“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October

When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

In the past several years the expression has seen a bit of backlash. Mainly because the people who say it have turned it into an empty, hypocritical saying. By their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of the disaster victims. And either they’re also not praying, or they’re praying in some manner that doesn’t change ’em whatsoever—contrary to how we all know prayer is supposed to work.

To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk: Nobody’s listening, so we Christians are only talking to the sky; nobody’s interacting with us, so we Christians aren’t gonna change. Prayers are therefore just as useless as when some pagans attempt to send positive thoughts, vibes, and energy towards the needy: All they actually do is psyche themselves into feeling really happy things, then feel a little burst of euphoria which they figure is them “releasing” those thoughts into the universe—and then they’re back to life as usual. Unless the happy thoughts get ’em to deliberately behave in more positive, productive ways towards those around them, the universe is no different. Nor better.

Give you an example. One of the United States’ recent mass shootings might take out more masses than usual. The news media covers it like crazy; the public is horrified; the usual senators tweet that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their families. And those who want gun restrictions object: These particular senators aren’t gonna change the gun laws whatsoever. If anything they’ll try all the harder to eliminate gun restrictions. Which means more mass shootings are inevitable. So what good are those senators’ thoughts and prayers?

I mean, functionally it’s the same as when James objected to “faith” which lacked works:

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when anyone claims to have faith and takes no action?
This “faith” doesn’t save them.
15 When a Christian brother or sister becomes destitute, lacks daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace! May you be warm and fed,”
and doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it takes no action, is dead to the core.

Our “thoughts and prayers” frequently aren’t any different than wishing the needy well, but doing nothing to make ’em less needy. Sometimes out of our own laziness, sometimes our own ill will. And the needy aren’t dense. They see the irreligiousness of it. They’re calling us on it. Rightly so.

If our thoughts and prayers do nothing, our faith is dead.

“Train up a child…”

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October

Proverbs 22.6.

This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—

Proverbs 22.6 KJV
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.

After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.

In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent ’em to church camps and youth groups and youth pastors who’d tell them about Jesus. Voiced their political opinions, and they’re pretty sure Jesus feels exactly the same way they do. It wasn’t disciplined, focused, intentional, or systematic, but they did kinda lay the groundwork for the kids to come back.

So if the proverb is a promise—and that’s precisely how they cling to it—the kids will one day see the error of their ways, repent, and return to the values they were raised with. The kids’ll go through a brief period of rebellion, their own personal rumspringa, but when they’re old—hopefully not that old—they’ll be back.

The “out of context” header might’ve tipped you off to the fact this view is entirely incorrect. Lot of blind optimism behind it. Lot of wishful thinking. But doesn’t usually happen. I still know quite a few of those youth group kids, now in their 40s, same as me. Still not Christian. Some of ’em think they are, but really they’re just Christianist. Others are “spiritual, not religious,” or joined another religion like Buddhism, or went nontheist.

There are a lot of non-practicing Christians who slide back into Christianity as soon as they have kids: They realize they’ve gotta pass down their morals to their children, and since they have none, they go with Jesus’s… and realize they don’t know his morals as well as they thought, so they go to church to rectify that. Which is great, ’cause it’s what gets young families into the church, and young families help keep a church stable. But my youth group’s former kids? If that was gonna gonna get ’em back into church, it’d’ve happened when they were in their 20s and 30s. It didn’t. They’re still out.

Their parents are likely clinging to the fact the proverb says, “When he is old,” but let’s get real: It’s not happening at this rate. Only way it would, is if the Holy Spirit intervenes with a major course correction. Which he can always do, so never rule out the possibility. It’s just a lot of these drastic actions still don’t convince people to return to Jesus. When a major life trauma (i.e. loss of a job, death of a relative, health crisis, natural or artificial disaster) impacts our lives, people either take a hard left towards God, or a hard right away from him. And since away is the path of least resistance, that’s usually the route they choose.

Does this mean the proverb isn’t true then? Nope, that’s not the problem. The real problem is people are using it completely wrong.

Faith is not blind optimism.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 October

Hoping for the best needs something substantial to hope in.

As I wrote in my first piece on faith, it’s not the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish. Like believing in Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns, and non-western medicine.

Related to that, and actually a big part of what people assume faith to be, is the power to believe everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna work out. Times may be tough right now, but we’ll persevere, we’ll be successful, we’ll be vindicated, we’ll come out on top. Life will be good. Love will conquer all. How do we know any of this stuff? Why, we have “faith.”

