About TheUnmaskedAvenger

Greetings! I've been blogging for around a decade mostly about Christianity.

Effort Matters

“You know how it is, when nobody else is giving it a hundred percent, you realize that it’s not worth it and start letting things slide.”

I blinked. I couldn’t fathom not giving it my all, my best, all the time. How you work says a lot about your character.

Perhaps the theology of work still rolls around in the back of my mind. The story of the workers in the vineyard, the parable of the talents, the verse about working as if you’re working for the Lord, and the lengthy Bible Study I did on the subject while I was in the midst of unemployment, but something in me told me that it was wrong to not work to the best of your ability.

For me, I like to be satisfied in knowing that I did the best that I could and I didn’t hold back or do half-measures. I challenge myself to do well, to do better, to work more quickly, to work accurately so that when my head hits my pillow at night, I know that I worked well.

It’s more than that. I remember watching this comedy, the story isn’t all that important, but one refrain was “Be excellent to each other.” This idea – well, it caught on and paved the way for the world to clean up it’s act and finally be at peace – plus they got good music. In a way, that’s what I believe.
It means to do your best and to treat others exceedingly well. It means to dare others to rise to the challenge of meeting their potential. It means … well, to borrow a quote from another movie:

Akeelah: [quoting Marianne Williamson] Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
Dr. Larabee: Does that mean anything to you?
Akeelah: I don’t know.
Dr. Larabee: It’s written in plain English. What does it mean?
Akeelah: That I’m not supposed to be afraid?
Dr. Larabee: Afraid of what?
Akeelah: Afraid of… me?

I think that for so long, we end up aiming for somewhere in the middle. Sure, we could do more or better if we applied ourselves, but it nobody else is, why bother? Anyone who stands out in any way seems to get too much attention, either good or bad. We don’t want that. We want to be good, but not too good. We want to do well, but not too well.

Let’s face it, people who are excellent, who choose to be the best at what they do – their effort is often rewarded. It’s not that they’ll get a plaque or trophy or bonus, as nice as that would be, but they get personal satisfaction and pride. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want that.

“Hey, I could have gotten everything done, but I choose to do only 2/3 of my work instead.”
“Hey, I could have gotten an A, but I settled for a B.”
“Hey, I could have gotten first, but I didn’t feel like it and took second.”

Pretty soon, that becomes:

“Hey, I could have gotten 2/3 of my work done, but I chose to do only half.”
“Hey, I could have gotten a B, but a C was so much less taxing.”
“Hey, I could have gotten second, but forth was easier.”

Or,

“I could have opened that door, but I didn’t feel like it.”
“I could have said something kinder, but I changed my mind.”
“I could have reached that for her, but it was funnier watching her jump for it.”

Excellence isn’t the worst thing ever. We should strive to leave mediocrity behind us.

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The Strange Fire of Unauthorized Worship

I’ve been trying to move into a bit of a better place – not physically, but spiritually and emotionally with where I’m at on the Church issue. For the most part, my hectic schedule is set up so that I end up working on Sundays. Miraculously, I’ve gotten the last two Sunday mornings off. While I wasn’t quite feeling up to the hassle of actually going to a church, I did opt to listen in to some churches in my area with radio programs.

Last week, one radio program talked about “authorized worship”. He started off with a question: “Does the worship of God have divine regulations or can we worship Him as we please?”

He pointed to the story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 – it’s the story of two of Aaron’s sons who offered up an incense mix other than the one God specifically outlined. They were burned to death by the Lord right on the spot.

He went on to outline the regulations of authorized worship as mentioned in John 4:

  1. God is to be the object of our worship.
  2. Our worship of God is to be in spirit; genuine and sincere – from our hearts.
  3. Our worship of God is to be in truth – which is the Word of God, the Bible.

He said that human traditions had a way of making void proper worship to God (Isaiah 29:13 or Matthew 15:8-9):

“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

This week, he identified “contemporary worship” as “unauthorized worship.”

“We like to use modern instruments and sing new songs.” A church member might say, to which he responded: “Well, did God authorize it?”

“I’m just not getting anything out of worship.” A frustrated believer might say, to which he responded: “Are you even supposed to get anything out of it?”

“We’re just not attracting new people, we need to make some changes to make the church more seeker-friendly.” Another might observe, to which he responded: “When did we get the idea that worship was about attracting the sinner?”

“We’ve lost a lot of young people, if we want to keep them around, we need to make some new changes and do things differently to keep from losing them.” Someone else points out, to which he responded: “What will you do when new and different wears off and becomes old and stale? Keep on changing things? Where will it end?”


