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31 August 2016

The serenity prayer.

Part prayer… part reminder we’re not in control.

One of the more popular rote prayers is “the serenity prayer.” It’s prayed by Christians and pagans alike, ’cause it’s the official prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous. Other 12-step programs use it as well.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it,
trusting that you will make all things right
if I surrender to your will,
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
and supremely happy with you forever in the next.

Credit for the prayer is usually given to American theologian and philosopher Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), although the original version looks a bit different. Its first publication was in the March 1933 edition of The Woman’s Press, in Winnifred Crane Wygal’s article “On the Edge of Tomorrow.”

Oh, God, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and insight to know the one from the other.

Wygal was a grad student at Union Theological Seminary, Neibuhr’s school. In her 1940 book We Plan Our Own Worship Services, she indicated she got the prayer from him. Neibuhr’s daughter Elisabeth Sifton claimed her father wrote it for a Sunday service in 1943. As you notice, she was a bit off on the date—which caused some confusion, and controversy, when Fred R. Shapiro of Yale Law School published a New York Times article in 2008 stating he’d found the prayer published eight times before 1943. At the time, he questioned whether Niebuhr had even authored it. He doesn’t now.

Alcoholics Anonymous founder William Griffith Wilson (a.k.a. “Bill W.”) came across the prayer in early 1942. A member of his New York group found it in a New York Herald Tribune obituary and shared it. The group immediately adopted it, and included a copy of it in every outgoing letter.

Niebuhr admitted the idea behind the prayer had been “spooking around” for centuries. You can even find it expressed in Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man: “The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.”

30 August 2016

God must be our first resort. Never our last.

“When all else fails, try God” is not how Christianity works.

Let me reiterate: There’s nothing at all wrong with asking God for things. Jesus teaches us to do so in the Lord’s Prayer: It’s all prayer requests. (Even the parts Christians claim are “praise before the requests.” Asking that God’s name be blessed, his kingdom come, his will be done, are meant to be stuff we want.) When we need something, God expects us and invites us to turn to him for help.

In contrast, our culture encourages us to be independent. Do for ourselves, then ask for help. And you wanna avoid asking for help as long as possible. The world isn’t kind. They don’t help you without first asking, “What’s in it for me?” Strings get attached. They expect cash, or a quid pro quo… or at least a pizza.

As a result, a lot of Christians only turn to God when we need help with big things. The stuff we can’t handle. The stuff we need help with—and other people aren’t willing to give it, so in desperation we turn to God as a last resort. Or a long shot. A “hail-Mary,” as it’s called in football. (And that saying implies they still haven’t turned to God yet: They’re calling on Mary first!)

Pagans in particular. When things are going fine, they tend to ignore God. When things are dire, suddenly they “get religion” and try to bargain with God. And to many pagans’ surprise—’cause we’d never offer ’em grace on those terms—God regularly takes ’em up on it, and brings ’em into his kingdom as a result. How many testimonies have you heard where people came to Jesus because of a crisis?

But even Christians have a bad habit of only calling upon God when it’s a crisis. God was a last resort when we were pagans; God’s still the last person we turn to when we’re totally stuck.

When we’re shopping for phones, we don’t pray. When we’re buying a house (assuming we’re not so wealthy, such transactions are no big deal) we pray a ton. When we have an ache or pain, we pop an aspirin and go on. When it’s cancer, we’re calling the elders of our church to lay hands on us. Jm 5.14

Heck, I’ve heard Christians teach this. In church. “When there’s no one else to turn to, you have God.” Isn’t that nice? He’s our safety net.

He doesn’t wanna be our safety net. He wants to be our support. He wants to carry us. Help us. Love us. Provide for us. Our first resort.

29 August 2016

The earth’s salt.

We’re to flavor the world. Not preserve it, nor pour grit into it.

Mark 9.43-50 • Matthew 5.13 • Luke 13.34-35

If you’ve ever heard someone called “the salt of the earth,” usually they mean a decent person—but kinda ordinary. No, that’s not what Jesus meant when he coined the phrase “salt of the earth.” Or as I translated it, “the earth’s salt.” I’ve no idea how it evolved from a remarkable person to an unremarkable person.

But when Jesus uses it, he means remarkable. He means a flavor enhancer. Be the salt of the earth: Enhance it. Make it taste better.

Mark 9.49-50 KWL
49 “Everything for the fire will be salted. Lv 2.13 50 Salt is good.
When salt becomes saltless, in what way will it season things?
Have salt in yourselves. Have peace with one another.”
Matthew 5.13 KWL
“You’re the earth’s salt.
When salt is tasteless, in what way will it salt things? It’s of no use.
Well, unless it’s thrown outside, to be walked upon by people.”
Luke 14.34-35 KWL
34 “So salt is good.
When salt is also tasteless, in what way will it salt things?
35 It’s neither useful for the ground nor the dungheap.
They throw it outside. Hear me, you who have ears to hear.”

The spin Mark took on it is a little bit different than the ideas we find in Matthew. I’ll get to it momentarily. First the Sermon on the Mount idea.

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus points out the difference between flavorful and tasteless salt. (Not salt which becomes tasteless; that’s the Mark idea. We’re not doing Mark yet.) There are such things as flavorless salts. They’re used for all the things where salt comes in handy—but not as a flavor enhancer. For that, we prefer sodium chloride, table salt. For other things which don’t involve our taste buds, we use other salts. Like sodium bicarbonate, baking soda; or sodium nitrate, saltpeter, a preservative.

Yeah, let’s talk preservation. In those pre-icehouse, pre-freezer, pre-canning days, salt was used to preserve food. Christians often use this verse to claim we Christians are likewise to preserve things. To keep what’s good in the world. Or to hold on to what we value, like customs and traditions, property and money… stuff Jesus actually may be interested in getting rid of ’cause we’re clinging to our conservatism instead of him.

But since Jesus speaks about salt’s flavor, he clearly isn’t talking about preservative. Tasteless salt is still useful for preservation. For that matter, you can still use it to salt the walkways in icy weather—that’s what Jesus means by throwing it outside to be walked on. Mt 5.13 And maybe not even that. Lk 14.35 (“Or the dungheap” refers to baking soda’s ability to knock out odors.) Still, Jesus is only interested in flavorful salt. He means table salt. Not the other kinds.

So we’re to be that salt. The preserving kind has its uses, but Jesus wants flavor. The ice-melting kind melts ice; the fertilizing kind grows plants; the smell-neutralizing kind kills odors. But Jesus wants flavor. Be flavorful. Flavor the world.