No, you have blind optimism. It’s not faith.

No, I’m not knocking optimism. We Christians are called to be optimistic. To reject nihilism because even though our world is in fact meaningless, it’s being overthrown by God’s kingdom. To reject cynicism because even though humans are totally self-centered, some of us are actually seeking God’s kingdom. To reject pessimism because we’re meant to embrace joy.

The problem is the blindness part. Blind optimism assumes stuff’s gonna get better, but can’t tell us how. And no, that’s not because God promised stuff would get better, but hasn’t clued us in on the details. If that were the case, it would be faith, proper faith. But faith in God, ’cause he’s the one making things better. Blind optimism doesn’t know who or what will make anything better. It just assumes things’ll be better. Can’t say why.

Might guess why, but some of those whys are wholly unrealistic. Take Star Trek. The show’s based on Gene Roddenberry’s blind optimism that humanity’s gonna evolve past our petty differences and prejudices, become better people, eliminate hunger and poverty, and turn our world into paradise. Why? Um… well, he didn’t know. He left that to other writers to figure out. So later writers posited we’d meet benevolent space aliens, and that’d galvanize us into sorting out our problems. But if you know anything about human nature, humans don’t do that, and never have. Some of us rise to face new challenges. The bulk of us retreat.

And those of us who rise to face new challenges have a plan. True, it’s not always a good one, but it at least spells out how we expect things to get better. It’s not a big blank gap between the chaos of today and the promise of tomorrow, which we fill with wishful thinking. It’s a foundation, hopefully solid, to build faith upon.

And a lot of people have based their hopes in the future upon various plans for the future. People hope to be financially stable someday, and they’re taking steps to get there. People hope to become spiritually mature, so they’re working on spiritual fruit. People hope to be successful in their career, and they’ve laid the groundwork. People hope to raise self-sufficient kids, so they’re teaching ’em self-discipline, and to think and do for themselves.

The rest… well, they’re doing none of those things. But they “have faith” everything’ll be all right. You see the problem.

Potential, fixable followers.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

These aren’t people who didn’t make the cut. They, like all of us, need work.

Matthew 8.18-22 • Luke 9.57-62

In Mark and Luke, after Jesus taught his parables he crossed the lake, and had to stop the weather. In Matthew, Jesus made these comments just before boarding the boat. Whereas in Luke, Jesus made ’em enroute to Jerusalem to die.

If you’re the sort who goes absolutely nuts because gospel passages won’t sync up as perfectly as you’d like, tough: The gospels’ authors had entirely different priorities than you do. They weren’t trying to follow a timeline; they were trying to bunch themes together. It’s entirely likely none of these sayings took place at the same time; if only life could be so neat. More likely they were three different guys on three different occasions. All of them prospective followers, and all of them not entirely ready for God’s kingdom. All of ’em object lessons in case we’re not ready: Get ready!

Matthew only brings up two of them, but don’t fret. I’ll cover all three. Starting with Jesus’s teaching about foxes, birds, and the Son of Man.

Matthew 8.18-20 KWL
18 Jesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.
19 But one of the scribes, approaching Jesus, told him, “Teacher, I’ll follow you anyplace you may go.”
20 Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and wild birds nests.
The Son of Man hasn’t anyplace he can lay his head.”
Luke 9.57-58 KWL
57 While they went on the road, someone told Jesus, “I’ll follow you anyplace you may go.”
58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and wild birds nests.
The Son of Man hasn’t anyplace he can lay his head.”

Christians get confused by this statement, and produce confusing teachings about it. Because we self-centeredly try to identify with this guy, whom Matthew identifies as a scribe. We wanna follow Jesus wherever he may go. Thing is, we don’t mean it as literally as this scribe does.

See, Jesus is currently in heaven, and we‘re on earth. We’re only “following” him in the sense that we’re doing as he taught. Well, sorta doing as he taught. Well, doing a few things he taught. Yeah, we kinda suck. But we’re trying, right? Hope so. Anyway, we’re not literally walking behind Jesus as he walks the land.

Whereas this scribe was literally planning to follow Jesus. If Jesus got in a boat, the scribe’d get in the boat too. If Jesus climbed a hill, the scribe wanted to be right behind him. If Jesus took a dump, guess who’d be holding the wipes. “Wherever you may go” was an earnest promise: He’d follow Jesus anyplace.

