TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

28 July 2017

The king’s English.

How to properly speak in Elizabethan English.

A lot of Christians—myself included—are big fans of the King James Version of the bible. A lot of ’em even worship the KJV, but let’s not go there today.

When I was a kid I memorized a lot of verses in this particular translation. As I got older my churches and AWANA preferred the New International Version, so I’ve got a hodgepodge of translations in my brain. But I like the KJV, and still quote it regularly. Often because I prefer the way they translated a verse; often because I like the old-timey English. To a lot of people it sounds formal and authoritative. I just think it sounds cool.

The KJV was first published in 1611, but the language it uses was old-timey even then. It’s English as it was spoken in the 1500s; arguably even the 1400s. Some verses are no different from the way William Tyndale originally translated the New Testament in 1525. They weren’t striving for English as it was spoken—unlike modern translators like me. They were striving for formal, historical, classical English. Problem is, language evolves. English especially. In the four centuries since the KJV was published, some of those words significantly changed meaning. That’s part of the reason we need to retranslate the bible on a regular basis: The scriptures never need updating, but the English definitely does.

Still, many Christians love the Elizabethan-era English—the stuff I call “the king’s English”—in the King James. And sometimes try to use it themselves. Like in prayers: They love to pray King James style. Makes it sound formal. So whenever they address God, it’s all “thee” and “thou.”

Three problems with the way they do this:

  • They barely know the current rules of grammar, so of course they Darn straight they mangle the Elizabethan rules. They get the pronouns and verbs wrong all the time.
  • They think “thou” is the formal way of saying the familiar “you.” It’s actually the other way round. “Thou” was how you addressed friends and family; “you” was how you addressed nobles and superiors. Just like French’s tu and vous, or Spanish’s tu and usted. Regardless, it’s entirely proper to address God with the familiar “thou.” He’s our Father, remember?
  • Speaking of tu in Spanish and French: That’s actually the proper way people in 1611 pronounced “thou.” It rhymes with “you.”

I should point out the KJV doesn’t actually do formal address. Read it again: Everybody gets addressed as “thou.” Slaves and kings, employees and bosses, prophets and pagans, God and the devil: Everybody gets the same pronoun. “You” is only used for plurals. The KJV never bothered to use formal pronouns, because there’s no such thing as a formal pronoun in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Technically, English ditched the informal pronoun and addresses everyone formally. Kinda as a compliment; like how “ladies and gentlemen” addresses everybody, not just nobles. “Thee,” “thou,” and “thy” faded out of use; even Quakers (who used to address everybody with familiar pronouns, because we’re all equal in God’s eyes—which used to really bug nobles) don’t bother to use “thee” and “thou” anymore. The formal pronoun became our only pronoun.

But since old-timey prayers and psalms address God as “thou,” Christians leapt to the conclusion that’s special language for how to address God, and thus the formal and informal pronouns swapped places.

If you wanna still use “thou” to address God, of course he doesn’t mind. And if you wanna speak the rest of your king’s English properly… well, you’ve come to the right place.

27 July 2017

Jesus is returning. Sooner than you think.

If not for everyone, at least for you personally.

Immediacy /ɪ'mi.di.ə.si/ n. Bringing one into direct, instant involvement with something. (Usually including a sense of urgency or excitement.)
2. Christian doctrine that Christ Jesus is returning at any time.
[Immediacist /ɪ'mi.di.ə.sɪst/ adj.]

I don’t know when Jesus will return.

Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Neither did Jesus, Mk 13.32 although some Christians are mighty sure he found out after he ascended to heaven. And occasionally some nutjob will claim the Father told them when it’s gonna happen, and use the occasion to whip gullible Christians into a frenzy, and get ’em to join their death cult or something. All of them have been, and will be, lying. Because Jesus said that info is none of our business. Ac 1.7

But we do know Jesus is coming back. It’s part of orthodox Christianity, y’know. Like the Apostles Creed has it, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Technically any Christian who thinks Jesus isn’t returning is a heretic. Doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; just means they’ve gone wrong.

A big part of knowing Jesus is coming back, is knowing he can return at any time. And if we’re not watching for it, he’ll return at a time we don’t expect him at all. That’s why he warned us to stay awake and watch for it. Mk 13.37 Don’t let him take you by surprise!

Luke 12.35-48 KWL
35 “Be people whose toolbelts are on, whose lamps are burning.
36 You should be like people waiting for their own master when he returns from weddings:
He arrives, knocks, and they can quickly unlock the door for him.
37 These slaves are awesome. The returning master will find them alert.
Amen, I promise you the master will put on a towel and have them recline to eat,
and he’ll come in to serve them.
38 Even at the second hour after sunrise, even at the third, he can come and find them ready.
These slaves are awesome.
39 You should know: If the homeowner knew what time the burglar came,
he’d never permit him to break into his house.
40 You be ready: The Son of Man comes at the time you don’t expect.”
41 Simon Peter said, “Master, are you saying this parable for us or for everyone?”
42 Master Jesus said, It’s to whoever’s a faithful, wise butler.
The master puts the butler over his waiters, giving them their trays at the right times.
43 This slave is awesome when the master, coming to the butler, will find them doing this job.
44 I tell you the truth: The master will put the butler in charge of everything.
45 But when this slave says in their mind, ‘My master delays in coming,’
and might start beating the boys and girls, or eating, drinking, and getting drunk,
46 that slave’s master will come on a day they don’t expect, at a time they don’t know,
and will cut them down to size, and assign them a position with the unreliable slaves.
47 That slave who knew their master’s will, and didn’t prepare, nor do his will: They’ll get skinned.
48 The one who didn’t know, who did what deserved a smack: They’ll get skinned a little.
To everyone who’s given much, much is sought from them.
To those with much set before them, more will be asked back.”

Much of the reason Jesus hasn’t returned yet, is because he’s giving the world a chance to repent before he returns. 2Pe 3.9 Take advantage of this time: Get right with God. Because once Jesus does return, time’s up. 2Pe 3.10

26 July 2017

The rosary: Meditation… oh, and prayers to Mary.

Why you don’t see a lot of Protestants pray rosaries.

A reader asked me about rosaries. I gotta admit I don’t have a lot of experience with ’em, ’cause it’s a Roman Catholic tradition—and I grew up Fundamentalist, and Fundies are hugely anti-Catholic. Many Evangelical Protestants are wary of Catholics too; either way they don’t do rosaries.

A rosary is a super-long series of rote prayers. How you keep track of which prayer you’re on, is usually with a strand of rosary beads. (People tend to refer to the beads as the rosary, but that’s not quite accurate.) Anyway, you pray a different prayer, or sequence of prayers, for each bead.

The reason Protestants aren’t so familiar with rosaries, is because the bulk of the prayers are to Jesus’s mother, Mary the Nazarene. The most frequent prayer in a rosary, prayed from 50 to 150 times, is the Ave Maria/“Hail Mary.” Goes like so.

Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Lk 1.28
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Lk 1.42
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

Whereas few Protestants pray to saints. Yeah okay, some of us talk to dead loved ones, and hope God passes our messages along to them. But to Jesus’s family members and first apostles? Or the church’s official saints, whether ancient, medieval, or recent? Well, some Protestants are okay with it. The bulk of us chafe at the idea.

There are different rosaries, meaning different sequences of rote prayers. Here’s a common rosary:

  • First the Paternoster/“Our Father,” a.ka. the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Then the Gloria/“Glory Be.”
  • Then 10 Ave Marias.
  • Repeat 15 times.

And some Catholics won’t just pray one rosary in a stretch. They’ll pray two. Or five.

Why on earth are they praying hundreds of prayers in one sitting? Meditation. You don’t just recite the prayers while your mind remains unfruitful; you think about Jesus. Think about the scriptures. Pray silently with your mind, like you do when you’re praying in tongues.

If you’ve heard of “the mysteries of the rosary,” no they’re not weird secrets about how rosaries work, nor weird revelations you get when you recite ’em. The mysteries are simply things you meditate on while you’re going through a rosary. Like Jesus’s annunciation, or when Mary visited Elizabeth, or Jesus’s birth—these are called “joyful mysteries” because they’re about Jesus’s first coming. The “sorrowful mysteries” are stories about Jesus’s death, the “luminous mysteries” are teachings about Jesus being the world’s light, and the “glorious mysteries” are about Jesus’s ascension and establishing his kingdom (and yes, about Mary going to heaven too). It’s all good stuff to meditate on.

As you might notice, the prayers to Mary are a huge roadblock to Protestants. That’s why the rosary remains largely a Catholic practice. Other Christians also use prayer beads or prayer ropes, meditate, and pray decades of rote prayers… but not to Mary. They’ll pray the Jesus prayer, the Lord’s prayer, or some other rote prayer that’s addressed to God. Not a saint. Not even the very best saint, like Mary.

25 July 2017

The Four Seeds story.

So which soil do you figure you are?

Mark 4.1-9, 4.13-20 • Matthew 13.1-9, 13.18-23 • Luke 5.1-3, 8.5-8, 8.11-15

You’d think this particular parable would be super easy to interpret, since Jesus actually provided his students an interpretation after he told it. But never underestimate the ability of Christians who wanna weasel out of the implications of Jesus’s lessons.

The story is preceded by Jesus feeling the need to get a little bit of distance from the crowds who were swarming him. Since a number of his students were fishermen, he figured why not use this connection to his advantage?

Mark 4.1 KWL
Again Jesus went out to teach by the Galilee’s sea.
A large crowd gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in the sea,
The whole crowd at the sea were on the beach.
Matthew 13.1-2 KWL
1 That day, Jesus left the house and was sitting by the Galilee’s sea.
2 Large crowds gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in it.
The whole crowd was standing on the beach.
Luke 5.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when the crowds pressed on Jesus to listen to God’s word:
He was standing by Lake Kinneret, 2 and saw two boats run aground by the lake.
The fishermen had left them and were cleaning the nets.
3 Jesus entered one of the boats, which was Simon’s.
He asked Simon to put the boat out a little ways from the land.
Sitting in the boat, he taught the crowds.

Lake Kinneret, nowadays called Lake Tiberias, is a large lake (which is why the Galileans called it their “sea”) and the waves crashing on shore, even on a calm day, make a whole lot of noise. Jesus would’ve had to shout to be heard over them. Still, he must’ve figured this was preferable to getting crowded.

Between the surf noises and the fact Jesus didn’t explain his analogy, a number of ’em likely didn’t catch what Jesus meant by this parable. Namely that it’s about them.

Mark 4.2-9 KWL
2 Jesus taught them many things in parables, and told them in his lesson,
3 “Listen. Look, a planter came forth planting. 4 While planting, this happened:
One of the seeds fell by the road, and birds came and devoured it.
5 Another fell by rocks where it hadn’t much earth,
quickly sprang up because it had no depth of earth,
6 and once the sun rose it was scorched,
and because it had no root it was dried up.
7 Another fell in the thorns, and the thorns rose up and choked it.
It produced no fruit.
8 Another fell on good earth and was producing fruit—
rising, growing, bearing 30, 60, and 100 fruits.”
9 Jesus said, “Who has listening ears? Listen!”
Matthew 13.3-9 KWL
3 Jesus told them many things in parables, saying,
“Look, a planter came forth at the time of planting, 4 and during this planting
one of the seeds fell by the road, and the coming birds devoured it.
5 Another fell by rocks where it hadn’t much earth
and quickly sprang up because it had no depth of earth.
6 It was scorched by the rising sun,
and because it had no root it was dried up.
7 Another fell in the thorns, and the thorns rose up and choked it.
8 Another fell on good earth and was producing fruit—
one 100 fruits, one 60, one 30.
9 Listen, you who have ears!”
Luke 8.4-8 KWL
4 With the great crowds with him, traveling to him from the city,
Jesus said by a parable, 5 “At the time of planting, a planter came out with his seed.
During his planting, one of the seeds fell by the road and was trampled,
and birds of the air devoured it.
6 Another fell down in the rocks,
and as it grew it was dried up because it had no moisture.
7 Another fell in the middle of thorns,
and the thorns, growing up with it, choked it.
8 Another fell on good earth, and as it grew it produced 100 times the fruit.”
Saying this, Jesus shouted, “Listen, you who have listening ears!”

And if you also have listening ears, you’ll realize it’s just as much about you.

24 July 2017

TXAB’s spoiler policy.

In case you’re annoyed ’cause I spoiled something.

When you’re introducing your kids to the Star Wars movies, do try not to show ’em Episode III before Empire Strikes Back.

Not that a lot of parents in my circle do, ’cause Episode III is rated PG-13, and a lot of ’em take that rating very seriously. ’Cause—and here the spoilers begin—horrific third-degree burns, y’know. But if parents do show their kids Episode III before Episode VI, it means the children are gonna find out Vader’s the father of two protagonists of the ’70s films, Episodes IV through IV. And it’s gonna kill any surprised reaction they might have when Vader finally declares, “No, I am your father.”

It’s also gonna make the kids say Ewwwww! every time Luke and Leia kiss. And not just for the usual reasons kids are grossed out by public displays of affection: For the very same reasons I say Ewwwww when they make out. Yeah right George Lucas knew their backstory all along.

Star Wars nerds tend to recommend watching ’em in the order of the original Star Wars movie first (which later got renamed Episode IV: A New Hope), then Empire, then I to III (and some of ’em point out you can easily skip the kinda-slow Episode I: The Phantom Midichlorians), then Return of the Jedi. This way the kids build up a smidgen of sympathy for Annakin/Vader before Return, because if all they see are the ’70s movies, they’re gonna think, “Why on earth does Luke think he can reform him?”

And then expose ’em to The Force Awakens, and all its sequels. And the stand-alones, the TV shows, and the Holiday Special.

