Current Events

Current Events

Here you’ll find anything from conflicts, politics, and disasters to sports, music, science news, or the latest in arts and culture.

Some seasons of life are harder than others. It has been my experience that the hard seasons are usually spread apart enough that one might take the time to recover in between. For the past few years, this hasn’t been the case for me. And I’ve also had to watch others close to me endure similar or worse experiences. Before I can evolve and accept and digest some new emotionally/physically/financially challenging situation, another one comes along, like a dog pile of drama that is stacking higher and higher.

I am so grateful to God that He remains steadfast and faithful, regardless of my ability or inability to deal.

In two recent events, God spoke to my heart, in a deep, silent, timeless way.

The first was when I witnessed the solar eclipse totality. If the moon were any smaller and further away,  the light would be too overwhelming to notice the darkness of the moon as it passed. If the moon were any bigger or closer, the perfectly brilliant white silky strands of sunlight would be covered. The moon and the sun are precisely the proper distance and size from the perspective of the observers on this planet to create an incredible spectacle, leaving one in awe that despite his/her small and seemingly insignificant place in all things, the cosmic forces aligned precisely, as if it were no coincidence, to create a holy moment. In that moment, God said, “I love you and you matter to me.” And He wasn’t just talking to me. He was talking to the every sentient, created being that has ever or will ever exist. We live and die with purpose.

The second was when Hurricane Irma passed, leaving a path of destruction behind. The strange groaning and moaning and crashing and scratching of the storm punctuating the night felt so fabricated. As someone living next door to Disney World for four decades, truly impressive things always seem staged somehow. But when the morning light came, I saw tree trunks, big enough around that I could hug them and not be able to touch my fingertips around the other side, literally ripped apart and strewn about like a monolithic pile of pick-up sticks or pulled up from the roots and toppled over like giant weeds pulled from a flower garden. Even though the storm was over and aside from the generators, some silence and calm came, the world still felt like an angry, scary place. But then, after experiencing a series of small acts of kindness from neighbors and strangers looking out for each other and hearing stories from others who saw the same, God said, “See… Thou shalt love one another.” And He wasn’t giving a command. He was making a promise, that when all is said and done, we will love one another, indeed.

In the meantime, this season rages on.

 

My Dad came to visit the recently, and he had a conversation with a friend of mine about his adventures as a missionary in Columbia. My Dad told a story about a guy who came running into the church and hid behind the area where people were seated. Then several police officers charged into the church and arrested the man. I laughed and laughed, imagining the looks on the congregation’s faces. He told a story about how someone who is teaching him to speak Spanish gets a kick out of telling him the wrong words to say, for example, “Get out of my way” instead of “excuse me.” My friend said, “You should write a blog.” I mentally agreed that if one’s life is comprised of new and interesting circumstances, it makes sense to write a blog. This lead me to think about my life and my blog.

What do I write about? Basically, I write my opinion and advise people to test everything and hold on to what is good. You don’t know how many times I’ve regretted naming this blog What God Does. Who am I to say what God does? What if I’m wrong? I chose the name because it is easy to remember and helps define the purpose of this blog, that is, to clear away misconceptions about Who God is (that URL was already taken when I started this blog) and what God does. I know for certain that I hear people teach things about God that are NOT TRUE. Perhaps I should have called this blog What God Doesn’t Do.

I recently binge-watched the TV series, Sherlock on Netflix. It’s a modern-day interpretation of the famous Sherlock Holmes detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The show is extremely well done, and I highly recommend it. Dr. John Watson documents their adventures online in his blog. An interesting life practically begs for an accompanying blog.

Do I have an interesting life? Yes and no, I suppose, depending on what season you ask. And some of the most interesting stuff I choose not to share. But no one charges into my office looking to hide from the cops. I’m not trying to learn a second language. I don’t solve ghostly mysteries. Do you have an interesting life? Maybe you’re like me, and the answer will vary depending on when the question is asked. If you have a story to tell, an analysis of some current event, or a spiritual truth to share, please feel free to write a guest blog post.

 

Giant Joint

Marijuana activists carried a giant fifty-one foot inflatable marijuana joint from City Hall to the Wells Fargo Center and handed out educational materials about getting weed legalized federally. According to the ACLU,

Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.

Fart-In Protest

Flatulence may be a source of embarrassment or comedy in some cultures, but for protestors participating in a fart-in protest at the DNC, election rigging and election fraud are no laughing matter. “There’s a lot that stinks about the undemocratic primary,” said Cheri Honkala, anti-poverty advocate and fart-in protest organizer. Nearby, beans were served to anyone ready to (literally) express their discontent.

The Foundation Network Interview

Connie, Rachel, and I were interviewed by independent media, The Foundation Network (foundationnetwork.org). I’ll post a link once it becomes available on their website. With the advent of the Internet, there has been a surge of independent media sources, as well as citizen’s journalism, and with the ridiculously shallow, incomplete, and biased coverage of this year’s elections, many people are turning to alternative news sources instead of mainstream media, hence the hashtag #WeAreTheMedia. Rachel said:

I see this as a battle between the establishment and the people, and this is the chance… with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, they are both very disliked by their parties… Donald Trumps vote will be split with Gary Johnson… This is the time for a third party move. We need to tell these two parties we are not going to choose the lesser of two evils any more. We want something better.

Here’s some of what Connie said:

If we have a third party candidate or two third party candidates take 25% of the vote away from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, that leaves 75% of the vote. You have to have 50 plus percent of electoral college votes… if you don’t, it goes back to Congress. The Senate and the House of Representatives elect the President and the Vice President. The way to tell these politicians that they have to answer to us is to show them they will not get 50% of the electoral college vote. You will not win the presidential election by the citizens vote. The popular vote will not give you the White House — it will have to be other politicians, because we are sick of the two party system.

Greg Palast

I had a brief run-in with Greg Palest, a New York Times best selling author and freelance journalist for the BBC and the British newspaper The Guardian. On the other side of the DNC fence, he and a photographer were walking along, and paused to take a photo of my ELECTION FRAUD sign. When I recognized Palest, I asked him if I could take his picture. He posed, holding the bars of the fence, and jokingly said, “I’m in jail.” This turned out to not be such a joke after all, according to accounts from delegates about some of them being detained against their will. You’ll also read more about Palast’s work a few paragraphs down.

Sane Progressive and Delegates Speak

Sane Progressive (Debbie Lusignan) addressed the crowd of protestors gathered at FDR park:

We have not experienced an election; we have experienced a coup… Hillary Clinton didn’t win this election. It’s a not real… They want to pretend it’s real. We know what happened…

She tried to continue over chants of “Election fraud! Election fraud!” But the crowd erupted insistently: Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!

After everyone settles down, she continued:

What we are asking you, it is going to take an enormous amount of courage, just to stand up and walk out [during Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech] and to meet us on the other side of the fence. We’ll all come together…

A few delegates took turns talking. Their reports were very disturbing. I tried conveying what they said in play-by-play type Facebook posts and got some pushback from people who were following the convention on television. But I will post my videos of their accounts on this website, along with links to videos they took within the convention to document their stories, which likely were not part of the televised coverage.

One of the delegates suggested, “Our absence is power,” i.e., the Democratic party needs the votes of Bernie Sanders supporters. Listening to this delegates, Debbie was visibly disturbed. Thankfully, someone handed her the mic before her head exploded:

This is imperative that everyone understand. Your votes don’t count any more. We just had this election stolen. I don’t know how many more times I can say it. It was a coup. Go to electionfraud2016.wordpress.com. I have every bit of evidence documented from state to state to state. They cheated, okay? …The reason that Hillary Clinton can go like this [middle finger] to you and choose Tim Kaine as VP and say, “Hey, you know what? Debbie Wasserman Schultz helped me cheat. I’m going to install her,” you know why she can do that? Because she doesn’t need your votes! I beg of you, after working on this for four months, they stole it! This is not real! We have to take our election system back. We have to tell every single candidate, I beg of you, every single one, you will not vote for them, you will not give them money, you will not work for them unless they address the issue of election fraud.

I’m sure that election fraud will be as big of a problem in the general as it was in the primary, because in the primary, the party has a lot of control with oversite, counting, and so on, whereas in the general, the Republicans will be looking over the shoulders of the Democratic establishment, and calling out any shenanigans they see. In the primary, Sanders supporters tried to do this, but the media painted them as conspiracy theorists, and our outrage was largely dismissed as temper tantrums from poor losers. Wikileaks helped validate our complaints, but too late. In the general election, complaints of election fraud will likely be taken more seriously. I guess we will see how it goes.

Here’s the kicker, the point that Debbie so passionately conveyed: if the machines are rigged as we suspect they are, then the only way to demonstrate there is a problem is to compare UNADJUSTED exit polls with actual election results and find discrepancies.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Protestors in FDR park were treated to a special preview of a documentary film by Greg Palast called The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, which exposes the theft of elections and the billionaires who benefit from it. The film offers some thoroughly investigated insight into why many of our elected officials seem to make decisions that are not in the best interest of and that lack the approval of their constituents, why corporations pour billions of dollars into political candidates, and how devastating the consequences of a corporatized bipartisan political system are to our economy, our ecosystem, and our civil liberties.

The Death of Democracy

The Death of Democracy candlelight vigil, an event we and many others missed the first evening due to the weather, happened again on the evening of day three. Protestors carried a coffin painted red, white, and blue, with the letters DNC on top and upside-down donkeys on the sides and a candlelight procession followed. I was told they threw the coffin over the DNC fence. Chatter among the people seemed to indicate that protestors implicated themselves along with the DNC for the death of democracy, because we have been putting too much faith in the integrity of the election system and haven’t insisted on holding our elections officials and processes accountable.


 

I’m still going through footage and images, but pretty soon, I’ll begin uploading and unpacking some eye candy here on WhatGodDoes.

At the Occupy DNC rally hosted by Black Men for Bernie, as we waited for Jill Stein to address a crowd of (my good guess) about 1,000-1,500 people, I broke out poster boards, paint, and paintbrushes, and Bernie Sanders bumper stickers and made protest signs for people who didn’t bring one.

A llama lay nearby. Yes, you read that right. A llama. People poured water on it to keep it cool.

Power To The People played over the loud speakers and people danced and waved signs as they sang along:

  • Election fraud is treason.
  • Moral cowardice is a white epidemic.
  • Ask me why you deserve hell.
  • Dollar Nazis: Clinton/Kaine & the un-Democratic party.
  • Oligarchy creates inequality.
  • What would love do?
  • Black lives matter.
  • The cause is right! The time is now!
  • We’ve been Berned! Vote Jill Stein.
  • A sign with no words but a shockingly powerful message: An image of an aborted baby.

I made my way to the stage during open mic to claim a good spot for getting some footage. The Chestnut Brothers sang Stop the Violence, and then Jill Stein showed up to invite disenfranchised Sanders supporters to join the Green party:

We are a movement for people, for planet, and for peace over profit… Power concedes nothing without a demand, and we are that demand (Frederick Douglass)… [We stand for] economic justice, for racial justice, for workers justice, for climate justice, for indigenous justice, for women’s justice, for LGBTQ justice… We will be a unified movement, an unstoppable movement, because we are for all the forms of justice… [The media] would like us to be a movement to stop fracking over there, and a movement to stop police violence over there, a movement to stop deportation over there. We need to be all of those movements, all together, that’s how we’ll stop the unstoppable…

Her message received a warm and very enthusiastic response from the crowd.

I have yet to write about the giant, fifty-one foot inflatable marijuana joint, a fart-in protest, how we were interviewed by independent media, a brief run-in with Greg Palast, listening to accounts from delegates of what happened within the convention walls, an epic rant from the Sane Progressive, the Death of Democracy candlelight vigil (rescheduled from Day One), and a special preview of the not-yet-released film called The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Oh, and I’m a day behind, so I have yet to write Day Four. But it’s late, and we are driving home tomorrow.

To be continued…

After the rough day one, we opted for a mellow day two of touring Philly. All day long we kept seeing quotes that were applicable to our current political situation. For example, this quote on the side of the National Museum of American Jewish History aptly describes our two party system and what should be our correct response to it:

To bigotry, no sanction. To persecution, no assistance. — George Washington

At the Liberty Bell (inscribed with Leviticus 25:10 in reference to the year of Jubilee), we read about how the bell became a popular symbol for freedom and liberty, but this freedom and liberty was limited to white men.

It contrasted with the unrealized ideals of African Americans, Native Americans, other ethnic groups and women. While the Bell traveled the nation as a symbol of liberty, intermittent race riots, lynchings, and Indian wars presented an alternative picture of freedom denied.

Although we have “freedom” today, our capitalist oligarchy has established a new form of slavery and disenfranchisement. Frederick Douglass said something that still holds significance today:

I shall never forgot the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery.

We visited Independence Hall, where our founding fathers, frustrated with taxation without representation, were willing to sign what essentially amounted to their own death warrant (the Declaration of Independence). Today, there are many tax payers who pay for elections but are not allowed to vote in closed primaries and tax payers who elect representatives that choose to represent large corporations and special interests instead of their constituents – both modern day forms of taxation without representation.

Our tour guide also reminded us of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, which introduced the revolutionary idea that the colonists should stop thinking of themselves as British and start thinking of themselves as Americans. Although the situation didn’t change, people’s perspective changed. And with this change of perspective, the revolution was born.

Similarly, when people stop thinking of themselves as Democrats and Republicans and start thinking of themselves as Americans and human beings, then the oligarchs, who rely on two-party distraction to continue their oppression unimpeded, will be held to account and subjected to the will of the people.

We took a picture with the Rocky statue and ascended the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (aka, the “Rocky steps”), and then stopped by a tavern to grab a bite to eat. On the television with the volume turned down, the Democratic party did their roll call vote. Close caption was turned on, but the font was difficult to read. Chain of Fools played over the sound system.  Bernie supporters in the place were visibly uncomfortable with Clinton’s manufactured victory.

The bar tender looked around at the long faces and said, “I want to drink heavily.”

Day One

On the train to Philadelphia Connie, Rachel, and I met two Bernie supporters from Montreal who said they had made the trip to show their support for Bernie Sanders and protest a Hillary Clinton nomination, because U.S. politics influence Canadian politics. We left the train as a group, intending to march together with Jill Stein, Cornel West, and the Green Party, but the crowds were thick and we were separated.

Protestors gathered at the Philadelphia City Hall. Cornel West was speaking, but we were too far away to hear what he was saying. The sidewalks were filled with people of all ages and races, and the streets were lined with police on bicycles who had apparently been instructed to ignore the smell of marijuana in the air. After West finished his speech, he and a few others gathered behind a #March4OurLives2016 banner to kick off the march, followed by a sea of people from Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. Some space on the sidewalk cleared, and we were able to move in close enough to hear Jill Stein.

Each statement Stein made was followed by hearty cheers from listeners, but one statement struck me to the core:

This movement for democracy and justice, which you have unleashed through Bernie’s campaign, you have lifted up what so many of us have been working on in the social movement for so long…

Admittedly, I had heard of the Green party a long time ago. I was never opposed to it, but I had the attitude that the Republican and Democratic parties were the only ones people would take seriously — that a Green vote would just take away from a candidate that could actually win. My attitude about the Green party has changed tremendously, but that’s a blog for another day.

After Stein spoke, we marched over five miles in the sweltering heat, holding signs over our heads

(Image of Trump and Hillary smiling together) Either way, Wall Street wins. Fight for a political revolution!

Iraq, Libya & Syria in ruins, millions dead. Say no to the war makers’ candidate!

We aren’t trying to start a political revolution. We are the political revolution.

Still Sanders.

Bernie or Jill.

This rigged election is invalid.

We won’t stand with election bullies.

and chanting:

Hell no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary!

What do we want? Democracy. When do we want it? Now.

Bernie or Jill. Never Hill.

We are the 99%.

Sanders beats Trump!

Election fraud!

One of the chants didn’t make much sense to me:

Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.

Democracy can get messy sometimes. But when democracy functions as it should, you don’t expect to see people marching through the streets angrily shouting about what democracy looks like.

Fire hydrants were opened every mile or so, and protestors welcomed the cool relief of the man-made showers. Residents brought garden hoses and fans plugged into extension cords out onto the sidewalk. The Philadelphia fire department sent people out on bicycles to hand out cold bottled water.

At the convention center protestors from many different groups converged to make their feelings perfectly clear to the unpledged delegates entering the facility:

Hell no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary!

People beat their hands or signs against the four mile, eight foot high fence in time with the chant. Delegates walked past the sweaty boisterous mass in their air-condition-ready clothing, some of them smiling, others pretending we weren’t there, some of them recording us on their smart phones, others shaking their heads, wagging their fingers, and shouting back at us.

Street preachers scolded the protestors for being gay, drunken, lying, murderers who would go to hell if they didn’t repent and believe in Jesus.

We grew tired of the noise and took a walk through FDR park, making our way to where the Green party rally would be held. But a storm rolled in, cutting the rally short. Jill Stein thanked everyone for coming, and urged us to take shelter under the nearby Interstate 95 overpass.

Hundreds of people gathered there, I suppose to wait out the storm and return to FDR park for other scheduled protests, but I was feeling very ill from heat exhaustion, so we flagged down a cab and headed back to the hotel room. Our cab driver was amazing. He was ready with a barf bag and paper towels. We showed our appreciation with a 15$ tip. Rachel woke up in the middle of the night and got sick as well.

We later learned that Jill Stein and Cornel West went and joined the group gathered under the overpass. In contrast, Hillary Clinton accepted her nomination via New York on a large screen in the Wells Fargo Convention Center.

Patricia Lynn Reilly posted this to the Facebook group Florida for Bernie or Green 2016. It really captures what I and so many other Sanders supporters felt:

The Moments After the Convention

I can only speak for myself, but nothing changes for me post Bernie’s concession. I’ve already left the Democratic Party and joined Jill. 

I believe change happens from the bottom up, and the bottom is rumbling in a language the top does not even hear or understand.

Tonight the top put on a show that was plastic, scripted, costumed, neoliberal perfection funded by Hillary’s corporate sponsors. Tonight was an attempt to conjure up trust in an untrustworthy candidate. Tonight was smoke and mirrors, hiding the dysfunction lurking in the soul of the party and distracting from the absolute dishonesty upon which the night was built. (Remember WikiLeaks?)

Outside of the convention and in the noisiness and tears of Bernie’s precious delegates, was the reality. The marchers chanting for justice. The homeless chanting for breath. The pink women chanting for peace. Tens of thousands rumbling in strength, speaking truth to power.

That’s where I choose to dwell in my final decades. With those at the bottom. With the Green people who choose people, peace, and planet above profit. With the brown and black people whose lives matter. With the poor and working people on whose backs everything gets built. When we all RISE UP, then and only then, will everything change!

One very robust sing along with Bohemian Rhapsody, two tanks of gas, three angry Bernie Sanders’ supporters, four U-turns, and over a thousand miles — my friends Connie and Rachel and I finally arrived in Philadelphia. I’m writing this in a two-star Days Inn hotel, which is actually clean and decent so far. It was the only room available that wasn’t ridiculously overpriced but still within a reasonable distance from the Democratic National Convention.

Today, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC Chair resigned after Wikileaks emails demonstrated widespread collusion and corruption against the Sanders campaign in what is supposed to be an impartial primary process. Incredulously, Hillary Clinton immediately released this statement:

I want to thank my longtime friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her leadership of the Democratic National Committee over the past five years. I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership. There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie–which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states. I look forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid–because as President, I will need fighters like Debbie in Congress who are ready on day one to get to work for the American people.

Needless to say, Sanders supporters are livid.

The big question is, what will Bernie Sanders say tomorrow at the convention? He is scheduled to speak. Will he rescind his endorsement of Hillary Clinton? Will he continue to push for party unity and campaign for Clinton?

Our plans for tomorrow are to walk across the street and purchase some poster board, markers, and other supplies to create signs for protesting. We are taking the shuttle to the train and the train to the city to participate in the March for Our Lives, attending the Green party rally to hear Jill Stein and Cornel West speak, and a Candlelight Vigil to Commemorate the Death of Democracy.

I plan to pay close attention to the sites and sounds this week and relay the experience to blog readers without too much personal commentary (for now), and then sort of unpack the experience on a deeper level and share the best of my photos in the days and weeks after returning back home to Florida. Please check back here for updates throughout the week.

The Forgotten Gospel Conference

A message from Gary Amirault, Founder of Tentmaker Ministries, Hope For All Nations and Generations, Who Do Men Say That I Am?

A grateful heart is a magnet to miracles; forgiveness makes room for the miracles and love shares them.

Years ago, our heavenly Father let me experience a depth of gratitude I never knew was possible. I was sitting on a toilet staring at a piece of toilet paper. All of a sudden I had an epiphany in which I was thinking about the many different ways fellow human beings had to do that nasty thing humans have to do on a daily basis. Stones, sponges on a stick, moss, slick catalog sheets, rocks, leaves, old rope, corn cobs, bare hands, etc. Yuck!

And here I was in a warm room with this incredible invention – toilet paper. And I had as much of it as I wanted. Pull a lever and that nasty stuff was just flushed away. Oh, the miracle of it. I cannot describe the depth of gratitude I felt for a single piece of toilet paper. My eyes were pouring out a flood of tears of joy and gratitude. It was truly overwhelming.

Gratitude was truly one of the many blessings I received on Valentines’ Day, 1985 when I received “The Forgotten Gospel,” a gospel that truly brings joy to all peoples of the world. Universal Reconciliation – what a tremendous word of deliverance and salvation. While “traditions of men” and faulty Bible translations have hidden the good news of the ultimate reconciliation of all mankind, through inventions like print-on-demand publishing and the internet, the Victorious Gospel is pouring out into the earth like no time in the world’s history.

There is a conference in Denver, Colorado that I think folks you are acquainted with might be interested in attending. It should be well attending. It is called “The Forgotten Gospel Conference,” hosted by Peter Hiett, pastor of The Sanctuary Downtown.

I would appreciate it if you would visit the conference information site and perhaps let people in your circles know of the event. I think it will be special. People from around the world will be attending. Here are some of the speakers and attending authors. Many other people who have used their speaking and writing skills trumpeting the Victorious Gospel will be attending. Everyone who has been blessed to look into the restoration of all things has a story to tell. Bring yours and share your joy.

Speakers:

Attending Authors:

Some of these authors’ books are free online. Just google the title and the author’s name and explore the search results.

For more information:

http://theforgottengospel.com

Questions about conference:

Conference@TheSanctuaryDowntown.org

This was originally an old blog post I wrote about corruption in the institutional church. I simply used a find-and-replace feature to replace the words “pastor and religious elite” with “corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich,” “religion” for “politics,” “sermon” with “media” and so on. I did very little editing, because so little was necessary. What is the significance of the fact that corruption in the institutional church has a twin problem in the “secular” world? I’ll leave that to readers to decide (for the moment).

Power in Political Systems

In politics, there’s a strong relationship between power and the news media. The news media is a social communication tool that, given the right set of circumstances, can influence one’s desires or beliefs. In other words, group A, usually corrupt politicians and a handful of the obscenely rich, can use the news media to create a framework of perception that directly influences group B’s ability to know and understand certain things. And since people base their decisions and actions on what they know and understand, group A can essentially exercise a form of control over the decisions and actions of group B in such an indirect way that group B actually feels as if they are acting in their own best interest.

It’s not that there’s some conspiracy among corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich. They don’t sit in conference rooms making villainous plans with evil grins on their faces. It just happens, because they are fallible human beings in a system that brings out the absolute worst in those who get caught up in it.

Corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich regularly exercise powers that limit not only the ability, but the desire of the public to speak or act in opposition. How does this happen? The short answer is language. But the short answer, just one word, doesn’t hold much weight all on its own. Speaking, writing, and communication in other forms are all expressions of language. It is crucial that the public methodically examine not only discourse, but the hegemonic structure of information management within the media establishment.

Corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich control the media, and can decide what to talk about or write about, and when to speak or publish content. They determine subject matter, emphasis, and delivery. They also control speaking or writing roles subordinates can have, the content of subordinate discourse, and when subordinate speaking or writing can take place, if at all. In other words, discourse is not seen by the public as legitimate communication unless it has a stamp of approval from the media. And corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich will only give that stamp of approval to (i.e. share power with) those who understand and comply with their subordinate roles.

Why Corrupt Politicians and the Obscenely Rich Manage Information

Information management is a crucial function of corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich for many reasons, but one common denominator among the reasons is power. Information management is opinion management, and opinion management ensures the power of persuasion, which is the primary power corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich use to prevent a subordinate person/group from acquiring power.  There are other methods to maintain power, such as selective funding or budget control, hiring and firing, etc. but these methods always stay within the context of information management.

Information Management Is Opinion Management

Because power structures can be altered through real, organic, uncensored communication, the control of information, its production, and its distribution is essential to maintain opinion management. Think about it. Corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich not only decide whether a topic is relevant, but manufacture a schema of perception for values. This schema of perception is built on materials/information consistent with the values and interests of the leadership, including:

  • Daily or Weekly Broadcasts
  • Press Releases and Coverage
  • Publications (bulletins, newsletters, flyers, booklets, etc.)
  • Educational Materials (textbooks, workbooks, videos, etc.)
  • Entertainment (books, movies, etc.)
  • Websites and Moderated Forums
  • Favorable Press (advertisements, articles, interviews, etc.)
  • Official Personal Communication (conversations, emails, texts, phone calls, etc.)

All of these threads work together to create a web of consensus, a solidarity of agreement, a constructed “feel-togetherness” for people in the Democratic and Republican parties that serves a very powerful purpose…

Opinion Management Ensures the Power of Persuasion

Any judgments, beliefs, or attitudes of independent voters, party members, or grassroots politicians that do not fit neatly within the schema of perception are deemed by other party members as backward, abnormal, defective, deficient, or even unpatriotic. Opinion management enables corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich to gain the power of persuasion through fear of nonconformity. They don’t have to say or do anything to provoke this fear, because “public opinion” does it for them. How? Through an unspoken agreement of party members that objection = dissension, disagreement = sabotage, protest = insurrection, and the like.

If, for some reason, a party member does not respond to social pressure, opinion management still serves a very powerful purpose…

Using the Power of Persuasion to Prevent a Subordinate Person/Group from Acquiring Power

When corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich feel that an individual or group is a threat to power, their response, however hostile, can be reconstructed within the schema of perception as a benevolent, gracious gesture. The language of corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich, in many ways, conceals the true essence of their intentions, that is, to control mutiny. Explicit enforcement of power, in the eyes of the public, can backfire on them, so it is disguised by the language of “recommendations,” perhaps in the form of a simple request or a little bit of sympathetic advice. This is how American citizens, who have every right (and some might argue, obligation) to object, disagree, or protest, may be labeled spoiled brats or contentious if they do not quietly comply.

Behind the curtain, corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich can act like little gods who can’t be questioned, minimizing or dismissing concerns without consequence. In the public eye, they use their schema of perception (see the bullet list above) to offer politically manufactured responses that limit understanding and use their high status as a safeguard against justified criticism.

Information Management: A Basis for Other Methods to Maintain Power

When recommendations, requests, and advice fail, maintaining power becomes difficult, but still possible, with good information management. If the offender financially benefits in some way from corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich, termination of those financial benefits may be used to maintain power. If the offender does not financially benefit from corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich, threat of losing status or influence in the political party may have the same effect. With offenders who just won’t go away quietly, a media blackout or blacklist can be a last resort. The problem with these and other methods is that corrupt politicians and the obscenely rich are only powerful in the political and financial world systems. Real life happens in spite of those systems. Even for people who are fully assimilated into the schema of perception, real life happens, and they sometimes spot broken threads in the web of consensus. They begin to wonder whether the voice of consensus is actually just the voice of their political master  leader and his/her bouncers beneficiaries.

In this situation, the small, power-holding group becomes especially vulnerable, and information management becomes extremely critical.  In the past, this unwanted development in power-maintenance was not very difficult to manage. As long as unfavorable information could be eliminated or severely restrained, the web of consensus would be repaired, and the schema of perception would eventually be strengthened.

But we are no longer living in the past.

We are living in a time of pervasive and shared information. With free access to information on the Internet and social media opening the lines of communication, Americans, and in fact, people all around the world are beginning to form a true schema of perception where consensus is not manufactured and carefully maintained, but experienced as our souls are knit together in love. Some of us see this as God’s love (myself included). Others not so much. Regardless, the love, good will, and positive intentions are there. Opinion can’t be as easily managed by corrupt politicians and a handful of obscenely rich families.

They may clamor about and make panicked suggestions like “No. We just can’t trust the American people to make those types of choices … Government has to make those choices for people,” but opinion is beginning to form in a new way. Perception is not so easy to control when most of the embarrassing facts are put on the table under the light of scrutiny. We can more accurately discern the gas guzzling, overheating political engine and the growing pile of discarded bodies behind it.

Power Isn’t Out There… It’s In Here

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in the heavens and on earth is named, that He may give to you, according to the riches of His glory, with might to be strengthened through His Spirit, in regard to the inner man, that the Christ may dwell through the faith in your hearts, in love having been rooted and founded, that ye may be in strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, to know also the love of the Christ that is exceeding the knowledge, that ye may be filled to all the fulness of God; and to Him who is able above all things to do exceeding abundantly what we ask or think, according to the power that is working in us, to Him [is] the glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus, to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.

Believers everywhere should think long and hard about voting for Bernie Sanders. Here’s why.

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, there lived a king named Artaxerxes, whose right hand was longer than his left. One day his cupbearer, a man named Nehemiah, looked gloomy. Artaxerxes said, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

Nehemiah was afraid. Nevertheless, he replied,”The city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

The king asked, “What exactly, do you want?”

“If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it,” Nehemiah said.

So after some discussion, Artaxerxes agreed, not only to let Nehemiah take an extended leave of absence, but the king equipped Nehemiah for the task, providing the following:

  • letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates for safe conduct on his journey
  • a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, instructing him to provide enough timber for the gates of the citadel, the city wall, and for Nehemiah’s temporary residence
  • an army of officers and cavalry to accompany Nehemiah

When the officials heard that the king had decided to promote the welfare of the Israelites, they weren’t happy.

And so begins the compelling story of Nehemiah’s reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem, the challenges involved in such an undertaking, the opposition plots to stir up trouble and disrupt the work, and so on. I don’t want to give away the story to those readers who aren’t familiar with it. You can read it in full here.

Right now, my focus is on the king.

It would be easy to assume that if God wants to accomplish something through people, that He uses His own people to do it. He uses the ones like Nehemiah, who pray and ask for help. Today’s equivalent would be that God uses believers, church people, and professing Christians to carry out the bits and pieces of His grand Plan of the Ages. But that assumption can be wrong.

Nehemiah prayed to God for help. God used Artaxerxes to answer Nehemiah’s prayer. Artexerxes was not considered one of “God’s people” according to Nehemiah.

Similarly, believers all around the USA are praying to God about our current situation in politics. And maybe just maybe God intends to use someone who doesn’t have a stamp of approval from the religious elite.

A very strong argument can be made that God regularly turns to the unbelievers (or as I like to say, not-yet-believers), the non-, un-, or de-churched, and even those who profess there is no God to direct the course of history, perhaps toward an immediate outcome, but always toward the ultimate outcome: “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

Now, don’t get a whiplash, because I’m about to change gears…

You may have noticed it’s been more than a few weeks since my last blog post. The reason for this is that I feel very strongly that the time I would normally spend writing blogs would be better spent promoting Bernie Sanders to be nominated for President of the United States. Out of courtesy to regular blog readers, I’ve limited the amount of content on this site pertaining to politics. But sometimes I just can’t help myself. A bird lands on Bernie Sanders’ lectern. Pope Francis invites Bernie to speak at the Vatican. 

And then I see memes like this:

Election 2016

The Panama papers leaked from Mosseck Fonseca demonstrate that the 1% vs the 99% isn’t just a crazy conspiracy theory. There really are a handful of people at the top pulling the puppet strings of the world. If I don’t write to unpack the spiritual implications of these things, I’ll burst. Then, as I’m about to write a blog post about it all, it occurs to me that I’ve already written it.

A blog post for the 2016 election season, written in the fall of 2014. It’s kind of mind-blowing, actually.

On September 8, 2014, when I hit publish on Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Why the Problem is Much Bigger Than One Church, and I wasn’t thinking about politics at all. I wasn’t thinking about who would be the next POTUS or how biased our corporate news media has become. These things were far from my mind.

But if you read the blog post, you may see the parallels there for yourself between what is happening in our country, and really all over the world now, and what was happening in a subcultural microcosm of the world then.

Here’s an excerpt:

Many congregants or members of institutional churches don’t realize the strong relationship between power and language. Language is a social construct that, given the right set of circumstances, can influence one’s desires or beliefs. In other words, group A, usually the pastor and a handful of people in the upper hierarchy, can use words to create a framework of perception that directly influences group B’s ability to know and understand certain things. And since people base their decisions and actions on what they know and understand, group A can essentially exercise a form of control over the decisions and actions of group B in such an indirect way that group B actually feels as if they are acting in their own best interest.

Sounds a lot like the political system and the news media pulling one over on the masses, doesn’t it?

If you find this interesting, you may want to read my next blog post(s?), because I plan to rewrite Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Why the Problem is Much Bigger Than One Church in reference to current events. I hope to see you back here soon!

 

I used to be a good church-going Republican.

Somewhere between 2004 and 2008, my eyes began to open to corruption in politics and religion. After hungrily devouring books, reading scholarly articles, and scouring the internet for info on church history, holy wars, and slavery, it became increasingly obvious to me how the Bible has been used for centuries to marginalize segments of the population, further oppression, and legitimize powers of darkness. In the United States of America, we would all like to think this is a problem of the past. Well, it isn’t.

Recognizing the wisdom of our forefathers in creating a clear distinction between church and state was one of the biggest reasons I changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat — not because I thought the Democratic party was any less corrupt than the Republican one, but because I felt like the Democratic leaders were more consistent in making decisions to maintain the separation of church and state.

It wasn’t long before I embraced my God-given calling (a physically-anointed-with-oil commission, actually) to expose and eliminate corruption in the church and to empower believers who feel like institutional church / organized religion is creating barriers for them to become who God created them to be in the body of Christ. And I’m not talking about pointing my finger at individuals for bad habits or poor choices on a personal level — the Spirit of God does a fine job of letting me know when I’m entering into dangerous moral territory, so I trust that He will do the same for others. No, I’m talking about calling out spiritually abusive behavior, perverse doctrine, and toxic orthodoxy. Naturally, this hasn’t gone over well with people in positions of power.

Eight years after reluctantly voting for Obama, I’m ready to cast my vote for another President. How pleasantly surprised and greatly relieved I am to find there’s a candidate who is absolutely determined to fight socioeconomic inequality perpetuated by corruption in politics, even if it ruins his chances of winning an election. In fact, that’s been his approach since the 1960s as an activist and since the early 1970s as a politician. Bernie Sanders, if elected, could be the best thing to happen to this country since FDR, if voters continue to follow his lead in the midterm elections to clean house and get rid of the old guard.

On a more personal note, I identify with Sanders. Maybe he doesn’t realize this, but I believe it is his God-given calling to expose and eliminate corruption in the political system. And I’m proud to join him in his altruistic determination to mobilize and thus empower voters so this great country can once again have a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Why I had to rewrite this blog.

Here’s what the blog was going to say. You can see how I wrote about criminal justice, and I had every intention of doing the same for the other issues listed. But then I had an epiphany. So I changed the name of the blog post from I‘m a Christian Voting for Bernie Sanders to Why the Church Needs Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders

HTML text (including source links) is available at the end of the blog post.

And here’s the epiphany. When Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor for an eight-and-a-half hour speech to, as Sanders said, “put the agreement the president struck with Republicans [the Obama Administration’s agreement to reauthorize the Bush administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy] in a broader context,” the first part of the speech was about the agreement itself, but the second part of his speech was, in my opinion, “against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12).

Before I continue, there is one important aside. Many believers are proponents of criminalizing abortion and choose their candidates on this issue alone, even if the candidate is the wrong candidate in many other ways. As someone who hates abortion, I understand and respect those who hold such views, but I disagree with their methods for protecting the unborn.

As it is right now, many women who choose life have a harder time economically, especially if they are trying to get through college. Maybe they can’t deal with the stress or the financial burden and drop out. Without an education, they get stuck in low-paying jobs like McDonalds or Walmart and live in a perpetual struggle just to put food on the table and keep the lights on.

Some people (many of them evangelical Christians and Republicans) stigmatize people on welfare, from teenage girls or women with “a child out of wedlock” to married women or couples “with too many kids,” looking down on them with paranoid skepticism, as if they are nothing but lazy trailer trash or ghetto trash scamming the system. No wonder some of these women, who live in constant shame and uncertainty, lose hope, end up on drugs, and lose custody of their children.

Their pregnant friends look at them and say, “No. I’m not going to choose a life like that for my children. I’m going to get my life on track first.” And with good, but terribly misguided intentions, off to the abortion clinic they go.

If abortion were criminalized, we would still have a lot of dead babies. Just look at the war on drugs. Heroine addiction is worse than ever. Making heroine illegal didn’t stop people from doing it. If abortion were criminalized, the next logical step would be to declare war on illegal abortion. We all know how effective that would be. With more women in jail, possibly even your daughter or sister or mother, and more women dead from complications of unlicensed/unregulated medical procedures, we would have much bigger problems on our hands than we currently have.

Being Pro-Life, in my opinion, is about creating a world in which women realize their incredible worth as mothers, where they do not need to live in fear of a society that will look down on them for needing financial help to raise a baby (possibly alone), where they are loved and supported long after the baby is born. Employers should be required to pay enough for a full time employee to meet basic needs, and for those who are driven to strive for a better life, free college tuition, SNAP, and financial help so that they can work less than full time and actually have the time and energy to study and spend a few quality hours with their babies or children in between classes and work.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is a preacher.

His sermons may be secular, but the underlying message is very, very similar to what I’ve been proclaiming to the church for years.

In the 2010 speech, Sanders first points out the problem at hand, that the “vast majority of the American people do not support that agreement in terms of giving tax breaks to the very rich,” and then addresses the real problem — “they have to make their voices heard to their Senators, to their Congressmen.”

The American people aren’t being heard. It’s not that they aren’t speaking.

Political offices all over the country were flooded with calls and emails from people opposed to the agreement. But the voice of big money prevails when the economic system is rigged in favor of corporations and billionaires. When the general population is upset, the corporate media does damage control, putting a spin on the story that leaves the people who voice their opinions feeling like they don’t have enough power or influence to make a difference.

The same thing happens in the institutional church, only it happens very quietly. When people voice concerns, pastors and deacons and leaders arrange to meet with them privately. This accomplishes two objectives: 1. Leave people who voice concerns with the impression that it’s them versus thousands of years of orthodoxy and tradition, and that they don’t have the power or influence to make any necessary changes. 2. Leave the congregation with the impression that everyone is united in agreement with the decisions of the leaders.

Broader Context

In the speech, Sanders says,

It is important to put the agreement the President struck with Republicans in a broader context. We can’t just look at the agreement unto itself. We have to look at it within the context of what is going on in the country today, both economically and politically. I think I speak for millions of Americans. There is a war going on in this country. I am not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people against working families, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country…

That is what they were able to do. The rich get richer, and they don’t sit on this money. What they then do is use it to elect people who support them and to unelect people who oppose their agenda and they use their political power to get legislation passed which makes the wealthy even wealthier…

To illustrate his point, Sanders contrasts the story of James Dimon, a major CEO on Wall Street (JPMorgan Chase) with that of seniors and disabled veterans. Dimon is awarded with $1.1 million in tax breaks, and his bank gets an $89 million bail out. Meanwhile, seniors and disabled veterans can’t even get $250 (a one time COLA Social Security compensation).