Then Jesus informed him he wasn’t going anyplace.

Throwing out “treasures” new and old.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

Because the Spirit’s correcting us—assuming we let him.

Mark 4.33-34, Matthew 13.34-35, 13.51-53

After Jesus taught a string of parables in Mark 4, Matthew 13, and Luke 8, Matthew had him wrap it up with one final parable:

Matthew 13.51-53 KWL
51 Did you understand all this?”
They told Jesus, “Yes.”
52 Jesus told them, “This is why every scribe who’s studied heaven’s kingdom is like a person—
a householder who throws out new and old things from his treasury.”
53 Once Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.

I realize most translations prefer to describe the householder as “bringeth forth out of his treasure,” Mt 13.52 KJV as if he’s showing off his riches, like King Hezekiah ben Elah. 2Ki 20.12-19 (Which, if you know that story, should give you an idea of where I’m headed with this.)

On this basis they wanna claim this is a teacher to whom Jesus has granted lots of wisdom, both new and old. But Jesus didn’t describe him as bringing out things, but ekvállei/“throwing out” things. He’s not keeping them. Exposure to God’s kingdom has taught him these things are crap. They don’t deserve to be in his treasury.

’Cause let me tell you, that’s what practicing theologians find ourselves doing more often than not. Once we get a fuller understanding about how God really feels about things, we either have to shut our eyes and go into serious denial—and pretty much stop practicing—or we gotta reprioritize everything. Seriously, everything. Top to bottom. Our culture significantly misrepresents Jesus, same as the Sadducees and Pharisees were misrepresenting the LORD in Jesus’s day. Any scribe, or biblical scholar, who really studies God’s kingdom, who finds out what God really wants and expects of his people, is gonna have a lot of house-cleaning to do with their existing beliefs. I sure did. Most Christians do.

Problem is, a lot of these beliefs are in our treasuries. They’re beloved. Treasured. Precious.

Okay, I don’t own a treasury. Nor a safe. I don’t own valuables. But when my parents first moved into their home, there was one bedroom with a special deadbolt lock on the door, ’cause the previous owners designated that room their treasury, and kept valuables in it. (Or at least we really hope valuables, and not kidnap victims. But I digress.) Wealthy people in the first century, knowing it was entirely on them to keep their valuables safe, likewise had extra-secure rooms for their most valuable possessions. They wanted to hold onto them no matter what.

Some of us are that way with our most cherished beliefs. We’re not giving ’em up without a fight. Heck, some of us have preemptively started fighting for them already. Go to certain discussion boards on the internet, and you’ll find people fighting tooth and nail for these beliefs, even though nobody’s really threatening to take ’em away. They think it their duty as Christians to wage war for their doctrines. They believe what they believe, and nobody can tell ’em different.

Not even the Holy Spirit.

And that’s when things get scary. ’Cause it’s the Spirit’s job to make us doubt the things we shouldn’t believe. He’s trying to guide us to the truth, remember? Jn 16.13 There are things in our spiritual treasuries which have no business in there. Some of ’em are new; some of ’em are very, very old. All of them are getting in God’s way. They gotta go!

And if we cling to these bad beliefs too tightly, stands to reason we’re not gonna fully understand Jesus’s parables. Nor want to. They’ll never become our treasure. The other things already are.

Prayer walks.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 October

’Cause walking and praying is super easy. Well, for most of us.

One of the few activities we can do, yet pray at the same time, is walk.

For this reason certain Christians take prayer walks. More than just pacing back in forth in our rooms while we pray, we take some time out of our day to just go for a walk. Not to any specific destination; we’re gonna loop around and come back home. Not for exercise, although we might do that too. (Turn it into kind of a prayer jog.) Walking’s not the purpose. Prayer is.

Although sometimes we Christians turn the prayer-walk route into something significant. Fr’instance at the beginning of every year, Christians in my town wanna pray for the town. So they take a prayer walk which is specifically mapped so they’ll reach certain important places. Like city hall, the town square, the civic center, certain parks and schools and fire departments, maybe the run-down or more criminal parts of town, maybe certain businesses Christians do and don’t approve of. But while we call these things “prayer walks,” I remind you a proper prayer walk isn’t about the physical destination. It’s about the spiritual destination. We’re not trying to go someplace; we’re trying to grow closer to God.

