On Order

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. – 1 Cor. 14:33

It just struck me how much the new modus operandi of the church can be boiled down to one very little and extremely useful word: order.

From the very beginning, there’s an order. An order of creation as well as Creation Order which is not at all the same thing. There’s the order to the operation of church, an order of pastoral authority, and even an order of authority in the family. You name it – they’ve found a way to create a hierarchical chain of command to run it.

It’s just that I’m not terribly convinced that the most important thing to God is that we live according to all of these orders that we keep on seeing everywhere. Assuming God would keep even His own rules, then he would necessarily have to always work through the first born, the kings, the generals, the prophets and the priests as the ones having the most authority.

If order was all that mattered, Jacob would have been the one that God hated and Esau the one that God loved. If order was all that mattered, then King Eliab would have replaced King David as the firstborn. If order was all that mattered, then King Amnon would have replaced King Solomon. If order was all that mattered then Eli’s eldest son, not Hannah’s son Samuel would have served God. If order was all that mattered, then Deborah would not have served as a judge. If order was all that mattered, then God would not have used Mary when there were far more ‘worthy’ candidates belonging to wealthy and powerful families. If order was all that mattered – then why amend the Temple Worship system with Jesus’ message? Didn’t Jesus draw the ire of the spiritual authorities – the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Scribes, and the Teachers of the Law simply because he would not teach as they taught or do as they did?

But it seems that we’ve fallen for a lie that if we obey order then we will please God. Because somehow the God that chose the younger over the elder, the last over the first, an outsider over insiders, and a woman over men has suddenly decided that he now prefers elders over youth, first over last, insiders over outsiders, and men over women. Perhaps we’ve gotten the wrong idea about order. Because the verse doesn’t say that God is a God of order, but of peace. Sure, there’s peace in order, but sometimes order is anything but peaceful.

Take the Pax Romana, for example – it was an unprecedented time of peace achieved by the order maintained by the Roman Empire. It was achieved by the Roman armies completely destroying any resistance – from outside and inside of the empire. It lasted from 27 B.C. to 180 A.D. That’s not to say that there wasn’t discord in that time – just that all of it was met with the unfriendly edge of a Roman sword or spear. Peace and order were achieved, but not everyone was happy with the means that justified the ends.

From what I’m seeing order isn’t exactly at the top of God’s list in his interactions with people – so the odds that he would change to suddenly decide that He likes order some two thousand years or so after the events of Scripture leads me to believe that the idea of Creation Order, Authority Order, Family Order, Church Order, etc. is not His work. It doesn’t match Jesus’ description of his upside-down kingdom:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. – Luke 22:25-27

Jesus could have called twelve disciples from ruling families with the ancestry to prove they were worthy leaders in the coming kingdom. He chose fisherman, a doctor, and even a tax collector to follow him while women bankrolled his ministry. Order never was high on his priority list. So why is it at the top of ours?

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Blood Moon Prophecy?

“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” – Acts 2:20

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;” – Revelation 6:12

Blood Moon

I spent a good part of last night taking pictures of the moon and enjoying the company of my fellow stargazers as we marveled at the moon. I’m glad I had that luxury, as there is little doubt that others had been instilled with fear about the shape of things to come. Somebody, somewhere out there had written a pretty popular book, produced something vaguely like a documentary, and took up countless church services preaching about ‘Blood Moons’ as opposed to things like the love of Jesus or the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In essence, he said that these four total lunar eclipses was one of the signs that Jesus alluded to in Luke 21:

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

And so people all over the world are watching and waiting for the fulfillment of that which is to come. They’re afraid for their friends and family members who they expect will be left behind. They believe that we’re on the cusp of Revelation unfolding right here and right now. This fear is an effective tool to manipulate people into giving up their dreams (there’s no point now) and donating their early goods (they won’t need them were they’re going.) It’s something that we’ve seen play out every single time somebody sets a date, gathers a following, and preaches their doom-and-gloom message.

