After decades of Biblical study, I continue to discover there is much deeper meaning than I had ever imagined.
Christ calls me to
-people I'd not expect;
-be politically active for justice;
-love without restriction;
-accept those from whom I would normally recoil;
-be a student of the Bible and also the society in which I live;
-see the economic, social, and spiritual struggles of others;
-be a prophetic voice for justice, mercy, compassion, grace, and love;
What about you?
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Spiders, Snakes, and Our Ranking of Sin
met lots of people who don't like spiders and snakes. Many of them
proclaim they are deathly afraid of these creatures of God. If we
talk about it, some will tell me they know deep down that snakes and
spiders are not the dangerous beings of their inner fantasy life.
Regardless, they are not willing to confront those fear or put their
science to the test.
served a church in which the former pastor had one of those
irrational fears of snakes. He was not the only one, however, as
there were plenty of his parishioners who shared his fears. He never
would have survived 30 years in the parsonage if he had been as
afraid of spiders as he was of snakes.
of them ever attacked him. The wolf spiders so prevalent all over,
under, around, and in the parsonage were never a danger. The black
snakes constantly patrolling the woodshed and hay fields never harmed
him or anyone else. The fear remained, however irrational it might be
many ways that is how we approach our rankings of sin. We look at
those concerns we have been taught to consider sinful and make no
regard for why this might or not be the case. Nor do we use any real
depth of study to ponder how closely our concepts of sin are to what
the Bible declares in regard to God's take on sin. More often than
not, we allow our fears and fantasies to prevail, giving little
effort at understanding.
many evangelical Christians, I was raised on a diet of condemning the
Pharisees of Jesus' day for misunderstanding sin. I was led to
believe there was one Jewish notion regarding sin, and that was the
notion that all Pharisees of Jesus' day adopted. Sin was breaking one
of the 613 commandments of God appearing in the Torah. They counted
commandments and determined it was necessary to keep at least half of
them perfectly. As long as one fully kept at least half the
commandments, they would be OK in God's eyes.
justified to laugh at such a ridiculous notion. It was justified to
feel superior in our higher understanding that choosing which
commands to follow and which to break was anything other than
laughable and a disastrous theology. What we did not see was that we
were enmeshed in the very same trap we caricatured as the doctrine of
First Century Judaism.
problem with that concept was not so much that it was held by many
Jews in Jesus' day. The problem was not that they had a mathematical
formula for guaranteeing justification in God's eyes. The problem was
not that they zealously reflected on how to avoid falling into sin by
some error or mistake. The problem was that they failed to understand
what sin actually is, as well as grasping the larger picture of God's
will for our lives.
are the issues Jesus confronted in individuals who held such notions.
He told them to scrap their mathematical models regarding God's
commandments. He told them to shift their understanding of those
commands as not following some larger design and purpose. He
reclassified them into two very specific commands: “love God and
love your neighbor as yourself.”
of hanging onto this new approach to understanding sin and
commandment, we just made new categories of sin and commandments. We
developed new structures to avoid certain sins, while ignoring God's
repeated commands in other aspects of our lives and relationships.
things economic, we redirected our attention to two concerns. Tithe
regularly of all your income to the church and make special offerings
for good causes like missions. If we followed those two specific
applications, we could just simply ignore God's teaching regarding
economic justice for the poor, generosity designed to end poverty,
and the enslavement of others for personal advancement. After all, if
the church was not in charge of designing economic policy for
governments, we did not have any responsibility over such things. We
could just substitute the American Dream or a Prosperity Gospel for
what God had to say on those issues. We focused on issues of eternity
and just ignored God's economic teachings as part of that pesky “Love
your neighbor as yourself” thing.
focused the attention of the church on issues that were a little more
remote from our day-to-day living, considering things like playing
cards, divorce, women preachers, rock music, homosexuality, tattoos,
piercings, atheism, communism, and mowing grass on Sunday as the
great evils we needed to counter. We could feel justified and
righteous in casting shame over such things, especially as they were
somewhat removed from life within the church. By contrast, Jesus
taught that we needed to focus on our own issues rather than
preaching against the evils of the society beyond our influence.
Jesus did not address the great ills of Rome, but those issues that
impacted the lives of his own disciples and the crowds who followed
Jesus called us to introspection, determining how our actions
evidence love for God and our fellow human beings, we just wanted to
feel superior, right, and justified. It was a trap, and it is still a
trap we live within.
was once something we considered the great evil of society. That was
until we actually came to know people who were divorced. That was
before we started to hear stories of abuse and neglect with which we
could identify. That was before divorce became personal with
children, parents, siblings, and friends finding themselves in
desperate situations needing an escape valve. It is one thing to
condemn people in a vacuum. It is quite another to recognize the
value of a person beyond a definition of actions we were told to
define as unacceptable.
