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

Why Amazon is my favorite Christian bookstore.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May

Unless you count all the mini-bookstores found in the larger churches, my hometown has only one bookstore. One. It’s downtown; it mostly sells used books.

We used to have a Borders, a Crown Books, a Book Outlet, and multiple used bookstores. And a Family Christian Stores—which wasn’t so much a bookstore as a one-stop shop for all Christian. They had books, but they had even more Christian tchotchkes: CDs, shirts, toys, art for the walls. “Jesus junk.” Now we have just that one bookstore… and the book sections at Walmart, Costco, Target, the other department stores, and the thrift stores. (And the local library’s monthly book sale.)

Why can’t a town of 102,000 sustain a new-books bookstore? Because those stores, for the most part, didn’t know what they were 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. I’d browse their stacks, find a book I was interested in, take down its ISBN, and look it up on Amazon. Guess who always had the better price.

No, Amazon doesn’t pay me to sing their praises. Even though I link a lot of the books, movies, and albums I mention on TXAB to their website.

I learned a long time ago, and keep seeing it: No matter the bookstore, Amazon offers a lower price on the same book. Even if the bookstore marked everything at 20 percent below the suggested retail price. Even when the books are on the clearance shelf at 60 percent off. Even when they’re in a $2 bargain bin. Even when I find ’em at Dollar Tree for $1.25. Amazon regularly has ’em beat.

I’m not the only bookstore customer who noticed this. I’ve seen other customers browse the bookstore… then whip out their smartphone, compare prices, go with Amazon, and buy nothing from the bookstore but their coffee. If that. Too often Starbucks is cheaper.

Abortion, and Christian conservatives.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.

Infanticide does. Many ancient cultures used to strangle or smother a baby after birth. Ex 1.16 Or drown it, either in a nearby river Ex 1.22 or the local bathhouse. The Romans were notorious for exposing their unwanted kids to the elements: If a patriarch didn’t consider their child healthy enough, or simply didn’t want another kid, he could order it to be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure.

The scriptures don’t specifically condemn such practices as murder… but neither do they treat ’em as if they’re not murder.

Miscarriage does come up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, and a miscarriage would result. Sometimes the mother would die too, but them’s the risks. Since people didn’t care for these risks, what they usually went with was infanticide.

Now there is a command in the Law which indicates God doesn‘t approve of triggering a miscarriage.

Exodus 21.22-25 KJV
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

“Her fruit depart” implies a premature birth; “mischief follow” implies the baby is born dead, or dies. So the guy who punched the mother could merit a life-for-life penalty. Unless the judge or her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—her patriarch, meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law, or whatever man had the care of her—had mercy, the perpetrator would be executed. Usually by her closest male relative, who was instructed to take vengeance in such cases. Nu 35.19

Now obviously there are Christians who read this passage differently. They figure “her fruit depart” means of course the child died, and “mischief follow” actually means the woman had complications, which varied. Hence that list of “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etcetera: These were all the types of “mischief” which might follow. If the man knocked her eye out, he’d have to pay with his own eye. But if the man knocked her fetus out… he’d only have to pay a fine. Because a fetus doesn’t count as a life. And hey, they could always make another.

So, some Christians are adamant this passage proves a fetus is a baby, and other Christians are adamant this passage proves just the opposite. Which one they go with, largely depends on their abortion politics.

Because, like I said, the bible is mum on the subject of abortion.

Not that people don’t try to read abortion into all sorts of verses. And frequently they take the scriptures out of context—because they’re not really interested in what these passages are actually about. They have an ax to grind. They’re entirely sure they’re right, and God has taken their side. True of most political issues, but abortion especially.

The 12 days of Christmas.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 December

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

After which there are 11 more days of it. 26 December—which is also Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day—tends to get called “the day after Christmas,” but it’s not. It’s the second day of Christmas.

The Sunday after Christmas (and in many years, including 2021, two Sundays after Christmas) is still Christmas. So I go to church and wish people a happy Christmas. And they look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.”

Ah, the song. They sing it, but it never clicks what they’re singing about.

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.

We’re on the fourth day and that’s 20 frickin’ 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 our culture focuses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day… and we’re done. Department store policy is to remove the Christmas merchandise on 26 December, and start putting up New Year’s and St. Valentine’s Day stuff. (If the Christmas stuff is already sold out, fill ’em with New Year’s stuff now.) So the stores grant us two days of Christmas; no more.

Really, many people can’t abide any more days of Christmas than that. When I remind people it’s 12 days, the response is seldom 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 this. If the focus of Christmas isn’t Christ, but instead all the Christian-adjacent cultural traditions we’re forced to practice this time of year, Christmas sucks. Hard. Especially since Mammonists don’t bother to be like Jesus, and practice kindness and generosity. For them Christmas is about being a dick to any clerk who wishes ’em a “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I don’t blame people for hating that behavior. Really, Christians should hate it. It’s works of the flesh, y’know.

Christmas, the feast of Christ Jesus’s nativity (from whence non-English speakers get their names for Christmas, like Navidad and Noël and Natale) begins 25 December and ends 5 January. What are we to do these other 11 days? Same as we were supposed to do Christmas Day: Remember Jesus. Meditate on his first coming; look forward to his second coming. And rejoice; these are feast days, so the idea is to actually enjoy yourself, and have a good time with loved ones. Eat good food. Hang out. Relax. Or, if you actually like to shop, go right ahead; but if you don’t, by all means don’t.

It’s a holiday. Take a holiday.

Getting Christian capitalization right.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 July

We Christians have invented a lot of petty and stupid ways to judge our fellow Christians for how devout they are. That’s what these Expectations articles are about, y’know. We don’t look for fruit of the Spirit. We look for this crap. So from time to time I get judged for not meeting my fellow Christians’ expectations. So do you. Isn’t it tiresome?

One of the little litmus tests is how we do on Christian capitalization. I get rebuked for this on a frequent basis: I don’t capitalize Christian things enough. I don’t capitalize “bible”—as if people aren’t gonna know I’m talking about the bible when I do so. I don’t capitalize God’s pronouns. I don’t capitalize “church” and “liturgy” and “sacrament.” I do capitalize Satan.

Because I follow the rules of 21st century grammar. I know; it’s a dying practice. I read a lot of news, and regularly catch reporters misusing apostrophes. People love to use ’em for plurals. Love love love. Even though they shouldn’t. When in doubt, don’t. But I digress.