26 August 2016

My first Chick tract: “Bewitched?”

A really awful way to learn about Jesus.

After I recently critiqued a Jack Chick tract, a reader commented it had given her flashbacks from when she was exposed to the awful things when she was a kid. I know what she’s talking about. I grew up in Fundamentalist churches. Fundies love the accursed things. They already have Chick’s worldview: Everything in the world is evil and leading you to hell. Quick, say the sinner’s prayer before God has to righteously toss you in there!

Thing is, Chick panders a little too much to the Fundie worldview. As a result Fundies spread his little Tijuana bible-style tracts everywhere, believing they win tons of people to Jesus… ’cause Chick tracts are everywhere! But they’ve no idea how creepy and wrong pagans (and fellow Christians) actually consider them. See, Chick doesn’t bother with fruit of the Spirit. He may have some, but you surely can’t tell from his tracts. They’re graceless, joyless, peaceless, unkind, impatient. “God so loved the world,” Jn 3.16 but in a Chick tract, he doesn’t love ’em unless they’ve said the sinner’s prayer. After they have, they can then be as judgy and preachy as they like. You know, fruitless.

Which actually isn’t about witches.  Bewitched 1
(Reference numbers refer to images on Chick’s website; the cover is 1, the next page is 2, etc.)

So non-Fundies read Chick tracts and are just horrified. God sounds distant, wrathful, and violent. Christians sound rude. The devil sounds ridiculous. Jesus only shows up to quote bible verses. And non-Christians sound like loony caricatures—and once non-Christians see the way Chick depicts them, they immediately realize he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And likely hasn’t the most solid grasp on anything.

Oh, and everything has a vast secret history, or devilish conspiracy, behind it. “Bewitched” falls into the devilish conspiracy category.

I first read “Bewitched” back in the 1970s. I remember finding it in the house we lived in when I was between the ages of six and eight. Don’t know how it got there. Either Mom was given the thing by people from church, or Dad found it at work and had brought it home for us Christians to appreciate. (Dad was forever in the habit of stealing finding things in the workplace and taking them home.) Regardless, I found it, and I liked comic books, so I read it.

The experience still stands out strongly in my mind. I remember it repulsed me. It wasn’t the theological content; I didn’t fully understand that anyway. No, what bugged me was the art. The devils were creepy-looking. So, for that matter, were the regular people in it. Chick and his artists specialize in creepy-looking cartoons. If the objective is to make it stick in your mind, mission accomplished.

25 August 2016

Prophets in the bible: Read their books!

Wanna know what prophecy sounds like? Read what God’s prophets wrote.

The Prophets /ðə 'prɑf.əts/ pl.n. Biblical writings by and about God’s Spirit-inspired messengers.
2. [In Christian bibles and book order] Books in the Old Testament primarily consisting of prophecies. Usually Isaiah through Malachi.
3. [In Jewish bibles and book order] The second major grouping of the Hebrew scriptures: Books written between 1000 and 400BC; Joshua through Malachi.

Sometimes I refer to “the Prophets,” and I admit this can be confusing to Christians who grew up Jewish. To Jews, “the Prophets” are the middle part of their bible—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the 12 minor prophets.

But to Christians, “the Prophets” are the prophetic literature. Isaiah, Jeremiah (and Jeremiah’s book Lamentations), Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Some of us throw in the New Testament book of Revelation, and others throw in the apocryphal book of Baruch.

And for too many of these Christians, these are flyover books.

Yep. Just like snobs on the east and west coasts assume the middle of the United States consists of irrelevant “flyover states” which one needn’t bother to visit, many Christians figure these books needn’t be read. ’Cause they were written to the ancient Hebrews, not us. And they’re too confusing. Too filled with hard-to-interpret visions. Too weird. Not relevant.

The Prophets, they figure, have only two functions; only two reasons why we bother to publish bibles including them. First of all, they’re full of predictions that Messiah was coming. So they point to Jesus. So we keep ’em for the Messianic prophecies, in case anybody isn’t sure the Prophets did foretell Jesus’s first coming.

The other is because they also foretell Jesus’s second coming. They foretell the End Times. So “prophecy scholars” mine ’em for their End Times prognostications, for stuff that fill in the blanks in their timelines.

Otherwise, these books are considered a hard read. So Christians don’t read ’em. We read the books we consider relevant: The New Testament. The Old Testament origin stories, or tales of great biblical heroes. The psalms, for the poetry. Proverbs, for the wisdom. Song of Songs, for the smut.

But not the Prophets. Otherwise you’d have to learn about the historical context these prophets were talking about, and that’s way too much homework for your typical Christian’s taste. Plus they’re a bummer, ’cause they’re full of condemnation and God’s wrath. So, as I said, they’re skipped. Mine ’em for proof texts, but otherwise skip ’em.

This attitude is incredibly short-sighted of those of us who wanna hear from God.

These prophets heard God. You wanna know what God sounds like? Read the Prophets. You need to hear what God’s legitimate messengers sound like.

24 August 2016

The Lord’s my shepherd.

Most everybody’s favorite psalm.

Adonái ro’i (Latin, Dominus pascit me), “the LORD’s my shepherd,” was written by King David ben Jesse in the 10th century BC. In the Hebrew bible it’s the 23rd psalm. (In the Septuagint and Vulgate it’s the 22nd.)

Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme. But really, all it takes to make a rhyming translation is a little effort. So I did. Went with anapestic septameter. (Poetry nerds know what that means.)

Psalm 23 KWL
0 David’s psalm.
1 I am never deprived, for my shepherd’s the LORD. 2 In his pastures of grass do I rest.
I am guided by him to the waters so calm. 3 He provides me my life. I am blessed.
I am led down the rightest of paths by his name. 4 In the valley’s dark shade, I may veer;
but because you are with me, I won’t be afraid. In your stick and your staff, I take cheer.
5 You arrange me a table in face of my foes. You rub fat on the wool of my head.
You have made my cup overflow. 6 All my life’s days, love and goodness pursue me instead.
I will always return to the house of the LORD for the length of my days. I’m well-led.

Now, the down side to doing this is the parallelism in these verses becomes a little less obvious. And that’s not unimportant. So in order to make the parallels more obvious, I’ll format it thisaway. (And drop the text I had to pad it with to keep it in meter; and put the contractions back in.)