Sanders gives several more examples and says, “And on and on it goes. I did not mean to specifically pick on these guys.”

When it comes to a monumental and complex systems of fraud, sometimes it is necessary to name names and get specific in order to drive home the idea that you’re dealing with more than a random compilation of unfortunate events.

Similarly, when pastors cheat on their wives, priests molest little boys, leaders spiritually abuse or ignore complaints of spiritual abuse, and so on, P.R. people in the institutional church would have you believe (and probably even believe it themselves) that these are isolated instances, the offenses of individual people, completely separate from the preposterous idea that there is a fundamental problem with the system itself.

Information management is opinion management.

The institutional church is losing its foothold on believers who have quietly suspected for some time that widespread, systematic corruption is not something we have tolerate.

Rapid Growth of Religiously UnaffiliatedIn Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Why the Problem is Much Bigger Than One Church I wrote:

We are living in a time of pervasive and shared information. With free access to information on the Internet and social media opening the lines of communication, believers are beginning to form a true schema of perception where consensus is not manufactured and carefully maintained, but experienced as our souls are knit together in His love. Opinion can’t be as easily managed by a handful of fallible religious elite. They may clamor about and make panicked suggestions like “Don’t Google it, don’t blow your head up. We love Jesus, read your Bible, stay off the Internet. It’s all shenanigans anyways,” but opinion is beginning to form in a new way — deep within by the power of His Spirit. Perception is not so easy to control when most of the embarrassing facts are put on the table under the light of scrutiny. Believers have been blessed by God with a giant spotlight and megaphone. All of us can more accurately discern the gas guzzling, overheating Evangelical engine and the growing pile of discarded bodies behind it.

Likewise, the fat cat gazillionaires pulling the puppet strings of America are losing their foothold on citizens and someday-citizens who have quietly suspected for some time that widespread, systematic corruption is not something we have to tolerate.

Sanders explains how information management (and therefore opinion management) works in our rigged political/economic system,

What is very interesting is that the American people and the media have focused on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout now known as TARP. I happen to have voted against that agreement, but, in fairness, that agreement was pretty transparent. The Treasury Department put up on their Web site all of those banks and financial institutions that received the money. If you want to know where the money went, it is right up there on the Treasury Department’s Web site.

But at the same time, a bigger transaction than TARP was taking place, which got relatively little attention, and that was the role the Fed was playing in terms of the Wall Street bailout.

While the TARP issue was being debated during that period, Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Tim Geithner, who was then the president of the New York Fed, and a handful of other very powerful people were sitting behind closed doors getting ready to lend out trillions–underline trillions–of taxpayer dollars to large financial institutions and corporations, with no debate going on in Congress, no debate whatsoever.

On March 3, 2009–and I am a member of the Senate Budget Committee–I asked the Fed Chairman, Mr. Bernanke, to tell the American people the names of the financial institutions that received this unprecedented backdoor bailout from the Fed, how much they received, and the exact terms of this assistance. I will never forget that. I asked Mr. Bernanke for that information. He said: Senator, no, not going to give it to you, not going to make it public.

If it weren’t for Sanders, you would still be in the dark.

Sanders made sure that the actions of the Fed were put on the table under the light of scrutiny.

Well, on that day, I introduced legislation to make that information public, working with a number of Members of the House and the Senate. Some strange bedfellows–conservatives and progressives–came together on this issue. We managed to get in the Wall Street reform bill a disclosure provision, and on December 1–last week–that information was made public. Let me talk a little bit about what was in that information made public by the Fed.

After years of stonewalling, the American people have learned the incredible, jaw-dropping details of the Fed’s multimillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street and corporate America–not just Wall Street…

Here’s Sanders’ initial analysis (and he called for further analysis) of the now-public info on how the Feds handled the financial crisis:
  • Wealthy individuals received an “emergency response,” which Sanders describes as “socialism for the very rich and rugged free market capitalism for everybody else.”
  • Goldman Sachs – $600 billion
  • Morgan Stanley – almost $2 trillion
  • Citigroup – $1.8 trillion
  • Bear Stearns – $1 trillion
  • Merrill Lynch – $1.5 trillion in short-term loans
  • Central Bank of Japan – $380 billion
  • Korea Development Bank, the Fed purchased over $2 billion of its commercial paper
  • Central Bank of South Korea – $40 billion
  • Bank of Bavaria, the Fed purchased $2.2 billion of its commercial paper
  • Arab Banking Corporation – $23 billion in loans (at .0025% interest)
  • Central Bank of Mexico – $9.6 billion
  • Small business owners were being turned down for loans
  • (And during this financial crisis, unemployment benefits were not extended.)

Sanders explains the significance of the situation,

What is interesting about all of this is that we had a very vigorous debate here in the Senate and in the House over the $700 billion TARP program. Every person in America could turn on C-SPAN and hear that debate. They could hear what President Bush had to say, hear what then-Senator Obama and Senator McCain had to say. It was all pretty public. But what took place at the Fed, which, in fact, amounted to a larger bailout, was done behind closed doors. Over $3 trillion was lent with zero transparency.

…I think the question the American people are asking as they read about what the Fed did during the financial crisis is whether the Fed has now become the central bank of the world without any debate on the floor of the Senate or the Congress and without the knowledge of the American people.

If We the People had had a voice in this process, as Sanders suggests, perhaps we would have demanded that the Fed bailouts come with conditions and provisions to help ordinary Americans, such as providing affordable loans to small businesses.

Instead, Sander says,

Millions of Americans remain unemployed and have lost their homes, their life savings, and their ability to send their kids to college. Meanwhile, huge banks and large corporations have returned to making incredible profits and paying their executives recordbreaking compensation packages, as if the financial crisis they started never occurred… The goal of the bailout was not to make Wall Street richer; the goal was to expand our economy and put people to work.

In Privileged Slave I wrote, “When fear-based, authority-driven spiritual oppression is eliminated, enemies will discover they were actually friends all along.” I suspect that this concept rings true of the political/economic system, as well — when money-based, greed-driven political oppression is eliminated, Republicans and Democrats will discover they were actually on the same side all along.

I don’t need to brainstorm how to begin a tidy little conclusion for this blog post, since Sanders has done it for me:

We know every major religion on Earth–Christianity, Judaism, Islam, you name it–has always felt that usury is immoral. What we mean by usury is that when someone doesn’t have a lot of money and you loan them money, you don’t get blood out of a stone. You can’t ask for outrageously high interest rates when somebody is hurting. That is immoral. Every major religion, all great philosophers have written about this.

…How many more Americans could have remained in their homes if the Fed had required those bailed-out banks to reduce mortgage payments as a condition of receiving these secret loans?

Tim and I lost our home. We faithfully paid our mortgage for 12 years. His new real estate title business, which was off to a great start during the first year, collapsed when the housing market crashed.

About that same time I worked as a pastor’s administrative assistant. I was fired when I wrote blogs on my social media about corrupt doctrines and practices in the institutional church.

Like many of you, we have firsthand experience and knowledge of the powers of darkness at work in this world – both in political systems and religious systems. I know that Sanders can’t fight corruption in the political system alone. As a believer, I know I can’t fight corruption in the religious system alone. It is my responsibility, our responsibility, to sound the bullshit alarm for those who are still caught up in the system, ignorant of its inner workings.

In both cases, our fight is not against people, per se, but power structures.

Christ said, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” He willingly gave Himself to be crucified by the corrupt religious leaders and politicians of His day instead of instructing His followers to use violence to impose His Kingdom on the world.

But we can’t forget that when He saw religious and political systems rigged to take advantage of hurting people, He overturned the money-changing tables in the temple and made a whip to drive away the profiteers.

Related: On Abortion, Homosexuality, and Obama, Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Why the Problem is Much Bigger Than One Church, and America is NOT a Christian Nation… Guest Blog by Rachel Munns


I don’t usually ask this, but if you agree with this blog post, please share it. I think it is a really important subject, and I want to scramble some people’s eggs.


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UPDATE: A reader brought to my attention that mobile users can’t read the small print under the heading “Why I had to rewrite this blog.” The reason for this is that I inserted a screen cap image of the blog post there. A website with responsive design squishes the image to fit the size of whatever device you are using. Rather than telling readers who use mobile devices to go read it on a desktop, I have retyped that information here.

Personally, I don’t feel like I need to justify my decision, as a Christian, to vote for Bernie. But I know that there are many Christians still deeply immersed in the idea that your religious views must be in full agreement with your political decisions. And that’s why I want to explain why Bernie Sanders deserves the votes of Christians. (Please understand that I’m not dogging other candidates in any way. In fact, this is thinly time I will mention other candidates. Vote with a clear conscience before God, and agree to disagree, if that’s what you need to do.) The following issues are listed alphabetically.

Criminal Justice

If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a democratic socialist, were alive today, he would likely have a lot to say about the state of the criminal justice system. More black men are behind bars or under the watch of the criminal justice system than there were enslaved in 1850. I’ve actually heard otherwise-loving, Christian white people say that it’s because black men are more likely to break the law. According to the ACLU, “white and black people use drugs at similar rates,” so one would assume the white and black people would be jailed at a similar rate, yet “black people are jailed […] 10 times more often,” and are “three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people.” Similar statistics can be cited for non-drug offenses. Income inequality exacerbates the problem, because people who can’t afford to post bail, who haven’t even been convicted of anything, have to stay in jail until they can get a hearing. We all know the judicial system is slow. People who sit in jail are put at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children – even their lives.

Sanders wants to demilitarize the police and hold them accountable for breaking the law, using excessive force (brutality) and bring them to trial for killing unarmed people. “Force should be the last resort, not the first resort,” Sanders says. He wants to end for-profit prisons, redirect some of the funds currently spend on incarceration to rehabilitation programs, job training, and education. Calling the War on Drugs a failure, Sanders calls for the decriminalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use and emphasis on treatment rather than incarceration for people who are addicted to heroin and other illegal substances. Regarding gun control, he favors a common sense approach, with Federal requirements for background checks and state governments deciding their own gun control laws. For more information on Sanders’ plans for criminal justice reform, read Where does Bernie Sanders stand on criminal justice?

Economy
Education
Environment
Health Care
Privacy / Data Security
Social Issues / Religion

Here’s a press release that may be of interest to anyone, but particularly people who live in the Central FL area:

Orlando, FL (September 23, 2015) – Homeless and Hungry, a local Homeless Advocacy group, teamed up with a world-renowned graffiti artist, Skid Robot and the Albin Polasek Museum of Winter Park to create street art that helps people experiencing homelessness in Orlando.

If you are not familiar with street artist Skid Robot, his work illustrates the dreams of the homeless of LA’s infamous Skid Row. He paints illegal graffiti behind the impoverished to highlight the need for change. His art empowers those without a voice as he illustrates their personal stories. Now Skid Robot turns his advocacy eye to the homeless population of Orlando. His installation will be up through the month of September at the Albin Polasek Museum. This will be the first of four pieces of his art ever offered for sale! All proceeds from the sale of his art will be used to help 4 homeless citizens of Orlando! All donations collected aid Kathleen, Daniel, Jennifer, and Carl, people experiencing homelessness in Orlando!

These street art murals specifically address the issues related to homelessness. Veterans, individuals with severe Mental Illness, the Elderly and Domestic Violence are the subjects of these first 4 pieces. Future subjects include Youth Homelessness, LGBT issues, Family Homelessness and many more! After the exhibit at the Albin Polasek Museum, these four creations will serve as a mobile Homeless Awareness Campaign that will tour from city to city to highlight the issues related to homelessness. Skid Robot will be creating more pieces to add to the mobile display, doing a live painting exhibition in each city!


About the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens: The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, located at 633 Osceola Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789, is open Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Admission fees are charged as follows: adults (18-59) $5; seniors (60+) $4; students (age 12 through college) $3; with members and children age 12 and under free. For more information, call 407-647-6294 or visit the website at www.polasek.org.

Founded in 1961, the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens is home to an art collection created by award-winning, internationally recognized, Czech-born American sculptor Albin Polasek. The museum’s primary exhibit is American representational sculpture, with over 200 works by Polasek. The museum also exhibits contemporary art in all mediums in its gallery space. Guided tours of the historic Polasek residence and chapel are hallmarks of this museum, as well as its breathtaking sculpture garden located on Lake Osceola. The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only 30 members of the National Trust’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios. The Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens is a 501(c)3 public charity.

About Homeless and Hungry: Homeless and Hungry is an Advocacy and Education group, located in Orlando, FL. Founded in July 2014, by Thomas Rebman, a retired Naval Officer and former Orlando, Florida Middle School Teacher, they have been responsible for aiding homeless citizens all over the United States.
Last year, Tom decided to voluntarily experience homelessness as a Summer Reading Program for his Middle School students. This Reading Program unintentionally became the most unique and impactful homeless awareness campaign in the United States in decades and spawned the group. Since then, Tom has voluntarily lived homeless in thirteen cities throughout the United States for a total of 98 days studying homelessness. The cities include: Orlando, Daytona Beach, Ocala, Sarasota, Tallahassee, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans and Skid Row in Los Angeles! His experience on the streets combined with his management background and research skills have made him one of the most educated and vocal advocates for the homeless in the Nation. He was invited to brief the Florida Governor’s Council on Homelessness because he is the only person that could compare homeless services between the cities in the State. Homeless and Hungry is registered with the State of Florida Agriculture Department to accept donations and is a 501(c)3 public charity (applied). For more information on how to help, call (407) 421-8115 or email info@homeless-hungry.org. Their website is www.homeless-hungry.org.

About Skid Robot: Skid Robot, is a world-renowned graffiti artist from Los Angeles, California. He uses graffiti art to present social messages with a focus on homelessness and poverty in the area known as Skid Row. He paints breathtaking images of household items, especially bedding and bedroom furniture, in areas where homeless people sleep or congregate in an effort to highlight their lack of household possessions and shelter. He has been covered internationally including a feature in People Magazine. This will be the first time any of his art will be available for public purchase.

Is God as Pro-Life as Christian, faith-based Pro-Life organizations?

This is a question introduced in three previous blog posts, A Letter to Pro-Life Crisis Center DirectorGood News at Life’s Choices, and Original Sin, the Age of Accountability, and Pro-Life Questions from the “Pit of Hell.”

Please read them, if you haven’t yet. But if that is too much trouble, then at least read this article by Randy Alcorn: If an unborn baby is better off in God’s presence, then why do Christians consider abortion a crime against the unborn?

Alcorn writes,

This is an argument I’ve heard a number of times throughout the years: “Babies will go to heaven anyway, so abortion isn’t so bad—in fact, it’s actually in the child’s ultimate best interests.” …In fact, if you ‘rescue’ them, they may grow up to be non-Christians who go to hell. Dying now is probably the best thing for them.”

This argument is based on a sterile logic so chilling as to suggest its place of origin—the pit of hell.

The first mistake Alcorn makes is to assume that anyone who points out the theological fallacy behind faith-based Pro-Life efforts is trying to minimize or justify abortion. One can despise abortion and still propose the above argument in the hypothetical, because the above argument is based on widely accepted doctrines. In other words, people proposing the argument don’t need to minimize or justify abortion, because the doctrines do this for them: Original Sin, Eternal Torment, and the Age of Accountability. In that order.

People who propose this argument for the wrong reasons (in a non-hypothetical sense) do so because they BELIEVE the doctrines, which are inherently NOT pro-life. They neglect to acknowledge the dignity and worth of every human life, because they have been taught that God aborts the majority of the human race.

Ouch!

I get it. Belief-opposing materials are difficult to read. In fact, studies show that believers systematically avoid reading belief-opposing materials. Hopefully you aren’t one of them, and you are willing to allow what you believe to be true to stand in the light of scrutiny. If you consider yourself Pro-Life, then there are some things you really need to stew on just ahead. So please stay with me here.

Here’s how it works.

A baby dies. The grieving parents believe that the entire human race is sinful, and the only way one can escape eternal torment in hell is to profess Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior and Lord. Babies obviously aren’t able to do this. Mr. Someone sees how tragic the situation seems to be and hopes to bring some comfort to the parents. Instead of reexamining the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment, Mr. Someone comes up with a theological loophole based partly on the grace of God, partly on common sense, and partly on a handful of scriptures demonstrating God’s concern for babies and children. Mr. Someone names the loophole “The Age of Accountability.” The idea catches on, and even though everyone knows the scriptural basis for the doctrine is questionable, it resolves many of the hard questions people who believe in Eternal Torment ask. Those who disagree with the Age of Accountability don’t put up too much of a fuss, because it makes them look like assholes.

Even Alcorn won’t solidly commit to the doctrine. He writes,

Are we absolutely sure of the eternal destiny of all babies who die? Having wrestled with this a great deal, I personally believe they are covered by God’s grace and will be in heaven. But this is my subjective belief based largely on God’s mercy and Christ’s treatment of children. It is not an obvious teaching of Scripture. The Bible certainly does not make this as clear as is often taught from one or two proof texts. In fact, the doctrine of human depravity, developed in the early chapters of Romans, can be used to make a strong case the other way.

With clinical abortion legalized, and the recent videos about Planned Parenthood, there’s a renewed abortion debate happening, and people are beginning to ask uncomfortable questions once again. And the Age of Accountability, although very convenient as a central tenant in post-abortive counseling, creates a logical Catch-22 for people involved in faith-based, Pro-Life efforts.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

But people involved with faith-based, Pro-Life efforts now have an incredible opportunity to scrutinize and perhaps even do away with doctrines that undermine their work.

The God Whose love never fails is so incredibly Pro-Life that He swears on His own name, “I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength. The people will declare, “The LORD is the source of all my righteousness and strength.’ And all who were angry with him will come to him and be ashamed.” Jesus is the Savior Who accomplishes His mission to seek and save the lost – including those physically lost to abortion (babies) or mentally/emotionally lost to abortion (moms), but especially to those who believe “The LORD is the source of all my righteousness and strength,” in the midst of a pregnancy crisis. This is the God we should be introducing them to, not the god who may-or-may-not eternally torment aborted babies!

If you choose life, then carefully consider the following choices:

  1. Reexamine the Age of Accountability and Eternal Torment doctrines
  2. Invent yet another doctrine in order to preserve the doctrine of Eternal Torment
  3. Tell people who examine doctrine and draw logical inferences from doctrine that they “minimize the devastation of child-killing” and “abandon [aborted babies] through indifference, callousness or turns of twisted logic.” Compare them to Satan.
  4. Just keep focusing on Pro-Life efforts and let the theologians sort out the doctrinal stuff.

I wholeheartedly believe the doctrine of eternal torment is false. But what about all the scriptural evidence, you say? You can read more about that in the blog post (which includes links to other blog posts), Demolishing Arguments. Here’s an excerpt:

When God began showing me the truth concerning His Plan of the Ages, I expected to find all kinds of problems with it, as if it really were too good to be true. But the more I tried to find a way to refute it (just to make sure I was not hearing my own wishful thinking), the more obvious it became that refuting the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ was a pointless endeavor.

Molech Worship

Alcorn points out that “God hates the shedding of innocent blood” and cites a list of scriptures to support his point. Two of those scriptures stood out to me more than all the others:

“Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:21)

“The LORD said…’ Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him….by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name…. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech…I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him.’“ (Leviticus 20:1-5)

The false doctrine of Eternal Torment has its roots in Molech worship, which took place in the Valley of Gehenna, often translated “Hell.” Please, people. Do your homework. Search these things out. I’m pleasantly surprised that Alcorn chose these two scriptures, because they really help illustrate and emphasize the entire basis of this blog series, the answer to the question: “Is God as Pro-Life as Christian, faith-based Pro-Life organizations?”

Perhaps by the end of this series you will be asking yourself, “Are Christian, faith-based Pro-Life organizations as Pro-Life as God?

Alcorn writes,

Jesus said Satan is a murderer and a liar (John 8:44). These two aspects come together in this argument. Satan carries out his murders and desensitizes us to their horror by getting us to believe lies, including “children are better off being killed.” If the argument seems sound to us, it’s only because it’s a cohesive lie. Jesus said of Satan, “when he lies he speaks his native language.” He makes lies sound natural, truthful.

Nowhere is the logic of this argument expressed in Scripture. Always we are called upon to intervene for the weak and the needy, to defend their rights (Proverbs 31:8-9). Never are we to abandon them through indifference, callousness or turns of twisted logic.

While I agree with Alcorn’s assertion that “children are better off being killed” is a lie, I can agree with it ONLY because I believe God’s Plan of the Ages for every human being begins with a physical, earthly existence in which we are to learn how to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love one another, putting the needs of others before our own.

We learn this by following His example.

If God’s plans for the human race involve a grand cosmic eternal abortion of the majority of those He created, then defending abortion would be one of the best ways I could think of to serve this god. But if God’s plans for the human race involve “reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them,” then supporting Pro-Life efforts would be one of the best ways I could think of to serve this God. Remember, “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” not the message of separation (an antonym for “reconciliation”).

Alcorn’s blame-it-on-Satan-and-carry-on argument is a lame scapegoat. You can’t just cry Satan and run away from questions that scare the hell out of you. Put your doctrine on the table, Alcorn. Let’s all have a long, hard look at it.

 

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I actually love this meme. It is absurd. It is true. It is absurdly true.

Author, radio broadcaster, and seminary professor, Steve Brown, writes in his book Scandalous Freedom,

Do you want to know what God is like? Then look at Jesus. If you want to know how God reacts to people, look at how Jesus reacted to people.

How do you think Jesus would react to this meme?

The apostle John records how Jesus, a Jew, arouses shock from onlookers when He has a long, intimate conversation with a Samaritan woman. In that day and age, Jewish men didn’t have conversations with Samaritan women. Jesus knows the woman is a religious law-breaker, repeatedly divorced and remarried and currently with a guy who isn’t her husband, yet He doesn’t condemn her.

But that’s just half what you need to know about this meme or the story of the Samaritan woman. It’s the half that is popular among believers like President and founder of Cowger Nation Media Network, Caiden Cowger, who also serves as Editor-in-Chief of Cowger Nation. Christian supporters of Davis are quick to come to her defense when commentators label her a Christian hypocrite in light of the fact that she’s been married multiple times and had children out of wedlock. Cowger writes in his article, TRUTH: Kim Davis divorced husbands BEFORE she became a Christian,

Perhaps some of her divorces were over sexual immorality. We do not know the situation; therefore, we are in no place to judge. Quite frankly, it is none of our business; she has repented and has been forgiven.

The truth is that while Mrs. Davis has been divorced three times, she did not become a Christian until 2011, three years after her last divorce. While Davis has been married four times, she is presently married to her second husband, whom she remarried in 2009.

We can compare the Kim Davis of four years ago to the Samaritan woman, because she had a history, and that history didn’t stop Jesus Christ from giving her a do-over. Davis says,

All I can say to them is if they have a sordid past like what I had, they too can receive the cleansing and renewing, and they can start a fresh life, and they can be different. They don’t have to remain in their sin, there’s hope for tomorrow.

Kim Davis’ past doesn’t matter any more. Because Jesus.

Unfortunately, people have a hard time wrapping their brains around the idea that Davis’ past doesn’t matter any more. And guess whose fault that is?

Yep, you guessed it. Kim Davis’. Keep reading and you’ll discover why she only has herself to blame for the shit-storm of negative media attention.

 

Kimmy5

This meme points out how like so many Christians, Kim Davis cherry picks scriptures.

Scriptures on marriage laws are abundant. Yet, for some reason, Davis has latched on to scriptures that address homosexuality and ignored scriptures that address marriage. For example, Luke 16:18 says,

Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

If Kim Davis systematically refused to sign the marriage licenses of people who had been previously married, will someone please call the press? Perhaps her deeply held convictions will be taken more seriously. Does she ask people who apply for a marriage license whether they have ever lusted over someone? If they have, then according to her own views, she ought to refuse to sign her name. And I can’t help but wonder why, with all the media attention, Davis hasn’t taken the opportunity to point out that according to scriptures, being gay is punishable by death.

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This meme and similar memes present an inaccurate analogy. And people buy into it hook, line, and sinker.

Suppose you are a vegetarian looking for a job. You come from a family of culinary artists, and you hope to carry on the tradition in your own career choice. A local restaurant with a vegetarian-only menu enthusiastically hires you. Every day, you look forward to going to work. You take pride in serving delicious vegetarian meals. Your conscience is clear, because you don’t have any part in animal cruelty or slaughter. But as the years pass, locals begin complaining about the lack of meat on the menu. At first, the owner ignores them. As business begins to suffer, and an increasing number of customers request meat, the owner eventually relents, and adds meat to the menu. Most of the employees are fine with serving meat. A few cook and serve meat but have a hard time sleeping at night. You refuse to serve meat. This would be a more accurate analogy than the above meme.

Kim Davis believes if she were to sign the marriage license of a homosexual couple, she is taking part in something that will contribute to the unraveling of the moral fabric of society. Well, that’s just stupid, some people say. Perhaps it is a stupid belief. Perhaps it isn’t. The point here is not whether people agree with Davis’ beliefs, the point is whether we are ready, as a nation, to put people in jail for non-violent offenses that are entirely based on religious or deeply held moral convictions. We value checks and balances between the three branches of government. Why can’t we also value checks and balances between the government and its employees? It’s not as if homosexual people CAN NEVER EVER get married in Rowan County as long as Davis holds her current position. Should we throw her in the slammer and/or find a way to oust her from her elected position when there are several less heavy-handed options for resolution available?

How we respond to this situation sets a precedent for the future. Do we want government employees to comply with government policy, even when government policy is dead wrong? Orwellian compliance may be convenient when the government isn’t inherently or thoroughly corrupt, but what happens if (when?) that changes? We should not be so quick to accustom ourselves to a future in which elected officials have absolutely no regard for their own religious or deeply held moral convictions. Some of the greatest social advances have taken place because people have spoken and behaved in accordance with their consciences in an environment where doing so meant the loss of livelihood, liberty, or even their lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not equating Davis with MLK. I think her worldview is a product of the fear-based interpretation of scripture and traditions of the Pentecostal church, whereas MLK’s worldview was a product of the greatest commandment, “Love one another.” The only reason I would even dare to mention them both in the same sentence is to say that if we trample and spit on the Kim Davises of this world, we also inadvertently trample and spit on the MLKs.

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“The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.” Robert Anthony

Memes often set up false dichotomies. To me, this meme sets up an us-vs-them scenario. If you think Davis is brave, you are one of us. If you think Jenner is brave, you are one of them. We are right. They are wrong. But in reality, both of these people made similar decisions. Both faced fear of consequences head-on. Both decided to speak and behave in accordance with their beliefs, knowing full well that doing so would result in a thorny overabundance of both praise and disapproval from people who are shocked when someone is so uncomfortably transparent. Both of them said to themselves, I am going to be who I was created to be. To hell with my past. To hell with everyone’s expectations.

You might say, “Well, God created Jenner to be a man.” Or you might say, “Well God created Davis to be a public servant who upholds the Constitution.” And your disapproval is the reason I can call them brave.

History demonstrates that of the people who opposed slavery and civil rights and interracial marriages, many of them recognized their error decades later, when the world didn’t come to an end after all. Fear of the future, fear of change, and fear of God’s judgment (which brings righteousness) complicate the human experience and our ultimate purpose in this world — to love God and love one another. Davis admittedly acts in fear of divine retribution. Decades from now, or perhaps on the other side of the grave, when God is all in all, Davis, homosexual couples, the Supreme Court justices, Jenner, the media, blog readers, and the entire human race will look back on all this strife and confusion and say, “None of that matters any more. Because Jesus.”

Is God as Pro-Life as Christian, faith-based Pro-Life organizations?

This is a question introduced in two previous blog posts, A Letter to Pro-Life Crisis Center Director and Good News at Life’s Choices.

Let’s begin by defining terms.
Pro-Life definition

Most people who identify as Pro-Life prefer this adjective to be defined in the positive, that is, they’re “in favor of life.” What does this look like, to be in favor of life? It could range from something as simple as one quietly holding a Pro-Life mindset or worldview to something as extreme as adopting fifteen babies with Down Syndrome. Regardless of where one falls on the Pro-Life spectrum, the foundational principle is that life is valuable.

faith-based definition

Not all Pro-Life organizations are associated with religion. There are atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other secularists who are Pro-Life based solely on scientific or philosophical reasons. For the purpose of this blog post, the focus will be on faith-based Pro-Life organizations only. Why? Because “faith” is a loaded word, and a faith-based organization consists of people with motives and intentions influenced or even dictated by religious doctrine.

What is faith?

In the book of Hebrews (11:1, Berean Literal Translation) “faith” is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not being seen.”

If you support or participate in an organization in favor of life, and this organization upholds a certain set of beliefs or doctrines, then it follows that the organization’s beliefs or doctrines should also be in favor of life. The Pro-Life movement consists mainly of evangelical Protestants and Catholics.

So, what exactly, do evangelical Protestants and Catholics hope for? Of what “things not (yet) being seen” are they convinced?

Three tools to share faith…

In Good News at Life’s Choices I wrote,

To both my relief and delight, Life’s Choices of Lake County does NOT require peer counselors to believe and teach the doctrine of eternal torment in Hell — something that happens behind the scenes in many Pro-Life ministries, which automatically excludes believers like me who reject the doctrine.

Marcia explained that procedures and practices have evolved over the past decade. Currently, peer counselors at Life’s Choices may use one of three “tools” to share their faith (none of which mention eternal torment in Hell), or they can choose not to use tools at all, and just tell their story in their own words. The idea is to introduce each woman to the Maker of the baby inside her and invite her into a relationship with the Creator of all life.

The three tools have commonalities that reveal the hope of evangelical Protestants and Catholics:

  • Tool 1: “everlasting life… heaven”
  • Tool 2: “gift of eternal life”
  • Tool 3: “the gift of eternal life”

Evangelical Protestants and Catholics who use these or similar tools share their hope with the women who visit crisis pregnancy centers in order that these women might avoid consequences:

  • Tool 1: “we deserve to die and be separated from God forever”
  • Tool 2: “God’s punishment for your sin is death and separation from God forever”
  • Tool 3: “the soul that sins, it shall die… [God] is just and must punish sin”
Do aborted babies have eternal life? Do aborted babies go to heaven?

Most evangelicals would either say “yes” outright, or lean very heavily toward “yes.”  The theological problem with the auto-yes response is the doctrine of original sin. Care Net, one of the largest networks of pregnancy centers in North America (Life’s Choices is part of this network), indirectly references original sin in its statement of faith:

4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful man, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential, and that this salvation is received through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and not as a result of good works.

The fate of babies who grow up and reject God…

Traditional evangelical Protestants and Catholics believe sin is both inherent and personal, in other words, if you are human, you are a sinner, even if you are not old enough to have ever personally committed any sins. There are differing views on exactly how or why unborn babies, as well as infants, children, and adults who do not have the ability to reason go to heaven. For more information, read this article. For our purposes, we can focus on babies whose lives do not end in natural or clinical abortion, who grow and mature to gain the ability to reason, and according to number four of Care Net’s statement of faith, must receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord or be damned:

6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

What is this damnation? According to the “tools” we examined earlier, damnation is the punishment for sin: death followed by conscious eternal separation from God. The prevailing doctrine embraced by evangelical Protestants and Catholics defines eternal separation from God as eternal torment in hell or the Lake of Fire. A less popular but tolerated view of separation from God is annihilationism, the belief that damned souls, being separated from God, cease to exist. A growing minority of evangelical Protestants and Catholics believe in a more hopeful third view, which is, unfortunately, systematically condemned in many churches. You can read about it in Julie Ferwerda’s book, Raising Hell available in print or free PDF download. See also the list of resources on the home page of WhatGodDoes.com.

Examining abortion in light of doctrine…

Andrea Yates who killed all five of her children, said:

The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell.

If it is true that unborn babies, infants, children, and adults who do not have the ability to reason go to heaven, then didn’t Andrea Yates technically do her children a favor by drowning them one by one in the bathtub? Otherwise, they might have grown up and rejected the plan of salvation. Don’t her actions ensure their place in heaven? Isn’t it true that no one needs to worry about the eternal destiny of her children, since they died before reaching the age of accountability? (If you haven’t heard about the age of accountability, please do your homework.)

Some readers may feel a sense of outrage at the previous paragraph. It’s as if I’m condoning murder. How comfortable and convenient it is to be outraged at hard questions! Outrage deflects attention away from the questions themselves and toward the question-asker.

This is the approach Randy Alcorn, author and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, takes in his article, If an unborn baby is better off in God’s presence, then why do Christians consider abortion a crime against the unborn? Alcorn presents a series of questions that make an argument condoning abortion, and then he says:

This argument is based on a sterile logic so chilling as to suggest its place of origin—the pit of hell.

His article purports to answer questions, but it really just uses sanctimonious outrage to avoid questions. Sure, the questions can be considered offensive, but that doesn’t mean the questions aren’t legitimate and can be dismissed unanswered.

Let’s stop deflecting and avoiding hard questions. Instead we should bring each and every argument to its logical conclusion. In doing so, we will discover the inevitable outcome — we need to reexamine traditional Christian doctrines. Pro-Life efforts will continue to be hindered otherwise.

In the next blog post we’ll look at Alcorn’s article.

Planned Parenthood Videos

With the recent release of the Planned Parenthood videos by The Center for Medical Progress, the field of fetal tissue research is under scrutiny. As a spectator to several lengthy heated conversations on the subject, I couldn’t help but notice Pro-Life people seem incapable of articulating a good case against fetal tissue research. Why? Because they are more concerned about building a good case against abortion itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But please, people, recognize that it is a thing.

Perhaps one day I’ll write a blog post about abortion and fetal tissue research, but not today. Instead, I’d like to unapologetically take a page from the book of my Pro-Life friends and change the subject.

Is God Pro-Life?

Is God as Pro-Life as Christian, faith-based Pro-Life organizations? This might seem like a disrespectful question, since God is the Author of life, but if we examine traditional Christian doctrine, the question turns out to be not only legitimate but very consequential to the Pro-Life purpose. Planned Parenthood isn’t the only organization that needs to be in the hot seat. Many churches and Pro-Life organizations believe and teach a doctrine more horrifying than anything Planned Parenthood has done — eternal torment in Hell.

But first, here’s an update on the previous blog post. If you haven’t read it, please do so now. Otherwise you may be a little lost.

Update
Life's Choices and The Florida Catholic

Photo by ELIZABETH WILSON, used with permission of FLORIDA CATHOLIC

I recently met with Marcia Daniel, Executive Director of Life’s Choices of Lake County, to gain clarity on some issues before writing this blog.

To both my relief and delight, Life’s Choices of Lake County does NOT require peer counselors to believe and teach the doctrine of eternal torment in Hell — something that happens behind the scenes in many Pro-Life ministries, which automatically excludes believers like me who reject the doctrine.

Marcia explained that procedures and practices have evolved over the past decade. Currently, peer counselors at Life’s Choices may use one of three “tools” to share their faith (none of which mention eternal torment in Hell), or they can choose not to use tools at all, and just tell their story in their own words.  The idea is to introduce each woman to the Maker of the baby inside her and invite her into a relationship with the Creator of all life.

Although I would not use any of these tools, I can see how they might be useful for someone who needs help articulating how they first came to understand Jesus Christ as so much more than just an influential historical figure — as the living Savior of the world Who makes Himself known in a very relevant, personal way to those who believe.

More good news about Life’s Choices

Among the many services Life’s Choices provides free of charge are ultrasounds, thanks to a dedicated group of Catholics.

The ultrasound machine was acquired through the assistance of four local Knights of Columbus councils… Over an 18-month period, the councils held dinners, cooked breakfasts, organized raffles and accepted donations to raise $14,250, which was then matched by the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council to purchase the machine for the clinic. — Elizabeth Wilson, Florida Catholic article, “Ultrasound machine offers ‘window to the womb'”

The Apostles’ Creed

Life’s Choices’ board of directors decided to include the Apostle’s Creed as a statement of faith peer counselors can sign if it is more agreeable to them than the original Life’s Choices statement of faith. This demonstrates both a willingness and a practical application of that willingness to include Catholics, and other non-Protestant Christians who want to support the organization, regardless of denomination or differing opinions on peripheral issues.

You can read the Apostles’ Creed here. Interestingly, the earliest creed, recognized by all denominations, does not mention the doctrine of eternal torment in Hell. If you think this is irrelevant, be sure to read the upcoming blog post. The doctrine of eternal torment in Hell subtly yet effectively works against a foundational truth in Pro-Life ministry, that is, the value and dignity of human life.

Common go-to Pro-Life arguments include:
  • Life is a gift from God.
  • Unborn babies are defenseless. We need to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
  • Unborn babies are human beings. God forbids the killing of human beings (murder).
  • The Hippocratic Oath requires medical personnel to save, not destroy human life.
  • An unborn baby is aware and can feel pain.

Each of these arguments finds its basis in the idea that human life is inherently valuable.

“… this horrifying holocaust can be halted if those who value human life, worship the true God…”

— Hank Hanagraff, CRI

And with the above quote, we’ve now come full circle to that seemingly disrespectful question: Is God as Pro-Life as Christian, faith-based Pro-Life organizations? What about the “horrifying holocaust” of eternal torment in Hell? The next blog post will explore these questions.

Hello Marcia,

In light of the recent Planned Parenthood video, I am about to write a blog about my experience at Life’s Choices. The purpose of the blog is two-fold. First, to encourage people to get involved with efforts that provide practical help with abortion alternatives and an atmosphere of love and acceptance for those who choose not to make use of those alternatives. Second, to admonish the conservative Christian community for hypocrisy — being too busy or too fearful or too whatever to seriously compare their pro-life beliefs with their supposedly “pro-life” doctrines.

Also, please be aware that this message is a blog to introduce the blog post described in the first paragraph.

Put yourself back in the year 2010 for a moment. I told you that I needed to adjust my schedule to a fill-in position at Life’s Choices because of my new job (truth), and I ultimately decided to end my volunteer activities there because I was moving to Orlando (truth), but there was another truth that I kept to myself, that is, the reason I didn’t find a way to overcome those obstacles to continue volunteering at Life’s Choices.

You told me to hand out little business cards that warned against eternal torment in hell. You also included on your forms that I completed and signed a little check box to say we had a conversation about salvation (which, of course, included handing these ladies one of these cards). I found it very suspicious that this would be required of me after having expressed to the leadership at my church my rejection of the doctrine of eternal torment. I suspected that just as spiritual police had made life hell for me at NorthPointe, perhaps they were trying to make life hell for you, as well, since you had not “fired” me yet.

You and the other women there were a lifeline of love and acceptance to me during a time when so many others either completely rejected me and kicked me to the curb or sat by silently as those in power became more and more abusive toward me.

Now that some time has passed, and I have considered everything completely, I have come to the understanding that I likely would have found a way to continue at Life’s Choices if I were not expected to push this eternal torment in hell doctrine.

I complied. Sort of. I gave the card and checked the box, but I also told these women that I was required to give them the card and that I personally, did not agree with that version of the hell doctrine. I shared the plan of salvation with them in which Jesus actually IS the Savior of all, of how He succeeds in His mission to seek and save the lost — including women who have abortions.

I longed to share my experiences with you, but I was afraid of even more shunning and spiritual abuse.

Now, however, I can tell you the story of how their hearts melted right before my eyes, how they recognized the value and dignity of every human life, either expressing their decision to choose life or their resolve to reconsider having an abortion. I saw the difference between women who heard a message of hope that may disappoint and women who heard a message of hope that does not fail, and I knew I was saying exactly what God wanted them to hear.

