Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Bible Is Biased - Do You Share It Bias?

 Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Most of political and church history has been controlled and written by people on the Right, because they, more than those on the Left, have the access, the power, and the education to write books and get them published. One of the few subversive texts in history, believe it or not, is the Bible! The Bible is most extraordinary because it repeatedly and invariably legitimizes the people on the bottom, and not the people on the top. The rejected son, the barren woman, the sinner, the leper, or the outsider is always the one chosen of God! Please do not take my word on this, check it out. It is rather obvious, but for some reason the obvious needs to be pointed out to us. In every case, we are presented with some form of powerlessness--and from that situation God creates a new kind of power. This is the constant pattern, hidden in plain sight.

So many barren women are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures that you begin to wonder if there was a problem with the water! Sarah, Abraham's wife, was barren--and old, too--before God blessed her with baby Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19). Rachel, Jacob's wife, was barren before God "opened her womb" and she bore Joseph (Genesis 30:22-24). Barren Hannah poured out her soul before the Lord, and God gave her Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1).

Even before Moses, God chose a nobody, Abraham, and made him a somebody. God chose Jacob over Esau, even though Esau is the elder and more earnest son and Jacob is a shifty, even deceitful, character. Election has nothing to do with worthiness but only usability, and in the Bible, usability ironically comes from facing one's own wrongness or littleness, as we see in Mary. God chose Saul to be King out of the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest and weakest tribe in Israel. The pattern does seem to be: "The last will be first, and the first will be last" (Matthew 20:16).

One of the more dramatic biblical stories in this regard is the story of David. God chose David, the youngest and least experienced son of Jesse, to be king over the nation. Jesse had not even mentioned him as a possibility, but left him out in the fields (1 Samuel 16). In fact, he was a totally forgotten son, who then finds his power on a new level. Yahweh evened up the odds and David, just a young boy with a slingshot (powerlessness), brought the giant Goliath (power) down (1 Samuel 17). This is the constant pattern of redemptive suffering and trial that finds its final revelation on the cross where Jesus is abject powerlessness, and in this very state he redeems the world!

God's bias toward the little ones, the powerless, and those on the bottom has been rediscovered by those who learn to see deeply and with compassion: Francis of Assisi, Thérèse of Lisieux, Mother Teresa, and 12-Step spirituality being well known examples, but even they are usually marginalized by the establishment mind and the Right. Notice the shock when a Pope took the name of a non-establishment saint, "Francis."

Adapted from by Phil Garner
Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, p. 93;
and The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament, pp. 49-50
(published by Franciscan Media)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian


On February 20, 2015 by


The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian
Brian Zahnd

Christian de Chergé was a French Catholic monk and the Trappist prior of the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria. With the rise of radical Islam in 1993, Father Chergé knew that his life was in danger. But instead of leaving Algeria, Father Chergé chose to stay and continue his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. On May 24, 1996 Father Chergé was beheaded by Muslim radicals. Anticipating his death, Father Chergé had left a testament with his family to be read upon the event of his murder. The testament in part reads:

“If it should happen one day — and it could be today — that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

Obviously, my death will justify the opinion of all those who dismissed me as naïve or idealistic: ‘Let him tell us what he thinks now.’ But such people should know that my death will satisfy my most burning curiosity. At last, I will be able — if God pleases — to see the children of Islam as He sees them, illuminated in the glory of Christ, sharing in the gift of God’s Passion and of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common humanity amidst our differences.

I give thanks to God for this life, completely mine yet completely theirs, too, to God, who wanted it for joy against, and in spite of, all odds. In this Thank You — which says everything about my life — I include you, my friends past and present, and those friends who will be here at the side of my mother and father, of my sisters and brothers — thank you a thousandfold.
And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too I wish this thank-you, this ‘Adieu,’ whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father. Amen!”

–Father Christian de Chergé

Christian de Chergé lived as a citizen of the kingdom of God. The manner in which he died and the testament he left behind is the only Christian response to militant Islam I can think of which is faithful to Jesus Christ. Father de Chergé does not call for his blood to be avenged, but like his Savior, Father de Chergé prays for the forgiveness of his murderer and speaks of him as “my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing.” In his martyr’s testament Father de Chergé bids his murder “Adieu” and hopes that they might meet in heaven “like happy thieves.” This is beautiful. The kind of beauty that can save the world. Father de Chergé lived a beautiful life and in his death overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony. Christian Chergé would rather die following the way of the Lamb than follow the way of the Beast.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The “Bob,” the Byrds, and Our “Back Pages” - A Lenten Anthem?

I’ve been intrigued of late by the reflection entwined in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s 1964 song “My Back Pages.” Prophet of protest for my generation, the “Bob” marked our national transition to or trauma of what many call postmodernism. It was a time of political sloganeering and intellectual certainty of all sides of what appeared to all as the unraveling of America. Dylan was the poster boy on the left for all this. 