Psalm 23.1-6 KWL
1 I’m never deprived; my shepherd’s the LORD.
2 In pastures of grass do I rest.
I’m guided by him to the waters so calm.
3 He provides me my life.
I’m led down the rightest of paths by his name.
4 In the valley’s dark shade, I may veer;
but because you’re with me, I won’t be afraid.
In your stick and your staff, I take cheer.
5 You arrange me a table in face of my foes.
You rub fat on my head. You make my cup overflow.
6 All my life’s days, love and goodness pursue me.
I return to the house of the LORD for the length of my days.

23 August 2016

When the miracles stopped. Oh wait; they didn’t.

God never stopped doing miracles. But you’d never know it to listen to some Christians.

Cessationist /sɛ'seɪ.ʃə adj. Believing miracles happened in bible times, and may happen in future, but currently don’t.
2. Believing miracles happened at some point in the past, but don’t now.
3. Believing miracles never happened; that all biblical descriptions of them are exaggerations, fantasies, or misreports.
[Cessationism /sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.iz.əm/ n.]

When you read the bible, you’ll notice there are an awful lot of miracles in it.

Jesus performed many. So’d the prophets of the Old Testament. Since Jesus empowers his followers with the Holy Spirit, Ac 2.38-39 same as himself Ac 10.38 and the Old Testament prophets, Zc 7.12 he told his students they’d perform miracles just like his. Potentially even greater than his Jn 14.12 —which arguably his apostles did do, in Acts.

Certainly the world should be filled with more miracles, just on the basis of pure numbers. Instead of only one Jesus of Nazareth, limited to the Galilee or Jerusalem or wherever else he walked, every Christian everywhere should be able to prophesy, cure the sick, and perform wonders on a Jesus-level scale. And I could spend today ranting about why this isn’t the case (lack of faith; duh) but today I’m gonna touch upon only one part of the problem: Christians who believe this shouldn’t be the case.

Because, they insist, miracles don’t happen anymore. God no longer empowers them. Miracles ceased. It’s why we call ’em cessationists. We find ’em all over Christendom. They come in all sorts, but I’m gonna lump ’em into four primary categories.

22 August 2016

Awesome and awful.

The “Blessed are you…” and “Woe is you…” sayings.

Matthew 5.2-12 • Luke 6.20-26

A lot of Jesus’s teachings are bunched together as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. They overlap a bunch, so I’m going through ’em together. And both of them begin with beatitudes.

Beatitude is an old-timey word for “blessing.” Most translations follow the King James Version’s lead and begins each line with “Blessed are the…” as Jesus lists the sucky, not-so-great situation which these folks are groaning under. They’re poor. Mourning. Humble. Starving for justice. Merciful in a world without mercy. Pure-hearted in a dirty culture. Striving for peace where there’s nothing but rage and fear. Getting hunted down, mocked, slandered, driven out. These things sure don’t sound like blessings.

Let’s be blunt: They’re not. We’re not blessed with poverty, misery, no justice, no peace, and persecution.

I’ll explain. But first let’s get to the beatitudes of these two gospels.

Matthew 5.2-12 KWL
2 Opening his mouth, Jesus taught them, saying:
3 “The spiritually poor: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
4 Those mourning: How awesome!—they’ll be comforted.
5 The gentle: How awesome!—they’ll inherit the land.
6 Those hungry and thirsty for justice: How awesome!—they’ll be filled.
7 The merciful: How awesome!—they’ll be shown mercy.
8 Those of clean mind: How awesome!—they’ll see God.
9 Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.
10 Those hunted down because of justice: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
11 When people condemn you, hunt you down, say everything evil against you, lie,
all because of me: How awesome you are!
12 Rejoice and celebrate for your great reward in heaven!
For they persecuted the prophets before you this way.”
Luke 6.20-23 KWL
20 Jesus, lifting his eyes to his students, said:
“The poor: How awesome!—God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Those hungry now: How awesome!—you’ll be filled.
Those crying now: How awesome!—you’ll laugh.
22 When the people hate you, segregate you, condemn and throw out your names as if evil,
because of me: How awesome you are!
23 Rejoice on that day! Skip! Look at your great reward in heaven!
Their ancestors did likewise to the prophets.”

Yeah, you likely noticed I went with a much different translation of makárioi than the typical “blessed.”

19 August 2016

Teaching science at a Christian school.

And a side-rant about the anti-science fears running through Christendom.

Years ago I taught the science classes at a Christian junior high school. Just for a year. Mainly ’cause the other teachers in our program didn’t wanna, and I had two classes free in my schedule. So those classes became Science 6, and Science 7/8.

I’m not a scientist. My field is the social sciences—history, civics, economics. I also have a degree in theology, so of course I can teach bible. I find science interesting, but I’m no expert. But since I had the summer recess to prepare, I had to get familiar with what I’d be teaching. So first I read through the California state standards. Then I got hold of our textbooks.

Great horny toads.

I’m not talking about their condition, which was bad. If you’re running a school, never, ever, EVER buy paperback textbooks for the children. I don’t care how much money you saved; in the long run, you cost yourself way more. We had these books maybe five years. They were thrashed. I had just enough sixth-grade textbooks, but nowhere near enough seventh-grade books. (I wasn’t gonna bother with the eighth-grade books. Our eighth graders still needed to go through the seventh-grade material. The previous year’s science teacher spent more time preaching at the kids than teaching, so they knew nothing anyway.)

I am in fact speaking of their content. The books came from a popular Christian textbook publishing house in Florida. I don’t know whether they matched Florida’s state standards for intermediate school science. They didn’t California’s. I realized I was gonna have to pull in quite a lot of supplemental stuff.

The other part of the problem: They weren’t about actual science anyway. They were about nature trivia and astronomy trivia. Nothing about how to prove your hypothesis through experimentation. Y’know, actual science.

In fact a full sixth of the books were all about young-earth creationism, and why good Christians weren’t allowed to believe in anything else. Apparently ancient and medieval scientists were all good Christians, but godless atheists like Charles Darwin had convinced science to become anti-bible, which clearly teaches God made the universe in a literal week.

I’m an old-earth creationist myself. But even if the books taught my view, I still wouldn’t wanna waste two months of the school year on the subject.

Mixed in with all this non-science were whole paragraphs and pages which consisted of odes to God: Nature is great, and so is God for creating nature. Lots of bible verses, used as pull quotes, which the authors figured were appropriate to the subject at hand. But most of ’em totally out of context.

Not completely useless, but pretty close. So I went to the vice principal to inform him on the situation, and what I was gonna do about it.

18 August 2016

The Sermon on the Mount.

The ways people interpret—and weasel out of—Christ Jesus’s teachings.

