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Showing posts from August, 2016

The serenity prayer.

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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. Amen. 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

God must be our first resort. Never our last.

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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

My first Chick tract: “Bewitched?”

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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 t

The Lord’s my shepherd.

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Most everybody’s favorite psalm. Adonái ro’i (Latin, Dominus pascit me ), “the L ORD ’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 L ORD . 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

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.ʃən.ist/ 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

Teaching science at a Christian school.

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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 w

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

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

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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

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, hop

My big-ass bibles.

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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 softwar

What KJV-worshipers believe about the bible.

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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 nee

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’

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

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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

Gentleness: Take charge of your emotions!

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“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