do right and by the grace of God that I sin. My very existence is a gift. I have nothing and yet by the adoption of the Most High everything is mine.

Given the radical depth and power of the grace of God and his complete acceptance of us all the only thing that is left to us is to get down to work. There is nothing for us to earn so we might as well work at life and that more fully. That is where I go. Given the total love and acceptance of our Father lets get to work. We have been given a creation to complete.

I also talk about my father here.

*For a good primer on what I grew up with see: The Gospel Uncensored

Friday, November 16, 2012

Only You Can Renounce Your Right to Do Good

You can tell you’ve hit some sort of nerve when a post gets responses ranging from, “Now this looks more like what one would expect of someone who claims to love God and imitate Jesus” to, “Woe to them who call evil good and good evil." You can imagine the spectrum in between. There have been so many conversations, in so many places.

We have been accused of taking our theology too seriously because we have asserted that for Christians, politics is simply one small aspect of how we fight for justice and good and to bring the kingdom of God, and that there are other more powerfully fundamental means of transformation at our disposal. This leaves us wondering if some of the people who take politics so desperately seriously, some of the people who believe it a sin to disentangle their political involvement from their faith long enough to ask if the way they are going about their politics is harming or helping the goals of their faith, don’t take their theology seriously enough. Or maybe they just have a screwy theology that they take too seriously.

Imagine for a moment if we all actually believed that the gospel was the power of God. You know, unto salvation, the salvation of lives and communities from broken futility at their deepest roots. What if we actually believed that we are the fully adopted heirs of the Most High God, that our action in this world actually is in the power of our Father and is taking possession of our rightful inheritance. We are not on enemy territory, there is no enemy territory, we are in our own backyard. The life of faith, service to others, love for our neighbor, compassion and mercy, etc. is participating in the complete redemption and completion of creation. If we all believed that, what would we do?

Would we elevate our political ideology above the real human beings around us? Which is more valuable, our doctrines or the people we assault with them?

Would we pay lip service to the power of prayer and the testimony of our lives and then spend money and energy grasping at manufactured power in a man made arena? Look at where you put your money and time to see what you in fact love.

Would we spend more time fighting for laws in order to punish behavior or would we fight to do something directly helpful and loving that will change people?

Would we claw at our friends and family on facebook when we disagree with their political positions?

Would we yell at people we don’t know on their blogs because we disagree with their political positions. (We’re not talking about discussion or expressing an opinion in a respectful and well thought out manner. We’re talking about that other thing I know you all have seen people doing.) What is more important, to win the argument, or to transform the person?

Would we make dire predictions about the coming apocalypse and God’s judgement on a sinful nation, or would we get on our knees and pray to be shown what we can do to heal the brokenness all around us? Is it better to yell and scream about some coming judgement or is it better to repent and work to bring wholeness to broken people in order to avert the judgement?

It isn't people we are really opposing anyway. Our fight is against the evil and destructive chaos that tears at the heart, chaos that deforms and stunts human life and community, destroying our capacity to thrive. Unable to remedy this chaos, external legislation lays a blanket of judgement over a festering infection, pushing it out of sight so it can kill us in the shadows. This truth shapes how we raise our kids now. “How much pain must that person be in to act like that. I wonder if he has anyone who really loves him at home. Let’s pray for him that he will know Jesus love. Let’s be as kind as we can to him when possible. Don’t let him be mean to you, but don’t be mean back. Choose to be kind.” Not, “They are bad and need to be punished for that. Their mom and dad are stupid failures of parents. They need to be cut from assistance so that they get their act together.” The actual ways that we are given to fight evil are so much more effective at healing the infection than the ways we fight with each other, in the name of fighting evil.

It is life changing to listen to someone, to see them clearly, and to honor their humanity. For both of you.

No matter who is president, we are never powerless.

No matter what happens, only you can renounce your right to do good.

If you want to do something to prevent abortion, do something to prevent abortion. Listen to a teenager. Care about them. Talk to the girls about their value as women. Talk to the guys about their value as men, as someone who cares enough about them to listen and invest time in them. Try and figure out how you can do this in the communities where the demographics show the incidences of unwanted pregnancies are especially high. These are easy to find because they are usually the poorer neighborhoods. Take care of a mother who wasn’t planning on being pregnant. Give her somewhere to stay if she needs it. I have friends who did exactly that with a little suite on their house. Do something to help your local economy. Start a business that creates jobs. Offer to help pay for health insurance for an impoverished mother. Go through the process to adopt a child. And don’t be picky about the race. Or something else. How could you make a difference in the situation of an actual woman who might be considering abortion? Start there.