Matthew 7.24-27 • Luke 6.47-49

When people read the New Testament, even though evangelists tell ’em to read John first, they usually go to Matthew, the first book. So their first real introduction to the teachings of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount.

As, I would argue, it should be. John is great for talking about our salvation and God’s character. But now that we’re saved, how are we to live? What are the good works God has in mind for us? Ep 2.10 Duh; Sermon on the Mount.

Three chapters of solid Jesus. If you’ve got a copy of the bible which puts his letters in red, that’s three solid-red chapters. Entirely consisting of instructions on how he expects his followers to interact, treat others, and follow him. Pretty challenging instructions, too.

A little too challenging for a lot of Christians. For some new believers, it’s like a punch in the face. This is what Jesus expects of us? Righteous behavior? Self-control? Radical forgiveness? Integrity? Total faith in God? No double standards? In fact higher standards than the most religious people we know? Christ Almighty!

Some of us figure, “Okay,” and give it a shot. But historically, most Christians have looked at the Sermon on the Mount, balked, and tried to find loopholes just like Pharisees. The result has been the five most common ways Christians choose to interpret the Sermon on the Mount. Four of ’em, obviously, are attempts to weasel out of it.

17 August 2016

The crowds who came to see Jesus.

Having fans isn’t always a great thing.

Mark 3.7-12 • Matthew 4.24 - 5.1 • Luke 6.17-19

Despite the Pharisees’ frustration with Jesus curing people on Sabbath, word about Jesus spread all over the province—and to the provinces nearby. Jesus gradually found himself with loads of followers. Impractically large loads of followers. From all over.

These passages aren’t all that parallel, but they roughly cover the same ground, so you get the idea.

Mark 3.7-12 KWL
7 Jesus went back over the lake, with his students and many groups:
People from the Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond-Jordan, Tyre, and Sidon.
Hearing about whatever Jesus was doing, many groups came to him.
9 Jesus spoke to his students so they’d have a boat nearby, because of the crowds.
Thus they wouldn’t crush him. 10 Jesus had cured many.
So the many plague-sufferers could touch him, they resorted to jumping him.
11 Whenever unclean spirits saw Jesus, they fell down before him,
shouting out, “You’re the son of God!”— 12 and Jesus silenced them, lest they expose him.
Matthew 4.24 - 5.1 KWL
24 The rumor of Jesus went out to all Syria.
People brought him everyone who had all sorts of evil diseases,
those crushed by torments, demoniacs, lunatics, the paralyzed,
and he cured them.
25 Many crowds followed Jesus:
People from the Galilee, Dekapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond-Jordan.
1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up a hill.
As he seated himself, his students came to him.
Luke 6.17-19 KWL
17 Coming down with them, Jesus stood on level ground,
with many crowds of his students, a plethora of people
from all Judea, Jerusalem, the coastline of Tyre and Sidon.
18 They came to hear Jesus—and be cured from their diseases.
Those tormented by unclean spirits were dealt with,
19 and all the crowd sought to touch Jesus, for his power came out and cured everyone.

People from everywhere were coming to Jesus. Not just fellow Jews who lived in the Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. Time for a mini-geography lesson.

16 August 2016

Christians, “adult content,” prudery, and self-control.

When Christians respond, “You shouldn’t be watching that stuff.”

Couple years ago an acquaintance of mine was casually recommending some movies to a group of us. Stuff he’d recently seen; stuff he’d seen, but we hadn’t, so he thought we might be interested.

It just so happened one of the movies is what we’d call “adult content.” Lots of swearing. Little violent. Some sexual activity; not buck-naked thrashing around, but even so, it’d be stuff you might not want your kids to see. Although maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t care what your kids see. I’ve had a few fourth-grade students whose parents were far from discriminating. Far.

Most of this group were Christian, and the inevitable question came up: “Do you think it’s appropriate for you, as a Christian, to watch such a movie?”

Not “to recommend such a movie.” Watch such a movie. The implied question wasn’t, “Is it okay to recommend such movies, ’cause certain people might be led into temptation?” but “Won’t everyone be led into temptation by this movie? Are you sure you’re not fully corrupt by watching such stuff?”

Are there some movies, video games, songs, TV programs, magazines, or books, which no Christian should ever, ever see?

A fair number of Christians would answer, “Absolutely. There are certain things which soil everyone they touch.” So they avoid such things. Some go even further: They wanna ban such things. These would be the people who try to pass laws against them, who complain to the Federal Communications Commission about anything on TV which offends them, who make sure sex shops and marijuana dispensaries and online bingo parlors can never open within the city limits of their town. Not just because they’re protecting the children from stumbling across such things; they don’t trust the adults either.

And a fair number of Christians would also answer, “Absolutely not. Mature Christians can handle such things and not be affected. You do realize Jesus used to eat with tax collectors, drunks, whores, and sinners, right? He wasn’t corrupted by them. And I won’t be corrupted by them.”

But let’s be blunt: Some of those Christians are totally lying to themselves.

15 August 2016

The person with the paralyzed hand.

When Jesus’s lesson in synagogue turned into an ambush.

Mark 3.1-6 • Matthew 12.9-14 • Luke 6.6-11

Matthew bunched together all the stories about Jesus outraging people by doing stuff on Sabbath, but Mark (and Luke follows Mark) sorta told them in the order he knew the stories. Clearly the Pharisees believed curing disease and healing the sick counted as the sort of work you were to stop doing on Sabbath, and Jesus didn’t agree in the slightest.

Considering Jesus couldn’t cure a soul without the Holy Spirit empowering him to do it, you’d think these Pharisees would’ve put two and two together, and realized God had mightily taken Jesus’s side. But we aren’t dealing with the sharpest knives in the butcher shop. They figured they were right, Jesus was wrong; they had 50 years of Pharisee tradition backing them up, and who was he?

So yeah, once again here’s a story about the religious Right of Jesus’s day, taking advantage of their lack of separation of church and state, hoping to get Jesus prosecuted or killed for violating their traditional values.

Okay, enough loaded political buzzwords. Here’s how the story unfolded.

Mark 3.1-2 KWL
1 Jesus entered synagogue again. A person with a paralyzed hand was there.
2 People were watching Jesus: If he healed the person on Sabbath, they could criticize him.
Matthew 12.9-10 KWL
9 Leaving there, Jesus entered their synagogue. 10 Look, a person with a paralyzed hand!
People questioned Jesus, saying, “Ought one heal on Sabbath?”—
so they could criticize him.
Luke 6.6-7 KWL
6 Jesus happened, on another Sabbath, to enter synagogue and teach.
A person was there, and his right hand was paralyzed.
7 The scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus:
If he healed on Sabbath, they could find a critique against him.

