Sunday, September 28, 2008

Scott Peck on Blasphemy

"A person who has occasional profane thoughts but does not act upon them is not a blasphemous individual. Rather it is the person who mouths holy thoughts but behaves profanely who is the blasphemer. Blasphemy is the form of compartmentalization that allow some routinely to profess the truth while routinely acting the lie. Any form of behavior that stems from a lack of integration, that represents compartmentalization, is blasphemy. The businessman who goes to church on Sunday mornings, believes that he loves God and God's creation and his fellow human beings, and then on Monday morning has no trouble with his company's policy of dumping toxic wastes in a nearby stream--who is "a Sunday morning Christian"--is guilty of blasphemy. Regardless of its intensity, regardless of the degree of consciousness or deliberateness involved, such compartmentalization of religion is invariably blasphemous. And the fact that this country, on whose coinage is written the words "In God We Trust", is the leading manufacturer and seller of weapons in the world means that we are a largely blasphemous nation. The degree of compartmentalization in American life is such that blasphemous behavior is the norm rather than the exception." -- M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Insofar as we can turn to God, it is grace that enables us to do so. Grace enables dignity within us by empowering our efforts to be honest and responsible. Grace enables humility within us by empowering our realization that our efforts are insufficient by themselves. Grace enables receptivity and responsiveness within us by empowering our growing trust and our willingness to take the risks of faith. All this grace comes from God--God in immanence moving gently in us, and God in transcendence reaching out to us in radiant love." -- Gerald G. May, Addiction & Grace

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bible Visualized

The beautiful picture above is a graphical representation of the Bible. The horizontal axis along the bottom represents each book in the Bible, from Old Testament to New.

The alternating colors of white and gray on the horizontal axis delineate one book from another. Each small vertical line hanging down represents a chapter in a book--the more verses in that chapter, the longer the line. All 1,189 chapters within the Bible are graphed in this way.

The colorful arcs above the graph represent cross-references between chapters. The color of each arc is determined by the distance between linked chapters. A total of 63,779 links are represented.

You can click on the picture above to get a much more detailed view.

What this illustration brings out is the incredible cohesiveness and connectedness of the Bible--something which any serious Bible student can attest to.

This graphic was created by Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon University and Christoph Romhild of North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Germany. It won an honorable mention for illustrations in the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

Click here for more info

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Christian retailer refuses to display magazine featuring female pastors

Lifeway Christian Stores, a nationwide chain of Christian bookstores, has pulled the September/ October issue of Gospel Today magazine from the racks of its 100+ stores. The issue is still available for purchase, but will be kept under the counter and must be asked for by the customer.

The cause for this draconian action? The cover of this month's Gospel Today features five women. There is nothing unwholesome or controversial about the cover photo. These are not, to my knowledge, women of questionable doctrinal repute. No, the cause for this act of censorship is simply that the five women are all pastors.

It turns out that Lifeway Christian Stores is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention does not approve of female pastors.

I've never read Gospel Today magazine, but there is a Lifeway Christian Store that I drive by on my way home from work. I have occasionally purchased books there. I think I'm going to stop in today and request a copy of the magazine. Then I will inform them that it is the last purchase I'll be making at their store.

More info:

Atlanta Journal Constitution story
CNN story

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Things that make me a heretic (in some people's eyes):