But I also felt like a liar.

Because you were imagining in those private conversations with abortion-minded women, I was either complying with the doctrine or pretending to.

I simply expressed everything as you or the spiritual police would have, handed them the card, and then burst that bubble of fear with what I had recently discovered about God’s intentions toward the human race. I explained that believers, just like not-yet-believers, are screwed up people with screwed up ideas, but the Spirit of God could help all of us sift through all the bullshit and discover Him as He really is.

Do you remember calling me to tell me that the woman who had had four abortions already and was planning to have another came by Life’s Choices to introduce her baby? She was one of those whose heart melted in front of me. This happened because of the love of God evident in our conversation. I can look back without regret.

Having said all of this, I have a pointed question for you. I am genuinely sorrowful to pose it, because I know that you walk a fine line, getting most of your financial support from a bunch of local churches that are not unified in doctrinal positions. And how you answer may have some impact for or against that financial support. (The sorrow comes because believers should never give or withhold financially over doctrines when lives are at stake.) Please understand I must ask this question in order to write the blog presenting Life’s Choices accurately — neither throwing it under the bus nor presenting it as some kind of saintly organization incapable of error.

You see, in the blog I am about to write, I would like to clarify that I left Life’s Choices before Life’s Choices had a chance to “fire” me. In a recent blog post, I encouraged County Clerks who oppose gay marriage, instead of resigning their positions, to stay put and refuse to complete the paperwork. This is similar to what I did at NorthPointe. I stayed put, even though I knew I would get fired, because getting fired demonstrated the level of opposition toward those who reject eternal torment that exists in many churches today. Believers need to be aware of the lengths their leaders will go to in order to protect this doctrine. I did not do the same thing at Life’s Choices. God didn’t give me the emotional fortitude to persevere through it, so I didn’t. Perhaps He was also protecting you, because he knows your intentions are good and your work is so important.

In case you hadn’t noticed, His light is beginning to shine brighter and brighter. Things previously hidden are now becoming exposed. Uncomfortable conversations are being placed on the table for discussion with increasing frequency. Life’s Choices (and its supporting churches) need to speak up now.

My question is: If I had been completely candid with you then, as I am now, about what kind of conversations were happening between me and abortion-minded women — would you have permitted me to continue as a peer counselor at Life’s Choices?

Please tell me that in the blog I am about to write, I can say that it is not a requirement for Life’s Choices peer counselors to believe and teach eternal torment.

The not-yet-believing world is paying attention.


Please note, I do not oppose gay marriage. I believe that each one of us is accountable to God for our decisions, and that it is not my place to decide whether two people should get married. Just as I would not want someone to prevent or delegitimize my marriage to Tim, I think others should be treated with the same dignity. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing for the LGBTQ community to demonstrate tolerance toward those who would have trouble sleeping at night because of a crisis of conscience over dissonance between their moral convictions and fulfilling their job requirements? 

 

You may have seen these headlines:

Entire County Clerk Office Resigns Over Same-Sex MarriageSame-sex marriage leads Grenada Circuit Clerk to resign, Arkansas County Clerk Resigns So She Doesn’t Have To Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses, or similar stories.

A while back, I wrote a blog post presenting the hypothetical scenario we now see playing out, with one minor difference. I wrote:

Can employees who oppose gay marriage refuse to issue marriage licenses? Yes, they can. Again, they would lose their jobs, but no one can force them to complete the paperwork.

If believers say, “We oppose gay marriage,” yet they choose to prepare marriage licenses for gay couples, what kind of message does this send?

The message I hear is: I oppose gay marriage when it is convenient and safe for me to oppose gay marriage, but my moral conviction to oppose gay marriage crumbles when my paycheck is at stake. Therefore, my moral conviction isn’t as convincing as I say it is.

The minor difference is that the clerks are resigning. Granted, this is a form of opposition, and although I don’t necessarily share their convictions, I do respect their decision to do what they believe is the right thing to do. But one thing that really frustrates me is that this conflict isn’t allowed to reach its logical conclusion. In other words, I want to see clerks refuse to issue same-sex licenses and have their employment TERMINATED.

No, I don’t get my jollies seeing people lose their jobs. Let me explain.

There’s a higher purpose in all of this.

Making a personal decision to give up your job ≠ having your job taken away from you against your will.

The former doesn’t allow the natural consequences of the Supreme Court decision to unfold. There is no outcry, because there is no injustice when one, of his or her own volition, decides to resign. The former doesn’t beg any question, but the latter begs the question, “Should it be legal for a county clerk to lose his or her job for refusing to do something that violates his or her First Amendment rights?” Specifically,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

In my opinion, the free exercise of religion includes making decisions and choices that reflect one’s religion, including the refusal to participate in activities against which one morally objects. I haven’t taken the time to research the religion of each of the people in the articles above, but in two of the articles, a specific appeal to the authority of the Bible is mentioned.

I imagine (or hope, at least) that the LGBTQ community, having first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be denied their constitutional rights for so long, would disapprove of the termination of employment for county clerks who do not comply with the Supreme Court decision. As long as they can get a marriage license from a clerk without moral objections, isn’t that what really matters? Isn’t it possible to find a way to allow both the LGBTQ community AND county clerks to maintain their constitutional rights?

If county clerks keep quitting their jobs, we may never know.

The Homeless Teacher has learned a lot living on the streets, but he’s having a hard time processing something that happened recently.

You may remember reading about Homeless and Hungry back in August. My former coworker, Thomas Rebman, “the Homeless Teacher,” has been purposely living homeless off and on over the past year in 13 cities, including Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami, Pensacola, New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix. He’s attended/presented at city council meetings in numerous cities and published articles in local newspapers to raise awareness of homelessness and the inadequacy and/or ineffectiveness of many homeless programs. The Homeless and Hungry Facebook page currently has 16,000 likes.

Rebman has also appeared on local TV news programs.

Julie (I’m not sure I have permission to share last names) saw Rebman on the news and mistakenly thought he was her boyfriend, Michael. Upon closer inspection, she realized that Rebman wasn’t her boyfriend but someone who looked very much like him. She told Michael. Since Michael was adopted and searching for possible siblings, he contacted Rebman.

Rebman, too, was adopted.

Rebman says on his Facebook page,

People say things happen for a reason. Maybe this whole homeless journey has been nothing more than a way to have us find each other.

The two men met today and have agreed to get a DNA test.

 

Caitlyn Jenner and Josh Duggar have something in common. Many evangelicals/conservatives say Bruce is true and Caitlyn is false. Many secular/liberal people say fourteen-year-old Josh is true and twenty-something Josh is false.

When you love and accept someone, it doesn’t mean you’re okay with all they do. It means you choose to see the true person.

Wait a minute, you say.

Are you talking about Jenner, or are you talking about Duggar? you ask.

I’ll just let you decide. And after you’ve made your decision, God will choose to see you. The true you.


I’m tired, and I should have been in bed two hours ago. I rewrote this post several times, because each draft seemed to convey the wrong message. Hopefully, this draft comes across loud and clear. Please feel free to comment so I can gauge whether I’ve communicated the idea I’ve actually intended to communicate.

 

Not much time to blog lately… but I thought readers might be interested to know that there’s an Apostle Paul movie in the works, starring Hugh Jackman’s ripped Wolverine abs. I mean, starring Hugh Jackman.

Until the next REAL blog, here are some past blogs containing Paul’s writings:

Parade of Triumph: Via Dolorosa

The Reign of God Is Within You

Ancient Landmarks

Every Day Easter

Martha Stewart Theology

Exposition on the Reign of God: Narrow vs Wide

Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of Scrutiny

#DareToHope Grace Orlando

Disturbing Trends

And if you haven’t already, check out the page Movie Reviews: Finding God on the Big Screen.
Have you noticed Hollywood has taken an interest in spirituality lately?

God’s spies are everywhere, and impromptu divine appointments can happen in the most unlikely places, like Earth Day Birthday 22 (the biggest one-day rock festival in the state of Florida).

At the acoustic stage a band called Islander played a three song set that struck me in a positive way, but one song in particular, Coconut Dracula, really got my attention. After Islander’s set was over, they took a few minutes to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. I asked lead singer, Mikey Carvajal to explain what the song was about.

His explanation was something like this:

Count Dracula takes a bite of a coconut, and it is so sweet, he has an epiphany about beauty and goodness and no longer feels the need to murder people and drink blood. He changes his name to Coconut Dracula, plants a garden, and starts doing good things. His transformation has a profound effect on one of his monster buddies, a mummy. As someone covered in dirty rags and dead inside, the mummy wants to know how he can see the world the way Coconut Dracula does, only wanting what is beautiful. The song lyrics are written from the mummy’s perspective.

The story sounded rather cartoonish to me, but it also had strangely familiar undertones of deep and meaningful concepts.

Then Carvajal said, “But what the song is really about is my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and what he has done for me.”

Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves… the kind of place where girls walk around topless with their boobs painted, where bands like Five Finger Death Punch and Slash play, and the smell of marijuana fills the air. (My version of a George Macleod quote, based on my experience today.)

I’m encouraged when I see believers mix and mingle with not-yet-believers instead of segregating themselves into little church bubbles, especially in the music scene. There’s a huge difference between Christian music (written for and marketed toward a Christian audience) and music that is just music where the Christian faith organically shows up because of the influence of one or more band members (like with Flyleaf or P.O.D.). Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Christian music. I happen to like some of it. But the music scene is so much bigger than that one genre, and it makes sense to me that believers don’t allow themselves to get stuck in the Christian music genre, which would inadvertently alienate the majority, if not their entire audience.

 

 

In this video, Gary Amirault tells one of the many “horror stories of the effects of hell on various people’s lives” he’s heard over the years through Tentmaker Ministries. Gary got a phone call from a minister of a large Baptist church. The minister told him the story of “how he came into seeing the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.” It began when his 17-year-old daughter had a vision of repeatedly stabbing Jesus. That’s not the whole vision, but I’ll leave the rest for Amirault to retell. Needless to say, the minister was very concerned. Watch the video to find out about the rest of the vision and how the girl’s father responded — and how the Jesus in her vision responded.

  • Who is Jesus?
  • Is the traditional Gospel (turn or burn) really the good news?
  • Does Jesus lose most of mankind into eternal damnation?
  • What is the Gospel?
  • Is it possible that Jesus NEVER FAILS for ANYONE?
  • Have you ever read the book, Restitution of All Things, by Andrew Jukes?

It’s time to move out of the shadows. It’s time to storm the gates of Hell and to begin to let the world know that we have a Savior that saves, that truly saves ALL. Including you, your friends, your family, and even your enemies.

— Gary Amirault

 

The sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Orlando is undergoing a $14 million renovation. According to the article, “Megachurch Gets Makeover” in today’s Orlando Sentinel, Senior Associate Pastor Danny de Armas said,

We were trying to figure out how do we get smaller, become more intimate, so that people can engage rather than observe, people can participate rather than spectate.

For the institutional church, recognition of a problem, although uncomfortable, is a step in the right direction. After all, how can a problem be resolved if it isn’t acknowledged? So hats off to FBCO for admitting and plainly stating the problem. Their way of resolving the problem leaves me scratching my head and saying, “Bless their hearts.”

So, how does one go about getting 5,690 people to engage and participate? Here’s FBCO’s plan:

  1. Replace the pews with 4,350 stadium seats
  2. Move the back wall 20 feet closer to the stage
  3. Install a 25-by-16 foot video screen
  4. Paint the ceiling “stealth” black
  5. Spend $1.2 million on high-def cameras
  6. Change the color scheme
  7. Install dimmable LED house lights
  8. Update the speaker system

These ideas are great, if the goal is to have state-of-the-art facility. But this solution really does very little to encourage engagement and participation.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Organize members according to their geographical location and ask them to take turns meeting in each other’s homes. Sell the building, and donate the money to local charities — housing for homeless people; cribs, diapers, formula, clothing, etc. for crisis pregnancy centers; tutoring for struggling students; vehicles designed for disabled people; financial aid for full-time caregivers, and so on.
  2. If, as I strongly suspect, number one is out of the question, then at least radically modify the eight-point plan above, so that it moves toward resolving the stated problem instead of preserving the status quo. Forgo replacing the pews, relocating the walls, painting the ceiling, and changing the color scheme, these things are not the problem. $1.2 million for high def cameras seems excessive. You can get just one or two decent cameras for much less. Use the money you saved to install tablets and charging stations throughout the sanctuary and one other thing (see number 3). While attenders are listening to and watching the sermon on stage, they can send it to a friend from their device or tweet it. Even more importantly, they can post questions and comments to the giant video screen in real time.
  3. Notice I said “speaker” not pastor. That’s because FBCO could use some of the money to hire SECULAR presentation coaches that will help ordinary people successfully communicate and deliver 5-10 minute sermons. An MC can coordinate a Q&A free-for-all via the video screen after the sermon as members explore, scrutinize, support, and reject various elements of the sermon. You can probably do three or four of these each Sunday. The reason I stress “secular” presentation coaches is because church leaders will probably want to censor some content, not because it’s vulgar or offensive, but because it doesn’t fit neatly within the boundaries of orthodoxy. The pastor can still preach. But he can share his platform, because God regularly gives people other than pastors a story to tell or a lesson to teach.
  4. Keep the speaker system upgrades. In a building that huge, a good, quality sound system is essential. Besides, praise and worship time is always good, even when it’s slightly off tune or out of sync, because it comes more from the heart than other forms of communication. The Spirit of God has a way of speaking in a powerful way through music. Perhaps the only improvement needed in this department, which won’t cost a dime more, is having an open-mic form of worship. You can visit your local tavern or coffee shop for tips and tricks for having a successful open-mic.

Of my suggestions, I think numbers two and three are the scariest for church leaders. Giving up control of the mic and the platform to the people in attendance can result in all kinds of unwanted changes. People might venture into terribly controversial theological territory and form opinions of truth that don’t jive with orthodoxy. They might come up with a new orthodoxy that makes the old one (and those who staunchly guarded it) look implausible and irresponsible.

Think about it. The opportunity to participate in big church on Sunday mornings is limited to singing along, a quick hello during meet and greet time, and well, that’s about it. How will FBCO’s $14 million plan change that?

Regarding the song, Take Me to Church by Hozier, Taylor Marshall writes a line-by-line commentary in his blog post, Take Me to Church Lyrics and Meaning, A Christian Analysis and Critique:

The God throughout the song is a girlfriend… revealed religion is cast into doubt… “they” [Catholics] teach original sin… So unlike Catholicism, there are no moral absolutes – only relativism… the liturgy is sex. It’s the place of union between him and the “god”/girlfriend… acknowledges original sin – but he loves it… remember, “Church” here is sexual reference in this song… he hands over his life to her the “god”… the god/girlfriend is also a goddess… egalitarian ritual – sex… hey, at least he knows it’s sin – he’s Irish!… a reference perhaps to leaving earth into the “heavenly bliss” of sexual embrace… he ends with a reference the sexual completion as a kind of baptism or absolution…

Marshall summarizes the meaning of the song:

It takes rich Catholic sacramental language but re-signifies the imagery as a sexual encounter. And that’s the so-called “genius” of this song. […] The devil doesn’t needs a league of heavy metal Satanists. He’d almost prefer to have people mocking the Christian sacraments and ritual.

Finally, Marshall concludes:

I know it’s a catchy song. There’s a part of me that likes it. But seriously, this is probably one of the most sacramental songs every popularized – and it sacramentalizes the wrong values.

The following quotes come from songfacts.com:

Speaking with The Irish Times, Hozier said about matters of the heart: “I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment – if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes – everything you believed about yourself gone. In a death-and-rebirth sense.”

Hozier attracted further attention with the release of the song’s Brendan Canty directed music video, which criticizes the repression of gay people in Russia. “Growing up in Ireland, the church is always there – the hypocrisy, the political cowardice,” Hozier told Billboard magazine. “The video has the same theme – an organization that undermines humanity.”

Hozier added that the song is not an attack on faith. “Coming from Ireland, obviously, there’s a bit of a cultural hangover from the influence of the church. You’ve got a lot of people walking around with a heavy weight in their hearts and a disappointment, and that s–t carries from generation to generation,” he explained. “So the song is just about that – it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile. Electing, in this case a female, to choose a love who is worth loving.”

So why is there such a glaring disconnect between Marshall’s perception of the song and Hozier’s stated meaning? I would blame the disconnect on the idea that Marshall never checked to see what Hozier said about the song, but apparently he did. Marshall quotes Hozier in his blog post:

In an interview with New York Magazine in March 2014, the artist Hozier stated:

“‘Take Me to Church’ is essentially about sex, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that would… undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God…

But it’s not an attack on faith… it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile.”

Hozier’s lyric-writing method reminds me of the way I went about writing this poem, that is, taking two ideas that seem to be totally unrelated and weaving them together to create layers of meaning.

“Yellow Newspaper”

The pulpit dressed in subway wall tiles
mural people crowding-working-playing St. Crosswalk Chapel

Where the windblown lady tries to pass
the four-dog-walking denim man on a cell phone isn’t off

To one side. Avoiding cracks in deference, PLEASE NO

Loitering-smoking-spitting-radio-playing to the altar.
Dreadlocks beating on a Catholic drum under NY

It isn’t a yellow cab lectern saying
DON’T WALK DON’T WALK DON’T WALK

Wheeled onto the stage of the sun bleached sun
when the Christian rock band sits down, as it is.

No standing any time. But sometimes people do stand

out of the dust. They cry twisted metal tears and press painted nondenominational hands to banners covering high wrought-iron fences that keep the mega-churches safe from God Bless America.

Ascend every Sunday to the large imposing wooden Central Park where the new yellow leaves

die over and over like Gothic cathedrals,
the old guard
preaching, “Return to the days of John Lennon!”

even though entertainment forgets.

Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy NY Times, the sign says, not knowing

how the statues lost their color to the stain glass windows.
And suddenly, there’s spiked hair and leather reading a book and eating an apple.
Your doppelganger.

Take a picture and think deeply, precisely,
seriously, before you are cool again.

I think that interpreting song lyrics is like interpreting poetry (or scripture for that matter). The interpretation one constructs can say more about the intentions of the interpreter than the intended meaning of the original work.

I would fail Abraham’s test (and I bet you would, too) – Rachel Held Evans’ uncomfortably edgy blog post about interpreting scripture.

Why I’d still believe in God, even if the Bible was a fairytale – (Thanks for the link, Ian Dean.)

Wood Carvings by Rich Koeditz – The images on the Facebook page don’t show the incredible detail of Rich’s bird carvings. When you see them in person, you can’t help but touch them, the feathers look so real. (Thanks for the link, Mary Koeditz.)

Andrée Peel – This incredible woman was part of the resistance in France after the German invasion during World War II. (Thanks to Kathy Meyer for sharing a Facebook post about Peel. There was no link so I found Peel on Wikipedia.)

The Last Question – A short story by Isaac Asimov that you can easily read in one sitting. (Again, thanks for the link, Ian.)

 

Tweets, Malala, Rain, Tolkien, and Marijuana

One Million Tweet Map – self explanatory

What Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize Means for Pakistan’s Women – This little lady is incredible. I’m definitely going to read her book.

Rain – “Maybe it’s when we’re in these situations, where everything seems to be falling apart, that God gets an opportunity to remind us of how much he really loves us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Little-Known Art – I had no idea that Tolkien (a good friend of C.S. Lewis, BTW) had artistic talents.

States That Have Decriminalized – Marijuana “decriminalization means no prison time or criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount for personal consumption” — instead, “conduct is treated like a minor traffic violation.”

What’s Your Least Favorite Bible Verse and Why?

LHChamber Music – Thanks, once again, to Stephen Helbig who, in response to God Particle, shared this beautiful musical piece “based on the sonification of the data recorded by the 4 detectors (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb) during the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) run 2010-2013.”

Let’s Talk Publicly About Matthew 18 – What’s your least favorite Bible verse and why?

Ebola Map/Timeline – On one end of the spectrum there are those who say Ebola may already be airborne and 1.4 million people will likely be infected by January, and on the other hand, there are those who say Ebola is nothing to worry about — either way, you can keep an eye on Ebola using the map and timeline.

7 One-of-a-Kind Mothers Who Definitely Broke the Mold – Read about unusual mothers, from smallest mother and “pregnant man” to the most prolific mothers and breast milk donors.

Random Website Dot Com – If you’ve ever been completely bored and, just for kicks, grabbed a book, closed your eyes, opened the book, put your finger on the page, and read the paragraph, well, random website dot com is the like the cyber-version of that.

 

God Particle

Particle Fever: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Large Hadron Collider

Particle physicists came to a fork in the road after 40 years of theorizing about the Higgs Boson particle, aka the “God Particle,” with one possibility being a universe of supersymmetry, that is, “increasing beauty, simplicity, symmetry” or a multiverse, that is “chaos on enormous distances.” The deciding factor was the mass of the Higgs Boson particle, specifically, 115 GeV for supersymmetry and 140 GeV for a multiverse.

One of the most basic facts about the universe is that it’s big. So, you might wonder, why is the universe big? There’s actually a single number, called the cosmological constant, that plays a crucial role in determining what the universe looks like. In fact, around ten years ago, astronomers discovered a really remarkable fact: The universe is getting bigger and bigger at a faster and faster rate, but this rate is a million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion times slower than what we would actually predict. When you’re off by a factor of a million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, there’s something very wrong with your understanding of basic physics. Even worse, this one number, the cosmological constant, needs to have this extremely precise value, and if the value is different even by a tiny bit, we would radically change what the world looks like around us. If you saw a situation where the parameter has a very dangerous value, if you changed it a little bit, the world would change radically. We’d be dead. We couldn’t possibly live. You would wonder where that came from, you know, how is that possible? So, just on the face of it, you would look at the situation and say, wow, someone really cared to put this parameter at just the right value so that we get to be here and that it’s a pleasant universe… and really cares a lot. This is the sort of thing that really keeps you up at night. It really makes you wonder, maybe we’ve got something about the whole picture, the big picture, totally, totally, totally wrong.

In the multiverse theory, the numbers that permit life are totally random and accidental, most of the universe is lethal, and we can’t ever hope to understand the laws of physics — “in a sense, it’s the end of physics.”

125 GeV

Higgs boson of mass ≈125 GeV, tentatively confirmed by CERN on 14 March 2013

Supersymmetry could still be true, but it would have to be a very strange version of the theory. And if it’s the multiverse, well, other universes would be amazing, of course, but it could also mean no other new particles discovered. And then the Higgs, with a mass of 125, is right at a critical point for the fate of our universe. Without any other new particles, that Higgs is unstable. It’s temporary. And since the Higgs holds everything together, if the Higgs goes, everything goes. It’s amazing that the Higgs, the center of the standard model, the thing we’ve all been looking for, could also be the things that destroys everything. The creator and the destroyer. But we could discover new particles, and then none of that would be true. And anyway, we have something to do.

The Higgs Boson particle, called the “God Particle” because it seems to be the foundation for everything that exists and because it is difficult to detect, serves as a reminder of some important spiritual concepts (the ignorance of which may be keeping some physicists up night):

[The Father] has delivered and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love… He is the exact likeness of the unseen God [the visible representation of the invisible]… For it was in Him that all things were created… all things were created and exist through Him [by His service, intervention] and in and for Him… He Himself existed before all things, and in Him all things consist (cohere, are held together)… He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from among the dead, so that He alone in everything and in every respect might occupy the chief place [stand first and be preeminent]… God purposed that through (by the service, the intervention of) Him [the Son] all things should be completely reconciled back to Himself… (from Colossians 1, AMP)

*All quotes, except from Colossians, are from Particle Fever

 

 

Ready? Let’s Go.

#OffScript

People identify with the Audi Scripted Life commercial because we so often say and do what is expected of us (follow the script) instead of being who God created us to be.

We are aware, sometimes painfully aware, that everything and everyone is currently a distorted version of his/her/its highest form.

C.S. Lewis quote

The closer one comes to his or her highest form in Christ (like the straight line in the quote above), the more likely he or she is to be tarred and feathered with the helpful suggestions and sugary slogans of believers who accept the distorted version as the norm.

“Fitter Happier” by Radiohead “consists of sampled musical and background sound and lyrics recited by a synthesized voice from the Macintosh SimpleText application” and is described by songwriter Thom Yorke as “the most upsetting thing I’ve ever written” (Wikipedia).

It is both disturbing and beautiful — disturbing, because it exposes the perishing cosmic stratagem, and beautiful, because it provides excellent contrast from which one may, perhaps, better understand the true meaning of the aionios zoe in Christ.

Fitter Happier

more productive
comfortable
not drinking too much
regular exercise at the gym (3 days a week)
getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries
at ease
eating well (no more microwave dinners and saturated fats)
a patient better driver
a safer car (baby smiling in back seat)
sleeping well (no bad dreams)
no paranoia
careful to all animals (never washing spiders down the plughole)
keep in contact with old friends (enjoy a drink now and then)
will frequently check credit at (moral) bank (hole in wall)
favors for favors
fond but not in love
charity standing orders
on sundays ring road supermarket
(no killing moths or putting boiling water on the ants)
car wash (also on sundays)
no longer afraid of the dark
or midday shadows
nothing so ridiculously teenage and desperate
nothing so childish
at a better pace
slower and more calculated
no chance of escape
now self-employed
concerned (but powerless)
an empowered and informed member of society (pragmatism not idealism)
will not cry in public
less chance of illness
tires that grip in the wet (shot of baby strapped in back seat)
a good memory
still cries at a good film
still kisses with saliva
no longer empty and frantic
like a cat
tied to a stick
that’s driven into
frozen winter shit (the ability to laugh at weakness)
calm
fitter, healthier and more productive
a pig
in a cage
on antibiotics

What happened to Will?

Two-Minute Tuesday

With a two-minute writing limit, this should be a special challenge for me as a writer. I won’t pick a subject ahead of time. I’ll just sit down and start typing about whatever happens to be on my mind. No editing, no backspacing, just typing non-stop. When the timer rings, I’ll stop immediately, even mid-sentence. You might want to skip Tuesdays! Or maybe you can help finish the blog post in the comment section.

Ready… Set… Go!

For those of you who read the Homeless and Hungry blog post, you may be wondering what ever happened to Will. Well, I called him the other day, and he said that he’s doing handy-man work for a guy who agreed to let him pitch a tent in the back yard while he’s earning money. He wants to go visit his mom. I think he said she lives in Georgia. Anyhow, it’s her 81st birthday, and he really wants to be there. So… (TIME’S UP!)

a little part of it in everyone

Musical Monday

  1. An article by Elizabeth Svoboda called “Feats of Will” in Discover Magazine (October 2014, print) explores “why some people knuckle under in difficult situations while others power through” and features Diana Nyad, who found the resolve to push her 64-year-old body to swim 110 miles from Cuba to Florida (without a shark cage).
  2. Svoboda writes, “Nyad says she’s developed various conscious tactics […] to direct her mental focus away from stress and pain, including counting in four languages and repeatedly singing favorite songs like The Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young.
  3. According to Songfacts, the song is about the damaging effects of heroin, and Young wrote the song about Danny Whitten, one of the founding members of Crazy Horse.
  4. Young “attempted daily one-on-one lessons to try and rehabilitate his old friend” but after he showed up to rehearsal “so high on heroin that he couldn’t even hold up his guitar,” Young fired Whitten, “giving him 50 bucks (for rehab) and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles,” where he overdosed on alcohol and Valium.
  5. At first, I set out to write about why Nyad would choose this particular song as part of her conscious redirection, but then I decided to consciously redirect my focus to how we are all connected (heroin dealer –> Whitten –> Young –> Nyad –> Svoboda –> me –> you –> ?) and to invite readers to share in the comment section 1. how they happened upon WhatGodDoes or this blog post and 2. whether they can guess what might replace that little question mark at the end of the chain.

 

“The Needle and the Damage Done”

I caught you knockin’
at my cellar door
I love you, baby,
can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done.
I hit the city and
I lost my band
I watched the needle
take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.
I sing the song
because I love the man
I know that some
of you won’t understand
Milk-blood
to keep from running out.I’ve seen the needle
and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie’s
like a settin’ sun.

Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Why the Problem is Much Bigger Than One Church

There has been a lot of speculation on the Internet lately regarding the problems with the future of Mark Driscoll, pastor of the Mars Hill church and the church itself. Currently, Driscoll is taking a 6-week leave, the worship leader resigned last week, financial issues have led the church to consolidate or close some of its branches, and it plans to lay off some employees.

It’s not just a Mars Hill/Driscoll problem.

Trouble started brewing at the Mars Hill church back in 2007 when new by-laws were proposed and two elders who objected to the planned centralization of power with its potential for unrestrained abuse of power were fired before the new by-laws went to vote. Unfortunately, people seem to be mostly concerned with the fact that one pastor and one small group of elders have been abusing their power, but the real problem goes way beyond this limited view — it is not as much of a people problem as it is a system problem.

When the two elders were fired, members had plenty of questions, which Driscoll and the remaining elders answered in the form of a 142 page document. In this document, the word power(s) is mentioned 78 times, not including the derivatives of the word power, which could easily increase the count to 100 or more.

Power in the Institutional Church

In the institutional church, power is played out in different ways, through gestures and conduct, and it is portrayed in certain ways, sometimes openly justified and other times, hidden. The power struggle at Mars Hill is not an isolated incident. It may seem to be, because media attention gravitates toward the mega-church genre of the institutional church, but power struggles within institutional churches of all sizes are very common.

Power & Language

Many congregants or members of institutional churches don’t realize the strong relationship between power and language. Language is a social construct that, given the right set of circumstances, can influence one’s desires or beliefs. In other words, group A, usually the pastor and a handful of people in the upper hierarchy, can use words to create a framework of perception that directly influences group B’s ability to know and understand certain things. And since people base their decisions and actions on what they know and understand, group A can essentially exercise a form of control over the decisions and actions of group B in such an indirect way that group B actually feels as if they are acting in their own best interest.

It’s not that there’s some conspiracy among pastors and elders. They don’t sit in the conference room making villainous plans with evil grins on their faces. It just happens, because they are fallible human beings in a system that brings out the absolute worst in those who get caught up in it.

Pastors and their elite (elders) regularly exercise powers that limit not only the ability, but the desire of congregants to speak or act in opposition. How does this happen? The short answer is language. But the short answer, just one word, doesn’t hold much weight all on its own. Speaking, writing, and communication in other forms are all expressions of language. It is crucial that believers methodically examine not only discourse, but the hegemonic structure of information management within the institutional church.

Yes or no: Can you speak or write to the congregation?

If yes, through what channels of power would you need to navigate in order to do so? Some possibilities include:

  • Making a phone call to the church office
  • Making an appointment with the pastor, elder, or someone else in leadership
  • Submitting to a formal review of what you plan to say/write and why
  • Gaining access to a form of discourse (for example, a microphone, the church website, a newsletter)
  • Negotiating the length of time you are allowed to speak or the amount you can write (word count)
  • Negotiating whether you might be allowed to speak or write more than once, to respond to opposition or rebuttal from the leadership

If not, why not? Are you expected to only be a recipient of church-approved communication?

Why You Need Permission to Speak or Write to the Congregation

Church leadership (pastor and a handful of elites) have free access to roles that involve speaking or writing, can decide what to talk about or write about, and when to speak or publish content. They determine subject matter, emphasis, and delivery. They also control speaking or writing roles subordinates can have, the content of subordinate discourse, and when subordinate speaking or writing can take place, if at all. In other words, the discourse of regular attenders/members and those in lower-level leadership is not seen by regular attenders/members as legitimate communication unless it has a stamp of approval from the higher-level leadership. And church leadership will only give that stamp of approval to (i.e. share power with) those who understand and comply with their subordinate roles.

Why Church Leadership Manages Information

Information management is a crucial function of church leadership for many reasons, but one common denominator among the reasons is power. Information management is opinion management, and opinion management ensures the power of persuasion, which is the primary power leadership uses to prevent a subordinate person/group from acquiring power.  There are other methods to maintain power, such as selective funding or budget control, hiring and firing, etc. but these methods are still strictly framed within the context of information management.

Information Management Is Opinion Management

Because leadership power structures can be altered through real, organic, uncensored communication among congregants/members, the control of information, its production, and its distribution is essential to maintain opinion management. Think about it. Institutional church leadership not only decides whether a topic is relevant, but manufactures a schema of perception for norms and values. This schema of perception is built on materials/information consistent with the values and interests of the leadership, including:

  • Weekly sermons (powerpoint presentations, videos, handouts, etc.)
  • Announcements
  • Meetings
  • Publications (bulletins, newsletters, flyers, booklets, etc.)
  • Suggested Bible translations and Bible study resources
  • Small group curriculum (textbooks, workbooks, videos, etc.)
  • Christian entertainment (books, movies, etc.)
  • Church website and moderated forums
  • Favorable press (advertisements, articles, interviews, etc.)
  • Official personal communication (conversations, emails, texts, phone calls, etc.)

All of these threads work together to create a web of consensus, a solidarity of agreement, a constructed “feel-togetherness” that serves a very powerful purpose…

Opinion Management Ensures the Power of Persuasion

Any judgments, beliefs, or attitudes of individual congregants/members that do not fit neatly within the schema of perception are deemed by other congregants/members as backward, abnormal, defective, deficient, or even heretical. Opinion management enables the religious elite to gain the power of persuasion through fear of nonconformity. They don’t have to say or do anything to provoke this fear, because the congregants/members do it for them. How? Through an unspoken agreement that objection = dissension, disagreement = sabotage, protest = insurrection, and the like.

If, for some reason, a congregant/member does not respond to social pressure, opinion management still serves a very powerful purpose…

Leadership Uses the Power of Persuasion to Prevent a Subordinate Person/Group from Acquiring Power

When the religious elite feel that a congregant/member or someone in a lower-level leadership position is a threat to power, their response, however hostile, can be reconstructed within the schema of perception as a benevolent, gracious gesture. The language of a pastor and his small circle of religious elites, in many ways, conceals the true essence of their intentions, that is, to control mutiny. Explicit enforcement of power, in the eyes of the congregation, can backfire on them, so it is disguised by the language of “wise counsel,” perhaps in the form of a simple request or a little bit of sympathetic advice. This is how the congregant/member or someone in lower-level leadership, who has every right as a minister of reconciliation ordained by God, Himself, to object, disagree, or protest, may be categorized as rebellious or contentious if he/she does not comply.

Behind the curtain, the pastor and his small circle of religious elites can act like little gods who can’t be questioned, minimizing or dismissing concerns without consequence. In the public eye, they use their schema of perception (see the bullet list above) to offer Christianese responses that limit understanding and use their high status as a safeguard against justified criticism. Private meetings (i.e. spiritual bullying encounters) are reconstructed and disseminated through the schema of perception, to be used as a basis for further decisions or actions, which are then categorized as church “discipline.”

How Information Management Is a Basis for Other Methods to Maintain Power

When wise counsel and discipline fail, maintaining power becomes difficult, but still possible, with good information management. If the offender is an employee, threat of unpaid leave or termination may be used to maintain power. If the offender is not an employee, threat of losing status or influence in the church may have the same effect. With offenders who just won’t go away quietly, shunning can be a last resort. The problem with these and other methods is that pastors and high-level elders are only powerful in the church world. Even people who are fully assimilated into the schema of perception sometimes spot broken threads in the web of consensus. They begin to wonder whether the voice of consensus is actually just the voice of their institutional master  pastor and his bouncers elders.

In this situation, the small, power-holding group becomes especially vulnerable, and information management becomes extremely critical.  In the past, this stage of power-maintenance was not very difficult. The offender would change churches or move or stop going to church, and the congregation would only have access to information deemed relevant or necessary by upper leadership. Pray for them. Forget about them. As long as unfavorable information could be eliminated or severely restrained, the web of consensus would be repaired, and the schema of perception would be strengthened.

But we are no longer living in the past.

We are living in a time of pervasive and shared information. With free access to information on the Internet and social media opening the lines of communication, believers are beginning to form a true schema of perception where consensus is not manufactured and carefully maintained, but experienced as our souls are knit together in His love. Opinion can’t be as easily managed by a handful of fallible religious elite. They may clamor about and make panicked suggestions like “Don’t Google it, don’t blow your head up. We love Jesus, read your Bible, stay off the Internet. It’s all shenanigans anyways,” but opinion is beginning to form in a new way — deep within by the power of His Spirit. Perception is not so easy to control when most of the embarrassing facts are put on the table under the light of scrutiny. Believers have been blessed by God with a giant spotlight and megaphone. All of us can more accurately discern the gas guzzling, overheating Evangelical engine and the growing pile of discarded bodies behind it.

Power Isn’t Out There… It’s In Here

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in the heavens and on earth is named, that He may give to you, according to the riches of His glory, with might to be strengthened through His Spirit, in regard to the inner man, that the Christ may dwell through the faith in your hearts, in love having been rooted and founded, that ye may be in strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, to know also the love of the Christ that is exceeding the knowledge, that ye may be filled to all the fulness of God; and to Him who is able above all things to do exceeding abundantly what we ask or think, according to the power that is working in us, to Him [is] the glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus, to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.

The 2014 Homeless and Hungry Summit

2014 Homeless and Hungry Summit

Homelessness is complicated. It may be caused by addictions, mental health problems, a series of unfortunate events, or other reasons. I’m sure that there is at least a small minority of people who are homeless that deliberately choose to be homeless. Whatever the reason, people who have homes aren’t quite sure what to do about homelessness. More specifically, we don’t know how to respond to people who are homeless.

Homeless and Hungry Please Help

The thought process goes something like this: Should I give him money? What if he just uses the money to feed his addiction? Isn’t that just enabling him? It certainly isn’t helping him. Should I let him crash on my couch until he gets back on his feet? What if he just takes advantage of people financially, going from couch to couch for the rest of his life? That’s not right. Besides, he could be a murderer or a thief. I don’t want to endanger my family for this stranger.

Homeless and Hungry guy

We’ve all seen the cardboard signs. We haven’t all noticed the faces behind them. The 2014 Homeless and Hungry Summit was all about those faces. In fact, a handful of people without homes were in attendance. Some of them were easy to identify, by smell or appearance or behavior, while others looked and acted just like people with homes. The fact is, just as there are all sorts of people, there are also all sorts of people with no place to call home.

Jim

The Summit opens with a video of Jim, a man in a blue box. Yes, you read that right. You see, in downtown Orlando, there are blue boxes on the sidewalks, designated areas where the homeless are legally allowed to panhandle. “Just trying to make it. It’s like no one really cares,” Jim says. I don’t know Jim’s situation or background, but my guess is that he has some sort of disability or addiction. His speech is very slow and deliberate. He pauses for a long time to think. He says the most obvious things, like, “If I had a job right now, I’d be working.”

Thomas Rebman

After the video, Tom Rebman takes the stage dressed in a tuxedo. He seems a bit overdressed, I think to myself. And he looks a lot thinner and more weary than the last time I saw him. Then, I notice Tom’s shoes. I’ll explain later… Rebman is my former coworker, a guy who throws his heart and soul into everything he does. During my short time as a middle school language arts teacher, he was the reading teacher two doors down the hall. We collaborated on a few projects with the students, including some volunteer efforts with the school food pantry.

