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Showing posts with label #Expectations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Expectations. Show all posts

09 January 2017

Tattoos require commitment.

If you’re gonna have something permanently etched into your skin, maybe think about it a bit, okay?

Got into a discussion with Mathilda (name changed to protect the feelin’-guilty) and I found it interesting enough to rant about. Even though my views may get me into trouble with both legalists and libertines.

Mathilda has a tattoo. I do not. Never got one. Not that I disapprove of them per se. I simply haven’t found anything I’d like to permanently decorate myself with.

I know; the older folks are gonna quote bible at me about how you’re never, ever supposed to tattoo yourself.

Leviticus 19.28 NIV
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”

The word the NIV renders “tattoo” is qaháqa. In modern Hebrew it means “tattoo,” and it only appears this one time in the bible. Unless you count the apocryphal book of Jesus ben Sirach, which I don’t. (Long story as short as I can make it: Sirach was written in Hebrew, translated into Greek; the Hebrew got lost; the 11th-century rabbis translated it back into Hebrew and translated exétilen/“plucked” Si 10.15 as qaháqa; when a Hebrew copy was rediscovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, verse 15 was missing. So all this means is the medieval rabbis didn’t think it meant “tattooed.”)

Qaháqa comes from the root quts/“cut [with a sickle],” like in harvesting. It refers to scarification: Decorating yourself with scars. Usually for religious reasons, like the pagan practice of marking yourself so the spirits of the dead might identify and protect you—which, you’ll notice, is the very context referred to in the verse.

As usual, I point this out to Christians who are anti-tattoo, and they immediately object, ’cause bias. Everyone they know, every bible translation they use, interprets qaháqa as “tattoo,” and they assume I’m just looking for a lexical loophole in Leviticus. Even though they don’t pay their employees daily, Lv 19.13 nor treat foreigners, illegal or not, the same as natives. Lv 19.34 Seems it’s more about cherry-picking beloved causes than really following the scriptures.

But if you honestly are trying to follow this command—and to be on the safe side, you’ve decided to ban any kinds of marking on yourselves, including piercings, tattoos, makeup, henna, drawing on yourself with markers, or writing quick notes on your hands; for any sort of reason, and not merely as magic symbols to attract the dead—that’s between you and God. Not between me and God. I haven’t been similarly convicted. If you wanna judge me for that, you might wanna read Romans 14 again.

03 January 2017

The Daniel fast.

Why, every January, the people in your church are going on a diet for three weeks.

Every January, the people in my church go on a diet. Most years for three weeks; this year we’re formally doing it for one, but some folks may choose to go longer. We cut back on the carbohydrates, sugar, meat, and oils; lots of fruits and vegetables. Considering all the binging we did between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it makes sense to practice a little more moderation, doesn’t it?

What on earth does this practice have to do with prayer? Well y’see, the people don’t call it a diet. They call it a “Daniel fast.”

It’s an Evangelical practice which has taken off in the past 20 years. It’s loosely based on a few lines from Daniel 10. At the beginning of the year, Daniel went three weeks—that’d be 21 days—depriving himself.

Daniel 10.2-3 KWL
2 In those days I, Daniel, went into mourning three weeks. 3 I ate none of the bread I coveted.
Meat and wine didn’t enter my mouth. I didn’t oil my hair for all of three weeks.

So that’s how the Daniel fast works. At the beginning of the year, we likewise go three weeks depriving ourselves. He went without bread, meat, wine, and oil; so do we. True, by sokh lo-sakhti/“I oiled no oil” Daniel was referring to how the ancients cleaned their hair. (Perfumed oil conditions it, and keeps bugs away.) But look at your average Daniel fast diet, and you’ll notice Evangelicals are taking no chances. Nothing fried, no oils, no butter, nothing tasty.

Though the lists aren’t consistent across Christendom. The list below permits quality oils. Including grapeseed… even though Daniel went without wine during his three weeks. Not entirely sure how they came up with their list.


This list permits oils… but no solid fats. ’Cause Daniel denied himself Crisco, y’know. The Daniel Fast

In fact you look at these menus, and you’ve gotta wonder whether any of it was extrapolated from Daniel’s experience. I mean, it generally sounds like Daniel was denying himself nice food. And yet there are such things as cookbooks for how to make “Daniel fast” desserts. I’m not kidding. Cookbooks which say, right on the cover, they’re full of delicious recipes—so even though Daniel kept away from enjoyable food, who says you have to do without?