1. I don't believe it is necessary to have a building in order to have church (a building can be a great resource but it can also be a terrible drain on resources).
2. I don't believe it is necessary to have a pastor, priest or pope in order to have church (in fact, having such an authority figure or hierarchy tends to be an impediment to a church functioning the way it was intended. I should mention that I attend a church which does have a pastor, but she does a great job of functioning as a facilitator of community rather than as an authority over a congregation).
3. I don't believe that sermons are needed (in fact, I think they get in the way of a church gathering functioning the way it was intended).
4. I believe we are commanded to give to the poor, not tithe to the church.
5. I don't believe in a Hell of eternal torment (rather, I believe that God will ultimately reconcile everyone to Himself. This view is called Christian Universalism).
6. I don't think the books of Genesis (6a) or Revelation (6b) were meant to be taken literally.
6a. As a result, I don't subscribe to the doctrine of Original Sin.
6b. As a result, I don't subscribe to the "Left Behind" view of the End Times. The position I hold is called Preterism.
7. I don't believe that people are inherently evil. Rather, we are capable of both great good and great evil. We suffer, not from Original Sin, but from Chronic Sin.
8. I don't need the Bible to be inerrant or infallible. It is a collection of documents recording people's encounters with God. These documents come from various perspectives and use various literary styles. The Bible is inspired and highly valuable to understanding who God is, but it is also highly susceptible to misinterpretation. I think the only way to have a shot at consistently understanding the Bible with any measure of accuracy is to have (or have access to those who have) fluency in the Hebrew, Chaldean and Koine Greek languages and a good understanding of ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures. In addition to (and superseding) this, the Holy Spirit is here to be our teacher and guide. We can drink directly from the same fountain that inspired the scriptures. As John Wimber used to say of the Bible, "This is the menu. It is not the meal. The menu describes the meal." The meal is the indwelling, living presence of God: Christ in us; leading, guiding, teaching, restoring, reconciling and bringing about change from the inside out.
9. I believe that what God wants most from us is not correct doctrine but compassion, mercy and lovingkindness, especially towards the poor and marginalized. Our greatest obligation is to love one another and show our love by our actions.
10. I don't have a problem with accepting LGBT persons as fellow followers of Jesus and worthy human beings, entitled to the same civil rights and ministry opportunities as myself
11. I believe that women can do anything in the church that men can do.
12. I do not believe that the Jews are God's chosen people or that Israel is God's chosen nation. I believe that we are all God's chosen people and are all worthy of being treated respectfully and fairly.
13. I believe that God is present and active and speaking, if we just take the time to be still and listen.
14. I believe that war is evil and should only ever be considered as the last option. To enter into war means that we have utterly failed at being what God wants us to be.
15. I believe that a great deal of pagan thought and practice has been layered onto Christianity over the centuries and that our challenge is to strip it away and get back to the basics of what Jesus was all about.
16. I believe that Jesus was the image (ikon/snapshot/xerox) of God and that He came to show us what God is like. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus was, and is, the kindest person you'll ever meet.
17. I don't believe that the point of Jesus' crucifixion was to appease an angry Father God or to pay a ransom to Satan. Rather, it was a demonstration of God's intent to reconcile us to Himself through self-sacrifice. In the crucifixion, Jesus allowed mankind to pour out our evil and hatred and sin upon Him and He took it all in until it killed Him. His subsequent resurrection showed that He was, and is, greater than our evil and hatred and sin. Love wins. And love wins by means of love (see 1 Cor. 13).
18. Instead of focusing on when Jesus will return, I believe we should focus on His presence with us here and now. We should occupy ourselves not by studying eschatological timelines or seeking doctrinal purity or getting more people to come listen to our sermons, but by seeing what Jesus is doing here and now and joining Him in that work. What Jesus tends to be doing here and now seems to revolve around healing, justice for the powerless, reconciliation, restoration, hope and peace. These are signs of the Kingdom of God.
19. I believe that we were designed to live in community. We are at our best when we are living in community and at our worst when we are living in isolation. One of the signs of true community is when we can openly disagree about matters but still be committed to love one-another and be with one-another. Sadly, true community is very rare in modern Western culture. (For more on this topic, I recommend The Different Drum by M. Scott Peck and Theology for the Community of God by Stanley Grenz.)
20. I believe that while studying the Bible, one should be constantly asking, "What did it mean to the original hearers?" If your interpretation of a given scripture would have been meaningless to the original hearers, then your interpretation is wrong.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Da Blooz

Many, many years ago, I came across an album in a used record store by Big Bill Broonzy which was recorded live in a little club somewhere in Europe in the 1950's. I bought that album and pretty much wore it out. Eventually it disappeared; probably lost in a move or sold in a garage sale.

This morning Carla and I were joking that perhaps blues music is about to make a big comeback, what with all of the woes in the financial industry. That got me to thinking about Big Bill. Lo and behold, I found that Broonzy had made a video of my favorite song from that live album and that someone has posted it on Youtube.

So turn down the volume on CNN and listen to "Just a Dream":

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hurricanes and God's Judgment

Carla somehow got onto the email list of a woman who sees herself as some type of prophet. We usually just delete the emails, but I just had to reply to the following message:

The name Ike means-"He who laughs"

The following verses from God's word are so sobering. Is God speaking to our nation through these devastating hurricanes? Has our nations gone far enough in mocking God Almighty? Where are the ones who will humble themselves and truly turn from wickedness to the Living God? All nations have been foolish in thinking their kings have any power outside of God Jehovah..Is God laughing at the nations through these hurricanes? Oh let us truly repent..may we kiss the Son, Jesus Christ lest He be angry...He may have come as a Lamb but He is returning as the Mighty Lion of Judah...our redemption draws nigh. May we with one voice, cry out today in repentance and seek God's mercy and forgiveness

In fear and trembling

Isa 45:7-9 "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things. "You heavens above, rain down righteousness;
let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it."

Ps 2:1-3:1 "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. "Let us break their chains," they say,"and throw off their fetters." The One enthroned in heaven laughs;the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son;today I have become your Father. Ask of me,and I will make the nations your inheritance,the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter;you will dash them to pieces like pottery." Therefore, you kings, be wise;be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry (pay Him Homage, humbled before Him) and you be destroyed in your way,for his wrath can flare up in a moment.Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Prov 1:20-26 " Wisdom calls aloud in the street,she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out,in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke,I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster;I will mock when calamity overtakes you-- "

Prov 9:10-12 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer."

Zeph 2:3 "Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger."

Here was my response:


I assume that you are open to receiving feedback on the emails that you send out. What I got from your email about hurricane Ike is that you have a very warped perspective of what God is like. God is not an angry and capricious being who laughs spitefully and then sends hurricanes to destroy the homes of poor people (many of whom are Christians) unless we appease Him. That is the type of God that the pagans worshiped.