*Frustrated sigh* it’s church leaders with this mindset that basically banished me from the church in the first place. What Contemporary worship does is align my truth and my spirit to worship God in a way that Traditional worship never did and never could. Let’s also keep in mind that in the whole history of worshiping God; the Christian expression of it is as unauthorized as you can get – being a departure from all of the Temple regulations. Do we even know whether the Protestant Reformation was authorized or not?

Even so, how most churches worship today is a departure from how churches worshiped in the Bible. For us, the Lord’s supper is a thimble of juice and an oyster cracker – for the Corinthians – it was a first-come-first-serve feast complete with drunkenness where it wasn’t uncommon for the food to run out before everybody could get something to eat.

For us, worship is what it is. For the Corinthians – they had the occasional inquirer or unbeliever come to church to see what all the fuss was. Think of them as regulars who really desire to join the church. They got to show up and participate in some aspects of worship – but as unbelievers, things like the Lord Supper wasn’t allowed for them. They would spend serious time learning the teachings of the church and if their desire to be baptized proved strong enough they would be formally admitted into the church, baptized, and given permission to take part in all aspects of worshiping God. So to a certain extent, the worship of God meant having room for unbelievers to see what they’re signing up for if they decide to seek membership.

We don’t worship like the Corinthians worshiped. Or the Galatians. Or the Ephesians – or any of the churches listed in the Bible. We don’t worship like the Early Church that formed as the members of The Way spread the teachings of their Rabbi/Messiah to all corners of the Roman Empire. And we don’t even worship in the same way that the Holy Roman Empire worshiped God. And yet you want me to believe that all those people had “unauthorized worship” just because they never had hymnals and pianos and we just happen to be the lucky souls who have “authorized worship” after millennia of everyone else getting it wrong?

So you fear change? Let me grant you your wish and show you a church where change does not happen:

Woodward_Avenue_Presbyterian_Church_view_from_balcony_detail_on_seating

This is a church that does not change. Nothing threatens what is: an unending quietness – the absence of singing, and no echoes of people taking or screaming infants. No prayers are uttered here. The Bibles and hymnals that remain are closed. There are no power grabs from upstart youth, no wielding of power from the old guard. Could you worship here? Could you be the last soul this church serves? Where there is life – there is change. The young change into the old, the new changes into the familiar, the different becomes the same. The process continues with a whole new generation taking root and thriving, creating an even newer generation that will, in time, take their place. Change is not – and never has been – the enemy. So yes, we will keep changing and keep living – and God willing, keep inhabiting our worship spaces in new and different ways that honor Him.

But let’s not underestimate how important it is to get something out of worship. Humanity has a vast difference in the expression of it’s spirituality. Everything from monotheism to polytheism, religions seeking truth, others enlightenment, others an understanding of suffering, religions with profound teachers who are revered for their teachings – we all devote a serious amount of time, energy, effort, and wealth in our search for spirituality. The something that we get out of it is what keeps us in the faith that we are in – rather than trying them all on for size. This is true of our denominations as well – the something we get out of them is why we’re apart of them and why we feel no need to go elsewhere to get it – until that something is gone. Then we must seek it out and go to where it is now. You might not even know how to articulate the something that you get out of worship – but odds are you would recognize what it’s absence would be were you in any other setting, right? That’s how it is with me and contemporary worship. I can’t tell what it is about it that works for me, but in it’s absence, traditional worship just doesn’t do the same thing. And that’s why it’s so very easy for me to continue my vacation from church because there’s nothing but traditional worship churches in my area and I know they hurt more than they help.

As to the question of authorization – it’s a false obsession in the church. Imagine a young child drawing a picture of their mommy or daddy. Will their parent be so heartless as to tear up an “unauthorized” masterpiece because they used markers instead of crayons? If God has such a need to be worshiped that he created humans with free will and boundless creativity – would it make sense for him to prohibit every single which way He could be worshiped save for one way? What about the lack of punishment for supposed violations of worship? Why aren’t contemporary churches filled with various plagues? Why aren’t bad traditional churches bursting into flames spontaneously? What if we all have authority to worship God in any and every way we can think of – even in new ways that haven’t yet been created?

What really tears me up is knowing that I’d never belong in a church where he or others like him are in charge. I’d never be able to reveal the depth of my knowledge or talk about how I feel because these things are supposedly non-essentials in the worship of God. I’d never be able to worship God according what my spirit says is the truth. I’d have to play my part and act on cue – sing this, smile warmly, silently listen – but I’d never belong or be accepted or worship in spirit and in truth. It just doesn’t seem to matter though, because as far as he and others like him are concerned – his worship is the only right worship because it satisfies his spirit and his truth and as a powerful leader in the church, he makes all the decisions for everyone else.

