Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

Archive for the tag “Jesus”

Time to Misbehave

Let me start with this disclaimer: In the words of Captain Mal Reynolds, “I aim to misbehave.” So if that bothers you, read no further.

You can accuse me of overreacting but the resent ban on refuges is the worst possible thing that our president could have done. If we as a people, allow this to stand we are in grave danger. As I have made the case in a previous blog, the sacred writings of the Jewish and Christian peoples abound with warning form God to protect those in danger and aid those in need or he will get pissed. Toppling of kingdoms level pissed. For those of you who are God fearing people (Jewish, Christian or Muslim) this should terrify you.

If you are not God fearing people, you should mock those of us who claim to be if we do not react to this. Any inaction on the part of those proclaiming to believe in God is true validation to you that we are nothing but a pile of hypocrites. Or at best a bunch of mindless idiots who have sold our souls for the safety of group think.

I feel the hymn Rise Up O Men of God fits this moment.

Rise up o men of God

in one united throng

bring in the day of brotherhood

and end the night of wrong

We need to rise up. We cannot remain silent when something this egregious happens in our land. The consequences are too dire to stay silent.

Shame on me for not raising this call in the heat of Black Lives Matter, for not screaming louder about Standing Rock. Both of which fall in the same category of what makes God pissed.

But this latest move scares me. Truly scares me. I hope it scares you too.

So much of Jesus’s teachings revolve around caring for those in need. He even states he came to preach good news to the poor and to free captives. If this is not core to what we are doing as people proclaiming to follow him, trying to be like him, then we are taking the name of Christ in vain.

I believe that an approach to God and faith must come from an inclusive place. It must start that all are equally loved by God. If my understanding of Christian theology does not start with Christ dying for everyone, then it falls apart completely. If ALL are loves and ALL have been redeemed, the ALL must mean ALL. Including my Muslim friends and brothers. They cannot be excluded. They cannot be cast out.

Jesus’s directives to are for those in need have no qualifiers. It is not limited to North American Christians. It is to anyone in need. Especially refugees. Even Muslims.

If any of you want to call this nation a Christian nation yet refuse to allow Muslims in, you have ceased to have Christian nation.

In face of this move by our president, I call to you who call on the name of God, in the name of God to push back against this. Our God desires we side with the oppressed. The founders of this nation have provided us the means to prevent our government from trampling us. Use your voice. Use your pen. Use your computer. Let those in power know this cannot stand.

Mario Savio stated my sentiment well.:

  • There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

When reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it astounded me as it did him, how little people responded to the actions of Hitler once in power. So much passivity lead to so much anguish. We can’t let the same happen here. If we remain quiet, it will.

Don’t passively let our government perpetuate hatred. Rise up people of God. Proclaim freedom for the captives. Chose brotherhood over oppression. Join me, and misbehave.

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Gone Fishin’

The sacred writings of my people contain a story about a fisherman who spends all night trying to make a catch. He needs this. Fishing is his profession, his livelihood. This is how he feeds his family, how he makes the money he needs to care for them. The night has been a bust. Exhaustion and discouragement wash over him.

Then some guy ln the shore, a layman, not a professional, tells him to try again, but on the other side of the boat. The fisherman does. He drops his net in the water on the other side of his boat. This time the nets fills up so much he cannot bring his net in.

This is his first encounter with the incarnate God. What would have happened had he not dropped his net again?

For me the idea of trying again when things get difficult is, well difficult. I give up quite easily. I once was known for my perseverance. Not my hallmark any longer. But even at my best, I don’t think I would have fared well in this story.

There gets a point where it becomes obvious nothing is happening here; nothing is going to change. Repeating the process lacks appeal. The old saying surfaces: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Does perseverance equate to insanity? Is giving up really wisdom?

I struggle with this. Never give up shaped much of my life. Only losers surrender. Go down fighting. Don’t be a quitter.

Except, quitting my cola addiction would be a major success.

I have pushed on and fought for many a thing that wasn’t worth it. Some early girlfriends should have been left long before the final breakup. I should have moved on from some jobs before I finally did. But, instead, I stuck with it.

But when things get the level this fisherman dealt with, I would nave stopped. During my long wasteland of unemployment, it got to the point that I submitted resumes because it was the thing you do each day, like taking a shower or using the toilet. I held no hope that anything good would come from it. In fact, using the toilet had more value. This is the closest I can relate to doing what this dude did. There were so many days that I wouldn’t try again.

I know quite a few people who sell for a living. Everything is a bout the next call. So what if the last didn’t go well. Make the next call. They just keep putting the net back in the water, knowing it will payoff.