This is a fast, right?

26 December 2016

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

The second day of Christmas honors the first martyr.

St. Stephen’s Day falls on 26 December, the second day of Christmas. Not that we know Stephen died on this day; it’s just where western tradition happened to put it. In eastern churches it’s tomorrow, 27 December. (And if they’re still using the old Julian calendar, it’s 9 January to us.) In some countries it’s an official holiday.

You may remember Stéfanos/“Stephen” from Acts 6-7. Yep, he’s that St. Stephen.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, tithes weren’t money, but food. Every year you were to take 10 percent of your firstfruits and celebrate with it; Dt 14.22-27 every third year you were to give it to the needy. Dt 14.28-29 Apparently the church took on the duty of distributing tithes to the needy, but they were accused of favoring Aramaic-speaking Christians over Greek-speaking ones. Ac 6.1 So the Twelve had the church elect seven Greek-speakers to take over the job. Ac 6.2-3 Stephen was first in the list, and Luke, the author of Acts, pointedly called him full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Ac 6.5 full of God’s grace and power. Ac 6.8 In other words, a standout.

At this point in history, the church still only consisted of Jews. Christianity was still considered a Jewish religion—with the obvious difference that Christians believed Jesus is Messiah, and their fellow Jews believed Messiah hadn’t yet come. Otherwise Christians still went to temple and synagogue. And it was in synagogue where Stephen got into trouble: The people of his synagogue dragged him before the Judean Senate, accusing him of slandering Moses, the temple, and God. Custom made slandering Moses and the temple serious, but slandering God could get you the death penalty. So Stephen was brought before the Senate to defend himself.

Unlike Jesus, who totally admitted he’s Messiah, Stephen defended himself. His defense was a bible lesson: He retold the history of Israel, up to the construction of the temple. Ac 7.2-47 Then he pointed out God doesn’t live in a building, of all things. Ac 7.48-50 And by the way: They’re a bunch of Law-breakers who killed Christ. Ac 7.51-53

More than one person has pointed out it’s almost like Stephen was trying to get himself killed. Me, I figure he was young and overzealous and naïve, and had adopted the American myth—centuries before we Americans had adopted it—that if you’re on God’s side, no harm can ever befall you. That you can bad-mouth your foes, and God’s hedge of protection will defend you when they turn round and punch you in the head. That you can leap from tall buildings, and the angels will catch you. You know, like Satan tried to tempt Jesus with. Mt 4.5-7

Well, that’s not at all how things turned out.

30 November 2016

God can’t abide sin?

If true, it means God has a boogeyman.

“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”

It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.

It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure.

Well, self-righteous.

You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.

Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have those prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? Then grant me some so I can explain.

God is definitely anti-sin. He told us what he wants and expects of his people. Both through his Law, and through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus. (I was about to write “and he didn’t mince words,” but Jesus kinda did in some of his parables. Regardless, any honest, commonsense Christian—and plenty of pagans—can figure Jesus out.)

Yes, God’s offended by our willful disobedience. And he’s just as offended by the sins of people who don’t know any better: They do have consciences, after all. Ro 2.15 They were taught the difference between right and wrong. Even so, they chose what’s wrong.

But the issue isn’t whether sin bugs God. It’s whether sin bugs God so much, he can no longer practice grace. Whether he can’t abide sin—and therefore he can’t abide sinners.

If that’s the idea we’re spreading, we’re also spreading the idea we gotta clean ourselves up before we can ever approach God. Like when the Hebrews had to wash themselves for three days before the LORD could hand down his Ten Commandments. Ex 19.9-11 Like when the Hebrews sacrificed guilt offerings whenever they felt they weren’t right with God. Lv 5.15-19 Like when the ancients approached their kings with fear and trembling, knowing they could be struck down at any moment for daring to enter their presence uninvited. Es 4.11 The appearance of sin outrages God so much, it turns him into a bloodthirsty berzerker who can’t wait to fling people into fire and sulfur.

We’re also spreading the idea because God can’t abide sin, he won’t forgive it. Some of us went beyond the pale long ago, and can’t possibly approach him now. The magical substance of grace may exist, but it’s not for people who call out to God; it’s only for people whom God’s pre-selected long before, and everybody else is just plain screwed.

Basically, in order to defend our own lack of grace, we’re slandering God and making people hesitant to embrace him. Or even driving them away. Driving them to despair.

23 November 2016

Don’t just raise your kids Christian. Share Jesus with them.