The bonkers thing is when I mention the whole “Who’s your daddy?” deal to people, and they immediately respond, “Dude, don’t spoil Star Wars for me.”

Um… these are 40-year-old movies. If you’re over the age of 13 and haven’t seen ’em yet, that’s on you.

I admit I myself don’t worry much about spoilers. If somebody lets slip how a movie ends, oh well. I don’t like surprises, so sometimes I’ll actually go find out a movie’s ending before I see it. Fr’instance when Batman v. Superman: Dawn of the Marthas came out, I heard some people complain it wasn’t very good; at least not in comparison with previous Superman and Batman movies. I wanted to know why, so I popped over to its Wikipedia page and read the plot. And Wikipedia gives away endings. True, there were a few surprises the director and producers wanted me to see in the theater, but tough: I wanted to know about ’em now.

Does doing this ruin the movie for me? Nah. People re-watch good movies all the time. Despite knowing the endings, because they’re good movies. If Batman v. Superman sounded any good, regardless of my knowing the ending in advance, I’d go see it anyway. But after the Wikipedia summary, I decided to skip the theater and watch it on home video. Wound up seeing the “extended edition,” which was 3 hours 2 minutes instead of the theatrical 2:21. It was okay. Still not happy Batman kills people in it: Trying to avoid guns and killing is kinda the one thing Batman’s known for. But the producers decided “Meh,” so now the Batmobile has machine guns. Meh.

Not that I blog about movies all that often. But I figure I may as well preemptively spell out my spoiler policy. So if you bellyache about my spoiling anything in future, I’ll refer you to this rant.

21 July 2017

Mary the Magdalene, apostle to the apostles.

The myths (and sexism) behind the first person to see our risen Lord.

22 July is the feast day of Mary the Magdalene, whom we also call Mary of Magdala. She’s the woman who shows up in all the resurrection stories, ’cause she’s the very first person Jesus appeared to after he was raised from the dead.

John 20.10-18 KWL
10 Then the students went away again, to their people,
11 and Mary stood outside the tomb, mourning.
As she mourned, she then bent down into the tomb, 12 and saw two angels in white,
one sitting at the head, one at the feet, where Jesus’s body was placed.
13 They told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn?”
She told them this: “They took my Master away, and I don’t know where they put him.”
14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing—and didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 Jesus told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn? Whom are you looking for?”
Figuring he was the groundskeeper, she told him, “Master, if you took him away,
tell me where you put him, and I’ll take him away.”
16 Jesus told her, “Mary.”
She turned and told him, “Rabbani!” (i.e. “teacher”).
17 Jesus told her, “Don’t clutch me. I’ve not gone up to my Father yet.
Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and yours; to my God and yours.’ ”
18 Mary the Magdalene came and told the students she’d seen the Master,
and he’d said these things to her.

Two of Jesus’s students, Simon Peter and John, had checked out the tomb, saw nothing, and left. Jn 20.3-10 But Mary stuck around and had a Jesus-sighting. And he sent her to his students and family: “Go to my brothers and tell them…” Jn 20.17 which she did. Jn 20.18 They should’ve known Mary’s character enough to accept her testimony.

Should’ve; didn’t. Because nobody expected Jesus to rise from the dead before the End Times. The 11 apostles wouldn’t believe the women saw Jesus, Lk 24.11 and Thomas wouldn’t even believe the other 10 after they saw Jesus themselves. Jn 20.24-25 So if you think the problem was sexism, there might’ve been a little bit of that in there. More so it was just how unbelievable the idea was.

Every so often, I hear a Christian preacher say it was totally sexism. Often they’ll do it in a way which exposes their own sexism. I’ve heard preachers claim in Jesus’s day, women’s testimony was inadmissible because women get hysterical, irrational, and are inherently untrustworthy. (God help those preachers’ wives and daughters.)

It’s bunk, because these preachers don’t know the Law. In patriarchal societies, women are subject to their patriarch—their husband or father or male relative who’s in charge of them. This man was granted the right to overturn or nullify his women’s vows. Nu 30 But this made it impossible for women to testify in court. Not because women aren’t trustworthy, but because their men could cancel out their testimony.

I’m not sure whether Paul had that idea in mind when he and Sosthenes listed 500-plus folks who saw the resurrected Jesus, 1Co 15.3-8 and didn’t include the women. Mt 28.9-10 We figure this list was originally composed and recited in the middle east, where Judeans had an issue with women’s testimony. Corinthians didn’t, so there was no reason to still skip the women.

Judean courts aside, Mary was as reputable as any student, and the students should’ve believed her, if anyone. Still, this isn’t the only time Mary’s been misinterpreted due to sexism.

20 July 2017

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15

Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJV
Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the LORD’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible.

I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the LORD—and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the LORD’s anointed.

It was written by King David ben Jesse, and you remember how he could’ve totally killed the insane King Saul ben Kish time and again? But he wouldn’t dare, ’cause Saul was the LORD’s anointed?

I should remind you the word which gets translated “anointed” is mešíakh/“Messiah”—one of the king’s titles, so I translated it appropriately. (I would hope you’re not using the title Messiah for anyone in your church leadership but Jesus.)

1 Samuel 24.4-7 KWL
4 David’s men told him, “Look, it’s the day the LORD told you of!—
‘Look, I put your enemy into your hand. Do whatever pleases your eye.’ ”
So David rose up and secretly cut the corner of Saul’s robe off.
5 Afterward, David’s heart struck him over this—that he cut off a corner of something of Saul.
6 He told his men, “By the LORD, I should never have done this thing to my master, the LORD’s Messiah;
to raise my hand to him, because he’s the LORD’s Messiah.”
7 David persuaded his men with such words and didn’t let them confront Saul.
Saul rose from the cave and walked to the road.

Yeah, it’s totally weird thinking of Saul as a Messiah, huh? Just goes to show you how much Jesus has redeemed that title.

David wouldn’t dare another time:

1 Samuel 26.8-9 KWL
8 Avišai told David, “God placed your enemy in your fist today! Now please—
I can smite him to the ground with a spear in one heartbeat. I needn’t repeat it.”
9 David told Avišai, “Don’t destroy him.
Who can raise their hand to the LORD’s Messiah and be clean?”

Get the point? Even though Saul was an absolute beast of a man towards the innocent David, he was still God’s anointed king. David had no business killing him—or even overthrowing him, or doing anything other than remaining in exile to await his king’s death. Beast or not, Saul was still Messiah, and David was never gonna depose God’s anointed king. (Now, Saul’s successor Ishbaal was another deal; David never recognized him as Messiah.)

But once we incorrectly apply the idea of an anointed king to Christian leaders, you might notice it gives ’em a free pass to be just as bad as Saul. ’Cause “touch not the LORD’s anointed.”

Now way before I ever get to the proper context, I should point out how absolutely insane it is to use Saul as an example. For Saul was insane.