On The Road

Sometimes I like to imagine what it might have been like for Jesus’ disciples as they were travelling with him from one place to the next. It’s in the cool of the evening. They have set up camp. They’re sitting down, giving their tired, dirty feet a rest. The disciples – all of them, both “the twelve” and “the women”; the ones who had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs, cook the meals, provide financial support with their own money, were also in close range so that they could hear his instruction.

They’d simply talk. Jesus was training these to be his insiders, so he explained things clearly and simply. The intimate conversations are the sorts of things that the Bible doesn’t clue us in on, but it does indicate they happened. I think about Jesus’ character, the salt-of-the-earth person that he was. He wasn’t a rabbi who was big on the prestige and title. He was just a guy who had a way of speaking the truth and reading people’s thoughts and emotions.

Anyway, I think he had a particular ethic. He was a pacifist in a society where violence was ordinary and commonplace. He was merciful and compassionate; when a sea of people searched him out to be cured of their illnesses, He healed them. Whenever there was a circumstance when the proper thing to do was to shun somebody – Jesus would do the opposite. It wasn’t in his nature to be an enemy of any living soul.

That’s how I’d like to be. I know this world doesn’t make it easy. Some Christians make it harder than it needs to be by insisting that their version is the only way, the only truth, and the only life and only through them and their teachings can true salvation be secured. Jesus had to deal with people like that, people who were technically right if the letter of the law were the most important thing – but they were actually wrong because the missed the spirit.

I’ve been walked through the plan of salvation over and over again by Christians such as these, so determined to win me over to their version that they cannot see the flaws in their foundation. I don’t want a technically correct Jesus that lacks the empathetic spirit of Jesus. What good does it do to have a form of godliness through following these rules, but to deny the freedom-giving power of rule-breaking godliness in the process?

Some days, I wish I were on that road, speaking with Jesus about today. Asking him: how I can make room around our campfire for anyone regardless of who they are or what they’ve done? How can I bring healing balm to those as wounded as I am from extensive fighting on this invisible front? How can we declare a truce and begin talks in order to restore true, lasting peace?

What if God doesn’t judge us by the 10 Commandments?

So the other day I was watching some video supposedly about suicide and it ended up turning into a recruitment video complete with the “Are you a good person?” Test.

You can take it here if you’re ever sufficiently bored: http://www.goodpersontest.com/

At some point, it’ll say: “You may not realize this…

…but those are just five of the Ten Commandments.
By your own admission and the standard of God’s law, the Ten Commandments, you are a lying, thieving, blasphemous, murderous, adulterer at heart.

This masterful approach – isn’t the master’s approach. Jesus was never like: “Are you a good person?

Paul likened the law to a woman whose husband dies; so long as she is married, the law applies to her … but when he dies, she is released. He also says that obeying the law is never sufficient justification for one to enter heaven. So the good person test is in itself a cheat.

The truth of salvation isn’t in obeying the ten commandments, rather it is this:
“God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” – Romans 2:6-11

So the questions we should expect on the final test won’t be our ability to understand the finer points of the tend commandments, it’ll be more like:
“Have you done good?”
“Have you been selfish?”

I’m afraid too many Christians have all the right answers for the wrong quiz.
Galatians has this really interesting way of putting it – he reminds the Israelites of Hagar and Sarah. He says that Hagar represents Jerusalem under the law that enslaved them as sinners and Sarah represents Jerusalem that’s yet-to-come, free from the law. He says that Sarah’s descendants are the children of the promise who are to live free from sin and free from the Law that defines sin.

I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to create the good person test – but it’s not really designed in a culturally and historically appropriate context.

The master’s approach was to say: “The kingdom of God is at hand!
He gave us the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
He told us that “Whatever a man reaps, he sows.
He told us to do good to those who do evil to us.

If we really want to pass the test into heaven, then this is the way of the master – no other way is the true gospel, the true way, or the true life.

Learning from the Past

I’m fortunate enough to have a German friend. He spent some time here in the states and got a really good chance to get to know what our culture is like. He did spot one area of concern: patriotism.

He explained to me that modern Germans don’t shy away from their history. They saw the role that patriotism played in Hitler’s rise to power. They pledged to teach their history without hiding the truth. You won’t see many people wave the national flag or sing the national song or saying the pledge of allegiance. The same can’t really be said about us and our relationship with our culture’s history – in particular that of the Civil War.