Orlando Sentinel Homeless and Hungry

“During the past month, Thomas Rebman has gotten in four fights, sold his plasma for bus fare and spent most nights sleeping on concrete or dirt in and around downtown Orlando. He has sifted through garbage, bathed in public bathrooms and lost 22 pounds — without trying. ‘It has been hell,’ admits the 53-year-old Orange County middle-school reading teacher. His grand social experiment to live as a homeless man for 30 days turned out to be far more stressful, humiliating and depressing than he envisioned.” (Orlando Sentinel)

statistics on homelessness

The first portion of Rebman’s speech was all about cold, hard figures on laws, policies, procedures, and statistics regarding homelessness. The one that struck me the hardest was this: “Living on the streets costs our community more than housing [people who are homeless]. Each chronically homeless person in Central Florida costs the community roughly $31,000 a year! But, providing the chronically homeless with permanent housing and case managers to supervise them would run about $10,000 per person per year, saving taxpayers millions of dollars during the next decade!!”

Laura Homeless and Hungry

This is Laura. She spent 24 hours with Tom on the streets. Her job was to count how many people who were homeless that she met, and of those people to track how many of them showed signs of being intoxicated or high on K2 or some other drug. She met 100+ and counted 12 that seemed to be on something. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that there are a lot more “responsibly homeless” (Rebman) than people imagine. Rebman says, “The ones who are smoking K2 or drinking beer are the ones you notice,” not those who are doing their best to get back on their feet.

toms shoes

These are Rebman’s shoes. His “homeless” shoes that were brand new when he began his 30 days on the streets. He didn’t have any tape, so he used plastic grocery bags to hold keep them from completely falling apart. Tom explains, when it rains, your shoes get wet. If you take them off at night while you’re sleeping, they’d be gone in the morning. If you leave them on, your feet end up blistered and infected. As Rebman gives his presentation, there’s a man in the back row loudly interjecting commentary. He’s very excited to hear someone voicing his struggles. The man is visibly drunk.

taking off the tux

Meanwhile, Rebman begins to take off his clothes. Yes, you read that right. Rebman explains how homeless people try to stay clean. They take showers at hotel pool areas or take “bird baths,” that is, cleaning up the best they can using the sink of a public restroom. And speaking of restrooms, this is a major problem for homeless people in the downtown area (where most homeless resources are). Businesses won’t allow them to use the restroom without making a purchase, and there are no public restrooms, except at the public library. “You hold it, or go to jail,” Rebman says.

blue box downtown orlando

Thankfully, Rebman has “street clothes” on under his tux. He goes and sits on a portion of the stage marked off with blue tape and talks about similar blue boxes in downtown Orlando, designated areas where the homeless are legally allowed to panhandle. The problem, Rebman says, is that the blue boxes are all in direct sunlight, you’re not allowed to sit down, and you must face away from the street. The man in the back row wholeheartedly agrees. People are fidgeting in their seats, finding it hard to focus with all the unexpected commentary. I wonder what, if anything, Rebman will do.

dine and dash

Rebman apologizes for dining and dashing and explains that after his 30 days homeless, he went back to each and every place to pay for his meals. The stunt could have landed him in jail, which in turn, could have resulted in his teaching license being revoked. “Been there, done that!” The guy in the back shouts. The interruptions are becoming unbearable. Rebman is visibly distracted, but pushes on, ignoring the outbursts. He explains where he slept, including an Orange County Public School. He discovered there were two other homeless people already there before him. Rebman even slept in someone’s back yard.

homeless man interrupting

Finally, the teacher in Rebman comes out. He leaves the stage and asks the man’s name.
“I understand what you’re saying,” the man says.
“What’s your name?” Rebman repeats.
“My name is Will,” says the man.
“Will, I need you to do me a huge favor,” Rebman says.
“I have a dog that I’ve been homeless with for five years, and I pull him around on a buggy behind me on my bicycle. And see, you’re talking about things. You know, you don’t have a dog that you’re never going to give up on. There’s a whole lot of things…” Will says. This time, it’s Rebman’s turn to interrupt.

Rebman deals with heckler

“Will, I need a favor,” Rebman says.
“I’ll leave,” replies Will.
“No, no, no, I don’t want you to leave.”
“I’m being a pain,” Will says. I’d have to agree with both of them at this point. I’d really like to hear Will’s story, but not until he’s sober. Like Rebman, I don’t want him to leave, either. If there’s any place a person who is homeless ought to be welcome, it’s at a Homeless and Hungry Summit. “When did I say you’re being a pain? I’m inviting you to the front row.”
I’ve seen Rebman do this before in the classroom. Students gets disruptive; you bring ’em up front.

Will in the front row

Here’s Will in the front row. He apologizes to the lady next to him for “smelling offensive,” something which Tom explains is unavoidable in the heat of Florida with limited shower access. Although Will doesn’t stop interjecting comments, he does so with less frequency, and at a tolerable volume. Rebman tells a story to illustrate the stigma of homelessness, about a child who said to her mother, “Did you know there are 60 seconds in an minute and 60 minutes in an hour?” Rebman said, “And did you know there are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year?” The mother picked her child up and practically ran away.

For more information, view the 2014 Homeless and Hungry Summit video above, and you can visit and “like” the Homeless and Hungry Facebook page.

This blog post would not be complete without addressing something rather unpleasant. There are some people who have taken it upon themselves to accuse Rebman of trying to get rich or draw attention to himself by being voluntarily homeless for 30 days. Not only this, but to dig into his past and make character judgments based on incomplete or inaccurate information. I completely understand what this feels like, because I went through something similar when I was doing the Kickstarter campaign for Alzheimer Chronicles (aka, Invisible Poets). The legalities of starting a 501C3 are incredibly difficult to navigate. Many non-profits begin under the umbrella of other more established non-profits until all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed with the IRS. At first, I reacted strongly and defensively, but my uncle sent me an email suggesting that focusing on negativity did more harm than good. I took his advice to heart, and let it be. I am not saying that Rebman is a saint or that he hasn’t made mistakes, but I am saying that if Rebman were stealing money that is legally contracted to various charities, then a little bit of homework and a phone call to the police would resolve the situation. So if you have a bone to pick with my buddy Tom, I suggest you spend less time trying crucify him in the public arena and more time providing hard evidence to people with the legal training to comprehend the situation. Otherwise, shut up and find something more productive to do.

Major takeaway: If nothing else, at least acknowledge and be kind to people who are homeless. Every person wants to feel like a person.

P.S. I did speak with Will, and I heard a bit of his story. The Summit was on a workday, and my boss was kind enough to give me time off to attend, but I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation by being gone longer than necessary. I got Will’s number, and Tim and I are going to meet him at Steak N Shake. So visit this site again soon, and you’ll get to hear the story of Will and his dog Sunny.

god of bible condones baby killing

Her sweet little face overwhelmed me. “Doesn’t she seem like a miracle?” I asked my daughter.

“She is a miracle. How can anyone have a baby and not believe in God?”

I understood what she was saying, but I also understand that people can and do have babies all the time, without giving a second thought to whether God had anything to do with it.

I suspect that part of the reason for spiritual apathy is that people read the Bible, with its bizarre, frightening, and sometimes barbaric stories; they hear Christians insisting that we should believe that every event and concept within its pages is true, word for word; and they conclude that attributing something as awe-inspiring as a newborn baby to such an angry, cruel god is nonsense.

To anyone who would claim that every word describing the character or intentions of God in scripture ought to be taken as a true representation of Who God is and what God does, please consider the following:

The god kills children/babies for the sins of their parents.

Yes, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even their beloved children. (Hosea 9:16)

…because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord and given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child that is born to you shall surely die… And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, and he was very sick… And on the seventh day the child died. (2 Samuel 12:13-15, 18)

The god punishes rebellion by dashing infants to pieces and ripping open the bellies of pregnant women.

Samaria shall bear her guilt and become desolate, for she rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women shall be ripped up. (Hosea 13:16)

The god punishes the enemies of Israel by commanding mass murder, including nursing infants.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, I have considered and will punish what Amalek did to Israel… Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.

Can you imagine Jesus approving of any of this?

When the disciples were not permitting children to approach Jesus, He said, “Leave the children alone! Allow the little ones to come to Me, and do not forbid or restrain or hinder them, for of such [as these] is the kingdom of heaven composed.”

What do you think Jesus would have said to the disciples if they were murdering the children?

Jesus actually draws a direct correlation between little ones and not only Himself, but the Father Who sent Him:

“Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

Think about it. If Jesus only says and does what the One who sent Him says and does, and if the character of God does not change, how can the god described by Old Testament writers be an accurate representation of God?

Perhaps the people who utterly reject God are actually rejecting the god presented to them by the writers. And maybe they are actually seeing the Kingdom of God a little bit clearer than those who would prefer to justify the bizarro-god in order to preserve the so-called infallibility of their precious book.

 

 

One of my favorite blog posts by Rachel Evans is her weekly “Sunday Superlatives,” a list of blogs that she feels are noteworthy for one reason or another. On the list for 5/18/14 is this blog, with some interesting info about Rob Bell’s latest activities. Here’s the first paragraph:

On Wednesday night, I had the privilege of attending the taping of the first two episode of the Rob Bell Show. The new show, which is tentatively set to debut on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN later this fall, features the pastor and author doing what he does best: connecting with and communicating to audiences who consider themselves spiritual but are burned out on religion.

rob bell and oprah

I’ve been very busy getting ready for our granddaughter, Claire Madeline, to arrive, and working on the invisiblepoets.org website, as well as business cards, brochures, and a poster for a conference in mid-June. Consequently, I have yet to write the third for the Noah movie. Here are the first two, in case you missed them:  What People Say about Aronofsky’s Noah and What People Say about Aronofsky’s Creator.

Please visit again soon, because I should have the third and final blog post ready sometimes this week.

If you find yourself with a little extra Internet-perusing time on your hands, I hope you’ll visit invisiblepoets.org, read the blog about Rob Bell, and sign up to join Rachel Evan’s email list (click here, scroll down a little, and look for the “Join my email list” on the right-hand side).

 

Christians often teach their little ones that believers should be like the moon, reflecting the light of the sun (Son) in the darkness. While this analogy is by no means evil or heretical, it is a flawed analogy that doesn’t pack the punch of the spiritual reality it is supposed to represent.

According to scripture, believers are light. In other words, not mere reflections of a light source that is out there somewhere, but actual light sources:

sons of light ye may become (John 12:36)

thy whole body is lightened (Luke 11:36)

you… are now light (Ephesians 5:8)

children of light (Ephesians 5:8)

Ye are the light (Matthew 5:14)

let your light shine (Matthew 5:16)

you are seen as lights (Philippians 2:15)

I have made you a light (Acts 13:47)

a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6)

 

Consequently, believers are more like the sun or stars than the moon. So the analogy Christians teach their little ones should go something like this: Believers are like the sun, shining the light of Creator in the darkness.

In light of the eclipse the other night, further consideration of the reflection analogy is in order.

The moon produces no light. Its surface is like worn asphalt under a thick layer of space dust. The sun, however, produces plenty of light. It is most definitely a light source.

What, then, is the moon?

It is a dead object that seems to be a source of light. Its appearance changes all the time, but the object itself does not change. It has a dark side, but people only see the side presented to them.

The thick dust of religious traditions, pretenses, ceremonies, by-laws, flatteries, hierarchies, and doctrines has settled on the worn asphalt face of the object. Because the source of light is so near, the surface has an appearance of light (godliness) that gains the confidence of those who live in darkness, who desiring to know the Creator of light, are always learning, but never knowing.

eclipse

Usually during a total lunar eclipse, the full moon appears coppery, because the dispersed light from all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falls on the face of the moon.

Even so, when the light source “leaves behind” or “abandons” the dead object, its usual brightness is diminished. People who relied on the object as a source of light, not knowing it was just a reflection of the light source, begin to recognize it for what it really is.

The stars shine, and the sun rises, and the nations hear the voice of their Creator, Who will not leave them to stumble in the darkness,

I, Jehovah, did call thee in righteousness, And I lay hold on thy hand, and keep thee, And I give thee for a covenant of a people, And a light of nations. To open the eyes of the blind, To bring forth from prison the bound one, From the house of restraint those sitting in darkness… And I have caused the blind to go, In a way they have not known, In paths they have not known I cause them to tread, I make a dark place before them become light, And unlevelled places become a plain, These are the things I have done to them, And I have not forsaken them.

 

lunar eclipse

This is slowly but surely happening now, all over the world. What now?

Fred Phelps, former leader of Westboro Baptist Church, died today. The big question was whether people ought to picket his funeral the way he and Westboro churchians

frequently picketed various events, such as military funeralsgay pride gatherings, high-profile political gatherings, university commencement ceremonies, performances of The Laramie Projectmainstream Christian gatherings and concerts with which he had no affiliation, arguing it was their sacred duty to warn others of God’s anger, leading a group of motorcycle riders to form the Patriot Guard Riders to provide a non-violent, volunteer buffer between the protesters and mourners. (Wikipedia)

On the Westboro website, they describe themselves and their beliefs:

Since 1955, WBC has taken forth the precious from the vile, and so is as the mouth of God (Jer. 15:19). In 1991, WBC began conducting peaceful demonstrations opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.

In response, america bombed WBC, sued WBC, prosecuted WBC, burned WBC. God is now america’s enemy: 6801 dead soldiers; $17.52 trillion+ national debt“Arise, O LORD, in thine anger…because of the rage of mine enemies…” (Ps 7:6)

I privately hoped that there would be a huge non-response to his passing, because the idea of people returning hate for hate made me cringe.  But apparently, there will be no funeral, according to this CNN article:

For years, Phelps joked about the possibility that his own funeral would draw protests. During a sermon in 2006, he said a CNN reporter once asked how he would feel if that occurred.

“I’d love it. I’d invite them,” Phelps told the reporter, according to the Wichita Eagle. “I said: ‘I’ll put in my will to pay your way. But not first class.’ ”

But Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’ daughter, said Westboro will not hold a funeral.

“We do not worship the dead,” Phelps-Roper told CNN.

The hate speech, signs, and shouting make me sick, but despite everything that is so WRONG about Westboro’s beliefs and tactics, they unwittingly birthed a really incredible response from the general public.  Protective human walls sprung up in places where Westboro intended to picket.  People stood shoulder to shoulder, some dressing up or holding their own signs about peace, love, and equality, and did what Jesus recommended — “love one another.” The darker the darkness, the uglier the ugliness, the greater the light.

Dear Phelps (and gang of haters), your hate will be swallowed up in victory.

fred phelps dead

westboro pastor dead

westboro no funeral

wall of love

Related Post: Thank God for Brother Micah

Update on this post (3/24/2014): Counter protest of love.

According to Facebook, the Pope tops the list of most-talked-about topics.

The Pope appears to be well aware of the power of the internet and hopes to encourage followers to leverage the web, especially younger believers saying: “To proclaim Christ in the digital era is a special field for the work of the young.” (Huffington Post)

He’s Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013.

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His efforts include:

I have become increasingly convinced that this Pope might just make a difference, that he might have more substance than the past talking heads of the Vatican. I’ve followed the news stories with a big shit-eating grin on my face thinking, well, it’s about time a Pope started shaking things up in the religious institution.

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Yet for all this upheaval, I remain skeptical about his role because, “The Vatican is currently facing criticism for rejecting an extradition request from Poland regarding the ex-papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski. Wesolowski, the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse to date, is currently thought to be living in the Vatican.” (Huffington Post).

Look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth … Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them. — Pope Francis

If the Pope really wants reform, he needs to be willing to lose everything. After all, what is more important, Vatican financial transparency or Vatican moral transparency? Gossip and rumors of sexual misconduct may require some descretion, however, formal charges and legal controversies of sexual abuse and cover-ups should be taken very seriously and exposed to the light of scrutiny.

Mary Dispenza, a former nun, a plaintiff in a successful class action suit against the Los Angeles Archdiocese over child molestation claims, an area representative for SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, in Bellevue, Washington, and the author of “Split: A Child, a Priest and the Catholic Church” writes,

Pope Francis must take action and mandate every bishop to immediately defrock any priest who has sexually abused children in the past or in the present and let the civil authorities investigate any priest or bishop alleged to have sexually abused a child. It’s common sense. Nothing else will show the world that the Catholic Church is serious about its promise to address this issue.

Pope Francis will need to begin at home and release whatever records the Vatican possesses on priests and bishops accused of these crimes, wherever they are in the world. Anything short of this speaks of lip service and platitudes.

Let’s stop and think about what this would look like. According to Wikipedia,

The Associated Press estimated the settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950 to 2007 totaled more than $2 billion.[81] BishopAccountability puts the figure at more than $3 billion in 2012.

If the church had to fork over two to three BILLION dollars when it addressed sexual abuse merely on a local level, imagine what it would cost the institution to systematically address sexual abuse on a global level, including not only sexual offenders but all those who covered up and perpetuated the abuse by paying legal fees and allowing these priests to continue practicing. It could easily bankrupt the institution and send it into a downward spiral from which it might never recover.

Would the Catholic Church cease to exist if the religious institution fell?

No. It wouldn’t.

It would remain alive and well within the heart of each individual Catholic believer. This personal expression of faith is exactly the kind of church the Pope envisions in his Evanglii Gaudium (November, 2013):

Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.

God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.

The Pope describes his vision for an evangelizing (evangelizing = spreading the Good News) church as a global community of believers who:

  • take the first step
  • are involved and supportive
  • bear fruit and rejoice
  • become involved (Jesus washed the feet of his disciples) by word and deed in people’s daily lives
  • bridge distances
  • embrace human life
  • are supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be
  • are ready to put their whole lives on the line
  • have a goal, not to make enemies, but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed
  • are filled with joy and know how to rejoice always

Can God accomplish this, even if the institution is crippled by lawsuits and bad publicity?

Absolutely.

Does the Kingdom of God stand or fall on the Catholic (or any other) institution?

If I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one. — Pope Francis

I would take this a step further.  If I had to choose between a dead church (institution), a wounded church (institution) that goes out on the streets, or a sick, withdrawn church (institution), I would definitely choose the dead one. The dead church (institution) is a church has been crucified with Christ and can be resurrected to new life (aionios zoe).

 

P.S. *If you or your loved one has been sexually abused by a priest, DON’T CALL THE CHURCH, CALL THE POLICE!

darwin-quoteMatt Stopera of Buzzfeed wrote an interesting photo-blog, Messages from Creationists to People Who Believe in Evolution.  Creationists who attended the recent debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy (television show) and Ken Ham, head of the Creation Museum (in Kentucky) were photographed with messages they wrote on a notepad.

In Ken Ham’s opening statement, he said, “The word ‘science’ has been hijacked by secularists in teaching evolution to force the religion of naturalism on generations of kids… Public school textbooks are using the same word ‘science’ for observational science and historical science.  They arbitrarily define ‘science’ as naturalism and outlaw the supernatural.”

In Bill Nye’s opening statement, he said, “Natural laws that applied in the past apply now… Billions of people [creationists] do not embrace Ken Ham’s model.”

As tempting as it is to dive into the meat and potatoes of this debate, the purpose of this blog is not to analyze or provide commentary on the debate.  Perhaps one day I will write that blog.  For today, I’d like to analyze some of the messages that the creationists who attended the event wrote.  In particular, my comments are directed toward those creationists who believe in the doctrine of eternal torment, creationists, like Stuart Burgess, a scientist cited in Ken Ham’s opening statement, who tell children they will go to hell if they believe the theory of evolution (Burgess admitted to doing just that during an interviewed on BBC regional TV).

Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

Are you influencing children in a positive way when you tell them many of their family and friends will spend eternity in torment in hell?

Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

Are you scared of a divine creator who created a place of eternal torment for the majority of humanity?

Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature? i.e. trees with rings… Adam created as an adult…

Why would God create a world that seems to be extremely old but isn’t?  If the eternal destiny of the human race depends on believing in a literal young earth creation, why would God confuse people with conflicting evidence about the age of the earth?

Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove the concept of a literal eternal burning hell?  Suppose you answer no.  Then doesn’t this mean that God subverts the laws of nature in order to ensure hell keeps burning?  What does this tell you about God?

If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate?  By chance?

If God did create everything, why did he create the first single-celled organism, or anything at all for that matter?  Wouldn’t it have been better to create nothing at all than to create the potential for billions upon billions of people to experience an eternity of torment?

How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It’s Amazing!!!

How can you look at the amazing world and believe someone created/thought of it with the premeditated purpose of destroying it and subjecting the majority of its sentient life forms to eternal torment in hell?  In addition, how can you look at the doctrine of eternal torment in hell and believe that a loving, righteous God created/thought of it?  Amazing, indeed.

(You can view the debate here.)

Related blog posts:

Why I Am Not a Creationist, Even Though I Believe in the God Who Created Everything – Guest Blogger, Mary Vanderplas

The Truth of the Tree

Hawking and MacArthur Explain the Universe

Church 2.0

Dream Machines

Ten Observations from Athiests (Part One)

Ten More Observations from Atheists (Part Two)

Five Final Observations from Atheists (Part Three)

Audio/Visual Revelation

First or Last

A Superbowl Coca Cola advertisement set off a firestorm of negative comments on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites:

Oh how wonderful it would be if Americans would remember and learn from history.

The hot subject is language.  Americans should speak English, they say.  America the Beautiful should be sung in English, they say.  As well as some other hateful, nasty stuff.

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A person’s first language is part of his or her “personal, social and cultural identity.” (Terri Hirst)  The United States is a mosaic of many different cultures.  This, of course, includes many different languages.  The history of the United States is stained with massive, widespread acts of oppression, including language control.

From the 1868 Indian Peace Commission: “In the difference of language today lies two-thirds of our trouble… Schools should be established which children would be required to attend; their barbarous dialects would be blotted out and the English language substituted… Through sameness of language is produced sameness of sentiment, and thought; customs and habits are moulded and assimilated in the same way.”

Slaves were forbidden to speak their native language.

Women were forbidden to speak at all, in certain settings.

This situation with the Coke commercial is really about fear of losing control.  We want to be sure that no one takes away our English language.  But we don’t realize that this is exactly what we are doing to others.  How can we ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all by perpetuating a climate of cultural genocide?  What unites us is our ideals, not our language.

If only our hearts were as beautiful as our “spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.”

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

 

Kudos to Coca Cola for awakening us to the best and worst of ourselves.

 

If you Google “James Harrison,” you’ll see a long list of websites about a Cincinnati Bengals football player.  If you Google “James Harrison blood,” you’ll discover the “Man with the Golden Arm.”  And he didn’t earn that title playing football.  When Harrison was 13, he needed major chest surgery, which required 12 liters of blood.  Upon the realization that blood donors had saved his life, he vowed to donate blood when he turned 18.  It just so happened that his blood contains

an unusually strong and persistent antibody… given to Rh(D) negative mothers of unknown or Rh(D) positive babies during and after pregnancy to prevent the creation of antibodies to the blood of a Rh(D) positive child… His blood plasma derivatives have since been given as treatment to one in ten pregnant women whose blood could potentially become incompatible with that of their children.

His blood has been estimated to have saved over 2 million babies.  I actually received such an injection during my first pregnancy, because I have Rh (D) negative blood.

I’m scheduled to donate blood on Monday.  Aside from the most obvious reasons to donate blood, there are other perks.  Every time you donate blood, you get a free mini-physical.  Anemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin.  Ever since my first blood test, I’ve been anemic.  However, because of the regular blood tests to monitor my iron levels (you can’t donate if your iron is too low), I was able to identify the source of my chronic anemia.  Through trial and error, I discovered that for me, a low carb, high protein diet prevents anemia.  And speaking of high protein…

If you live in Florida, you can get a free Outback Steakhouse dinner if you donate twice between June and September.

give-blood

Exodus International, a  non-profit, interdenominational ex-gay Christian organization, is shutting down, and Alan Chambers, president of EI, has issued an apology to members of the LGBTQ Community.

I imagine that people in the Evangelical Christian Community might be so fixated on whether Chambers’ apology is theologically correct, that they might miss the significance of the act of apology.  The word “apology” (at least, since the 1800’s) means an admission of wrong or an expression of regret over some offense.  I don’t know how the LGBTQ Community will respond to Chamber’s apology, but I have a pretty good idea of how the Evangelical Christian Community will respond – like someone stepped in their ant pile.  “What if Chambers is wrong about being wrong?” they’ll ask.  Or perhaps, “Chambers is wrong about being wrong!” they’ll announce.  Others will privately agree, while avoiding conversations about it, to be accepted among their peers who disagree.  Still others will agree to a certain extent.

What about you?  Where do you stand on the issue of homosexuality and Christianity?  If you want to voice your opinion, you can use the comment section.  But I have something else in mind, for the purpose of this blog post.

Does it even matter where anyone stands on the issue of homosexuality?  Will anything productive come from planting your flag in the land of Mosaic Law?  Likewise, if you were to run around the land of Mosaic Law, kicking down all the flags, what would you have accomplished?  Do we, as believers, really want to put ourselves and others under the curse of the law again?

…through [Christ] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.  Acts 13:38-39

For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…  Romans 4:15-16

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.  Galatians 3:10

Whether believers agree or disagree with Chambers, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from the example he’s set in apologizing.  Let’s put aside the reason WHY he’s apologizing, for a moment, and think about some of the language he uses:

…to the people that have been hurt…

…people who went to… ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope…

…There were several years that I conveniently omitted…

…I was afraid to share…

…brought me tremendous shame and I hid…

…having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain…caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done… is overshadowed by all of this…

…I understand why I am distrusted… 

…Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced…

…I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names…

…I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine… 

…I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God….

…I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them….

…I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself…   

…You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours….

…I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good…

…Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations… partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing…

If the Evangelical Christian Community, like Chambers, could exchange their disapproval of others (both outside and within the institutional church), for grace and unconditional love, then the grace of God and the glory of God will become more apparent to those who do not yet believe.  In the system of disapproval and exclusion, the grace of God appears pointless.

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:21

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

  1. for all have sinned and
  2. fall short of the glory of God,
  3. and are justified (made righteous) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  Romans 3:21-24

In recent news, Pope Francis rocked the religious boat a bit, including atheists with Catholics and, well, everyone, when he said:

“We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

A Vatican spokesman was quick to calm the heresy police, pointing out that God CAN save anyone.  Of course, the unspoken implication is whether God actually WILL.  But that’s another blog for another day.  (See the “Related” section at the end of this blog post.)

Today, I’d like to tell you about FTJ Live, a Florida Technology Journal event that brings “together digital leaders to discuss trending topics and strategies across all areas of Florida’s digital economy.”

So what does FTJ Live have to do with Pope Francis’ statements?  I’m glad you asked.

 

ftj

 

I have no idea what kind of spiritual views the entrepreneurs, investors, students, media, and others who were in attendance have.  One might assume that when digital leaders gather to discuss trending topics and strategies, some of the overarching themes would include China building the fastest computer ever or the latest gadgets or social media stuff.  But the overarching themes, from my perspective, were much more meaningful, with the same universal-siblinghood-of-humanity flavor as Pope Francis’ idea to “meet one another doing good.”

Now, this next bit names and describes the discussion panel, and although it might seem like an advertisement, please note the words in bold along the way, because these words will inform the conclusion and heart of this blog post.

Elton Rivas is co-founder of One Spark Crowdfunding Festival & CoWork Jax.

CoWork Jax offers “coworking space.” Coworking is a style of work which involves a shared working environment, sometimes an office, yet independent activity. It’s really the gathering of people, who work independently, but who collaborate with others in the same space.  

One Spark’s mission statement is: Connect great ideas with the resources they need in order to get implemented.  Listen to and support the development of the innovative community.  Share success stories and lessons with communities that face similar challenges.

Rivas left a stable, high-pay corporate job to pursue his dream to “engage the entire creative ecosystem.”

Linda Olson is founder of Tampa Bay WaVE & FirstWave Venture Center.

Tampa Bay WaVE started as a group of entrepreneurs who “came together to help solve each others problems, share ideas and promote innovation.”  At first, they were zero-budget and completely volunteer-based.

The First Wave Venture Center is “operated by Tampa Bay WaVE – a nonprofit dedicated to helping entrepreneurs build, launch and grow thriving tech ventures in Tampa Bay – the FirstWaVE Venture Center is home to several tech startups as well as a whole host of other entrepreneurial support organizations too…”

Gregg Pollack is co-founder of Starter StudioEnvy Labs and Code School.

At Starter Studio, they don’t like the word, “entrepreneur;” instead, “they recommend the term ‘Starter’ to describe anyone doing what they love on their own terms by starting a business in order to actualize a far-reaching, positive change.”

Envy Labs sponsors and facilitates “BarCamp Orlando, an annual community-building event that fosters cooperative learning. As a free event, BarCamp allows for quick lessons and showcasing of technologies such as Ruby, PHP, Java, and C, all in a choose-your-own-adventure format. For the non-developers in attendance, we also present on graphic design, music, photography, and other new media.”

“Code School teaches web technologies” and strives “to help you learn by doing.

Kyle C. Steele is co-founder of Doccaster & Orlando Tech Meetup.

At Doccaster, they believe that “every event has a great story waiting to be told.”  I totally agree with this. “Doccaster helps event organizers and marketers tell a great story by bringing data captured over the life cycle of their events into one place.”

“The Orlando Tech Meetup is a monthly meetup for the Central Florida tech community to showcase emerging ideas, products and services and receive open feedback.”  Steele notes that everyone has the same insecurities and the same challenges.

Philip Holt is the CEO and co-founder of Row Sham Bow.

Row Sham Bow creates games in collaboration with their audience.  Holt believes that CEO’s should share their knowledge with others.

Ron Cook is Program Director, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Full Sail University.

David Glass, founder and CEO of Florida Technology Journal, served as the moderator for the FTJ Live discussion panel.

Florida Technology Journal promotes Florida’s digital community by facilitating connections and hosting informative programs.

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Although each of these people have credentials and influence and represent companies and organizations that advertise some sort of product or service, the main bulk of their discussion sought to answer this question: How can we make a positive impact in the community?  Or, as Pope Francis might say, How can we meet one another doing good?

Think about it.  The media and entertainment industries tend to cast entrepreneurs and CEO’s in a slightly negative light, as if money is what matters most to them in a world of cut-throat competition.  Granted, money does matter, to a certain extent, but the biggest personal take-away I took from the evening was that money follows success (not the other way around), and that success is achieved by working together.

One panelist pointed out, “The philanthropic ability of Central Florida is estimated to be 1.5 billion dollars per year.”  Another panelist said, “It’s okay to NOT be money-driven.”  The best way to reconcile these two statements is to make sure your vision of success has its basis in innovation for the express purpose of improving the lives of others.  Create and demonstrate as much success as you can with whatever resources or talents you currently possess, and this will attract other talented and resourceful people to partner with you in common goals.  The ultimate resource is community-building, and not just community-building so that your idea or product can succeed, but community building so that the community can thrive.  This concept seemed to be a consensus among the panelists.

The frustration in all of this for me, as a writer, is the fact that so much advertising and marketing is devoted to the product or service compared to the “meeting one another and doing good” of tech business geeks.  They are setting a high standard for other industries and for their millions of customers, but hardly anyone ever hears about their stories.

The most impressive story of this other-based business philosophy, in my opinion, came from Kyle C. Steele.  He encouraged people to set aside two hours per month to help others push toward their goals.  Steele practices what he preaches, mentoring kids who don’t have access to technology, using programs like Storytelling Alice.  Steele said (and wrote in his blog),

I’ve always considered coding the high tech version of basketball – it’s cheap to set up, easy to teach and provides an excellent opportunity for those with limited opportunities. Plus, hackers could care less about your social-economic background or status. Hackers only care about working with smart people who want to build something cool and meaningful. I began to see the opportunities which attract inner city kids to sports, changing the world, lifting a family out of poverty, and high income potential could be realized through the sport of coding.

In January of 2013, the children took a trip to tour RowShamBowEcho and Voxeo in Downtown Orlando.

 

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Steele hopes these children will grow up and pay it forward.

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to a few people I met at FTJ Live:

ftjlive

And Charles Caldwell from The Nielsen Company, who didn’t have a card on hand, gave me some pointers about how to honestly and organically generate blog traffic without selling my soul to the SEO gods.  Thanks, Charles!

 

Related: Wednesday’s Word: StoryWe Feel ConnectedVideos (about Christian Universalism), Ten Observations from Athiests (Part One)Ten More Observations from Atheists (Part Two)

net_daRegular readers are probably familiar with certain terms I use, such as “divine appointment” or “God moment.”  But if you’re not a regular reader, allow me to explain.

Divine appointment – When God orchestrates the intersection of two or more people in a certain geographical location, at a certain time, for a certain purpose.  Sometimes those involved are aware of the divine appointment and sometimes they are oblivious to it.  Sometimes those involved who are aware discover the purpose of that appointment and sometimes they don’t.

God moment – When a spiritually aware person perceives something beyond the ordinary means (the senses, previous knowledge, etc.), a short but terribly significant moment, when he or she suddenly experiences the glory of God and realizes that we, humanity, know so very little of all that is knowable.

I suspect that I may have had a divine appointment tonight at Venture Lounge, a networking event I blogged about a few days ago.  That’s all I can say about that for now…

I’d like to share a few of the website links from the interesting people I met in O-town:

Purple Rock Scissors – A digital creative agency, crafting innovative ways to grow your brand through a holistic approach.  The people at “PRPL” built their website in one hackathonic, nerd-herdarific weekend!

CoLab – Provides a community for the independents and entrepreneurs of the business world through a coworking area, offices, and amenities that provide an avenue to success.

The Imaginary Mind Productions Company – A new media consulting and creative services agency that specializes in integrating video, graphics & audio production for web, mobile apps, software and game development as well as broadcast, video, film and live production.

iBlog Magazine – The only magazine to connect experienced and first time bloggers with social media experts, top bloggers, national brands and marketing specialists.

I set out to write a blog post unlike any other about the networking event, from a creative point of view, incorporating the sights and sounds of the evening into the language.  But for some reason, my observational skills were a little off today, and I kept noticing the strangest, most irrelevant things.  Perhaps God scrambled my eggs, because He wanted me to stop being all dreamy and introspective and actually talk to people.  Perhaps I subconsciously scrambled my own eggs, because I was a bit nervous about mixing and mingling with a bunch of people I didn’t know.  Either way, I feel satisfied that this is exactly the blog I was supposed to write tonight.

There’s a new petition on Change.org that I thought readers might be interested in signing.  Although I appreciate the sentiment behind this petition, I will not be signing it.

Screen shot 2013-05-18 at 7.12.23 PM

Apparently, back in 2006 Mike Jeffries, CEO of the retail clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch, said something stupid and insensitive.  According to the petition, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” Jeffries said.  “Candidly, we go after the cool kids.  We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.  A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong.  Are we exclusionary?  Absolutely.”

The Change.org petition points out, “Anyone who hasn’t been to Abercrombie & Fitch in the last few years has probably noticed that they don’t carry XL or XXL clothing for women and their waist sizes for men leave room to be desired” and urges A&F “to embrace the beauty in all sizes by offering XL and XXL sizes…”

Jeffries released this official statement on the A&F Facebook page:

Screen shot 2013-05-18 at 8.18.05 PM

Now, about that petition.

Let’s suppose that someone started a petition on Change.org urging the Big and Tall men’s clothing store to carry clothing for little people (aka, midgets).  How dare B&T exclude little people?  This may seem like a bizarre analogy, but the underlying concept is the same.  The problem is NOT that “specialty” clothing stores target certain segments of the population, the real point of contention is that Jeffries’ comment redefined “specialty” such that anyone unable to fit into A&F clothing is now not popular and not-so-cool. What people can’t and shouldn’t be okay with is the idea that too many inches or pounds means “people don’t belong, and they can’t belong” in that segment of the population that is “attractive” or “all-American” with “a great attitude and a lot of friends.”

Jeffries claims his comments were taken out of context and misinterpreted.  Yet seven years later, A&F only offers XL and XXL sizes for males.

We all say and do stupid, insensitive, offensive things from time to time.  We all need forgiveness.  We should extend to each other the same grace that we would want if we were in Jeffries’ shoes.

Let’s suppose that a lot of people sign this petition, and caught between a rock and hard place, A&F relents and includes size twelve and up in their female clothing line.  What then?  A voluptuous teenage girl discovers she can finally fit into A&F clothes, so she purchases a new wardrobe.  Does this mean that she is suddenly “cool and popular,” “the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” who belongs?  What changed?  The girl? The clothes?  The attitude of her peers?  All three?

A&F clothing could lose its exclusive status if people see the label on bodies that don’t perfectly match the fashion industry’s airbrushed, magazine-worthy standards. This is the mindset behind the well-intended but misguided “Fitch the Homeless” campaign.

Greg Karber, who started the “Fitch the Homeless” campaign, wants to rebrand A&F clothing in such a way that people no longer want to purchase or wear it.  So he’s encouraging people who own A&F clothing to donate their clothes to the homeless.

What kind of message are we sending to homeless people?  Think about it.  Isn’t this just another way of saying to the homeless person, “You are the most un-cool, unattractive person I could find, and if you wear this, then A&F clothing will become a disgrace.”

So a situation that already stinks now reeks to high heavens.

I won’t sign this petition, I won’t go find A&F clothes to give to the homeless, and I won’t purchase A&F clothing.  And I do forgive Jeffries.  He’s not a monster.  Neither is Greg Karber.  They’re just caught up in a system of ugly that goes deep into the core of the human experience, a system that propagates this lie: You can feel better about yourself by tearing other people down.

I close with the words of Van Morrison, which, to me, speak the heart of God as He looks around at each us of, each a unique masterpiece, and grieves as we wound each other – even with our good intentions:

Down those old ancient streets,

Down those old ancient roads,

Baby there together we must go

Till we get the healing done.

 

 

Today my internship contract at Voxeo ended.  Working there has been a positive learning experience.  It’s an awesome company that makes the world a better place by helping people communicate efficiently, and perhaps at some point in the future a door may open for me there.  Below is a blog post I wrote for Voxeo, which includes a video I created.  I’m actually thinking about attending the Venture Lounge event so I can touch base with some people from Creative Village for possible future collaboration with Alzheimer Chronicles, Inc.  And speaking of Alzheimer Chronicles, I will be working on the website and filing for 501C3 (tax exempt) status next week.  As of right now, I’m officially unemployed, but I’m doing freelance writing, so if you have some work for me or know someone who does, let me know.

Join Us for Venture Lounge, May 21, 2013!

I’ve also got some interesting plans for www.whatgoddoes.com, so be sure to check back over the weekend!

“I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” – Mark Driscoll

It’s no secret that Mark Driscoll speaks his mind, despite the controversy that ensues.  It’s actually one of the things I like best about Driscoll.  Although I disagree with him regularly, at least I know that he doesn’t sugar coat his logic to people-please.

In response to Driscoll’s remark, I’d like to take a brief look at apocalyptic language.  In the book of Isaiah, apocalyptic language is employed to describe the fall of Bozrah:

All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. […] Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch!t will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.

You can step outside on a clear evening and see for yourself that the stars are still there.  You can book a flight to Jordan and take a tour of Bozrah to see for yourself that it is not burning.  Although scriptures say, “no one will ever pass through it again,” you most definitely can pass through it.

Apocalyptic language is regularly misinterpreted by well-intended people who prefer to have solid answers to exactly how God’s Plan of the Ages unfolds.  In the schema of fundamentalist evangelicals, apocalyptic language is justification for exclusivism, suspicion, and drama – they are in, but others are out, they are safe, but others are doomed, they are of Christ, but others are of the Antichrist.  Apocalyptic language, misapplied, is a weapon used to create a sense of urgency and crisis, which in turn, influences the daily decisions of those who subscribe to it.

In the simplest terms, apocalyptic language, misapplied, is justification for the creation of a social subculture that ultimately views the world, its resources, and its inhabitants as disposable.

Thankfully, many believers disagree with Driscoll’s view.  I’m one of them.