Now under the rules of 16th century grammar, you capitalize everything you wanna emphasize, which is why the U.S. Constitution and our Declaration of Independence are full (or to do it 16th-century style, Full) of capitalizations. But we stopped doing that in the 19th century, and the only reason Christians kept it up is because we liked old books. We oughta still like old books… but that’s another digression.

Under 21st century grammar, we capitalize proper names, and titles when we address people by ’em. We capitalize Jesus, of course; we capitalize Lord when we address him as such, but when we refer to him as our lord, we needn’t. Christians will, ’cause they don’t realize there’s a difference, and figure you always capitalize lord. And yeah, when we’re referring to YHWH, the LORD, yeah we do. But “lord” is his title, not a proper name. “God” is his species, not a proper name; calling him “God” is like when he refers to Ezekiel as “Son of Man.” Ek 2.1

Like I said, Christians don’t realize there’s a difference, and get all bent out of shape when people refer to “god,” as in “The guru claims to be an expert on god.” (Y’realize if the guru is Hindu, of course you wouldn’t capitalize “god,” ’cause we could be talking about any of their gods.) To the Christian’s mind, it doesn’t matter if “god” is only God’s species: You capitalize it! Always. It’s not lowercase-G “god,” and lowercasing God’s title disrespects him, doesn’t it? Just like how it disrespects us when people won’t capitalize “human,” right?

Just like how disrespects us when other people won’t capitalize our names, right? …Wait, do people do this as a way to disrespect one another? I mean, unless they’re being a little creative with graphic design, like movie credits which put everything in lowercase: Who lowercases people’s names so as to insult them? And when we see it done to our own names, 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.

Now the things we call it—“devil” and “Satan”—are actually both titles. We don’t know its proper name. (No, it’s not “Lucifer.” That’s a misinterpretation… and another title, while we’re at it.) As titles, we don’t actually need to capitalize ’em either, unless we’re addressing the devil by its title—“Listen, Devil,” or “Listen, Accuser”—but Christians traditionally treat “Satan” as this particular satan’s proper name. Yet Christians, just to stick it to Satan a little, like to lowercase it where inappropriate. Yeah, like this gets it back for convincing people to use lowercase-G’s on God. It’s petty of us.

It also freaks Christians out when people capitalize “God” to refer to another religion’s god. Like Aten or Wotan or Vishnu—we don’t refer to these beings as “Gods,” but “gods.” Zeus isn’t a God, but a god. Properly, YHWH is a god too, but to honor him we insist on making him always, always an uppercase-G God, ’cause he’s the God.

Mix any of these customary rules up, and people are gonna doubt your salvation. Even if it’s an honest mistake, or a pagan editor removing all our sacred capitalization.

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

Happy Halloween. Bought your candy yet?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

For more than a decade I’ve ranted about the ridiculous Evangelical practice of shunning Halloween. I call it ridiculous ’cause it really is: It’s a fear-based, irrational, misinformed, slander-filled rejection of a holiday… which actually turns out to be a legitimate part of the Christian calendar.

No I’m not kidding. It’s our holiday. Christians invented Halloween.


A perfect opportunity to show Christlike generosity—and give the best candy ever. But too many of us make a serious point of being grouchy, fear-addled spoilsports. Image swiped from a mommy blog.

No it sure doesn’t look like Christians’ original intent. That’s because we let the pagans take it over. By “pagans” I mean non-Christians.

No I don’t mean the capital-P Pagans, the nature religions which date from the 1960s, but who claim they revived ancient pre-Christian religions. Pretty sure the ancient religions didn’t believe their gods were only symbolic archetypes of natural forces; they believed in literal otherworldly beings. And had a lot of ethnic and sexual boundaries as part of their identity. Modern Pagans decidedly got rid of the sexism… and some of ’em added the racism. So there’s that. But whatever: Most neo-Pagans don’t do Halloween, and recognize it was never their holiday. Just about every ancient culture held a harvest celebration round the time of the autumnal equinox—last month, back on 22 September. One of the Irish Pagan festivals would be Samhain 'saʊ.ən, a contraction of sam fuin/“summer’s end.” Totally unrelated to Halloween. It’s as if you claimed the closer-together St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are related.

Every so often, one of the dumber neo-Pagans will insist Christians swiped Halloween from them, and Christianized it. Which is rubbish. Yet despite the total lack of historical evidence, many a gullible reporter swallows the neo-Pagans’ claims whole, and repeats ’em every year. They’ve been doing it for so long, people actually try to debunk me by quoting 15-year-old newsblogs. Which were poorly researched and incorrect then, and just as wrong now.

And neither neo-Pagan nor Christian holidays involve a celebration of creepy horror movie themes.

The “spirit of Jezebel.”

by K.W. Leslie, 23 April

Every so often, Christian preachers will denounce what they call a “Jezebel spirit” in their churches. Some of ’em do it all the time, so they presume their churches know what they mean by that. ’Tain’t always so.

No, it’s not the ghost of Queen Jezebel bat Ethbaal of Samaria, possessing somebody and making ’em do evil stuff. Nor even is it the way Jezebel acted or behaved. Might be closer to the way Bette Davis’s strong-willed character Julie behaved in the 1938 movie Jezebel, but that’s assuming anyone’s even seen the movie, and betcha they haven’t.

It’s meant to be based on something Jesus said in Revelation. But since Jesus didn’t spell out what he meant, people guess at it, typically guess wrong, and claim all sorts of behaviors they don’t like “come from a Jezebel spirit.”

Let’s dig into biblical history, and from there we can see where all the usual popular misinterpretations come from.

Jezebel of Samaria.

Jezebel bat Ethbaal of Sidon (Hebrew אִיזֶבֶל/Iyzevél, probably meaning “exalt Baal”) first comes up in 1 Kings 16.31, when King Ahab ben Omri of Samaria married her.

Up to that point in the Deuteronomistic History, the historian (whom for convenience I’ll call “Sam”) compared every rotten king of Samaria to their first king, Jeroboam ben Nebat, who corrupted the LORD’s worship by building worship sites for him in Dan and Bethel—and by putting gold calves there. But Ahab outpaced Jeroboam by miles. Jeroboam’s sin was using idols to represent the LORD, and otherwise permitting idolatry in general. Ahab, however, was a full-on pagan. He didn’t dabble in false gods on the side; he devotedly worshiped Ašur, the Baal of the Assyrian Empire.

