Sunday, April 27, 2014

"I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?
Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things."

“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
-- Carl Sagan

Saturday, April 26, 2014

    "Marcus Borg has written a widely helpful book about the need for Christians to retrieve the correct understanding of Jesus, which, he claims, would be a much more appealing picture of Jesus.  He titled the book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.  I think the same can be said about the need many Christians feel to retrieve their mystical traditions: they need to become mystics again for the first time.  Karl Rahner, one of the most respected Catholic theologians of the past century, recognized this need in a statement that has been repeated broadly: 'In the future Christians will be mystics, or they will not be anything.'

    Buddha has enabled me not only to understand and feel but to be kicked in the stomach by the truth of Rahner's words.  Yes, it is a question of survival!  Unless I retrieve my Christian mystical tradition, I'm not going to be able to hang in there with my imperfect, often frustrating church.  Buddha has called me 'to be a mystic again.'  But--and this will be hard to explain--the 'again' is also a 'first time.'  With what I've learned from Buddhism, I have been able to retrieve parts of the rich content of Christian mysticism as it is present both in the 'professional mystics' of church history (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich) and also in the New Testament writings of John's Gospel and Paul's epistles.  But because of my passing over to Buddhism, it's been more than only a retrieval.  It has been for me not just a matter of pulling out of my Christian closet the mystical mantles that were covered with dust but already there.  I've also been able to add to the mystical wardrobe of Christianity.  What I've added has 'fit' what was already there, but it is also something really new.  So, I've returned to Christianity's mystical closet again but also for the first time.  Let me try to explain.

    When Buddha refused to talk about God in order to make way for the experience of Enlightenment, he was making the same point, but even more forcefully, that Rahner was getting at in his insistence that Christians must be mystics: 'God' must be an experience before 'God' can be a word.  Unless God is an experience, whatever words we might use for the Divine will be without content, like road signs pointing nowhere, like lightbulbs without electricity.  Buddha would warn Christians, and I believe Rahner would second the warning: if you want to use words for God, make sure that these words are preceded by, or at least coming out of, an experience that is your own.  And it will be the kind of experience that, in some way, will touch you deeply, perhaps stop you in your tracks, fill you with wonder and gratitude, and it will be an experience for which you realize there are no adequate words.  Rahner listed all kinds of ways in which such experiences can take place in everyday life--falling in love, hoping when there is no hope, being overwhelmed by nature, deep moments of prayer or meditation.  Often, or usually, such experiences happen before there is any talk of explicit consciousness of 'God.'  They happen, and some such word as 'God' or 'Mystery' or 'Presence'--or 'Silence'--seems appropriate.

    To put this more in our contemporary context, Buddha has reminded me and all of us Christians that any kind of religious life or church membership must be based on one's own personal experience.  It is not enough to say 'amen' to a creed, or obey carefully a law, or attend regularly a liturgy.  The required personal experience may be mediated through a community or church, but it has to be one's own.  Without such a personal, mystical happening, one cannot authentically and honestly call oneself religious.

    But with it, one is free both to affirm and find meaning in the beliefs and practices of one's church, and at the same time one is free to criticize one's religion, which means to stand above, to confront, but at the same time to have patience with one's religion.  Both Buddha and Jesus, because of their own extraordinary mystical experiences, were able to criticize bravely their own religions of Hinduism and Judaism respectively (Jesus, to the point of getting into serious trouble) but also to affirm and preserve what they found to be true and good in those religions.  Mystics are both loyal followers and uncomfortable critics--which, it seems to me, is exactly what Christian churches need today."

--Paul Knitter, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian

Samuel Bass

"I have given them your word, and the world [Greek: kosmos = world system, order of things, way of the world] has hated them because they are not of the world [kosmos], just as I am not of the world [kosmos]. I do not ask that you take them out of the world [kosmos], but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world [kosmos], just as I am not of the world [kosmos]. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world [kosmos], so I have sent them into the world [kosmos]." -- Jesus  (John 17:14–19)

I was in south-central Louisiana this past week.  Bayou country.  It's a place I have been to many times and have come to appreciate for its unique beauty.  This is a wild place of low flat land and high, brackish water, of mud and algae and alligators and cypress trees and sugar cane fields and intense humidity and oppressive heat.  One can easily imagine oneself in the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs ruled.  The feats of human ingenuity and engineering and labor required to enable and maintain civilization here are astonishing.