Hence certain Christians (and our churches) put together prayer walks which deliberately go nowhere. On the church property, you’ll find a “prayer walk” trail which goes round in a circle, and takes you right back to where you started. Or there’ll be a sidewalk which goes all the way around the building… and if you were wondering why it goes round the back when there’s nothing back there, now you know.

Other churches have labyrinths, a diagram on the floor, or on the ground outside, where Christians can walk through the diagram and pray. A lot of pagans imagine labyrinths are cool and “mystical,” and have tried to co-opt the idea (and as a result have weirded out a lot of Christians about their use). But relax; labyrinths are a Christian thing. A prayer walk when your church doesn’t really have the space for something larger.


Walking the labyrinth at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. Wikimedia

And of course some churches have stations of the cross dioramas or paintings placed round the building for us to walk to and pray at.

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 October

On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16

I was asked to say a little something about this controversial passage, so what the heck.

I’ve gone to Protestant churches all my life. Visited Catholic and Orthodox churches too. In most of the churches I’ve visited, American Christians utterly ignore this passage. Our women don’t cover their heads.

Now yeah, there are parts of the bible which the bulk of Christians figure no longer apply to us. Like the curses upon humanity, Ge 3.16-19 which we figure Jesus undid. Or the commands about ritual cleanliness and sacrifice, which we figure Jesus rendered redundant. Or all the commands in the Law, which we figure Jesus nullified—which is absolutely not what he said. Mt 5.17 In general, Christians tend to assume Old Testament commands (except maybe 10) are out, and New Testament instructions are in.

Yet this is totally New Testament. Comes right before the apostles’ instructions on how to do holy communion. Those instructions we totally follow. But not the head-covering bit. Why not?

I’ll jump to the punchline right now: Because it’s cultural.

In the ancient middle east, men had shoulder-length hair, and women had floor-length hair. Women didn’t cut their hair; they let it grow. If you remember the stories where women cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair, they didn’t have to bow their heads all that much for their hair to reach his feet. Their hair was plenty long enough.

Custom was for them to cover it with headscarf of some sort. Not burkas, but the custom of covering up did originate from the apostles’ particular part of the middle east. Go further east and it evolved into burkas. Go west and it became hats.

Originally these veils had practical purposes: Kept one’s hair clean. Kept it from getting snagged or pulled. Over time it became a modesty thing: Women who uncovered their hair would get the same reaction as if they uncovered their breasts—then and now. You can see why the women who cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair got such a startled response.

So that’s how things were in the first-century middle east. But in the rest of the Roman Empire, women didn’t bother to grow their hair as long, nor cover it. They’d walk around with their heads exposed—startling middle easterners. Much like it startles westerners when we encounter a tribe where people don’t bother with clothes, or otherwise have very different standards of modesty.

For Paul and Sosthenes, their attitude about veils reflects the middle eastern standard of modesty. But to their minds, this wasn’t just a middle eastern standard. It was a universal standard. God himself had meant for women to cover up.

Hence this passage, where they try to defend the idea.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16 KWL
3 I want you all to know Christ is the head of every man,
the man the head of his woman, and God the head of Christ.
4 Any man praying or prophesying against his head, disgraces his head.
5 Any woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled, disgraces her head.
One may as well shave her: 6 If a woman isn’t veiled, cut her hair short.
And if it’s disgraceful for a woman to cut her hair short or be shaved, then be veiled!
7 A man isn’t obligated to cover his head—being God’s image and glory.
But a woman is her man’s glory, 8 for man isn’t out of woman, but woman out of man—
9 for the first man wasn’t created through the woman, but woman through the man.
10 This is why the woman’s obligated to exercise power over her head—because of the angels.
11 Still, neither a woman with no man, nor a man with no woman, in the Master:
12 Just as woman came out of man, likewise the man comes from woman. And all out of God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it appropriate for an unveiled woman to pray to God?
14 Doesn’t nature itself teach us when a man has long hair, it dishonors him?
15 —and when a woman has long hair, it’s to her glory? That hair gives her a covering?
16 If anyone wishes to debate this…
well we just don’t have such a custom. Not in God’s churches.

Why’s this a controversial passage? Simple. All those Christians who ignore it, no matter what they claim to believe about the bible and its authority, demonstrate in practice what they really think: They get to pick and choose which parts of the bible they consider universal standards, and they haven’t chosen this one. Because uncovered heads don’t offend them. Now, homosexuality might totally offend them, so they’ll preach against it on the regular. Veils? Despite the clear and obvious teaching of the apostles? Meh.

