Tag Archives: faith

Mockers…


The more I try to study the Bible, the more confused I am.

Proverbs 9: 7-8 says

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult;

whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.

Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you;

rebuke a wise man and he will love you.

Before explaining my confusion with this passage, I’ll define my interpretation of the language. First, a “mocker” would be today’s “hater.” That definition can be expanded to include more, but for brevity, let’s stick with “hater.” Haters gotta hate; we see it everyday all over social media.

Secondly, “rebuke” is not just “tell someone they’re wrong,” but to try to correct misinformation so that the person could have a better informed opinion (and hopefully make better decisions).

Here’s my confusion:

I get that trying to explain sense or even just a different point of view to someone who is absolutely determined to not consider any other conclusion other than the one they already have is useless. I get that. We see it all the time. Discourse cannot happen unless everyone involved is really listening to one another. Again, we see this every day not only on twitter (for example) but in our politics, “news” casts, and popular culture. People take sides, create hashtags and catchy phrases designed to empower one person at the humiliation of another — and all we do is listen less and hate more.

BUT –

How do we balance the moral imperative to be compassionate, to foster kindness and respect between people, if we don’t at least try to point out how current choices feed the exact opposite? If I think I’m being a social justice warrior, but really I’m just spewing as much hate as the people I oppose, isn’t it an act of kindness for someone to say to me, “uh, tone down your language. You’re being offensive, and though your point may be valid, your delivery makes it impossible for it to be heard?”

How can we tell if a “mocker” wants to become “wise” but doesn’t know how? Isn’t it unkind to not try to help?


Challenge, 31


This past year has been exceptionally challenging, even to the point of questioning what exactly my faith is. I don’t doubt God’s presence, or even identity, but I’ve started to wonder what His motives might be. And I’m not interested in the prosperity-preacher “it is not for us to question,” “all is for the best” pulp. Even David questioned the veracity of those comments.

In Psalm 31, the psalmist makes a gorgeous plea – and even some challenges – that ring honest and true:

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eyes grow weak with sorrow,

my soul and my body with grief.

My life is consumed by anguish

and my years by groaning;

my strength fails because of my affliction,

and my bones grow weak.

Because of all of my enemies, 

I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;

I am a dread to my friends-

those who see me on the street flee from me.

I am forgotten by them as though I were dead;

I have become like broken pottery….

But I trust in you—

Let me not be put to shame, O Lord,

for I have cried out to you….

It continues, quite masterfully. In my easier days, I found David to be a little prone to exaggeration – but I stand corrected. I also used to think that psalms such as this were a bit contradictory. He complains, he moans, and then he cheerfully says, “But you’re the Big Guy and you’ll fix it.”

I don’t hear the happy-happy anymore — I hear a challenge. I hear David howling, “Come on, Mister, you big shot. You made all these promises to protect and care for me and look where I am now!! If you don’t help me, you and your name will be humiliated, not just mine, because I have publicly claimed you as my strength. So, for your own sake, help me out.”

I’m with him. 


Context and Jusitification; or Get off that high horse!


Overall, I like the book of James. It’s very specific and action-oriented. It appears to be pretty straightforward in instruction. However, as with all study of Scripture, it is prudent to read closely and to remember what the rest of the Word says and use it as context.

Today’s selection from The Guide to Prayer is most of the first chapter of James.
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV

I have a hard time swallowing this chapter. It sounds like the speeches I used to hear repeatedly from several different people, some of them in positions of leadership in the church and many of them relatives, to 1) belittle someone’s pain or sorrow and 2) justify to themselves why they were Right and others were Wrong.

The passage is not meant to be used for that purpose. When we read it alongside the other selections from recent days, it becomes clear that we aren’t meant to be so simple about it. Yet, as we all experience, people have a tendency to take pieces from the Bible out of context and twist them to mean something very different.

For example, I do not think that when the author says in verse two we should “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials,” he means we ought to throw a huge bock party. I think that the intention is more along the lines of “eventually, you can learn from this.” But, again, as we’ve seen, we often hear this quoted from someone saying, “See, you’re in pain because you’re such a Good Christian. Just keep on keeping on just as you are, and you’ll build treasure in Heaven.”