Yet, in “My Back Pages,” the “Bob” takes a self-reflective look at what was happening around him and in some measure through him.  The title “My Back Pages” signals the mood.  The great front-and-center balladeer puts himself on the “back page” where he believes he belongs because, as the song’s refrain has it, he was “older then, but I’m younger than that now.”

The Byrd’s cover of “My Back Pages” is the version of the song most of us know, and, incidentally, was that group’s last hit. Here are its lyrics.

Crimson flames tied through my years
Rollin' high and mighty trapped
Countless violent flaming roads
Using ideas as my map
"We'll meet on edges soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

Half wracked prejudice leaped forth
"Rip down all hate," I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic flanks of musketeers
Foundation deep, somehow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not I'd become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
Sisters fled by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

My guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

With piercing lyrics Dylan sheds, at least for a moment, the prophetic mantle bestowed on him in the 1960’s. He confesses/celebrates his growing “younger” and styles that growth as a retreat from the combativeness fired by certainty and the arrogance of possessing “the” truth.  

This Lent 2014 our times are not all that different, are they? Culture warriors left and right hurl flaming shibboleths at one another. On their issues, at least, things are black and white. We don’t worry that in our arrogance and certainty we become mirror-images of those we so resolutely oppose either. Committed to and guided by our ideas and abstract threats, we too are drawn into protecting “good and bad” at the expense of others and relationships.

Perhaps this Lent we also need to grow younger. These weary old spasms of political point and counter-point, devoid by now of creativity and relevance, lock us into death-dealing patterns whose only point seems to grab enough power to enforce our visions on those who disagree. This is as true in the church as it is in the world. 

We’re too old, and our hope lies in growing young again - willing to explore, reach out, rethink, live with ambiguity, find our good in people and relationships, our unity and assurance in Jesus alone, and our hope in God’s infinite capacity and willingness to do a “new thing” that renders all the “old” null and void (Is.65).

Sounds a bit like “new birth” doesn’t it (Jn.3)? Or “new creation” (2 Cor.5)? Or Jesus’ call to be childlike (Mk.10)?

Maybe, this Lent, we ought to make “My Back Pages” our anthem, prayer, and practice. At Easter, then, when Jesus commissions us to go and tell the world the good news, we will do it with a little more humility, more about God’s faithfulness than our certainty, and more about Jesus and less about us (Jn.3:30)!  Maybe we'll be a little younger then than the days before!

Rob Bell and Oprah aside, marriage wasn’t designed to solve loneliness

In a recent appearance on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday to promote his latest book, The Zimzum of Love,  Rob Bell made remarks on marriage that are causing consternation among some and receiving applause from others. In the interview, the Pastor Emeritus of Mars Hill Bible Church expressed his sentiments that the church is “moments away” from affirming same-sex marriage, following the broader cultural consensus along those lines.

Here’s part of Bell’s rationale for his position: “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness. …Loneliness is not good for the world. And so, whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want somebody to go through life with. It's central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.”

I think he’s right on here. As relational beings who image the Trinitarian God, we were created for community. But what’s interesting is that Bell assumes - along with many defenders of traditional marriage - that marriage is the solution to the problem of loneliness. This “you complete me” mindset is symptomatic of how Christians all across the theological and political spectrum think about marriage. If loneliness is a problem solved only by marriage, it does seem cruel and unusual to say that people can’t experience this and so condemn them to a life of loneliness.

But is that the Biblical view of marriage? Marriage can and does address loneliness. But is marriage the only path to friendship, companionship and family? Can a spouse alone bear the burden of solving one’s loneliness problem? If people get married to solve their loneliness, it won’t be long until those same people are getting divorced because they’ve realized it didn’t entirely work. Some who get married find themselves lonelier than ever, discovering that physical proximity to another person can still leave us light years away from real connection. Worse, we may become so focused on being the sole solution to our spouse’s loneliness (or obsessed with how they can do so for us) that our marriages become black holes, ends in themselves that fail to shine the light that bears witness to God’s kingdom.

We should also question whether Bell’s sentiments capture the Biblical view of singleness. Does Scripture teach that singleness means you are doomed to loneliness and unhappiness? If medieval Catholicism denigrated marriage in favor of celibacy, Bell’s remarks are unfortunately representative of modern Protestantism, where single Christians are often seen as second-class citizens. But passages like 1 Corinthians 7 make clear that marriage is not an economic, social or relational necessity for any Christian. The church is called to be a family in which some - perhaps many - members are called and empowered to be single, but never lonely or alone. In fact, Jesus promises that those who leave their earthly family will gain family by the hundredfold, even in this life.
Jesus (single, by the way) doesn’t say, “Follow me into a life of loneliness.” Rather, He offers friendship and family beyond measure! Furthermore, if marriage will no longer play a significant role in the resurrection, then we need to be clear that it is not the pinnacle, but one possible stepping stone on the path to the glory of the true community for which we were created.