“Baal” means “master,” and it’s a generic title for the many Canaanite gods in the bible. Thanks to ritual sex with temple prostitutes being a big part of pagan worship, Baalism was extremely popular. Ahab promoted Ašur like crazy. More: He married a Sidonian princess who was just as much into Baalism as he. Maybe even more.

Sam took issue with Jezebel because she was really into Baal. So much so, she actively tried to eradicate the LORD’s prophets, 1Ki 18.4 who had likely denounced all the idolatry and reminded the people Israeli kings were mandated to follow the Law. Dt 17.18-20 Of course if the king didn’t even worship the God who mandated the Law, he was hardly likely to follow it.

In Israel kings were under the Law; in Jezebel’s homeland of Sidon kings were above it. This is why, when Ahab was unsuccessful in convincing his neighbor Naboth to sell him a vineyard, Jezebel had no qualms about arranging for Naboth’s death (on the grounds of blaspheming God, of all things) so Ahab could seize the vineyard. 1Ki 18.1-16 Various Christians look at Jezebel’s actions in the Naboth story and presume she overstepped her role, but really she didn’t: Jezebel told her husband she’d get him that vineyard, 1Ki 21.7 and Ahab was perfectly happy with her results. She did nothing behind his back; she did everything with his approval. She usurped nothing.

Sam’s objection wasn’t about Jezebel “not knowing her place,” but that Ahab “sold himself to do evil in the LORD’s eyes,” 1Ki 21.20 and follow Jezebel instead of the LORD. There’s nothing wrong with following your wife when she’s following God, and doing what’s good and righteous. There’s everything wrong with endorsing murder, slander, and theft. The issue isn’t usurpation, but evil. 1Ki 21.25

Hence the LORD’s prophet Elijah declared Jezebel would die, be left unburied, and get eaten by dogs. The next we see her, in 2 Kings 9, that’s just what happens. Army commander Jehu ben Jehoshaphat was ordered by a prophet to destroy King Joram ben Ahab, plus Ahab’s whole family, 2Ki 9.6-10 which he did.

Before Jehu killed Joram, he shouted, “How can there be peace when your mother Jezebel commits so much whoring and sorcery?” 2Ki 9.22 Many Christians interpret this to mean Jezebel was literally a whore and sorcerer, and teach this. For some odd reason they totally forgot “Your mom’s a whore” and “Your mom’s a witch” are two age-old insults. Translators really don’t catch this either. Even paraphrased bibles take Jehu literally. Certainly Baalism had a lot of ritual sex and ritual magic, and certainly Jezebel indulged in both. “But the queen does it” is a convenient rationalization for any Israelis who were tempted to try Baalism for themselves. She totally influenced many towards evil. But taking Jehu literally is an iffy interpretation.

Anyway. When Jehu arrived at the royal house in Jezreel, Jezebel did something which strikes many present-day readers as odd: She put on her makeup and fixed her hair. 2Ki 9.30 In American culture, women didn’t wear makeup for about three centuries; only actors and whores did. So our culture still frequently assumes this “painted Jezebel” did this so she might seduce Jehu. It’s a laughable interpretation: It doesn’t fit at all with her words, ’cause as Jehu entered the grounds, she taunted him and called him a murderer. 2Ki 9.31 What’s more likely is she knew she was gonna die, and hoped to go to her death looking decent.

Which just wasn’t gonna happen. Jehu had two eunuchs throw her out of the window, then ran over her with his chariot horses. 2Ki 9.32-33 When he finally bothered to have her buried, he found the dogs had got to her first, 2Ki 9.34-37 just as Elijah had said.

Jezebel of Thyatira.

When Jesus appeared to John and had him write Revelation, his message to his church of Thyatira was largely this.

Revelation 2.20-25 KWL
20 “But I have against you that you forgive the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet.
She teaches, and leads my slaves astray into porn and eating idol-offerings.
21 I gave her time to repent, and she didn’t want to repent of her porn.
22 Look, I throw her, and the adulterers with her, into bed and great suffering,
lest they repent of her works. 23 I’ll put her children to death.
Everyone in the churches will know I’m the one who examines minds and hearts,
and I give to each person according to your works.
24 I tell the rest of you Thyatirans, whoever doesn’t have this teaching,
whoever doesn’t know ‘Satan’s deep things,’ as they’re called,
I don’t put any other burdens on you.
25 Only cling to what you already have till I come.”

Revelation is an apocalypse, a prophecy where, like parables, the images and words in it represent other things. This woman wasn’t literally named Jezebel. Jesus picked the name because this fake prophet in Thyatira, just like Jezebel of Samaria, was a total devotee to the immoral idols of her homeland instead of the LORD.

Jezebel of Thyatira was enabling idolatry in Jesus’s church, just like Jezebel of Israel had enabled idolatry in ancient Israel. This is only speculation, but I would guess she was teaching ’em God’s grace made it okay for them to dabble in idolatry. Ancient Roman paganism wasn’t a whole lot different from Baalism, particularly in the ritual sex and ritual magic. So it was having the same effects: The Christians were becoming immoral and evil. And just as the LORD sent Elijah to Jezebel and Ahab to get ’em to repent, Jesus gave this woman plenty of time to repent too. But now it was time for consequences. Sounds like illness; probably sexually transmitted diseases, or at least food poisoning.

That’s the real issue: False teaching. Idolatry. Heresy. Christians who think it’s okay to be Christian, but dabble in other religions and spiritualities. We got a number of not-all-that-devout Christians who don’t really care to go much deeper into Christianity, but are sorta curious about what Hinduism or Buddhism or Wicca or Spiritualism teaches, and wonder if they can’t mix a few of those beliefs into the pile.

But we can’t be Christian and dabble in other religions. You can’t be a Christian Wiccan, or a Christian Hindu, or a Christian Spiritualist. You can try to be a Jewish Christian, thanks to the huge amount of overlap; but as both Jews and Christians recognize, your ultimate affiliation is with Christ Jesus. Exactly as Jesus taught about money, we can’t serve two masters. Mt 6.24 One’s gonna win out. When Buddhism and Christianity don’t overlap, a “Buddhist Christian” is gonna follow either the Buddha or the Christ—and if they go back and forth between their two gurus, they’re really following neither; they’re doing as they please.