If you don’t like the way Planned Parenthood does it’s sex education, do something better. Make a video, or 10. Talk to the kids you know, starting with your own. And make sure your talk isn’t, sex is bad, and kissing on the mouth causes babies. Because that’s not educating. (Though it’s very cute when my 5 year old thinks it. “That’s what you and daddy do and now you have babies!”)

Organize your city to care for aids patients in Lesotho. Live your family life such that it is a beacon of hope to many who are hungry and lonely.

This is the last post we intend to write on the subject of Christianity and politics, and least, for now. It’s time for us to get back to the real work now of actually working to bring justice and mercy, rather than just talking about it.

I believe that we can make a difference, and that there is nothing stopping us from doing so.

What is in front of you to do?

It doesn't have to be big. Mother Theresa said if you want world peace, go home and learn to love your family.

Your home, your life, your family, your conduct is a witness. Start today by doing your best with what you already have to do, and loving well the people you are already given to love, and leave your heart prayerfully wide open to accept more people into it. You have no idea where that might take you

Carrien and Aaron (Look, we write stuff together too!)

You might find this post written today by Aaron's brother interesting as well. It comes at this topic from yet another perspective.  

The Immorality of Mass Charity  "We have the same opportunity we have always had. Will we love God and our neighbors, thereby making government irrelevant, or will we find peace in statements of "should" and the justification of intent? Will we be known by the way we love, or by our ideology? Neither is wrong, but one is useless without the other."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Position To Consider

Normally on this blog I spend my words thinking about how amazing God is and how wonderful our place in this world is, about the hard work of bringing redemption to this broken world in the blood, sweat, and tears of living a fully Christlike life among the people we interact with and the decisions we make, about the responsibility each of us has to obey the commands of the Spirit of the Living God.

Recently my wife and I have made the proposition that politics is not the primary venue for the advancement of the Kingdom of God (here, here, here, and here). But rather that Christians ought to guide their political actions by the ultimate goal of the redemption of each person. That is, aim for redemption rather than winning the argument.

Though neither I nor my wife has ever claimed to speak for God, rather we muse and explore what deeply following God means, both of us would hate to lead people astray.

A gentleman named Geoff recently proposed that we might be mistaken. I have posted below his unedited comment.

I put it to you to discern by the direction of the Spirit. The responsibility lies now with you the reader. You must make your own decision before God. If the proposition Carrien and I have made is false and misleading, I pray God will save you from our folly.

It should be noted that abortion is not what our comments have been about, though we have used the issue as an example. Though this alternative view is important, you should bear in mind that we have been discussing a Christian approach to political discourse and action and not abortion as a topic in particular.

(As the text is unedited, please read "Carrien and Aaron" where he says "Carrien" as he posted this comment to both of our blog postings.)


My wife is a big fan of your blog. She was so outraged by this she asked me to read this. I'm not one to comment on blogs, but I feel you have strayed so far from God's word I had to speak up. Up until now, we've loved most of what you've written, but I'm really disappointed because the Bible says, 'Woe to them who call evil good and good evil'. I feel your logic is going down that path. Even the tone in your post betrays you- as Brenda and others have pointed out.

As one who sets yourself up to promulgate truth from God's word, you are unaware/misinformed of what God has already told us in the Bible about the role of government. Secondly, I feel you are ignorant of history, and at a time like this, no one can afford to be ignorant of history for it repeats itself.

Here's an excerpt from a blog I wrote, "Who would Jesus vote for?" I think that is the only way to look at this issue from God's vantage point.

If He were here, who’d he vote for? I mean really can we know? We have seen so much corruption in politics that we might conclude that Jesus would give up on the whole process. I know that it is so tough to think through all the issues, we have the economy, poverty, and on and on it goes. Who is really telling the truth? Can we even know with a biased media what is best for the country? Is there any definitive way to see through all this mess? I think so. As a matter of fact, I think there is one issue that cuts through all the fog, and I can say with authority represents what Jesus would most care about most, and therefore who He would vote for.