The KJV describes this person’s hand as “withered”—a word that doesn’t mean today what it did in 1611. Back then it meant as the Greek word xirós does: Dry. Like wood you wanna build something with, or burn; as opposed to fresh wood you’ve just cut off the tree. Nowadays we call such wood weathered instead of withered. But the reason the ancients called an arm that, was ’cause all the life appeared to be gone from the arm: It was dead, or numb, or paralyzed. Not shriveled like a dried-up tree branch.

Not that this stops artists from painting or drawing some pretty creepy-looking, messed-up arms for Jesus to heal. But if this guy’s arm had been that level of messed up, he wouldn’t have been allowed to enter synagogue. The Pharisees would consider his arm ritually unclean. So likely it was no more than paralyzed. Still not good, but it wasn’t like this guy had a shriveled tree branch attached to his arm.

12 August 2016

My big-ass bibles.

Remember when everybody brought one to church? No? Okay, you’re young.

A few months ago, someone left a bible at my church. It’s one of those big, leather-clad bibles. It’s the size of a bible that really should be reserved for large-print bibles for the visually impaired. I tend to call them “big-ass bibles.” Though, when I do, I tend to get startled stares from Christians who can’t handle the word “ass.” Even though it’s in the bible—in the KJV, anyway.

I have some big-ass bibles too. But I stopped carrying ’em to church when I was in seminary. Since I needed a bible for nearly every class, I bought a smaller-than-average edition of the NIV, which I always kept in the front pocket of my backpack, and that was my go-to bible for school, church, work, travel, anything and everything. Years later I upgraded to a NASB compact bible with a teal pleather snap cover. But soon thereafter (a few years before phones became smartphones), I bought a pocket computer, loaded bible software onto it, and that became my bible-on-the-go. Today, that software’s on my phone.

The reason I own bibles of unusual size? They’re study bibles. They came with notes. Sometimes there’s more notes than scripture.

Remember this verse?—

Revelation 22.18-19 KWL
19 I testify to everyone hearing the prophetic words of this book: When anyone adds upon them,
God will add upon them—of the plagues recorded in this book.
20 When anyone subtracts from the words of this prophetic book,
God will subtract from their share—of the holy city’s tree of life, recorded in this book.

Too many Christians assume “of this book” refers to the whole bible, not just Revelation. It doesn’t—and good thing, too. Otherwise a whole lot of publishers are going to hell for overdoing it on the study notes.

I still have one of those monster bibles: The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. Currently it’s published as The Life with God Bible, and comes in paperback. That’s probably better. I got the old hardcover edition. Sucker’s huge. After I jammed it into a barely-big-enough bible cover, then added pens and a notebook, it weighs about 4 kilos.

Now that’s one of those bibles you carry around to proclaim, “Look! I have a bible. And it’s much, much bigger than yours.” It’s a bible meant to inspire bible envy—a covetousness similar to penis envy, but more spiritual. (As if envy is ever an appropriate kind of spirituality.) Although you can get bigger bibles. Pulpit bibles, they’re called.

11 August 2016

The Ten Commandments.

Namely, the ones God spoke aloud from Mt. Sinai.

The Ten Commandments (Hebrew, aserét ha-devarím/“ten words”) are the 10 commands the LORD spoke aloud to the Hebrew people from Mt. Sinai.

No, they’re not God’s only commands. When Jesus was asked about the most important, none of these commands made it into his top two. Mk 12.39-31 But they are the commands God considered important enough to tell everyone audibly.

A lot of Christians fetishize them. In the United States, we make monuments of them, and try to have them put in public places. Especially outside courtrooms. It’s debatable whether that’s legal, since governments aren’t supposed to promote one religion above all the others. Historically, Christians have got away with it by pressuring all the pagans to keep their mouths shut and let us have our way. Lately they haven’t been, so now we’re crying persecution. But that’s all I’m gonna say about that today.

In Christian schools, they’re on the wall of most classrooms. Christians are expected to know what they are. Though if you quizzed us, most of us would embarrass ourselves, ’cause we never memorized them. We couldn’t even find them in a bible if we wanted.

They’re actually in the bible twice: At Exodus 20.2-17 and Deuteronomy 5.8-21. The Exodus passage took place at Sinai, and Deuteronomy tells of when Moses repeated them to the Hebrews at Wadi al-Arabah, right before they entered Palestine. There are minor differences in the two lists, but big deal.

Strangely, though Christians make a big deal about ’em, many of us teach we don’t need to follow the Law in the Old Testament any longer, ’cause supposedly Jesus canceled it out with his death. Yet they’re nearly always willing to make an exception for the Ten Commandments: That part of the Law, we gotta follow. The rest can go by the wayside. (Well… okay, some of us will also keep the commands against homosexuality, ’cause if that command doesn’t count anymore, it’s gonna be hard to still call it “an abomination.” But the rest of the commands can go. Especially the ones banning pork. Love me some bacon.)

So, why are the Ten Commandments an exception? Usually ’cause we figure violating them is so obviously wrong, it doesn’t make sense to claim they don’t count. “Don’t murder”? Duh. “Don’t steal”? Of course. “Honor your parents”? I wish. “Don’t covet”? Well… um… er… okay, maybe once we redefine “covet” to mean “don’t want what you can’t have,” but make exceptions for everything we can have. Or buy.

10 August 2016

Paul prays for God’s superabundant riches.

God has a lot he could give us—if we’d ask.

Ephesians 3.13-20

God’s mystery, now revealed to the world by Paul, was that his kingdom includes gentiles. Previous generations weren’t aware of this—despite hints in the Old Testament—but now God wanted his church to make it crystal clear. The good news is for everyone. No exceptions. Jesus is Lord of all.

This, Paul explained, was why he was in chains. Ep 3.1 In Acts, he proclaimed—in temple, of all places!—that Jesus had sent him to the gentiles. Ac 22.21 The resulting riot got the Romans to arrest him, Ac 22.22-24 originally to prosecute him, but it quickly turned into protective custody, as the Judean leadership sought to get Paul killed. At the time he wrote Ephesians, we figure he was awaiting trial in Rome. All this was provoked by the very idea of including gentiles in God’s kingdom—but Paul was certainly not so petty as to blame the gentiles for his situation. Wasn’t their fault.

On the contrary: The gentiles drove him to rejoice.