The scriptures describe Saul as plagued by evil spirits. We’d nowadays call the guy demonized. The critters were only driven away when other anointed ministers worked on him, like David with his music. 1Sa 16.23 So “Touch not the LORD’s anointed, ’cause Saul,” is effectively saying, “Even if Pastor’s possessed by Satan itself, he’s anointed, so leave him be!” It’s probably the stupidest defense in Christendom.

19 July 2017

The effectual fervent prayer… of an obnoxious person.

God expects us to get in his face sometimes.

Luke 11.5-8, 18.1-8

Right after teaching the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told the Friend at Midnight Story. Yeah, he meant it in context of prayer. Yeah, it’s an odd little story. Odd because the protagonist is so annoying. And Jesus presents this as if it’s a good thing.

Luke 11.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus told them, “Any of you will have a friend,
and go to him at midnight and tell him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,
6 because a friend of mine came off the road to visit me,
and I have nothing I’ll give him to eat.’
7 At this point, he’d say from within in reply, ‘Don’t put your trouble on me.
The door was shut already. My kids are with me. We’re in bed. I can’t get up to give you a thing.’
8 But I tell you, if he’ll not give it, nor get up for the sake of being your friend…
actually, he’ll get up for the sake of your rudeness, and will give you as much as you need.”

Now use this story as an analogy for prayer. You’re the person beating on the door. You have a friend in need; for once you’re not praying for yourself, but interceding for someone else. You’re short on resources, but you’ve gone to someone with greater resources. Like God, who has unlimited resources.

But the “friend” in this story isn’t actually God. As is made obvious by his behavior. It’s a little hard to imagine God asleep in the middle of the night. Or that he doesn’t wanna be bothered. Or that he’s latched the door for the night; he’s bundled up in bed with his kids; he’s done, and we’ve come to him too late. If we understand God’s unlimited grace, we know better. (If we don’t, we may not, which is why we might not pray as often as we ought. Might need to get to know his unlimited grace first.) The “friend” isn’t meant to be God, but to be compared to God. If this is how friends behave, isn’t God a better friend? Won’t he do way better for you?

And likewise the friend’s motivation, versus God’s. The friend doesn’t wanna do anything for you. In Jesus’s culture bedtime was after sundown, so midnight was right in the middle of the sleep cycle, where people really don’t wanna be woken up. Jesus has kinda arranged the story so you’ve come to the door at a really inconvenient time, where any good friend would be very unmotivated to do anything. Jesus’s audience would’ve experienced something like this, so they could relate.

They’d also relate to Jesus’s idea: No matter how close you may be, he may not care to help you out whatsoever. But he’ll help out just the same, because you’re just rude enough. Because he’ll want you to leave him alone. And again: If this is how friends behave, isn’t God a better friend? He doesn’t help us just to get us to shut up. He helps us out of his abundant love.

18 July 2017

Parables: Because the kingdom’s secrets are only for us.

Why Jesus was so heavy on the metaphors.

Mark 4.10-13, 25 • Matthew 13.10-17 • Luke 8.9-10, 18, 10.23-24, 19.26 • John 12.37-40

The first of Jesus’s parables is the story of the four seeds. Mk 4.1-9, Mt 13.1-9, Lk 8.4-8 But before I get to that story, I’m gonna discuss Jesus’s frequent habit of teaching things en parabolís/“in parables.” Or at least it’s frequent in the synoptic gospels; John skipped nearly all the parabolic stories, and stuck to Jesus speaking in metaphor, which is also a form of parable.

Parabolí literally means “to throw over,” kinda like the parabola a ball makes when you throw it in the air. Like such a throw, it’s deliberately meant to go over the heads of people whom you don’t want catching it. If you aren’t clever enough to figure out what Jesus means by his analogies, you’re gonna miss his point. You know, like pagans often will. And irritatingly, a lot of Christians also will, because we’re looking for the wrong things, and don’t care Jesus is trying to explain his kingdom by them.

Other ancient teachers taught by analogy. But they’d use these analogies to get attention, and explain their point as part of the moral of the story. Whereas Jesus didn’t always include a moral to his stories. Nor explain what his analogies meant. You figure ’em out—if you have the ears to hear.

Jesus did this so often, his students had to ask what it was all about:

Mark 4.10 KWL
When Jesus was with his students alone,
those around him with the 12 apostles asked him about the parables.
Matthew 13.10 KWL
Coming to Jesus, the students told him, “Why do you tell them parables?
Luke 8.9 KWL
Jesus’s students were asking him why this ought to be a parable.

At this point the commentators will weigh in with why they figure Jesus taught in parables.

The most common idea was Jesus was trying to evade the consequences of speaking about his kingdom in a politically charged environment. Herod was king of the Galilee, and Caesar the king of Judea; if Jesus spoke in any way about being king, it was considered sedition, and gave his critics and opponents the ammo they needed to get him arrested. Much like science fiction TV shows in the 1950s and ’60s, Jesus couched his radical ideas in metaphor so nobody could figure out what he really meant.

That theory gets disproven pretty quickly in Luke 20.19, where the head priests realized exactly whom Jesus meant when he talked about a “master” destroying his tenant farmers, Lk 20.16 and a stone grinding those who trip on it to powder. Lk 20.18 Jesus meant them, and they’d have totally arrested him had not the crowds been around. (Which is why they later arrested him when the crowds were gone.)

Nope, it had nothing to do with evading the opposition. They’d come regardless. It was about throwing his lessons over the heads of the crowds, ’cause he only wanted his real followers to catch them. The parables are for Christians. Not lookie-loos.

Mark 4.11 KWL
Jesus told them, “God’s kingdom’s mysteries were given to you.
To those outside, everything comes in parables.”
Matthew 13.11 KWL
In reply Jesus told them, “Because you were given knowledge of the heavenly kingdom’s mysteries.
They weren’t given that.”
Luke 8.10 KWL
Jesus said, You were given knowledge of God’s kingdom’s mysteries.
The rest is in parables, so ‘seers might not see’
and ‘hearers not comprehend.’” Is 6.9

Jesus wasn’t trying to dodge consequences. He was trying to dodge fools.

17 July 2017

Eugene Peterson’s rough week.

On the “yes” heard round the blogosphere.

Most Christians know Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson from The Message, his popular bible translation that’s looser than a boot on a pegleg.
Everybody’s favorite Wikipedia image of Eugene Peterson, as seen on various news sites lately.
(So loose, people gripe it’s more of a paraphrase.) Others are more familiar with his writings on pastors and church leadership. But thanks to The Message, loads of American Christians have at least that work of his on their bookshelves.

It’s because of this fame Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt interviewed Peterson on a number of topics relevant to Evangelical Christianity. Plus, Peterson’s sorta retiring. He’s 84, promoting what he figures is his last book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire; he’s kinda saying farewell to his public.

But Merritt’s brief interview with Peterson, posted last Wednesday, 12 July, probably got a lot more attention than Peterson ever bargained for. The headline: “Eugene Peterson on changing his mind about same-sex issues and marriage.”