Yet on this visit I could not escape memories of scenes from the film '12 Years a Slave'.  I recall the first time I came to Louisiana and wondered about what it must have felt like to have arrived as a slave at a place like this--so remote and harsh and intense.  After watching '12 Years a Slave' I have a better inkling of what that might have been like.  The film is closely based on the personal account of Solomon Northup, a free and educated African-American man who lived in upstate New York and who in 1841 was drugged, kidnapped, beaten, transported to Louisiana and sold into slavery.  In isolated rural Louisiana, Northup had little hope of escaping to see his wife and children again, at least not without the intervention of friends back home in New York state.  But no one had any idea what had become of him.  Years went by...

Enter Samuel Bass, a white Canadian carpenter whom Northup's "owner" had hired to build a barn.  Northup was assigned to assist in the construction.  Despite living and working in Louisiana, Bass was fearlessly outspoken against slavery. When Northup confided his predicament to Bass, he agreed to do all he could to get word back to Northup's hometown about his whereabouts. 

Northup wrote of Bass:

"Only for him, in all probability, I should have ended my days in slavery. He was my deliverer — a man whose true heart overflowed with noble and generous emotions. To the last moment of my existence I shall remember him with feelings of thankfulness. His name was Bass, and at that time he resided in Marksville. It will be difficult to convey a correct impression of his appearance or character. He was a large man, between forty and fifty years old, of light complexion and light hair. He was very cool and self-possessed, fond of argument, but always speaking with extreme deliberation. He was that kind of person whose peculiarity of manner was such that nothing he uttered ever gave offence. What would be intolerable, coming from the lips of another, could be said by him with impunity. There was not a man on Red River, perhaps, that agreed with him on the subject of politics or religion, and not a man, I venture to say, who discussed either of those subjects half as much. It seemed to be taken for granted that he would espouse the unpopular side of every local question, and it always created amusement rather than displeasure among his auditors, to listen to the ingenious and original manner in which he maintained the controversy. He was a bachelor — an 'old bachelor,' according to the true acceptation of the term — having no kindred living, as he knew of, in the world. Neither had he any permanent abiding place — wandering from one State to another, as his fancy dictated. He had lived in Marksville three or four years, and in the prosecution of his business as a carpenter; and in consequence, likewise, of his peculiarities, was quite extensively known throughout the parish of Avoyelles. He was liberal to a fault; and his many acts of kindness and transparent goodness of heart rendered him popular in the community, the sentiment of which he unceasingly combated.  He was a native of Canada, from whence he had wandered in early life, and after visiting all the principal localities in the northern and western States, in the course of his peregrinations, arrived in the unhealthy region of the Red River. His last removal was from Illinois. Whither he has now gone, I regret to be obliged to say, is unknown to me. He gathered up his effects and departed quietly from Marksville the day before I did, the suspicions of his instrumentality in procuring my liberation rendering such a step necessary. For the commission of a just and righteous act he would undoubtedly have suffered death, had he remained within reach of the slave-whipping tribe on Bayou Boeuf."

What Bass did on Northup's behalf was to write and send a series of letters to people in Northup's hometown, providing his whereabouts and situation.  Bass met secretly with Northup to provide status on his endeavors and planned on traveling to New York himself to seek help.  Before that happened, a response came and Northup's friends and relations in New York orchestrated a rescue via legal means.

In the film, Brad Pitt portrays Samuel Bass.  From what I understand, most of the dialogue Pitt spoke was taken directly from Solomon Northup's memoir.  Pitt's Bass looks and acts Amish or perhaps Quaker and this, coupled with the man's principled actions to help Northup, made me wonder if, in fact, Samuel Bass was a Friend or a Mennonite or some other "peace and justice" oriented Christian.  Unfortunately, not much is known about Bass and so he remains an enigma.

