Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Saturday, May 27, 2006
This toxic happiness across thy face
Doth bid me hope and turn me from sweet pain
While these parched tears my face would but disdain
And cry them not, but gath’ring deep to deep
Shall whelm my soul with death’s most haunting sleep
For low in those cold waters foul or fair
Alas! Salvation’s breath awaits me there
Say not cheer up nor bid me purge my lip
I part to fall and rise in holy dip
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
I don't have a whole lot to say in response to this article, but here's a few thoughts (well, maybe it turned out to be more thoughts than I thought).
Bradley O'Leary contrasts the reaction to a series of political cartoons depicting Mohammad with the lack of one over The DaVinci Code.
1. What cave has he been in?
2. To the disappointment of some, a Christian ministry would never be described with these words, "Property was destroyed. Flags were burned. People were killed." I said a Christian ministry, not everyone who says Lord, Lord.
The author compares the hate crime against Mohammad in the cartoons with the hate crime against the Bible.
1. This just continues to fascinate me. People continue to try and replace the centerpiece of our religion (Jesus Christ) with a book (the bible).
2. And how do you commit a crime against a book? Against leather-bound paper and ink? With study helps and cross-index and a concordance? The point is not the truth or falsehood of the Bible or even what has been omitted. I find the Bible to be true and beautiful and am happy with the final result of the canonization. I found the DaVinci code, even though quite a page turner, to be fanciful and spurious. But I never thought about the Bible being victimized. That's not the point, is it? The point might be whether Jesus (a person, our Prophet) is being victimized. But there is this huge reluctance to talk about Jesus anymore. Some people want Christians to get red-faced and defend their poor, victimized bible, which again is weird.
The author proclaims irony that something attacking the Christian faith would use the tag line, "Seek the truth".
1. I think it's a good tag line. I wish more people would actually adopt it for their life.
2. I actually think it would be better than "Defend the truth" as if truth needed defending.
3. In fact, after I read the book I had this huge craving to go back and read the Gospels again. I started in Matthew.
The author is incredulous that Sony Pictures would spent $75 million "to promote the success of this outrageous fiction".
1. Again, if this is an assault on truth, which you are afraid will buckle under the weight of the false evidence, then how sure are you really of your truth?
2. On the other hand, if it's outrageous fiction, then why wouldn't they spend a lot of money to get people to go see their outrageous fiction? People like outrageous fiction. And advertising pays.
The author asks where there American Christians are and why they aren't doing everything possible to "defend the faith" and "fight this crass commercial hate crime".
1. Maybe it's because Jesus never told us to defend the faith or fight crass commercial hate crime? He wasted all His time telling us to love our neighbors and do good to those who persecute us and things like that. Seems like he had different ideas on how to walk humbly with His God.
2. And then the apostles wasted their time telling us to keep the faith and to "fight the good fight of the faith" by "pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness."
Finally the author goes ad hominem, with a full-blown gossipesque character assault of implicating questions on Dan Brown. I have no idea how to answer his questions or if they are rhetorical. I don't see how the accusations of plagiarism would change the issues raised by the book/movie, so I assume this is just good old fashioned mud slinging.
What I do know is that the author brings up some very interesting doubts, concerns, and challenges about the Church and the compilation of her Holy Book that an intelligent person would want to research and know the truth. Is that a good thing? Is that a good thing even if some of the fiction is outrageous? What if it is distasteful?
What I do know is that I had virtually no interest in reading this book or seeing the movie until I started getting mail from red-faced Christian Political Action Committees and Evangelio-activist Organizations. Maybe I could send this author their phone number so he can find the outrage.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
This is the most incredible thing. I was looking up the references in Rob Bell's book, Velvet Elvis and ran across this web site called followtherabbi.com where there is an absolutely fascinating interactive multimedia applet called Thinking Hebrew:
Amazing. Especially the ones on Thinking About God and Thinking About Truth.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Did you ever have anyone that totally changed your life just by being who they were?