Admittedly, I could do more to preserve and protect what God has entrusted to me.  But I’m working on it.  I’m slowly shedding a lifetime of who-cares-it’s-all-going-to-burn-anyway indoctrination and replacing that impending-crisis thinking with hope for the future of all creation.  Here are a few practical ways that hope is applied in the day to day living of my family:

IMG_1379

IMG_1385

IMG_1390

IMG_1389

 

A final thought for Driscoll and those who subscribe to his worldview: If you’re going to trash the earth, so be it.  But don’t do it in the name of Jesus.

Related: Donuts for the Duck, Duck, Damned

 

 

 

Carla Hale lost her job as a P.E. teacher, after 19 years, because she’s homosexual.  Her mother’s obituary mentions Hale’s partner, Julie. Hale’s boss read it and gave her the boot.  You can read more about it in this article, which notes:

In 2012, the Supreme Court determined that employment laws had a “ministerial exception.” Because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, religious institutions are allowed to discriminate against employees, as long as those employees are ministers. Who qualifies as a minister, however, wasn’t precisely defined.

I can totally relate to this story, because I lost my job as an administrative assistant for writing blogs that challenge the doctrines of eternal torment and annihilation.  To have no First Amendment rights, to be the “ministerial exception,” is unfortunate, to say the least.  Although I signed the Change.org petition to have her reinstated, I don’t think it would be wise to change laws regarding how religious institutions treat their employees.  Why?  Because the separation of church and state is such an incredibly valuable practice.

The marriage of church and state is what ushered in some of the darkest moments in human history.  Can you imagine listening to the news and hearing that Congress passed a law like this?

THE CODE OF OUR LORD
THE MOST SACRED EMPEROR JUSTINIAN.
CONCERNING THE MOST EXALTED TRINITY AND THE
CATHOLIC FAITH AND PROVIDING THAT NO ONE
SHALL DARE TO PUBLICLY OPPOSE THEM.

We desire that all peoples subject to Our benign Empire shall live under the same religion that the Divine Peter, the Apostle, gave to the Romans… in accordance with the rules of apostolic discipline and the evangelical doctrine, we should believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a single Deity, endowed with equal majesty, and united in the Holy Trinity.

(1) We order all those who follow this law to assume the name of Catholic Christians, and considering others as demented and insane, We order that they shall bear the infamy of heresy; and when the Divine vengeance which they merit has been appeased, they shall afterwards be punished in accordance with Our resentment, which we have acquired from the judgment of Heaven.

(Source: Corpus Juris Civilis (The Civil Law, the Code of Justinian), by S.P. Scott, A.M., published by the Central Trust Company, Cincinnati, copyright 1932, Volume 12 [of 17], pages 9-12, 125, retrieved from angelfire.com.)

 

Hale is described by her students as “as a mentor and role model.”  It would be much better for Hale, myself, and God only knows how many others, to become outcasts than to impose change through legal action.  Let the Kings of the Little Kingdoms continue to make poor decisions.  In the past, their biased decisions were kept behind closed doors.  They could persecute and judge with very few people ever being aware of what was happening.

Not any more.  The whole world is watching.

Consequently, the Little Kingdoms are shrinking.  The irony is that the Kings of the Little Kingdoms believe their Little Kingdoms are shrinking because people aren’t interested in God.

You may also be interested in viewing:

Religious Tolerance Part One

Religious Tolerance Part Two

Religious Tolerance Part Three

Religious Tolerance Part Four

Religious Tolerance Part Five

Religious Tolerance Part Six

Religious Tolerance Part Seven

Religious Tolerance Part Eight

Religious Tolerance Part Nine

Religious Tolerance Part Ten

Religious Tolerance Part Eleven

Thursday Thanks

397769_147118262106512_2013735837_nA lot of people automatically assume that someone who doesn’t regularly attend a local church service has no fellowship with other believers.  The Free Believer’s Network, “a network of people who are committed to embracing the freedom that Christ paid for, and who are unwilling to forfeit any part of that freedom to organized religion,” is Darin Hufford’s way of helping people who “feel abandoned by their Christian friends and excluded from religious circles the moment they gain an individual understanding of the Heart of God” to know they are not alone. When Darin became deathly ill, disappearing from podcasts and Facebook, people all around the world took note, not because Darin’s some kind of rock-star spiritual guru, but because he is part of the body of Christ.  If I had to name what part Darin is, I’d say he’s a motor neuron (mediating voluntary movement).  This situation with Darin solidified in my mind what I already knew to be true all along, that is, “If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing,” and that even though we have no building, budget, by-laws, or weekly meetings, there is, indeed, a network of believers (body of Christ) with one Shepherd outside the institution.

Miscellaneous Monday

On my way to work this morning, I listened an NPR segment on gay marriage in which Morning Edition’s John Burnett interviewed Pastor Tom Brown (Word of Life Church, El Paso, Texas).  Brown said something that reveals a lot about what is at stake for the church, should gay marriage become legal:

Who knows if the gay rights get their way, that if some gay couple wants to get married in my church, I say no, they’ll say, well, you got to, or we’ll take away your tax rights, or you’ll have to start paying property taxes, because that’s discrimination. Who knows what they’ll do?

Did you catch that?

When religious leaders asked Jesus whether they should have to pay taxes, Jesus replied, “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is His.”

pi

Thursday Thanks

Perhaps some readers will find

pi

a strange subject for Thursday Thanks,

but read on,

and hopefully you’ll see the joy of

pi

 Considering the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter,

one person can examine

pi

 and see this:

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620

8998628034825342117067982148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128481

1174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461284756482337

867831652712019091456485669234603486104543266482133936072602491412737245870066

0631558817488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695

1941511609…

while another person can examine

pi

and see this:

500px-Circle_-_black_simple.svg[1]

.

I believe that there are two reasons (although there could be many more)

why God came up with the

pi

 concept:

to excite the human desire to know everything there is to know

and to teach us that sometimes,

in our desire for truth and knowledge,

we miss the most obvious things.

How wonderful it is to know that God can take something as irrational as

pi

 and allow its visual representation to be something so simple

that even a toddler can easily identify it.

Spiritual knowledge is similar to this

because no one can claim to have complete understanding

(like the decimal places in

pi

 there is always more to learn),

but even without complete understanding,

God can replace our ignorance with an image or a concept

(like the circle, easy to recognize and understand)

so that we can know

Who He is, what He does, and who we are in Him.

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The inspiration for today’s blog – Pie Day (3/14) at Voxeo!

Friday Fears

 

JulietheWhiteWitch

Author and orphan advocate (and a friend I met through Facebook), Julie Ferwerda, recently received some negative feedback about her book, Raising Hell, including comments like this, “the Lord revealed to me you are truely a heretic \”white witch\” and I rebuked you in the name of Jesus Christ for planting words of deceit in the minds of new Christians,” and this, “Why would God allow Jesus to come down and endure such great suffering, according to you it was all for nothing because the reward is all the same in the end…why follow Jesus!”  This got me thinking about the words of Christ, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves,” and how Julie most definitely does not wear sheep’s clothing.  Jesus didn’t just say “Beware of false prophets,” He said beware of a particular kind of false prophet, that is, one who wears sheep’s clothing, which is a metaphor for a disguise one wears in order to blend in among the others unlike themselves, a disguise for the express purpose of misimpression.  If Julie wanted to wear “sheep’s clothing” and blend in among those unlike herself, the last thing in the world she would want to do is write a book (with a pitchfork on the cover) that openly denounces and argues point by point against the orthodox doctrine of eternal torment.  The kind of false prophets that Jesus warns people about are the ones that have a “covering” (a word often used to indicate that a pastor or leader is under the thumb of orthodoxy or “safe” for the impressionable sheep), and who certainly doesn’t draw the kind of attention Julie gets.

Abundant Life

(Part One) Book Review: Raising Hell

(Part Two) Book Review: Raising Hell

Test everything, hold on to what is good.

Is Death the Cut-Off for Salvation?

Book Review: Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell

Friday Fears

This morning, as I watched a video about the meteor explosion in Russia, it occurred to me how we, in modern society, have become increasingly isolated from nature, living our lives cocooned in air conditioned buildings equipped with plumbing, waste elimination, and electricity, eating food we did not hunt or grow, zipping through our natural environment in noise-insulated cars with polarized, tinted windows and shock absorbers, while our eyes and ears are continuously filled with images and sounds that have been captured, modified, and regurgitated through various forms of media.  In fiction, life-threatening conflicts (human versus human, human versus self, or human versus nature) give readers a reason to keep turning the page, and in real life, anyone who has been bullied, suicidal, reckless, or has survived a natural disaster can attest to the riveting power of mortality-awareness.  In moments when nature reminds us of our own mortality, we stop, look, and listen to the world around us, assess who we are and what we do, and think about deep and meaningful concepts that have a way of getting lost in urban clutter.  Blaise Pascal said, “What is man in nature? Nothing in relation to the infinite, all in relation to nothing, a mean between nothing and everything.”  In the face of His own impending death, Jesus offered words of comfort to His disciples (read them here), which I believe address the musings of Pascal, that we are, in and of ourselves, nothing (hence, our innate fear of mortality), but because we are in the Creator of the Universe and the Creator of the Universe is in us, we, as irrational is it may seem, actually have reason to rejoice in our own mortality.

Russia-Meteor-Injures-400-After-Explosions-Impact-Earth-2-635x385

Thursday Thanks

Creating or discovering something new is perhaps one of the most pleasurable, rewarding aspects of the human experience.  I’ve always been a songwriter, with a constant “soundtrack” in the back of my brain, but because of the time-consuming responsibilities involved with completing my degree, I’ve had very little opportunity to compose.  However, I haven’t been completely cut off from the music scene, because I’ve been singing back-up vocals with an awesome group of musicians who are willing to put up with my busy schedule.  A few people with recording studios have offered to collaborate with Tangent (the band), so when external demands aren’t so, well, demanding, we plan on recording some of our music (including a bunch of new stuff).  If you live in the Central Florida area, check us out tomorrow night around 7:00 pm at Sleeping Moon Cafe.

tangent

Tuesday Tribute

My Parents, John and Marie Dean, are an inspiration to me and all those around them as they demonstrate how to lead meaningful, productive lives, regardless of age.  My Mom recently earned a degree in Elementary Education and became a second grade teacher.  A week ago, my Dad gave away most of his possessions and moved to Columbia to a be a full time missionary.  While many people in their senior years settle into a comfortable retirement and wait for the Second Law of Thermodynamics to bring atrophy, my parents are tapping into selfless creative energy and a lifetime of learning experiences to explore, grow, change, and make a difference in the lives of others.  Everyone who draws breath exists for a reason, and my hope is that readers will discover what interesting, sometimes difficult, but exciting possibilities await them!

mom&dad

 

dadcolumbia

 

momgrad

 

 

Thursday Thanks

 

IMG_1255

Freecycle.org “is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.”  My Dad is moving to Columbia to do mission work, and he decided to give me his record player and his entire opera collection.  I was able to add some great classical music to this collection last week, thanks to Donna from Lake Mary, Florida.  When Tim and I get settled (moving from the guest house to the “big house”), I’ll be posting some freebies as well!

This is a scripture that I’ve seen a lot since the election results:

I exhort, then, first of all, there be made supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, for all men: for kings, and all who are in authority, that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead in all piety and gravity…

First, notice that we should pray for ALL political leaders, not just the ones we prefer.  Why?

…that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead…

But that’s not the only reason why.  There is another reason why, a reason that transcends “a quiet and peaceable life”:

…for this [is] right and acceptable before God our Savior…

Let’s go a step further.  WHY is praying for political leaders considered “right” by God?  After all, Jesus clearly indicates that His Reign is not about human politics.  What characteristic quality of God produces His “acceptable” stamp of approval for intercessory prayers offered up for political leaders?

[God] doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth…

So, we see that prayers offered up for political leaders are acceptable to God, because God “doth will” pro-life legislation.  God “doth will” that the people who inhabit that region of North America between Mexico and Canada define marriage as one man and one woman.  God “doth will” reduction of the spending deficit.  God “doth will” healthcare reform.

Wait.  That’s not what it says!

We’ve got to reexamine this.  There are two reasons to pray.  One is external; it has to do with our practical, day-to-day environment, an environment that includes a lot of other people.  The other is internal; it’s about the spiritual awakening of every individual, regardless of environment.

Our prayers offered up for leaders for the first reason, that is, “that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead,” are selfish prayers.  When I say selfish, I am not saying wrong.  I use the word “selfish” here in this sense: “God, this is what we want.  We don’t want trouble.  We want an environment of acceptable normalcy.”  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that kind of prayer.  It only becomes wrong or selfish, in the normal sense of the word, if we allow this reason to pray for leaders to become more important to us than the other reason to pray for leaders.

There are many reasons why God moves people out of their comfort zones, but I believe His highest reason is so that we will discover who we are in Christ, that we would awaken to that light within that is in agreement with His will.  When we discover who we are in Christ and begin to live in that reality, the spiritual awakening of every individual becomes our highest prayer, regardless of environment.  God may find our first prayer “acceptable,” but that He often answers it in the negative ought to demonstrate to us that He wants so much more for us than “acceptable.”

We can fuss and fear and fume that we didn’t get the quiet and peaceable life that we prayed for and become confused and angry toward God or others, or we can ask ourselves WHY God didn’t answer YES to a prayer that He finds acceptable.  If God has a good reason for everything, then this situation should be no exception.

So, I ask again.  What characteristic quality of God produces His “acceptable” stamp of approval for intercessory prayers offered up for political leaders?

[God] doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth…

The second, higher, more meaningful reason is not about what we, in our limited humanity, want; it’s about the deepest desire of our Christ-self, that is, concern for the spiritual awakening of every individual.  This brings glory to God, because it exposes His intentions toward mankind in us and through us to everyone else.  It demonstrates, like a light shining (not covered), a light that announces “for one [is] God, one also [is] mediator of God and of men, the man Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all…”

We could spend our entire lives never seeing or experiencing the joy of being who God created us to be, if we get caught up in political reasons for praying for political leaders.  Why?  Because we don’t believe God.  We see that He doesn’t answer our prayer the way we want, and all of our focus becomes fixated on the immediate circumstance.  We think that’s what it’s all about, that God allowed this storm or that terrorist attack or this financial crisis, blah, blah, blah, because God wants to punish those evil-doers who are ruining all His plans, because God is half an inch away from bringing His judgment down on this nation or that nation for this reason or that reason, ad infinitum, ad nauseum…

No.  Stop right there.

I’ll say it again.  The second, higher, more meaningful reason to pray for political leaders is not about what we, in our limited humanity, want; it’s about the deepest desire of our Christ-self, that is, concern for the spiritual awakening of every individual.  “Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all” prayed a selfish prayer.  I reiterate, praying “that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead,” is not wrong.  I use the word “selfish” here in this sense: “God, this is what we want.  We don’t want trouble.  We want an environment of acceptable normalcy.”  This is the kind of prayer Jesus prayed in the valley of the shadow of His own imminent death by crucifixion.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that kind of prayer.  Why?  Because this prayer is made subject to a higher prayer, that is, “Father, if it be Thy will, take this cup away from me; yet not my will but Thine be done!”

How is it that Jesus could pray a prayer like this?  What is it that enables Jesus to continue trusting the Father, although the Father answers His prayer for better circumstances with the biggest negative ever (crucifixion)?

“…the testimony in its own times…”

Do you know what this means?  It means, believe God.  Believe His intentions toward us are good and right, even when everything else is completely screwed up.   Eventually, we will see this plainly.  But not yet.  In its own times, we will. He has the most wonderful reason for allowing our tiny, small-minded prayers to be swallowed up in greater, higher, more victorious prayers – the kinds of prayers the Spirit utters for us when we don’t know how to pray.  The Spirit knows the end from the beginning, knows that it ends in a way that includes everyone.

Now, I’d like to conclude this blog with one spiritual concept and a couple of examples of how that spiritual concept plays out in our day-to-day, practical decisions.

The spiritual concept: Be crucified with Christ, and you will reign with Christ.

How to apply it?

Let’s take abortion, for example.

This is a huge political issue.  I voted for Obama, BTW.  I can hear some of you now.  What?!  Obama’s pro-choice!  Christians should be pro-life!  How dare you!  Let me remind believers everywhere – no one can force you to perform an abortion.  If you are a business owner in healthcare who has moral objections to abiding by a government healthcare plan that says you must perform abortions, then guess what, it’s time to be crucified with Christ.  But I could lose my business, you object.  Yeah.  So?  Live your life with a clear conscience before God.  If God calls you to lose everything in order partner with Him in everyone coming “to the full knowledge of the truth,” then lose everything.  Welcome to the world of Jesus.

When you are crucified with Christ, you reign with Christ – not by forcing other people to do what you believe is right, but by doing what you believe is right with the mind of Christ and in the will of God.  That is the example Jesus set for us.  And the will of God will prevail, “…the testimony in its own times…”

In the meantime, while you wait for those “times,” go volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center that offers post-abortive counseling and practical help to all women, abortion-minded or not.  God loves traumatized women just as much as He loves babies.  And trust me, I know, as someone who volunteered in such a place, these women are under tremendous pressure and very fearful.  Tell them, “In this world we will have trouble.  But take heart!  [Jesus has] overcome the world.”

Another example is homosexuality.

This is a huge political issue, as well.  Let me remind believers everywhere – no one can force you to be a homosexual.  If you are a heterosexual who has moral objections to a government that acknowledges same-sex marriages, then guess what, it’s time to be crucified with Christ.  But I don’t want to live in a country that lawfully permits homosexuality, you object.  Yeah.  So?  Live your life with a clear conscience before God.  If God calls you to lose your ideal nation, your little earthly “kingdom” in order partner with Him in everyone coming “to the full knowledge of the truth,” then lose it.  Welcome to the world of Jesus.

When you are crucified with Christ, you reign with Christ – not by forcing other people to do what you believe is right, but by doing what you believe is right with the mind of Christ and in the will of God.  That is the example Jesus set for us.  And the will of God will prevail, “…the testimony in its own times…”

In the meantime, while you wait for those “times,” go hang out with members of the LGBTQ community.  God loves LGBTQ’s just as much as He loves perfect people like you.  You might actually make some great friends.

I think that part of the reason why Christ did not set up an earthly Kingdom, that He did not legislate morality, is that He knew that people would differ widely on exactly what “morality” is.  Look at slavery as an example.  The institutional church emphatically defended slavery and made outcasts of their non-slaveholding brothers and sisters.  The people who treated slaves as equals were, in effect, crucified with Christ for the love of their fellow human beings.

What if, when you legislate morality or pronounce judgment, you think you are doing the right thing, but in reality, you are actually dishonoring God and dishonoring your fellow human beings?

I know, it sounds incredible, this idea that you could actually be wrong about something…

You are probably right, but just in case, there’s a way to be right, even if you are wrong.  If you follow the example of Christ, it is a safeguard against moral stupidity.  Being crucified with Christ allows you to live with a clear conscience before God without dragging His name through the mud, without living in fear, without losing hope for the future, and without relying on circumstance for your peace or happiness.  You may make friends of enemies and enemies of friends in the process, but like I said, welcome to the world of Jesus, where not everyone is Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver, but everyone is loved and respected.  In this way, you overcome the world with Christ, you reign with Him instead of for Him.  In the world of Jesus, people come to a full knowledge of the truth in God’s time and in God’s way.

“For the first time in its history, the United States does not have a Protestant majority,” and “The number of Americans with no religious affiliation is on the rise,” according to the most recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.  In this blog, I will use a homework assignment from my Adventures in Digital Media class at UCF as a springboard and a visual representation of a shift in the spiritual landscape of the United States (and possibly the world) – what I believe is on the horizon, if the institutional church continues on its current path.

The photos are screen captures from the animated masterpiece, Prince of Egypt. <– You can purchase the movie new for eight dollars or used for just a few dollars or you can watch it in full on youtube.  Trust me, you’ll probably want to own this movie.  It is very well done, and the soundtrack is incredible.

In this first screen cap, the focal point is the slave-driver.  I see the slave-driver as someone who probably would have been a decent human being, had he not been born into a hierarchical system of fear and oppression.  It is easy to see the slave-driver as an extension of the villain of the story, a tool in the hands of Pharaoh, a former human being in this fictional cartoon.  But in the real world, our world, the villains in our lives are, themselves, just as victimized as the slaves in this still.  How?  Well, put yourself in his dirty sandals for a moment.  What would happen if he refused to do the Pharaoh’s bidding?  What if he put down the whip and refused to part of the system?  He might find himself with stripes on his own back, counted among the slaves.  If he has a wife and children, they, too, might suffer because of his decision.  How many of us would be willing to see our families suffer in order to do the right thing?  What a very scary decision.  This is how I view church leaders.  If they oppose orthodoxy, they lose their jobs and mostly likely, their friends.  If they lose their jobs, they can’t pay the mortgage or put food on the table.  These are the modern stripes on the backs of slave-drivers who choose to put down the whip.  They find themselves counted among those to whom the system seeks to “minister.”

Why does the United States no longer have a Protestant majority?  According to the study, “Among the reasons for the change are the growth in nondenominational Christians who can no longer be categorized as Protestant, and a spike in the number of American adults who say they have no religion.”  Why is it that former Protestants would rather now be identified as nondenominational?  Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can share my own experience, which I suspect is a microcosm of the experience of Protestants nationwide.  Our pastor suggested that we have a community dinner on Christmas Day, which happened to be a Sunday.  There was such a push-back from a good portion of the congregation that one would think that the pastor had suggested we cancel Christmas.  How could we even THINK of not having a church service on a Christmas Sunday, they said.  This controversy was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, personally.  Every time we tried to “do church” differently, every time we attempted to make necessary changes, there was controversy.  I realized that if I chose to be a part of a system that would rather have a church service than enjoy a nice hot dinner with people who for whatever reason found themselves alone or without on that particular Sunday, then I would be choosing to serve Egypt instead of God.  My next mistake was believing that creating a new system was the answer to the problem, but that’s another blog for another day.

In a sense, every believer has a common heritage with the both the Hebrew slave and the Egyptian.  First, we were born spiritually, not because we chose to be born, but because God chose to bring us to life.  Then we were either made slaves to the system, immediately thrown to the crocodiles, or we were embraced in the arms of the system and included as a member of it.

First, the slaves to the system are “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  Think about it.  The system teaches people about God, who supposedly annihilates or banishes the majority of mankind to darkness for eternity, tormented by loneliness and despair.  Even if one trusts this God, therefore becoming exempt from the terrible fate of the majority, one must also come to terms with the fact that many of his or her beloved family members, friends, and co-workers will not have the “joy” of spending an eternity with this God.  They do what they are told, make the best of a bad situation, and don’t want anyone to cause trouble and make things worse than they already are.  They try to focus on the positive, the smiling faces of their little ones, holidays, weddings, the rare moments of rest and relaxation.

Second, those who are thrown to the crocodiles are those who recognize the hypocrisy of some of the teaching, who see that those teachers are no better than anyone else, who recognize the inherent worth of every human being.  But they have no idea what to do about the situation.  They are numerous, and the Egyptian government is afraid of their numbers.  Perhaps, if they are permitted to enter into or remain in the system, they will unite in purpose and overthrow the system.  They are systematically removed from the system before they ever have a chance to be a part of it or shunned out of it in a timely manner.  Perhaps Protestant orthodoxy would identify them as “those spiritual-but-not-religious folks” or “those fake/backslidden Christians who don’t go to church” or “secular/carnal Christians.”

Third, those who are embraced in the arms of the system are Egyptians – members of the system of Egypt.  Egyptians may be decent people who mind their own business.  They feel bad for slaves, but what can they do about it?  They recognize that Pharaoh is a god-man in a position of authority and power, and submitting to his rule is just another way of ensuring that there isn’t some kind of horrible, bloody revolution.  Things aren’t so bad.  As long as the slaves do what they are told, they get along just fine.  These people busy themselves with doing good, proving to themselves that the system isn’t so bad.  They point to the giggling slave children throwing mud at each other along the Nile River or the slaves having a wedding ceremony with singing and dancing, and they fool themselves into thinking that the slaves must be content with their circumstances.  The system gives them food and shelter.  Without the system, what would those poor slaves do?  Wander in the wilderness?  There are some Egyptians who let the power of the system go to their heads.  They enjoy the way slaves lower their heads as they walk by, the way slaves cower when they make threats, the way slaves fall in the line and do what they are told under threat of the whip.  These Egyptians congratulate and honor one another with banquets, wall plaques, titles, and bonus checks.  They compete with one another to ascend in the hierarchy and become higher than mere slave-drivers; those who succeed become the slave-drivers of the slave-drivers, and their whips are words.

Just as Pharaoh’s wife (in scripture, Pharaoh’s daughter) adopted baby Moses and raised him as an Egyptian, the institutional church counts among its own a handful of people who will one day discover their true heritage, if they haven’t already.  Chances are, if you are reading this blog, God has or is in the process of awakening you to who you really are, in Him.  You are beginning to see church history for what it really is – the history of Egypt, in all its glory, with all its accomplishments, its colorful stories, etc. was written by those who had a voice, those who congratulated and honored one another, those who succeeded in becoming the slave-drivers of the slave-drivers whose whips are words, a history written in the blood of its slaves.  And you also feel a thrill inside when you suspect that there is an unwritten history that transcends ink and paper, a heritage of faith that is evidenced through the occasional slave revolt, the survivor who escaped the sharp teeth of hungry crocodiles, or the member of the system who rejected its comfort and security, choosing instead to identify with the slave.  You feel it in your bones, that God is doing something new (but something old), and the old wineskin is stretching to the breaking point.

Sometimes, when we see the slave-driver mercilessly beating down our brothers or sisters with sharp words, we react with righteous anger.  We forget that the slave-driver and even the Pharaoh is a victim of the system.  Things get out of hand.  May God help us to always remember that even our enemies are created in His image.  Jesus said,

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: “Don’t hit back at all.” If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

You’re familiar with the old written law, “Love your friend,” and its unwritten companion, “Hate your enemy.” I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. (The Message, Matthew 5:38-48)

The more we delve into quantum physics, the more we will discover that consciousness (as is evidenced in the observer effect, the probability/measurement problem, entanglement, etc.) is not a result of reality. In other words, if reality is the cause and consciousness is the effect, then the universe doesn’t exist. Reality doesn’t exist without an observer in quantum mechanics, yet here we are – something some quantum physicists explain away with a “hidden variables theory” which others say is a step into metaphysics or impossibility. But I suspect that when the science-only and spiritual-only camps recognize their interdependence, there will be a consensus: if consciousness is the cause and reality is the effect, then the universe does exist. 

This is just a fancy way of saying – God exists, therefore, we exist, what God explained to Moses, when Moses asked how he ought to explain the God-concept to those who would be skeptical about his claim that God exists and is sovereign. “I Am Who I Am” – the uncaused consciousness is the cause of reality – reality doesn’t exist without an observer. We can observe something at some time, but we can’t observe everything all the time. Our existence/consciousness/reality MUST be dependent upon an existence/consciousness/reality that is adequate to both observe the entire universe and cause the entire universe.

Some readers may be wondering why I would talk about quantum physics in the middle of a blog about a shift in the spiritual landscape of the United States.  In order to explain this, I must show readers how the church mindset is radically different from that of the average church goer, but more importantly, how the church mindset is radically different from that of Jesus Christ.  Many people in the system view radically different as an “in-the-world-not-of-the-world” type of compliment without ever really stopping to think about whether their radically different view is beneficial to themselves and others in their circle of influence.  I found an essay by a graduate student of historical theology, Jonathan Shelley, called “An Evangelical Assessment of and Response to the Secularization of American Protestantism,” which I believe is representative of the church mindset I referred to earlier.  Shelley’s essay begins,

In his book, God is Dead, sociologist Steve Bruce of the University of Aberdeen argues that organized religion, including Christianity, as a social force is on the decline and that this secularization, as described and defended in his book, is both inevitable and irreversible. He believes that pluralism and equality have permanently undercut the authority of the organized church.  Bruce concludes his book by stating, “where diversity and egalitarianism have become deeply embedded in the public consciousness and embodied in liberal democracy, where states remain sufficiently prosperous and stable that the fact of diversity and the attitude of egalitarianism are not swept away by some currently unimaginable cataclysm, I see no grounds to expect secularization to be reversed.” (emphasis mine)

Although Shelley recognizes the truth in Bruce’s book, he disagrees with Bruce’s idea that secularization can be reversed.  Shelley writes, “I contend that it is possible to reverse the trend of secularization as Bruce defines it and that it is the responsibility of the church as God’s covenant people to stand as a source of social and moral authority.”

Sometimes academic-style writing can be bogged down and rendered ineffective by complicated language, so I would like to restate both Bruce’s claims in my own words:Bruce’s claim, the way I see: The system (what I’ve been calling Egypt in this and other blogs) includes Christianity.  The system is a social force.  The system is in decline.  Why is it in decline?  According to Shelley/Bruce:

Pluralism and equality have permanently undercut the authority of the system and because diversity and egalitarianism have become deeply embedded in the public consciousness.

Let me expound on this, considering the meaning of each word.

1. Pluralism – The system is NOT the source of truth.  Truth does exist outside of the system, because certain universal truths have found their way into many different religions.  It’s okay to let other people believe differently than the system.  It’s okay to cooperate with people who believe differently than the system.

2. Equality – I’m assuming that if equality has “undercut the authority” of the system, it has made equals of those within the system and those not within the system.

3. Diversity – the “public consciousness” has been awakened to the idea that there are different types of people.

4. Egalitarianism – the “public consciousness” has been awakened to the idea that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status.And once again, Shelley’s response to Bruce:I contend that it is possible to reverse the trend of secularization as Bruce defines it and that it is the responsibility of the church as God’s covenant people to stand as a source of social and moral authority.Let me get this straight.  People are finally realizing that

  • religious systems of spiritual oppression are NOT the source of truth.  This makes sense, because Jesus said, “I am the truth…”
  • truth can’t be contained within just one religious system.  This makes sense, because we can’t and shouldn’t even try to put the Creator of the Universe in a box.
  • people should NOT try to force others to subscribe to the system’s version of truth-in-a-box, and we should at least try to get along with people with DO subscribe to the system’s version of truth-in-a-box.
  • just because someone has the title of “pastor” or “elder” or “theologian,” this doesn’t necessarily mean what they say comes from God.
  • all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, even if they are very different from those in the system.

And Shelley has a problem with this?  Shelley wants to reverse this trend?  Shelley wants people to look to the system as a “source” for social and moral authority?  Has Shelley not read the history of social upheaval caused by the immorality of the system?  Why would Shelley want to undo what God is doing in the world?

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one… In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God… What then shall we say? That the Gentiles [secular], who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel [religious], who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.” (Romans 9:25, 26, 30-33)

If Egypt is the religious system of oppression, if the Exodus from Egypt is a picture or type of deliverance from spiritual oppression, then those within the system ought to consider the ramifications of their association with the system.  Perhaps a believer is in-but-not-of the system.  This is certainly a possibility.  In the Exodus story, God gave warning of the plagues before they happened.  There is reason to believe that the Egyptians who identified with the slaves were spared from the plagues.  The ten plagues are spiritual types each with a lesson:

  • water turned to blood – if your water is martyr’s blood, then it isn’t Living Water
  • overrun with frog (in Egyptian mythology the frog is a symbol of life and fertility) – the things you consider to be life-giving are actually a source of death and barrenness
  • plague of gnats – one tiny creature can’t shut down a system, but millions can
  • stinging flies – the stinging flies were not able to enter into the land where the slaves lived
  • dying livestock – the wealth and livelihood in Egypt was in livestock, you will be just fine if you are willing to lose everything
  • boils – there are medically proven negative physical symptoms that accompany fear, hate, greed, and the like
  • hail – those who heeded the warning were spared the consequences
  • the plague of locusts is the first plague in which Pharaoh seeks to compromise by holding women and children hostage to ensure the male slaves return – Christ didn’t come to set SOME captives temporarily free, He came to set ALL captives completely free
  • darkness – the Egypt system will be immobilized in spiritual darkness while the captives of that system have light
  • death of firstborn – the “birthright” double inheritance will be taken from anyone in the system who does not identify with the captive (take refuge in the house of the captive = take refuge behind the doorpost/cross marked with blood/Jesus).

The news report, “Report: US Protestants lose majority status,” states:

Scholars have long debated whether people who say they no longer belong to a religious group should be considered secular. While the category as defined by Pew researchers includes atheists, it also encompasses majorities of people who say they believe in God, and a notable minority who pray daily or consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.” Still, Pew found overall that most of the unaffiliated aren’t actively seeking another religious home, indicating that their ties with organized religion are permanently broken.

The news report also states, “Part of what’s going on here is that the stigma associated with not being part of any religious community has declined,” said John Green, a specialist in religion and politics at the University of Akron, who advised Pew on the survey. “In some parts of the country, there is still a stigma. But overall, it’s not the way it used to be.”

The word “stigma” means “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as onone’s reputation.” Interestingly, stigma is the root for the word “stigmata,” which means, “marks resembling the wounds of the crucified body of Christ, said to be supernaturally impressed on the bodies of certain persons, especially nuns, tertiaries, and monastics.”  While I don’t really buy into the physical idea of stigmata, I recognize the spiritual significance of a such an idea.  Identifying with Christ isn’t about lighting a candle and quoting a memorized prayer, but these things aren’t necessarily wrong.  What’s wrong is how the system tells you to identify with Christ, as is evidenced in Shalley’s essay.  The church system puts the stigma on the captive instead of on its own doorposts.  Here are the instructions Shalley and many Protestant church give:

When challenges to the church and its narrative arise, such the church loses credibility because it had not properly addressed these issues and educated its members beforehand… Therefore, the clergy need to be intelligent, godly people who can appropriately and adequately expound the universal truth contained in Scripture to contemporary intelligent people…  Since the church has an exclusive claim to universal divine truth… the church needs to present itself as the only and authoritative source of morality.  Part of this presentation will be to apply high standards for church membership.  Persons wishing to join the church will need to study and intelligently affirm the orthodox doctrines of the church and accept clergy guidance and discipline in life.  Conversely, the church needs to protect itself rigorously from immorality and heresy among its members, placing offending members under church discipline up to and including anathemas and excommunicationThe church cannot be a mere voluntary association that is open to all and has no demands or requirements for members

…members of the church ought to be intentional in patronizing one another’s businesses.  …those outside the community, especially those who have been anathematized, ought to be intentionally excluded or ostracized, not out of indignation or from a false sense of superiority, but to preserve the unity and purity of the community and to establish the necessity and character of the church in society.

Let’s think this through for a moment.  Suppose that Shalley’s dream-world comes to fruition, and the church “return[s] to its status as a necessary – even vital – aspect of life and society.”  Shalley then suggests that people ought to be purposefully deprived of what is “necessary” or “vital” in order to establish the “character of church in society.”  If you think this is scary stuff, you’re not the only one.  Perhaps this is one reason people are disassociating themselves from organized religion in the US, particularly Protestantism.

When you become aware of inequity, injustice, and oppression within the system, you have a choice about what comes next.  If you stay put and do nothing, you can expect the ten spiritual plagues (don’t say I didn’t warn you), and you can also expect to hear more and more conversations about the ideas that Shalley presents. If you stay put and do something, attempt to make changes, suggest things contrary to status quo, you will be marked. The natural inclination of a threatened system in Adam is self-preservation at all costs.  Troublemakers don’t last long in this kind of environment unless God gives them some kind of supernaturally thick skin.  Yes, being freed from slavery can be very, very scary.  Trust God, He knows what He’s doing.

Shalley continues:

How can the church return to its status as a necessary – even vital – aspect of life and society without repeating the mistakes of the past?  First, the church must find a way of unifying the various segments of Protestantism in America to be a viable social force and to overcome internal secularization.  This means a return to universally accepted standards of orthodoxy and anathemas…  As part of this process, the church must develop a prescriptive ethic for life, including everything from a theology of work to environmental issues to financial stewardship to child-rearing…

Each member must be encouraged to participate fully in the life and mission of the church.  One component of this is a strong and effective doctrine of spiritual gifts.  Each person should be encouraged to identify and nurture the God-given gifts and talents they possess and to utilize them within the community… In fact, the church can even take this so far as to argue that all skills and abilities are gifts from God and spiritual maturity is a necessary component of developing any skill, making church membership and discipline necessary to truly understand and use any talent or skill appropriately or fully…

The autonomy of the sciences and other intellectual disciplines needs to be overturned; all knowledge conforms to the revelation of God… If Christianity is to be a source of social authority because it is based on an absolute truth claim, it cannot be content to be a mere minority; it must shape and interpret all intellectual endeavors… apply church doctrine immediately to advances in knowledge, technology, and culture, thereby enabling the church to both direct and respond to new challenges instead of rapidly falling behind the intellectual discourses…

…Members of the church should look to the pastor for leadership in faith and practice and as an authoritative counselor in all aspects of life.  …the church must re-establish its own institutions in society that can compete with and eventually overcome secular institutions.  Since the church addresses every aspect of life, it needs to have a hand in everything. …While the American tradition of the separation of church and State will not allow for the church to directly influence politics or legislate morality, the church can indirectly control society through education and Christian media.  …The church must become the dominant voice in society, establishing its own credentials independent of state regulation.

Just as God no longer holds the walls of water in place for the Egyptian army that pursues the recently freed captives, the time will come (and it has already begun) when God will no longer hold back the church from the consequences it creates for itself.  It won’t be God destroying the system, it will be the system destroying the system – thrown into confusion as leaders threaten slave-drivers, slave-drivers beat slaves or thrown down their whips in rebellion, the slave majority become angry with the slave minority who causes trouble and bring consequences upon them all, slaves are made to gather their own straw yet produce twice as many bricks, or slaves just walk away unhindered realizing Jesus has already set them free.

The news report says, “More growth in ‘nones’ is expected. One-third of adults under age 30 have no religious affiliation, compared to 9 percent of people 65 and older. Pew researchers wrote that ‘young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives,’ and aren’t expected to become more religiously active as they age.”

 

For my Adventures in Emerging Media class at UCF, I watched a lecture video called “Brief History of the Internet” by Dr. Robert F. Kenny.  The first part of the video outlines the initial conceptualization and implementation of the Internet, and the second part examines the evolution of standards that resulted in the Internet as we know it today.  Kenny’s lecture is peppered with video clips from a PBS special by Robert Cringely on the history of the Internet.

The beginning of the Internet, according to Kenny, is a “remarkable series of events.” He explains why, saying, “All these people that went into the development of [the Internet] were totally independent from one another.  They didn’t know one another, and in many cases didn’t even meet one another.  And so I think you’ll find it very interesting they came along with putting together a product, a series of products that are so cohesive and massive in scope… ”

For clarity, I’d like to restate Kenny’s observation.  Today, it’s not unheard of to collaborate with someone without actually meeting him or her, but naturally, we would depend on the Internet for such collaboration.  Prior to the 80’s this kind of distant collaboration may have happened by telephone or snail mail.  What Kenny is stressing here is that in many instances, the people who were creating some of the necessary pieces and parts had no idea that others were simultaneously working on other necessary pieces and parts.

Another interesting aspect of the Internet is that on a graph of the timeline of the Internet showing the amount of Internet usage, “the graph of the exposure, the use of the Internet, has grown exponentially over the years, and it’s kind of like a huge S-shaped curve… We’re still at the front end of it… It’s not on a downward slope, which happens [with] a lot of technologies.  We’re still on the upward slope here, which means we’ve got a long way to go… We’re really just beginning to breach the future… [The Internet’s] usefulness to all of us is going to be growing, and it’s going to continue to grow in the time to come.”