I know many people who have used this sentiment to justify their behavior, claiming that the fact that they aren’t getting what they want is proof of how righteous they are — when really they aren’t getting what they want because they are – how to put this delicately? – wrong. They are getting pushed back against because someone else is trying to show them that their expectations are not – how to be delicate? – reasonable/kind/good. I’ve seen a lot of bullies claim righteousness with this passage, when their “suffering” was self-induced by selfishness, greed, indifference, or a slew of other common misdirections.

So, behooves us all to examine carefully what our part in trouble might be. Often, we find ourselves in circumstances we didn’t necessarily create – but we still choose how we respond. The wrong response can make things worse, but the right can resolve trouble.

We need to avoid rushing to judgment, avoid assuming that we are right.

The next verses discuss perseverance, a topic we looked at a little a few days ago.
http://wp.me/s262AS-fruits

I need to acknowledge the human limit of carpal tunnel pain and request that you, Gentle Reader, just, uh, click on it. Sorry ’bout that. Gotta stop for today — but don’t let that stop you from reading, commenting, and most importantly praying.

You know, it’s often easiest to pray in nature, away from people. We go to church to find people; we go to nature to find God.


Peaceable Sword


Before I get started today, I wanted to add the link to the book I use for my Biblical study again:

http://bookstore.upperroom.org/cart/upperroom/p-17105.htm

A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants

I’m one of the “other servants” – not a minister. 😉

The book is organized according to the liturgical calendar used by Episcopalians and Catholics. This year, 2014, is year A and we’re in Week 17.

The passage today is Matthew 10:16-42. It’s too much to absorb in one day, well, for me anyway, so I’m going to highlight only a couple of verses.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+10:16-42

We’ve been discussing the attributes of a follower of Christ these past few weeks. Lots of love. Lots and lots of it. With side dishes of compassion and kindness. Heaps of Hallmark goodness. The kinds of stuff that lead some to think that we shouldn’t criticize anything, that we should accept and embrace everyone. After all, if I’m in no position to judge another person (and we’ve established that I’m not), then who am I to criticize someone’s choices? And, if we’re all supposed to be brimming with loving sweetness, shouldn’t that naturally mean that we should all just get along?

No. It doesn’t. Not at all. In fact, Matthew 10 cautions us on what to expect if we decide to live as best we can as Christ did. We are advised to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” In other words, be loving and kind, but don’t be stupid or naive. Be sure that our reactions and decisions in life reflect our God, but also be sure to not pretend that everyone in this world shares the same values or moral inhibitions. Understand the difference between the world we want to live in and are trying to build, and the world we really live in. It’s also recommended that we not foolishly endanger ourselves. “If you are persecuted in one town, flee.” We don’t have to be martyrs. Christ already died for us. We don’t need to do it ourselves.

Christ also says something shocking in verse 34.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to this world. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

A sword? But what about loving-kindness and all that tolerance stuff?

Christ here does not say it is okay for us to incite trouble, division, or pain (we are to be peacemakers, after all) or to be judgmental on His behalf; he tells us what to expect from the world’s reaction. People will be divided over whether or not Christ is the Messiah, whether or not there is a God, whether or not everything is permissible or whether there are moral rights and wrongs. And even if we can agree on the existence of right and wrong action, we won’t necessarily agree on what those things are. If we do, we still won’t agree on how to respond. Hence, the sword.

These instructions should be read alongside a passage we read a few days ago. (See Costs http://wp.me/s262AS-costs.) We should understand what to expect if we try to  represent Christ. We should not expect miraculous ease, wealth, and simplicity. We should not expect everyone who learns of our attachment to Christ to be happy about it. There are no magical guarantees for this life. It is hard to live a good life, harder to live a devout life. We need to understand that the challenges (referred to as “suffering” in the text) are just the way it is.

We do not chose to follow Christ to make this life easy. We chose to follow because we believe this life is but a dim preview of the life that can be. Because a hard life lived for the Truth is better than an easy life lived for nothing.

One final note: in verses 24 and 25, we are reminded that anything that Christ does, we should be willing to do ourselves. See yesterday’s post for more thoughts on this instruction. (http://wp.me/p262AS-vA)


Fruits


I was pretty young when I realized that a lot of people who say they preach the gospel of Christ and know The Truth don’t practice – don’t even make a real effort to practice – what they preach.