So Jezebelism is really about that. But of course, Christians popularly presume it’s either about usurpation or loose women.

Usurpation.

Usurpation means seizing control that’s not rightfully yours. This is a valid problem in our churches. But sometimes it’s not. Valid instances would be churches with

  • A self-anointed prophet who wants everyone to recognize their authority as God’s mouthpiece.
  • A group of “concerned members” who think their numbers gives ’em the right to circulate petitions, overthrow leaders, overrule their pastors, or otherwise wield power.
  • People who use financial manipulation to get their way: “I tithe a lot of money to this church, and if I don’t see ‘proper changes’ I think I’ll have to donate it elsewhere.”
  • Those who sue to get their way.
  • Teachers who will hear no correction or rebuke from anyone, ’cause they’re the teacher and they’re right.
  • The pastor’s spouse, siblings, or kids, who think the pastor’s authority automatically applies to them too—despite their lack of ability, maturity, or anointing.

Invalid instances would be cults. Or any church where the leadership is micromanagerial or tighly controlled. Where you might be put in charge of something, and given a title, but you don’t actually get to make real decisions; you’re like a high school student body president who hasn’t yet realized the principal and faculty really runs things.

Fact is, in every church God gave supernatural gifts to most of the people in it, if not all. Meaning most of the people in a church should be able to lead in some capacity. New believers should be given very little leadership authority, ’cause they still need to develop character (i.e. be fruity). Whereas mature believers should be given as much authority as possible, ’cause they know what they’re doing and can support the pastors. Pastors can identify who is whom; responsibilities can be delegated appropriately; the church can work together in harmony. And everyone recognizes their true place: Under Jesus.

The unhealthy church puts all that responsibility on only the pastor’s shoulders, or only on a tight group of elders. Not so much Jesus’s. And these folks jealously guard their power, and fight off anyone who tries to take it. It doesn’t look at all like God’s kingdom, where the greatest is everyone’s servant; it looks like a city council, or a dictatorship, Mk 10.42-44) or Ahab’s kingdom—where the worry about a person like Jezebel would be far more valid.

In a church where everyone recognizes all authority is submtted to Jesus, anyone who tries to grab some immediately stands out, like a tree in a wheat field. That’s how we fight usurpers: Surrender. Not to them, but to God. When it’s all given to him, there’s none left for them, and you starve ’em out.

But again: Jezebel of Thyatira’s problem wasn’t usurpation. She didn’t take over Thyatira’s church. Instead they tolerated her. They forgave her. They kept letting her lead people astray. The problem is false teaching, not bad leaders.

Sexuality and sexism.

Lastly, “Jezebel” is too often misinterpreted to mean a seductress. Christians zoom in on the sex parts of Jesus’s warning, and figure there’s the entire problem right there: We got a seductress in the church who’s leading the men into adultery, whoring, and other vices. We got a girl who’s too promiscuous, and having her around is giving people the idea promiscuity is okay. Or we got a girl who people assume is promiscuous because they’d like to sleep with her: She’s really attractive, or she wears too much makeup and too few clothes, or—intentionally or not—she distracts the preacher with her boobs when he’s trying to think holy thoughts. (Or in Paul’s case, distracts him with her hair.) Get those women out of there, or at least put a burka on ’em.

This might be a valid problem… but usually the real issue is men who lack self-control. Or men who are too promiscuous, and likewise having them around is giving people the idea promiscuity is okay… for men, anyway.

But even when we understand Jesus correctly, “Jezebel” is only used to refer to women. How often are men called “Jezebels,” or get accused of having a Jezebel spirit? (Or even “an Ahab spirit”?) Frankly they don’t. Even when they actually are being like Jezebel of Thyatira. I’ve seen many a male false teacher or false prophet try to sway a church in the wrong direction, and nobody even thought to call them Jezebels.

Sexuality, or threats to power, tend to produce an emotional reaction in people. Particularly people who covet power or sex. It’s because of these gut-level responses that people are slow to recognize they’re using the term “Jezebel” wrong… or to stop using it wrong even when they know what it properly means. So don’t be too surprised to see the misinterpretation perpetuate itself.

Skipping the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 April
I had most of this piece 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.

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. Wikimedia

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: 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 Quran 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?” Y’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.

The Garden Tomb.

In the early days of archaeology, archaeologists didn’t know what the hell they were doing. You’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies.

The first archaeologists were people who were knocking around ancient lands. French soldiers in Egypt, or British soldiers in Palestine. Some of ’em realized, “Hey, this ancient stuff might actually tell us something about history. And when you dig around a bit, you find more of it.”

Most folks knew when you dig around the earth enough—at least in places where humans have settled for longer than 500 years, i.e. not most of America—you’ll find remnants of those previous settlers. Usually junk. A building would fall apart, and someone would finally knock it down, level out the ground (more or less), and build on top of the rubble. After 10 centuries of this sort of behavior you actually wind up with a hill, and archaeologists call such manmade hills a tel. The tel consists of layer after layer of previous civilizations’ junk. In the hands of a knowledgeable anthropologist, you can learn all sorts of things about civilizations by their junk.

But in the 19th century, they weren’t interested in learning all sorts of things. Just the main things. The cool things. Like whether they accidentally threw out any gold. Or whether you might find a slab or papyrus which mentioned someone famous, like that Rosetta Stone which mentioned one of the Ptolemies and one of the Cleopatras. Who knows?—in Israel you might find something ancient which mentions David or Abraham or somebody from the bible. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the nads?

Once they realized this, they started digging around willy-nilly. Not bothering to think there oughta be some method to the process. Like paying attention to all the “junk” one finds which isn’t a major discovery. Like destroying evidence which could indicate the timeframe one’s artifact came from. Of course carbon-dating wasn’t invented yet.

So a lot of the early archaeologists worked pretty much the same way Indiana Jones did: Find treasures and stick them in a museum; destroy everything else along the way. Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? There’s a bit where Jones discovered a medieval knight’s grave in Italy. And desecrated it like crazy. Just so he could get to the Holy Grail all the faster. Archaeologists didn’t bother dusting sites with paintbrushes and toothbrushes. They’d use a backhoe and dynamite if it got ’em results quickly enough. Fr’instance Jericho: They made a royal mess of it. The site today is considered unreliable for serious research because of how badly those early archaeologists dug through it like a kid digging through a box of Lucky Charms for the marshmallows.