Sure, technically, he didn’t circle the day and hour on the calendar, and he was careful to say: “something, somewhere will happen!” Which, of course, it will, no matter what corner of the world people live in some terrible disaster will happen eventually. People on the Ring of Fire can expect earthquakes, volcanoes, and even tsunamis. Tornado Alley can expect tornadoes. Coastal areas – hurricanes, typhoons. Famines, floods, droughts, blizzards, nor’easters, etc. There are disasters that are directly caused by people that routinely make the news. That vague language will serve him well as he comes to realize that he was wrong to try to guess God’s timing. I’d imagine a similar feeling happened after Israel was declared to be a state – anticipation of the wonders to come and disappointment when they didn’t happen. I remember reading about The Great Disappointment – how a similar prophecy unfolded and people were left bewildered and disillusioned when it didn’t pan out. Many gave up their beliefs and began rebuilding their lives from scratch (as they had given everything away.) This is the travesty of the whole thing – that people can be put into this situation and lose their faith. It’s really easy for us to be carried away given the popularity of mass media – Left Behind, both the book series and the movies, have primed our imaginations to believe that it’s going to happen any moment now.

It seems as if in all of the picking and choosing of the Blood Moon verses, he ignored this one:

For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. – Matthew 24:38-39

In all of this, the Blood Moon Prophecy is an excellent example of the disastrous effects reading Bible verses out of their context and trying to create a belief based off of three or four disjointed verses. It’s something for the rest of us to keep in mind the next time somebody sets a date for the big one. I just hope we’ll let the fear fade away and marvel at the mystery and maybe even enjoy ourselves.

The 411 on God

I’m so glad that we’ve got God completely figured out these days. That we know what words to say to manipulate Him into doing our will. And that we can buy his goodwill. Ancient believers never really had it that good – or easy. The God of the Old Testament was a powerful and Holy figure who’d just soon as destroy as he would save. He also wasn’t all that big on interfering with daily affairs – for most people. He wouldn’t exactly prevent their destruction if it didn’t suit him to do so.

By the time the New Testament rolled around, He was much more mellow. Jesus didn’t have nearly the body count stacked up and seemed to be big on mercy. Only when he overturned the tables in the temple did he show some anger, and even then we’re pretty sure nobody got hurt. In the early Church, the Holy Spirit showed that one ought not trifle with the fledgling believers as Ananias and Sapphira as well as Simon the Magician all experienced an element of wrath. But all in all, He was much more likely to let people live.

Since then, we’ve discovered the secrets of controlling God. By seed-faith donations, we can ‘sow’ our money which God will make fruitful and give us a return on our investment. By praying together, we can guarantee that God will answer our prayers. By building a ‘war room’ we can bend our spiritual energy and bind God to do what we want Him to.

BGILTWe know that God will never take anything away without giving us something bigger, better, nicer, or newer in return. Like Job – sure, God took away his livelihood, his staff, and his children but God gave him twice as much stuff, twice as much staff, and a whole new batch of children – a new family to replace the one he lost. If only he knew then what we know now then he would have been able to get God to keep Satan at bay and save them all. But he was dealing with the Old Testament God, so it would have been 50-50 anyway.

Yep, we’ve got it pretty good. Which is nice, considering how many people don’t realize how easily they would have upset the Old Testament God every time they do something wrong. Think about it – what if every time there was embezzlement in a church the perpetrators suffered Ananias’ and Sapphira’s fate? Wouldn’t everybody double-check their work to prevent that from happening to them even accidentally? What if every sort of wrong-doing had a similar result – some sort of supernatural sickness that everybody could see and know what had happened? Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that. People can steal from churches without fear of earthly consequences.

That’s why it’s so great that we have God all figured out. When people do something they shouldn’t, they an always run into the open arms of the church, say ‘I repent! I’m really sorry and I’ll never do it again.’ Then they can lay low as long as it takes for the whole thing to blow over and get right back at it while nobody’s looking. With forgiveness on tap, why there’s a whole lot of not so good things that anybody can get away with at church. But we don’t really have anything to worry about – because we have God figured out down to a science these days.

On Men (meaning men and women)

According to C.S. Lewis, when society believed in an objective truth, it crafted an educational system that consisted of older men teaching manhood to younger men. However, now that society believes that truth is subjective, it creates men who are conditioned to exacting standards in much the same way animals are raised to exacting standards so that they can be processed as food. The result is ‘men without chests’, or a generation of adults who have no heart, no sentiment, and no morality.