Here’s the relevant bit:

Merritt. “A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?”

Peterson. “Yes.”

Now. Back in October, Merritt got popular Christian blogger Jen Hatmaker to say much the same thing, as I already ranted about. As a result LifeWay Christian Resources removed Hatmaker’s books from their stores.

It’s kind of a big deal. LifeWay’s the biggest Christian bookstore chain in the United States. It’s owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest denomination in the United States. They’d be a primary route of Hatmaker’s sales. But LifeWay feels they have a duty to police the Christian orthodoxy—as they define orthodoxy—of the authors they carry. Not that any of Hatmaker’s previous books contained any endorsement of same-sex marriage in them: LifeWay figures if you’re heretic—again, as they define heresy—they don’t want their customers getting the idea you’re a safe author. Easier to just ban your works in entirety.

Given the Hatmaker situation, Christianity Today followed up Merritt’s interview that same Wednesday by asking LifeWay whether they’d likewise yank Peterson’s books off their shelves. No surprise coming: LifeWay responded of course they would.

So on Thursday the 13th, Peterson took it all back.

When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that. That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.

Thereafter, Peterson states he’s not doing any more interviews. He’s done. Doesn’t want the controversy.

I don’t blame him. Just about every time I’ve been ensnared in controversy, it’s never been about something I intended to fight over. Or even wanted to. Or care about. It’s always the minor stuff which I don’t consider dealbreakers. Problem is, everybody else insists they’re dealbreakers. To some Fundamentalists, darn near everything’s a dealbreaker.

Same-sex marriage is definitely a dealbreaker to many Evangelicals. If you’re gay, Christian, and wanna get married, it’s not negotiable. And if you’re anti-gay, figure it’s not even remotely possible to be both Christian and gay, and consider same-sex marriage to be a state-legitimized abomination, that’s not negotiable. This isn’t a minor debate in Evangelical Christianity right now. It’s one of the bigger deals.

Eugene Peterson stepped right into this wet pile of dooky, right up to his knees.

14 July 2017

The bible’s genres.

It’s not all written in just one style of literature.

Genre /'ʒɑ(n).rə/ n. Type or category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, and subject matter.

Our word genre originates from the Old French word gendre/“gender.” ’Cause while men and women are both human, we’ve still got some important, distinctive differences. (Not as many as our culture dictates, but still.)

There are many types of literature. Stop by the local public library, and you’ll notice how the books tend to be lumped into categories so we can find them easier. Whether your library uses the Dewey system or the Library of Congress system, you’ll notice the gardening books are on one shelf, the photography books on another, the legal books on another, the biographies on another.

Now when the average person picks up a bible, they assume they’re picking up one category of literature: Non-fiction religious instruction. After all, that’s where we’ll find bibles in the library.

Thing is, the bible’s an anthology, a book collection. Yes, it’s religious. Yes, it’s mostly non-fiction. (You know the parables never literally took place, right? Jesus was just making ’em up to illustrate his lessons? Hope you knew this.) But within its pages are several books and letters of several different types: Commands and instructions. Logical arguments. Wisdom. Parables. Histories. Creation stories. Gospels. Poetry. Prophecy. Apocalypses.

Christians who figure it’s all one genre, and try to interpret the whole of it literally, are gonna get the bible wrong.

Problem is, even though many Christians know there are multiple genres in the bible, they figure these differences really aren’t that great, and don’t entirely matter. One part’s prose, one part’s poetry; this bit is prophecy, that part is history. But all they really care about is religious instruction, and figure they can be instructed by all parts equally.

After all, didn’t Paul say so?

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

Every inspired scripture. All the bible. Every bit of it can be used for instruction in rightness, so they’re gonna try to pull that instruction right out of it. After all, the bible’s our “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” our guidebook for life, with all the answers to all our questions—if we analyze it just right.

So to them, genre doesn’t matter. We can find instructions in the wisdom writings or the gospels; doesn’t matter whether we quote the apostles or Moses. It’s all bible. It’s all inspired. All good. Right?

Well, let’s take apart these claims a tad.

13 July 2017

Where do Jews fit into God’s kingdom?

Did God switch kingdoms between Old Testament and New Testament?

When we confess Jesus as our Lord, and believe he’s alive, we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Duh. True of anybody—whether Christian, or people who kinda shun that title; whether women or men, young or old, knowledgeable or ignorant, gentile or Jew.

Particularly if you’re a Jew. ’Cause Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. He particularly came to save the lost sheep of Israel. Mt 10.6 And if anyone’s under the delusion there aren’t any Jews in God’s kingdom, they’re nuts. Their antisemitism is making ’em heretic.

But here we slam into a little bit of controversy.

Y’see a number of Jews don’t confess Jesus as their Lord. Don’t believe in their hearts God raised him from the dead. Yet they still figure they’re in God’s kingdom, ’cause they’re following his Law. (Their rabbis’ interpretations of the Law, anyway.) God saved the Hebrews from Egypt, gave ’em his Law, told ’em to follow it, said he’d make a kingdom out of them, so they do. So they’re in God’s kingdom, right?

Well… no.

Because people are not, and have never been, saved by following the Law.

Galatians 2.15-21 KWL
15 We’re ethnic Jews, not gentile sinners,
16 who knew people aren’t set right by working the Law unless they trust Christ Jesus.
We trust Christ Jesus, because we’re set right by trust in Christ.
Not by working the Law, because working the Law won’t set any flesh right!
17 If we who seek to be found set right by Christ, and we’re sinners, is Christ a minister of sin?
Absolutely not. 18 If what I build up, I once again destroy, I myself am the Law-breaker.
19 Through the Law, I died to the Law—so I can live for God. I was crucified with Christ.
20 I no longer live. Christ lives—in me. Though I live in flesh now, I live by trust in God’s Son.
He loved me and gave himself up for me. 21 I don’t deny God’s grace:
If righteousness came by Law, Christ died for no reason.

People are not, and have never been, saved by following the Law. Ro 3.20 That’s the false assumption people made ever since the LORD handed down the Law at Sinai, but it’s entirely wrong. The idea’s always been wrong. Every human, from Adam on down, is only saved by God’s grace.

The Hebrews were rescued from Egypt, not because they were good or mighty people, but because God chose to save ’em. We Christians are rescued from sin, not because we deserve it or grew up Christian, but because God chose to save us. None of us earned God’s favor. Nobody works their way to salvation. The Law was granted to an already-saved people. Same as Jesus’s instructions are granted to us Christians.

So when Jews claim, “I’m part of a special covenant with God, and that’s how I was saved; your insistence I can only be saved through Jesus isn’t valid,” they’re absolutely wrong.

See, an integral part of any relationship with God, no matter what form it takes, is faith. God offers us salvation, and we respond to his offer by trusting him and doing as he expects. Abraham believed God; his faith justified him; God saved him. Ge 15.6, Ro 4.3 What’s God expect of us nowadays? That we believe in the one he sent, Jn 6.29 namely Messiah Jesus. Jn 17.3 Especially if we’re descendants of Israel.