I wasn’t much older when I realized that the only honest reply I had for friends and others who criticized my faith by pointing out the greed, hypocrisy, bigotry, and cruelty of these “preachers” was “You’re right. They are behaving viciously.” What can one say, really, when there are hatemongers like the Westboro Church or Jeremiah Wright or many others who use their pulpits to shame, ridicule and incite people to despise others? Explaining that the ideologies espoused by these institutions is not at all what is actually in the Bible doesn’t go far enough. So, I’m going to (try to) avoid my soapbox about the effects of bad examples and instead refer to what is written down.

Today’s reading comes from 2 Peter 1:5-8.

… Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control;  and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

There are many passages in the New Testament describing how a person who follows the teachings of Jesus should treat others, and they all come down to one thing: love. We are also told that “by their fruits you will know them.”

We can and should spend a lot of time looking at each of these nouns and discussing what they mean. Despite the brevity of the passage, there’s a ton of content. “Increasing measure” is the phrase used to prioritize this list – which is really interesting because not only does it put “love” on top but “faith” ends up last. It isn’t enough for me to say “I believe” and then go around willy nilly bashing in the heads of those who disagree with me. I shouldn’t act hatefully if I have faith.

If I approach *everyone* lovingly, I am far more likely to treat people with kindness, respect, and compassion than if I simply used a checklist of good vs bad to determine to whom I should be nice.

Going deeper into the list, I see the word “knowledge” – and it too is not qualified. It’s not limited to one specific kind of knowledge, not just “knowledge of the Scripture” or “knowledge of good cooking” or “knowledge of limericks.” It’s all kinds of knowledge. I ought to be a student of the world. A student learns, respectfully, about whatever he or she can. So I am to learn about other ways of seeing the world – including other religions, philosophies, sciences and arts, the whole thing – and respond lovingly.

“Lovingly” is not synonymous with “approval” or “acquiescence.” I think we’ve lost sight of the distinction. My being tolerant of a different point of view is not the same thing as condoning it. Whatever my opinion is, my instructions are clear: I am supposed to be loving. This fulcrum at the center of my personal ethics and the ethics of others is where we find kindness. How can someone stand on a bully pulpit and condemn anyone? How can that possibly be seen as loving? How can protests at funerals or carrying signs of vitriol and bigotry ever be thought of as kind?

I trip over the kindness instruction every day.  I’m full of disdain for all kinds of things – pop culture, politics, bad television, bad beer, bad books. I suspect that I am, in fact, a snob. This judgement is not only directed outwards; I’m full of self- flagellation too. It’s just so easy to be spiteful.

When I consider that I am taught to treat others as Christ would, and more importantly, that He loves everyone – even me, though I’m not always so loving to myself – it’s like releasing the clutch too quickly when changing gears. Everything grinds to a full stop. I realize that I don’t have the position to criticize others when I’m falling so short myself. This is where we find self-control.

If I can’t feel lovey-dovey towards others, the first thing I ought to make sure of is that I do no harm. I need to stop saying unkind things. I need to watch how I behave. Maybe I can’t be kind right out of the gate, but I can start with trying not to be rude. The simple act of prevention requires enormous self-control. Doing it again and again requires perseverance.

As for godliness, I think that the best instruction on how to be godly is found in others. The obvious example is Jesus. The Son of Man is also the Son of God, the symbiosis of both God and man. It can be hard to look at Christ directly. We can look at others, including people who do not identify with Christianity at all. We can look at Gandhi, for example, but I think the best place to look is in our own neighborhoods.

People of all creeds perform acts of love and kindness everyday. In their reflection, I can see the Divine. God isn’t confined to one box, one identity. He can be found all over the place. If people prove impossible, we can look at nature. Dogs, for example, are striking examples of affection, forgiveness, and loyalty. Dolphins. Elephants. Wolves. Birds in Spring. It’s everywhere we look, if we try to see.

Sometimes, we are given negative examples instead of positive. Sometimes, the best way to determine what something is is by looking at what it is not. We need to determine for ourselves what is good and what is not, and we need to avoid taking the words of others at their simple value. Our words never mean as much as our actions. I urge us all to look critically – but lovingly – at what we do.

 


Sound Advice


I’m not a theologian. I enjoy loud rock and fast cars and cable TV. I don’t avoid swearing, drinking, good sex, or occasionally off color jokes. I’m not holy or somehow more devout than anyone else. I do believe that Christianity is the best possible path to God.