I once worked with a guy who was so sure that he was the best thing his boss had going. He talked it, he walked it, and as far as I know he delivered on it. You would have to conclude that by the way he talked about everything and the way people reacted to him. And the odd thing is, he was convinced that I was the best thing my boss had going for some reason, too. He got me believing it—so much so that I started talking like him, acting like him, and seeing things like him. Pretty soon after that, I got fired. I went across the street and got a job paying twice as much. In two years I doubled that again. So basically just over two years after meeting this guy, I was making four times as much. And a lot of it was because of his influence. I wasn’t any smarter at all. I wasn’t any more educated. I wasn’t a better a worker. I just reckoned myself differently. I made more and made my company profited more. And then I heard that my neighbor across the street had helped one of the big InfoTech consulting firms he worked for close several multi-million dollar deals, but he was still waiting in March to get his $2000 bonus. Still in the same posture, I told him that was ridiculous, that he was worth a lot more than that. He was actually considering moving to Colorado where he could make slightly more money with the same company. He was going to rent his house out and do some other financial wizardry to make it all happen. I talked him out of that and hooked him up with the firm I was working for. They made him a practice manager and paid him zillions (I say that because he moved his family out to Southlake with all the rich people and hardly talked to me again—he obviously made too much to live across the street from me anymore). All this can be traced to the way that first guy just was.
I knew a girl who was so passionately sold out to Jesus Christ. She talked about Jesus all the time as if He were her lover. It was almost indecent the phrases she used. It was like she craved him, she needed him, she was infatuated with him, she wanted his body. She talked about being a martyr, basically so she could touch him and then be with him all the time. And she would write these incredibly powerful poems and journal entries and fantastic stories that described mythically what she was going through, and she’d let me read some of them. When I saw how much she depended on Jesus, and how sold out she was to Him, it made me want that kind of love. I used to get really mad if things didn’t go my way. That, or try harder. After I met her I took up journaling and decided to pour my heart out to God like her, and like David did in the Psalms. I would say that she changed my life forever, but it’s really more like she woke up something in me. Jesus is more real to me today than I could ever imagine. When I say Jesus is my best friend, I mean it. It is not a bumper sticker. We have joined hearts, and He has come through for me like no other ever could or probably ever will. This has made a believer out of me. Not a believer in the sense that I agree with a list of doctrines or tenets about Jesus, but in the friendship sense. Jesus and I are like David and Jonathan—the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Another thing that has happened to me is patience—not patience the virtue, but patience the soul food for my anxious heart. I have been driven again and again to the patience tree, looking for fruit. And I have eaten and been satisfied. Some people who have known me for a long time have remarked that I am more patient and humble and compassionate than I used to be. It’s not because of me. All this can be traced to the way this girl just was.
And I know an eight month old baby who cannot seem to go to sleep without being held firmly against someone’s breast. I just put him to bed tonight with some effort. What a precious gift he is. He’s hard to live with when he’s bawling, but precious just when he falls asleep. It makes me want to find my rest being held tightly by someone much bigger than me, someone as big as God. I know it’s not his maturity or his deep feeling of wholeness and centeredness that makes him want to be held like this. Even at his tender age, he has fears and insecurities that he may carry for life. And I know my girl friend and my guy friend are not perfect. But it is probably their issues that have driven them to the extremes where they have lived. I’m actually thankful for their issues because of their impact on my life. But I’m not sure they would be thankful for their issues. Maybe that’s how it goes. One person is afflicted with something and the way they respond with their life is a testimony to others of a better way to be. Thank God that’s where they were. What an honor and a blessing to be touched by each of these in their own unique way.
Did you ever have anyone that totally changed your life just by being who they were?
Blame is the problem.
It is always destructive.
It has never brought healing to anyone or anything.
I notice that cursing did not precede blaming in Adam and Eve's fall.
I really think the coming of Jesus was to abolish the blame game.
I really think blaming kills any chance of restoration.
There has to be another way.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
This is the fourth in a series of "parables retold", stories of Jesus retold to fit how I see modern people practicing their religion. Jesus told this parable about a farmer sowing seed. It’s the most important parable he ever told, for in it, he said, was the secret of all parables. In the parable, the soils represent people and the seeds represent God’s words. Here is the parable as Jesus told it, followed by a sort of second chapter...
Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.
But the farmer wasn’t satisfied with these results. Scratching his head, he wondered why he couldn’t get all his seed to grow. He said to himself, “Every seed is good, and every soil deserves a chance to receive it.”
The first thing he set out to do was kill all the birds. “The birds shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of my seed. It’s for the soils. I own this seed, and I only want it to build up my kingdom.” So in his traps he gathered and slew the birds.
