Friday, March 31, 2017

Daily Bread and Work

"Give us this day our daily bread" is a prayer for work, employment, a job.

That this prayer is directed to God, the work thus desired has to be godly, conforming to God's purpose - i.e. the welfare of others, the abundance of life, sustenance of body and soul, happiness, safety, well-being, the care of the earth, from the rocks and the trees to the teeming oceans, and all creatures, great and small.

Not all work is godly, and to simply suggest that work is the only thing that counts is a violation of God's purpose for human endeavor (to care for the Garden, and to make the Garden prosper).

The Bible offers a reminder that those who don't work shouldn't eat ... but the target of Paul's words here are not the indigent, the poor, the folks lined up at the market hoping for day-labor ... but rather, I think, the idle, the busybodies - the indolent rich? those who benefit from the system without getting their hands dirty? the mega-rich?

Such folks are not likely to care for the earth, other than whatever pleasures the earth might give to them.

Nor are they given to working with others, but primarily against others, to gain all the more, to be the winner, to be king of the hill.

Which is why the indolent rich have destroyed unions, which promote commonality of purpose, working with and helping one another - we're all in this together, and that's a godly thing to know and to live.

But those who destroy this kind of community, may, indeed, work hard at it, but their labors are in vain, they're sweat, blood and tears, are not given for the wellbeing of humanity, but rather for their own gain, their own status, their own pleasure and profit.

As for the LORD's Prayer and bread and work, it's not just any work, but work that suits God's love and grace ... work that builds up and sustains and protects and empowers.

The indolent rich would offer employment contrary to most or all God's purposes, pitting one worker against another worker, in industries pillaging the environment, creating weapons of mass destruction, reliant on lousy wages, nonexistent benefits ... keeping the employee in a state of constant fear of losing the job, enabling the mentality of enslavement and helplessness - none of which is consistent with God's purpose, all of which must be challenged, and with Moses and with God, telling the pharaohs of the world to "get a job, a real one, something godly and good, and let my people go."

Oh well, just a few thoughts on "give us this day our daily bread."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Good Friends

I have so many good friends here.
Who share this burden with me.
I do my best to honor them.
With my best efforts to see.

Thank you one and all.
Even those who think I'm nuts.
That's okay and it's all just fine.
No ifs ... ands ... or buts.

I'm a terrible poet, and I know it.
But what fun I have with words.
To touch the heights and plumb the depths.
Keenly sharp, but better than swords.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What's Wrong with Evangelicalism?

Evangelicalism needs a good dose of Reformed Theology to correct its self-centeredness.

Which explains, by the way, why so many evangelicals dislike the poor and are quick to render a negative judgment on them as "lazy." A self centered upon itself, it's good works and spiritual devices, always renders a negative judgment of others who, in whatever form of evaluation is used, are somehow less than the person making the assessment. A self-centered life always needs to have "folks below" in order to sustain the illusion of superior value.

Evangelicalism talks endlessly about God's love, but it's really all about how smart evangelicals were to "receive Jesus" and thus be saved by their own decision, their will, their ability to grab the prize offered by God, and hold on it to it.

The whole business of "going forward" at a revival service to get saved advances the ego, creating an attitude of elitism among the "true believers" who bolster one another with ever-intensifying efforts of high-energy worship and prayer, to sustain their sense of power and the rightness of their beliefs.

Such an effort requires living in a bubble, where all who are within are friend, and those without, foe.

And tied into "saving one's soul from hell" confirms the self all the more, as various preachers play upon the fears inherent in human weakness.

Turn this outward to others, and it very quickly becomes a harsh and judgmental attitude that the poor are poor because they're making all the wrong choices, as opposed to said evangelical who made the right choices. That some should be making poor choices only serves to confirm the ego of the evangelical, because in the end, they will be saved for paradise, and others will be sent away to darkness and everlasting death.

Powerfully, clearly, the believer is at the very center of evangelicalism.

Truth be told, in evangelical circles, God plays a relatively small part ... God offers something, or does something good, "like dying for our sins," but to no avail unless someone realizes the error of his or her ways ways and decides to accept Jesus, be baptized, and stay the course.

"Let me tell you all about the day I accepted Jesus ..." goes the evangelical witness, which is a very clever way of maintaining the ego.