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Some years ago I was telling a friend about some church ministry I was involved with. He then told me, with a little bit of embarrassment, he wasn’t involved in such thing in his church. Didn’t feel he could possibly find the time.

“Well that’s understandable,” I told him: “You have four kids under the age of 10. They’re your ministry. You’ve gotta make sure they know Jesus, and have a growing relationship with them. Get them solid; then worry about all the other stuff your church is doing. Then your kids will wanna do all those church things with you.”

He was a little relieved to hear me say that, ’cause he’d been kicking himself a little for not doing enough church stuff. You know how some churches can get: If you’re not giving ’em 10 hours a week, they doubt your salvation. But when Paul instructed Timothy on what sort of people oughta serve the church (or deacons, as we tend to call ’em), he pointed out, assuming they have children, the children oughta be well-behaved. 1Ti 3.12 If deacons become elders, same deal. If they can’t even raise their own kids, what good are they to raise a mature church?

So first things first. All that stuff you were hoping to do for your church?—lead music, teach Sunday school and bible classes, participate in the prayer group, contributing to charity, going on a missions trip? Do all that stuff, with your kids, first. Live out your Christianity with them, in front of them, as an example to them, long before you start doing that stuff for your church. ’Cause your first duty is to train your kids to follow your God. Dt 4.9-10 Not to just have ’em say the sinner’s prayer, then hope they pick up the rest on their own.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians prefer to do the sinners’ prayer, and little more. I know from experience. When I was in youth group, a lot of the kids knew nothing about Jesus outside of what our youth pastors told us. And that’s assuming they listened to the pastor’s lessons. They were woefully ignorant of God—but their parents figured they said the prayer, got baptized, went to church, and participated in all the same cultural Christian things they did. Doesn’t that count as raising ’em Christian?

As a result you’ve got a lot of Christians who aren’t really raising their kids Christian. At best, the kids come to Jesus in spite of their parents’ lack of attention. At worst, the kids decide their parents are hypocrites, Christianity is bogus, and turn antichrist.

And their parents, in horror and outrage, can’t imagine they’re in any way to blame for their kids’ seeming apostasy. So they look for other scapegoats: Their pagan friends. Secular schools. Youth pastors who didn’t adequately diagnose the coming problem. Evil rock music and TV programs. Satan. Anybody but themselves. Because they provided their kids a good Christian environment; how on earth could this have happened on their watch?

Easy. They didn’t watch. They assumed the environment would make their kids Christian. Environment does nothing. Discipleship does. Train your kids in the way they should go. Don’t just quote bible verses at ’em, but fail to lead by example.

31 October 2016

“Be careful, little eyes…”

Nobody’s temptation-proof. But not everyone’s tempted by the same stuff.

Some years ago when I finally got round to reading the unabridged edition of The Stand (which, I remind you, is my favorite End Times novel, and not just ’cause it’s way better written than those stupid, stupid Left Behind novels), I casually mentioned to a fellow Christian (let’s call her Asha) I was doing so.

Wrong Christian to mention such things to. Asha was horrified. I think she was afraid I’d lose my salvation over it. You think I’m being facetious, but some Christians actually do believe there are such things as mortal, unpardonable sins. To Asha, Stephen King novels are apparently one of ’em.

Y’see, King is known as a horror writer. So he’ll write about evil spirits, vampires, werewolves, devilish magic creatures, and so forth. He’ll also write about non-supernatural things, like sex and violence. He’ll use the F-word, and take the Lord’s name in vain. Pagan stuff like that.

Therefore Asha insisted I was a bad Christian for exposing myself, even opening myself, to such evil influences. Why, the indwelling Holy Spirit might be so offended he’d flee my body, and devils would rush in, and I’d wind up committing all sorts of sinful atrocities. Blah blah blah, the usual clichés from people who don’t understand how temptation works.

If you’re human, you get tempted. We all do. You know how temptation works. But if you forgot, I’ll remind you.

Let’s say Stephen King wrote a novel where the main character liked to huff paint. Now, if we read the novel, we might identify with this guy in many ways: He’s good to his kids, he loves barbecue, he likes monster trucks, he likes to watch police procedurals. We might even think, “Wow, he’s a lot like me.” But that paint-huffing thing: That’s just nuts. We’d never do that. Never want to; never think to. Aren’t tempted in that direction in any way. Right?