This idea that Jews get any special path to salvation which does an end-run round Jesus? Absolutely false.

12 July 2017

Don’t mess with our Messiah.

A psalm for coronation—and a warning for the nations round about.

The second psalm, Lammá ragšú goyím/“For what reason rage the nations?” (Latin, Quare fremuerunt gentes) is considered a Messianic psalm ’cause it’s about Israel’s king, and one of the king’s titles is of course Messiah. And it’s considered a Messianic prophecy ’cause Jesus is Messiah, so Christians are gonna look for ways in which it gets fulfilled in the present day—kinda like the apostles did when they quoted it.

Acts 4.23-28 KWL
23 Once released, the apostles went to their own people
and brought news of whatever the head priests and elders told them.
24 Those who heard it unanimously lifted their voices to God and said, “Master,
you who made the heavens, earth, sea, and everything in them,
25 who said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our ancestor David your child,
‘Why are the nations furious?—the people practice stupidity?
26 The earth’s kings stand forth, and rulers gather themselves together,
against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ Ps 2.1-2
27 For truly they gathered together in this city against your holy child Jesus, whom you anointed—
Antipas Herod and Pontius Pilate, with gentiles and Israeli people—
28 to do whatever your hand and your will predecided to happen.”

After all, if the psalmist (who’s not identified, though you notice the apostles figured it was David) was speaking of Herod, Pilate, and the head priests conspiring against Jesus, it sure does look like the first lines of this psalm.

Why was it composed? We figure it’s for coronations. When a new king was anointed, they’d sing this. The first book in Psalms appears to be from the kingdom of southern Israel (“Judah”), so likely it was sung by and to the kings of Jerusalem. The original doesn’t rhyme or have meter, but I rendered it in trochaic heptameter anyway.

Psalm 2 KWL
1 For what reason is the uproar of the nations?
Or the people found in useless meditations?
2 Kings of earth and rulers take a stand, consulting
on the LORD and his Messiah—thus resulting
3 in, “Let’s tear their chains off; throw away their bindings.”
4 Seated in the heavens, my Lord mocks their findings.
5 Then he speaks, with nostrils flaring, to their hubris.
In his burning rage he terrifies them senseless.
6 “On my holy Zion hill, I poured out my king.”
7 Let me now instruct you on the LORD God’s ruling.
“You’re my son,” he told me, “on this day I birthed you.
8 Ask me and I grant the wealth of nations to you.
Your inheritance extends to earth’s horizon.
9 Shatter with your iron staff; like jars you’ll break them.”
10 Now kings, think it through. Earth’s judges, heed this warning.
11 Serve the LORD in fear. Rejoice, but do it trembling.
12 Kiss the son lest he destroy your path in anger.
Small things make him burn. Bless all who seek his shelter.

11 July 2017

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit: The unforgiven sin.

Yep, it’s a big big deal.

Mark 3.28-30 • Matthew 12.31-32 • Luke 12.10

Fairly soon after we become Christians, we hear a rumor going round that there’s such a thing as an unpardonable sin: If we commit it, we’re doomed. God’s grace apparently has a limit, and this crosses it. Do it and you’re going to hell. Game over, man, game over.

Problem is, the rumor doesn’t always tell people what this unpardonable sin is. I’ve had newbies ask me whether it was murder. (Nope; Moses and David were murderers, y’know. Arguably so was Paul.) Others figure any of the seven deadly sins are unpardonable. (Nope; still not it.) When I was a kid, I thought cursing God would do it. (Still nope.) According to Jesus, it’s when we commit the sin of blasphemy—but not against the Father nor himself, but specifically against the Holy Spirit.

Turns up in the gospels, right after Jesus had to correct the Pharisee scribes for accusing him of using Satan to perform exorcisms.

Mark 3.28-30 KWL
28 “Amen! I promise you every sin will be forgiven humanity’s children,
and every blasphemy, however often people blaspheme.
29 But when anyone blasphemes the Holy Spirit they aren’t forgiven in the age to come:
In that age, they’ll be liable for a crime.”
30 For the scribes were saying, “Jesus has an unclean spirit.”
Matthew 12.31-32 KWL
31 “This is why I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.
But blaspheming the Spirit won’t be forgiven.
32 Whenever one says a word against the Son of Man, it’ll be forgiven them.
But whenever it’s said against the Holy Spirit, it won’t be forgiven them.
Neither in this age, nor in the next.”
Lk 12.10 KWL
“And anyone who’ll say a word about the Son of Man will be forgiven.
But speaking in blasphemy about the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven.”

So there y’go: Everyone can be forgiven anything and everything. But the single, massive exception is when people blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Do that, and you’re sitting out the age to come. No New Jerusalem for you. Just weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Scary, right? Hence people wanna make sure they never, ever commit this crime.

Problem is, instead of learning what blasphemy is and avoiding it, and particularly avoiding it when it comes the Spirit, many foolish Christians have invented some strange explanations and redefinitions of what blaspheming the Spirit means. Largely because what they and their friends are currently doing comes mighty close to it. If not actually goes there already. And they’re in deep denial about it.

Yikes.

10 July 2017

Getting baptized.

Then getting baptized again.

My nieces got baptized last month. Part of their church’s vacation bible school (if you’re not familiar with the phenomenon, it’s a weeklong church program meant to evangelize kids) to of course to get kids to choose Jesus. And of course after such decisions naturally comes baptism.

The girls had chosen to follow Jesus some time before. But one of the things about the Evangelical subculture—kind of a peeve of mine—is how it can sometimes takes years before new Christians finally bother to get baptized. We’re meant to do one right after the other, ’cause we’re supposed to make a solid mental connection between the two. Get saved, get baptized, ’cause baptism represents salvation. But many Evangelicals turn the sinner’s prayer into that thing we’re meant to mentally connect to salvation: “Did you ask Jesus into your heart? Okay, you’re saved.” Hence baptism becomes way less of a priority. Once you’ve confessed Christ, evangelists tell you to get plugged into a church, to read your bible, maybe attend a bible study; it’s not so often “Let’s get you baptized.” They do want you to get around to it someday, as a nice way to publicly declare your faith. But Evangelicals often figure it can wait. And the wait can turn into a long time.

For me there was a three-year gap between when I became Christian in 1975, and when I finally got baptized in 1978. Partly ’cause I had been baptized already.

See, my mom’s parents were Roman Catholic. Mom was lapsed and Dad was atheist, but the grandparents insisted I be baptized. Otherwise if I died unexpectedly, I’d go to limbo.

No, this has nothing to do with the under-the-bar dance, which is named for how limber you have to be to participate. Supposedly limbo is a state which is neither heaven nor hell; it’s on the limbus/“border,” hence the name. It’s a popular myth in Catholicism; few other Christians believe in it.