Ephesians 3.13-17 KWL
13 So I request you don’t despair over my suffering for you—which is in your honor.
14 It’s why I bend my knees to the Father,
15 for whom every “fatherland” in heaven and on earth is named.
16 So he could give you power from his glorious riches,
make you strong in his Spirit in the person within,
17 and settle Christ in your hearts, planted and established through faith in love.

Christians tend to miss the importance of Paul bending his knees to the Father. Ep 3.14 ’Cause lots of us kneel to pray. But first-century Christians didn’t ordinarily pray like that: They usually prayed standing up, facing the sky, arms outstretched. Mk 11.25, Lk 18.13 Kneeling was a much bigger deal. It meant you had a serious request, like when Jesus asked not to suffer, Lk 22.41 or when Simon Peter asked God to raise a dead woman. Ac 9.40 It meant you were begging. Paul was begging God to grant the Ephesians “power from his glorious riches,” make them “strong in his Spirit,” and “settle Christ in [their] hearts.” He wanted the Ephesians to become solid Christians. (’Cause they were good Christians Ep 1.15 —but could be better!)

Every “fatherland,” Paul pointed out, is named for the Father. That’s a bit of Greek wordplay, which made it a little tricky to translate. Paul was comparing patír/“father” and patriá/“nation.” He correctly pointed out the word patriá comes from the word patír. Originally patriá meant “family,” and the KJV translated it that way: “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ep 3.15 KJV But a patriá wasn’t just one small little family, but a national family—the ethnic identity of an entire nation. Back then, people figured a significant part of their national identity was their ancestry. They were all descendants of a common ancestor. You know, like Jews all figured they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the “sons of Israel.”

Nowadays we consider that idea racist—’cause it is. Especially in nations like the Roman Empire—and the United States—which are based on ideas and rights, not ancestry. Particularly in God’s kingdom, where everyone’s adopted, Ep 1.5 so race shouldn’t make any difference. And lest anyone assume it does, Paul’s point was how every ethnic identity has its origin in God. He put people-groups where he wanted them. Ac 17.26 Now he wants ’em in his kingdom, the patriá of heaven: One nation, under God, indivisible.

09 August 2016

What KJV-worshipers believe about the bible.

A warped alternate history, invented by Jack T. Chick.

I know; I already wrote an article about the history of the King James Version—and the people who worship it. But two years ago I wrote a different article, and was asked to repost it. I was a little reluctant to, ’cause it’s largely based on a Chick tract.

Some of you already know who he was: Jack T. Chick (1924–2016) was a conspiracy theorist who believed the devil was behind everything he doesn’t like. Seriously everything—and Chick didn’t like much. In order to prove it, he played really fast and loose with the truth. He’d misquote bible, mangle history, and apparently just make stuff up from scratch. ’Cause for some of his claims, I can’t find confirmation anywhere—well, other than books Chick himself published.

Primarily his company publishes evangelism tracts. Nearly all of them lack fruit of the Spirit: They’re loveless, impatient, unkind, joyless (his humor is the ironic, mocking sort), graceless (any little slip-up on our part sends us to hell), and fearful. I needn’t remind you they likewise make up any facts he needed to prove his points… and hopefully scare you into the waiting, loving judgey arms of Jesus.

His tracts are controversial, because many Christians love love LOVE them. Believe it or not, some of them actually aren’t bad. But most of them are. Christians justify using them ’cause “Chick tracts work!”—but that was just Chick’s marketing slogan. If they win anyone to Christ, chances are you wind up with just another Chick-style conspiracy theorist.

Yep, someone’s supposedly burning the One True Bible. Attack 1
(Reference numbers refer to images on the website; the cover is 1, the next page is 2, etc.)

So I’m loath to use him as an example, ’cause the man doesn’t need any more publicity. Then again, he was mighty typical of what a KJV-worshiper believes. Not only that: You’ll find more than one KJV-worshiper actually turn to Chick’s publications as their “historical” justifications for believing as they do. So if you wanna go straight to the source of the madness, Chick’s got a river of bile flowing out of him.

Chick’s tract, “The Attack,” is his alternative history of how we got the King James Version, and the devil’s conspiracy to deny it to us. You can read it, in its entirety, on his website. As with all his “historical” tracts, a fraction is true. The rest is out of context, hyper-compressed, reinterpreted, whitewashed, or pure fiction.

It uses two sources. One’s David W. Daniels, whose book Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible? is published by Chick Publications, and where “The Attack” got its secret history. The other’s Alberto Rivera (1937–97), a con artist who claimed he used to be a Roman Catholic bishop, whom the Jesuits sent to infiltrate and undermine Protestant churches. In the 1970s, Rivera “outed” himself, told all sorts of wacky tales about how the Catholics are secretly behind Islam, Communism, the Masons, the Ku Klux Klan, the Mafia, the Mormons… and pretty much every boogeyman Chick feared. Rivera was debunked years ago by Cornerstone, Christianity Today, and Walter Martin’s Christian Research Institute. But Chick Publications still produces Rivera’s books, and plenty of anti-Catholics still believe his every word.

08 August 2016

Quit praying to Satan!

As if the devil even can, or cares to, answer our prayers.

There’s an traditional African folk song called “What a Mighty God We Serve.” If you grew up Christian, maybe you heard it in Sunday school. Sometimes adults sing it too. Goes like so.

What a mighty God we serve
What a mighty God we serve
Angels bow before him
Heaven and earth adore him
What a mighty God we serve

Years later I found out it had some more lyrics—ones my children’s and youth pastors never bothered to have us sing. Maybe you can guess why.

I command you Satan in the name of the Lord
To take up your weapons and flee
For the Lord has given me authority
To walk all over thee

There are variations; “put down your weapons” in the second line; “stomp all over thee” in the fourth.

Anyway. Lots of churches tend to give these lines a miss, so lots of Christians aren’t aware of ’em. I particularly remember one summer youth camp: The pastor got all the kids to sing along with the first part, but when she broke into the second part, the kids sat there confused—why’s she singing to the devil? Anyway, because they didn’t sing along, she concluded, “I guess you don’t know that part,” and went right back to the “What a mighty God we serve” bit they did know.

As to why churches don’t teach it: Well you are singing to the devil. And shouldn’t. Don’t do that.

Likewise there are a number of Christians who pray to the devil. You may have seen it happen. Someone gets up to pray, and in the middle of all their other praises and petitions to God, they put him on pause, and get Satan in on this conference call.

“And Satan, we rebuke you. We bind you. We cast you out. You have no authority here. You have no business in this place. You get out of here, Satan. You’re under our feet.”

And so on. You get the idea.

Again: Don’t do that.