The implications of the concepts Kenny describes are phenomenal, not only for Internet usage, but also for how we understand ourselves as human beings and how we relate to one another.  For many people, this means an increase in philosophical and spiritual knowledge.  In most, if not all academic educational materials, the origin of the universe is explained by a prevailing cosmological theory known as the “Big Bang.”  Similarly, the origin of humanity is explained by the theory of evolution.  Neither theory, however credible, recognizes a self-existent first cause or intelligent designer.  Without going into a long account of opposition and rebuttal between science and religion, I’d like to point out that I see many similarities between the spiritual evolution of humanity and that of the Internet.  To state it simply, I don’t expect people to be interested in or agree with my views, but I see the fingerprints of God all over the Internet, and I fully expect that one day, the complete interdependence of science and spirituality will become too obvious to ignore.  If that scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps you will go read something else now.  If you keep reading, don’t blame me for wasting your time.  For those with eyes to see and a desire to see, perhaps there will be an “a-ha” moment.

The upward slope of the S curve represents Internet usage.  For spirituality, this is especially exciting.  At an MIT forum on religion and the Internet, Rev. Charles Henderson recalls one of his first explorations in religion and the Internet.  He joined a network for religious professionals called “Ecunet” and describes the experience as follows: “All of a sudden, you are no longer alone [writing a sermon].” He collaborated with two or three hundred others in putting the sermon together, and then they went back online to compare notes about how it went.  As to how they measured the effectiveness of the sermon, I have no idea, but to me, this is a small step in the right direction.  Henderson says that it was “a life-transforming experience.”  In the years that followed, Henderson recognized how the Internet was a valuable tool for building community.  He started what he calls The First Church of Cyberspace at www.godweb.com (site no longer exists) with the mission statement: “an attempt to bring Christianity online with thoughtfulness, humor and a willingness to address the more controversial questions that tend to be avoided in the traditional church.”  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  As long as most of the religious content on the Internet was generated by “religious professionals,” the hierarchy would remain unthreatened.

In Cringely’s PBS special, he asks, “What better place for a Big Bang than CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European laboratory for particle research?”  Kenny explains the reasoning behind Cringely’s Big Bang word choice.  The Big Bang, in reference to the Internet, is “the development of the ability to affordably and reliably interconnect networks that were physically separate.”  The scientists at CERN wanted to retrieve information from each other’s computers.  The first message transmitted via the Internet (then known as the ARPANET) resulted in a system crash after only the first two letters, “lo,” of the word “login.”

When one thinks of the word “spiritual,” one likely also thinks of its bizarre and meaningless counterfeit, that is, religion.  Often, people confuse the two ideas, thanks to millennia of isolated, specialized networks, a.k.a. religions, denominations and/or churches.  Throughout human history, only those who were experts in the “language” of the “network” could store or retrieve data.  With the invention of the printing press, data became more available to the public, and the world got a small taste of the power of communication.  This invention ushered in the Age of Enlightenment.  It could be compared to the “lo” of “login.”  The system crashed.  Isolated and specialized religious networks began banning and burning books in response to the threat of free inquiry.  In the mid-1500’s the Pope created a list of prohibited books that wasn’t done away with until the 1960’s.  Ironically the ban was lifted just in time for the invention of the Internet!

One of the biggest problems of the Internet at the time, according to Kenny, was that users “had to pay for connectivity whether something was being transmitted or not,” and another problem was that users “needed to break apart transmitted messages for security reasons” because messages were being lost or intercepted along the way.  The solution?  Send the message in a lot of little chunks instead of one big chunk, because, according to Cringely’s PBS special, “it’s much easier to put sand down a pipe than boulders.”  If something was blocking the path of a message, it could be redirected through another computer.  This process is called “packet switching.”  As the name implies, packets need switchers.

A small company, Bolt, Beranek, & Newman (BBN) used the theoretical concepts of networking from people like Len Kleinrock and Donald Davies and created packet switchers.  They called it the Interface Message Processor (IMP), a hulking machine at least a head taller than an average size man.  The IMP is what we now know as a router, a tiny gadget with blinking lights that we forget even exists unless it needs to be reset.  Kenny points out the extraordinary nature of this accomplishment by emphasizing that this was a government project that was on time and on budget.  How often does that happen?

Even with all of this behind-the-scenes success, it would be another twenty years before people actually started noticing or appreciating the Internet.  Why?  For several reasons.  But first, I’d like the point out the spiritual implications of the last couple of paragraphs.  One of the biggest problems spirituality had, to borrow Kenny’s words, was that participants in religion “had to pay for connectivity whether something was being transmitted or not.”  In other words, go through the motions, without experiencing much spiritual growth.  The printing press brought about some positive changes, but people were still connected within isolated networks, many of them spiritually dead and unaware of each other in a more global sense.  An “us” and “them” mentality persisted in addition to suspicion and competition between churches and denominations.  Good will messages were lost and intercepted, and most people automatically resorted to their little isolated network protocols.  Spiritual “clients” needed packet switching but didn’t have any packet switchers.

The packet switchers in spirituality came about mostly in the land of the free in the form of movements such as evangelicalism, ecumenism, fundamentalism, plenty of other isms, house churches, and mega-churches.  The problem was that communications were still only taking place by way of hulking machines in specialized and isolated facilities.  Yes, these denominations and churches were making some headway in communications and functioning cooperatively toward certain common goals, but the individuals within those churches didn’t have a voice.  The hierarchical experts were still writing the language and controlling the type of communication that seemed acceptable to them on big IMPs by the light of stained-glass windows.  There were not yet routers for the little people.

J.C.R. Licklider, the “Johnny Appleseed” of interactive computing, was a dreamer who envisioned the Internet, but never invented it.  Instead, he organized and funded those who had the ability to bring his vision into reality.  Licklider, known by his colleagues as “Lick,” called the Internet the “Intergalactic Network” and described it as “a field that gets a thousand times as good in twenty years.”  Kenny notes that visionaries or dreamers are often misunderstood, “It’s hard to understand what [Lick] has to say, but if you listen to it very, very closely, he had this vision of what really was supposed to happen.”  Lick explains, “Specialized hardware facilities tend to be expensive, but very efficient.  On the other hand, if they can be distributed, then specialized hardware facilities can be very effective and let us do things that we couldn’t otherwise do.”  Cringely clarifies for the PBS audience that what Lick is really saying is that “everyone can use computers anywhere and get data anywhere in the world.”  Keep in mind that Lick uttered these words in the 1960’s.

Another underappreciated visionary was Ted Nelson, author of the books, Computer Lib and Dream Machines, who met with Cringely for an interview for the PBS special.  He called the Internet “Xanadu, a magic place of literary memory” and likened it to Samuel Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Kahn.  Kenny points out that Nelson “seems to live in a world all by himself.”  This is evidenced by his odd behavior in the interview.  Nelson, explains that hypertext will enable people to communicate seamlessly and, in an otherworldly tone of voice, he suddenly breaks into recitation:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
(Click here to read it in full.)

Cringely asked Nelson whether he considers himself the inventor of hypertext.  Nelson responds, “Hypertext is so obvious.  So I do not claim to have invented hypertext, I merely discovered it.  It’s like the telephone.   At the time, it seemed to be an invention.  To us now, it was a discovery, because it’s so obvious.  Okay.  So, hypertext is like that.  It’s simply the obvious next step in literature.”  When Cringely asked him to define hypertext, Nelson got so offended that he abruptly left the interview!

Tim Berners-Lee, who is considered the inventor of the World Wide Web, is the doer who brought Nelson’s dream into reality in 1990.  But unlike many inventions, the amount of time that passed between conceptualization and actualization was remarkably minimal.  Take DaVinci’s flying machines for example.  DaVinci, the dreamer, the visionary, lacked an engine.  The Wright Brothers brought his dream into reality over four hundred years later.

So we had a World Wide Web, but not many people knew how to use it.  And there were roadblocks to using the Internet for commerce.  Congressman Rick Boucher‘s activity in Internet-related legislation resulted in the commercialization of the Internet.  The Internet became a marketplace that would, “Connect homes, schools, and workplaces,” Boucher said, and “open new worlds of information for all.”

 

 

But we still needed one more software breakthrough.  Just as “dreamers need doers,” doers need money.  Kenny explains, “Money-folks finally got involved.”  The 1990’s Internet boom in a nutshell:

  • John Doerr – “For years Bill Joy had been telling me that someday we’d back a 21 year old kid who would write software that would change the world, and lo and behold sitting in my office is this 23 year old… Marc said, ‘This software is going to change everything.’”
  • Mosaic – first browser.  Marc Andreessen, coauthor of Mosaic – “What we were trying to do was just put a human face on the Internet.  The Internet, at that point, was just a tool for researchers and scientists.”
  • Suddenly, the Internet wasn’t just for nerds…
  • Eric Schmidt – “those ideas had been present for twenty years, but it took a killer application…”

THE MACHINE IS US

 

In the video, “The Machine is Us,” my a-ha moment arrived before I even hit play. The title can hold a positive or a negative vibe, depending on the point of view of the reader. I grew up with a strict fundamentalist background in which I was taught that the antichrist would set up a one-world government and demand that everyone obtain the Mark of the Beast in order to purchase anything. By the time the Internet became popular, I had already separated myself from my religious upbringing, but I remained in contact with many of the people still involved in it. They said that the Beast was a supercomputer and the Mark of the Beast was some kind of bar code or embedded chip. To these people, the title, “The Machine is Us,” is likely further confirmation of their fears.

To me, “The Machine is Us” is a hopeful statement about human cooperation. Throughout history, our interactions have always been either controlled or heavily influenced by a small number of people in positions of power. I’ll just pick a number out of the air and say that two or three percent of the population has been able to censor or manipulate information to their own advantage. The linear nature of information flow allowed the two or three percent to maintain their positions of power and influence. That’s why I appreciate the first portion of the video:

Text is linear.
Text is unilinear.
Text is said to be unilinear.
Text is often said to be unilinear.
Text is unilinear when written on paper.

The Internet, especially in the last ten years or so, has been like a revolutionary slap in the face about how we have been exchanging information compared to how we can exchange information. Information as we know it, is not doomed to forever remain constrained in a controllable, linear model; we are beginning to understand it for what it truly is, that is, exponential. We are linear beings who live in a seemingly linear environment of time, space, and matter. There are causes and there are effects. This is the basis of science itself. However, we’ve learned a few things during our long and tumultuous evolution, particularly that time and space are relative. In other words, the universe is exponential, but our tiny minds are having a hard time grasping the implications. We want something solid to beat our mixed-up heads against, just to be sure we are real, and that we are sane. How about a heavy wooden door? Well, it turns out, according to quantum physicists, that the door is matter, and matter is energy, and energy is light, and light may be particles or waves, depending on whether someone is paying attention to it. Mind-boggling stuff, right? That’s why I appreciate the next bit of the video, because it gives me hope that we will, instead of beating our heads against the door, learn how to walk straight through it. The Internet may enable us to consider all possibilities, since anyone can have a voice. And this is possible, because of our newly discovered ways of exchanging data, the innate flexibility of information:

Digital text is different.
Digital text is more flexible.
Digital text is movable.
Digital text is above all… hyper.
Digital hypertext is above all…
Hypertext is above all…
Hypertext can link.
Hypertext can link. (here. here. here. or here.)
virtually anywhere
anywhere virtually
anywhere virtual

If we are smart about preserving this gem of a tool God has enabled and equipped us to create for ourselves, then we might have some hope of discovering the most crucial information and unlimited possibilities that have been hidden throughout the ages. Our own human-manufactured structures of authority and power have held us back long enough. As the Muse song “Uprising” goes:

Rise up and take the power back,
It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack,
You know that their time’s coming to an end,
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

The world has been operating like inefficient code, with form (authority and power) and content (information) so interdependent that normal people had no choice but to submit to the system in order to have any kind of normalcy in their lives. It kind of makes one reconsider the idea that hermits and antisocial people might have been on to something, refusing to trade their dignity for a life of status quo. I am so encouraged by the final words of the video:

Who will organize all of this data?
(digital ethnography hypermedia anthropology)
We will. You will. […]
XML + U & me create
The web is linking people. […]
People sharing, trading, collaborating.
We’ll need to rethink a few things.
We’ll need to rethink copyright, authorship, identity, ethics, aesthetics, rhetoric, governance, privacy, commerce, love, family, ourselves.

EPIC 2015

 

As I first viewed this video, I wondered in what year it was created. So, I did a little bit of research and found out that it was created around the same time as Facebook. The reason I wondered what year it was created was because I wasn’t sure what was fact and what was fiction, other than the clues given in the video introduction on my class website. This video was disturbing to me, and it was a harsh reminder that it is human nature to take any good, acceptable, beneficial, or profitable thing and make a mess out of it.

In Dr. Kenny’s lecture video, the visionary people like Licklider and Nelson may have seemed to their peers to be out of touch with reality, wishful thinkers, impractical dreamers, etc. But I’ll be damned if their ideas didn’t come to fruition with the help of some intelligent and persistent doers and some rich people willing to invest in their efforts.

Unfortunately, I must admit that EPIC 2015 seems to be the work of a visionary. And I loathe the idea that the Internet could become a wasteland in which our communications become “a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational.” Yes, unfortunately, Fat Cats could potentially hijack the Internet. It is sad, but true.

The video did end with hope, though. Neighbors meeting for lunch at the park, providing each other with practical information, and sharing satisfaction in the little things, like nice weather.

Here we are, approaching a point in our future where we can either become the Image of God or the most depraved version of ourselves. The world will inevitably become something unlike we have ever known, either way.

 

Today I will highlight the first of two spiritual truths that we can learn from this news article: South Florida Lifeguard Fired After Saving Man

Highlights from the article (which you may read in full by clicking the link above) are as follows:

  • lifeguards were on a skeleton staff
  • three other lifeguards were fired this week (although I’m not sure if their employment termination is related to this incident) and four others gave notice that they were quitting after the rescue
  • Lopez (the lifeguard who was fired) was able to reach the unidentified man, carry him to safety away from the water, and conduct rescue techniques until EMTs reached the beach
  • after he filed his rescue paperwork, Lopez was fired because he left his zone and saved someone outside the buoys in a part of the beach his company is not paid to protect
  • When asked what the lifeguards are supposed to do when someone is drowning outside the guarded zones, the men explained they were told to call 911

Hallandale Beach issued this statement:

FROM: Peter F. Dobens Public Relations City of Hallandale Beach 954-303-5394

An employee of Jeff Ellis Management was terminated on Monday from his position as a lifeguard assigned to protect swimmers on two city-owned beaches within the City of Hallandale Beach. Following the termination, the City learned two other lifeguards resigned.

City Manager Renee Crichton has spoken with Mr. Ellis about the lifeguard. Mr. Ellis has started a full investigation into the termination of his company’s employee by a lifeguard supervisor assigned to Hallandale Beach. The City contracts with Jeff Ellis Management for lifeguard services on the two City beaches and at the Municipal Swimming Pool. The lifeguards are not city employees; they are employees of Jeff Ellis Management.

City Manager Renee Crichton said, “We do not have all the facts in this case. We take the safety to all visitors to our beaches very seriously. Whether they are in a protected area or unprotected area, we believe aid must be rendered.”

There is a protocol for lifeguards responding to emergencies outside of the protected area. One of the unanswered questions for the City of Hallandale Beach is was that protocol followed?

The City is awaiting results of the investigation into whether the protocol was followed and into the circumstances surrounding the termination of the lifeguard.

Should you have any questions, please contact Jeff Ellis at 407-509-0898 or Peter F. Dobens, City of Hallandale Beach, at 954-303-5394.

I called Jeff Ellis, to express my disgust over how this situation was handled and asked that he rehire the lifeguard and do everything he can to ensure that this stupid call 9-1-1 protocol is done away with.  He responded in a manner very similar to the official statement (above).  I did not keep him on the phone asking questions or demanding information, because I knew that he had more important things to do than jabber-jaw with me.

Because not all of the facts are in on this case, anything I write in this blog is based only on the current information.  This is important to note for a couple of reasons.  First, news stories, especially in the last couple of decades, are often presented with obvious bias instead of a plain presentation of verified facts.  Given the abundant availability of new sources, though, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, because bias goes both ways.  Readers/viewers should expose themselves to both sides of a story and intentional about hearing information that they may not actually want to hear.  Second, readers/viewers opinions about news stories can change based upon new information.  In this particular incident, it is likely that the only new information will be news stories about the aftermath such as public reaction, perhaps an interview with the man who was rescued, and what changes the City of Hallandale Beach or Jeff Ellis Management plan to make because of this incident.

Let’s just suppose, for argument’s sake, that we do have all the information and that things happened exactly as they are reported in this article.

I believe that the most operative words in the official statement are, “There is a protocol for lifeguards responding to emergencies outside of the protected area. One of the unanswered questions for the City of Hallandale Beach is was that protocol followed?”

Spiritual Truth #1 – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Is it wrong to fire an employee who deliberately chooses to break protocol?  Two cut-and-dry answers are yes and no.  From a spiritual perspective, protocol will ultimately become irrelevent, but that’s another blog for another day.  Is it wrong to fire an employee who deliberately chooses to break protocol?

No, it’s not wrong.  Unenforced protocol isn’t really protocol.  And a world without protocol is a world of chaos.

AND

Yes, it’s wrong, if the protocol is stupid, dangerous, or otherwise unhelpful. It would be better to do whatever is necessary to have the protocol revised.

Perhaps the person who fired this hero is frustrated by the fact that the City of Hallandale Beach has not included in their protocol the idea that lifeguards should just go ahead and rescue a drowning person instead of calling 9-1-1.  We all know that by the time an ambulance arrives, the drowning man will probably be beyond resuscitation.  Perhaps the person who fired the lifeguard knew that the only way to bring swift and effective attention to the stupidity of this protocol was to fire the lifeguard.  If this were the case, then the evil villain in this story would, in fact, be another hero.  We might question his methods, but we wouldn’t question his intentions.

Supposing that having this stupid and dangerous protocol revised were his true intentions, what could the lifeguard’s boss have done differently?

Well, for starters, he could have joined this lifeguard in the breaking of protocol.  I’m assuming that the protocol for the boss is to fire any employee who purposely breaks protocol.  If the boss doesn’t follow protocol about how to respond when an employee deliberately breaks protocol, then the boss could lose his job or get sued or whatever.  He would have consequences to face at some point in the future because he refused to fire the lifeguard.  But he could still accomplish the same good purpose, by putting his own job on the line.  Then the headline for the news article would be: South Florida Supervisor Fired for Refusing to Fire Lifeguard Who Saved Drowning Man.  And the public outcry would be in his favor.

My point is this – if every person in this red-tape chain-of-command system did what they knew to be the right thing, regardless of protocol, then the ultimate fault/blame would land squarely on the head of whomever wrote the call-9-1-1-instead-of-rescuing-a-drowning-person rule.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Jesus said.  These words are the ultimate protocol.  If every person who has been blessed by God with basic moral common sense (and that’s most of us) were to be willing to lose everything in order to act in accordance with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” then almost every institution could be revolutionized from the bottom up.

How can a twenty-one year old change the world?  How can a single unhappy supervisor do his part to make this world a better place?  How can anybody be a difference-maker?  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The institutional church could be revolutionized if its members would set the example for the rest of the world in this manner, which leads me to the second spiritual truth, which you can read in the next blog.

 

Continuing in the blog series on theodicy, based on Thomas G. Long’s book, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith

In chapter five, entitled, “Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow,” Long seeks to use the parable Jesus told of The Wheat and the Weeds as a “map” for the “journey” of theodicy.  Thankfully, Long takes the context of the parable into consideration.  The parable of the Wheat and Weeds is one of seven parables, “strung together in one long discourse.”

According to Long, Matthew’s literary construction of the parables points readers to The Wheat and the Weeds and Jesus’ private explanation of that parable as “bookends” that help us make sense of all the other parables.

Long writes,

When we recognize the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds as a pastoral conversation about the presence of evil and good mixed together in the world, we can see that it is an implied dialogue constructed around three urgent questions.

Those questions are:

  1. God, did you cause this?
  2. Can we fix it?
  3. Will it always be this way?

If we look at the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, we can see why Long chooses these particular questions:

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” (God, did you cause this?)

An enemy did this,” he replied.

The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” (Can we fix it?)

No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. (Will it always be this way?) Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”

After the recent bombing in Boston, some “Christian” bloggers didn’t waste any time both asking and answering question one.  For example, Nathaniel Darnell writes in Could the Boston Bombing Be a Judgment from God?:

…we should consider it no coincidence in God’s providence that a wickedness like this would occur in a state and a city that has fallen from the purpose of its founders into abject wickedness…

…be in prayer, asking God to bring the people of Massachusetts to their senses for their sins against the Lord. We should furthermore examine ourselves for our own sins and repent of them before the Lord. Even as we work to deal with civil evils in the civil realm, we must recognize God’s providential hand in these events, motivating us to walk in the fear of the Lord.

For Darnell and others with the same view, the question, God, did you cause this? is answered with a resounding yes.  God’s “providential hand” brought “wickedness” to Boston as an act of judgment for “their sins against the Lord.”  To those who believe this to be true, the only proper response is fear.  Darnell writes that these events should cause believers to feel motivated “to walk in the fear of the Lord.”

But not everyone who holds Darnell’s view respond with fear.  Some respond with moral outrage, like the servants in the parable.  They ask, God, did you cause this?, and believing God did cause it, they question Who God is and what God does. “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”  If there are weeds, or in this case, exploding bombs, does this mean God didn’t sow good seed in His field?

Long refers to this second group as expressing faith.  How does moral outrage express faith, you ask?  I’ll let Long explain:

If we did not believe in God at all, or if we believed that God is an absentee landlord, or, worse, a cruel tyrant, then the presence of weeds in the wheat, of evil and suffering in the midst of good, would simply be the way things are… Only in expectation that God is good and that the creation is good, only in a relationship of faith and trust, does the presence of evil prompt us to shake the finger of accusation in God’s face.

According to Long, the very first point Jesus makes in telling this parable is that “God has a lot to give an account for.”  It only takes one paragraph before Long quickly asks, “Who are we humans to file charges against God?”

These are “people who trust God and feel betrayed,” who practice a “theodicy of protest.”

Long explains,

When we voice protest over the suffering and evil we encounter in life, we do more than just vent our rage.  We engage in an ancient and profound form of prayer, an appeal to the honor of God.

I’ll continue in this chapter next time.

Next blog in this series: Where Did Evil Come From?

 

The links to each of the blogs in this series are Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Guest Blogger Mary Vanderplas)The Shaking of the FoundationsThe Impossible Chess MatchThe Climax of All MisnomersRoad HazardsThe Soul’s ComplaintAwakening, by Asia SamsonRunning a Thousand Miles for FreedomDavid Will Live AgainHowl: Job and the WhirlwindChrist is the Yes of the Universe.

Gary and Michelle Amirault

Gary Amirault posted this on his Facebook page today:

Tentmaker Ministries has been hacked. The entire site is down including the discussion boards, the store, the blog. etc. The tentmaker youtube channel at youtube.com/user/tentmaker777 is still up as well at our lovewins.us and what-the-hell-is-hell.com

Please pray for us. In the 18 years we have been in the internet this is the worst hack we’ve suffered. It looks like this will take a lot of time and resources to get back up. We have thousands of files to reload. We were in the middle of modernizing the pages as this hack occurred. Argh. I’m trusting we will be back in better shape than before. “All things work for the good…”

I call Michelle and Gary, to offer some encouragement and get some information about what happened and what comes next.

“Wiped out” and “gone” and “no longer on the internet” are the words Gary uses to describe the current condition of the Tentmaker website.  “These people, that are really good at [hacking], set up false flags to wrongly blame another group.”  So the hackers have covered their tracks.  When I ask if Gary has any idea who the hackers are or what their intent is, he replies, “One person (from France) opened the door for many other people (from several other countries) to come in” and their only intention, it seems, is to cause “chaos”.  They replaced code and “placed an invisible image on the front page” to redirect traffic.  Gary says, “Whoever placed the link there, it wasn’t to draw traffic to their site.”  In other words, people weren’t being redirected to an eternal torment website.

So it is possible, I suppose, that the attack wasn’t based on the spiritual motivations of people opposed to Amazing Hope.

“I hate code,” Gary says, when I ask him about the possibility of repairing the damage.  “I know nothing about programming.  And when I think about the work involved, it almost makes me sick.  I feel nauseated.”  He’s talking about 15 years worth of files stored on his computer, over 9 gigs of info to sort through.  Apparently Tentmaker just moved to a different server, and the site hasn’t been backed up since the move, so unless there’s some way to undo the work of the hackers, he and Michelle will have to start from scratch.

I asked Gary to tell me how he feels about the whole situation and if he has any ideas about why God has allowed this to happen.  “[God is] testing this side of me, you know – love your enemies, pray for them.”  He explains, more eloquently than I can hope to relay, about how valuable each individual is to God and the incredible love He has for each person, “from the President of the United States to the local town drunk.”  Gary and Michelle are fully aware that hackers, too, are deeply loved by God.  “[This is] an opportunity for me […] to believe in the finished work [of Christ].

The salvation of the world, hackers included, does not depend upon us.  A crashing website is not going to make or break the Kingdom of God.  But God does allow us to partner with Him in His redemptive work, which will be accomplished with or without our help.

Gary tells me about the inspirational articles he’s written over the years, the advice he’s given to others, and then he continues, “God’s using this as an opportunity to… He’s saying, ‘Let’s see if you do what you are telling other people they should do.'”  In Gary’s Facebook post, he writes, “All things work for the good…” but he asks, “How do you express that?  […]  Faith is not an intellectual ascent to scripture.”  He explains that believers can’t just agree, say amen, and then expect to fully understand the meaning behind the words; instead, they have to discover what it means by living it.  “Do I really believe [all things work together for good]?  Then [I should] express behavior and actions that substantiate what I believe.  […It’s] great to read about faith in scripture, but it’s different to experience it.  I’ve lived the power of God moving in ways that drop my jaw, and it’s difficult to believe what He’s doing even while He is doing it.  […]  Twenty-seven years ago, the first Bible verse that I felt the need to commit to memory was [Philippians 4:6], ‘for nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer, and by supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God,’ and it has been the hardest to walk in.  Maybe this time I will respond differently.”  Gary’s paraphrase of this verse is “chill out” – after all, God is in control.

I tell Gary that I want to give some practical suggestions to the people who want to do something to help, and in my mind the best thing people can do is to make a donation so that he can hire a company that specializes in this kind of problem to take a look at the website.  But then Gary puts me in my place and responds, “The best thing to do is pray.  God can do this without a penny.”  Then he goes on to explain that processions in Israel often put people who were praising and worshipping in the front of the line before anyone else, not even the rich and popular people.  “Praise and prayer is how we are going to fight this battle.”  I tell Gary that his response really shows me how much of my former churchian self is still remaining in me, because one of the main topics in staff meetings (I used to work as a pastor’s administrative assistant) was money or money related.  My knee-jerk reaction to problems is money.  Granted, money can be used by God to accomplish His purposes, but prayer should be the knee-jerk reaction instead of money.  Money should be third or fourth on the list, if it is applicable to a problem-solving solution.

So I thank Gary for helping me to see this about myself, and then add, “…but I still want to know how people who want to donate their expertise or resources or offer words of encouragement can do so.”  It is like pulling teeth, but he finally tells me people can write a check to “Tentmaker Ministries” (a 501C3) and mail it to 1181 Wallnut St. Hermann MO 65041 or send an email to tentmaker7@mchsi.com, “the one address that still works”.

Gary and Michelle are in our prayers today, and once word gets around, they will be in the prayers of thousands.  We are excited to see what God is doing, because He never lets something bad happen unless it is helping to usher in something even better, or as Gary says, ” The second body is better than the first body.”  The first body must die.  The death of a job, an ability, a dream, or especially the death of a loved one seems like it is only a tragedy until we realize that God defeated death by turning the power of death against death, to bring about the death of death itself!  God has promised to do more than we could ask or ever imagine, and if we really believe this, we can hold on to hope in any circumstance.  Maybe God allowing hackers to cause chaos on this website is His way of “hacking” into the powers of darkness.  He’s sneaky like that.  We should know – we are His spies.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus Christ

 

Testimonials about Tentmaker:

Blake Higgins writes, “Tentmaker was one of the first websites I came to upon my departure from the fundementalist Christian background I grew up with. I remember reading every articles on the website and many of the links it led me to as well. I even ordered a couple of books from them that I’ve never seen in any Christian bookstore before. I even listened to Gary’s audios videos. I even still refer back to the list of quotations provided on the site. The website (via the Amiraults) has played a role in bringing me to where I am now, so I appreciate it and them.”

Eric Stetson writes, “Tentmaker was one of the first websites I ever discovered that taught universal salvation. It was very helpful in my spiritual journey as I left evangelical Christianity and embraced a universalist view of the Gospel.  I want to add that Tentmaker and Gary Amirault’s ministry are especially helpful for people who still hold to the importance of Biblical arguments for their beliefs, more so than philosophical or experiential arguments. It’s one of the best resources for conservative Christians who are exploring universalism for the first time.”

Skip Newby writes, “…the site has been very helpful to me over the years, and I use it frequently as a resource I recommend to people who are trying to understand how the schizophrenic God portrayed by most, actually loves us more than we can imagine.”

Amy Wilson-Pineda writes, “…I’m still trying to recall the article I read on their site about a woman that was describing her coming to faith in a God that saves all. It’s not coming to me now, but when I read it , it was so overwhelmingly encouraging. I could relate to her enormously and it was confirmation that others before me had wrestled with the same questions. Tentmaker has a wonderful collection of important writings!”

Gary Munson writes, “Tentmaker confirmed all of the changes God was and still is doing within me… The Tentmaker never persuaded me… It just affirmed the truth in me.”

David Spatz writes, “I think Tentmaker was the first site I ever came across online that had material that really lined up with how I was believing. What a breath of fresh air it was. It was such a comfort during that difficult period of feeling alone, to know that there were other people who not only believed, but had done a lot of work to demonstrate that this was no fantasy, but biblically and philosophically sound, with a long history and many famous adherents! It helped lead me out of the pit, really, as I could not reconcile “hell” and God being love. I’d shoved it to the back of my mind too long but almost to the breaking point I discovered with great joy, Gary’s Tentmaker site!”

Sara Reed Gunter writes, “When your spirit first starts to awaken to the truth of a Loving God beyond limits, your mind yells its christianese arguments you know so well from the way you learned the Bible. But the heart is wise and still has you search. Upon finding the truth through the tentmaker ministries, the wisdom of your heart as well as the peace in your un-brainwashed mind knows it has found a home. The teaching is solid as well as easy to digest. It is for the ‘over- thinkers’ bible thumpers and the passionate. It is for ANYONE who want to go deeper.”

Tess Oliver writes, “Tentmaker has been wonderful for me. There is so much information there to explore. It just confirmed what I have been feeling in my heart for almost 30 years. I just knew there was something not right in what we were taught to believe.”

Sisterlisa Bertolini writes, “I have appreciated both the articles and videos put out by Tentmaker. The courage the authors have to put out their thoughts about translations and perspectives has been refreshing and encouraging. I use it as a resource quite often.”

Stephen Helbig writes, “The books and articles on http://www.tentmaker.org/ will conclusively prove to reasonable and rational men and women that the concept of a place of everlasting burnings in literal flames in a place called Hell comes from the minds of carnal men, rather than the heart of God. Gary Amirault and his website Tentmakers.org has always been a great work on which to give the reader information with which they can help set their neighbors free from “traditions of men which make the word of God of no effect.” (Matt. 15:6-9). Over the past several years I’ve greatly enjoyed this site for the work and labour that has been compiled to bring forth the good news of God’s love and God’s plan for mankind to make everything beautiful in His Time (Eccl. 3:11)/ Tentmaker Ministries has been screaming “ Love Wins” for 20+ years in a scholarly way.”

Christian Luca writes, “The Tentmaker website, if I recall correctly, was among the first websites that I came across during a phase in my life of spiritual agony and confusion. It was a time when I was going through graduate work in chemical physics in Illinois far away from my parents in New York and was in a bottomless pit, spiritually, and found out about Gary Amirault’s website, Tentmaker, and was very much astounded by the breadth and coverage of the Christian Universalist faith, with which I had only started to get acquainted but really always believed deep down in my heart throughout my life. It was a breath of fresh air to come across such a passionate and erudite website as Gary Amirault’s Tentmaker and I am grateful for the thorough work done by him, his wife, and all the wonderful individuals that surround and support his ministry filled with truth based on the Scriptures, and not wishful thinking. Keep up the great work, indeed, Tentmaker!”

Girma Colston writes, “The article “150 Reasons For Believing in the Final Salvation of ALL Humanity” at tentmaker was the thing that made something click inside of me and I converted to universal salvation through that article in September 2007. It was a Saturday afternoon when I was spending hours and hours pouring through the different articles on case against hell and Jesus being the Savior of ALL and having my Bible open. Very resourceful website.”

Dave Lewerenze writes, “…it what via Tentmaker’s “what the hell is hell” website that I first started to investigate the hell issue more deeply… awesome resource!”

Sherry Pyron Hughes writes, “Tentmaker is so informative…although I hadnHt believed in hell for many years, they are so resourceful for people just discovering that truth. The website is very useful in the teaching of a universal God who loves everyone!”

Gerry Beauchemin writes, “Gary’s site was a God-send to me back in the late 90’s when I lived in Senegal West Africa serving as a missionary there. Tentmaker provided me important books and articles that God used to opened the Scriptures to my understanding. I’ll never forget my first conversation with Gary I had on the phone when I returned to the states. I felt so privileged that he would spend so much time talking with me on the phone. Since then he has become a real friend. I owe so much to he and Michelle. They are a true blessing to us all!!!!!!!!!! “Lord, please restore their site pronto as the world needs the ‘Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ’ as Gary likes to call it.”

Ivan Belani writes, “Without Gary’s website I would still live in fear and panic about the salvation of my soul and those around me. I would be constantly questining whether God loves me or not and whether I am in the right church, whether I hold to the right doctrine… I still probably wouldn’t sleep sometimes, because I would cry because of the image in my head, where God tells me: “You chose the wrong religion. Depart from me!” But most probably, I wouldn’t be Christian anymore. I wouldn’t see the point of a Savior of the World, who is actually not the Savior of the World. I thank God for Gary and his website soooo much!”

Jonathan Hamilton writes, “Tentmaker was the springboard that got me started along the path of Christian Universalism. It offered a wealth of resources and also helped me to discover even more websites and books and communities, etc.  When I first started exploring it I was a Christian searching for answers. I didn’t explore as much as I should have, because later in life I became an agnostic, borderline atheist. A light went off in my head, reminding me of the Site and others like it, and, through it, God dragged me back to Him.”

Mark Archambault writes, “In 2002 a pastor friend of mine asked me a simple question, “What do you know about Hell?” My reply was along the lines of, “I know I don’t want to end up there.” I had just asked someone to leave my ministry because they believed in Christian Universalism. My friend’s question started my mind and heart searching for the truth. I had spent years traveling North America preaching the “Good News” of how God wants to save us from Hell. After reading the Bible cover to cover, I could not find this Hell that I had been so sure of. A few months later, I asked my friend for further insight. She sent me to Tentmakers. That’s when my eyes started to really open up. Praise God for the Good News I found! May His blessings rain down on all involved with this important work.”  And, “P.S. I now pastor a Christian Universalist church outside Tucson.” http://www.facebook.com/CharismaticUniversalistChristian

The Red Door Fellowship- Willowdale Saloon, 5905 W State Road 11, Janesville WI 53548 The Red Door Church- 11458 W Desert Wren Dr, Tucson AZ 85743

 

“God, I want a penis the size of a forearm with a clenched fist…” is not your typical Sunday morning prayer.  But Asia Samson, a poet and cancer survivor who calls himself “God’s faithful servant”, is not your typical minister.  Asia threw in the towel at his full time job to pursue a career in poetry.  For him, it was totally a God-thing.  He may not be called “minister” or recognized as such by others, but I totally knew that God had anointed him to do exactly what he is doing now. The event was a Java Jives featuring Asia Project, at UCF.  It was my pleasure to be counted among a few people who read/performed poetry as part of the opening act for Asia.  If I had to use only one word to express the vibe there this evening, I would have a hard time deciding between “transparent” and “relevant.”  I know that Asia would not be permitted to speak in church (unless he censored himself, which I just can’t see him doing).  It’s the church’s loss, because the messages in his poetry are exactly what people need to hear – raw honesty, beauty, redemption, purpose in suffering, living in the presence of God, humor, love and commitment in friendships and in marriage, etc, but this certainly doesn’t stop God from giving him a platform for his ministry (again, this is not what he or anyone else calls it, but that’s what it is).  God doesn’t need the church’s permission to do His thing, wherever, whenever, and however He pleases.  Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up (crucified), will draw all men unto me.”  I don’t know whether Asia is aware of his part in this, but I sure am.  The man is scattering spiritual seeds that are bound to take root sooner or later in the lives of his audiences.  Kudos to Asia for being who God created him to be!

*I’ve included a video of one of his poems here, and his website is linked above.

21. Atheists have something like faith, that is, saying there must be more than we can know – they all emphatically agree on this.

What I gather from this remark is that atheists are in agreement with the idea that there is more to existence than what we as human beings are able to know, but what bothers them is that some people claim to understand this unknown.  I can understand why this would be annoying to them from a strictly scientific viewpoint, because there’s no way to get inside someone else’s head/heart/soul to find out whether it is wishful thinking or truth.

22. Regarding atheist books – people don’t read them, they just read the reviews and then react.

This is an excellent point.  I share their frustration in this.  No one has the right to bash a book they’ve never even bothered to read.  I haven’t bashed atheist books, but I haven’t read them either.  If any atheists out there want to recommend the top five, I’ll be sure to do that (and maybe even review one or two of them).

23. Dawkins says grace (as in thanking God for the food) out of courtesy, but it doesn’t mean a thing to him.

This is a kindness that has been extended to me by my atheist/agnostic friends and family.  Especially at Christmas time – everyone joins in the festivities because it seems like the thing to do, not because they believe any of it.

24. All religions are equally false.  Latently, they are equally as dangerous because of the surrender of the mind.  Zionist movement is an example of how extreme thinking spreads quickly… I’m not likely to have my throat cut at the supermarket by a Quaker, but they see evil, cruelty, and violence and don’t fight it, so they are a serious danger to the United States – they (religions) are all equally rotten, false, dishonest, corrupt, humorless, and dangerous.

The atheists are justified in pointing out the evils of religion.  I agree that all religions are false, but this does not mean that all religions are totally false.  There are truths to be found in all religions, some containing more truth than others.  I wish there were a simply way to convey the difference between religion (rituals, rules, dogma, orthodoxy, etc) and a relationship with the Creator of the universe, because they are totally different concepts.  Religion is man’s idea of finding God, but God transcends religion.  Religions can be dangerous.  Jesus said whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  One way to know whether your religion is dangerous is to examine its history of bloodshed as well as its potential for bloodshed.  The Zionist movement, a political and military program whose proponents believe they can actually hasten the return of Jesus Christ by bringing about the fulfillment of prophecy in returning Jews to Israel, is a good example of religion turned dangerous.  What do you think Jesus would say about all the bloodshed that has taken place as a result of these efforts?  Yes, religion is dangerous when it is taken to extremes.  Is religion rotten?  I suppose it can be at times.  Dishonest?  Corrupt?  Humorless?  It depends on which religion one examines.  However, I personally do not see how Quakers are a danger to the United States.  How bizarre that a group of people who refuse to take up a weapon can be considered dangerous!  Could atheism become dangerous or fanatical?  I see potential for it in the comment about the Quakers.