Is this faith? Is it trust in their product or service? In their ability to make a sale? In the knowledge that they will succeed only about ten percent of the time and trust that it will eventually average out?

Or is it insanity that works?

I’ve been told that you haven’t tried to publish if you haven’t been rejected 35 times. Why 35? why not 36? I don’t know. But for whatever reason that’s the magic number to define actually trying or not. Well, I tried. Over and over.

At what point is putting the net back in the water insanity? At what point is just trying one more sale knowing that I only need one to pay off?

Water drips onto and runs off a rock. The rock is immovable. The water flows off. By the definition of doing things over and over, this is insanity. But, erosion is a long, slow process. That water, given enough time, will change that rock, will wear it away.

Perhaps faith, hope and courage all fall in the crazy side of life. Perhaps quitting is the safest thing. Perhaps society wants us to just fall in line.

Putting my net back in the water feels pointless. Why try again? Why submit another manuscript? Why book another performance?

But what if pointlessness is the point? What if trying again, even if it won’t work, is the whole point. Maybe faith and hope and courage exist in those moments. Maybe they are slowly eroding my fear, my sloth, my depression, lack of life. Maybe a little life seeps back in with each try.

What if putting the net back in the water is the only way to embrace life. What if putting the net back in the water is the only way to engage an incarnate god.

Maybe it takes a little insanity to make life make sense, make it worth living. Maybe giving the finger to failure keeps it at bay.

Try to resuscitate that dream.

Wrath of a Merciful God

For years various Christians, some claiming to be prophets, have warned of God’s wrath falling on America because of our immorality. We have been very, very naughty and we need to be spanked. You know, in a righteous, not sexy way. No fetish indulgence here.

But is immorality truly the America’s worst sin? If God were to punish us, would that be the reason?

By my reading of scripture, it seems the two things that seem to piss of God more than anything else, and I mean, really piss him off to the degree to bring famine or economic collapse or invasion by enemy armies, that top two does not include immorality.

The things that made God lash out at his chosen people, seem to be idolatry – placing other gods ahead of him, and injustice – not caring for the poor, the needy, the outcast, the destitute. The stories in scripture where God lashes out stem from these.

Scripture teems with calls to care for those with less. Typically this comes as providing food to the hungry, but this has far more manifestations. Those with are expected to share with those without. If you have food and someone doesn’t, share. If you have power and someone else does not, protect them. If you have strength and they are weak, use that strength to help. Freely dispense your wisdom, knowledge and justice.

The real struggle of this roots itself in personal wealth. Conceptually we may agree with this but to actually take my money and give it to someone else is hard. It seems like it’s hard to give away my food. Yet I throw food away. As a nation, we throw out an obscene amount of wasted food. But I feel like I don’t have abundance to share, that my margin is too slim for real generosity.

Fatherhood taught me a lot about justice. It is not making sure that both have the same number of cookies, although that can be part of it. It is holding and comforting the one that has been hurt. It is redirecting the one who has hurt the other. It is teaching them to share and take turns. It is teaching them to help each other.

And, from the place of power and abundance, it is me lifting them to places they can’t get. It is me preparing meals, or providing food. From my excess, I meet their needs.

According to Christian and Jewish scriptures, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. This only second to loving God. Basically these two commandments sum up the triggers to God’s ire. When asked, Jesus defined neighbors, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan; his response stood religion and cultural convention on its head.

Jesus wants us to love those we chose to reject, those we despise and deride the most. He expects us to love and serve those we would reject if they tried to help us. As a society, we do not do this. In the wake of the election, it appears that much of our nation is running the opposite direction from this.

If there is any reason for God to kick America’s ass, it is the lack of justice. Racism runs rampant. Poverty continues to grow. LGBTQ people still suffer abuse, hate and violence. My friends of Mexican descent now fear being deported, even if they are citizens. We stand on the brink of repeating the sins of the Nazis by registering Muslims. Collectively we fear helping refugees from war torn countries more than we fear the repercussions of rejecting them.

America used to be the land of opportunity. For everyone. Just like the words on the statue of liberty proclaim, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Now, America is only the land of opportunity for the privileged.

This is a land of abundance. A land of wealth. A land of power.

And a land of injustice.

We should be terrified that God might call us into account for that imbalance. Many want to call the United States a Christian nation but we are not. A land that so blatantly and arrogantly dismisses those in need and Christ’s teachings about that cannot call themselves his people. That would be taking his name in vain. For those of you who aren’t aware, that’s early on in the list of big bad things not to do. Jesus said we can experience forgiveness to the degree we are ready to dispense it. What if the same is true of mercy?