The next thing that vexed him was the rocky places where there wasn’t much depth to the soil. At first, he decided to pre-qualify the area and scatter seed only where there was a high degree of soil receptivity. But then he thought, “No, I shouldn't have to put up with rocks." So he sent workers ahead to break up all the rocks, softening the soil, so that the roots could grow deeper. And then the farmer made the single greatest leap of progress in agricultural history. The sun was a huge problem for these happy plants with shallow roots. It was hot and uncomfortable when it began to work on them. So he built a huge dome over the soil, ensuring only exposure to a certain amount of light; then he air conditioned it, piped in music for the enjoyment of his garden, watered it year round, and fertilized it with meticulously balanced and perfectly orchestrated nutrients. His servants praised the modern miracle by erecting a marquee reading “Field of Kingdom Dreams / Sowing the Seed in Love”.
But there was still the problem of the thorns, for it seemed that every nice thing he did for the soil to help his seed grow only made the thorns more comfortable as well. He thought to himself, “The thorns are one huge problem right in the middle of my field. Aha.” In another moment of sheer brilliance, he had all the thorns relocated to the perimeter of the dome so that they didn’t crowd or ensnare the saplings in the softened soil, and had the added benefit of keeping trespassers and gleaners out. The thorns provided a virtually impenetrable barrier to his dream garden, preventing access to all but the most desperate.
When all his work was done, the farmer rested, for it was Sunday. Come Monday, it was time to get busy. The farmer took out loans in every bank and borrowed money from every person he could find, selling his dream to expand Gardondom. He set out to reproduce the Dome of Dreams in every nation, every city, every block, every inch of the earth. By the time he was done, there was not a domeless spec of earth in view from land, sea, or sky. It was perfect.
Now go back and read the parable with how Jesus unpacked it for his closest friends (Mark 4:1-20). I wonder what God has in mind for his seed and his soil today.
Copyright © 2005-2006 by Steve Coan
All rights reserved. Written permissions must be secured from the publisher to reproduce any part of this work, except for brief quotations in critical reviews, on-line comments, or articles.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
I believe in the age to come.
It’s like that when you lose someone you love. You want to believe that they are not gone, they are just invisible, and that they are still here somehow. My dad says that my mom always wanted to get a balcony view so that she could watch all of us in this still unfolding masterpiece after she dies. I want to see my mom again.
It’s also like that when stuff gets broken, when you’re misunderstood, and when relationships go south. I want a whole nother age for all these things to be restored, not just a “we’ll agree to disagree” or a “don’t worry about it” or an “oh well” or an “I’m sure this will all work out” or an “I forgive you”. I want an age of truth and love. I want the salt to get its saltiness back. I want the light to shine like before. I want to be like I was made before all my wounds and tears and breaks and sins wasted me. I want the people I love to be the gods and goddesses I’ve seen glimpses of. I want all the encrusted layers of pollution to be cracked and burned off and all the poison drained out.
This is what it means to be held, sings Natalie Grant. I am in the firm grip of heaven. It simply must be there. Or else how can I go on? This is not my home. This is not where I was supposed to live or how I was supposed to live. I was not made to settle for these choices. I was made to swim in beauty and love and harmony. These evil days are just me making the best of the hands I'm dealt.
This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held
I believe in the age to come. The return of the king will bring a new age. I believe more now than ever. Jesus talked about it. He just kind of threw it out there like it was a given. He never tried to persuade anyone about the reality of it. Instead He loved people and put them back together, and that was persuasive enough. And then he came back from the dead. To me that’s good enough reason to believe that heaven is real and that there is an age to come. And it’s a clear enough message that we can live like it today. Heaven is invading Earth, and the King of Heaven has sent some of His people in to be the opening band. It’s like we don’t have to wait until He gets here to start living like we belong in the new age rather than the present one. Even if things don't go like we know they should. Even if everything fell.
I will believe in the age to come. It’s the only way.
Monday, May 08, 2006
It seems like everyone wants to go to heaven when they die. I don't. I want to go to heaven right now.
It's not that I don't believe in literal heaven or hell anymore. I do. I've seen them both. Here's the deal. If you haven't entered heaven now, I don't think you will enter after you die either. Each and every one of us choose how we respond every single moment of every single day. We either enter heaven or enter hell. We really don't go anywhere (although I know going is a common way people say other strange things, like go to work, go to church, go to hell). We enter heaven by following Jesus. We enter hell by rejecting Jesus. Jesus is the only way to the Father, which is another way of saying Jesus is the only way to Heaven. This does not mean that when I die God pulls out my address book, and if Jesus Christ is the first name, then I get to go through the Pearly Gates. It also doesn't mean that all other religions, philosophies, or sciences are false. What it does mean is that heaven looks just like Jesus, so the only way to see heaven today is to see Jesus. Today. The only way to enter heaven today is to enter Jesus. Today.