First of all, the economy wouldn’t be a driving force of whom he would vote for. Jesus had a lot to say about money, and if He were here today, He would instruct us on seeking first the kingdom, not on what is better for the American economy.

I don’t think war would be a driving force either. Jesus
wasn’t a pacifist, when he spoke with the Roman soldiers He didn’t tell them to quit the army; He told them to be good soldiers. God has been behind wars throughout the Bible, so there is such a thing as a just war, its just hard to figure out what that is.

Maybe its poverty? Jesus had a lot to say about helping the poor. But upon a careful study of the scripture He wouldn’t ask the government to take care of the poor. They can’t for the simple fact that the government can’t solve the problem of poverty. The government is missing something crucial: accountability. Just handing people money does not help them it cripples them. Jesus
would tell us that we are our brother's keeper and every Christian should be involved in helping the poor. (Sadly, the church dropped the ball on this and the government has tried to become the savior of the people). Christians this is our doing!!!

According to the Bible, God has given the government the role of carrying out justice and protecting the weak and defenseless. Genesis 9 spells it out. First, the setting; the wickedness of man was so great that God had to destroy the entire human race except for one. That’s why the flood came. Man demonstrated that he could not govern himself. So God appointed human government, because He realized the propensity of man is to exploit the weak and defenseless. This world is tilted toward the rich and the powerful. So, God said that human life was to be
guarded at all costs, especially those who can't defend themselves. By doing this He demonstrated that life has inestimable worth. Every human life reflects part of who God is. Everyone matters to God, no matter what society says.
Genesis 9:1-6“And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. 6 If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by 
human hands. For God made human beings in his own image.”

Government’s sole role is to protect and value human life, if they didn’t everything would slip into anarchy because the strong would kill off the weak. By valuing human life as its first priority, government carries out its God-given role, and people are able to live in relative prosperity.
This is because when a society values defenseless life above everything else (money, convenience, status, expediency, etc.) they are following God's value system, which is for people to prosper and enjoy freedom. People prosper in a just society where the stronger are not able to tread on the weaker just because they can.

In Moses' day Molech was a popular god. If parents were 'down on their luck' or hit by difficult financial circumstances they would offer one of their children to this god in hopes that their luck would change and this offering would get them out of their bad situation. Through appeasement this god (through baby sacrifice and sexually immoral rituals) would deliver one from bad 
The statue of Molech was a furnace. It was heated to the point where the outstretched arms glowed red-hot. Then the baby was thrown onto the arms where it was burned alive. Listen to 
how seriously God says to deal with those who worship the god of sex and ease.

Levitcus 20:2b-5 “If any of them offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech, they must be put to death. The people of the community must stone them to death. 3 I myself will turn against them and cut them off from the community, because they have defiled my sanctuary and brought shame on my holy name
by offering their children to Molech. 4 And if the people of the community ignore those who offer their children to Molech and refuse to execute them, 5 I myself will turn against them and their families and will cut them off from the community. This will happen to all who commit spiritual prostitution by worshiping Molech.”

Even though we are not under the Mosiac law, recognize two things: 1) God takes killing of babies very seriously. 2)Those who 
witness this and do nothing, God is going to come after them!
For this election, abortion is Jesus’ biggest concern. Please don't obfuscate the issue with lesser things. Anyone who votes for someone who does not protect the unborn child is sharing in their guilt. America has executed over 55 million of her children. Who is going to give an account for that? Not just the mother or the father, not just the Supreme Court justices, and not just the presidents who appointed them, but also those people who elected the presidents who appointed the justices.

We are our brothers’ keeper! I think Jesus would say that anyone who has such little regard for human life is incapable to lead a nation toward peace and prosperity. Someone who believes it is the mother’s right to kill her child, demonstrates that above all he does not value life, but will make decisions governed 
by selfishness and expediency, not what matters most to God; human life. I believe we have a modern day god of sex and convenience; no longer is his name Molech but “Pro Choice [1]”.

[1] The Bible states life begins at conception. It also makes clear that “the life is in the blood.” God considers an unborn baby fully human. (A baby has rudimentary blood vessels by the 2nd to 3rd week).