Samuel Bass seems to have been a Christian, but any further specificity of his affiliations is unfindable.  In a very brief account of his life he gave before his death, he confided that he had abandoned a wife and four daughters in Canada and had roamed for years as an itinerant carpenter.  He left his spouse because "she had such a temper as to preclude any man from living with her.”  Thereafter, he had “no permanent abiding place” but instead wandered "from one state to another, as his fancy dictated.”  He was, according to Northup, "popular in the community" because of “his many acts of kindness and transparent goodness of heart” but he was also outspoken and more than willing to challenge dominant views, be they political, social or religious.  Records have been found indicating that Bass died of pneumonia in 1853 in the Louisiana home of an African-American woman.  Little else is known about him.  Most of his descendents in Ontario, Canada had no idea about him up until the release of the film and the buzz that Brad Pitt would be playing an ancestor of theirs.

In pondering Mr. Bass, I don't want to diminish Solomon Northup's heroism.  To have endured so much, adroitly maneuvering within the brutal and soul-crushing institution that had entrapped him, and yet maintaining hope and courage: this was an incredible feat.

What haunts me is that while enslaved in Louisiana, Solomon Northup was surrounded by white Bible-believing "Christians" (his first "owner" was a pastor).  They were entangled and complicit in a system of oppression and their faith and humanity had become utterly twisted by it.  The only white person in the vicinity of Northup's captivity who seems to have been able to rise above and see the reality of the atrocity of slavery and speak the frank truth about it and take practical action was a man with little to his name: no plantation home, no wealth, no family, not much concern for social standing--just a working man with his carpentry tools and an indomitable conscience. 

An opportunity came unexpectedly to both men: for Solomon Northup it was a fleeting chance, after years of slavery, to get a message to his family and friends and perhaps be rescued.  For Samuel Bass it was a request to go against the system and do the right and good and human thing.  Actor Pitts says that after Northup had been betrayed so many times, Bass was "the one voice who did what he said he was going to do."  I am challenged by Samuel Bass to, in my own little way, engage with and speak truth to the 'powers that be' (including those which claim to be "Christian") about oppression and injustice.  I am challenged to be in the kosmos, but not of the kosmos and, in fact, to be alert and willing to subvert the kosmos when the opportunity presents itself.

What Samuel Bass did was a small thing.  In another sense--in that time and that place--it was a monumental thing.   


Friday, April 25, 2014

"'What if instead of a post-Christian nation, we're actually a pre-Christian one?' ... What if Christian faith, divested of social advantages, is now free to earn--not demand, earn--the attention of non-Christians by blessing and forgiving and admitting mistakes and crying and celebrating with complete honesty--in short, by offering Living Water? What if we became known for refusing to smear the reputations of those we disagree with? What if we paid taxes for the common welfare with an eagerness equalled only by our stubbornness in refusing to pay taxes for torture, warfare, and any other form of death-worship? I continue to think that rather than sounding gloom and doom, we ought to be proclaiming a new 'golden age of evangelism.'"

-- Johan Maurer (Source:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and the greatest apologist for the Christian faith in the 20th century, fell in love with a divorced woman, Joy Davidman. Her husband was an alcoholic (and not a Christian) and their marriage fell apart. Lewis had never been married. His beloved Church of England, hewing to the biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, refused to sanction this union on the grounds that in marrying Joy, Lewis would be marrying another man’s wife, making them both adulterers.

But there was one priest who was willing to go against the grain..."

What C.S. Lewis's Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Monday, April 21, 2014

"I have found that extending our understanding of each other's spiritual practices and traditions can be an enriching experience, because to do so increases our opportunities for mutual respect.  Often we encounter things in another tradition that helps us better understand our own."
-- the Dalai Lama

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"God was the central reality of [Jesus's] life and the kingdom of God was the center of his message. The kingdom of God was not about heaven, not about life after death, but about the transformation of life on earth, as the Lord’s Prayer affirms. It is not about 'Take us to heaven when we die,' but about 'Your kingdom come on earth' – as already in heaven. The kingdom of God on earth was about God’s passion – and Jesus’s passion – for the transformation of 'this world': the humanly created world of injustice and violence into a world of justice and nonviolence. That’s why the powers that ruled the world of Jesus killed him. They were not unknowingly doing the will of God by playing their part in God’s plan of salvation to provide a sinless sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. No. They killed him because he was a radical critic of the way they had put the world together and he was attracting a following. So they snuffed him out. In this context, Easter is about God’s 'yes' to Jesus and God’s 'no' to the powers that killed him. That, I suggest, is the primary meaning not only of Pau’s testimony and affirmation, but also of the Easter stories in the gospels."