Hurricanes are a part of the earth's weather system. They play a vital role in regulating the earth's temperature and bringing precipitation to dry areas. They have been occurring in the Gulf of Mexico long before we began building cities there. In fact, the word hurricane came from the Mayans (it was the name of their storm god). Christopher Columbus encountered a hurricane or severe tropical storm in 1495 and lost some ships as a result. The fact that we built cities and neighborhoods in hurricane-prone coastal areas and then attribute it to God when a hurricane hits is sort of like closing your eyes and running into a busy street and than saying it was God's judgment if you got hit by a car.

The Bible tells us that it is God's kindness (not hurricanes) that leads to repentance. Jesus said that if we've seen Him, we've seen the Father. Likewise, Paul wrote that Jesus is the image (ikon) of the invisible God. Jesus came to show us what the Father is like. What Jesus displayed was kindness, mercy, grace, restoration, redemption and reconciliation. If you want to see where God is in the hurricanes look to the people (many of whom are Christians) who come in afterward to rescue, comfort and restore. That is the heart of God.

The Greek word translated as repent is metanoia. It literally means "have another mind", or "change your way of thinking". I humbly suggest that you might consider changing your way of thinking about what God is like. He has already poured out mercy and forgiveness upon us. That's what the cross was all about. That was how He spoke to us, and He still speaks today--not in anger and devastation but in kindness and self-sacrifice and mercy and forgiveness and love.


Danny Coleman (Carla's husband)

"The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." 1 Kings 19:11-12

What do you think? Was I too harsh?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Road Trip!

My son Seth and I just returned from a week-long trip in Denver. The main reason for the trip was for Seth--a junior at the University of Washington--to spend some time with a couple of doctors (arranged by my sister) in order to get a feel for whether or not he wants to pursue medical school and a career in medicine.

Seth was able to spend an entire shift at the emergency room of a hospital in Brighton, Colorado under the tutelage of a seasoned ER doc. Seth had a great time and has returned with a clear goal of becoming a doctor (a surgeon, actually).

Here's a picture of Seth which I took after picking him up at the end of his shift in the ER:

We also went to a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater, a world famous venue. I grew up just a few miles from Red Rocks and used to party and hang out there often during my high school years. It was fun to be back:

It was a quick trip, but I did manage to have a couple of beers with my best old friend Michael (the same Michael from My Story):

As you can see, he's very gangsta!

Just before flying back on Saturday, we stopped for some amazing fish & chips at GB Fish & Chips in Denver. Seth looks a bit dubious...

Trust the British to take something as healthy as cod and saturate it with grease!

It was a quick trip done on the cheap, but we had a great time and got a lot accomplished.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

JW's at the door!

Recently, my friend Lorna told me about a neighbor of hers who was receiving constant visits from some particularly aggressive Jehovah's Witnesses. One day Lorna's doorbell rang and she opened it to find that the same JW's had come to her. They asked about her interest in the things of God and when she told them brightly "Oh yes, I'm a Quaker!", they were dumbstruck. They apparently had no arrows in their quiver against Quakerism and so bade her a friendly farewell and haven't returned.

I'm currently having a quasi-vacation in Denver and staying at my Mom's house. This morning the doorbell rang and I answered it to find two JW's at the door. I had a pleasant chat with them on the doorstep and then explained that I am a Quaker. They seemed quite curious to know more, so I invited them in. The ensuing conversation revolved primarily around me explaining Quakerism to them. They were intrigued and found resonance with such Quaker distinctives as the peace testimony and (traditionally) the lack of a paid clergy class. These are distinctives which the JW's share.

They asked what I thought about Jehovah's Witnesses and I told them, as gently as I could, that I had two primary issues:

1. That Russell, Rutherford and the other JW founders/leaders placed great emphasis on the study of the Bible while lacking in-depth knowledge of Koine Greek, Hebrew, Chaldean, as well as ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman culture. If you're going to base your beliefs, much less an entire religious organization, on the study of scripture, you'd better be equipped with the tools to correctly exegete scripture. By the way, this criticism does not apply solely to JW's.

2. That the JW's put an organization, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, in place as a mediator between God and man. I explained that Quakers believe that we have direct access to God and that Christ has come to teach His people Himself (as John said, "You need no other teacher..."). We don't need to put a priest or pastor or organization in the place that Christ Himself should occupy. I urged them to consider that they don't need the Watchtower.

I told them a little of my story of how I became a follower of Jesus apart from any church and about the many times I have heard the voice of God directly.
They seemed genuinely interested in all of this. As our conversation came to a close I commended them for following their convictions by going door-to-door even though it meant experiencing a great deal of rejection.

They asked me who some Quaker authors were that they might read. I made a few recommendations, particularly the Journal of George Fox.

I understand that many folks would rather not deal with JW's at the door. I've felt that way too sometimes, particularly when one feels unprepared to argue with them. But I've come to view them not as spiritual opponents but as fellow seekers. They are earnestly trying to follow Jesus. I think they've been given some bad theology, but that doesn't make them the enemy. I quite enjoyed our friendly visit.