Of course I assume you’re a typical sane human being. Maybe you are that susceptible to suggestion. And if that’s the case, why don’t you sign on to PayPal, and send $500 to my email address? Thanks a bunch.

18 October 2016

Saying grace.

You know: Praying for your food.

The most common type of prayer—the one we see most often, and probably the type taken the least seriously—is the prayer before meals. We call it “grace.” Not to be confused with God’s generous, forgiving attitude.

Why don’t people take it seriously? Because it’s dead religion. Christians might pray it as a living act of religion, one of the acts we do to further our relationship with God. But Christians and pagans alike say grace before meals as the dead kind of religion: We do it ’cause it’s just what people do in our culture. It’s custom. It’s tradition. It’s habit. But it doesn’t mean anything.

Nope, not said out of gratitude. Nor love. Nor devotion. Nor even as a reminder of these things. We say grace because if we didn’t say grace, Grandma would slap the food out of our hands and say, “You didn’t say grace!” We say grace because Dad would take his seat at the table, fold his hands like you do for prayer, and give us kids dirty looks until we stopped eating, noticed what he was doing, and mimicked his behavior. We say grace because it’s how people wait for everyone to be ready before the meal starts. God has nothing to do with it—beyond a minor acknowledgment.

You notice in these scenarios, it’s because Grandma or Dad wanted to say grace. Not because anybody else did. Or even cared. It’s enforced religion: Everybody’s gotta participate in their spiritual practice, not to grow our own relationships with God, but because our parents felt it wasn’t proper to eat before a ritual prayer. It’s a formality.

And in some cases, it’s a superstition: If you don’t bless the food, it’s not blessed. Some will even say cursed.

So as a result of all this Christianist junk behind saying grace, we wind up with people who treat it as an annoyance. Or even passive-aggressively mock it. Like the silly rote prayers.

Good bread, good meat.
Good God, let’s eat.
Rub a dub dub
Thanks for the grub
Yea, God!

At one children’s ministry I worked with, we had a rote prayer we used for grace. Actually it was an old hymn, suitable for thanking God for food. And since each line was eight syllables long, it meant it perfectly fit a whole lot of tunes. Like different TV theme songs. The adults would have the kids sing their grace to these silly songs… then wonder why the kids didn’t take grace all that seriously. Well, duh. Obviously they weren’t being taught to.

Okay, so let’s take a more serious look at saying grace. And, believe it or not, whether we oughta drop the practice. Yeah, you read right.

14 October 2016

Perfect love—without conditions.

Which we Christians shouldn’t have.

Matthew 5.43-48 • Luke 6.27-36

Sometimes I joke the two commands Jesus said were most important Mk 12.29-31 —love God Dt 6.5 and love your neighbor Lv 19.18 —are respectively the easiest and hardest commands. Really easy to love God. But the neighbors are a pain.

Some respond with a laugh. Others disagree: They struggle to love God, but people are relatively easy for them. ’Cause people are visible and God is not.

And, they figure, the neighbors are easy to love. Of course by “neighbor” they mean “people who are friendly,” kinda like in Jesus’s story of the kind Samaritan. Lk 10.29-37 Kind people are easy to love. Unkind people not so much. And yeah, it’s not hard to love people who are always nice to you, but I find when you really know and spend time with people, they’re not always gonna be nice. Gotta give ’em credit for trying, but everybody slips. I sure do. That’s why we Christians gotta be gracious.

Since God obligated the Hebrews to love their neighbors, a lot of ’em actually figured that’s as far as they needed to go in loving people. Kinda like that guy who provoked Jesus to tell the kind Samaritan story: He wanted to justify which neighbors to love. Don’t we all? But in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus objected to that kind of categorizing. God loves everybody, and if you’re following him, if you’re one of his kids, go and do likewise.

And Jesus didn’t pussyfoot around. He jumped straight to the unlovable folks. Not icky, dirty, or smelly people, whom superficial Christians struggle to love, but can with a little effort (and especially after we wash ’em). Not sinners, whom self-righteous Christians likewise struggle to love, but sometimes can (again, after they straighten up a bit). Nope, Jesus went for the people who are just plain being hostile and hateful towards us. Persecutors. Mistreaters. Cursers.

Matthew 5.43-44 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”
Luke 6.27-31 KWL
27 “But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.
28 Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.
29 To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.
To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.
30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

Yeah, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus already brought up the people who might punch you in the jaw, or try to sue your clothes off. Mt 5.39-40 That was to emphasize grace over karma. In this passage, it’s unconditional love. He orders us to agapáte/“love” not just people who love us back, not just people who reciprocate, but everyone. Including people who never, ever will reciprocate.