--Marcus Borg

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How Does "Dying For Our Sins" Work?

"So let’s be clear, the cross is not about the appeasement of a monster god. The cross is about the revelation of a merciful God. At the cross we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies. The cross is where God in Christ absorbs sin and recycles it into forgiveness. The cross is not what God inflicts upon Christ in order to forgive. The cross is what God endures in Christ as he forgives. Once we understand this, we know what we are seeing when we look at the cross: We are seeing the lengths to which a God of love will go in forgiving sin."

--Brian Zahnd,   How Does "Dying For Our Sins" Work?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sunlight fell upon the wall;
the wall received a borrowed splendor.
Why set your heart on a piece of earth,
O simple one? Seek out the source
which shines forever.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
--Jesus (John 15:13)

“I shared with Syrians many beautiful moments, and received a lot. Now we see that these people are suffering a lot. The same way I shared with these people their treasures, I also want also to share with them their fear, pain, and death. Participation requires presence, staying in touch, being close. This is why I like to be in the centre, to move from fear to peace, from sadness to joy, from death to life.”
-- Father Frans van der Lugt, 75 year old Dutch Jesuit priest murdered in Homs, Syria

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, a day that commemorates Jesus's "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem.  This was an incredibly subversive act, both politically and religiously--a bit of prophetic performance art--as Jesus and his followers reenacted the ancient Jewish ritual of the king's enthronement (for which Psalm 118 was written and used).  But, as biblical scholar James Sanders points out, in the case of Jesus, "The messiah has arrived and been acclaimed king.  He has been recognized as king by acclamation not from those with power or authority but by a rather scragly crowd of disciples and followers."

The participants shouted "Hosanna!" which was a cry to God for justice and mercy.  "Hosanna" was what a person would cry out to the judge when they came into court, a reminder to the judge to be just and fair and merciful in hearing their case.  At the triumphal entry, the people were calling out to God to hear their case against the oppressive religious/civil/economic system that they were under.

Sanders says, "This enactment of the psalm [118] as a prophetic symbolic act would have been no less blasphemous and scandalous to those responsible for Israel's traditions (and they would have known them well) than similar symbolic acts performed by the prophets in the late Iron Age [such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel]."

So, if you go to church today and see the children waving palm fronds, consider that what they are reenacting is a moment of bold prophetic civil disobedience against rulers and powers and authorities and systems of oppression and the audacious proclamation of a different king and kingdom--a rule and reign marked by mercy, fairness, truth, compassion, kindness, peace, inclusion, grace.  A kingdom of love.  The kingdom of God.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Peter LaBarbera, who heads Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, gave a presentation last week at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio on the topic of "What 'Gay' Activists Don't Want You to Know" (yes, he had the word 'Gay' in quotes).  Not long into his speech, people began leaving, until he was left with a nearly empty room. 

This was at a community college where the audience was, by and large, young adults.  Consider the current trend where so many young adults have adandoned the church (but haven't necessarily given up on Jesus) that they have been collectively given the demographic moniker of "the nones."  Perhaps conservative Christians have been so focused on fighting "sin" (as they define it) and winning culture battles that they don't realize the extent to which they have lost the war by alienating the next generation.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

What (or Who) is the Word of God?

The Bible is not the Word of God.  It never refers to itself as such.  According to the New Testament, Jesus is the Word of God.  The Word of God is a person, not a collection of texts.  The documents that make up the Bible contain words of God and inspired words about God written by people who encountered God in
various ways.  The grand mistake made over the last 500 years has been to substitute the text for the Word.  This inevitably leads to a well-intentioned Phariseeism, a subtle idolatry.  It can also, paradoxically, lead to a reluctance to honestly and rigorously examine the scriptural texts."