This being the case, when the archaeologists wanted to take a crack at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, d’you think the churches who run the place wanted these barbarians anywhere near it? It was bad enough the pilgrims would take a pickax to these places for souvenir rock samples. No I’m not kidding. Mark Twain wrote about the practice in The Innocents Abroad and I thought he was only exaggerating—but on my own pilgrimage, some of my fellow pilgrims actually tried knocking bits off a Roman aqueduct. I personally saw ’em do it. Archaeologists used to be way worse. So I totally understand the bishops saying no thank you; go away; find another spot to ruin.

Most of the reasons why Protestants say the Church of the Holy Sepulcher isn’t where Jesus was laid to rest have to do with anti-Catholicism and sour grapes. Deny ’em access, and suddenly they “discovered” all sorts of reasons why it can’t be the real site:

  • It wasn’t outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem, and of course Jesus was crucified and buried outside the walls. (It actually was, but 19th-century archaeologists didn’t know how to accurately date any of the existing walls or their ruins. They just assumed the city hadn’t expanded any during the Crusades or the Ottoman occupation.)
  • It fit a little too well into Roman city planning for it to be a totally natural location. (Again, it’s not that the 19th-century archaeologists understood how the city adapted, over the previous centuries, to suit the church’s location.)
  • It wasn’t on the east side of Jerusalem, where Jews typically buried their dead. (As if the Romans cared where they crucified anyone.)
  • It used to have a temple of Aphrodite on it. The Roman Christians likely claimed it was Jesus’s tomb because they were trying to replace Aphrodite-worship with Jesus-worship. (They didn’t buy “the Catholics’ ” story about antichrists trying to replace Jesus-worship with Aphrodite-worship by sticking their own temple atop a known Christian worship site. More plausible to them was the idea it’d been totally lost… despite unbroken generations of local Christians.)
  • It’s too Catholic. And it doesn’t look like a hill anymore. Nor a skull.

From Gordon’s Calvary, taken round 1934. That look like a skull to you? Me either. Library of Congress

So the 19th century archaeologists went looking for an alternate site, and found one. It’s called “Gordon’s Calvary” after British war hero Charles George Gordon, although he didn’t personally discover it. He just promoted it in his 1883 book Reflections in Palestine. The archaeologists guessed Calvary/Golgotha, where Jesus was killed, was so called because it physically looked like a skull. They found a rock face which looked remotely skull-like. True, it was north of ancient Jerusalem instead of east… but location is only an argument used against the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.


View of Gordon’s Calvary, which you can observe from a little platform at the Garden Tomb site. (’Cause the city buses block the view.) Wikimedia

First time I saw Gordon’s Calvary was a photo in my Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. It didn’t look at all like a skull to me. You have to look at it at just the right angle. Even then it’s iffy.

When you go there, the Garden Tomb docents have kindly put up a photo, taken in 1880, which shows you just the right angle of the rock face. It’s the very same photo as in my bible. It might resemble a really elongated skull, like the Neanderthal skulls they show in science textbooks. But I’m pretty sure 19th-century Christians weren’t subtly trying to promote evolution with their alternate crucifixion site. (Gordon himself believed in reincarnation, but that’s another issue.)

Two reasons they have to include the photo. The Garden Tomb folks bought the land with the tomb on it, but not the land with “Calvary” on it. There’s a bus station there now. The lower part of the “skull” now has a bit of asphalt in the way. So when you go to the Garden Tomb, you don’t get to see “Calvary” up close; you have to go to this platform which allows you to see over the buses. Not very inspiring, but like I said, it doesn’t look as much like a skull as you’d want it to.

The other reason is erosion. For the most part Jerusalem’s rocks are limestone, a sedimentary rock—really, superdensely packed sand—and over time, and not a lot of it, it turns back into sand. Yeah, there’s granite here and there, but even granite erodes, as any of the folks who work on preserving Mt. Rushmore will tell you. When you look at the 1880 photo you can see just how much “Calvary” eroded over the past 136 years. Now, add another 1,847 years of erosion, and tell me how much this hill looked like a skull in Jesus’s day.

Well, it’s possible it did. Then again, if you look at any other rocky hill in the area from just the right angle, it might look just as skull-like. But if you remember your bible, the Hebrews were in the habit of naming places after what happened there. Not after what they looked like. You didn’t name a hill Golgotha because it looked like a skull. You named it that because, regardless of what it looked like, skulls were involved. The skulls of a thousand crucified Judeans perhaps; in one of the many previous Roman over-reactions to a Judean revolt.

Anyway. After the archaeologists found this new “Calvary,” they found a bunch of “tombs” partly concealed by a garbage dump. Included in the garbage was an ancient winepress and cistern. From this, archaeologists concluded there used to be a garden here. And hey, Jesus’s tomb was in a garden! How fortuitous.


The Garden Tomb. With lots of plants around so it looks more gardeny. Wikimedia

One of the “tombs” has a groove in front of it—big enough for, say, a large round stone to be rolled in front of it. Thus the archaeologists concluded this must be Jesus’s tomb, ’cause his tomb had a stone in front of it which needed rolling.

Problem is, this “tomb” didn’t look so much like a tomb as a big gaping space in the side of a hill. With sort of a shelf to sit upon, and a trough in front of it for (they assumed) rolling a stone. So they built a wall to close up the gap. It’s why part of the Garden Tomb looks like a wall: It is a wall. Otherwise it wouldn’t look like a tomb. It’d look like a bench, for people who are waiting for a bus.

More recent archaeologists have looked the Garden Tomb over and found it lacking. Yes, it was a tomb once. But a tomb from Isaiah’s day, back when they put bodies in it and left them there. Not Jesus’s, when they’d put bodies in a tomb, let ’em rot, and collect the remains later to be put in ossuaries. Since Jesus’s tomb is described as newly carved, this can’t be it. Apparently the Crusaders had discovered it during the middle ages, and turned it into a stable. The cistern, which dated from that time, was only 600 years old.