You know, like our Father.

Matthew 5.45 KWL
“Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.”

Theologians call this prevenient grace—the grace God grants us before we even know he’s there, before we choose to follow him—and even if we choose to not follow him. Sunlight for all. Rain for all. Life and health and food and water for all. Atonement for all. Salvation offered to all. Yes, God totally plays favorites, like his chosen Hebrews and Christians; but if anybody else wants to become one of his favorites, he’s not shutting them out. Jn 6.37 Neither should we.

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.

30 June 2016

The “Wild at Heart” kind of guy.

How to turn Christ Jesus into William Wallace. (Not the real Wallace; the one depicted by Mel Gibson.)

Nine years ago a friend, who should’ve known better, gave me a copy of John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart as a Christmas gift. The book was all the rage among Christian men five years before. At the time (’cause I tried to get rid of it on Amazon) it was going for 20 cents. Betcha she found it on sale.

People buy books like Wild at Heart to inspire the men in their lives. That’d include men who don’t read. Consequently there are a lot of men who own a dusty copy of Wild at Heart, and mine’s pretty dusty too, ’cause I refuse to read it again.

I’d read it years before. It wasn’t my copy, which is the only reason I didn’t throw it across the room in disgust. Nope, I don’t care for it. Here’s why.

Eldredge’s profoundly misguided thesis is constructed around certain Happy Premises. (I stole this term from Bowfinger, which I watched again recently. Loony self-help ideas tend to gravitate together in my mind, whether fictional or not.)

  • Happy Premise #1. Man needs to be wild, free, and undomesticated; he needs to pick fights and conquer stuff.
  • Happy Premise #2. Man needs to pursue Woman, see her as his Beauty, and take her to be part of his grand adventure.
  • Happy Premise #3. This was how God made men to be, and even Jesus was like this.
  • Happy Premise #4. You must never, ever show it to the Laker Girls.

No wait; that last one’s from Bowfinger.

In Wild at Heart, Eldredge explains why humanity doesn’t know his Happy Premises, despite them being buried deep in every man’s heart (where Eldredge found them, though others hadn’t), despite them being buried deep in the scriptures (where Eldredge found them, though others can’t). Men aren’t proper, masculine males; their fathers never taught them to be one. Instead, their mothers teach boys to be girly, and domesticate and figuratively castrate them.

Hence women are wholly unfit to raise men. Seriously; that’s what Eldredge teaches. Something ladies better bear in mind, next time someone recommends this book for your husband.

If a mother will not allow her son to become dangerous, if she does not let the father take him away, she will emasculate him. I just read a story of a mother, divorced from her husband, who was furious that he wanted to take the boy hunting. She tried to get a restraining order to prevent him from teaching the boy about guns. That is emasculation. “My mom wouldn’t let me play with GI Joe,” a young man told me. Another said, “We lived back east, near an amusement park. It had a roller coaster—the old wooden kind. But my mom would never let me go.” That is emasculation, and the boy needs to be rescued from it by the active intervention of the father, or another man. Eldredge 64-65  

Another man? Any other man? Say you’re a single mom, and you’ve forbidden your son from playing with matches, ’cause you know your little firebug will wind up in the burn ward. Is Eldredge actually suggesting some unrelated stranger should be able to overrule you and supply your boy with a box of matches, because you don’t get it?

Yes. Yes he does. To make his case, Eldredge references the Clint Eastwood movie A Perfect World. Kevin Costner plays an escaped convict who kidnaps an 8-year-old boy. He lets the boy ride the roller coaster his mother wouldn’t. He compliments the boy on his penis. Yeah, there are other instances in the movie of bonding between the criminal and his victim, but Eldredge picked those two. Wild rides and genitalia. The two things in this book he upholds most.

03 April 2016

Profanity, and why Christians get freaked out by it.

No, it’s not because it’s such a grave sin. It’s purely cultural.

People mean three things by “swearing”: Oaths, curses, and profanity. Today I’m writing about profanity, meaning stuff that’s obscene, or stuff people consider irreverent towards God. Either various words or practices which are considered forbidden in polite company, or forms of “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” as popularly (and incorrectly) defined.

Since the beginning of human history, different cultures have had certain taboos. Stuff that’s forbidden. Or forbidden to children. Or forbidden to one gender and not the other: Men can go shirtless in public and women can’t; women can wear dresses in public but men can’t; that sort of thing.