The 17th century Quaker theologian Robert Barclay used the analogy of the Living Word (Christ) being the fountain--the source--and the Bible being a stream that flowed out from that fountain.  "Nevertheless," Barclay wrote, "because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself,
therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader."

As Jenny Duskey points out in her excellent essay below entitled 'Scriptural Evidence that the WORD OF GOD is not the Bible and Concerning what the Word of God is', "Christ's power was not diminished after his resurrection.  From the time of the resurrection (Jn. 20:22) or at least from the day of Pentecost, until and including the present time, the Word which is Christ has lived in the hearts of his disciples, who hear him speak, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah." (Jer. 31:33-34)  She concludes, "From time immemorial people have tried to fit God into forms that they could touch, hold, study, classify, and finally control.  People are still trying to do this by clinging to the unscriptural view that the Word of God is a book."

Scriptural Evidence that the WORD OF GOD is not the Bible and Concerning what the Word of God is.
by Jenny Duskey
Published by Friends of Truth, 16 Huber St.,Glenside, PA 19038
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." (Gen. 1:1-3)
God created the heaven and the earth by speaking, and what he spoke, as his Spirit moved upon the face of the waters, was his Word. John wrote later:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (Jn. 1:1- 3)
All things were made by the Word. (See also Ps. 33:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5-7). They were not made by the scriptures, which were not there in the beginning but were themselves written later by people.
Moses spoke of the Word of God when he said to the people of Israel:
"For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." (Deut. 30:11-14)
Moses was not speaking of the scriptures, for even the Old Testament had not yet been compiled; he did not mean only the words he himself had just spoken, for he knew that he was soon to die, and that his spoken words would not long be near the people. He did not even mean the tablets of the commandments kept in the ark, because stone tablets could not be in the hearts and mouths of the people. Moses meant the eternal Word of God, through which all things were created, which had come to him on Mt. Sinai, and which he now said was in the hearts of all the people of Israel as he urged them to hear it and do it.
The Word of God, what God speaks, has come to people in various ways (Heb. 1:1). The Word which was with God in the beginning and by which all things were created, of which Moses spoke, is the same Word which God spoke to Abraham, telling him to leave his home, to the other patriarchs, and to all the prophets, who prophesied only by the Word (Is. 2:1; Jer. 1:2; Ezek. 1:3; Micah 1:1; Hag. 1:1; and others).
John continues:
"He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of men, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (Jn. 1:10- 14)
This same Word, which was with God from the beginning, which Moses said was in the heart and mouth of the people of Israel, which was spoken to the prophets, was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. (See also Heb. 1:1- 3.) Jesus taught "as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mt. 7:29), who taught the scriptures. He had in his very person the authority carried only by the Word of God. When he spoke his teaching was the Word of God in him, the good news of the Kingdom which God had sent him to proclaim and which he embodied (Lk. 4:43). When "the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God" (Lk. 5:1) it was to hear this message he preached, not just the scriptures, which they could hear read in the synagogues every sabbath day. The seed which he was sowing and which his disciples are to sow and which will grow in the hearts of those who keep it is the Word of God (Lk. 8:11-15).
Jesus does not use the phrase "word of God" to refer to the scriptures. Usually, he says, "as it is written," or an equivalent phrase, when he is quoting scripture (Mt. 4:1-11; 11:10; 21:13; 26:31; Mk. 7:6; 11:17; 14:27; and others). Sometimes he says as it was "spoken of by the prophet" (Mt. 24:15; Mk. 13:14), or refers to "all that the prophets have spoken" (Lk. 24:25). Sometimes he simply uses the word "scriptures" (Mt. 21:42; 22:29; 26:56; Mk. 12:10, 24; etc.)
When Jesus uses the phrase "word of God" to refer to something in the scriptures, it is clear from the context that he means the word God spoke to someone, not the entire collection of scriptures. For example, when he accuses the Pharisees of "making the word of God of none effect" (Mk. 7:13) the word of God means the specific commandment God spoke to Moses: "Honour thy father and thy mother," which Jesus has just quoted. When Jesus says, "Have ye not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" (Mt. 22:31-32) he is referring to the words God spoke to Moses (Ex. 3:6) and which Moses passed on to the people of Israel and later to the descendants of his contemporaries in the written account of the incident. He does not mean that the entire body of the scriptures was spoken by God; over and over he says that they were written by Moses or by the prophets, as the case may be (Lk. 5:14; 20:37; 20:42; 24:44; Mt. 8:4; 19:3-9; Jn. 7:22). Even in the other two accounts of this saying (Lk. 20:27-40; Mk. 12:18-27) Jesus credits Moses with having written of what God told him.
Jesus warned that the scriptures are not sufficient to assure the presence of God's Word:
"And The Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." (Jn. 5:37-40)
There is no evidence that after the end of his life in the flesh Jesus Christ ceased to be the Word of God personified and became instead merely an interpreter of the scripture, or someone who spoke only through the apostles and prophets. Hebrews 13:8 states "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." It is true that Jesus interpreted the Scriptures to his followers after his resurrection (Lk. 24:27, 45), but he also spoke to them in other ways. He dealt with their needs on a personal basis, comforting Mary Magdalene, who was afraid (Mt. 28:10; Jn. 20:15-18), proving that he was alive to Thomas, who doubted (Jn. 20:26-29), telling Peter not to be jealous of the beloved disciple who was to live longer (Jn. 21:21-22). He gave a specific commandment to some of his disciples who were fishing, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find" (Jn. 21:6). He carried on a rather lengthy conversation with Peter in which he told him of future events and admonished Peter to follow him (Jn. 21:15-19). He told his disciples, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Mt. 28:18), and he reassured them by saying "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Mt. 28:20).