Entering Jesus is like entering into a relationship. What does that really mean? Do I really enter the space between myself and another person? Do I enter the words and activities we share? Do I enter into their skin? No. I give myself over to someone. I make certain commitments, and I give up some of my rights to respond certain ways. I forsake other ways of living, even if they are reasonable, even if they’re ok for other people, for the sake of what I have entered. I do things with them. I do things for them. I may even do things in their name. If I enter into the relationship completely, then it could even be said that I am one with the other person.
And it’s not like there’s really some judgment day coming where God is waiting to either smack you dead and make you go to hell, or if you’ve gotten everything right to let you go to heaven. That implies that heaven and hell are not available now but are somehow reserved for later. It implies that where we live is earth, and heaven and hell are not allowed here. It implies that life is my domain and death is God’s domain. But God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. And this is why Jesus told us to pray:
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
In earth as it is in heaven
There is a Day coming, but that Day is more like a moment of truth, a moment of true sight, a moment of fire testing the worth and purity and character and truth of everything, a moment when the veil is rolled back to reveal who's in heaven and who’s in hell. Or in other words, a veil is rolled back to reveal who's living in Jesus and who’s not. Or in other words, a veil is rolled back to reveal who's a child of God and who's a child of the devil. The children of God are the ones doing what God does. The children of the devil are the ones doing what the devil does. The children of God are the ones who entered heaven. The children of the devil are the ones who entered hell. People are entering today. It will be revealed on that Day when everything is laid bare. And when it happens, there will be a change in everyone and everything. It's just that we're not going anywhere we haven't already been. I think it will probably seem like it's all completely different because of how beautiful everything will be when all this junk is stripped away and burned off, but it will be the same people and the same place, only all new and better.
And don't get me wrong about ushering the kingdom to earth. I am definitely interested in bringing the kingdom to earth like Jesus said, but I am not interested in building any kingdom because there is no kingdom to build. Keep your money. The thing that is so true about the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is that another world, another realm, another kingdom is as close as the next room. It's as available as opening a closet door. It's as near as the next choice you make. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Some have already passed from death to life. Some of us are in heaven. Some of us are in hell. If you’re waiting for heaven when you die, I’d go ahead and dig up your one talent and put it on deposit with the bankers so at least you get some of God’s interest. Have a go at it. Because if you think that God is coming back for buried treasure, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
My first day off after a 3 month contract had me unplugged from the Matrix and flying. I woke up with these new thoughts about desires and how good they are...when they are true.
The problem is that Christianity, at least the Christianity I have been presented with, has everything backwards.
Don Miller gave a serman a couple of weeks ago that has totally rocked me and some of my friends. He was talking about the Magic Bullet—you know that thing that makes salsa and slushies and everything else you can think of to fit 30 minutes of the infomercial that it is. And it highlights the whole informercial/catalog/ advertising/consumer-oriented culture we live in. There's this song that is sung over and over to us, kind of like an anthem. The message of the song is basically this: I didn't know how discontent I was until you came along and showed me the Magic Bullet. Then I simply had to have it. I could not rest until I had it. I was empty. I needed the Magic Bullet. There was in fact a hole in my heart the shape of the Magic Bullet. So I got the Magic Bullet and then I was whole and fulfilled. Except that I wasn't whole or fulfilled. The Magic Bullet didn't come through for me. I was betrayed by the Magic Bullet. He was not in fact my friend.
It's really sick when you think about it. And it's a predatory message because we all have desires, we all feel this longing in our hearts for something more. Maybe it's the Magic Bullet. That's certainly the message. Actually my Magic Bullet is the Dell catalog. I was really happy with my laptop until I saw all the new ones. (Dual core. A moment of silence, please.) I'm sure everyone has got something like this. You're doing great until the thing comes across your line of sight, and then you realize how incomplete your life really is.
And this brings up the problem with Christianity. Have you heard this song? You are defective. In fact, there is a hole in your heart that is maybe round shaped. And you have been trying to fill this round shaped hole with the square-shaped product of rock-n-roll or the triangle-shaped product of drugs or the octagon-shaped product of career, or the hexagon-shaped product of porn, etc. But Jesus is the round-shaped product that perfectly fits the hole in your heart. Ask Him to come into your heart, and you will be complete. You will have a fulfilled life. Jesus is your Magic Bullet. Just obtain the Jesus product and your desires will be quenched, and you will be complete.