So to claim that neither president is going to do anything about abortion is missing the point entirely. Proverbs makes is clear that "godliness exalts a nation and sin is a reproach to any people."
What this means is that if leaders of a country have God's values, they will bring prosperity; if they don't, the country will deteriorate. Why, one simple fact, God has wired the universe in such a way that if we honor him, and his laws of the universe, justice, prosperity and good fortune will generally follow. America is a great case for this, the most blessed nation in the history of the world. Why? Because this government was set upon the Judea-Christian value system. Obviously it wasn't perfect, as no government will be perfect until Jesus rules.

A leader who defends the defenseless demonstrates that He has God's value system. His judgments will be based on this value system, not on what is expedient or because he will get kick-backs. To care for little people who can't return the favor demonstrates godliness. He will treat all fairly. He will truly be a knight in shining armor for the people.

He will uphold God's laws of cause and effect. You have sex before marriage, you'll likely be a mom/or dad-and dads you can't dodge responsibility, you must father that child-not leave your girlfriend holding the bag (essentially that is what abortion does-it is sexist and destroys women). You don't work, you don't eat. You work hard you are rewarded. He will recognize that as a government official his role is to carry out justice (God's value system). He will recognize the church and respect it, not try to replace it. He will know that government's role is limited and won't overstep his bounds, but allow the church to flourish and encourage them to take care of the poor, and teach them a work ethic, etc. With lower taxes the Christians can more easily help the poor. 
When we vote for a president who supports partial birth abortion and has voted 3 times for infanticide, this is means that we as a nation have left God's value system of defending the weak and defenseless. It means that we now have a leader who will not do the right thing, but do whatever is expedient, so long as he can get away with it. What it means is that his value system will from the top down will lead this country to a place where 'everyone does what is right in their own eyes" if they can get away from it. It means that lies and deception will be the rule of the day. Citizens will no longer govern themselves, but will do whatever if they can get away with. Not to mention, Obama will probably appoint at least four supreme court justices. What value system will he use when he picks them? That is why this matters!!!

Secondly, history repeats itself.

You mention, "How about we step back and stop playing the game, and do the real work of the kingdom instead?" Carien, you commit a logical fallacy here. You cannot separate life that easily. That may work for you in a nice cozy lifestyle here in America, but that is not real life. Travel a bit, go around the world to countries where government is rife with corruption. That argument only works for Americans. Tell that to the Jews in the Holocaust. I would urge you and others on this site to watch the Netflix documentary on Bonhoeffer.

Here was a man who began his life as a pacifist, he was all about advancing the kingdom of God and didn't want to get involved with politics. But he soon realized that was an ignorant position, he very wisely realized that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. He could not sit by (however, the majority of Christians in Germany did) and watch the defenseless be executed.

As one of his few compatriots said, "First they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me."

God expects us to be salt and light in this dark world. He expects us to stick our neck out there and speak up and stand against evil. He also expects us to take care of the widows and orphans. Please study history and you will see how dictators rose to power because good men did nothing. History repeats itself.

Carien, with all due respect, what makes this really difficult is that I'm not really into blog reading and comments, but I had to speak up because your ignorance of God's word in this issue is really leading people astray. Jesus' harshest words were reserved for us religious leaders who led people astray. You have set yourself up as espousing God's vantage point. At at a time like this you need to be very sure you are speaking accurately on behalf of God.

In sum, God warns us that they day will be coming when the prophets call good evil and evil good. The only way you will not fall into that trap is know God's word. If you are going to espouse your political views, please make a distinction between your opinion and what God says. In all sincerity, if you are going to speak on behalf of him, make sure you know what He has already told you in his word.


What say you?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Actively Striving For A *Pyrrhic Victory

This is to follow up on some continuing discussions resulting from this post this post and this post. There seems to be a misunderstanding that we believe that Christians should not be politically active. Here I attempt to further clarify the point.

Political discourse and action are important, they just are not the ultimate point.

Ends do justify the means only if the means are fully in line with, might I say derived from, the end. Carrien's and my criticism of the current political discourse comes from the observation that the means employed are not consistent with the proper end.

The end we have in mind is the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God in this world. "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

Yes, strive for righteousness in government. At the same time, do not fall into unrighteousness in your interactions with others who bear the image of the Most High God.