The groove in front of the Garden Tomb. Impractical for rolling stones, but great for watering donkeys. Holyland Christian Souvenirs

The groove in front of the tomb was shaped inappropriately to roll a stone in front of the door—if it ever had a door. Notice the diagonal slant on its lip, in the photo. It wouldn’t hold up any stone; the stone would just fall over. More likely it was a water trough for donkeys.

The Garden Tomb trustees know all this. And they’ll freely admit it. When I visited, they were very quick to point out that no, this isn’t actually the place where Jesus was laid.

“It’s not?” said one of the surprised pilgrims in our group.

“No,” they said. “But it looks like a tomb that Jesus would’ve been laid in. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher doesn’t. So that’s why we have it: It’s so you can see what a first-century tomb would look like.”

More or less. It’s what 21st-century Christians think a first-century tomb would look like. That is, after you doctor up a 8th-century-BC tomb which had been altered a bit by 11th-century Christians. But if you don’t know any better, and most Protestants don’t, it looks “real.” Which is good enough for them.

Our pilgrim was a little bothered about visiting a fraudulent tomb. She wanted the real tomb. Which we got, later, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The docents will point you there, as will every other local. They know better.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built in the year 326 by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. The emperor had this idea in mind to build himself a nice impressive church in the Roman Empire’s new capital of New Rome (today’s Istanbul, Turkey). He wanted to inter all 12 apostles in it, plus some actual biblical artifacts on display, so he sent his mom to the Holy Land for souvenirs. Helena quite reasonably left it to her local Jerusalem guides to point out where everything was, and they did. Despite Roman persecution, the Christians had never left—during the destruction of Jerusalem, they did as Jesus instructed and ran for the hills—and after the Romans were finished crucifying everybody, they came back down.

The Christians pointed out how Aphrodite’s temple was built atop Jesus’s tomb. It was deliberately put there by Emperor Hadrian around 135 to piss off the Christians. But it definitely marked the spot. And it was still the direction Christians faced when they prayed. Every Christian church in the area has the front of its building pointing toward the Holy Sepulcher.

So Helena excavated it. While she was at it, she had her building crew hack down the entire hill which surrounded the tomb, and then they built a little sanctuary on top of it. So it doesn’t look at all natural.


The Kuvuklion. Photo taken with a wide-open aperture, ’cause it’s a bit darker in real life. Note the covered Copt section on the left of the building. That’s where Jesus’s head rested. Wikimedia

Today, Greeks call this mini-sanctuary the Kuvuklion, and Catholics the Edicule: It’s a church building, and they built a rotunda of the bigger church building over it. You go into the smaller building, and there’s the slab of limestone where they laid Jesus. Or at least we’re told the slab’s there: It’s underneath another slab, of marble, put there in the 12th century to cover up the massive erosion of hundreds of thousands of Christians kissing it. So you don’t get to actually see the slab itself.

Now, if you wanna see the part of the slab where Jesus’s head rested, you have to go round back of the Kuvuklion to a chapel run by the Copts. I glanced back there, but no one was on duty and it was all locked up. No way to see it. If the Copts are wise, they don’t let anyone touch it either.

That’s the biggest problem with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It doesn’t look like Jesus’s tomb. Or any tomb, really. The hillside of Jesus’s burial cave? Gone. The hill of Golgotha? Gilded. The ancient Romans weren’t interested in preserving the environment. Preservation—keeping things as they are without coating everything in gold and gaudy decoration—is a 20th century idea. But in the fourth, and for 15 centuries thereafter, the natural environment wasn’t considered esthetically worthy enough for God. So it was lovingly, beautifully paved over.

It’s been completely covered and decorated, then fought over by six different churches. To this day they’ll start throwing punches at one another if anyone messes with anything. Seriously, anything. Somebody left a ladder outside in the 1750s, before the then-current don’t-mess-with-anything treaty went into effect. It’s still freaking there. (Although some Protestant jerk took off with it for a few weeks in 1997 as a prank.)

The decorations are starting to crumble around them. The Kuvuklion needs repairs, and everyone agrees it does, and wants to repair it. But they don’t want anyone else to repair it. So it doesn’t get repaired. If anyone dared, it’d trigger a war. I’m not kidding. Heads would get caved in. If spiritual climate says anything about which site is the real site, it’s sad to say, but the possessiveness of the Christians who run the Church of the Holy Sepulcher make it obviously the correct site.

But we needn’t look at their bad example as evidence. Historically and archaeologically, and according to the testimony of the locals, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the correct resting place of Jesus.

The stuff we wanna believe.

But tell that to Protestants and they won’t believe you.

“That’s amazing!” a former boss told me, after I told him I’d gone to Israel. He hadn’t been there himself. “So didja go to the Garden Tomb? Didja see where Jesus was buried?”

“Yes and yes,” I said. “You know they’re not the same place.”

He didn’t. I tried to explain.

He objected. ’Cause he’d seen some video.

There are always videos. And books, and magazine articles, and newsletters, and blogs slapped together by cranks like me, who can claim any dumb thing with no evidence to back it up. Just so happened he had one of those videos which stated, quite clearly, that Gordon’s Calvary is the real Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb the real tomb.

He lent it to me. It was produced by these two crackpots who were clearly treasure hunters. They weren’t connected with any university or government, and they had actually attempted to dig a tunnel without the permission of the Israeli government. In Israel, of all places, where any excavation—even for landscaping—has to check in with the government, lest you uncover something of archaeological significance. ’Cause people have been living in the land for the past 50 centuries. There’s so much history there, you can take ancient pottery shards home for free. (Well, maybe not legally, but I know a few folks who took advantage of all those shards just lying around in Beersheba.)

Anyway, Israel had caught ’em burrowing away, and rightly kicked them out of the country. But not, they claimed, before they captured some really blurry snapshots of what they claim is the Ark of the Covenant… buried directly under Gordon’s Calvary. Apparently the Israelis nabbed ’em before they could turn on the autofocus.

So their dubious claim is Jesus, when crucified on Gordon’s Calvary, his blood seeped through a crack in the ground, and dripped all the way down into a secret chamber beneath the earth, and dripped directly onto the atonement seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

Now, before you get chills down your spine like every other gullible person who bought this video: If they’re correct, so did the blood of a thousand other Jews whom the Romans crucified on this particular hill. Jesus wasn’t their only victim, remember? The Ark would’ve been caked in blood. Eww. (Unless it was doing that Raiders of the Lost Ark thing where it burned stuff off. And hummed. And when you opened it up it melted you. And if you took photos of it melting people, and included it in your cheesy video, it’d melt your viewers.)