If it is, we are in a world of hurt.

Hero Complex

I found myself in the uber nerd cars of the train on my way home Friday. Two guys discussed the merits of Superman. I dislike Superman. He bores me. Too much power, no real risk. Not much of a story. In fact I yawned typing that.

But these guys love Superman. For them the greatness of the story lies in his inability to save everyone. He can’t be beaten but he fails. And that drives him nuts, that he can’t save everyone.

A couple thoughts raced though my mind as I listened to this.

First, if am bored by limitless power, if that seems unattractive to me does that have any implications on my relationship with God. Am I bored with him?

I find myself fascinated with God and frequently surprised by him. Every miracle I experience or hear about feels like an amazing story. Maybe that’s because I hear it form the perspective of the people in need, and there is definite risk on their side of the event. But it never seems boring.

The other thought was how often I use the idea that I can’t help everyone for a excuse to help no one. There are too many problems in the world. Far too many people are in trouble. It seems that limitless resources, time and manpower wouldn’t be enough to deal with them all. If I help one, I feel guilty that I didn’t help the others. Better to be paralyzed in shame than wallow in guilt.

I have no idea how many people I pass in a day that ask me for money. Typically I don’t have cash so I am unable to help. If I do give some to one person, the next I meet feels more needy. If I give to one, I immediately wonder what addiction I am supporting. If I don’t give, I wonder if they truly will starve tonight.

I know all the strategies of offering to give the food or train ticket or whatever it is that they say they need money for rather than the money. And I know the prevalence of addictions in homeless people. That’s not the point.

This isn’t about judging the worthiness of the recipient. It is about the inundation of needs.

Last week, I wrote about imagining a better world and the end of poverty and homelessness. Selecting a starting point seems confusing, hard, overwhelming.

Today’s verse of the day, delivered to my mailbox told me that it is a sin not do what you know is right. But there is so much that I can do but I can’t do it all. I feel like Superman, feeling like a failure for not doing it all. I sin constantly in not doing all the right I see needing to be done.

I struggle each day with choosing to do something. Something is better than nothing. Since I can’t do everything, something is better than everything too.

Jesus said that anytime we help anyone, we are doing it to him too. Anything. That’s each something we do. Thankfully he didn’t say we only help him when we do everything. Just anything.

Tomorrow, I will look for something. I will not be paralyzed everything. I challenge you to find something too.

Theoretical Magicians

I just started reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Magic was once practiced widely. Then some magicians began documenting what they did. Others then started commenting on what they learned from those documented accounts. Then others started writing histories from the documented accounts and the commentaries on the documented accounts. Still others ended up writing commentaries on the histories and commentaries that came before them. Fewer and fewer people actually practiced magic because all their energy was spent learning about what had happened, the right way to do things and more importantly, the right way to document and discuss magic. It became a purely academic pursuit.

Imagine if the same thing happened in our world with medical studies. If fewer and fewer people actually practiced medicine or researched medical advances, if doctors only studied medicine.

Or engineers only studied their craft but never experimented or created.

Or if theologians only studied works by other theologians and histories of people living out their faith. And if those theologians only learned about faith but never lived it. Oh, wait, that one is real. I’m doubt Susanna Clark the author of that novel intended this direct comparison but it seemed quite obvious to me.

In her story, a magician starts questioning why they don’t actually do magic and gets ridiculed. These things don’t happen anymore. The proper approach to magic is academic study of not the vulgar practice of actually doing magic. Then someone shows up who actually does magic and ruins everything for those who are convinced that their academic experience is the only experience.

When John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches started asking questions, he faced similar resistance. He wanted to know why we don’t do the stuff Jesus did. Why don’t Christians (followers of Christ), practice the things he did – healing people, casting out demons, raising the dead? Armies of theologians rose to explain that these things don’t happen any more. A good Christians studies accounts of these things in the past; they don’t make a mockery of their faith by trying to live it out.

The Vineyard movement was born out of people doing the stuff while others were telling them not to. They certainly weren’t the only ones doing it, but it was what they did and who they were.

I personally experienced this when I helped get some of Wimber’s books translated into Turkish.  Word got to a church in England that books about God healing people were being distributed for free in Turkey. They immediately reacted by getting a book translated into Turkish that proved that miracles no longer happen. They needed to block this heresy. In the meantime, the pastor of the church distributing the books arrived each morning to find people lined up around the block waiting to get healed, to have demons expelled, to see God do something powerful and personal in their lives.

These people in turkey accepted things like miracles, healing and demons. They fit their world view. Their experience and expectations allowed for the supernatural to play out in their everyday lives.