What I know about the Civil War is this. The northern states wanted to abolish slavery. The southern states – not so much. They seceded into the newly-formed Confederation. The northern states kept the name “Union”. The two fought a terrible, bloody war. The Union won. Abraham Lincoln was president. The fact that I know enough about the Civil War to cover seven short sentences tell you how much I’d forgotten over the years because the odds are it wasn’t just that simple and there was more going on.

As far as family history goes, very little about our involvement in the Civil War has been passed down. In one household, the war split two brothers – one fought for the Union and the other for the Confederacy. In another, the husband tried to stay out of it, but he was captured by Confederates and imprisoned. Eventually he was exchanged and managed to return home. Where he convinced all of his relatives who were also neutral to sign up for the Union. In those times he was away from home, his wife had to hold down the fort, sending her kids into the woods to hide so that when the Confederates visited none of them would be taken away. Somewhere, there’s a statue out there with the name of one of my relatives who fought in the Civil War.

Something that’s noticeable about the South, is that it’s spirit is still as rebellious as ever, even though southerners don’t believe in slavery, they don’t like being told how to live. Movies like Sweet Home Alabama show the pride Southerners have in their homeland.

Just the other day I made a joke at my expense as I’m not a local: “You can’t trust us Yankees.”

“Isn’t that the truth!” an elderly woman nearby said.

To be honest, after serving these people I have come to admire that they’re honest to a fault. They don’t sugar-coat what they think. They are hard-working people who know how to take it easy after working long hours farming the land. Living up North, you can get the impression that at least your predecessors were on the right side – but it shouldn’t be a source of pride or superiority over those originating in the South.

Looking around this county – there is a ton of Civil War history that I never really knew about aside from the historic markers you try to read as you fly by them on the road. Even then, there’s a number of historical reenactments that happen every year – though I’ve never seen one.

I suppose with effort people can erase history, eradicate memorials, and re-write text-books, but even without monuments, the history and the heritage of the south lives on in the people who live here. The trick is learn from it in much the same way as my German friend has come to terms with his.

I guess I thought that the Civil War was ancient history and it had no bearing on what’s going down right here and right now, but I’m only just now realizing that I couldn’t be more wrong.

In Memory

Sometimes Science-Fiction has the ability to put reality into perspective. At the moment, I’m thinking of two episodes of Star Trek Voyager: “Memorial” and “Remember”.

In “Remember”, B’Elanna Torres has these strange memories – of a forbidden love that sweeps her into a world in the midst of genocide. The victors erased all evidence of their guilt, but kept around a few memorials as an object lesson: “This is where the Regressives used to live, but they were stubborn and they didn’t like our technology, so we moved them to another world where they could live in peace. It’s a reminder to not be stubborn or backwards.” Voyager might not be able to make the perpetrators pay for their crimes, but at least they can uphold their principles not to support their actions or benefit from their evil. B’Elanna allows those memories to be shared to a young generation who were lied to about their history.

In “Memorial”, the entire crew begins to experiences flashbacks of a battle, the images are disjointed and out of order. They investigate how they could have been caught up in a war against their knowledge. Eventually they discover a memorial broadcasting those events is in disrepair and the battle they remembered had happened centuries ago. They question whether or not they should repair the memorial. Ultimately, they decide to restore it. The words carved on that monument say this: “Words alone cannot convey the suffering. Words alone can not prevent what happened here from happening again. Beyond words lies experience; beyond experience lies truth. Make this truth your own.

I can’t say that I’ve visited many memorials in all my years. I grew up in a state that didn’t see any Civil War action, so I’m neither a Yankee or a Confederate. There was this one memorial, it commemorated the death of a hundred and sixty eight men, women, and children when a guy detonated a bomb just outside of the building they were in. I’ve walked by the chairs, looked at my reflection the water, and stood beside the tree that survived it all. This is a recent history that gives an outlet for our grief.

I do know that somewhere out there is a statue with the name of one of my ancestors who had a connection to the Civil War. He fought on one side or the other, I don’t really know which. I can imagine two neighbors standing side-by-side as they have to figure out how to explain this statue to a child who might ask why it’s there:

“Well, there was a war a long time ago. It tore our nation in two. This man fought.”
“Did he fight to free the slaves?”
“Why yes, yes he did. This statue is here to remind us that the time is always right to do the right thing.”
“Actually, no, he fought for the other side – to preserve slavery. This statue is here to remind us that even if you fight on the losing side, you can still end up with a statue honoring you for killing your foes, fighting for what you believe in, and the status of a hero.”