Some of ’em will come right out and say it, and some of ’em will avoid ever saying it for fear it undermines everything else they teach about scripture, inspiration, and literal interpretation. Yet their practices expose all: Contrary to Paul and Sosthenes, they figure head-covering isn’t a universal, eternal, God-decreed standard. It’s merely the apostles’ personal cultural hangup. So it can be dismissed in the present day. Otherwise they’d have serious qualms about flouting this instruction—and they totally don’t.

This isn’t the only situation where they treat the scriptures as if it’s all relative. It’s just the most obvious. Use it as a litmus test if you like. I do.

Pantheism: God is everything, and everything is God.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

On those who believe God is the universe.

Pantheist /'pæn.θi.ɪst/ adj. Identifies God as the universe, or recognizes the universe as a manifestation of God.
2. Identifies all gods as forms, manifestations, avatars, or persons of the One God.
[Pantheism /'pæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]

Popular culture believes Hinduism to consist of the worship of thousands of gods. That’s not quite accurate. Hindus themselves tell me that they tend to worship maybe one or two gods themselves… but the “thousands of gods,” as westerners call ’em, are really just different faces of the One God.

So they’re monotheist? Still not quite accurate. It’s not that there’s one God with thousands of faces. It’s that God consists of every face. Everything is God. God is the universe.

Whenever you meet a pagan who talks about “the universe,” and speaks of the universe as if it has an intelligence—“The universe wants me to do such-and-so,” or “The universe is sending me a message”—that’s the mindset we’re talking about. “The universe” is the sum total of everything and everyone, and collectively that’s God. And all of us are part of him.

Nope, not even close to monotheism. But when people don’t know any better, that’s what they assume Hindus or Hinduism-based spiritual teachers are talking about. When they say “God,” they mean the universe. Everything, collectively. Which may or may not be conscious, know what it’s doing, have a plan for us, or offer us guidance—it kinda depends on the teacher.

It’s what we call pantheism. And under this idea, of course Jesus is God. Pantheists have no problem with that idea. The catch is, they figure everyone else is God too, and Jesus just happened to be more connected to his godhood than anyone else. And Jesus isn’t the only avatar, or incarnation, of God, either. There’ve been others, like Krishna. Some of them are alive today. (Some of these spiritual teachers wouldn’t much mind if we thought of them that way either. It’d sure help their book sales.)

So if you come across any of these eastern-style teachers who have some really interesting things to say about God, bear in mind this is how they imagine God to be. He’s not a being who fills the universe; he is the universe.

Why’s that a problematic idea? Well you do recall there’s a lot of evil in the universe. But if God is everything, that evil would also be a part of God. And God doesn’t do evil. 1Jn 1.5

Apocrypha: The “extra books” your bible may lack.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 October
APOCRYPHON ə'pɑk.rə.fɔn noun (plural apocrypha ə'pɑk.rə.fə). Writing or book not considered part of the accepted canon of scripture.
2. Story of doubtful authenticity.
3. Story that’s obscure or little-known.
[Apocryphal əˈpɑkrəfəl adjective.]

One of my favorite stunts with new Christians used to be, “Turn in your bibles to the book of Wisdom, chapter 4.”

Well, they’d try. They’d flip around their bibles, then give up and look at the table of contents… then realize the book wasn’t in there. “Well it’s in my bible,” I’d tell ’em, and hold it up to show them, confusing them all the more. ’Cause my bible included apocrypha.

“Oh, you mean a Catholic bible,” you might be thinking. Nope; it’s a Protestant bible. Some Protestant bibles have apocrypha. I own two others.

I can’t pull this stunt anymore, ’cause nowadays people look up the bible on their phones or bible apps. Hence they can sometimes find Wisdom in there. Spoils my little joke. Oh well.

But I did this joke on purpose: I wanted to introduce newbies to the fact not every bible includes all the same books. Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican bibles are gonna have books in them which your average Evangelical bible will not. Evangelicals call these books apocrypha. Catholics call ’em deuterocanon, and Orthodox anagignoskómena.

Contrary to popular belief, they’re not merely “extra books.” For four centuries before Jesus, Greek-speaking Jews had these books in their bibles. For 17 centuries thereafter, Greek-speaking, Latin-speaking, and English-speaking Christians had ’em in their bibles. Got quoted in the New Testament. Got quoted by the early church fathers. Got translated and included in the Geneva Bible and King James Version. Seriously.

