The serenity prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God must be our first resort. Never our last.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first Chick tract: “Bewitched?”

by K.W. Leslie, 26 August

A really awful way to learn about Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord’s my shepherd.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 August

Most everybody’s favorite psalm.

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching science at a Christian school.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 August

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

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

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

Great horny toads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowds who came to see Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 August

Having fans isn’t always a great thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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 person with the paralyzed hand.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My big-ass bibles.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August

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

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

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

Remember this verse?—

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

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

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

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

But I don’t carry the Renovaré bible around. I use it for private devotional time—in the five percent of the time I don’t use my computer bibles. It stays in my room, along with my other bibles.

What KJV-worshipers believe about the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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