I couldn’t help but wonder – what of the women? Perhaps C.S. Lewis was using ‘men’ in the general sense – in which case it would include women. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking of women at all because the illustrated suggested that wisdom was personified as a woman who was usually wearing a wedding dress. It’s odd, isn’t it; that a woman is the personification of women and yet no thought is given to the education of daughters. When traditional education is men teaching manhood to men, then women are either learning manhood or they’re not learning anything at all.

One thing to consider is that C.S. Lewis is the product of his education – starting with boarding schools and culminating with his career as a professor. His academic world was one of men who thought up, talked about, wrote about, and read the work of other men. In his world, there were only a few women who had manged to reach that glass ceiling and even then they weren’t on the same level as him and his fellow men. As an academic, he would have been in a world that frequently used ‘man’ in the general sense of ‘human.’ He wouldn’t have given proverbs like: ‘No man is an island.’ or ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ or ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ a second thought because while ‘man’ can be used in a general sense for ‘human’ it’s hardly ever done in English.

In my second language, whenever a group of men and women are being referred to, the plural masculine word is used: “los niños” could mean “the boys” or “the children (including girls)” and “los maestros” could mean “the male teachers” or “the teachers (including women).” I often find that when I see such words, I almost automatically think of it as “the boys” or “the male teachers” before I think of them as “the children” or “the teachers (both men and women)”. In English, we hardly use ‘men’ to refer to a group of men and women. If we mean ‘men and women’ we say ‘men and women’ or ‘ladies and gentlemen’. This is a peculiarity to our society. So too, when I see words such as “man”, “men”, “he”, “his”, or “him” I think of guys first and foremost. Take a look at the Bible. It’s largely androcentric – written by men, to men, using masculine pronouns except in the few instances where women are specifically referred to in ways differing from the way that men are addressed. This created a problem, one group of translators decided to adhere to the cultural tendency to use masculine terms in a general sense, so they used ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’ where the other group of translators opted to say ‘brothers and sisters’ or ‘people’. The former group decried the efforts of the latter as sacrilege and managed to get the companies to pull the gender neutral language Bibles off of the shelves from the major stores. What message does that send?

Which got me into trouble with my youth pastor who preached on the brothers of the early church and emphasized the brotherhood of all believers. He was not amused when I asked, “What about the sisters?” Remember that illustration about wisdom being a woman? If it’s a natural and righteous relationship for a man to pursue and marry a woman (wisdom), then what is to be said of the relationship between a woman and the woman (wisdom)? If the purpose of education is for men to teach manhood to men, then why bother educating women to the same level? Would that not be teaching a woman the nature of manhood, which is contrary to design? After all, there is this objective truth that does not change and would have it be so.

Which is to use a lot words to say that: “The nature of manhood is an objective truth.” Meaning that whatever generations of fathers taught their sons and teachers taught their students is that which should continue to be taught as long as humans exist. There’s just a slight problem with that. Not all aspects of traditional masculinity were ideals that ought to be enshrined. After all, it’s a system of beliefs that inherently exclude women (for being feminine) and men that are unable to measure up. It seems to me that the whole argument isn’t just about educating children to prepare them for a future, but using a theory to indoctrinate children to grow up to be adults who believe certain things about what it is to be men or women. The odd thing is that C.S. Lewis argued that it would be nonsensical to compare the educational level of a student from the past to the present. Shouldn’t it be the same for masculinity? Sure, an 1880s cowboy might be inherently masculine, but is he ‘more’ or ‘less’ masculine than a 1930s factory worker? What about compared to a 2010 computer programmer? The question becomes what the measure of masculinity is and how to measure up different people to it.

But what if the nature of the world contains both objective truth and subjective truth – the objective truth that morality is necessary for a healthy society, but a subjective truth about what the nature of masculinity and femininity is? A subjective truth that changes with the times and the people who mold it. If we continue to live in a ‘one or the other’ world, then we will continue to exist in a place that divides men and women, truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly into two opposing camps where one is right and the other wrong, one is good and the other is evil. That’s the sort of thinking that got us into this mess. We need to accept the subjective thinking that allows the lines to be blurred where they need be to give us the freedom to change when and where we need to so that each person can be empowered and not indoctrinated.