So when people ask me “Why do Catholics have extra books?” I gotta point out the proper question is why we Evangelicals don’t have these books. ’Cause a majority of Christians in the world do have ’em. And Evangelical Protestants had no problem with including ’em in our bibles… well, for about two centuries. Wasn’t till the Puritans began purging apocrypha from bibles that they even became an issue.

And now? Now we have some Protestants who insist not only should apocrypha not be in bibles, but that they’re devilish. Doesn’t matter that Martin Luther called ’em nützliche, aber nicht heilige Schriften/“useful, but not holy writings.” To these dark Christians, not only are apocrypha not useful, but they (and Roman Catholics) are part of Satan’s evil conspiracy to corrupt the bible.


Here’s what conspiracy theorist Jack Chick had to say on the topic. The Attack, 8

According to these cranks, if you read apocrypha, they’ll corrupt you too. Flee the scary books!

Well, let’s put aside the loopy paranoia and get to what apocrypha actually are.

Te Deum.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 October

One of Christendom’s better-known rote prayers.

Te Deum /teɪ 'deɪ.əm/ is a rote prayer. Really it’s a hymn which dates back to the late 300s. It’s named for its first words, Te Deum laudamus/“To God we praise.” Traditions say it was written by St. Ambrose when he baptized St. Augustine. Or St. Hiliary or St. Nicetas of Remesiana wrote it. Meh; who cares how we got it. It’s been a popular prayer for the past 17 centuries, and has been set to music many times in many ways.

The Presbyterian Church’s Book of Common Worship translates it like so.

We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord,
all creation worships you,
Father everlasting.
To you, all angels, all the powers of heaven,
the cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all praise,
the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you took our flesh to set us free
you humbly chose the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come, and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting. BCW 570-571

The gender-inclusive bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 October

Because the scriptures weren’t only written to men.

Psalm 8.4 KJV
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalm 8.4 NLT
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?

If you grew up with a King James Version, as I did, you’ll notice lots of verses refer to “man,” “men,” “sons,” “fathers,” “husbands.” They address men. Talk about what men do and what men oughta do. Refer to the promises God made to men—curses upon evildoing men, blessings upon God-fearing men. Men men men.

With some exceptions (and I’ll get to them in a bit) most of us Christians are agreed these verses don’t only refer to men. They refer to anyone who follows or seeks God; anyone whom he interacts with. Or not.

Unless a verse refers to specific men, like Abraham or Moses or David or Simon Peter, or unless a verse refers to the specific male-only duties of husbands and fathers, it should rightly be interpreted as gender-inclusive: These commands, proverbs, promises, and instructions apply to both men and women.

So when the LORD commanded, as is phrased in the KJV

Leviticus 19.3 KJV
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

—this doesn’t mean, even though it clearly says ish/“man,” we gotta assume it only applies to men… and women are exempt from this command. And if a woman so chooses, she can dismiss her parents and skip Sabbath.

Properly, ish refers to any human being, whether ish/“man” or ishá/“woman.” God expects the same of women as he does men.

Well if that’s what it properly means, why not just translate it “person,” and clear up any doubt? And in fact this is what most bible translations do.

Amplified: “Each of you shall respect his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
CSB: “Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep my Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.”
ESB: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
ISV: “Each of you is to fear his mother and father. “Observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
MEV: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you will keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
NASB: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
NET: “Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NIV: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NLT: “Each of you must show great respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest. I am the LORD your God.”
NRSV: “You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”

Believe it or don’t, a lot of these translations do not consider themselves gender-inclusive. You can tell: They still insist on using the masculine pronoun “his” to describe “every one of you,” figuring it’s more accurate than “their”—and generic enough. Yet even so, y’notice all of ’em translated ish as “everyone,” instead of the literal “man”—because the verse does apply to everyone. Not just men.

The gender-inclusive translations want to make this crystal clear, so they drop the pronoun “his” in favor of gender-neutral ones. They swapped singular for plural: “They” instead of “he.”

Psalm 1.1 KJV
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1.1 NLT
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

Or “you” instead of “he.”

Leviticus 5.5 KJV
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:
Psalm 1.1 NLT
When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin.

Whatever makes it most obvious that the scriptures are addressed to all.