I know. Your pastors do it. Your prayer leaders do it. Christians you greatly respect do it. Loads of people do it.

Well, they shouldn’t do it either.

05 August 2016

Picking your label.

Everybody wants to reserve the right to define themselves. Or redefine.

Years ago I joined an internet forum. As you do, when you wanna interact with like-minded or similar-minded people, and you can’t find a whole lot of ’em in your hometown, so you try out the internet. They’re a lot of fun for the first couple years, but I find they invariably deteriorate. They’re so interested in getting more members, or new members, they start letting in the cranks, and cranks ruin everything. Those of you who are cranks know what I mean.

Anyway, after the numbers got up there, the moderator asked that we all re-introduce ourselves for the sake of the many newcomers. “Please tell us your religious background.” How would you label yourself?

A lot of us took the opportunity to be really vague about it:

  • “Student of Christ.”
  • “Disciple.”
  • “Catechumen.” (Seriously.)
  • “Worshiper of the King.”
  • “Christ-carrier.”
  • “Jesus person.”
  • “Grateful believer.”
  • “God-chaser.”

Honest to goodness, I didn’t think I’d joined a group of hippies.

Lefties, you know what I’m talking about. I ran into it all the time in college. Join a group, ask the members of the group what they call themselves, and just about every single person has chosen a different label for themselves. They customized the definition to whatever they wished it would be. ’Cause it’s all about them, isn’t it? Even in community.

I used to see this all the time on Facebook, or any of the other social media platforms where there was an “About” page which invited you to state your religion. Some folks went with the usual “Christian” or “Jewish” or one of the denominations. But lots of ’em, sometimes for fun and sometimes because “Christian” wasn’t enough, would put “Lover of JESUS!!!” or some such. Caps and three exclamation points means you really mean it.

Back to the internet forum. I got specific, because I wanted there to be no question where I was coming from—and if there were, it would only be because people didn’t understand the terms. I went with “Christian / Arminian / Pentecostal / Assemblies of God.” From the general to the specific: Religion, theology, movement, denomination.

Some of the others were specific as well. If you identify with your denomination, or you’re in leadership, you tend to. If you don’t care for it, you tend not to join its hierarchy. (Although there are exceptions: At my last church, we took an informal survey of the people’s attitudes about membership, and asked how they identified themselves. One of our elders identified herself as an attendee. No, there was no box to tick; she wrote the word out. Not an elder; not even as a member. There’s commitment for ya.)

The rest of the forum members picked the usual vague terms we find among bloggers, Twitter users, authors, survey respondents, and average church attendees throughout Christendom. It signified they wanted to be unique. It also signified just how much the other terms don’t work for them.

04 August 2016

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

Most people believe in God. Now let’s discuss the tiny minority who don’t.

Nontheist /'nɑn.θi.ɪst/ adj., n. Believes no such thing as God, gods, a universal spirit, a universal intelligence, nor a supernatural higher power, exists. (A catchall term for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and others who are skeptical of God and religion.)
[Nontheism /'nɑn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]

Y’know, for the first couple centuries of Christianity, we Christians were called atheist.

See, the Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just the all the gods, titans, demigods, and demons in the Greco-Roman pantheon: They accepted the gods of other pantheons too. They didn’t presume they knew them all, so whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they’d accept it. Sometimes they added it to their pantheon, as we can tell by the fact they had multiple gods of war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos), the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion), and the moon (Achelois, Artemis, Selene, Phoebe). Other times they figured it was one of their existing gods under a local name, like how Latin-speakers referred to Zeus as Deo Pater/“Father God” (which of course got contracted to Jupiter). When the Greeks first encountered the Egyptian god Amun-Ra, they figured he was just the local version of Helios. They also tried to pull the same stunt with our LORD, and claim he’s the Jewish version of Zeus, but the Maccabees objected rather vigorously to that idea.

Anywho, the Greco-Romans believed there were gods everywhere—whereas Christians and Jews only have the One. Those other beings the pagans considered “gods” weren’t gods at all: They were made-up deities, perpetuated by scam-artist priests with the help of devils. You know, like atheists nowadays claim about our God (but without devils in the explanation; the part about devils. To the pagans, it’s like we didn’t believe in any god—’cause we sure wouldn’t accept any of their gods.

So if you imagine Christians and nontheists are opposites: Not really. When it comes to other gods, like Zeus and Odin and Amun-Ra, we don’t believe in them either. We think it’s just as silly or wrong, unhealthy or dangerous, to follow and worship such beings, as nontheists. In that, we’re on the same side.

But obviously we really disagree about YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God and father of Christ Jesus.

03 August 2016

Discernment: Use your noggin!

God gives us wisdom. Use it to detect when people are leading us astray.

I’ve written previously, briefly, on supernatural discernment. I’ll have to get further into it another time. But today I get to the usual kind: The ability to judge between true and false.

Yeah, there’s regular discernment and supernatural discernment. There are Christians who insist there’s only one kind of discernment, and it ain’t supernatural: We deduce between good and evil, and God heightens our ability by spelling out good and evil in the scriptures. Study your bible and you’ll learn to immediately recognize evil.

And yeah, that’s pretty much how ordinary discernment works.

Trouble is, in practice a lot of these Christians confuse their knee-jerk reactions, their unthinking responses, their prejudices, with discernment. They’re not comfortable with something, so they leap to the easy conclusion it’s evil. That’s why so many old-timers in the 1950s and ’60s just presumed rock and roll was evil; that’s why so many old-timers in the present day just presume Harry Potter is evil. (“It’s about magic? Yep, that’s evil.”)

Regular discernment means we gotta think. We gotta figure things out. We gotta look at people’s motives. We gotta look for the things the scriptures instruct us to: Fruit of the Spirit, or works of the flesh. Good or bad character. Motives. Self-sacrificing or self-serving deeds. There’s a difference, and we gotta detect this difference.

Sometimes discernment’s called wisdom, and the Old Testament frequently uses wisdom as a synonym. Dt 32.29, 1Ki 3.12, Pr 16.21, Is 44.18 ’Cause discernment is part of wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what we oughta do, and doing it; it’s also knowing what we ought not do, and not doing that. We gotta recognize the difference between good and evil before we do what’s good. Otherwise we’ll get tricked into evil. We’ll do what looks wise, but is really self-deception, the product of shallow thinking… or a fraud set up by evil people.

Give you an example. Lots of people assume “natural” is always good, and “artificial” is always bad. In food, in fabric, in cleaning products, in building materials, in personality traits—doesn’t matter; what comes “natural” is good. If nature made it, eat plenty. If humans made it in a lab, avoid.