In Shakespeare in Love, Geoffrey Rush plays Phillip Henslowe who keeps insisting that the play will take place despite everything stacked against it. When questioned how he knows it will happen, he states, “I don’t know; it’s a mystery.” No one felt too comforted by this. They all wanted more certain answers, assurances that things will have specific, defined outcomes.

I think that situations like Wimber’s questions, the reaction to teaching Turkish people to expect miracles, the desire to see practical magic tend to push against that feeling of control. If we do not have clearly defined measurable results or expectations, we can’t know if things worked.

The preference of theoretical rather than practical pursuits of theology and magic desires controlled output. People feel safer with that. If someone starts actually doing magic, that causes problems.

If people in Turkey start experiencing miracles, much of merely academic theology becomes questionable.

Where is the practice? The real? The amazing?

I’m like that kid in The Incredibles waiting for something amazing to happen. I want the practical rather than the theoretical. If that is you too, start looking for it. Start asking the questions of why we don’t see it. Open your eyes to see if you can find the eternal in the everyday, if you can find the miraculous in the mundane.

Jesus promised that those who seek will find. Take a shot a t seeking and see what you find.

My Lord

I know many Christians that serve God because they know he is powerful and that he is going to win. They don’t seem to particularly like him. Their description of God makes it sound like he at best tolerates them. Love isn’t really part of the equation. They say he loves them but the practical application of their faith doesn’t demonstrate that. It seems like they are betting on what they think is the winning side with the expectation that things will go better for them if they do.

God gets portrayed as a taskmaster, or at least a mean boss. He will reward good work. Maybe. He definitely will punish shoddy work. It is almost as if the purpose of serving such a God is to avoid being fired. Or stuck by lightening. Fear is the driving force relationally, not love.

And if this truly is God, then perhaps there is logic in trying to be on the winning side. You’d hate to be punished by such a God. After all, the wrath incurred for failing to serve him well can’t be as bad as that for opposing him. Can it?

Obviously, I am exaggerating the extent to which people serve God like this, but when fear drives the relationship rather than love such an exaggeration is not that far away. It is the way a victim stays in an abusive relationship. As wrong as that is when it’s two humans, isn’t it worse when the abuser is supposed to be all-knowing, all-loving and divine?

The best picture I can think of to this approach to God comes from Harry Potter. This is the way Voldemort’s servants respond to him. They fear him. Often, they hate him but he is the most powerful being in their world. He is the one they expect to win. Best to side with him than oppose him. As vindictive as he is, the punishments he will one day dole out will be horrendous. When his evil reign ensues, his friends will be ill-treated but not as ill-treated as his enemies.

What a lousy platform for faith. I don’t want a Voldemort for my lord. Jesus speaks of God being a loving father. I sometimes struggle to understand what that metaphor means, but I much prefer it to the mean boss.

I have to think God would much prefer not to be treated as Voldemort as well. I wouldn’t want people to think that of me, no matter how much power I could derive from it. If God truly is the fullest manifestation of love, then this has to tick him off. Love wants to be freely received and freely returned. Fear driving a relationship can never get to this place. God wants us to know him as loving, to engage him as loving, to wallow in his love. That is the lord I desire.

Further Defining Faith

I got some comments that defined faith more as an overall belief in something spiritual, whatever anyone’s favorite flavor of that might be. I appreciate those comments as they made me think a bit about why I chose the faith that I did. At some point in this discussion, I plan to delve more into that. But I want to dig deeper than just a belief system. How does that belief system become part of our lives? Can it become something that matters, not just a label that helps define my world view to someone else?
Perhaps I need to start by defining what I’m not doing here. I am not propagating a prosperity gospel. I have seen the health and wealth, name it claim it stuff up close and it makes me sick. I have a hard time reconciling that theology with my understanding of Christian scriptures and specifically Jesus’ teachings. So as I purse trying to understand faith, it is not this kind of faith that says that if we simply believe hard enough Jesus will grant all my wishes.
That said, what can faith really do? Jesus promised mountains moving if we have the faith. I have a hard time picturing that, even with metaphoric mountains. So, how can I close that gap between what I say I believe and what I believe in reality? How can I learn to expect mountains to move? Or should I let that go?