I’ve never seen this monument, but I do know that not every memorial is ours. These outlets for grief have their time and place, for a mother mourning the loss of her sons who were spent on the battlefield, for a wife to take consolation that the loss of her spouse was for something. What it meant to them – it doesn’t have to mean the same thing to us. If somebody moved it somewhere else, it wouldn’t erase him or what he did. If somebody destroyed it, it wouldn’t alter history one iota. If somebody put it in a public place and explained it to everyone who passed by – it might make some sad and it might inspire others to pick up the banner and continue on where he left off – and that’s the chief worry; apparently justified by all the violence in recent weeks. But there are some who are too reverent to these southern heroes, who only wish to walk in their footsteps and to make our country into the image of greatness that was their time.

Knowledge of history is often written by victors, and it’s sometimes skewed. Details are chosen selectively to present an acceptable understanding. If we’re not careful, we might think the “Trail of Tears” was when the Native Americans walked to their new homeland and cried because they were overjoyed to be given the State of Oklahoma as their permanent possession. We might simplify complex wars to be about just one issue and paint the combatants with one broad brush stroke of “right” or “wrong”. We need memorials to remind us of the mistakes of the past and how they thought they were doing the right thing and it’s a mistake we can easily make today if we don’t know our history. So we must teach it in a way that puts as many nails into coffin of racism as humanly possible.

Maybe we can’t choose our memorials, but we can choose how we remember them and how we react to them. Since at this present time many who bow at the altar of racism are doing everything they can to keep these statues in public places – we have to find a way to learn from the past and rise above the selfish evil of anger and hatred. Let us make a new memorial and make it plain that racism is never the winning the side.

A Biblical Justification of Racism and Slavery Exists – let us tear it down.

Christians, now more than ever before, have a duty to really examine the Scriptures and find the truth for themselves. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I’d like to show you a list of what people said they believed that people said the Bible said:

Teaching: “Mark of Cain”
Story: Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and marked him so that he could live a long, cursed life and people would know to steer clear.
Application: When the Northern and Southern Baptists split over the issue of slavery, the Southern Baptists claimed that slavery was justified as the dark skin color of the slaves was the “mark” that they were meant to live as slaves. The idea that dark skin color was the mark comes from Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

Teaching: “Curse of Ham”
Story: The flood has ended, the family has left the ark and Noah ended up getting drunk on wine. Ham walks into the tent and realizes his father is naked. He goes and tells his two brothers, who drape a blanket across their shoulders and walk backwards into the tent – they did not see him naked. When Noah recovers, he curses Ham – saying he should live in servitude to his brothers.
Application: This teaching was popularly used to justify slavery when America was involved in the slave trade. They said that Ham’s descendants married Cain’s descendants – so they had dark skin and were therefore meant to be slaves.

Teaching: “The Tenth Commandment”
Story: Moses is revealing to the Israelites the ten commandments by which they will honor God.
Application: Since the commandment goes: ” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant (that is “slave”), his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”” Christians are instructed not to covet another man’s slave, Christians are not forbidden from owning slaves.

Teaching: “You May Take Slaves”
Story: Moses is giving the Israelites further instructions.
Application: God permitted the Israelites to take slaves of their neighboring nations, but forbid the practice of making fellow Israelites slaves.

Teaching: “Mixed Marriages are Wrong”
Story: Ezra has just helped to rebuild the temple – now it’s time to rebuild the respect for the Law of God.
Application: The Israelites have gathered and admitted that they’re guilty of marrying foreign wives. In order to please God, they decide to send away (abandon) their wives and children.
Story: Nehemiah has just helped to rebuild the wall – now it’s time to rebuild the respect for the law of God. The book of the law is read aloud and everyone commits to obey it.
Application: The Israelites pledge, ““We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.”
In both stories, part of the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem’s Walls and Temple is blamed on having had foreign wives – marrying the wrong race.

Teaching: “Paul Returns Onesimus”
Story: Onesimus is a slave who fled from Philemon’s household. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon.
Application: Paul couldn’t have thought slavery was wrong if he would return a runaway slave to his master.

Teaching: “Biblical Households have Masters and Servants”
Story: Paul writes to new Testament believers to tell them how to live as Christians, Children are to obey their parents, parents aren’t to exasperate their children, wives are to submit to and obey their husbands, husband are to to love their wives, slaves are to submit to and obey their masters, masters are supposed to love their slaves like a brother/sister.
Application: Since Paul establishes a believer’s household to have masters and slaves, then slavery must not be wrong.

These are probably some of the more famous historical justifications for slavery and racism in Christian teaching. You’ll find that deeply racist ideology is also deeply religious ideology as well. Christians who want to turn the tide against racism must first confront the Biblical justifications for it – even the ones that persist today. Churches must do better than being silent against this misinterpretation of Scripture; because God’s word is being used in this way to justify evil. Let’s get it right this time – or prepare ourselves to repeat history.