I hold that the high purpose of government is to limit the evil actions of broken people in a broken society. This is a very conservative position, as I understand conservatism. What I see on the Right is something that the Right has accused the Left of for some time. That is the shifting of the role of government from a role of limiting evil to the role of producing righteousness. This seems to me a significant shift in conservative ideology. The shift is from, "The power should be limited to the basic enforcement of laws to protect the people" to "If we can get the power we should use it. Now we must get the power so that we can use it to make the people righteous (in the way that we define righteousness.)" This is the very thing that the Right has criticized the Left for. This, in my mind, lays too much power in the hands of government.

I do not believe that there is a political solution for the problem of the brokenness of people. I do believe that the government has the responsibility to limit the negative effects of the real brokenness  of the people upon one another.

Yes, get the best people into the government so that we have better policies and laws for the protection of the populace. But our more fundamental goal is to heal the brokenness of the people. The current method of political discourse and action does not move in this direction. Moreover, given the more fundamental goal of healing the brokenness of people our considerations ought to be more circumspect and pragmatic.

For example:

African Americans in inner cities and projects do live in a country where it is possible to rise from there to greatness. And some do. At the same time there are real structural social and psychological hindrances that really do apply to those African Americans. They were slaves of white people. The Democrat party fought to maintain that slavery. The Republican party fought to abolish it. The Republicans won. Then white America utterly failed to treat black folk as fellow humans, shunned them, and relegated the majority to the margins. Living in poverty and on the margin affects cultural horizons, that is, if a group of people get beat down long enough they loose the cultural ability to get back up. The beat-down moves into the psychology of the people and folks loose the ability to think long term and with a sense of self-agency (this is endemic in impoverished cultures globally.) Now, it is true that the larger American culture is built around taking initiative and making something of yourself, but here you have a subculture that the psychological structures that enable that have been abused into regression.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I am in no way asserting any inferiority in African Americans. I am recognizing the reality and the effects of cultural abuse.

That is the situation now. What is done is done. What do we do from here? The dominant position from the Left is to establish social support in the form of handouts while the Right mainly reiterates the refrain of opportunity. The first perpetuates dependance. The second neglects the effects of abuse. Both fail to recognize the complexity of reality.

Our goal should be to maximize the ability of everyone to achieve greatness so that we can together become ever greater. In this case neither the hand-out nor the reiteration of ideals achieves this goal. The actual solution lies elsewhere. The situation calls for a more circumspect and pragmatic solution.

This situation, mutatis mutandis, holds for many sectors of American society and the polarization between the Left and the Right oversimplify the issue.

To hit another hot-button issue, look at abortion. Abortion is horrible. I don't think that anyone except the most callous will disagree with that. Our fundamental goal regards abortion should be to reduce the incidence of abortion. Let us look at it pragmatically. How well have the current tactics of the Right worked to achieve that goal? By analogy, how well did criminalizing alcohol work to limit its damaging effects on society? As horrible as abortion is, in the real world it is in fact a complex issue. It is good and right to be saddened and even angered by the incidence of abortion in America, or anywhere for that matter. We must ask the question, how do we actually, in the real complexity of this real world  achieve the goal of ending abortion? I have no confidence that legislation criminalizing abortion alone will have the desired effect. What is required is a deeper cultural shift, and I'll bet the effective solution to this does not include screaming "baby killer" at people.

The Left defends the rights of the woman. The Right defends the rights of the unborn baby. Both of these are right things when taken together. The real solution is much more along the lines of healing the complexity of the broken situation that results in the opposition of mother to child.

Most issues in the political arena are of this sort.

This rhetorical oversimplification in the hands of, and to the service of, ideology is pervasive in the political arena across many issues. It is a poison that taints the discourse. It is a poison that is strengthened by ideology on all sides. When we swallow and spread this poison we do violence to our fellow humans, all of whom bear the image of God.