“I stand at the door and knock.”

by K.W. Leslie, 05 October

Revelation 3.20.

Revelation 3.20 KJV
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This’d be Jesus speaking.

When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart.

I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit.

But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely hope that’s not what they meant; you never know about some adults.

I was told Jesus lives in my heart because I let him in there. ’Cause for those who don’t have Jesus in their hearts, he’s standing at the door of these hearts, knocking. (Unless you’re Calvinist, in which case you believe Jesus already has the key, and comes in whenever he darn well feels like it. Yet some of ’em still talk about Jesus knocking on our hearts’ doors.) Anyway, won’t you let him in?

And of course kids would let him in. Who’s gonna leave Jesus outside, all alone, forced to live in our pancreas instead? Why, he might get attacked by our antibodies. Or get digested; won’t that be embarrassing.

Silliness aside, anyone who’s read Revelation 3 knows this passage isn’t about evangelism. It’s not an invitation to pagans, but Christians.

Sadducees: The secular power of religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 October
SADDUCEE 'sæd.ʒə.si noun. An ancient denomination of the Hebrew religion which upheld the written Law alone, and denied the supernatural and the afterlife.
[Sadducean .sæd.ʒə'si.ən adjective.]

Protestants seldom know this history, so let me fill you in.

John bar Simon was the head priest and king of Judea from 134BC to 104BC. He was a member of the Hasmonean family; his dad was Simon Maccabee, one of the Maccabees who freed Judea from the Syrian Greeks (the “Seleucid Empire”) in 167BC. His dad had become the first head priest after the temple was restored, and since he was functionally the head of state, he was also recognized as Judea’s king. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea till the Romans deposed them in 41BC and gave the throne to Herod bar Antipater.

John’s also known as John Hyrcanus. He got his nickname Hurqanós/“from Hyrkania” after defeating the Syrian general Cendebeus, and since it’s probably an inside joke which was never recorded, we don’t know why he was called that. He’s known as a great general who doubled the size of Judea to include Samaria and Idumea. He’s also known as the king who forced the Idumeans (i.e. Edomites) to become Jews and be circumcised. And Pharisees remember him ’cause he quit the Pharisees and become Sadducee.

Y’see, when there’s no such thing as a separation of church and state, religion and politics are the same thing. Most Judeans were Pharisee. So were the priests. So was their senate. Sadducees, in comparison, were just this little tiny sect of Jews with some rather faithless beliefs:

Acts 22.8 KWL
For Sadducees say there’s no resurrection, nor angels, nor Holy Spirit,
and Pharisees profess them all.

We don’t know how much, or even whether, Hyrcanus believed as Sadducees did. He didn’t join them for religious reasons. He joined ’em because Pharisees had pissed him off.

Two prominent Pharisees, Eleazar bar Pokhera and Judah bar Gedidim, had publicly declared (right in front of him, according to one story), “If Hyrcanus is really a righteous man, he oughta resign the head priesthood, because we heard his mother had been a captive in Modin under the Syrians”—implying one of those Syrians had fathered him instead of Simon Maccabee, thus making Hyrcanus unqualified to be hereditary head priest. Hyrcanus ordered the claim to be investigated. Once proven untrue, he demanded his false witnesses be thrown out of the senate, just as they wanted him thrown out of office. Dt 19.18-19 But Pharisees in the senate ignored the Law and only had them whipped. So in his ire, Hyrcanus quit the Pharisees.

And to really stick it to ’em, he joined the group Pharisees considered their mortal enemies, the Sadducees. And ever since, he and the head priests who succeeded him—all the way up to Annas and Joseph Caiaphas in Jesus’s day, all the way to the last head priest, Fannias bar Samuel, in 70CE—were Sadduccee. Ac 5.17

These godless kids these days.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October

Little bit of griping about the younger generation… and now it’s in the bible.

Psalm 14

Amár navál belibó/“The fool said at heart” (Latin Dixit insipiens) is by David, and we number it at 14.

Commentators figure it’s a lament: David, or Wisdom (i.e. the Holy Spirit) mourns the fact kids these days don’t follow God anymore. Not like “our righteous group,” Ps 14.5 the dor/“age group” (KJV “generation”) David’s in, which he deems more devout than the younger set. Back in his day people followed God, took his side, knew where their help came from, and expected God to rescue ’em yet again. In comparison, this generation is hopeless, nihilistic, cynical, faithless, and godless.