Whereas in the Reformed World, it's all about God from A to Z ... God does it all ... not only offering what is supremely good, but enabling the power of faith ... at no point in time, then, can the Reformed Christian speak of "accepting Jesus," but only of how God/Christ has accepted the believer from before the creation of the earth, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, revealing such to the believers and confirming that in the believer's life, protecting the faith, and bringing it to perfection.

From beginning to end, the work of salvation is an operation of grace ... none of it deserved, all of it merciful, all of it rooted in the heart and mind of a loving God, whose love has no boundaries, who loves has said a magnificent Yes to all of creation.

In terms of building community, community built upon gratitude, and the humility of gratitude, there is no firmer foundation. If God has done it all for us, and if we then discover that we love God, and love God's ways, God's ways become our ways, and to everyone around us, we turn the face of love, and will do everything we can to ameliorate suffering and promote the welfare of all, body and soul, and we do this cooperatively, which, of course, means government, the means by which we live together and protect and promote the welfare of society.

This is not simply charity, which mostly serves the ego of the giver, but a systemic effort to create a just and loving society, a society that maintains the means to help the poor, to help everyone and anyone who, for whatever reason, cannot run the race of life as well as others can. And those who the race well, turn with gratitude to God, who enables all of it, and turns toward the other with kindness, and a willingness, indeed, a desire, to share the blessings of life with everyone.

This is the Reformed notion of life and society.

Sadly, the Reformed World lost out in America ... with the Anabaptist/Methodist mode of thought prevailing, wherein the believer remains at the center, by the power of choice, displacing God, moving God to the margins. Such a mode of thought corresponds well with the American self-made-man attitude, the guys and gals who conquered the frontier, got rid of the despised heathens and made America great, in large part, built upon the backs of slaves, who were themselves less than human. The exulted white man, hero and defender of truth, didn't want to hear the message of grace, but rather the message of self-improvement and God's pleasure in those who take the bull by the horns and make this a righteous world. Everything from Billy Sunday to Norman Vincent Peale to Joel Osteen and the mega-rich, mega-churches, promotes the self at the expense of God, and creates the elitist attitude that looks down its nose at the poor, and just about everyone else who is either "too dumb" to make the right choices, or "too rebellious" to care.

Hence the American revival service, which is all about the self - all the noise, the energy, the tears, the loud music, the hellfire and brimstone preaching, dancing and prancing - it's about saving yourself. God has come this far, but it's up to you to go the rest of the way.

The hardness of evangelicalism is rooted in this world-view of God offering, but of the believer choosing, claiming ... so that in the end, salvation is an accomplishment of the self, a work, an achievement of some merit of believer, and given time, this merit soon consumes the whole of the mind and heart. Once this kind of spiritual pride is loosed, there's no stopping it.

God may have provided the way, but it's the believer who chooses it, and, of course, hats off to the believer, then, who was smart enough to make the choice, and smarter still to stay the course.

Evangelicalism is corrupt at its very core by the clever but decisive way it puts and maintains the self at the center.

In the end, evangelicalism has no mercy, because it's god is of limited mercy ... and if there's a screwup, the evangelical god is more than pleased to maintain justice and pronounce the death sentence.

And so the need for a healthy dose of Reformed Theology, a theology that exults the goodness and mercy of God, and God's good work, from A to Z, to save the world - not only the intent of God, but the realization of this work ... indeed, from beginning to end, for God is the Alpha and the Omega, and all along the way, it's God who brings us into fellowship with God, it's God who sustains the relationship, and it's God who brings it to culmination.

Reformed Theology can save the evangelical from the suffocating ego and turn the believer outward with a merciful eye to all who need help ... those who need clothing, good schools, medical care, and all the rest. And with a merciful eye, full of gratitude to God, working with others of good heart and mind, to build a town, a nation, a world where life is given, help is provided and like Micah the Prophet put it:

 God shall judge between many peoples,
      and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
      they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
      and their spears into pruning hooks;
      nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
      neither shall they learn war any more
       but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
      and no one shall make them afraid;
      for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Disturbing Bible Passage

Today's Lectionary (March 7, 2015) includes Deuteronomy 9.1-12.