And not even all Catholics. The official teaching of Catholicism is grace: When unbaptized babies die, all things being equal, God graciously takes ’em to heaven. But limbo’s the unofficial teaching, and old-timey Catholics grew up hearing horror stories of parents who never baptized their babies, and now the kids are in limbo, if not burning in hell.

I should mention: I read Dante’s Inferno. According to him, limbo’s the first circle of hell. The nice part of hell, if any part of hell can be said to be nice. In it are all the pagans you kinda thought should go to heaven, but since they didn’t care for Jesus (or didn’t know about him; Dante was kinda unforgiving that way), they didn’t. So they spend eternity not in heaven, kinda bummed about their bad fortune. And apparently they get squalling unbaptized babies dumped on them on the regular. Maybe that’s what makes it hell.

Regardless, the grandparents wanted me baptized. So Mom shrugged and let ’em get me baptized.

This is why I’ve joked ever since that I’m Catholic. But a really lousy Catholic, ’cause I keep going to Protestant churches. Still, I’m just as Catholic as my so-called “Catholic” friends and acquaintances who never got confirmed, never go to Mass, and figure baptism means God’s gotta grant ’em heaven. Not wise to take God’s grace for granted like that, but they do.

07 July 2017

Jesus, and heretic theories about his identity.

He’s God. And human. But obviously some folks don’t agree.

I’ve written about how Jesus is Yahweh, and when he became human.

Plenty of people struggle with these ideas. Usually people who are bugged by the idea of God becoming human. Often people who imagine it working the other way round: A human becoming God, or earning divinity by being so very good. And of course people who figure Jesus never was God, and was just a great human being and no more.

Now, they’re wrong. And to be fair, we’re all wrong. But these folks are so wrong as to be called heretic, where their beliefs stand a really good chance of leading people away from God, his grace, and his kingdom. They’re not little errors. They’ll interfere with people’s salvation, or trick ’em into rejecting God. Of course these heretics already refer to us orthodox Christians as “heretics”—they’re entirely sure they’re right and we’re not.

It’s a pride thing. They prefer their ideas about what God is like, over what God actually revealed about himself. They figure either God’s revelations are wrong, or misinterpreted—whereas they got it right, and how clever of them to see what others don’t. How wise of them; how inspired; what special favorites of God’s they must be. And all the other delusions pride can trick us into.

Heretic theories tend to fall into one of four categories:

  1. Another god. Most heretics figure God created Jesus to be another god under him. Like his vice-God, or prince of all the angels, or some other powerful being who’s not the very same One True God as he.
  2. Not really God. Jesus is the “son of God” same as all humans are sons and daughters of God. Just another one of God’s creations. He’s still Messiah, a great teacher and prophet; the best human God ever made. But not God.
  3. Not really human. Jesus only pretended to be human, lest he freak people out too much. But he’s fully divine, wearing what appeared to be a human form.
  4. A demigod. In pagan religions, gods and humans bred and made demigods, half-and-half hybrids who were either supermen or lesser gods. Demigod heresies describe Jesus these ways—part-God instead of entirely God, part-human instead of fully human.

Whereas, to answer these theories, orthodox Christians aver:

  1. Jesus is the same God, Pp 2.6 and God is One. Dt 6.4 There isn’t another God.
  2. Jesus is as God as God can be. Jn 1.1-2
  3. He’s human; Jn 1.14 more human than humans are, ’cause we sin, which dings us quite a lot.
  4. True, to become human, Jesus was depowered, Pp 2.7 and had to perform miracles through the Holy Spirit’s power. Ac 10.38 But godlike power doesn’t make you God; it’s like saying arms and legs make you human. Divine nature does, and Jesus absolutely has that. He 1.3

06 July 2017

Blasphemy: Slandering God’s character.

It’s not the same thing as sacrilege. It’s worse.

Blaspheme /blæs'fim/ v. Say something about God (or holy things) which isn’t true. Slander.
2. Speak irreverently about God or holy things. Sacrilege.
[Blasphemer /blæs'fim.ər/ n., blasphemous /'blæs.fə.məs/ adj., blasphemy /'blæs.fə.mi/ n.]

That second definition tends to be how popular culture defines blasphemy: Means the same thing as sacrilege, when one treats the sacred profanely. When you make fun, or make light, of holy things. When we tell jokes about God, or treat our bibles like any other book, and set ’em on the floor or doodle in them for fun. When people take God’s name in vain. When I treat him like my dad instead of OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN. (Heck, when I don’t capitalize all the Almighty’s pronouns.)

That’s what people consider blasphemy. That’s why they go utterly ape when Christians won’t take off our hats in church, or wear jeans. Business attire only!—and only Jesus gets to wear a toga.

By this definition, I commit blasphemy a lot. More than one Christian has got their knickers in a knot over my titling this blog Christ Almighty! To them, Christ Jesus is holy, and anything which makes our king sound too familiar is lèse-majesté.

Y’might not know that term. It comes in handy. It’s French for “less majestic”—it’s when people don’t treat the king with the dignity he merits. (Or, more accurately, imagines he merits; I’m an American and the only king I respect is Jesus. The rest, whether they know it or not, are usurpers of his title.) Lèse-majesté is the invention of petty, insecure despots, who wanted everyone to suck up to them under pain of death. Esther slammed into it when she had to petition the shah of Persia for her people, but if she showed up unannounced the shah could interpret it as an insult. Es 4.11 Good thing he thought she was hot.

The reason Christians keep propping up lèse-majesté as their definition of blasphemy, is because there’s a bit of despotism in them. It’s not that God’s insulted or offended when his kids boldly approach the throne of grace. He 4.16 He has a thick skin—and a sense of humor. It’s these Christians who don’t. They take offense because deep down they wanna be treated with rarified respect, and if that’s how we’ve gotta be with God, it makes it all the easier for them to suggest maybe we oughta treat them, “the Lord’s anointed,” with similar respect.

Hence they attempt to enforce divisions and ranks and barriers in God’s kingdom—all the stuff Jesus abolished by making every single one of us into God’s children, priests, and kings.

Well, enough about what blasphemy’s not. Let’s get to what it is.

05 July 2017

Prayer and posture.

On assuming the position.

I neither close my eyes nor bow my head when I pray.

Yep, that’s right. My eyes are open and I’m looking forward. Sometimes upward; sometimes downward. Sometimes at a list of prayer requests, or at a bible ’cause I’m looking for relevant scriptures, or at the person I’m praying for.

If I’m praying in the middle of an on-the-street ministry, of course I’m watching out my fellow ministers. ’Cause when people pray in public with their eyes closed, that’s the very best time for people to hassle us. Or lift our wallets. Or even shank people. It’s neither practical, safe, nor wise to close our eyes in some neighborhoods.

And if I’m working with kids, you know some of ’em are gonna take advantage of the times no one’s looking. They’re regularly surprised to find me looking. And a little disappointed ’cause now they can’t get away with anything. Sometimes they feign a little offense: “Why weren’t your eyes closed while you were praying? You know you’re supposed to close your eyes.”