Bell may have intended to criticize churches that are non-affirming of gay marriage, but I think his remarks should cause all churches to do some soul-searching. Our confusion about marriage and singleness has an underlying root: confusion about our call as the family of God. Amazingly, when God first said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” what He ultimately had in mind was the new Eve, the church. When that calling is foremost in our lives, then we - single or married - will be the faithful bride of Jesus and the solution to the loneliness that plagues our world.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Alexander Schmemann – Lent is a Time of Slowing Down

Alexander Schmemann

This passage by the renowned Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann resonated with me when I read it recently, an appropriate reflection for Ash Wednesday…

Lent is a Time of Slowing Down
Alexander Schmemann


It is obviously impossible for us to go to Church every day. And since we cannot keep the Lent liturgically, the question arises: what is our participation in Lent, how can we spiritually profit by it? The Church calls us to deepen our religious conscience, to increase and strengthen the spiritual contents of our life, to follow her in her pilgrimage towards renewal and rededication to God.

And, last but not least: there must be an effort and a decision to slow down our life, to put in as much quiet, silence, contemplation, meditation. Radio, TV, newspapers, social gatherings—all these things, however excellent and profitable in themselves, must be cut down to a real minimum. Not because they are bad, but because we have something more important to do, and it is impossible to do without a change of life, without some degree of concentration and discipline. Lent is the time when we re-evaluate our life in the light of our faith, and this requires a very real effort and discipline. Christ says that a narrow path leads to the kingdom of God and we must make our life as narrow as possible. At first the natural and selfish man in us revolts against these limitations. He wants his usual “easy life” with all its pleasures and relaxations. But once we have tasted of such spiritual effort, once we have made by it one step towards God, the reward is great! We discover a joy that cannot be compared to any other joy. We discover the reality of the spiritual world in us. We begin to understand what St. Paul meant by “the joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” God Himself enters our soul: and it is this wonderful coming that constitutes the ultimate end of Lent:
“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slowchurch/2015/02/18/alexander-schmemann-lent-is-a-time-of-slowing-down/#ixzz3SDkfcIWN

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God?

What is Ash Wednesday?
What is Ash Wednesday? For most of my life, I didn’t ask this question, nor did I care about the answer. I, along, with most evangelical Christians in America, didn’t give Ash Wednesday a thought.
But then, in 2004, Ash Wednesday loomed large in American Protestant consciousness. Why? Because on that day Mel Gibson released what was to become his epic blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ. For the first time in history, the phrase “Ash Wednesday” was on the lips of millions of evangelical Christians, not just Catholics and other “high church” Protestants, as we anticipated the official release of The Passion. Every since 2004, many who never wondered about Ash Wednesday have been asking: What is Ash Wednesday? How do we observe it? Why should we observe it?
I grew up with only a vague notion of Ash Wednesday. To me, it was some Catholic holy day that I, as an evangelical Protestant, didn’t have to worry about, thanks be to God. In my view, all of “that religious stuff” detracted from what really mattered, which was having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In my early evangelical years it never dawned on me that some of “the religious stuff” might actually enrich my faith in Christ.
During the spring of 1976, my first year of college, I was startled to see a woman who worked in my dining hall with a dark cross rubbed on her forehead. At first I wondered if it were a bizarre bruise. Then I noticed other women with similar crosses. It finally dawned on me what I was seeing. Here was my introduction to Ash Wednesday piety. These women, who were all Roman Catholic, had gone to services that morning and had ashes placed on their foreheads. I felt impressed that these women were willing to wear their ashes so publicly, even though it seemed a rather odd thing to do. It never dawned on me that this would be something I might do myself one day.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/ash-wednesday-practice-and-meaning/#ixzz3S1Lm1mnk

The God Who Looks Like Us: A Liberating, Male-and-Female, #TrulyHuman Imago Dei

January 22, 2015 | By: Larry Eubanks 1 Comment

What do you think?

God is spirit and has no physical form except in the incarnation of Jesus. This truth has led us to understand the imago dei in purely non-physical ways. Being made in the image of God, it is said, means that among the rest of creation only humans have souls.+

Or that humans have free will and can act beyond mere instinct.+

Or that only humans have the capacity to have dominion over the rest of creation.+

Or that humans have an intellectual capacity far above any other animal.+

Or some such.+

While I don’t deny that any or all of these things may be true, I think that when interpreting Genesis 1:26-27, we jump to the spiritual too quickly and miss the most obvious meaning.+

We look like God. Or, perhaps more to the point, God looks like us.+
Elohim looks like a human. He doesn’t look like a bull. The Canaanites envisioned El as a bull, and there is some conjecture that the etymology of name Marduk, the chief Babylonian god, refers to a bull calf.+

God doesn’t look like the gods of our oppressors, Genesis 1 is saying. But it is saying much more as well.+