As I read it this morning, I was disturbed, seriously disturbed, by the ease with which the writer speaks of "dispossessing" nations, with great cities, well-fortified, "a strong and tall people" ... offspring of the Anakim, i.e., a bastardized race.

But don't be afraid, says the writer, the LORD will go before you so that you may dispossess and destroy them quickly. I chilled when I read those words.

Sure, the writer wants to keep Israel's ego in check by reminding the readers that all of this has nothing to do with their sterling character, but rather God's promise and because these nations are "wicked."

Wicked? You bet. Thus, demonizing a people who are otherwise worthy, strong, creative, talented, with families and farms and hopes and dreams, but they have what we want, and so we're gonna take it, and take it violently, because these people are unworthy to own the land, and besides, they're wicked, because they worship "other" gods, and shame on them, and thus have no right to even exist. Dedicate them for destruction.

I'm in the midst of reading a WW2 novel, featuring a Polish girl held in Ravensbrück and the hideous medical experiments performed on her by another young lady, a German doctor ... who, like all the Nazis, demonized the Poles and other nationalities as "bastardized," half-human, or sub-human, not worthy of life in the Third Reich, and not worthy of life at all.

I think of the Europeans coming to America and looking upon the land as if it were Canaan, and the peoples here were not entitled to this land, because they were "wicked," i.e. they weren't christian.

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, Nicolas Poussin, 1625
And, then, of course, slavery - millions of good and decent people yanked from their homes, with families broken, put on slave ships and condemned to a brief and brutal life of harvesting sugar cane or cotton.

But it was okay, you see, because the slaves were "wicked," i.e. not christian, and slavery at least saved them from the darkness of their paganism, and in spite of their slavery (because they were not fully human anyway), this gave them a chance to become christians and go to heaven when they died. That they should live in hell here is fitting, because of their sub-human character and their history of wickedness.

Jesus offers some serious alternatives to this bloody self-justification that to this day undergirds the State of Israel's abuse of Palestinians and America's continuing racism, homophobia, and, as of late, Islamophobia.

And, of course, all of this "dispossession and destruction" of peoples is undergirded by religion, because people doing horrible things to other people need to feel "good" about it, and no greater "feel-good" potion than religion, when twisted and turned to self-interest.

Sure, it's a human problem, spread around the globe and defining virtually all of human history.

But I can't accept any of it, because of what I know of Christ, and because of Christ, it's something that I have to fight against, with all that I have, of mind, body, spirit and strength.

Because God so loved the world ... and in Christ, reconciles the world to God, and the world to itself.

Passages like Deuteronomy have to be soundly and quickly denounced for what they are: lies that we tell one another to justify the most brutal of behaviors toward one another.

And as for me, God never said it ...

Or if God did, then God apologized in Christ ... God got out of the land business, for it sullied God's hands, and filled God with self-loathing, as this kind of behavior always does.

If God said it, then God no longer says it.

If God never said it, then we have to come to grips with the sad that truth that we said it, and still say it, "creating god in our own image," to satisfy our bloodlust and justify our inhuman treatment of other humans, deemed unworthy and wicked.

Christians have to read the text carefully, and so must Jews and Muslims ... every sacred text has more than its share of bloodlust, but also of love and the grandeur of mind and heart ... to either pick up the sword and kill one another in some fit of self-interest, believing that god justifies this violence, or turn the sword into a plowshare, so we can feed one another unto life.

The choice is ours. May we choose wisely.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Blessed are those who ...

A bit of bite in all of this ...
Doesn't take much to see ...
That Jesus put forth reality ...
Kingdom kind.

Mourning ... and not just for the privations of death.
But the spiritual mourning of lament.
The sadness one feels when things just ain't right.
Not so much for me, but for someone else.

And righteousness.
Well, it ain't about cussin' and drinkin'.
It's about bigger things.
Throw the greedy ones out of the temple kind of things.

And peace.
Oh, give me a break.
From all this inner peace crap.
But the peace of goodness.

So kids can go to school and teachers can teach.
And cemeteries are honored.
And people of faith are respected.
Even when that faith ain't yours.

Yeah, big things here ...
As I see it ...
It would be great if Jesus had kept it small ...
Then I could nod my head and find inner peace.