Addicted to Power

a subversive statement

a counter-cultural act

that stands in defiance

Christians have lost a lot of ground over the last several decades, this is reflected in the changing teachings coming from the church. Generations ago, Christianity would have never talked about sending a subversive statement, doing counter-cultural acts, or standing in defiance to cultural norms or governmental regulations. It would have been counter-productive to do so as the church was the authority that had a lot of power in both settings. The church had cultural power to set the norms by which people were to live, so instructing people to defy them would be telling them to defy the church. The church had a lot of pull with the government as well. In days gone by, Blue Laws existed that closed down every business on Sundays so that everybody could go to church. What the church preached because the popular belief that set the tone of which laws would be passed. So there was no need to be subversive, counter-cultural, or defiant as it would have hurt the power and authority of the church.

Today, everywhere I look, there are dozens of speakers pushing for a more conservative theology that urge people to be different from the world in a way that wouldn’t have happened in the past. Without the power to set the cultural norms, the church instructs believers to defy the cultural norms that now exist. Cultural norms are more or less the majority belief of that which is acceptable, as shaped by mass-media such as television, music, magazines, and books. We’re a more equal, more respectful, and more dignified society than we have been in generations past partially because of the principles of Christian teachings that permeate all areas of our life. I was thinking about how many social revolutions were not carried out in the 1960s because they weren’t ready for them. We’re ready for them now.

There is a need to be subversive, counter-cultural, and defiant, most of all in the church that has lost it’s way. The church that has allied itself with the Republican party has lost sight of it’s savior – Jesus. The church that has built a system by which scandals can be hidden needs to be undermined. The church that has more love for money than for people must be defied. This culture of Christianity needs to be challenged and revealed for the core of what it really is: corrupt and drunk on power. The last thing this church needs is for people to feed it’s addiction by obeying them and giving them back the power they lost to set cultural norms and guide the laws being passed. A Christianity with that much power can only mean trouble for those who are outsiders and out of favor with them and their allies who run everything else.

The Bible tells us to obey the governing authorities over us. It tells us to listen to religious leaders but to not do as they do when they are being hypocritical. Jesus tells us that in his kingdom, leadership is up-side down. That’s the part that we still haven’t gotten quite right. We might call it ‘servant leadership’ but it’s something that can be made to look like anything one needs it to for the moment. I remember reading about how in Prince Caspian the character of Peter was praised for his ‘servant leadership’. What he did was show up and start giving out commands – it wasn’t until his pride got everyone else killed in a trap that he was immensely humbled. That’s what concerns me about the more toxic elements of Christianity. It never once seems to occur to their servant leaders that they’re doing it wrong in a way that will cost lives – if not actual lives, then spiritual ones as droves of people flee from the churches that burnt or wounded them.

For far too long, Christianity has had far too much power. It is only when all of this power is completely surrendered and laid down at the feet of Jesus can we truly see what damage we’ve done with it. Only then can we begin to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who resisted the lure of power at every turn.

Christians, of a different kind

If you had told me that one day I’d watch the Pope arrive at the White House and then listen to a mass delivered in Spanish, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have explained that while I’m pretty sure Catholics were kind of Christians, they weren’t like us and therefore, they didn’t have it right. After all, they drank wine and they had this thing about Mary that was different from what we were taught was true and we all know only one of us can be right and it’s always us and not them.

Then we had accepted the opportunity to be a host family to an exchange student. She was Catholic and yet she came with us to our Southern Baptist Church. We thought we were decent people, but she was truly kind in a way that out did us all. She showed me that the messages I had received from my church were incorrect. A few years later I had a chance to visit her in her country and toured some of their beautiful Catholic churches.

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

I just wish that Christianity didn’t pit all of us brothers and sisters of different stripes and spots against each other; but used our differences to unite us in those things that we all hold in common. There are a lot of wonderful things about Catholics I never learned when I was little, but I get the honor of finding out for myself as I get older. I think that ultimately we have a lot in common – not just our belief in Jesus, but our search for a spirituality that we can believe in and that works for us.

Ultimately, the faith tradition I grew up in would not have come to exist were it not for it’s Catholic roots. I know that much of the hostility between our different beliefs originates in the Reformation, where the state united with the church in a struggle for power. This is something worth remembering as my own faith tradition has gone through a reformation of it’s own known as the Conservative Resurgence where the conservative side has an almost too healthy amount of admiration for the reformers as they choose to emphasize Calvinism – but in the process they’ve torn apart the church.