The Bible doesn't talk about Jesus that way. Jesus never presented Himself that way. And frankly it doesn't work. I asked Jesus into my heart and I still wasn't whole or complete. I still had these deep feelings of inadequacy. I still have these things I want, these things I crave, these things I hope for. So I was left feeling betrayed again. I chose to fake it. But others were more honest. They said, "I tried that Christianity thang, but it didn't work."
So is Jesus defective?
I think Jesus is not defective but He's really lousy as a Magic Bullet.
I don't think God ever intended Jesus to be my Magic Bullet.
I don't think God ever intended to come in to my heart and fulfill my life.
I think rather that God intends for me to come into His heart to fulfill His life.
So this got me to thinking about desires again, my favorite topic ever. Desires, longings, these vacuums of the soul, these things that draw me out and move me towards something. And I'm back to thinking about God and the overarching story he's telling, the Story of Desire.
I think everyone suspects that there are good desires and bad desires, even though in the Bible there is just desire. There are not different words in the Bible for good desires or bad desires, nor are the words good or bad inserted in front of the word desire. We're just left to figure this out. The problem with desire if you're a Magic Bullet Christian is that you really need to get rid of all desire. They all need to be bad. I mean, if you were empty, and you got your Magic Bullet Jesus, then you should be done with desire. So all desire must be bad.
And this is where many of us have struggled for years. We felt betrayed. If Jesus was my Magic Bullet then... Why are my eyes still magnetized to a beautiful woman? Why is the money I have and the stuff I have still not enough? Why do I still enjoy good times? Why does it still hurt when my friends reject me? Why do I long for true fellowship and meaningful community? Why do I still feel the need for speed when someone gets a new motorcycle or a sports car? What's the deal with sunsets? Why do I want to be appreciated? respected? noticed? listened to? Why do I get angry at injustice, at oppression, at various types of abuse? Where does this nostalgia come from? Why do I regret anything? And why is Visa doing so well?
Or maybe we didn't feel betrayed. Maybe we were terrified. Because if Jesus is all I need and yet I still have these desires...then maybe He never really "came into my heart". Some of us have actually bounced back an forth between betrayal and terror.
But Jesus never claimed to be anybody's Magic Bullet. But Jesus absolutely affirmed desire. I have written about this extensively (and too academically) in my essay, The Long Clew. Jesus was desire. So are we. In fact, the first important thing He ever said, according to His best friend John was, "What do you want?"
The truth is that desire is not bad. Magic Bullets are.
But even before this Magic Bullet Jesus picture came into focus for me, I rejected the notion that desires were bad. I do think there is a difference in good desire and bad desire. But it's probably so far from the way most of the church would define it that it's not even worth talking about lust in its various forms. So I want to look at it in a different way. A way I think Jesus looks at it.
I first have to view my life as a story. More than that, I have to look at my life as part of a story that was begun before I was born, and will continue after I die. In fact, the story of my life only has meaning as it intersects with the Story God is telling.
Bad desires are desires that would draw story elements to me. They would fill me with objects of desire. They would draw all of life and collect it to me. Actually I call them bad desires, but they really are no desires at all. Desires are good desires. They draw me in whole or in part into the story, into my place in the story, as an element in the story. Rather than allowing God to come and fill me, desires fill God up with me as the object of his desire. They would consume me, spend me on a good and noble theme for the display of His splendour. They would draw me out of the dark and into life, they would collect me to life and light. Colossians 1:15-23 in the Message version is extremely enlightening:
Christ Holds It All Together
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.
You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don't walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted.
The good of desire is that it draws me out for a walk in the garden. The thing that makes for bad desire is collecting the garden for my jar. True desire is being plucked by the flower instead of plucking it. It's becoming part of God's kingdom instead of making Him part of mine.
Unless I lose this idea that the story is all about me, and that the purpose of Jesus is to add just what I need to be complete, and that the best God can do is to set me up and help me keep my feet, and as long as I avoid the God who would sweep me off my feet, then I will be forever trapped in a self-absorbed, consumer-oriented version of Christianity that will let me down time and again. Jesus will not fulfill me. He never intended to. Asking Jesus to find His place in my heart is never going to work. Lately I've started thinking about when people say, "I asked Jesus into my heart." I want to ask, "Did He fit?" God is much greater than our hearts.