25. What can be reasonably accomplished in the lives of our children? Something we can do other than criticism? Minority secularists will be defeated by theocracy, which will end up destroying civilization.

Just as the conversation started to take a productive turn, the atheists threw in the towel.  They asked the question and then sank into despair.  I certainly don’t consider secularists a minority – almost every college professor I’ve had so far is atheist or agnostic.  Academia has all but eliminated spirituality, with the exception of philosophy and world religion classes.  As to the idea that theocracy will end up destroying civilization – this is certainly a possibility, but not an inevitable one.  Perhaps if theists and atheists can work together, concentrating on what we have in common, the future will be brighter than these atheists predict.

I’ve included below the comment section that prompted me to post this blog series.  It is rather lengthy, but interesting…

Robert – likes this.

Sean – ‎…. or don’t. That’s what makes it a choice.

Alice – ‎”Just believe” is a sarcastic title, to draw attention to the idea that God is the one who gives a person the faith of Christ. No one believes on their own, as an act of the will. Perhaps you are right in pointing out that people choose not to believe, as in our nature, we do not want to acknowledge God, or even if we do, we do not want to have anything to do with God. God has to step in and change that predisposition. It is similar to that discussion between you and Mom/Mary a couple of weeks ago.

Sean – If God gave Jesus (himself) authority over flesh, does that mean that God has no authority over flesh now, but Jesus, his son (himself) who was made flesh and dwelt among us was given by God the Father (himself) as a sacrifice to “cleanse the sin” of the thing which was the “breath of life” (alternately translated as “the stuff of his being”) which has the choice to accept the sacrifice of the thing which was himself made flesh to dwell among us, but was offered as a blood sacrifice for the payment of the sin which was born into us from the beginning, but there is really no reason to worry because it has already been done, and we don’t have to do anything about it anymore, but we have to believe because there is no other reason to think otherwise?????? Yes, very simple indeed.

Sean – I am so happy to have my head unglued from the spyrograph of dogma.

Joyce – i disagree some with what you say… about sin was born in us… being a son of God (which we are)… we could not have sin born in us… God bless

Alice – You purposely framed a plethora of questions in an elaborate and intentionally confusing run-on sentence, labeled it the “spyrograph of dogma”, and then followed this with a contrasting “Yes, very simple indeed.” You have effectively demonstrated that words are powerful, and that you know how to arrange them toward whatever end you wish. Use that power wisely, Grasshopper.

Sean – It is the very thought pattern that is required to hold up the entire deck of cards, and just a nudge toward rationalism makes it all fall down. It is neither condescending, nor intentionally malevolent in any way, but simply another way to look at it from the outside, once you have left the old way of thinking behind….. Jesus is just alright with me, but I do not define GOD as man, or any man that ever was, and the idea that THE GOD which made the entire universe needs (or wants) anything from us, is in my opinion the greatest expression of ego that humankind can demonstrate…. coming from that point of view, when you say, “No one believes on their own, as an act of the will. Perhaps you are right in pointing out that people choose not to believe, as in our nature, we do not want to acknowledge God, or even if we do, we do not want to have anything to do with God. “, you are intentionally inserting several assumptions that do not add up to a whole logical conclusion. Lemma, If no one believes on their own, as an act of the will, then is belief predefined under something other than will? Why is it assumed that it is our nature not to acknowledge God? In fact, when the counterpoint of “revelation of God” is brought up, all the Christian apologists, including Mom will vigorously defend the idea that God is self-evident in nature, or expresses himself through others or events in our lives, or through some mysterious “still small voice” that talks to them (literally). They will heartily conclude that this is because God wants to talk/befriend/have the worship of/needs the belief of (as a condition of our obedience, acceptance of, and loving communion with…) FROM us for some reason that makes us very important indeed to the mysterious power who chooses to speak to us with stories and mysteries and CONFUSION, but loves us a lot, and that is why, young Padawan, I use such lengthy connectives to describe the absurdity of it, from the power of words to describe things which are evident, and demonstrable….. things like the elaborate nature of pre-defined beliefs that have no method of verification, and the assumptions of worthiness, importance, or meaning of our existence that are only evident in our belief, and not our reality.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Sean, It is astonishing that the God who made and governs the universe acted to make himself known to us so as to have a relationship with us. That is the affirmation on which the Christian faith rests and without which there would be no Christian faith. We can know God only because God has revealed himself to us. Such a conviction inspires the deepest humility and gratitude, not pride. Why God chose to do this, why he wants our love and submission, remains hidden to us. We know only that he does and that he has spoken. You ask, “Why is it assumed that it is our nature not to acknowledge God?” If it were our nature to acknowledge God, then more people would acknowledge him. The fact that many do not is a good indication that responding to God’s self-revelation is not natural. The Bible tells the reason why: sin. But of course this explanation of why many do not turn to God is a statement of faith. You say, “…all the Christian apologists, including Mom will vigorously defend the idea that God is self-evident in nature, or expresses himself through others or events in our lives, or through some mysterious ‘still small voice’ that talks to them (literally).” This is plainly not true. We do not believe – let alone vigorously defend – that God is self-evident in nature. In fact, we believe just the opposite: that God’s self-revelation in nature is ambiguous and that God is seen in nature only by those who believe. Likewise, God’s revelation of himself in our experiences is not proof to the watching world either that he exists or that he is the personal God revealed in the Christian scriptures. We do believe that we are important to God, as stated above, but for reasons that are neither self-evident nor necessary – i.e., the conclusion of a rational argument. It is an astonishing truth, and one that we embrace gladly and humbly. Regarding the hiddenness of God’s self-revelation, we are helped by something C.S. Lewis said about the matter: “Christians…have a bad habit of talking as if revelation existed to gratify curiosity by illuminating all creation so that it becomes self-explanatory and all questions are answered. But revelation appears to me to be purely practical, to be addressed to the particular animal, Fallen Man, for the relief of his urgent necessities—not to be the spirit of inquiry in man for the gratification of his liberal curiosity. We know that God has visited and redeemed His people… What we must do, which road we must take to the fountain of life, we know, and none who has seriously followed the directions complains that he has been deceived.” (from God in the Dock, p. 43) It stands to reason that if one assumes that what is most real is that which can be explained, demonstrated, empirically verified, proven, etc., one would reject as absurd what can only be known by faith. You can’t get to New York by setting your GPS for Los Angeles. For us, the realm of the spiritual and our relationship with God experienced by faith is every bit as real as the air we breathe. Love, Mom and Mary

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Actually the Bible’s explanation as to why many don’t acknowledge and turn to God is also that there are powers of darkness that inhabit the world, blinding people to the truth of God’s existence and love.

Sean ‎- “God’s self revelation in nature is ambiguous and that God is seen in nature only by those who believe” … if belief is given or revealed, then is God choosing those who believe, or are the chosen doing the believing of their own volition? Regarding the assumption that it is our nature Not to acknowledge God, how can that stand against your other statements “Yes, religion is a universal human quest. And, we believe, the one true God is universally present and worshiped in paganism, even though pagan religions are ignorant of his identity.” and “There is no denying that rational thought is inherent to human beings. That is why our instinct is to try to prove the existence of God and to doubt or disbelieve what cannot be substantiated by rational argument.” In both arguments, the opposite conclusion is used to justify the current logical dilemma, and both cannot be correct, as they are mutually exclusive arguements. The “accident of birth” determines which of the many invisible sky gods we accept in our culture. And cultural influence in the belief of irrational thought is a well known, scientific, and historical demonstrable phenomena. Breaking out the boogeyman (devil, dark forces, etc.) is the last resort to an indefensible arguement. I have been called a “false teacher” and “prophet of satan” by several folks throughout the years when the debate reveals a singular and (to the believer) unacceptable conclusion that contradicts faith. If the faith is being given by God, then is he allowing that faith to be taken by the Devil? Is he powerless to stop the devil in this? And since we are given this faith, and we are not the ones who do this, then when we don’t have faith, does that mean we are equally uninvolved in the process, or are we responible for our unbelief? And which is it…. Are we the ones who believe – then we get to see God – or is it God who lets us (makes us) believe and lets Satan take the rest? Either God is revealing himself to a purpose which includes our decision, or he is making that decision for us by our place and time of birth and the circumstances that surround our exposure to this belief. In either case, it seems to be curiously arbitrary.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Searching for what will give meaning to our existence (the universal human quest) and acknowledging the God who has spoken so as to be known by his human creatures are two different things. The former is natural to us (since human life doesn’t contain its meaning within itself); the latter is not, in the sense that we are predisposed because of sin not to acknowledge/love/trust/worship/submit to God. That anyone believes in God and submits to his loving rule is solely the result of God’s acting to choose/love/help/save him or her. No one comes to God apart from God’s choosing and drawing. At the same time, though, believing is something we do – an act of the will – enabled by the Spirit, in response to God’s gracious acts. We believe that both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are affirmed in the Bible – a paradox that cannot be explained, only accepted. We don’t deny the role of culture in influencing people’s religious beliefs, including our own. And we can’t say with intellectual certainty that our religion is true. However, to acknowledge the influence of family and culture in shaping our beliefs is not to say that in the end this is why we believe. We believe – and continue to believe in the face of doubts – because of our experience of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. And it does not follow that the things we affirm are inherently irrational simply because they are faith judgments and cannot be proven. We don’t sacrifice rational thought as Christians. We simply acknowledge the limits of the human intellect when it comes to knowing and understanding the things of God. We weren’t “breaking out the bogeyman” because we were pinned in a corner and unable to defend our views rationally. We were not trying to argue or defend rationally what we hold to be true by faith. Nor were we attacking you or making judgments about you. We were simply stating that when it comes to the issue of why many do not acknowledge God (and why in fact we cannot know God apart from God’s seeking us and enabling our coming to faith), the reasons the Bible gives are human sinfulness and the reality of powers of darkness that blind unbelievers to the truth of God. The Bible asserts the reality of evil forces at work in the world (without explaining how evil can exist in a world created and ruled by an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God.) But it doesn’t present a dualistic picture. God allows evil powers to have their way – he has relinquished a measure of control to them – but they are not independent of God. And while these evil powers exert an influence on us, they are not ultimately responsible for our actions. Neither God nor Satan is responsible for human unbelief. As stated above, we believe that God draws people to himself and enables faith but not in such a way that it must be said that God makes us believe, thereby rendering us less than the free and responsible agents he created us to be. As far as what will happen to unbelievers is concerned, we are content to entrust their destiny into the hands of the one loving and merciful God who we believe acted in Christ to save the world. We don’t know the role that God plays when it comes to people of other faiths/religions whose beliefs are determined by their culture. We can say only that because we believe there is one true God who created and sustains all peoples, we believe also that all people of every time and place and culture are God’s children – and that their ultimate destiny is in his loving hands.

Alice – This link won’t work anymore because I noticed a problem with the vid that I wanted to fix. I’ll repost a new link, but I didn’t want to remove this one in case you guys continue with your discussion.

Sean – thank you, Alice, for the floor { 🙂 } – please, understand that I was not saying that your discussion ended up with anyone attacking anyone… I was saying that it HAS been done in the past by more than one person, and that it was a consequence of sitting down and really discussing the logic involved with faith. The reason I brought up Christian apologism is because you, Dad, Mary, and Alice (among many, many others) have all expressed specific “heretical” beliefs that diverge implicitly from the “norm” or “mainstream” Christian fundamental beliefs. You always have very well thought out explanations for why your belief should be what it is, despite the castigation you experience from those with whom you formerly associated with, and yet you all dance around the actual fundamental issue of belief, and why you should have it. I recall, as a very young boy…. I don’t know, maybe 4 or just turning 5 when you excitedly told me that if I died, I could come back as anything I wanted to. You told me, with no uncertainty, that I could come back as a dandelion after I died, because I really wanted to be a dandelion at the time. This was wonderful news, and because you told me so, Mom, I believed it. By the time I was in Sunday school, after you folks had your epiphany with Pastor Davids, the stories changed to another level altogether. When we were exposed to the pejorative dissonance which was Southern Baptist fundamentalism at Pine Hills, I was also developing my sense of self and understanding of these complex issues that the religious thought was based on. When you guys went off in yet another direction with the whole “spirit filled” circus show, you completely lost me…. now, I tell you, believe any fairytale you want to…. I don’t have to, and won’t. I see it as disturbing method of engaging the world, this method of subservience to an invisible master for some awful but necessary atonement. It is just quite simply not true. To entertain these ideas is a form of self-imposed denial of REALITY, not a “betrayal of mystery”….. It is a form of communal mental illness that, somehow, perpetuates from generation to generation, changing as it evolves, but fundamentally the same in its precepts…. faith without evidence, the need for atonement and forgiveness at all times without specifically nameable fault other than mere existence, the indefinable nature of the terms of reconciliation or completedness, the endlessly “mysterious” reasonings or motivations of a (pleased, angry, loving, jealous, forgiving, damning) God who never reveals himself in public, or to my observance, in any LITERAL method in private that may be verified as the “presence of God”, other than the previously mentioned scientific, shamanistic, or drug induced methodologies. Repeatedly, you side-step the OBVIOUS mythological and historical origins of your savior-god, and if we were discussing this 3500+ years ago, his name may very well have been Horus, instead of Jesus. You embrace an ever-changing God who reacts to your wants and needs, like everyone else who creates a god, and you believe it because it is your own delusion, or the one that is acceptable to you and your peers. This acceptability of absurdity needs to simply stop. We all need to be responsible, of our own volition, to choose to be good people, who are in NO NEED OF FORGIVENESS, and who are responsible EVERY SECOND for our own behavior and beliefs. We need not pay penance to anyone for anything that we have not done or said of our own free will. We must understand things based on verifiable and acceptable terms, not arbitrary assignments of “good”, “evil”, “right”, and “wrong”….. those are all-encompassing words that describe polar extremes of a very rich tapestry which is human existence. We need to discuss things on a basis that can be understood by not only ourselves and those in our culture, but those of many cultures. If the very human need for seeking complex pattern recognition in nature results in the very erroneous belief in an invisible and indefinable entity who is directing it all for our benefit emerges, as it does again and again in human history, we must react to this much the same way as we do for our fear of the dark, once that primal necessity is overcome by logical disposition. Much the same way that you dismiss the pagan for his erroneous beliefs, you must accept that your own beliefs MAY BE erroneous, or you have not adequately demonstrated an understanding of the other, or alternative viewpoint. This is essential to understanding ANYTHING, and a fundamental precept of science, and modern “enlightenment”. These are the working rules that have pulled us from the darkness of the middle ages, and moved us all forward to incredible opportunities to better ourselves and understand the world around us. Yet, despite a demonstrable recognition of these “doubts” and “questions” you all persist in defending the absurd rules that govern faith-based dogma. Have you really studied the alternative mythologies of the ancients as they relate to the Jesus story, or did you simply dismiss what I said as angry rhetoric? Did you really consider some of your own doubts as being valid and necessary movements toward truth and logic in your own mind, or did you dismiss them as the “forces of evil” you warned me about earlier…. and why can’t I come back as a dandelion? I thought it was the nicest of your stories I have been able to share (so far) in this lifetime. There is much love in what I am saying, I only hope that you are listening. Please approach me with something other than a lesson on God, but maybe a little more about why you feel such a need to be forgiven for being you…. Why are you so adamant about needing forgiveness from an angry God? I think you are just great.

Alice – Everyone needs forgiveness, but not everyone knows they need forgiveness. Hence, the entire video series, “Just Believe” – it is pointing out the fact that the human condition is not predisposed to believe. I don’t think you are deluded or stupid or any other negative thing. I think you are human. Nobody can will themselves to see God or understand God or hear God. Apparently you don’t, and you seem very bothered about the idea that others do (fairytale, self-imposed denial of reality, delusion, absurdity, etc). In one breath you say this has to stop and in the next breath you think we are just great. Can you handle the idea that we disagree? I can. I just leave you in God’s capable hands, whether you like it or not. And then I remember what it is like to not believe, so I can relate to what it is you are saying. You would be surprised at the amount of research I’ve done over the past few years, how many ideas I’ve let go of, because I recognized they were erroneous. I’ve also embraced ideas that I used to shun because of my arrogant religious-bullshit attitude. We are all works in progress. Maybe in some ways you are further along than me when it comes to science and logic, because you don’t have 15 years worth of religious baggage to unload. I am still in that process. But spiritually I am further along than you, because I am free to embrace the truths revealed to me by the Creator of the universe, ideas that you lump together with mythology, dogma, etc, and dismiss adamantly. But this isn’t a competition, so it doesn’t really matter anyhow. Live and let live. I can express my views and so can you. It’s all good.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Dear Son, Here is why my faith makes all the difference in the world to me. Even though I do some good things and on the outside may look like a pretty decent person, at the most basic level I am not good. I am bent toward being selfish, toward acting in ways that alternately lift myself up or put myself down and in ways that gratify my selfish desires. In a host of other ways, I fail to be the person God created me to be – loving God and others wholeheartedly and purely. And no matter how hard I try to be different, I cannot. While in one sense I am free – free to make choices, to decide and do things – in another very basic sense I am not free at all. I can no more choose to be good in any ultimate sense of the word than I can choose to fly. When I look at my past, I see a not-very-pretty record of wrong and hurtful (to others and to myself) choices. And not a day goes by in which I am not aware of my inability when it comes to choosing and being the person who in my best moments I want to be – one who loves and obeys God and who loves and cares for others as I accept and live in the security and self-worth that come from God’s love for me. In short, I desperately need God. I need to be saved and set free for a life of true freedom in loving relationship with God and other people. And I have experienced God’s grace in Jesus Christ doing just this. Even though I’m far from perfect, I can see the evidence of God’s Spirit working in my life, setting me free and making me new, enabling me to choose the right and good. And I have experienced the peace and joy of having the burden of guilt and shame lifted for wrong choices I made in the past, the peace and joy of being forgiven and cleansed and given a new beginning based on what God in Christ did for me. Also, I have a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that I am loved for who I am, that I am supremely valued by God, which frees me from having to keep propping up my fragile ego by endlessly seeking the approval and admiration of others and glorifying myself by elevating myself above them. As I said, I’m a long way from being perfect, but I know the One who has the power to change me, and I trust that he will continue to make me into the person he created me to be. Also, knowing that I am a child of the loving Creator, that I am part of something bigger than myself and that I have a future, gives my life meaning in the present. This, in a nutshell, is why my faith matters to me and why I couldn’t live a day without God and his grace. Regarding how you were raised, I can say only that at that time, I was on a journey, a quest for truth, a journey which I am still on. I don’t remember what the particular circumstances were when I told you that you could come back as a dandelion, whether this was the time in my life when I was looking into reincarnation and I answered you out of that exploration or whether I just considered it a harmless fantasy. In any case, the truth claims of Christianity are not a fantasy; they are real (a faith statement). I have regrets about some of the things I taught you and your sisters and brother, things that from the perspective of my current understanding I judge to be distortions of the truth (especially a view of God as vengeful and damning). But even though I have regrets and especially wish that I hadn’t been so extreme in some of my convictions and expressions of my faith, still I do not regret that your dad and I raised you in the Christian faith. As I said, I believe that the claims of Christianity are true, even though I can’t prove them and can’t rule out the possibility that I am wrong. And because I believe that Christianity is true and that belief in God matters supremely (not simply for what it means regarding an afterlife but for what it means for our lives in this world here and now), I raised you in the Christian faith and I continue to hope and pray that all five of you (along with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren) will know God and respond to his love. Also, in each of the churches I belonged to, I learned something and met wonderful people. I do not regret those experiences, even though I’m now in a much different and, I think, more balanced place in terms of my understanding and expression of my faith. One thing Mary and I have a hard time understanding is your expressed intolerance of those who embrace the Christian faith. You talk about respecting the beliefs or non-belief of people, but then you turn around and say things such as “it is a form of communal mental illness” and “this acceptability of absurdity needs to simply stop.” Where is the respect in that? It’s one thing for you to think that Christianity is false/absurd and that it’s somehow dangerous to one’s mental health, but for you to rant about its absurdity and demand that it be stopped is hardly a demonstration of respect and tolerance. We happen to think that your worldview – your materialist philosophy – is sorely lacking. From our perspective, to commit oneself to the idea that what is most real is that which can be explained, demonstrated, empirically verified, etc. – while an appealing idea because these ways of knowing provide power and control – is to lose a lot. Indeed, it is to lose realms of human experience, reducing us to less than we are, less than we were created to be. Your reducing “belief in an invisible and undefinable entity who is directing it all for our benefit” to an erroneous interpretation of “the very human need for seeking complex pattern recognition in nature” is an example of this kind of reductionism. Have you considered that such belief many arise out of a genuine human need for relationship with something/someone bigger than oneself? But even though we think the worldview you have chosen to embrace is inadequate (and harmful in the sense that it closes you off from even the possibility of seeking to know transcendent reality), we don’t deny your right to hold it and we don’t denounce you for holding it. We don’t “dismiss the pagan for his erroneous beliefs,” and we have acknowledged more than once that our beliefs may not be true. But we believe the truth claims of Christianity – which necessarily entails believing that contradictory truth claims of other faiths are not true. This doesn’t mean that we do not respect people of other faiths or that we think they have nothing to teach us. Nor does it mean that we think they will be condemned for their unbelief in the end. We would like to think that somehow God will enable them to receive the light. In any event, we are all for interfaith dialogue and for respecting people’s right to believe what they choose. Because faith is so important to us, we are motivated to hold onto it even though we have doubts and questions. In our ongoing quest for truth, we try to remain open to new perspectives and understandings (which is one reason I have jumped around from one tradition to another). And yes, we have considered our doubts as having value in themselves – as possessing the potential to lead us to truth or to a deeper understanding of it. But we haven’t gone down the path of skepticism. We haven’t abandoned the quest, settling for rationalistic explanations of our longings and experiences and serving a god that is the product of our own minds. “The answer to blind belief is not blind unbelief,” William Sloan Coffin wrote. Ceasing the quest for truth is, in our view, not the answer to the uncertainty of faith. No, we have not “really studied the alternative mythologies of the ancients as they relate to the Jesus story,” but we are not unaware of them. Again, we are helped by something C.S. Lewis, a student and teacher of ancient mythology, had to say about this: “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified…under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle…God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘pagan Christs’: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t.” Granted, science and its rules have benefited humankind greatly. But there are many whose lives are not any better for all the science in the world. Science is not, in our view, the ultimate answer to the world’s ills. Neither is it the only valid methodology for knowing truth. I love you, son. Mom (and Mary)

Sean – And again, Mom, it is not a matter of intolerance; it is a matter of exasperation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell – I can be intimately aware of all of your beliefs, what is at the core of the understanding you are describing, share all of your very human needs for feelings of inadequacy and need for forgiveness, your current understanding of how God is supposed to work according to the current cultural rules that govern that belief system, and I can (on a point by point basis, as you wish) describe why this is an inherently flawed method of thinking, and causal to the very worst of human actions in this world. Think of this, if every person in the world had their worst sin immediately exposed, and we were to really understand that the human condition is pretty universal, then we were to further understand that some enterprising folks might take advantage of that fact, and that unwittingly your closest friends and family perpetuated the ideas of that cunning user of conditional experience to impose this never-ending-guilt-complex mixed with inadequacy/atonement/eventual reconciliation/etc. wrapped in well established mythology, then you would very much be exasperated, annoyed at the idea that it can continue unanswered. I get to hear all the time about how smoking will affect my health, but no one seems to be alarmed at the affect on MENTAL HEALTH that religion produces. When people believe in invisible, unverifiable influences who govern their lives use the names “Jesus” or “God”, it is culturally acceptable, because it is a shared idea. When one uses the words “Government agents in the wall” or “voices from the sky” as their reference, we deem them crazy, and treat them accordingly. What is really the difference? Joseph Campbell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase…

Sean – My god is a very different thing. It is not a man, or anything that is a man, other than the part of what makes man part of the universe, which is god.

Sean – My god is VAST.

Sean – My god is not concerned with me, other than the fact that I am, which is part of his masterful work which is the universe, which is (again, not a man) Him/Her/It

Sean – I am one very infinitesimal part of a glorious thing which is God…… My tiny little brain will NEVER encompass that, and it is egotistical to even imagine it to be so.

Sean – And on the expression of ego…. all the concerns regarding sin, unworthiness, need for atonement, etc. have the overtone of the very worst kind of arrogance to the REAL God, which is my God. He/She/It doesn’t care about the concerns of your mere existence. They are very petty and small things in the (eyes?, how very anthropomorphic to say) of THE GOD WHO IS EVERYTHING.

Sean – But there is another way altogether to look at the same thing.

Sean – Our very insignifigance is the joyous and wonderful MIRACLE which is our life. The outmost chance of our very BEING when compared to the totality of the UNIVERSE that we know of and the (very, very little) pebble we live on is amazing enough……..

Sean – But the fact that we are HERE and SELF AWARE, and able to love, BE, share, and understand, and that the circumstances that made us that way are a long cadence of others who felt and shared and loved as we do…. well, heck, that starts sounding like an amazing thing to share and appreciate, once you know it….. but the problem remains….. when you have a better way to see things, you have to get other people to believe that too. And when they won’t see it, and won’t REALLY discuss it, but jump back behind cultural barriers, and unverifiable circular reasoning patterns, then they will never understand the TRUE JOY of being unencumbered by a terrible guilt that needs to be atoned for from an angry God. There is no God that I would worship who demands that of me, or those that I love, and as it turns out, there isn’t one you can show me to be that petty and undeserving of your or my worship who exist as a real being.

Sean – If it sounds intolerant, then I must say your God sound pretty intolerant to me too. And he is unfair, and misogynistic, and petty, and arrogant, and pretty much a low-life by any stretch of the imagination (remember the flood…… What about if you were a firstborn Egyptian 2 year old, around the time of Moses? What if you are a Muslim in Iraq right now? What are your chances then with your angry, baby killing God?) Which of us is intolerant to the MYSTERY which is reality? Which of us really is speaking the truth?

Alice – A few weeks ago I watched the documentary, “God on Trial” in which prisoners in a concentration camp do a mock trial, and many of the same questions are raised. They find God guilty, as you seem to do. I cried after watching that movie, for at least a good half hour. I was angry at God for not giving me satisfactory answers to these and other tough questions. What are His intentions and purpose for humanity. Are they good or bad? Is God evil, or does God use evil as a tool to ultimately bring about the best possible outcome for us all? In a finite POV – God most definitely looks guilty of the worst (genocide, infanticide, etc), but from the POV of One Who is able to not only kill, but bring back to life, these things may turn out to be like the rebreaking of a bone – painful, but necessary, seemingly evil, but ultimately good. I certainly don’t have answers to your questions, other than the answer God gave me, that is, not everything that has been recorded concerning Him and His actions is accurate. People have blamed God for being the mastermind in things about which they ought to blame themselves. I know you think it is ridiculous that God talks to me, but He does. And what He said to me that day was to consider my journals, and see scripture in that same way. As is evidenced in my journals, over the course of five years, my worldview changed drastically. I look at things God was speaking to my heart, that I wrote down, and they still ring true, but these truths are also encapsulated in a bunch of my own junk, opinions, misunderstandings, etc. Several times I’ve thought of making a bonfire of those journals, just because I can’t stand the way I interpreted His intentions. For example, He told me that He had news for me that people won’t believe, that is too good to be true. Before I knew what that news was, I imagined it had to do with the church I attended, that God would do something amazing and people would come flocking from all around. But then God told me, this is not for just one church, it is for all churches, and not only that, it is for the whole world. Then I was really curious and baffled. And I imagined different ideas and scenarios. All my imaginings and speculations were so far off base, so narrow, so true to the limited/skewed perspective I had on God at that time. I kept trying to see everything as applicable to me, my church, my town, etc, when God kept telling me, “you are not thinking big enough”, or “don’t you think more of Me than this?” So are my journals worthless now? I don’t think so, because at this point I am learning to distinguish what came from my puny mind and what came from Him. I am learning to see the difference between truths that stand the test of time and ideas/opinions/concepts that are outright wrong, or if they are accurate they are only accurate for a certain time or place or person. I think God walked me through this so that I could learn to see scripture the same way, to read it knowing that His Word is true and right and good and for a glorious outcome for all humanity, but also aware that it is written by puny minded, narrow thinking, fallible people who have likely had their writings mistranslated a bit along the way. Look at the way scripture translations have been twisted to accommodate the fear/control doctrine of eternal torment, for example. If this can be pulled off over the course of two millennia, I can only imagine how even older texts have been manipulated. I am still in the process of sorting through all that mess. What I do know is this – according to the Old Testament law, the adulterous woman should have been stoned. Yet when she was put before Jesus, He did no such thing. Did Jesus break His own laws? Or maybe He knew that God never commanded it in the first place… Regardless of what I think about these things, there is one thing that still stands – something amazing happened 2000 years ago, and there is plenty of historical evidence to back it – the resurrection. People who are crucified to death, people who are confirmed dead for days, do not get up and live again. That never happens! Except it did happen. And this one time that it did happen, it happened to Someone Who claimed to come from God, Who did miraculous things during His life, Who shares my utter loathing for religious bullshit, Who promised that what happened to Him is a “first-fruit” example of God’s Plan for all of us. Life, not death. Peace, not conflict. Love, not evil. Joy, not sadness, pain, death, etc. The accusations brought against God do not fit with this awesome, real life demonstration of His purpose. I don’t know how or why they don’t fit. I suspect that it may be for the same screwed up reasons and corrupt methods people used to introduce this idea of eternal torment. When/if I figure it all out, I’ll be sure to let you know. If you want to know.

William – Ok. I do not want to intrude here, or give offense to anyone, so I will try to remain humble about the statements I make here. That being said, I feel that there is an unexpressed side to this debate that contradicts some of the basic premises of both sides of the discussion. Sean, you know I respect you, and have had many lively discussions on various topics with you. As a preface to the statements I will make, I will say that it was the discussions we had on the mathematical nature of the universe that eventually lead me to my current beliefs. The problem I see with your view on Christianity, Sean, is that it takes a very Calvinist approach to God, and the nature of man. I agree that a pre-deterministic God, that makes daily choices about the life, death, salvation, or damnation of his creations is more like a devil than a loving Creator. I agree that guilt over one’s very existence, and even birth, are horrible philosophies that lead to dysfunctional behaviors. I agree that free will, and self-awareness are the essence of human existence, and not opposed to the nature of God. What I don’t agree with is that these are the teachings of Christianity. The original teachings of Christianity, (which exist to this day unchanged in the Orthodox Church), are very different than what most of us in America know of Christian beliefs. What caught my attention about the religion was it’s teachings on the nature of sin, and the methodology of salvation. The literal translation of sin is “to miss the mark”, as an archer would miss a bull’s eye. Orthodoxy teaches that sin is what we do that makes us less God-like. The purpose of eliminating sin is the process of deification, or becoming God. Original sin does not exist as a tenet of Orthodoxy. There is no reason, as sin is a willed choice, not a stain of the soul. One does not give offense to God through your sin, you give offense to yourself only. It is also taught that all people will eventually be brought into God’s love, and their lifelong path will determine the choice they make in how they perceive that love. It is not the common belief that some will be in, some will be out. The other thing that caught my interest in these teachings was the nature of Christ, and his purpose. The Orthodox teachings are that the Incarnation (Man and God) happened so that God and man could exist in union without destroying each other. Not so that man could have an instant and magical ticket to heaven based solely on belief in Jesus. The Resurrection itself, is the defeat of death (which is also a separation of God and man), not the appeasement of God’s judgment upon a sinful and worthless creation. The common belief is that Jesus died for our sins, when the original teaching was that he was resurrected that man could become unified with God, and thus unaffected spiritually by death. The power of Christ’s blood that so many modern Christian’s refer to, was not taught to be the blood he shed on the cross, but the blood he gave in the establishment of the Eucharist. I know that it is a mystical concept. The virgin birth, the Eucharist, the concept of death by death, these are all strange and irrational beliefs. I accept that though, because I don’t know everything. The very idea that I take for granted; that I am sitting her breathing air, may not even be true in the sense I believe it to be. The facts are, that Orthodoxy is a mystical religion, and is open about that. The whole point of it is to experience the Holy Mysteries that bring one into Communion with God. The strangeness of the beliefs are irrelevant. All of it is just about as impossible as teleporting a laser beam, creating alternate dimensions, or the concept of non-linear time. Just so we are clear though, I am not trying to convert anyone, or be down on anyone’s beliefs. That is your choice, which is is part of the free-will system that God set in motion. I am also no trying to say I am right, or anyone is wrong. I simply wanted to bring to light that what one accepts as Christian dogma is only a singular version, of which there are many. Not all of the arguments in this debate hold up when challenged by the tenets of the original Orthodox teachings. I believe that in ant debate about theology, one must take into account where the concept started, as much as where the concept ended up.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Yes, we agree that our being and awareness, understanding, capacity to love, etc. are amazing and wonderful – a miracle, indeed, and cause for celebration and, we believe, for praise to the Creator. Whatever story one chooses as to how we got here and how we got to be aware – whether it involves a loving and intelligent Designer, or a series of genetic accidents eventually producing creatures with the capability of overturning the process of natural selection, or complex structures at work in evolution leading to the evolution of creatures with the capability of discerning the structures, or some combination or something else – it remains an astonishing thing that we are here and that we are conscious of our existence and the existence of the cosmos. We couldn’t agree more about the fact that each of us is “one very infinitesimal part of a glorious thing” and that our finite minds cannot even begin to comprehend the vast expanse of the universe. We don’t share your idea of god, but we do share your attitude toward the vast and wondrous world. We think it utterly amazing that the Creator of the universe should care about us and “the concerns of our mere existence” – which we believe he does. This is a statement of faith and one that we confess with the deepest awe and humility. Given the vastness of the universe and the greatness of the God who created it, there is no other posture appropriate to humans than one of reverence, awe, and humility. If no one seems alarmed by the effect that religion has on mental health, it’s because, generally speaking, religion doesn’t have an adverse effect on the mental health of its adherents. Unlike smoking, for which there is incontrovertible evidence indicating its harmful effects on the body, religious belief has not been shown to cause mental instability or illness. The fact that an outside observer judges a person who holds certain beliefs about a transcendent being to be crazy because those beliefs cannot be proven is irrelevant. To the believer, his or her religious beliefs are critical to finding meaning and fulfillment in life. To imply that religious observers should be locked up or otherwise treated as society treats the mentally ill is, in our view, ludicrous. Religious belief is a reflection of the fundamentally human quest – and people should be given the freedom to pursue and practice it as they will. We simply do not agree that your way of viewing the world is superior. If to “really discuss” means, as you seem to define the rules for discussing, that we abandon faith and abandon even the idea of faith as a legitimate way of knowing truth and instead adopt a materialist worldview, limiting our quest for truth to that which can be seen and measured and verified, then you’re right: we aren’t interested in “really discussing.” As we’ve said before, for us the benefits of faith make holding on to it in the face of doubts and questions eminently worth doing. If, however, to discuss means that we talk about what we think and believe and why, and in turn listen to what you have to say, and share our thoughts about your point-of-view, then not only are we open to discussing but in fact it’s what we have been doing with you for these past weeks. There is no denying the role of culture when it comes to our religious beliefs. It is more than likely that we wouldn’t be Christian if we had lived and been raised in a culture where the dominant religion is something other than Christianity. And our practice of the faith more than likely reflects the particularities of American Christianity. But these things in themselves do not prove that Christianity isn’t true or that there is no truth to be found, nor do they prove that we are Christian now only because of the influence of culture. Mary walked away from the Christian faith at one point in her life. What brought her back was not social pressure, or an experience of suddenly becoming convinced beyond doubt that the claims of Christianity are true, but the experience of God’s relentless love seeking her and finding her. Kelly James Clark says that when it comes to the quest for truth, we can respond to the fact that we are products of cultural conditioning in one of several ways: by becoming skeptics and despairing of our ability to find truth, by embracing pluralism and deciding that every path is as good as any other, i.e., that truth is relative, or by following the lights God has given us and accepting what seems to be true, humbly trusting God to guide us in our quest. As for us, we have chosen the third option. Faith judgments cannot be verified by observation or the scientific method or by the canons of logic or reason. You recently commended our well-thought-out explanations of our beliefs and understandings; now you accuse us of circular reasoning. In any event, we aren’t trying to argue or prove what we hold to be true by faith. Your words about sin/guilt/atonement betray a distorted view of the God we believe in. God is no temperamental, vengeful deity who demands of those who offend him sacrifices to appease his anger. Rather, he is the God of holy love who acted in Jesus Christ to remove the barrier between us and him – the barrier erected by our sin – by bearing its painful consequences. This is a faith statement, of course, as is the belief that we need saving because we are alienated from God, others, and our true selves by sin. And while we believe it to be true, we cannot know it with absolute certainty. Far from being “the worst kind of arrogance” to God, the issue of our sin and forgiveness is, we believe, of utmost importance to the One who created us for loving relationship with himself and others. The God you describe as intolerant, unfair, misogynistic, petty, and arrogant is not the God we believe in. The God we believe in is revealed supremely in Jesus Christ, who welcomed all kinds of people, especially those whom the religious elite excluded, who extended mercy to those who humbly recognized their need, who rebuked the powerful, who showed compassion to the hurting, who treated women with respect and dignity, who displayed humility, serving others, who repaid evil with good. Of course it is a statement of faith to say that in Jesus we see God – a statement that, we admit, raises questions. Still, we believe it to be true. We don’t have a satisfying answer to the question about the Egyptian babies. Some scholars point out that the language of the plague stories in Exodus, of which the killing of the Egyptian firstborn is a part, is confessional language, intended to celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel from evil empire, not to make objective statements about the fate of the Egyptians from which inferences about the character of God can be drawn. It’s not a very satisfying explanation, though, and we struggle with this text and others like it, about which we can say only that there is much about God that we don’t understand. To confine your search for truth to what you can demonstrate, explain, and verify is to lose much. As William Sloan Coffin put it, “I can understand doubting the quality of the bread, but I can’t see kidding yourself that you’re not hungry—unless, of course, your soul has so shriveled up that you have no more appetite for the great mysteries of life, especially the Mysterium Tremendum.”