(A sideline on Biblical values: Christians on both sides pick and choose what Biblical values they want to stand for and then attack the others for not standing up for the ones they have chosen. Yes, life is sacred and the protection of the weakest is of highest import in Biblical ethics. This applies to unborn babies. It also applies to the widow, orphan, and alien. The Left chooses to not defend the unborn babies while the Right chooses to not defend the widow, orphan, and alien. Everyone should just drop their bloody-minded self-righteousness. )

When we fight for our ideology we fight against those we disagree with. We subsume them within the ideology we oppose. We dehumanize them. Our fight ought to be for their humanity. Show a little humility and strive first and always to heal the brokenness around you. Strive to win those who you disagree with and recognize that they may have something of value to say to you and that yelling at someone really does not bring any sort of healing but rather tears the rift further and sets both of you on your heels. We are doing a good job of working hard at increasing the brokenness of our society. Is that damage worth getting the power into the hands of someone who has told us what we want to hear?

Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” (PHOTO: Columbia Pictures)

*A Pyrrhic Victory is when you win a battle at such a high cost that you destroy your ability to achieve your ultimate goal.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Wife Just Keeps Hitting It Out Of The Park

This is so good I couldn't resist pulling it right out of the comments section on Carrien's blog (with her permission of course.) The expected response to that last post came in, "But voting and involvement is REALLY IMPORTANT!" Carrien has done an outstanding job of responding.

I didn't say that votes don't matter, and I didn't say to not vote with your conscience and to do your best in this arena. I didn't say you should give up. I didn't even say to not feel frustrated and sad when evil is called good. I didn't say to not speak your mind and stand for what you believe. I didn't say that you should apologize for it. I didn't even say that I disagree with your politics, because largely, I don't.

I just think you maybe frustrated because you are focusing all that fight and passion in the wrong arena.

I am trying to say that when the voting is over and that part is done, remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood.

I'm after total redemption. That's my job, and yours. Laws have a role to play in that. But they are hardly the primary means by which we seek redemption. If evil is to be overcome, it's not by legislation. It's by you and I and everyone else being the presence of God here, to the best of our ability. And I just can't see Jesus, our best picture of God, drawing partisan lines and standing on one side pointing fingers at the other. Can you?

What Jesus got angry at wasn't the people who were sinning, it was the people so terribly missing the point of what being the people of God was all about. It was the ones who thought that their keeping of the law and their lineage made God like them better than the others, it was the ones who kept people away from God and set up barriers for them that He condemned. For all of Jesus' bold talk he didn't use it to condemn sinners, he spent his time with them.

So the question is, are we setting up barriers for people to come into the kingdom? Why is it that hate, not love, is what most people in the country under 30 think of when they think of the religious right? I'm asking us to evaluate how what has been done so far is actually working. Is it bringing people into the kingdom, or driving them away. Does the activity of the religious right accurately reflect the character of God, the testimony of Jesus, and bring light, life and freedom to a broken nation?

I'm not sure it does, or ever did, because the kingdom of God was never intended to be institutionalized through a government, and bad things have almost always happened as a result of people trying to make it happen that way. And perhaps we should apologize for so poorly representing Christ in this country in our political activities. Just maybe.

Game Change: Your argument is invalid

A super special treat for all of you! This is a guest post from my wife Carrien. She put it up on her blog and I begged her to let me re-post it because it is so good and so in line with what I am doing here. LOVE

Dear friends on the religious right. Some of whom are beloved readers here. (Yes, I have friends there. They are dear sincere people who care deeply about others, their families, this country, and the world. Just as many of my friends who would define themselves as more moderate or liberal care deeply about others, their families, this country, and the world.)

Totally borrowed this from Fox news. They won't mind.
All day today I have seen you in various shades of despair as Obama prepares to serve as president for another 4 years. Your predictions are dire. America as you know and love it is no longer. Obama's administration is going to destroy all that you love and hold dear. Obama is a baby killer. Obama is destroying the traditional family. God help us because the end is near. You wish this was all just a dream, and I've seen more than one reference to arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

First, please just stop watching Fox news and all of it's affiliates for a couple of days, ok? Don't tell me that they are the only station reporting the truth anymore. They are a multimillion dollar conglomerate whose business it is to make money. If they can get more of you to tune in and watch everyday by making you paranoid and expressing such polarizing views that you can't help but be sucked in through fear, they will. Because then they make more money. It's all about money. Just like all of the other news networks.