I think most of the time, other self-identified Christians actually make it harder to make sense of the wisdom written in the Bible because they over-simplify it, or they use some but not all and twist it to their desires. Life is not simple and the Bible isn’t either; when someone tries to make it so, it ends up insulting to everyone involved, and most particularly God.

I am also a professional worrier. Some of this is natural talent, and a lot of it is the byproduct of having lived through domestic violence. Either way, I kick ass at what-ifs and completely suck at kicking back. This was a useful trait back when I was a project manager or quality assurance auditer; it isn’t so useful now.

To my panic attacks, I also add guilt because the Bible tells me I shouldn’t worry, so does my worrying make me a – gulp – bad Christian??

There are problems with a little old lady patting me on the hand and telling me to not worry, and worse yet, if I had Real Faith and Trust in God, I would never worry about a thing. One of these problems is the inherent smugness of someone belittling my personal terror. (And by the way, isn’t that act of “comfort” judgmental in its dismissiveness?) I hate this blithe and idiotic notion that I willingly worry.

God is not Santa Claus and my praying to Him asking Him to whisk away what I don’t like and just give me what I want is not going to work. I need to be attentive to my life so that I can participate in it; life is not something I should sit by and watch. But how do I balance a readiness for action against unnecessary anxiety?

There has got to be some middle area between freaking out and tra-la-laing through one’s day, oblivious to the signs of pain and suffering and injustice in the world. Being reassured to “not worry” isn’t a get out of responsibility free card. We still need to tend to the gardens of our lives, in all the good and unpleasant tasks which that involves. I think it means: “Don’t panic.” I freely acknowledge, though, that I have never been able to understand how to not panic.

I don’t *want* to worry too much, but it would be psychotic of me to pretend that the serious challenges in my life aren’t serious, and in some cases, life threatening. Ignoring these facts is not trusting in God, it’s magical thinking. Not only is that just stupid, but I don’t think it’s what Christ meant in Matthew 6:31-34.

I don’t think, as far as I can tell, that God is trying to belittle our real reasons for worry in this life: illness, bereavement, vulnerability, and pain. I think the passage in Matthew is meant to reassure us, much like the Beatitudes discussed a couple of days ago here, and to point us in the direction of trust and fearlessness towards which He would like us to go.

As for how to take that advice: well, I worry about that, too.


The Wrong Idea


This morning, I reread Matthew 5, the section famously called “The Beatitudes.”

Once again, I’m going to point out my old Southern Baptist upbringing — to then explore another reason why I believe it falls so far short of trying to explain what it is the Bible actually says.

Baptists are big on legalism and status. I know that’s a big generalization to make, but it has held true for me through most of my life, so I’m sticking with it. They remind me a lot of the Pharisees Christ warned so much about – so hopped up on their perceived holiness that they missed the point altogether. Sure, they may have followed most of the rules most of the time. But they missed the heart of the message, and therefore became nothing more than another group of bossy judgmental people claiming to know more about God than anyone else.

Yeah, I’m not a Baptist anymore.

Anyway, whenever this passage would come up, people would spout out on how wonderful it is to be beaten down, hopeless, enslaved, and hopefully even martyered. See, it’s proof that you’re living a Christlike life! Rather than using conflict as a path to learning more about others or about one’s self, or as a way to become aware of wrongs that need to be corrected, they congratulate themselves on strife and dig deeper into the trenches.

Well, maybe conflict and hardship is just proof that you’re a total jerk. Ever think about that?

I don’t think that the Beatitudes are a list of attributes we’re supposed to strive towards. (That would probably be found in, say, the Ten Commandments.) I think that the Beatitudes are reassurances that your life will not always be backbreaking. You will find rest and solace and peace, eventually. Maybe not even in this world (this world doesn’t offer anything of the kind), but eventually, as you continue in your life, in your heart, and in your faith, you will find the comfort you seek.

Christ doesn’t desire us to be “poor in spirit.” (See my post from a few days ago: Childlike.) He wants joy and exuberance for everyone. But sometimes that just doesn’t happen, and it can continue to not happen for a very long time. The Beatitudes acknowledge this, and encourage us to keep hoping for better days to come.


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