Obviously I have my doubts. There are too many looneys in Christendom, and you can usually tell ’em by the fact they go digging illegal tunnels through a place where the entire city is an archaeological treasure trove. God knows how many sites they’ve wrecked on their way to raid the Lost Ark.

But again, your average Christian doesn’t know the difference between historicity, science, or proper archaeological provenance. Doesn’t care, either. Back in 2002 there was a major flap about the so-called James Ossuary, the box which used to contain the remains of Jesus’s brother James. (Some fool dumped or swiped the remains long ago.) Or so it appears, ’cause the box was labeled Yaakov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua/“James bar Joseph, brother of Jesus,” and might date to the first century. People were so jazzed about its existence—hey, evidence which supports the New Testament!—they didn’t care it’d been stolen by a treasure hunter, hidden by a relic collector, and no specialist had even examined it yet. They didn’t bother to withhold judgment till scholars could take a serious look. They figured if it supports the bible, it must be true.

This is how Christians have been scammed throughout the centuries into buying slivers of Jesus’s cross, relics from Jesus’s followers, pottery fragments and rocks and sand and other “archaeological” items from Israel, and so forth. The lack of spiritual discernment we see among Christians becomes ridiculously obvious when it comes to history. There, we’ll believe anything we’re told. Unless it came from the “wrong” church.

Imagination over reality.

My brother and sister-in-law’s tour wasn’t the first I’ve seen which gave the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a miss. My mom used to work for a Protestant prayer ministry in Jerusalem, and they’d offer weeklong tour packages to their guests—which only went to the Garden Tomb. ’Cause they know their audience. Protestants would say, “The Church of the Holy Sepulcher? No no. I wanna see the Garden Tomb. That’s on the itinerary, innit?” They’d pitch a fit if it wasn’t. Like so many in the church, we prefer what looks real. Actual reality is disappointing and messy.

Well, my brother had been to Israel before, and knows better. The pilgrims on his trip actually did make it to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Would’ve been a shame otherwise. I mean, if you go all the way to Israel to see Jesus stuff, and don’t go to the actual place Jesus died and was raised, you’ve wasted your money.

Yeah, go to the Garden Tomb and see the facsimile. It looks neat. For that matter, you can go to the Holy Land Experience in Florida, see their facsimile, and an actor playing Jesus will even pop out of the tomb once a day, see his shadow, and we’ll have 10 more weeks with no Second Coming. (What, you didn’t know that was why?…)

Or you can wait till Easter, when we build papier-mâché facsimiles for our church productions. The only differences between the mockups and the Garden Tomb: The Garden Tomb is older, more popular, and made of stone.

Belts.

Oh, and they sell belts outside the entrance to the Garden Tomb.

Any tourist trap has official souvenir booths, where they sell pretty much the same stuff: Same postcards, same videos, same books, same everything. Priced in sheqels, which at the time were worth an American quarter, so it was easy to calculate the exchange rate. But so many Americans visit Israel, some shops price things in U.S. dollars. It was disappointing: You’d think you found a huge bargain, and it turns out they wanted four times as much. In any event, everybody took American money, and most cash registers converted everything to dollars. I know there were pilgrims from other countries—I ran into a group from Mexico at Gethsemane—but I never saw anyone accept pesos.

The pilgrims’ joke was everything was “two dollars.” It seemed to be the price most often quoted. Photo postcards were $2. Bottled water was $2. Maps of Israel were $2. Other things, like film (it was the 1990s), cost more. But the two dollars would hook you in.

Then there are the unofficial souvenir booths, which are less-conveniently placed, and the vendors have to make noise if they want to make sales. They’d be out at the parking lot. All the tour guides were connected with both the Israeli government and the official souvenir booths, so they wouldn’t give you a lot of time to find the unofficial booths and buy stuff from them. But I found, while they’d have some things the official booths didn’t, the prices were the same. Well, on their face: You could haggle the prices down, if you had the time. We didn’t. Our tour guide was a pro.

On our way out of the Garden Tomb, we walked past an unofficial booth. This shopkeeper’s specialty was belts. Big gaudy leather belts. Almost wrestler-size. As far as I could see, they was leather. They were on display; they were worked over with a relief image of Jerusalem, with “Jerusalem” in English along the sides. I could picture some of my Texan friends wearing such a thing. Not me.

“Belts!” the shopkeeper shouted, ’cause he knew you wouldn’t find them anywhere else. Not that you’d look. “Belts! Twenty dollars!”

“Belts, two dollars,” joked one of the Americans. Probably one of our pilgrims; I wouldn’t be surprised. The shopkeeper ignored this. He’d likely heard it before.

Since I had briefly described these belts to you, you probably guessed I looked at them. If you know anything about middle eastern social conventions, you’ll immediately recognize this as a faux pas: You never casually look at a shopkeeper’s wares. Only look when you intend to buy. They don’t abide people who walk in, browse around, then leave. That’s teasing them.

It’s been said, “Since they encounter Americans so often, you’d think they’d be used to how we behave.” Yeah, maybe. But Israeli and Palestinian shopkeepers are far more used to how their fellow citizens are. They deal with far more locals than they do tourists. And why should they change for us? We’re in their country, after all. We didn’t change for them; we still insist on shoving our American nickels into their vending machines, and beating the machine silly because it won’t accept money which is supposed to be good everywhere.

Tangent over: I’d looked at his booth, so he singled me out, ’cause he figured I telegraphed to him I wanted a belt. I most certainly did not. If I was gonna buy any leather in that country, it would’ve been tefillin [prayer straps], although good luck finding tefillin for less than $200. (And half the shopkeepers would’ve wondered what on earth a gentile wanted with teffilin. Though they would have sold it to me anyway, ’cause money is money.)

“Twenty dollars!” he said, as I kept walking by. “For you, 18 dollars! … Sixteen!”

“No thank you,” I said.

“Fifteen!” he kept going.

So did I.

“You want me to give it to you for free?” he said, giving up.