Even my new denomination struggles with where they fall on the matter of inerrancy and other social issues. I think through it all, each of us has to find the faith that speaks most to us as we grow older. Sometimes it’s the faith that we grew up in. Sometimes it’s a faith that we’ve come to respect. Sometimes it’s the faith that we’d least expect. But for too many of us, the struggles the Church puts us through as they decide what they’ll teach often puts us at odds with what our spirits tell us to be the truth. That’s why so many become ‘done’ with the Church or are a ‘none’ who wants nothing more to do with any faith or religion. It’s frustrating to know that the point of the church isn’t to create volumes of books filled with the most correct doctrines, but men and women who are disciples, disciples who become teachers, teachers who have disciples of their own. So when people are wounded or burnt by Christianity get to the point of being done with it, I think that’s when Jesus himself weeps most.

Jesus’ own message was one that asked people to put others people first, never did he throw anybody under the bus in order to preserve doctrine or a traditional position. Like this mass – all of us are saying: “Señor, escucha nos ...” or “Lord, listen to us …” He was great at that, you know. In every interaction with the poor, the outcasts, the outsiders, and the suffering he listened to them. That is something that all of us need from our churches, whatever they are.

Lectio Divina

The past three weeks I’ve attended the Lectio Divina Sunday School class. It’s all about listening to the Word of God for the things it’s trying to speak into our context. It involves listening to a passage being read three times and paying attention to the words that really stick with us and figuring out what it means. Sometimes we’re instructed to try to imagine ourselves as if we were really there, a person in the crowd, a disciple, or as Jesus or God as we listen and try to ground the passage in our experiences.

The dialogue about what each of us gets from the passage is amazing. Very rarely have two people had the same sorts of insights. It occurred to me how unthinkable such a thing would have been in some of my churches – the ones that tell you exactly what a passage means and that any other possible meaning is ‘reading into/out of’ Scripture things that God never intended to convey and you must be in error to see a different meaning from the one they told you was there.

It seems like each week somebody has some compliment about what I said during the class. I can’t help but feel a little awkward when it happens. I tend to draw upon the bits of cultural information I’ve absorbed over the years and point out how the original audience understood these events in the light of their culture. I do that to make up for my inability to really get anything from the passage. I have the hardest time actually emotionally connecting to the context of the passage and drawing it out in my own life. So I feel like I’m doing it all wrong.

I know that there’s one or two others in the class who are nearly my age, but even so we all have different life experiences. Most of the oldest members can draw upon their experiences as a parent to emotionally ground passages about the interaction between the Father and the Son, many are employed by the local school so they can draw on those experiences to emotionally ground passages where Jesus is teaching his disciples or a crowd. So they have a pretty varied pool of resources from which to visualize or imagine or relate to the verses to their particular context. To be honest, I’m not really sure what my own context is – let alone how to use it to draw out insights from Scripture.

Maybe it’s just a matter of time before we use a set of verses that offer circumstances similar to ones that I had that I can draw from. At least, that’s what I hope to be the case. It would also help if I allowed myself more emotional leeway with which to connect to the passages. That I think, is the greater obstacle at the moment. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s an emotional element to every scene written in black and white (and red). Fear, anger, hatred, love, compassion, kindness, etc. all play vital parts in the story – even if they go unsaid.

For awhile, I wasn’t on speaking terms with my Bible. I let it sit there and collect dust because I had learned what people did to it to make it say what they wanted it to say. I realized how people taught it as if it could be made to say things it did not. Now I understand that ambiguity was acceptable. We might prefer a verse like: “In one day Pekah son of Remaliah killed a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in Judah—because Judah had forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” 2 Chron. 28:6 to be exact – but isn’t it more of the point not how many were killed but that a great many were killed because they had forsaken God? I don’t think that the people to whom the Bible was written would have focused on the exact number as we would, but the greater truth to the verse that we sometime miss in our quest for exact, factual, and historical events.

Sometimes we just refuse to listen when we think we already know what it plainly says.
The thing about Lectio Divina is listening, it’s listening to the Bible as it’s being read, it’s listening to each other, and it’s listening to yourself. That’s not always easy in world full of white noise but it’s always worth it.