Hebrew Scriptures contained rules and regulations we class as purity
laws. They were designed to create distance between the Hebrews and
the fertility cult practices of the nations around them. As part of
the emphasis on worshipping Yahweh alone, these regulations were
designed to ward them off from falling into idolatry. The context of
the nation had changed drastically by the time Jesus enters the scene
and ignores the laws on ritual purity. Within those regulations were
those commands about tattoos, piercings, contact with blood, ritual
hand-washing, and touching people with leprosy.
original context, many of those commandments made sense in regard to
worshipping only Yahweh, but do not really apply today. Tattoo art is
not tied to fertility cult worship today. Eating pork has little to
no association with stealing the life force of a pig to grant one
greater virility and power. As such, those commands no longer
function under the banner of reserving worship for Yahweh, loving
Yahweh alone as God. Neither do they impact our relationships with
others in regard to loving one another.
practice, however, we still hang onto those misdirected conceptions
of sin that divorce God's directions from teaching us what it means
to love God and one another. We have developed phobias about certain
categories of sin that directly impede any demonstration of God's
love toward others.
than acting redemptively toward others, we treat them like we treat
spider and snakes. We frame our attitudes and responses along the
lines of irrational fears that have no grounding in science, nor in
an honest reading of the good news Jesus preached.
with people who are transgender is not contagious any more than
shaking the hand of someone with a tattoo will spread ink within our
own skin. Loving someone who is an immigrant is no different than
loving someone who is a missionary. Feeding someone who is a
scientist or an artist is no different from feeding the child of a
drug addict or a medical student. Being friends with an ex-convict, a
school teacher, an engineer, or a pastor's spouse is no different
than befriending a cancer patient or an organ donor.
more sinful for us to write people off because of our prejudices
regarding condemnation for sin than it is to befriend them. That's
because Jesus taught that the flip side of loving God is to love one
another, regardless of which class or category we might use to
describe them. We can be as disgusted as we want over someone whose
lifestyle does not meet our standards. Until we move beyond that to
embrace another as a child of God for whom Jesus died, we are living
out of unwarranted fear rather than loving a neighbor as ourselves.
and the Bible has more to say about failing to love one another than
it does about condemning others for living in their sin. When we fail in our love and acceptance of others, we are actually living
in our own sin, aren't we?
constantly hear folks talking about how horrible socialism is. In the
USA, we have fashioned a definition of socialism that has little to
do with socialism and much to do with the vague ideological enemy of
the cold war era red scare.
of all, socialism is an economic system, not a political one. It is
on the continuum with capitalism. Communism lies on a different axis
with democracy, theocracy, autocracy, and such. While capitalism
elevates capital as the most important element in an economic system,
socialism elevates the public welfare as the most important and
valued element. This is often looked at as labor versus capital, but
my understanding is that it is more than labor. It is the social
sphere that includes labor as well as those who are unable to provide
labor in the economic system.
to theology, doctrine, and Biblical witness, however, we find those
attitudes cast against the nebulous enemies of the nation from our
Red Scare days greatly impacting our attitudes …
Almighty Gun, we worship you. It is in you we place our trust and hope for our security. Where fifty-eight or more lie dead, We pass legislation for more of your presence. We hope you will protect us from our fears, Our fear of the "Other," the immigrant, the stranger, the colored ones. We fear our lives might be taken by those marketing terror. All the while, we are the ones in terror. We are the ones who instill, promote, and extend our own terror. We live in fear. We pack heat to make us feel stronger, more virulent, more protected. We return to the world of make-believe, in which we are the heroes standing up to the enemies all around us. We pray you will provide the energy and the aim we need. We pray you will protect us from our fears of unknown enemies. Then one of us takes a last stand, firing rounds from automatic weapons. "No, the guns are not to blame!" If only there were more gun worshippers present to stop the hail of lead! If only there were one more gun to halt the a…
are hard-wired to feel compassion on an individual level. We see
needs around us and are moved to offer a meal, a pair of shoes, a
shirt, a pair of pants, a coat, or a sleeping bag and willingly offer
them to meet an individual's need. At least momentary needs within
our grasp are elements we readily and willingly address. In so doing
we often fail to address the larger issues that bring people to those
conditions from which they may seek escape and the comfort of our
band-aid compassion. The
Bible is an ethical document in many respects. It is a compilation of
ethical documents that are religious but advance very specific
ethical teachings. We can't say the Bible is always consistent, for
it includes various streams of thought which come from diverse
traditions within the bounds of a Yahwistic faith. What we find
ourselves having to do is read these various streams of doctrine,
ethics, and tradition to determine the higher standard among them and
so apply that to our lives. …