Some of these taboos are for very good reason. Forbidding sex with children: Obviously it discourages people from exploiting children. Forbidding people to poop just anywhere: If it weren’t taboo, people would poop just anywhere, and this keeps their elimination practices in private. Where we prefer it. ’Cause ewww.

Because of the taboos against the practices, it even extends to the words. There are people who get offended by my bringing up the idea of poop. And of course, using the word—even though I used “poop” instead of the popular Anglo-Saxon word which you can say on basic cable, but not American broadcast television. Starts with S. You’ve heard of it.

In English, a lot of the “profane” words are the Anglo-Saxon words. The “proper” terms (like defecation) came from Anglo-Norman. Those two languages (and a ton of loan words) came together to form the English we speak today—but again, even if I use the word “defecation,” certain people will flinch like I poked their funny bone. The taboo is just that strong with ’em.

Five main taboos you’re gonna find in the English language:

  • Sex talk. Particular acts, the body parts used to perform ’em, and paraphernalia.
  • Bathroom talk. What comes out of you, how, and cleaning up after.
  • “Blasphemy.” Whatever treats God lightly.
  • Hell talk. Anything about evil in general, the devil, its tempters, and eternal punishment.
  • Prejudice. A relatively new category: Slurs against gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual preference.

Most of us recognize that, under certain circumstances, we have to discuss these topics. Fr’instance children need to be educated about sex; otherwise they’ll do it wrong.

27 March 2016

Easter.

Or “Resurrection Sunday,” for those who are paranoid about what “Easter” might mean.

On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed only two days before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected.

He died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew Pesákh/“Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha; in Danish Påske, Dutch Pasen, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk.

But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur. In German this becomes Ostern; in English Easter.

Because of the pagan origins of the word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” (Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians.)

Easter is our most important holiday. Christmas tends to get the world’s focus (and certainly that of the merchants), but it’s only because Christmas doesn’t stretch their beliefs too far. Everybody agrees Jesus was born. We only differ on details.

But Easter is about how Jesus was raised, and that’s a sticking point for a whole lot of pagans. They don’t buy it. They don’t even like it: When they die, they wanna go to heaven and stay there. Resurrection? Coming back? In a body? No no no.

We’ll even find Christians who agree with them: They’ll claim Jesus didn’t literally return from death, but exists in some super-spiritual ghostly form. Which returned to heaven, and that’s where we’ll go too. No resurrection; not necessary. Yes, it’s a heretic idea, but a popular one.

So to pagans, Easter’s a myth. It’s a nice story about how we Christians think Jesus came back from the dead, but it comes from ancient times, back when people believed anyone could come back from the dead if they knew the right magic spell. Really it’s just a metaphor for spring, new life, rebirth; just like eggs and baby chicks and bunnies. They’ll celebrate that. With chocolate, fancy hats, brunch, and maybe an egg hunt.

But to us Christians, Easter’s no myth. It’s history.

26 March 2016

Skipping the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Don’t go to Jerusalem and miss seeing where Jesus died and was laid to rest.

Another essay I’ve been asked to repost is my bit on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And no, I’m not gonna spell it Sepulchre, like the British and Canadians do. I’m an American. Our spelling makes more sense. Well, slightly more.


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher: The massive church building which contains both Golgatha and Jesus’s tomb. [From Wikimedia Commons.]

What prompted my original post in 2010 was my brother and sister-in-law going to Israel. It was with some folks in their church, and was the basic pilgrim’s package: I had this piece (most of it, anyway) published in the September 2014 issue of Oremus Press. So to my Catholic sisters and brothers who followed the link here: Hi there! God bless. You get Jerusalem of course, and a few of the more popular sites from the bible. Provided there’s no open warfare in those areas; the last thing either Israelis or Palestinians want are shot-up tourists. Both sides profit from tourism.

When I went to Israel in 1998, I wanted to see Hebron, ’cause Abraham is buried there. But nothing doing: It was off-limits to tourists at the time. So I had to settle for Beersheba, one of the many places where Abraham camped. Or Tel Dan, where the ancient city of Laish, which Abraham once visited, was being excavated. Or the Dome of the Rock, where Abraham tried sacrificing one son or the other (the Torah says Isaac, the Qur’an says Ishmael, and the Book of Mormon probably says he did it in North America. Nah, kidding.) Probably these sites were more interesting than Hebron. I suppose I’ll never know.