For a second—but not more—I thought of turning round and telling him, “Sold!” But again, I couldn’t imagine wearing any of those belts. Even if they were free. And of course he’d withdraw the offer, and we’d wind up haggling until we hit a price closer to $12. And afterward, I’d find out the quality of leather would make ’em worth more like $5 or less. It’d be like gift/award bible leather: The thinnest layer of leather, pasted on top of nylon.

Here’s the twisted thing. If, instead of working images of Jerusalem into belts, the leather manufacturer instead chose to make authentic Roman-style whips, just like the ones they beat Jesus with, you know plenty of demented Christians would totally buy them. “For sermon illustrations,” might be their excuse, but the real urge would come from wanting to own a weapon. Still, they’d sell far better than belts. And he’d get way more than $20 for them.

The Daniel fast.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 January

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 ‏ס֣וֹךְ ‏לֹא־‏סָ֑כְתִּי {sokh lo-sakhtí}, “I oiled myself 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 how 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. No 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?

Alcohol and Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 September

On an internet debate club discussion group, I got into it with some fella who was insistent Jesus didn’t drink wine. He’d read my piece, “Jesus provides six kegs for a drunken party,” and was outraged, outraged, that I dare suggest Jesus drank wine. ’Cause no he didn’t.

It was a clear case of the guy projecting his beliefs about alcohol upon Jesus. And he’s got lots of support for his beliefs. Ever since the United States’s temperance movement began in the early 1800s—the movement which got us to ban alcohol in our Constitution (seriously!), Christians in that movement have invented and spread serious distortions of the bible’s historical background so that the folks in the bible didn’t really drink wine: Either they drank unfermented grape juice, or they watered down the wine so greatly, the alcohol content by volume was similar to that of non-alcoholic beer.

These false stories have been published for so long, anti-alcohol Christians simply accept ’em as truth. They’ve heard them all their lives, y’know. “In Edgar’s Commentary on John, published in 1855, it says right there Jesus only turned the water into grape juice. The best grape juice.” And because this book’s been around for 160-plus years, it must be true. Because it’s old.

Scientists regularly prove old does not mean correct. The ancients were guessing, but people guess wrong for all sorts of reasons, so there’s no substitute for empirical double-blind scientific studies. But people are so fond of folk wisdom and our favorite traditions, we regularly reject science in favor of those traditions. We might change our minds when desperate… but we don’t always.

And when it comes to the historical record, Jesus totally drank wine. Not non-alcoholic wine, not grape juice; wine. They didn’t water it down; that was pagan Greek religious custom, not Hebrew. We know this from then-contemporary records and archaeology. We know this ’cause the bible’s statements about wine and drunkenness make no sense if people were overindulging on grape juice!

The misinformation comes from American hangups about wine, alcohol, and alcoholism. And while alcoholism and drunkenness is a valid concern, and needs to be addressed in our churches—especially to those Christians who are overindulging, or who wanna go into Christian leadership—the issue isn’t served by lying, or misrepresenting what the scriptures really say about alcohol. We need to get over our hangups long enough to understand the truth, and speak soberly about it. Pun intended, but still.

Tradition: Customs which (should) help us follow Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 August
TRADITION /trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Beliefs and customs passed down from generation to generation.
[Traditional /trə'dɪ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]
CHRISTIAN TRADITION /'krɪs.ʃcən trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Someone other than the Holy Spirit, or something other than the bible, which taught you Christianity.

The first time we were introduced to Jesus, for most of us it wasn’t a personal introduction. He didn’t appear to us personally, like he did Stephen or Paul or Ananias.

Nope. We learned of him secondhand, through other Christians—parents, relatives, friends, evangelists, preachers, writers, and so on. We interacted with those other Christians, heard their stories, heard of their own God-experiences, put our faith in these people, and followed the Jesus they shared with us till we eventually had our own experiences of him. (You have had your own experiences, right? I would hope so.)

But despite those personal experiences we’ve had of Jesus, most of the things we still think, believe, and practice as Christians, aren’t based on those personal God-experiences. They’re based on what our fellow Christians did and do. We go to church, see how our fellow Christians worship Jesus, and do as they do. Or we read some book about ways to worship Jesus, and do as the book suggests. Or we hear about some Christian practice, think, “I wanna try that,” and try that.

We draw from the collective experience of the Christians we know. It’s called tradition.

Yeah, there are plenty of people who are anti-tradition. Many of them are irreligious, but a number of ’em aren’t happy with the traditions they grew up with, so they’re trying to figure out better ways to follow Jesus. Which is fine if they’re authentically following Jesus! It’s just a lot of times they’re not. And a lot of other times, they’re anti-tradition because they were taught tradition is dead religion. Which it can be, and can become.

But every Christian follows one tradition or another. Because tradition isn’t just the dead doctrines of formal churches. Tradition is Mom and Dad, who taught you to pray and read your bible. Tradition is Sunday school teachers, who tell you what the bible means. Tradition is Pastor, who encourages you to follow Jesus. Tradition is your favorite Christian authors and podcasters. Tradition is me.

Tradition is anything or anyone, other than the Holy Spirit or bible or Jesus himself, who shows you how to follow Jesus. Sometimes it takes the form of customs and rituals. More often it takes the form of “This is how we do it,” or “This is how it’s always been done.” Whether these customs were passed all the way down from the first apostles, or invented last week by a clever worship pastor, they’re still tradition. Still the teachings of fellow humans on how best to follow God.

And some of these teachings are really good stuff!

And some of ’em aren’t. That’s why we gotta use our heads and figure out which of them is valid, and which aren’t. Which of them will work for us, and which won’t. How some of them might be bent, or might be getting bent, into something which really doesn’t bring us closer to Jesus at all… and how some of them which aren’t so effective might be made effective.

Don’t just assume all traditions are all good. Or all evil. Test everything. Keep the beneficial stuff. Chuck the useless stuff. 1Th 5.21 Including all the practices you invented… which are turning into your own little traditions. Don’t be too tightly wedded to them, ’cause they might not help your relationship with Jesus as much as you imagine, and might need adjusting, adapting, refining… or rejecting.

Tattoos require commitment.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 January

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 quch/“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.

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

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

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.

“Be careful, little eyes…”

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

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.

Saying grace.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

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.

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

by K.W. Leslie, 16 August

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.

The “Wild at Heart” kind of guy.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 June

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, and where millennia of other Christians hadn’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.

Profanity, and why Christians get freaked out by it.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 April

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.