Defining Faith

So, I’ve been pondering this one for awhile and I feel like I’m a long way from figuring it out. Chime in if you have insight.
When I first watched The Matrix, the fact that Neo’s understanding of his world within the Matrix was shaped by what he believed about the Matrix. Or more bluntly, as he truly believed he could manipulate his world he actually began to.
The Last Airbender brought this back to mind for me. Not that Airbender is anywhere as good a movie as The Matrix, but they play with some common themes. The scene toward the end where Ang shows the “might of water” especially made that connection. A couple scenes before, the fact that the waterbenders weren’t fighting that way disturbed me. They let the battle become worse than it needed to be.
This moments always bring me back to spirituality and the way faith interacts with our experience of the world and God. Jesus tells us that we can move mountains by telling them to get out of the way. Even metaphorically that is bigger than most of us can ever grasp. We are so far from Neo, from Ang.

So how do we get there? How do we find that kind of faith?

Further Indictments of the Church

Eric Adams’ Lackluster World poses a very interesting question: where were you the day you died? The point is that death is when we cease to live. The view off his main character, Fahrenheit is that we have all ceased to live. Or more precisely that we are not truly alive.
I have often said that I think zombie stories are a great metaphor for modern America. The idea of people no longer living, shambling along through their “lives” fits most people I know. It fits me at times. It’s like Thoreau said, we are living lives of quiet desperation. At times, we wake up and rage against this but we so often float back into the zombie like trance of existence.
Part of Lackluster World is a bit disturbing in that the people Fahrenheit (and I think Adams) rages against most are the Christians in his life. They are disgustingly buoyant, like fluffy clouds of giddy bliss. But for all their happiness, they are no more alive than anyone else in Fahrenheit’s world. They too are mindless zombies.
On one hand, the idea of the undead being a symbol of Christians is completely incomprehensible. Most of the demonic personification of the undead in our culture was shaped by Christian ideals of what is evil and what is holy. Yet at the same time, one Christian theme is that those who are born again, were once dead, that there is some power of life beyond the death that we experience as existence. Should there be more of a connection between those who live beyond the grave and the Christian life that many claim to lead? Or are zombies – mindless, lifeless monsters – closer to the truth of the typical Christian life?
The truly disturbing part about this is that here is another indictment of the Church that seems to have merit. Once again, Christians are being accused of not truly living and there is little evidence to the contrary. As countercultural and as radical as Jesus was, not many of his followers seem to live like that. Where is the abundant life that Jesus promised his followers? They should be more alive, if Jesus is right. Is he wrong? Or are they (we) failing to grasp what he meant? Failing to move into what we have available to us?
I have to ponder, though, is this a classic situation where those who hold a faith cannot be objective about it, but those who look at a faith from the outside cannot truly comprehend it because they don’t grasp it? As an insider of Christianity I often wish that many of the others on the inside weren’t on the inside. Or perhaps, more precisely, I don’t want to be in their inside. But maybe I’m not. Maybe they don’t include me in their group.
But what makes me think that I know or understand Jesus any better than they do? I certainly don’t. I have no way of knowing that I know Jesus any better. I just know that I don’t like the product that they’re selling. Doesn’t make me any better. Just different.
So maybe Lackluster World is right. Maybe Christians are just the blinded-by-bliss zombies of the world. Maybe I’m just the most cynical of them.

There’s Something in my Eye

“I started my day in the usual way, looking through a two by four.” That’s a line form a song by King’s X. It kept popping into mind as my pastor talked about Jesus’ teaching on judging others and how love is the antidote to that. It’s so easy not to see we are judging since it is so part of our “normal” life, our daily routine. In fact, it’s easy to let the two by four become who we are or part of who we are anyway.

Many, many years ago, a Christian comedy group called Isaac Airfreight did a fun bit with this where the kept bonking each others heads every time they turned or moved because of the boards sticking out of their faces. And the best part is that they each blamed the other person for knocking into their board. Again, as we let the judgments become part of who we are, it’s easy to blame others for “making” us judge them. We are so reticent to be wrong that we can’t see that it’s the judgment that is wrong. 

A friend of mine once told me, “My judgments of others are more about me than they are about them.” It’s like the people bonking into our boards. The issue is more about our board than them bumping into them.  We have to look at what’s happening with us when this happens.

Now, with that said, we have to remember that sometimes certain people trigger us more than others. My pastor frequently reminds us of the spiritual warfare against us, the enemy’s attempts to prevent us from growing closer to God. This enemy knows our weaknesses and our greatest hurts. He knows how to launch strategic attacks that trigger me and then offer me the opportunity to hurt you too.

This is why we need to call on Jesus to help us get the two by four out of our eye. Only as this happens can we separate the judgment from ourselves and find freedom. As this happens we can learn to love as Jesus wants us too. And we can gain the vision to discern when we are being hurt and how that can be healed rather than defensively lash back at those who hurt us because they bonk into our two by four. Again, this is another step toward loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Just like Jesus wants.

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