So before going, the pilgrims at my brother’s church met regularly to discuss the sites they’d see. This way they could look them up in advance. Or, which is more likely, not. And once they finally got to Israel, they wouldn’t need to listen to any spiel from the tour guide. They could just stand there and bask in the awesomeness of where they were—assuming they knew where they were. I know the bible fairly well, but every once in a while, during my own trip to Israel, I’d go, “Where?” You see, some of the places today have unfamiliar Arabic names, and other locations are so minor (’cause most of the action takes place in Jerusalem, Samaria, Capernaum, and sometimes Bethlehem) so you can be excused for not knowing every little place where Jesus stopped for a bathroom break and a falafel. But now that you were there, you could stand there and think, “Wow, Jesus stood here.” Then take photos and video. And later that evening, upload it to Facebook.

Me, I’d rather pick the tour guide’s brain. The Israeli guides tend to know way more about the sites than many of the books out there. The Israeli Antiquities Authority educates them well. Yeah, some of it is telling the tourists just what they wanna hear: If they’re dealing with Catholic tourists, they’re instructed to never ever point out the Virgin Mary’s tomb. ’Cause everybody knows Mary ascended to heaven. Except non-Catholics, who don’t care whether she did or not; we figure she’ll be in heaven either way.

But when I saw one of their first itineraries, I noticed they were lacking a trip to the Naos tis Anastaseos—that’d be Greek for the Sanctum Sepulchrum, which is Latin for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It wasn’t there. They were going to the Garden Tomb, though.

“Well, what’s the big deal?” most Protestants are likely thinking. “They were going to the Garden Tomb. Why’d they need to go to that Catholic site anyway?”

Because “that Catholic site” is where Jesus was resurrected. He was never laid to rest in the Garden Tomb.

25 December 2015

Twelve days of Christmas.

How we do Christmas… and how we oughta do Christmas.

Today’s the first day of Christmas. Happy Christmas!

Sunday the 27th will be the third day of Christmas, and at church I expect to still wish people a happy Christmas… and I also expect them to look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.” Ah, the song.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Three french hens
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds
Three french hens
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Thus far into the song, that’s 20 birds. There will be plenty more, what with the swans a-swimming and geese a-laying. Dude was weird for birds. But I digress.

There are 12 days of Christmas, but in our culture we celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and we’re done. Two days of Christmas. And some of us cannot abide any more than that. When I remind people there are 12 days of Christmas, their look is not that of surprise, recognition, or pleasure. It’s tightly controlled rage. Who the [expletive noun] added 11 more days to this [expletive adjective] holiday? They want it done already.

I understand that. Whenever the focus gets off Christ, and gets onto all the traditions we’re forced to practice this time of year, Christmas sucks. You know the routine: Irritating customs, fake sentimentality, forced interaction with awful people, reciprocal gift-giving, bad music, bad pageantry, tasteless ornaments, and of course the new political custom of being a dick to people who only wish us “Happy Holidays” instead of the mandatory “Merry Christmas.” I don’t blame people for hating that stuff. Really, Christians should hate it. It’s works of the flesh, y’know.

Christmas, the feast of Christ Jesus’s nativity (from whence we get foreign names for Christmas like Navidad and Noël and Natale) begins 25 December and ends 5 January. What are we to do those other 11 days?

15 October 2015

“Call me Pastor.”

Some Christian leaders wanna make really sure we get their titles right.

Three years ago I got into a conversation with some guy at a Starbucks. It’s usually in coffeehouses such conversations take place; I’m in them so often. (I’m in one now as I write this.) He asked my name. I gave it. He gave his name as “Pastor Todd,” although Todd is not actually his first name, ’cause I changed it for this story, ’cause he’s not gonna look good.

Todd struck up a conversation with me, quickly found out I’m Christian, and we got to talking about our common beliefs. Like most people, he assumed since I’m not clergy, I must know nothing about theology. Which is a really naïve assumption, ’cause there are a lot of dangerously overeducated laymen like me around. Something I learned back in my journalism days: Never underestimate people. But never overestimate ’em either. Find out who they really are.

There are a lot of dangerously undereducated clergy around too. It just so happened Todd was among them. He tried to instruct me in certain areas he clearly knew little about. I expressed doubt, ’cause scripture; Todd tried to correct me, ’cause earnestness. I didn’t fret about it, ’cause Todd wasn’t wandering into heresy; Todd got more and more anxious, ’cause certain folks believe anyone who disagrees with them is heretic—and that it’s their duty to rescue us from hell, so he just had to get through to me. I think I kinda ruined his day.