At least do me a favor and give equal time to different stations and perspectives, so that you can begin to see through the hype and understand that the fear is the same, from all of them. It's just different things they tell you to be afraid of. You do know that they are selling fear on the other side too, right? "Be terrified of what will happen if the religious right get their way. We will go back to the dark ages. Women will have no right to say what happens to their bodies anymore. You won't have healthcare when you're sick. They will cut all programs that care for the poor and destitute. There is a war on women. The GOP has no compassion."

Please step away from the fear mongering, all of you, on both sides. Please recognize that the truth lies somewhere on a completely spectrum.

There, ok. Deep breaths. Let go of the fear.

Now, what is left?

You don't like the president. Ok.

You disagree with his fiscal policies. All right then.

Is the world going to end in the next 4 years? Probably not.

Is there a chance that you won't like what this country looks like at the end of it? Maybe. Just remember the legislative process is remarkably slow. Which is kind of on purpose, to keep things from getting out of hand.

Is your security supposed to come from the fact that the party you prefer wields the political power in the country you live in? Not even remotely!

You want abortion to be illegal again. Let's think about this. When has an antiabortion president in the Whitehouse actually accomplished anything in terms of reducing the number of abortions? Since Roe vs. Wade I mean. What do you actually expect to happen if your candidate was elected? I mean, there is still an entire legislative process to go through. What are the odds you are actually going to get the legislation you want? Remember that this country just elected, by what appears to be clear majority, a pro abortion, pro gay marriage president. How do you expect an ever shrinking minority to get such a bill to pass?

Perhaps I shouldn't have picked such a hot button issue as an example, but here's my point. If you are playing at politics, and believing that victory in the political arena = victory for the kingdom of God you are sorely mistaken. 

Do you remember Jesus? He refused to play any of the games that everyone else was playing. He played an entirely different game, and by an entirely different set of rules. You are called to do the same.

You see, making abortion illegal again isn't going to stop women from having abortions. It didn't before it was legal. You aren't going to change people by changing laws.

Do I believe that every abortion is a tragedy? Absolutely!

But I've learned a few things over the years. One of those is that trying to control people is a mistake. God gave people freedom, therefore they are free, and the choices they make are theirs, and they are responsible for them. Trying to legislate this country back toward the way it used to, or ought to, be is a futile effort. That is trying to use laws to control behavior, to control people.

The religious right has become so obsessed with controlling behavior through legislation in the claim to fight for freedom that they have forgotten what their real mission is. (Both sides do that exact same thing, claim to fight for freedom by limiting people's choices through legislation.)

You see, the kingdom of God is not red states vs. blue states. It's not fiscal conservatives vs. big government spending. It's not even prolife vs. prochoice.

The kingdom of God is the followers of Jesus vs. no one. It's loving everyone. It's never dismissing a woman who's situation is so complicated that abortion seems like a viable option as a baby killer. It's loving her enough to walk through the pain she is feeling with her. To love her no matter her choice, even if it's not the one you wanted her to make. And to give her all the support you are able, to help her actually feel free to choose without fear.

It's loving the friend who voted for Obama, and honoring the ways that they are moved by the democratic rhetoric of caring for all of those who struggle. Even if you think it's total BS and that the actual policies will do the opposite. It's realizing that you have more in common with people on the other side of the polls than not, and choosing to care about them as people.

It's loving that gay couple with the giant happy smiles on their faces as they come down the courthouse steps, and remembering that God loves them just as much as He loves you.

It's letting go of hate and fear and winning the hearts and minds of people through loving them.

It's rolling up your sleeves and personally attending to the needs you see, rather than waiting for the government to do it for you. It's caring for those in need. It's loving those who are alone. It's the opposite of the polarizing fundamentalist positions that drive a wedge through this nation on both sides of the aisle.

The culture wars are over. You lost. Now how about we get back to what is really important, loving our neighbor as ourselves. How about we stop villainizing people and start treating them as individuals who are worthy of love and respect? Even if we disagree with them.

How about we start listening to opinions other than our own and actually having a dialogue rather than a shouting match? Every time someone does that they eventually discover common ground.

How about, and here is the kicker, we stop believing that politics is a war between good and evil and all that disagree with us are on the side of evil?

How about we step back and stop playing the game, and do the real work of the kingdom instead?

Who's with me?