Christ's power was not diminished after his resurrection. From the time of the resurrection (Jn. 20:22) or at least from the day of Pentecost, until and including the present time, the Word which is Christ has lived in the hearts of his disciples, who hear him speak, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah:
"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:33-34)
On the day of Pentecost Peter said:
"But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." (Acts 2:16-18)
It is said over and over in the New Testament that the Word of God lives in God's people. 1 John develops this concept: ". . . and the word of God abideth in you . . ." 1 Jn. 2:14). "And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us" (1 Jn. 3:24). "Hereby we know that we dwell in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit" (1 Jn. 4:13). The Word of God which lives in Christ's followers is none other than Christ and his Spirit. Many passages confirm that Christ lives in Spirit in his disciples (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 4:6; 3:27; Eph. 3:17, 20; Phil. 2:13; Col. 3:11).
The word is said to have powers which clearly belong to Christ and his Spirit. Paul says to the elders of the church at Ephesus, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). Paul says to the Colossians, "I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God" (Col. 1:25). He goes on to say that the word of God is "the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints" (Col. 1:26), and that this mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach" (Col. 1:27-28). Later in the same letter Paul says "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16). To the Ephesians Paul says "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17). The letter to the Hebrews says:
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb. 4:12)
Here the word clearly means Christ, for the next verse says, "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13, emphasis mine) and it is Christ, not the scripture, who is a person to be referred to by the pronouns "him" and "whom." The book of Hebrews is harsh with those who have fallen into apostasy after having acknowledged the power of the Word which is Christ:
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." (Heb. 6:4-6)
James writes of "the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21). It is written in the book of 1 Peter, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23; see also James 1:18). We are born again of the Spirit of Christ, not of the scriptures (Jn. 3:1-8)
In the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the phrase "word of God" is sometimes used to mean the good news about God's kingdom which Jesus was sent to preach. In the other New Testament books, especially Acts, it is used in a similar way, to refer to the same good news which the disciples were now preaching as they told of the resurrection, as well as to refer to Christ who was commanding them to preach it. Acts 5 tells how the disciples were beaten and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus. Acts 5:42 says "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ." Then when they were resolving the problem of how to distribute food to the Grecian widows, they said, "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables" (Acts 6:2), and "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). In these verses "the word" is the news of Christ's resurrection. We have just been told that the disciples "ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ," and it would make no sense for "the word" to mean the scriptures. Acts 6:7 tells us "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly." This does not mean that the scriptures increased, but that many heard and believed the gospel being preached. There are many other examples: "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them" (Acts 8:4-5).
"Now they which were scattered abroad upon to Christ, many of them believed the word, but the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:19-20). "But the word of God grew and multiplied" (Acts 12:24). "And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews" (Acts 13:5. In Acts 13 it is after the customary reading of the law and the prophets, the scripture, that Paul preached the word of God which the whole city gathered to hear again the next sabbath (Acts 13:15-16, 44). "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" (Acts 19:20).
In Acts 17:11 a clear distinction is made between the scriptures and the word of God. The Jews at Berea are said to have received the word (which Paul and Silas brought them) eagerly, searching the scriptures (the Old Testament which they had had long before Paul and Silas had come) daily to see whether or not it testified to the word. Since the scriptures, including the Old Testament, do testify the word is not identified with the scriptures.
The letters to Timothy were written at a late date. They give more importance to the scriptures than do earlier New Testament books (2 Tim. 3:15-16). Even in these books and in the similar letter to Titus, however, the scriptures are not called the Word of God. Given the way the phrase is used elsewhere in the Bible, there is no reason to assume that the exhortation "Preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2), the statement that God "hath in due times manifested his word through preaching" (Tit. 1:3), and the description of the bishop as "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught" (Tit. 1:9) are based on any meaning for "word" besides Christ and the gospel preached about him by his disciples. Nor is there any reason to propose a different meaning when Titus is admonished to speak "the things which become sound doctrine . . . that the word of God be not blasphemed" (Tit. 2:1, 5).
The book of Revelation continues to use the phrase "Word of God" in the way that the other New Testament books have used it. John has been exiled to Patmos because of "the word of God" (Rev. 1:9), that is, for preaching Christ. Later John says of the symbolic figure of Christ on the white horse, ". . . and his name is called The Word of God" (Rev. 19:13).
God's Word was, is, and always shall be with God. God created all things through his Word. His Word was spoken to the patriarchs. Moses said that the Word of God was in the hearts and mouths of the people of Israel; this same Word came to the prophets. God sent his Word to earth in the human form of his Son, Jesus Christ, who preached that Word and personified it, who lived in the flesh and died on the cross and was raised to life. That same Word of God now sits on the right hand of God and speaks in the hearts of Christ's followers and will judge all things. There is no scriptural basis for the claim that the Bible is the Word of God, for the scriptures do not exalt themselves, but they testify to Christ. From time immemorial people have tried to fit God into forms that they could touch, hold, study, classify, and finally control. People are still trying to do this by clinging to the unscriptural view that the Word of God is a book.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Quaker Meeting for Business