To my point: At some point I addressed him by his given name, which as far as you know is “Todd.” He corrected me there, too.

Todd. “It’s Pastor Todd.”
Me. “I’m sorry. Your first name is ‘Pastor’? Or it’s ‘Pastor-Todd’?”
Todd. “Pastor’s my title.”
Me. “Oh. But you aren’t my pastor. No offense.”
Todd. “Still I’m a pastor, ordained by God. I should be addressed by that title.”

26 September 2015

Why Amazon is my favorite Christian bookstore.

And probably yours too.

My hometown has one bookstore—only one—which specializes in new books. Although specialize isn’t the proper word. That’d be Family Christian Stores, which isn’t so much a bookstore as your one-stop shop for all things Christian. It sells tchotchkes about as much as books: CDs, shirts, toys, art for the walls… you know, “Jesus junk.”

’Twasn’t always thus. We used to have a Borders. It closed when Borders went bankrupt in 2001. In the ’90s we had a Crown Books, and that closed too. All that’s left are the used-book stores which sometimes carry a new book or two. And the book sections of Walmart, Costco, Target, and other department stores. And the local library’s monthly book sale. There’s the odd church bookshop, but they’re not open unless the church is, and not even then.

Why can’t a town of 90,000 sustain a new-books bookstore? Because those stores, for the most part, don’t know what they’re doing. They didn’t realize, till it was too late, their primary competition was Amazon—and that Amazon had ’em so beat, people would shop at Amazon while browsing their stores. I did it myself. Soon as I found a book I was interested in, I took down its ISBN and looked it up on Amazon. Guess who always had the better price.

No, Amazon hasn’t paid me to sing their praises. This is just fact. Even when a bookstore marks everything at 20 percent below the suggested retail price, Amazon undercuts ’em. Even when the books are on the clearance shelf at 60 percent off, or $2 bargains, Amazon has ’em beat. I’m not the only customer who noticed this. It’s why people were walking around the bookstores with their smartphones out, comparing prices, going with Amazon, and buying nothing from Borders but the coffee. Seattle’s Best Coffee did really well. Borders, not so much.

22 September 2015

Getting Christian capitalization right.

How to capitalize every last pronoun which refers to God. And while we’re at it, a bunch of other words.

Y’know, we Christians have invented a lot of little (and stupid) ways to gauge how devout our fellow Christians are—how closely we follow Jesus, how much we respect and honor God, how saved we are. How many Christianese words and terms can we slip into our conversation? How likely are we to pray at the slightest provocation? Are we willing to mar the bumpers of our cars with Jesus fish and pro-God stickers? Can we quote bible verses casually, and post ’em on Twitter?

One of those little litmus tests is how we do on Christian capitalization. Do we capitalize all the appropriate titles and names and holy things and their pronouns when we’re writing about God and Christianity?

Fr’instance when we’re writing about God, we’d better darned well have capitalized the title “God.” I know; some Christians call it the name of God, but YHWH’s his name; God’s his title. Technically his species. Still: Capitalize it! It’s not lowercase-G “god,” like we use for other religions’ gods, especially religions with multiple gods. Lowercasing God’s title, we feel, would disrespect him.

Just like it disrespects us when people don’t capitalize our names, right? …Wait, do people do that? I mean, other than when they’re getting creative with a list of names, who lowercases people’s names? And when it’s done, who among us is so sensitive, we identify this as a slight? Does it ever occur to anybody to consider this a big deal? Or an insult?

Yet you’ll actually find Christians do this to the devil. Seriously. “Devil” is its title, so it needn’t be capitalized either, but we’re in the habit of treating its title “Satan” as a proper name. And yet Christians will refer to it as lowercase-S “satan,” just to stick it to “satan” for convincing people to use lowercase-G’s on God. It’s quite petty of us.

It also freaks us out when people capitalize “God” to refer to another religion’s god. Like Aten or Wotan or Vishnu—we don’t refer to those beings as Gods, but gods. Zeus isn’t a God, but a god. Only YHWH is a God, and not just a God but the God. Mix this up, and people are gonna doubt our salvation. Even if it’s an honest mistake, or a pagan editor removing all our sacred capitalization.

It’s already kinda silly but it goes further. A lot further. Follow me down the rabbit hole, will you?