It's taken me a while to put some of this together, and I'm sure it's still too much too fast to read. I've been drinking from a fire hydrant, so I know my words are gushing, too. But here is how I closed my thoughts last Thursday.
...Another thing hit me as I was playing Moonlight on the piano this morning. When I was learning this song several years ago (a difficult feat for one who doesn’t read music), I got to this part after this long run up and down the keyboard. If you know the song, you’ll recognize it as kind of protracted and one-dimensional. But after it is perhaps the most stunningly beautiful sequence in the history of the piano. Many pianists seem to disdain the long keyboard run, and will often rush it or add some style. I don’t. I don’t because I remember plowing through learning the song, one note at a time, trying to work out which fingers on which notes, hoping I was reading the notes right at all. And I remember the first time I actually played this part. I had figured out the notes, so I backed up a few bars to get a running start. It took me several tries. The first time I actually got it right, I stopped and wept. When I was younger, I would play something on the piano or hear something on the radio and think, I could write something that good, or I could change that a bit and do something more creative. But sitting at the keyboard crying, thinking about Beethoven’s gift, these words washed through my heart, “I can’t believe I get to play this.” What a privilege it is to be swept into something so wonderful as this Song God is playing. What an honor to be invited to play through this gift called desire. And what a treat to have my eyes opened again today to what is really going on.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Thursday, May 04, 2006
I was hitting the buttons on the radio yesterday and got stuck on one of these Christian talk radio channels. Some guy was the host, and a gal was called in. Apparently she was the expert, maybe she belonged to one of these congressional watchdog Christian organizations, or maybe she was a media correspondent in the white house or something.
Anyway, they were talking about the current goings on in congress—debates over current tax bills, trying to convey how aghast you would be if you ever saw Ted Kennedy in action, stuff like that. The last thing I heard them talk about (the last thing I heard because I couldn't take any more) was how this new tax bill was bad. They expressed a feeling of betrayal because the guy who drafted it originally said it would be like the current franchise tax, but when it came out it wasn't. (Her phrase was, "The devil is in the details.") The franchise tax is on net profit, whereas this new one is on gross profit. This basically means they tax you on the way in instead of the way out, which means that even if you had tons of expenses, even if you had a loss for the year, you would still end up paying this tax. As the owner of a small consulting company, I am well aware of how devastating this can be. It's like the self-employment tax. If you've never paid self-employment tax as a consultant, you don't want to. It hurts. It hurts because you pay it off the top, even if you're in the hole, and even if you're not in the hole this tax could be double or triple your income tax. So like I said, I got stuck listening to these guys.
The last thing I heard them say was, "This is a bad bill. It's bad for small business. It's bad for America."
I looked at the radio to see what frequency it was on. Yep, that's a Christian radio channel. And when I turned it off, I just stared down the road and wondered, "What is Christian talk radio about? Taxes? Disposable income? Is the Christian community the defender of small business? the enemy of taxes? the bane of Ted Kennedy?"
I used to listen to a lot of Christian talk radio, that and Conservative talk radio, which is the exact same thing except for the commercials. I know why they talk about what they talk about. It's because they have a market for it. There are a lot of listeners out there who consider themselves Conservatives, which some people say is the same as being Christians.
I don't like listening to it anymore. I have to listen to somebody go on about how the DaVinci Code is an assault on our faith (which must be really weak if a book/movie can take it out), or how the homosexuals are destroying the moral fabric of our society (as if we needed help), or how whatever new world order political installment is finally going to usher the beast in, or hear which politician I need to nag to save the American economy.
I wonder if Jesus had set up a radio talk show what it would have been about. Or, more likely, if He called in as a special guest. Jesus definitely was plugged in to culture. (And to say he was plugged in to culture is to say he was plugged in to politics and religion as well—everything in that world was comingled.) But it seems like he took a different approach. There were all these debates going on with what to do about the pagan world that had encroached, swallowing up both their government and their culture.
The Zealots objected to taxation on religious grounds, so they started a grass roots movement to take their government back. They believed that they were God's chosen nation, that God was King, their only Lord and Master, and that their land and resources belonged to God alone. They resisted paying taxes because to them it was giving to Caesar what belonged to God. This is kind of like what I imagine we'll see when they take our tax deduction away for giving to the church. It's just a matter of time.