We had a Meeting for Business at church today, or, to use the full Quaker nomenclature, Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business.  I am always amazed by the transparency and care and spirituality of it.  The goal is not to arrive at consensus, but to listen together and discern how the Spirit is leading.  The end result (beside getting business done within a worshipful context) is a deepened sense of faith and community--that God is present and at work in our midst.

"New book says you can be a good Christian and gay."

Of course you can.

Excerpt:  "There are two profound, foundational pillars in his book that every Christian who has ever tried to understand this issue should come to grips with as soon as possible. They will, I believe, enlighten the issue much as earlier debates about slavery in the Bible were debated and resolved over time.

These two pillars should end forever the biblical debate about whether same-sex relationships are a sin in the eyes of God.

The first pillar is this. It has become abundantly clear and undisputed in recent years - even to “ex-gay” Christian ministries – that sexual orientation cannot be changed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s learned, or inherited, or some combination of the two. Your sexual orientation doesn’t change. If you are attracted to the same sex, that’s who you are. No amount of training, or coaching, or counseling can change this fact.

The second pillar follows from this. Since sexual orientation cannot be changed, non-affirming Christian churches tell people who are gay that they must remain celibate for the entirety of their lives. It is not a gift, or a choice, as the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament – but a mandatory prison sentence. And this, as Matthew makes clear in his book, is wrong.

The Bible does not condemn anyone to a life of celibacy. It is always a gift or a choice – not a prison sentence. Anything that forces someone into a lifelong, companionless existence cannot, on its face, be considered to be “of God.” It really is that simple."


Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no involvement with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
But they could not take your pride.