Says who? Well, some pastors: “Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes.” Maybe even fold our hands. It’s how I was taught to do it as a child. My pastors still ask the congregation to do it, ’cause they’re about to ask people to confess stuff, and don’t wanna embarrass the confessors.

But the practice comes from western custom. Not bible, ’cause ancient practice was to lift one’s hands to the sky. Ne 8.6, Ps 28.2, 63.4, 134.2, 141.2, Lm 2.19, 3.41, Lk 24.50, 1Ti 2.8 Sometimes while kneeling. He 12.12

Two stories attempt to explain where western custom came from:

  • It’s the natural position medieval monks would take while they were at their studies, hunched over their bibles. (Assuming they could read, and had access to bibles.)
  • Kings used to demand their subjects approach them on their knees, with bowed heads, and not look ’em in the face. Since God’s our king, Christians figured we oughta approach him the same way.

But as custom, it’s optional. Bible doesn’t mandate any particular posture when we pray. God’s okay with us praying in any position. Standing up, sitting down, laying face down or face up, kneeling, bowing with our head to the floor, standing on our heads. The important thing is we don’t stop praying, and if we feel we simply have to assume a certain posture before we can pray properly, we’re letting that posture interfere with our prayer lives. So cut it out.

There’s nothing wrong with a custom when it helps us worship God better. There’s everything wrong with it when we’re more fixated on the custom than the actual worship. You know, like those kids who insist it’s not a real prayer unless we prayed with our eyes closed. Where’d they get that idea? From adults who told them, “We can’t pray till everyone’s eyes are closed”—and never bothered to explain they really meant won’t, not can’t.

That’s how customs wind up taking priority. (Something we need to watch out for when we teach newbies and kids to pray. So remember that for later.)

04 July 2017

Exorcisms by Satan’s power? Hardly.

You seriously think Jesus would disown his mom?

Mark 3.22-27 • Matthew 9.32-34, 12.22-30 • Luke 11.14-23

In between Jesus’s family fearing he was overworked, Mark inserts this story about the Jerusalem scribes (or Pharisees, in Matthew) accusing him of performing his exorcisms through the power of the devil.

Matthew and Luke tell the story in the context of an exorcism Jesus had just performed. Matthew even tells it twice. Likely this accusation took place more than once.

Mk 3.22 KWL
Scribes who came down from Jerusalem said Jesus had Baal Zevúl,
and that he threw out demons by the head demon.
Mt 9.32-34 KWL
32 As they left, look: People brought Jesus a mute person, a demoniac.
33 Once Jesus threw out the demon, the mute man spoke.
The crowd was amazed, saying, “This never appeared in Israel before.”
34 The Pharisees were saying, “Jesus throws out demons by the head demon.”
Mt 12.22-24 KWL
22 Then they brought Jesus a blind and deaf demoniac.
Jesus cured him, so the deaf man was speaking and seeing.
23 The whole crowd was overwhelmed and said, “Isn’t this man the Son of David?”
24 The Pharisees who heard it said, “This man doesn’t throw out demons—
unless it’s by Baal Zevúl the head demon.”
Lk 11.14-16 KWL
14 Jesus was throwing out a demon, and it was mute.
It happened when the demon came out, the mute man spoke. The crowd was amazed.
15 But some of them said, “He threw out the demon by Baal Zevúl the head demon.”
16 Others, to test Jesus, sought from him a sign from heaven.

Baalism is what we tend to call all the pagan religions which cropped up in ancient Palestine. They’re not all the same god, but the Hebrew-speakers generically called all these gods bahál/“master.” The Baal they referred to as Baal Zevúl was the god of Ekron, Philistia; the god Akhazyáh ben Ahab had inquired of when he wanted to know if he’d recover from his injuries. 2Ki 1.2 Elijah had intercepted Akhazyáh’s messengers and told them he’d die; Akhazyáh sent soldiers to arrest Elijah, who had the LORD set them on fire; maybe you heard the story. 2Ki 1

Zevúl means “[heavenly] dwelling.” But just for fun, the Hebrews started swapping zevúl for zevúv/“gnat” or “fly,” and it stuck. In the Septuagint, Baal Zevúl is translated Vaal, myían theón/“Baal, fly god.” But by Jesus’s day, they were back to calling it Baal Zevúl… ’cause in Aramaic, zevúl means “feces.” Hence the New Testament calls the god Veëlzevúl/“Beelzebul” (KJV “Beelzebub”). And y’might notice the Pharisees were using the term as a euphemism for Satan.

Christian mythology imagines Baal Zevúl, or Beelzebul, or Beelzebub, as a whole other devil than Satan. Sometimes Satan’s vice-devil. Sometimes a devil who rebelled against Satan and went its own way. Sometimes the devil who supervises idolatry; sometimes the devil who tempts humans with gluttony; sometimes the devil who specializes in demonizing people. Meh; a devil’s a devil.

The Galilean Pharisees didn’t know what to make of Jesus. They hated that he violated their customs. But they couldn’t deny that he actually performed miracles and exorcisms. Perhaps they sent for Jerusalem scribes in order to help ’em sort this out, and provide an expert opinion. Remember, the custom in Pharisaism isn’t to give your own rulings like Jesus does, but defer to the experts. Whereas Protestants tend to be a bit independent, and figure we have enough horse sense to judge someone a heretic right away, simply because we don’t care for their teachings. Or their politics. Or their person.

Jesus would object and say look for the fruit. Heck, that’s what he did in response.

03 July 2017

Civic idolatry: The “Christian nation.”

When people convince themselves their homeland is an outpost of God’s kingdom.

Civic idolatry /'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri/ n. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders.
[Civically idolatrous /'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəs/ adj., civic idolater /'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tər/ n.]

Tomorrow’s Independence Day in the United States.

In 1776, the British Parliament, insisting they had the right to tax their North American colonies, had violated their colonial charters. The king had sided with Parliament and declared them outside his protection. Congress, representing 13 of the colonies, interpreted this to mean they were independent states, and officially declared themselves so on 4 July. (Or 2 July, depending on which founder you talk to.)

So this week, Americans are gonna express a whole lot of patriotism. American Christians included. As we should.

However, many American Christians regularly cross a line between the love of one’s homeland, and descend into outright worship of the United States. It’s idolatry, and when it’s directed towards a nation we call it civic idolatry. It’s when love for our country stops being reasonable and fair-minded; when we treat it, its symbols, its values, and its institutions as holy. And when we treat criticism or contempt for it as blasphemy.

Heck, for those people, my even talking about the subject is blasphemy. Although they’ll call it unpatriotic, subversive, traitorous: How dare I say love of country is a bad thing?

Again: Not saying that. But when love of “God and country” get blended together as if they’re the same thing, we got idolatry. When we attribute things to the United States that are only legitimately true of God, we got idolatry. When our nation takes precedence over the growth of God’s kingdom, we got idolatry. Sometimes in our dual citizenship with the kingdom and the world, we gotta pick a side… and when we pick the world, it’s idolatry.