The Pharisees wanted to purge the nation of all the sin so God would rescue them as He had done with Nehemiah. They believed that so many principles in Scripture were rejected by their society, some rebelliously, some out of ignorance by the rabble who knew nothing of the law. So they believed it was vital that God's true people unite in defense of the precepts He gave them in His Word. To them it was a cultural battle, us vs. them, and the goal was to crowd out sinners, to eliminate or at least isolate the sinners from the culture at large. God would turn back to them and deliver them from this very antagonistic government when they had achieved a high enough level of national purity. So they were big on praying in public. And they threw their weight around in other ways, too.
The Essenes kind of had the same opinion as the Pharisees, but they were purists. They just decided to check out. They totally withdrew and lived in monastic communities as ascetics and celibates. The whole thing was such a mess that they wrote it off. Even the Temple.
The Sadducees on the other hand decided the best thing to do was hold an office, so they shacked up with the Romans. These were basically the chief priests and elders, with one foot in the State Court, one in the Temple Court. To them it was important to work together to forge a future, even to ensure the survival of God's people.
Everybody seemed to know that their homeland was in a real predicament, that a major storm was swelling (AD 70 was in fact just around there corner), and there were all these different angles, different organizations that sprang up, each fighting the good fight on a different front, in a different way. None in complete agreement as to what should be done, but all united around the idea that God wanted better for His people, and that something had to be done about it.
Jesus didn't join the campaign to take the government back. Jesus didn't run for office. Jesus didn't complain about taxes. Jesus didn't withdraw and write everything off. Jesus didn't rally against the moral deviants. Instead, Jesus aligned with John the Baptist, which will have to be the topic of another post. Interesting guy...to say the least.
Jesus and JB basically dove in to the religious-political-cultural scene head first, and summarily rejected all the current plans. It was too late to win by tax exemptions. No office was going to have enough power to break the oppressive system of principalities and powers ruling the high places—even King of the World. Taking the government "back" was no good because it would just replace an evil uncircumcised tyranny for an evil circumcised tyranny (remember the line of kings?). Instead, they started talking about this other kingdom, and how you have to completey change the way you see to be a part of it.
And Jesus didn't just talk about a new kingdom, He lived it. It's the kind of kingdom where prostitutes and tax collectors are prominent citizens, along with sinners, poor people, terminally ill, homeless, children, widows, people suffering from the consequences of their bad choices like blind, lame, lepers, half-breeds, and all kinds of downtrodden and persecuted folks. So that's who He embraced.
This made a lot of people mad because they already had explanations for all the ills that had befallen their nation, and they located the blame in various people and groups of people. But Jesus came along and did the unthinkable with these very people who had brought all this calamity on their good land. He ate with them. He touched them. He allowed them to touch Him. He healed them. He forgave them. In a word, He made peace with them. And by doing this, all those parties, with all their messages, with all of their campaigns, were all coming unraveled. Not completely. But each platform had one or a few of their planks removed. Which is what Jesus was into. Removing planks. From eyes.
Jesus' message was a very far cry from the messages of all the other Political Action Committees of His day. Their message was, "We have to take the world back for God." Jesus' message was "God has to take you back for the world." This was the message Jesus was born to give. It's the message that was preordained for Him even before He was born. He was to be called Jesus, which in Aramaic is Yehoshua meaning God-Saves. "And you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
To Jesus the predicament wasn't the sin all around God's people. To Jesus the predicament was the sin in God's people. That's why He would go around saying to His own people, not the pagans, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is available." That's why He didn't urge His listeners to call their representatives, because the kingdom wasn't going to come out there, but in here. "It is within you."
Worst of all, Jesus realized that it would take more than a vote or a revolt to turn the thing around. Somebody was going to have to die. And it was going to have to start with Him.
I think if Jesus was our first guest today on Life Perspectives, He would probably have much the same thing to say to us as He did to the ancient Palestinian culture, because it was a similar time in many ways. I doubt He would complain about taxes or bills or governors or presidents or social deviants or cultural wars. I imagine he would weep over his own people not being willing to simply accept him. I imagine he would encourage his listeners with something like, "The church is not at her best when she is accumulating power. The church is at her best when she is giving power away. My church is not about taking a stand and making their voice heard. My church is about finding those who have no voice and standing with them." And I imagine he would do more than talk about it. I imagine he would show us how. I imagine He would even go so far as to lay down his life.
And that, I imagine, is a Christianity worth a broad cast.
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