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One Short Political Post

John of England signs Magna Carta. Image from Cassell's History of England - Century Edition - published circa 1902
Due to the impossibility of establishing truth in the absence of counterfactuals I am not willing to assess the the goodness or badness of America's electoral sport today. However, I will assert that the solutions to our real problems do not lie in a political platform. They lie in our own hands. The government has the power that is given to it by the people. If it or even some part of it is flawed and in no likelihood of repair then make it irrelevant by doing it's job better. Change the world and politics will be forced to follow.

That is all

Monday, November 5, 2012

This Boss Idea Is Kind Of A Load Of Crap

This post follows on two previous musings on gender, one more on the ladies the other more on the dudes. Here I get more onto my deeper views on the discussion and kind of what underlies my approach in the other two posts.

In Christian circles there are two main camps in the understanding of gender relations.

Complementarian: equal but different
Egalitarian: equal but equal

COMP holds that men and women are equal in human value but that men are the ones who are designed and suited to be the boss. EG holds that women are suited to be the boss just as much as men. With both positions "boss" means the person who gets to tell the other people what to do.

Both positions assume a hierarchical power structure: someone needs to be the boss of someone.

A COMP defense of a hierarchical power structure is just as problematic as an EG addendum to a hierarchical power structure and the problem does not lie in the COMP or EG position. Rather the problem lies in the accepted hierarchical power structure.

What is the problem with hierarchy? On the plus side, it is an effective system for accomplishing our goals. How could we run businesses or churches without a well specified chain of command? How could we get people to give money and time and energy to our goals unless there was someone in charge telling them to do it?

Another benefit of hierarchy is for the people who are not at the top. It enables well structured organizations where each person knows their place and can relatively easily know what they are supposed to do: it allows an efficient way to cover your own ass. Without a well structured hierarchy people would have to take full responsibility for themselves rather that do what they are told.

The major problem with hierarchy is that it has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.

When I was at seminary I attended a theological conference in which one of the presenters defended hierarchical structures based on analogy with the Trinity: the Father is the boss and the Son and Spirit do what the Father says, therefore there is a distinct chain of command within the godhead. Your humble servant then asked an impertinent question, "If we are going to establish a hierarchy within the Trinity would it not have to be flowing in a different direction? Jesus clearly teaches that the greatest is the servant. Therefore, the Spirit would be the greatest since he serves the Son and the Father and Jesus would be the #2 because he serves the Father. So by Jesus teaching, if the Trinity is a hierarchy then the Father is the least of the three." That presenter did a good job of quickly changing the subject and returning to the floor for another question. (Incidentally, other presenters came up to me afterward to shake my hand and thank me for the question.)
Byzantine mosaic of Christ washing the disciples' feet at the Monreale Cathedral. Public Domain.
Essentially, if we are to defend hierarchy from the trinity then we need to destroy the unity of the trinity and claim that the analogy comes before the ethics proclaimed by the Son (in obedience to the Father.) Moreover that those proclaimed ethics do not have their origin from within God and so are inconsistent with the ethical commands to imitate God. To my mind it makes much more sense to lose a defense of hierarchy.

The consistent teaching of Jesus links authority and greatness to service. And it runs in the direction of service yields the other two rather than the other two imply service. By this model the one in charge is the one who serves most and best rather than the one who gives the orders.

But hey, that is the way that the world works, there are bosses, someone needs to tell the other people what to do.


First, is that supposed to be a defense of the system? If our systems are inconsistent with the Kingdom of God, what does that say about the system? Moreover, what does that say about our relationship to that system? Should our response be to capitulate or to transform? Even implicit acceptance of a problematic system ratifies that system. At the very least our responsibility is to be entirely clear that the system is inconsistent with the Kingdom. ENTIRELY CLEAR.

Second, that may be the way the world works. You may even find yourself in a "boss" position within a hierarchical system. It is now your responsibility to earn that position by truly serving, at least to the level that would make that position legitimate. That is, it is upon you to serve those that the system has placed under you. It is your responsibility to place them above you by your service to them.

Third, if the Church needs the hierarchy to get the people to do what needs to be done to maintain the Church then what does that say about the Church? Does the Church so constituted deserve to be called the Body of Christ?

So, ought we to debate whether women should be allowed to be "bosses"? Or could our time be better spent devising and implementing strategies of redemption that change the structure?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...