Sean – Friends and loved ones, I encourage you to listen to the whole discussion (12 parts, 2 hours), but I found this part of it to be right on line with our recent thoughts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?index=1&feature=PlayList&v=8PhmUyFUFyk&list=PLA490902178E6854D —— I am not a Dawkins atheist, but I do find myself in agreement (almost unilaterally) with the other participants, whose books and lectures I have read throughout the years. There are many thoughtful and compelling alternatives to religious thought that are equally as “mysterious” and “life-changing” to the human experience. The Four Horsemen: Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens (2/12) www.youtube.com On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour disc…

Marie ‎(with Mary) – We watched it. A few interesting points were made: the distinction between numinous and supernatural (though Rudolf Otto associated the numinous with the divine), and between spirituality and religion; the contrast between the “limitations of the evolved brain” versus something being “systematically incomprehensible” to human beings; and the fact that the physical constants of the universe seem too good to be true for the universe to have come about by chance. Overall, though, it struck us as four scientists sitting around bashing religion and people of faith. And much of what they said about religion is a caricature – such as that it never occurs to believers “What if I’m wrong?” and that belief without evidence is considered noble and evidence a corruption of the intellect (contrast this with St. Anselm’s words, “I believe in order that I may understand.”) They portray believers as arrogant, believing that “the universe is all about me,” which is a bunch of bunk, as far as we’re concerned. To affirm that God has spoken and that he is personally involved with his human creatures doesn’t entail believing that “I” or “we” are the center of the universe. God is the center and those who acknowledge him seek to live for the praise of his glory. And the participants in the video portray believers as unthinking fools and religious leaders as con artists who manipulate their “flocks” into blind trust – again, a caricature based on their preconceived ideas about the complete impossibility of the existence of God. (We have to wonder how much actual exposure any of the participants has had to “church people,” given their expressed bias against and contempt for religion.) It’s good to know where you’re coming from. We don’t agree that science is the be all and end all of human existence, that religion/belief in the transcendent is for fools, that religion and science are mutually exclusive (and enemies of each other), or that faith has been demolished by the” hammer blows of science.” Of course you’re entitled to your views. But we have a hard time seeing how a worldview that does not address the deeper questions of human existence could ever lead to a life of meaning and joy. We’ve relaxed our defenses a bit…..Some of the criticism leveled at religion in this video is definitely justified. People of faith, ourselves included, can be arrogant and self-righteous, claiming certitude, extinguishing doubt, refusing to entertain alternatives, boasting possession of ultimate truth. To the extent that religion is like this, the participants in the video are right about it being a danger – in the sense that it promotes enmity and division between people who think/believe differently. However, we don’t agree that it is either necessary (to resolve the problem of religion) or advisable to do away with belief in God. Of course we say this as persons of faith who have found the fulfillment of our deepest longings in the God revealed to us in the Christian scriptures. But the longings are not ours alone, they are universal; and denying the possibility of something or someone outside ourselves to fulfill them is hardly, in our view, the answer. The answer to the problem of religion lies in people of faith embracing their tenets with humility and modesty, recognizing, if you’ll permit words from our sacred text, that we “see through a glass darkly.” (A Christian theologian named Douglas John Hall has informed our thinking on this matter.) Marie Dean ‎(with Mary – these are her words, which I agree with totally) – …..And in reality, a group of atheistic academics who take lip-smacking delight in devouring religious people can no more extinguish the human longings that breed the religious quest than a bunch of un-self-critical, obnoxiously self-righteous believers, smugly confident in their moral and doctrinal certitudes, can extinguish existential doubt. (Again, the thoughts here reflect the thinking of Christian theologian Douglas John Hall. Not all theologians, contrary to the portrait of them painted in this video, are totally out of touch with life.)

Alice – I watched part one tonight and I’ll watch part two tomorrow.

Alice – That was very interesting, Sean. Thanks for posting it. I’m going to write a blog about the 4 Horsemen vid sometime next week.

*As a side note, I found something to be even more interesting than the content of the conversation itself, between these four horsemen.  That is, there are patterns in the conversation of who interrupts who, who talks the longest, who keeps on talking despite being interrupted, etc.  The conversational dynamics as well as the body language demonstrate the levels of egoism (a word I borrowed from Ursula K. Leguin) and heirarchy – social/psychological constructs that keep these guys from communicating to the fullest.  I wish I had another 20 hours of conversation to view, to really hone in on this below-the-surface stuff.

A few weeks ago, I posted Just Believe (Part Four) on my facebook page.  During the course of the lengthy (and very interesting) discussion that followed, my brother posted a video in the comment section called “The Four Horsemen” here in two parts: Hour One and Hour Two, where four atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris) discuss religion in a relaxed and unmoderated setting.  They bring up some very valid points, as well as a few absurdities.  Overall, I agreed with much of what they said.  I will name and comment on their points, one by one in this part two of a three part blog.

11.  Is there the slightest shred of evidence that this (sacred texts, for example, Torah or Qur’an) is the product of omniscience? Is there a single sentence…? You have to say no. If the Bible had an account of DNA and electricity and other things that would astonish us then, ok, out jaws drop… we have to have a sensible conversation about the source of this knowledge.

First, I have to say that this is a great question. Second, I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer (at least concerning Bible), because there are obvious errors, inconsistencies, and mistranslation throughout the scriptures. However, there are also certain unexplainable elements, such as accurately fulfilled prophecy, which demonstrate, if nothing else, a characteristic of scripture which cannot be explained away by science. I believe this is why the apostle Paul stated, “…the natural man doth not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for to him they are foolishness, and he is not able to know them, because spiritually they are discerned…” But before the believer gets all smug about being able to discern that which the atheist cannot, he or she should know that atheists, unlike those who belong to world religions, don’t have a track record of killing all those who disagree with them. Surely, if believers possess the ability to discern spiritual things, they have done a dismal job of exercising that ability. During my years in the religion machine, I was told to believe every word in scripture and warned not to question the validity of either it or the standard interpretation of it. Contradictions, if discussed at all, were always accompanied by the word “apparent”, along with a shrink wrapped explanation. I know better now. I’m still sorting through all this mess.

12.  The atheists marvel and scoff at the conversion experience of Francis Collins, a Christian and geneticist, described as “one of the most accomplished scientists of our time”, saying, “On Sunday you can kneel down in the dewy grass and give yourself to Jesus because you are in the presence of a frozen waterfall and on Monday you can be a physical geneticist.”

Why is it that someone can’t be a geneticist and have faith?  Do these four horsemen believe that Collins leaves part of his brain on the shelf at work to go spend the weekend with God or that he leaves part of his brain at church to go do research in the lab?  Seriously?  I just don’t see how the two ideas are incompatible.  Sorry, atheists, but I’ve got to disagree with you on this one.

13.  We all know people who seem to manage this split brain feat, of believing one thing on a Sunday and believing something totally incompatible the rest of the week – Live with contradiction by forgetting you are doing this and not tending to it.

This point (13) is very similar to the one before it.  Here’s the difference.  Number 12 proposes that a person cannot be a person of faith while simultaneously doing scientific research, but number 13 proposes that there are people who live in contradiction to their own beliefs.  In other words, these atheists despise the idea of someone being a spiritual person in everything they say and do, and these atheists despise the idea of someone compartmentalizing their lives so that they are only “spiritual” in certain settings.  I’ve already given my opinion regarding the first idea; so now I’ll cover the second one.  Bravo to the atheists for seeing through the worship charades!  I’ve seen this myself, and loathe the idea that people have the ability to do what Gary Amirault calls “mental back-filing.”  For more on this, please read my blog entitled Spiritual Bottleneck.

14.  Some people contribute their presence to laws of biology and others to divine plan that has a scheme for them.  Only one view makes sense.

This is a classic example of science versus spirituality.  Why is it that Dawkins feels compelled to limit the explanation for human existence to science alone?  Why can’t it be both?  Why must only one view make sense?  Just because Dawkins does not have the ability to reconcile science with spirituality, this doesn’t mean that anyone who can reconcile science with spirituality is nonsensical.  What if biology is able to explain existence from a physical point of view only?  I believe human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures.  Science can’t explain spirituality (not yet anyway), so it dismisses it.  Is that really the way to go about knowing more – to dismiss what you can’t explain?  Come on, Dawkins, you are smarter than that.

15.  Painting and sculpture reflects spiritual climate.  [If Michelangelo were] commissioned to paint ceiling of a science museum, would he have come up with something just as wonderful?   We would never know if he wasn’t an atheist, because to say so would mean death.

This is a very unique observation.  Most people assume that Michelangelo’s art is so spiritually inspiring because it is spiritually inspired, that is, Michelangelo’s relationship with God enabled him to create his masterpieces.  To this idea, I resoundingly disagree.  All one has to do in order to see that atheists are capable of creating spiritually inspiring works is turn on the radio, visit a local art gallery, watch a movie, etc.  It has been my personal experience that God shows me deep truths and speaks to me about the human experience through the creative work of atheists.  Even though atheists will likely hate my saying so, I think that God uses the experiences, abilities, passions, and gifts of every person He creates, including atheists; only atheists have no idea that they are that important to God.

16.  Death Be Not Proud is the most extraordinary gibberish.

I’ve linked the poem to the title above if you would like to read it.  But I highly recommend you view it instead, as it is spoken by Emma Thompson in the very heavy movie Wit.  I’ll leave it to readers to decide, without my commentary, whether they are agree with this atheist’s assessment of the poem.

17.  There’s a place for the sacred in our lives… usefulness to seeking profundity as a matter of our attention, our neglect of this area as atheists at times makes our opponents seem wiser than we are.  There is something trivial and horrible about the day to day fascinations, traditionally only religion has tried to clarify that difference.

It’s true that atheists seem to ignore the sacred, but I think I understand why.  It is both a useful endeavor and a slippery slope for the atheist, the former, because to recognize that the human experience transcends “trivial day to day fascinations” is to begin exploring ideas that science cannot explain, and the latter, because the further one travels down that road, the less likely they are to avoid meeting their Maker.  I hope that Dawkins and friends explore this idea further.

18.  You can’t understand literature, art, music, without understanding the Bible – retrospective historical appreciation.

This is a good point.  I’d like to add that in order to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible, one must also study history, especially church history.

19.  Intelligable, the nonsense (Latin) becomes transparent, but when it is translated into modern English, you can see it for what it is.

What the four horsemen are talking about here is that the church masses continued to use Latin long after Latin had become obsolete as a common language.  People had no idea what scriptures actually said and had to just believe whatever the clergy explained to them.  On this point, I agree.  However, the second part of the comment, that people can see the content of scripture for what it is when it is translated into modern English, I disagree.  Granted, an English speaking person using an English translation is a step in the right direction, but the scriptures were originally written in Hebrew and Greek.  We must allow the Hebrew or Greek etymology to trump Latin or English or any other language.  Most theologians, pastors, and scholars still give the erroneous Latin translation too much authority.

20.  We leave it to the pious to destroy each other’s synagogues/churches.

Isn’t it telling that you don’t see atheists blowing up synagogues, mosques, churches, or abortion clinics.  You don’t hear about atheists declaring jihads against theists.  This observation, in itself should be enough to raise serious questions about whether organized religion is genuinely a God-ordained establishment.  You know a tree by its fruit.

 

 

The other day, I posted Just Believe (Part Four) on my facebook page.  During the course of the lengthy (and very interesting) discussion that followed, my brother posted a video in the comment section called “The Four Horsemen” here in two parts: Hour One and Hour Two, where four atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris) discuss religion in a relaxed and unmoderated setting.  They bring up some very valid points, as well as a few absurdities.  Overall, I agreed with much of what they said.  I will name and comment on their points, one by one in what probably looks to be a two or three part blog.

1. Deny religious tax exemption.

When Jesus was questioned about taxes, this is what He had to say: “…give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”  So why is it that churches don’t pay taxes?  How does a struggling single mother feel when she can barely keep the electricity turned on, but the church down the road is building a sports facility or cafe?  If churches poured into their communities all the money they ought to be paying in taxes, wouldn’t this world be a better place?  I agree with the atheists, that religious institutions ought to be taxed as businesses, because in reality, that’s what they are.  They peddle their own version of God, and they use the “law” to make unsuspecting people feel obligated to give 10% of their income.  Yet how many churches give even 10% of what money they collect into non-church related charities?  It’s just not right.

2. Religion isn’t the only game in town when it comes to being spiritual (examples: having an experience while on drugs, living in a cave for a year).

Creation is awe-inspiring.  Life is deep.  As emotional creatures, regardless of our beliefs, we all have moments of super-clarity, when existence itself presses upon us, and we become passionately overwhelmed with the enormity, complexity, beauty, and variety of the human experience.  Those who know God would describe it as a taste of knowing God (unwittingly for the atheist), while an atheist would describe it as a non-deity related spiritual experience (which deists wrongly ascribe to their deity).  For much more on this, I suggest watching the “Flatland” analogy that goes from the second half of Part Four to the first half of Part Five of Rob Bell’s “Everything is Spiritual” but if you want to watch it in its entirety, here it is: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, and Part Eight.

 3. Equate the knowledge of God with: “I suddenly realized the universe is all about me…”

I take issue with this idea, because the knowledge of God causes one to realize that it’s all about God, and “me” is just thankful to be included in His Plan!  Perhaps these particular athiests have crossed paths with some arrogant deists, though.  I can’t think of any other reason why they would feel this way.

 4. Scientists are candid about their scope of ignorance (saying I don’t know).

This is true, to some extent.  However, there are complaints about exclusivity and orthodoxy in academia.  I already knew about it to a certain extent, but now that I’m attending UCF, I’ve been exposed to more complaints of pressures scientists and other academics feel to maintain status quo.  It is a frustration that is not being acknowledged or dealt with in any way at this time.  Sooner or later that pressure will build enough that the problem will be exposed.  For more on this, watch Part Ten and Part Eleven of my religious tolerance series (although the focus in these vids is primarily on anthropology/archeology).

5. “…tortured after death by 17 demons…”

It is interesting that atheists, who do not know God, are able to grasp the ridiculousness of the doctrine of eternal torment in Hell, but the mainline Christian still insists on holding to this archaic Egyptian mythology.

 6. I noticed that during the discussion, there were plenty of complaints toward deists involving the words, “they always” and “they never”.

Admittedly, I am guilty of the same thing in casual conversation and even sometimes in my writing.  Given the amount of intellect in the room among these four gentlemen, I am surprised that they didn’t call each other out on this verbal faux pas.  Surely, if they stop and consider how many billions of different deists there are in this world, it is not likely that their all-inclusive statements are as inclusive as they would like to believe.

7. “…congregations don’t know better, because it is maintained that they should not know better..” (Here the idea is that congregations have delegated authority to their leaders, and then they presume their leaders are going to do it right.)  The atheists ask, “Who stands up and says, ‘the buck stops here’”?

This is an incredibly important point.  What system of checks and balances are present to call out leaders who are WRONG?  Although most church-attending people have this idea that there is a way to correct bad decision-making, call leaders to account for abusing their authority, and make other necessary changes as the need arises, this is simply not the case in most churches.  Sin happens.  This should not be a surprise.  We should not expect perfection from one another.  On the other hand, spiritual abuse and even criminal activity under the guise and protection of spiritual position is something that absolutely should not be permitted.  Here, I must agree with the idea that church leaders perpetuate a system in which congregations are purposely kept in the dark about questionable decisions.  People who stand up and say “the buck stops here” are systematically put out of churches through shunning, being stripped of their positions and paychecks (if employed by the church), not being permitted to have the opportunity to present their complaints to the congregation, being labeled as heretical or divisive, or in many other ways.  It is sad but true.  The atheists have the institutional church pegged in this one.

 8. The issue of authority and of faith in authority in science versus religion: science is a peer reviewed, competitive atmosphere where competitors admit to truths that others found before them.

This is surely more true for science than it is for the church.  In fact, the “peer review” process has only in the last decade or so begun for the church – and they are scrambling like ants whose hill was just stomped.  The next few generations should be very interesting, because with the advent of the Internet and more specifically, social media, the erroneous teachings of theologians and pastors are being brought into the light.  Now, that is not to say that science has perfected this peer review thing (see number four above).

9. “They (religion) can’t be allowed to forget what they used to say when they were strong enough to get away with it, which is, ‘This is really true, in every detail, and if you don’t believe it, we’ll kill you…’  They wouldn’t have the power they have now if they didn’t have the power they had then.”

This is so true.  Religion used to be allowed to kill people, take away people’s property, or torture people for disagreeing with orthodox opinion.  We’ve all heard the horror stories.  It is interesting to note that the belief in eternal torment ushered in the Dark Ages.  Religious people actually reasoned that if people were going to burn in hell forever anyway, they might as well be burned in this world first, as an example for all those who would set themselves up against the teachings or powerful positions of religious elite.

 10. If you can’t defend your view, then you can’t put it forward…

This seems like a reasonable assertion until you stop and consider that not everything true or right can be defended through the language and methods of science.  Consider “survival of the fittest.”  If this is true in all times and all places for all creatures, then people can kill each other because they have the power and desire to do so.  Of course, this is a very extreme example, but it serves the purpose.  Science does not have the right to make all the rules about what is and is not defensible in conversation or to cut someone out of a conversation.  I say, let everyone have the opportunity to speak.  If a person’s ideas can’t stand in the light of scrutiny, what is there to lose?  Why end the conversation, just because you think someone’s view is indefensible?  Won’t that become obvious during the course of the conversation, without anyone having to enforce some silly rule about who is and who is not allowed to speak?  How arrogant!

 

An NPR article states,

Residents of Alameda, Calif., an island city just east of San Francisco, are demanding answers after a man drowned at a city beach in full view of police and fire personnel.

Witnesses say an apparently distraught Raymond Zack, 53, paced back and forth along the beach just before noon on Memorial Day. He then waded into the frigid San Francisco Bay.

Zack stood about 50 yards offshore in neck-deep water for about an hour before his head disappeared below the water. Police and firefighters who had responded to a 911 call about the suicide attempt stood onshore watching and making no attempt to rescue or even contact Zack.

Interim Alameda Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi said a 2009 policy forbids firefighters from trying to rescue people in the water.

“Previously we had a very highly trained water-rescue program that we could use for both shore-based and boat-and-surf water rescue,” he said. “But unfortunately, over the course of several years based on what I gather on budget issues, they pretty much decertified the program.”

A police spokesman said officers didn’t help because they feared Zack might become violent.

When I first heard this story in June, I found it difficult to believe that the police and fire personnel who have devoted themselves to protect life, to rescue people in distress, could allow protocol or policy to keep them from rescuing this man.  If I were in their situation, I would say, “Screw your protocol!” and consequently, lose my job (maybe even die along with the guy in the bay).

There is a moral lesson in this incident, obviously, but there is a spiritual lesson as well.

Does God Who has both the power and the desire to save everyone stand on the cosmic shore of humanity and watch most of us not only die, but go to eternal torment in hell?  Does God exist in an eternal state of cognitive dissonance, desiring everyone be rescued from sin and death but having His hands tied by His own protocol?  Does God simply save the ones He loves most and let the rest sink into the icy depths of death?

I found a ridiculous website called “Bible Help” which attempts to calculate how many people will go to hell.  It even has a counter that tells you “the estimated average number of people who have died and gone to Hell since you opened up this page.”  So much for the good news, huh?

In an article on the website CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry), Matt Slick attempts to answer the question, “Why doesn’t God just save everyone?” by saying,

As a judge may desire to set a person free, the law requires he execute judgment.  God can lovingly desire all to be saved, but He must also execute righteous judgement on them, and all who have not trusted in Christ will be lost.

On the blog, Parchment & Pen, Sam Storms writes,

Although there is surely a sense in which God loves the non-elect, he does not love them redemptively. If he did, they would certainly be redeemed. God loves them, but not savingly, else they would certainly be saved. All this is to say that God’s eternal, electing love is not universal but particular.

Dr. Alan Cairnes says on his youtube video,

Why He doesn’t [save everyone] is His business, and it’s for His glory.  […]  For anybody who does not try to make himself God, that is good enough.

Paul_born_again who comments on the the Let’s Talk Bible forum says something we have all heard before,

Love cannot be forced. If God forced everyone to love him than we would all be mindless robots. Love cannot exist without the possibility of someone choosing not to love. God loves us, and wants us to love him too.

RC Sproul avoids the question altogether by asking,

Why should God save anyone?

Slick says all who have not trusted in Christ will be lost, but what if all eventually do trust in Christ?  This penalty/judment/justice thing was resolved over two thousand years ago.  God’s judgment is redemptive – no longer according to law but according to grace.  This is a foundational truth of Christianity that is continually set aside by people like Slick who want to return to the law/works system.

This business about God having two or three wills, or love that is not really love in the true sense, and other lame explanations given in an attempt to rescue an erroneous view just plain makes me sad.  How can it be said that God’s love is particular when God declares His love for all mankind, God “so loved” the world.

I don’t understand how billions of people experiencing eternal torment is in any way for God’s glory (as Dr. C indicates above).  If we are to praise Him for all His works, how can we praise Him for this?  It is a fair question.  Just because someone asks the question, this does not mean he or she is trying to become God.  The question is an admission to ignorance and a plea for revelation.  God is pleased with the question and glorified by the true answer.

When God saves someone, He saves them not only from death, but from sin.  In the case of the drowning man, I see that none of the excuses offered by his should-have-been rescuers included the idea that they wanted to respect the man’s decision to die.  He intentionally walked into the frigid waters and stayed there until he could no longer swim.  He put himself into the hands of death by his own choice.  The same can be said of those who die in the sin of unbelief.  Does this mean that the sin of unbelief is the one sin Jesus was unable to conquer through His death and resurrection?  Is the will of man too mighty to be conquered by His love?  Isn’t God, Who is all-knowing and all-powerful, able to create for Himself a way of going about this saving business that is not limited to two choices (1. forced love from mindless robots 2. freedom with irreparable consequences)?  I believe He did find a way, and His name is Jesus Christ.  Jesus brings all authority, including the authority of human decision, into subjection to Himself.

To answer Sproul’s question-dodging question, God should save us because He loves us.  We have not done anything to earn that love.  The value of human life is found in the fact that God considers it valuable.  Jesus poured out His blood, which is the most valuable substance in the universe, in order to save humanity.

For hardly for the sake of a just man will anyone be dying: for, for the sake of a good man, perhaps someone may even be daring to die,yet God is commending this love of His to us, seeing that, while we are still sinners, Christ died for our sakes.” Much rather, then, being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation, through Him.” For if, being enemies, we were conciliated to God through the death of His Son, much rather, being conciliated, we shall be saved in His life.  (Romans 5:7-10)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the church?  Is it a place where people go each week?  Perhaps the more accurate way to ask the question is, who is the church?  Are they the people who show up and get the service together, plan and implement programs, and make key decisions; or are they the seat-filling people who show up, put money in the plate, and perhaps can be convinced to volunteer for stuff?  Or maybe the church is a combination of both?  Should everyone who goes to church or participates in church activities be considered the who part of that question, who is the church?  What is the main goal of the church?  Is it to bring God glory, equip and send believers into the world, make disciples, do good deeds, represent Christ, or a combination of these and other things?

Identifying the Church

Although the purpose of the church is not boiled down into one simple statement in scripture, there are definitely plenty of scriptures that describe the church.  However, these scriptures are interpreted differently by various people.  Some people say there is a visible and an invisible church, that the visible church is something tangible such as a building, an organization with leaders and members, a plan of action and purpose, and that the visible church may involve people who are not part of the invisible church.  And some say the invisible church is specifically comprised of all those who participate in the visible church who are actually the called out ones, the elect of God who have been sealed by His Spirit, the true believers.  Author and speaker Reggie McNeal says the church is “the people of God partnering in His redemptive mission in the world.”  Personally, I think McNeal’s interpretation of those scriptures describing the church is the most accurate.

The proto-church (like a foreshadowing) is found way back in Genesis, where God says to Abraham, “blessed in thee have been all families of the ground.”

The synagogue, a meeting place for the Jewish religion, is contrasted with the ekklesia in such a way that the emphasis of the ekklesia is on a group of people, not a building or an organized gathering, in the Septuagint (a manuscript of the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) in Joel 2:16 (and in many other places), “Gather [sunagogein] the people, sanctify an assembly [ekklesia], assemble the aged, gather [sunagogein] infants…”

Again, in Acts 7, Stephen identifies Moses and the Israelites using the same Greek word ekklesia that is often translated into the English word church, saying, “…Moses who did say to the sons of Israel: A prophet to you shall the Lord your God raise up out of your brethren, like to me, him shall ye hear.  This is he who was in the assembly [ekklesia]in the wilderness.”

And one more example to hammer home the idea that the church is “the people of God partnering in His redemptive mission in the world” is found in 1 Peter 2:9-10, “…a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people acquired, that the excellences ye may shew forth of Him who out of darkness did call you to His wondrous light; who once not a people, and now the people of God; who had not found kindness, and now have found kindness.”

The Situation…

The focus of this blog is not so much about accurately identifying the church as it is about a situation in which one particular institutional church has an opportunity to do something spectacular.

I recently watched a video that one of my Facebook friends posted, entitled, “Umatilla High School Parent Upset at Local Church” about a situation involving a church that I attended for over a decade.  The Facebook friend posted the following remark along with the video:

Thank you Larry Cheatham for the free press!! It would have otherwise cost us thousands of dollars to tell all of central florida about all the great things happening in Umatilla and the First Baptist Church!! Woohoo!!!

I am assuming that the excitement of my Facebook friend refers to the comment by Larry Cheathem in the WFTV online article that accompanies the video, regarding the conflict between Cheathem and the team coach.  Cheathem says, “Team meetings, meals, bonfires, pep rally’s and whatever has to do with a football practice or game, it’s held at the First Baptist Church of Umatilla.”

Most people who attend church, who have invested countless hours and significant finances in the church, would respond in like manner to the idea that so many football activities are being held on their property for two reasons: the first is obvious and basically agreed upon by almost everyone, while the second has a deceptive flavor that people like Cheathem can spot from a mile away.

The first reason is that people who attend church are excited about the idea that their church is known as the church that hosts community events, where “unchurched” people show up during days and times outside the Sunday service.  They can utilize an area that might otherwise be empty, wasted space.  I don’t think the conflict has anything to do with this first reason.

The second reason people who attend church are excited about the idea that their church is known as the church that hosts community events is that, perhaps, since such a reputation has been established, the unchurched, recognizing their good deeds, will ask questions about the church, and perhaps visit the church, and in the best case scenario, respond to the alter call at the end of the service.

Of course, this “becoming a believer” thing has a long list of expectations attached to it – public profession of faith in baptism, joining the church, regularly attending and financially supporting the church, doing away with vices, participating in Bible studies or small groups (which usually involves purchasing pre-approved published materials), and perhaps climbing the hierarchy of leadership to become one of the people who has some real influence in the place. The problem with this idea is that the good deed is not done for the sake of one human being showing love or kindness to another human being; the good deed is a public relations decision by an organization that may result in an increase in numbers, status, and financial gain of that organization.

Free Advertisement or Public Relations Nightmare?

Have you ever recieved a letter in the mail offering you a free laptop or ipad in exchange for listening to an hour-long or two-hour-long sales pitch?  The recipient of such a letter knows what to expect and can decide whether he or she would like to participate.  In the situation with the coach and the angry dad, the dad feels as though the free offer that came in the mail is an offer that cannot be refused, literally.

My Facebook friend, who attends the church-in-the-ACLU-hot-seat, explained that the pastor “didn’t have anything to do with what the coach does with his team, and that is what all this boils down to. For instance, the FFA asked to use our place and we let them. Are we at fault because we have 3 crosses on our stage? It’s a tradeoff….they get a nice place to have their banquet but they have to tolerate all of our ‘stuff’.”

He also said,

We are just simple servants, doing what we believe to be right, with what God has blessed us with. The facilities we have don’t belong to us, they belong to God, right? The “Kingdom” we serve includes this community and the people in it. FBCU also donated $26,000 to disaster relief, to serve the people of Alabama. So, we do what we do, with no regrets. “The Church” was only serving. The offended person felt the Coach was forcing the players to do something “they” did not want to do. ‘The Church’ or it’s staff, or the pastor, or me, did not instruct him to do that. I don’t even know where the coach attends church.

So who is at fault here?  Did someone do what they should not have done?  These questions are irrelevant for the purpose of this blog.  I’ll leave it up to ACLU and FBCU to figure out legalities.

I think, seeing the situation through spiritual eyes, that the real issue at hand here is that the angry dad speaks for many, many others who have a big problem with the pretenses that accompany good deeds.  For example, does a group of people really need to wear their-brand-of-church-T-shirts when they hit the streets with shovels and potted plants?

A recent phenomena in the institutional church is to plan a date, make an announcement, hang a sign on the door with a message that is supposed to totally blow the mind of the unchurched person who shows up expecting the building to be full of people.  The sign says, “The church has left the building.”  The idea here is that instead of being a church-in-a-box, they are becoming a church-in-the-community.  Perhaps the unchurched will see them as “normal people” with whom they can relate.  Perhaps the unchurched will think differently about Christianity or Christians.  Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately?), like the free ipad offer, unchurched people just don’t see it that way.  They see a subtly deceptive publicity stunt disguised as good deeds with no strings attached.

I can imagine it now… The average Umatillian might say, “Why are you so bothered with FBCU, Cheatham?  All they did was offer the use of their facilities.”  Or the member of FBCU says, “Well, our pastor never suggested that the coach do this, in fact, he didn’t even know about it.  The church is not at fault here.”  But if church members are very honest with themselves, they will see a purposeful connection, a chain of related situations:

unchurched exposed to churched and/or church facilities/good deeds > unchurched contemplates the significance > unchurched responds positively > churched takes advantage of the opportunity to share faith > unchurched responds positively > churched invites unchurched to church or to make decision-for-Christ > unchurched responds positively > churched/church get brownie points for being effective ministers/ministry in God’s Kingdom.  If a churched person does not make this connection, it is not because the connection doesn’t exist, it is because the churched person is blind to it or living in denial.

Opportunity to Change the Conversation

Right now, whether this particular institutional church likes it, agrees with it, is at fault – one thing is certain, the topic of conversation is a debate over rights: freedom of religion, separation of church and state, whether organized religion has once again crossed the line, and so on.  Does the institutional church have a right to offer its facilities to the public?  Does a school coach have the right to make attendance at an event held in an institutional church facility mandatory?  If you look closely at these two questions, you will find two common elements: rights and an institutional church facility.

About the Christian’s Rights and Property

One of the most basic tenets of Christianity, exemplified for us very clearly in the life of Christ, is humility, and more specifically, the giving up of one’s rights.  Jesus Christ gave up His rights regularly and purposefully.  The “people of God” who are “partnering in His redemptive mission in the world” have no rights.  Sure, they may have legal rights, even legal rights that they don’t deserve, such as tax exemption, but in God’s Kingdom, the “people of God” are called to take on the position of a servant or slave, if need be.  Jesus gave up His rights when He allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross.  The first disciples were sent by Jesus two-by-two, not all at once, and definitely not wearing disciple T-shirts.  Jesus instructed them that they did not need funds or equipment; they didn’t even bring food (and this is a day-and-age with no McDonalds).  Facilities were not even an issue, because He fully expected them to “stay there until you depart from there.”  This is very reminiscent of God’s directing the Isrealites to live in tents.  Believers are not supposed to get so comfortable in one certain way of doing things that we can’t function without our “stuff.”

What Now?

How can the “people of God” who attend this institutional church best partner with God in the redemption of Larry Cheatham (here I am assuming for arguments sake that he has not already recognized that he is reconciled to God, but we’ll just suppose for the time being…), or the unchurched/dechurched/normal people of Umatilla?  How can the “people of God” defuse this situation?  How can the people of God shock the ACLU and probably the rest of the world with the outrageous love, humilty, and generous grace of Jesus Christ?  In order to answer this question, I will ask another question.

Does the church need a building in order to accomplish its mission?

Do the “people of God” need to have a massive building in order to hear the word of God, to fellowship, and to pray with/for one another?  Do the people of God need to meet by the hundreds on a weekly basis in order to carry out His purpose in the world?  If every institutional church in the world “Left the Building” AND NEVER WENT BACK TO IT, would the church die or would it thrive?

I left this comment on my Facebook friend’s post:

…if you REALLY want to give Jesus Christ some positive publicity and shock the hell out of ACLU and the United States of America, give the building to the school. DO IT! I double dog dare you! Let’s see what you all are really made of, a Kingdom in a building or a building for His Kingdom. Matt. 5: 38-42. Luke 6:27-31. What are you willing to lose?

Hebrews 10:24 says, “…may we consider one another to provoke to love and to good works…” and that is the purpose of this particular blog.  If the “people of God” give up the Sunday-Sermon-Binky, leave the buildings, payroll, politics, and chains behind them, what a different world this would be.  I know it is scary for some people to even lend an ear to such conversation, but what a refreshing concept!  Imagine WFTV’s follow up report…

FBCU, a church recently under the investigation of ACLU, has donated their building and property to the Umatilla High School football team.  In an interview with the pastor, WFTV reporter Joe Schmo asked the pastor, “What will your church do now that you have no meeting place?”

And the pastor replies, “Umatilla no longer has one church of 900, they now have 900 churches of one.”

The reporter asks a follow up question, “Will you still continue to meet?”

And the pastor replies, “Of course we will.  And all of the funds that were being used on payroll, upkeep of the facilities, electric, curriculum, equipment, etc. are now going to be put to use in the community and in the world as God directs each person.  If every institutional church in the world followed suit, there would no longer be such a thing as world hunger.  My hope is that God will use this situation to ignite a revolution in thinking about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

Speaking from Experience…

About six years ago, at a conference with author and speaker Reggie McNeal, I realized that the way Christians were “doing church” wasn’t working as it had in the centuries prior.  Between six years ago through two years ago, God took me through a crash course on what the church is NOT.

Eventually, I left the church, but really, I didn’t leave the church at all.

You see, there is this dichotomy that I touched on earlier – we have one word, “church” to describe two radically different concepts:

1. Church-as-religion includes all the trappings of religion: legalism, time-sucking, money-sucking, life-sucking, voluntary slavery that is cleverly disguised as God’s work, hypocrisy, building/program centered, a spiritually dead organization, fear-inducing dogma, love-strangling policies/procedures/protocol, spiritually segregated, hierarchical structure, etc.

2. Relationship with Christ and all of its benefits: freedom to mess up and learn without fear of people looking down on you, freedom to come and go as God leads instead of being tied to a schedule of religion-church activity, freedom to give generously as God provides/leads, abundant living, God does the work and His people join Him (no pressure there), being real and not giving two shits what church people have to say about it (yes, I said, “two shits” – case in point), Christ centered, alive!!!, fearless, overflowing with love, hands not tied by policy/procedure/protocol, spiritually integrated, accountable to one Shepherd, Jesus Christ, etc.

You Are Not Thinking Big Enough

One constant answer to prayers over those years that God keeps repeating to me: You are not thinking big enough.  He is teaching believers to see the church as all believers everywhere, not just a group of believers in a church or in similar churches.  God’s spies are everywhere, including the religion-church.

The religion-church has inherited a certain approach to Christianity.  I touched on this in my previous blog, Pagan Gems and Christian Fluff, but I would like to expand on that now.  For centuries, believers have duped themselves into thinking that if the majority of any given society is content to wear the label “Christian” (like the United States of America), then church can be defined in practice as a group of believers who build religion-church-buildings, create a religion-Christian-congregation who are trained/guilted/manipulated into putting money in the plate, and a small percentage of that money is used to send missionaries to pagan nations or to buy local generosity “bragging rights” and spiritual kudos.  The life of Christ in them is  reduced to a once-a-week meeting, with the possibility of a few God-moments in between.  Meanwhile, the “us” versus “them” mentality solidifies in society.   Now, there are the “churched” and “unchurched” and “de-churched” as if the whole world revolves around this monolithic religion-church tax-exempt corporation.

God is Doing His Thing, With or Without His People

Although there is a growing consensus among church-goers that something is amiss, they are rarely willing to peg their own organization as a part of the problem.  From the outside looking in, I can tell you that God is doing something wonderful in the world, and the religion-church is missing out.  But that is exactly what has been happening all along.  A division between authentic relationship-Christianity and religion-Christianity took place with the rise of the religion-church, which painstakingly (although unwittingly) and systematically sought to snuff out the relationship-church.  Fortunately, people are not able to stop God from doing His thing.  He kept the relationship-church alive all this time, and the relationship church is experiencing increasing discomfort in the tight fist of the religion-church.

Now, God is doing a new thing.

Let me pause here to tell you about a dream that I had.  There was a huge complicated machine, with so many different parts turning and moving in various ways.  The purpose of this machine was to gather the light and dispense it in specific ways.  I saw myself in the machine, as one of the moving parts.  I didn’t even look like a person – I was made of metal.  Suddenly, I fell out of the machine.  I looked up into the machine-ceiling sky and saw that in the place where I used to be, a shaft of light was shooting through.  Although it wasn’t much light, people on the ground took notice.  They gathered around with me, looking up at the empty place, and collectively understood something they had never known before.  They had always believed the source of light was the machine and accepted the fact that they had to rely on the machine to give them light.  It had never occurred to them that the machine was simply dispensing the light from another source.  Here and there, a few more pieces fell from the machine.  People rejoiced as they saw the light shining through the holes, because they knew that they no longer needed to wait on the inefficient machine to supply them with tiny amounts of light.  They could bypass the machine altogether and go directly to the source of light.

I don’t think that I need to offer an interpretation of this dream, as it is quite obvious.  What happened in the dream is exactly what is happening in the world today.  Those who are not part of the religion-machine are beginning to see the light without the help/control of the machine.  And guess what else is happening… people who find their worth or sense of purpose in being part of the machine are now fearfully watching as their positions of authority, their power over the spiritual climate of the land-dwellers, their sense of importance and relevance is becoming obsolete.  The whole world (including many of those machine parts) is seeing the machine for what it is and what is has been all along.  The machine is dying, but the relationship-church is not dying.  It can never die.  God has established His Kingdom in enemy territory, and slowly but surely, He is filling all things with the light of life.

I know that much of this is way too over-the-top for some readers to handle.  I probably lost them about three paragraphs into this blog.  God has created some people to coddle and sugar coat for the sake of spiritual immaturity, but I am not one of them.  Those who are meant to understand the ideas in this blog will understand.  They are excited and scared all at the same time, knowing that in being willing to lose everything, they gain everything.  This is just the beginning of the abundant life for such readers.  And the rest of you, thanks for loving me despite my forthrightness.  You can just write me off as a spiritual ____ (fill in the blank).  I don’t need your approval anyhow.

 

 

 

I learned something very disturbing, yesterday… But first, let me give you some background information.  Everyone is aware of the concept that history is written by those in power, so we only get their version of the story if that is all the information that is available.  For example, there are certain Native American tribes that we only know about because some Spanish sailor decided to keep a journal.  These thousands are only represented in history through the eyes of one who was to them a distant stranger.  No one really knows their story.  Now back to what I heard yesterday.

It is Illegal in the State of Florida to Teach Revisionist History

This concept, that history is written by those in power, is now outlawed in Florida’s Public School System.  Yes, you read it correctly.  Public school teachers are not allowed to present anything other than a state approved view of history, and they are not allowed to teach kids (even high school age) the concept of revisionist history.  No kidding.

The information about this Jeb Bush approved act of censorship, although available to the public, is buried in a 160 page Bill (H.B. 7087e3):

“American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”  So that everyone is clear on exactly what history is, the Bill includes a list of people groups represented during “the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present.”  Unfortunately, this list fails to include what is probably the most significant example of why revisionist historicism is extremely important, the Native Americans.  We’ve all heard the Columbus version of history.  Who will tell the story of those who were silenced?

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation. – Herbert Spencer

Sometimes information is available, but it is withheld, suppressed, or misinterpreted by those currently in power. The same rings true for church history.  There are certain very important stories that are either not included or glossed over in most church history books, even though the information is available to those who write the books.  I suspect that there are those who omit on purpose and those who omit out of ignorance.  God is the judge as to their intentions, but the fact that the important information is omitted is now glaringly obvious to me.  I’m sure that if you continue to read this blog, you will see examples of the missing or distorted information being pointed out to you.

During the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church accused Martin Luther of making things up, coming up with new ideas that have never been part of the Christian tradition.  But when all the dust settled, after people finally had the information they needed made available to them, after they were able to consider all the possibilities instead of just the clergy-approved possibilities, Luther was vindicated.  He didn’t make up the ideas after all.  They were there all along, only conveniently buried, suppressed, and misinterpreted by those in power.  Why?  Because they didn’t want people to know that they had misrepresented God.  Does this sound familiar?  I certainly hope it does.  If it doesn’t, then start paying attention when the rumors fly around church as to why someone stopped attending.  It could be that they write blogs like this one, and those in power want to silence them.  Those in power want their own version of church history which maintains the status quo.  Who will tell the story of those who died, lost their property, and went through all kinds of hell to share the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Who will set the record straight?