Basically, the same lament every generation has about the next one. Well, with one exception: The people from this generation, who gang up with the previous generation about their peers and successors. That’s a phenomena I’ve seen quite often lately. My parents are “baby boomers,” I’m in what marketers call “generation X,” and those coming of age right now are called “millennials”—and way too many of the preachers my age are wringing their hands over the younger generation. They’ve believed the myth that things used to be better when they were kids. Used to be better in their parents’ day.

Nope, they haven’t read Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 7.10 KWL
Don’t say, “Why were the old days better than these days?”
You don’t ask this question out of wisdom.

It’s a really good book for deflating know-it-alls.

Anyway, Psalm 14 kinda wanders in the direction of this false nostalgia. I remind you the psalms don’t actually rhyme. Just the same, let’s put a little iambic tetrameter on it.

Psalm 14 KWL
0 To the director. By David.
1 The foolish think God isn’t here.
They wreck. They do no good. They sneer.
2 From heaven, the LORD looks to see
if any child of Adam be
astute enough to seek God out.
3 But all of them are turned about.
They’re twisted. They do nothing good.
Not one of them 4 knows what they should.
Their every act is sin; when all
eat bread, it’s not the LORD they call.
5 There’s no respect; no holy dread.
God’s with our righteous group instead.
6 Ashamed to help the poor, are you?
Because the LORD’s their refuge, true?
7 Was rescue sent from Zion’s hill?
Who got this aid for Israel?
The LORD will set his people free.
May Jacob—Israel—have glee.

Relevance, and blogging on current events.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 October

Why Christ Almighty! doesn’t dogpile on current events.

Earlier this year something happened in the Christian blogosphere. I won’t say what; you’ll see why in a moment. I’ll simply say I have a few readers who were looking forward to me writing one of these Rants about it, but instead I didn’t write any Rants for three weeks. (Had other things I wanted to cover.) When I finally returned to Ranting, the issue had passed, the Christian blogosphere had moved on, and for the most part so had they.

Well, until recently. At church yesterday—

She. “I remember when [that issue] happened. I waited to see what you were gonna write about it.”
Me. “I wrote nothing.”
She. “You have no opinion?”
Me. “I have an opinion, but it didn’t provoke me enough to write a whole blog post about it. I don’t think I even Tweeted about it.”
She. “You gotta feel it before you post it.”
Me. “I don’t gotta feel anything. It’s not about whether it makes me happy or mad. It’s about whether it draws people to Jesus, or drives people away.”
She. “Well, but you gotta comment on current events in order to stay relevant.”

Yeah, that last comment provoked this Rant.

A few years back, on one of my previous blogs, I started to post some of my old newspaper columns. Didn’t take me long before I stopped doing it. The main reason was these columns aren’t relevant. They were, back when I originally wrote ’em. But time passed, and their relevance faded, then vanished.

News is relevant because it’s new. It’s stuff we haven’t heard yet, or stuff we only just heard about and are processing. But once we’ve processed it, it’s not news anymore. Doesn’t matter if the story’s continuing; doesn’t matter if there’s new data coming in: Once the news audience has collectively decided it’s done with the story, it’s old news. It’s time for the news media to move on.

This is a fact which really irritates reporters. Particularly when they’re trying to tell the story—and they’re not done yet! Like reporters who covered the Afghanistan War, who couldn’t get their stories aired or published because the news media was too busy with the Iraq War. Or even when they weren’t busy with the Iraq War, but to them the Afghanistan War was old news, even though it’s still going on.

Wait, did you forget the Afghanistan War is still going on? That’s right, it’s still going on. But you don’t care about that; you want me to get back to my point. So I’ll move on. Even though it’s still going on.

See, the short attention span of the news-watching public means that nothing in the news is gonna remain relevant for long. It’s gonna be really, really relevant when it first happens. It’ll remain relevant for maybe a week or two; often a month at the most. And then the public will move on. The media will follow. ’Cause contrary to conspiracy-theorist belief, the media goes where the audience wants ’em to. Not the other way round.

So if I decided the way to make TXAB relevant was to keep up with, and blog on, current events, it’d certainly work. Plenty of Christian bloggers do it.

But it’d also mean that everything I write is quickly disposable. It’ll be relevant, but only for a week or two. That’s its lifespan. Then it’ll sit in the archive, where nobody’ll read it, ’cause nobody’ll need to.