And here’s where that rationale falls apart: Tobacco is natural, but it’s awful for you. Pasteurized milk, processed in a lab, is far safer to drink than untreated raw milk. There are plenty of examples where “natural” is dangerous, and “artificial” is best. But you try telling that to some stay-at-home mom who read four websites and is now convinced vaccines are deadly.

Yep, people don’t bother with discernment. Christians included.

It’s why we fall for every Christian fad people try to sell us. Why we spread Christian-sounding sayings around, yet never double-check ’em against the scriptures. Why we embrace interesting “wisdom” but never ask “Is that from God?” Whatever makes us feel good, affirmed, righteous, excited, inspired, clever, positive—if we’re happy and we know it, we shout Amen.

As if the devil doesn’t know how to manufacture happiness.

No, it won’t be lasting happiness. The devil can’t do joy. But the fake joy only has to last long enough to lead us astray or exploit us. And if we’re foolish enough, we’re ensnared by something else long before we notice the problems in the first con. That’s precisely why we’ve gotta learn discernment: We gotta extricate ourselves from our current mess, and learn to stay away from future messes.

02 August 2016

“God makes all things work together for our good.”

Wouldn’t that be awesome. Too bad God never promised any such thing.

Romans 8.28

“You make all things work together for my good,” goes the bridge of the 2008 Jesus Culture song “Your Love Never Fails.” (Or are you more familiar with the 2013 Newsboys version? No? Doesn’t matter.) It’s a common variation of a popular idea, borrowed from Paul in Romans, which goes like so:

Romans 8.28 KJV
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Frequently people drop a “the” in quoting it, and end it, “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” More like the ESV has it. But however we remember it, the problem is why we remember it; and this being a “Context” article you can bet it’s about wrongly remembering it.

Together with “Everything happens for a reason!” this is a myth we Christians use to comfort ourselves, and one another. When we’re going through a rough time, we like to imagine God’s permitting or allowing or even causing these trials, because he has a greater good in mind. We just gotta trust God, and ride it out.

But this is an idea Calvinism teaches. Not the scriptures. It’s based on the Calvinist belief God sovereignly micromanages everything in the cosmos. They say he’s actually behind all things—even evil things—so of course he’ll work ’em out for our good. But we gotta stretch the scriptures beyond their breaking point before they state any such thing.

You do realize there’s an entire book of the bible dedicated to the existence of meaningless things, right? Not everything happens for a reason! It’s why Qohelét, the author of Ecclesiastes, started his book with “Vapor of vapors. It’s all vapor.” Ec 1.2 KWL

I won’t go as hardcore as Qohelét did, and claim we can’t find meaning in anything. Certain things definitely have meaning. Sometimes we grant the meaning to them; sometimes God does. But Qohelét was dealing with a culture which—like our own—tries to find meaning in everything. A random accident upends our lives, and we go out of our minds playing mental connect-the-dots, trying to find anything deep or truthful or profound in it. So to give his culture a solid slap in the face, Qohelét pulled out the stops: Nothing has meaning. Nothing makes sense. All sorts of stuff that’s “supposed” to happen, doesn’t. Stuff that should be fair, isn’t. Life sucks.

For these people, Ecclesiastes is a bummer, so they avoid it. We don’t wanna believe it. We way prefer the idea God has a grand plan, and these random accidents are secretly part of the plan. We imagine every irrelevant, minor thing triggers a butterfly effect, with great, life-altering consequences. Every decision matters. Every action counts. Every time we talk about God, we plant a seed which never returns void. You know, the usual hyper-optimistic crap.

You know, the usual hyper-optimistic crap. And don’t get me wrong; Christians ought to be optimistic. Jm 1.2 But not delusionally so. We live by faith, not wishful thinking.

01 August 2016

Gentleness: Take charge of your emotions!

“Gentle” doesn’t mean “nice.” It means, like a well-trained horse, you don’t spook easily.

When Christians go through Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians—love, joy, peace, etcetera Ga 5.22-23 —we tend to skip gentleness. ’Cause we figure it’s just a synonym of kindness. Gentle people are kind, right? Gentle Jesus is meek and mild, according to Charles Wesley’s hymn; we assume gentleness is therefore meekness and mildness. Nice, friendly people.

Or gentle people are patient. They handle others softly, not roughly. Like the washing machine on the gentle cycle: Treats your clothes softly and tenderly, kinda like the way Jesus is calling, “Oh sinner, come home” in Will Thompson’s hymn.

What’re the chances I’m gonna tell you both those definitions are incorrect? Better than average.

The word Paul used for gentleness is prahýtis. It describes someone who’s prahýs/“gentle.” In classical Greek literature, it’s used to describe people or animals who were angry, sad, or fearful… but they got control of themselves.

  • In Homer’s Hymn to Hermes, Apollo was enraged, but let music make him gentle. 417
  • In Hesiod’s Works and Days, stubborn mules were made tame, or gentle. 797
  • In Aeschylus’s Persians, Xerxes tried to gentle a team of horses, 190 and Darius advised Atossa to use gentle words to soothe her grieving son. 837
  • In Pindar’s Pythian Odes, Hero was “gentle to his citizens.” 3.71
  • And in the Septuagint, Moses was more gentle than anyone, Nu 12.3 in contrast to his angry brother and sister. Nu 12.1-2

The term refers to someone who’s emotionally stable. You know, like a wild horse that’s been broken, who doesn’t buck every unfamiliar rider, or freak out at every odd thing it encounters. Like a tame animal who’s not passive and quiet one moment, then tearing through your throat the next.

Unlike some humans. And some Christians.

The ancient Greeks highly praised gentility. Gentle rulers weren’t emotion-driven despots, who’d freak out whenever you tweeted something they don’t like. They weren’t easily outraged—which, I remind you, is a work of the flesh. They weren’t thrown into panic, frenzy, depression, or euphoria, at the smallest things. They weren’t quick to sorrow, despair, rejoice, or ecstasy. Like I said, stable.

God’s that way too: Gracious, merciful, slow to anger, quick to forgive. Jl 2.13 Stands to reason it’s a fruit of the Spirit: All those fruits are God’s traits. If we follow his Spirit, we’re gonna take on his attitudes, behaviors, and emotional stability. We’re gonna be gentle like God is. We might feel excitement, rage, sadness, zeal, all sorts of emotions—but we’re never gonna let ’em take over our lives, and lead us to do something sinful. We are in control. Never our emotions.