Friday, June 26, 2015

The Original Sin

"They're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting the passports brown.  The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town.  Here comes the blind commissioner, they've got him in a trance.  One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants.  And the riot squad they're restless, they need somewhere to go.  As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row."
Bob Dylan, "Desolation Row."

"Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition." 
Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America.

This post isn't so much directly related to the bible or Christianity, per say.  It's just something that has been weighing on my mind for a while.

I live in Minnesota.  From May through October, it's a great place to live.  It's a fairly Liberal State, which has it's good and bad sides.  It has more lakes than you can shake a stick at.  Great medical and education.  Over all, it has a great quality of life.

It also has a dark past.

That photo at the top?  That's from Duluth.  Duluth is Minnesota's answer to Portland and Seattle.  In June of 1920, there was a traveling circus in town.  Those black men hanging in that photo were accused of raping a white woman on the circus grounds.  They were arrested.  A mob formed.  They broke in to the police station.  Etc.

They made postcards of the occasion.

The city tried to forget about it.  

Unfortunately, Bob Dylan wrote a song about the cities collective memory.

Minnesota also celebrated another sad event a few summers ago.  Government agents had been cheating the Dakota indians out of food and money for a long time.  This led to an uprising among the Dakota indians along the Minnesota river.  When it was over, Minnesota had the largest mass hanging in national history.  We then enacted ethnic cleansing, and pushed that particular tribe out of the State, with death being the punishment if they ever returned.


My father is the son of Norwegian immigrants.  My mother is the granddaughter of Swedish immigrants.  There is a lot of racial tension in our family.

My folks are proud of their heritage.  We love the Minnesota Vikings, pickled herring, all manner of Scandinavian pastries, and Ikea.

Take a wild guess what my ancestors used to do?  That's right, they used to sail up and down the coasts of England and France, raping and pillaging.  Monasteries were easy targets.  Nun and monks were usually unarmed.

Those Vikings were tough and brave.  I don't brag about that, nor do I carry a broad sword around in public.


I know of an army that was one of the best in the world.  The soldiers were very brave.  Their officers were much better and smarter that the U.S. officers.  They were fast, efficient, tough...and God was on their side because their belt buckles said so.

Unfortunately, they fought for a lost cause.  Their leaders at the national level were evil.  The brave soldiers who fought and died were used as pawns for an evil game.  They were the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany.

Those who survived would often get together to remember how brave they were. (Just like our guys at the local VFW.) I doubt many of them like to think about what they were fighting for in the end.


So last week there was a terrorist attack in South Carolina.  A white supremacist murdered 9 worshipers during a bible study.

Jon Stewart is often a "Prophet Outside the Church."  He had this to say...

I hope he's wrong, but I feel that he is mostly right.  Americans wont learn much at all from this event.  We love our guns more than we love each other.  We love our violence.  We love our "Freedom." (What ever that exactly means)

And I say that as a guy who has owned guns since I was 14, and I also love Tarantino movies.

Last Friday, I was driving in St. Paul.  The BBC was on the radio.  They were playing the brief speeches that the survivors were saying to Dylan Roof, the killer, as he was being arraigned in court.  Every single one of them that I heard offered forgiveness to him.  One of them, I don't recall his name, told him that he needed to repent, and "Give your life to the only one that matters, Jesus."

I had to pull over to the side of the road because I started bawling.  I don't think I have that kind of grace or mercy inside myself.

So maybe there is some hope.  At least for those with eyes to see and ears that will hear.


Alexander Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederacy.  He is rather famous for his giving the "Cornerstone Speech."  He never bothered to write it down a head of time.  He spoke from his heart.  He told the world exactly what the new Confederate nation was all about.

"Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."

There is a lot of talk about the confederate flag being flown by certain states.  It represents that states heritage.  It represents a southern man's heritage.  Please read that snippet of speech again.  Is that a heritage to be proud of?  What would that new nation have been like if it had gained it's independence? Would that have been something to be proud of?

The sad fact is that in most respects, the confederacy DID win.  In 1876, the federal troops were pulled out of the south.  The same old leaders came back into power, and Jim Crow laws were put in place.  America had it's own version of Apartheid.  Is that a heritage to be proud of?

Many people like to pretend that America and other countries are "Christian" countries.  There are some people out there that like to think that the Holy Spirit helped write the Constitution.  America enshrined slavery in our Constitution.  Is that a heritage to be proud of?

It strikes me that repentance is a central part of following Jesus.  
You need to confess your sins.  
You need to turn away from them and go the other way...
because that is the direction that Jesus is going.  

That is a heritage to be proud of.



Thursday, May 14, 2015

The death of the "American" church.

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"
Matt. 5:15-23

"My kingdom is not of this world..."
John 18:36

Syncretism is the combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, while melding practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture, as well as politics.

Sectarianism/Sect is a subgroup of a religious, political or philosophical belief system, usually an offshoot of a larger religious group. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles. 

How's that for some 50 cents words?

When it comes to the church and missions, what those terms mean in English is that Syncretism occurs when the church is co-opted by the greater culture around it, and becomes virtually identical.  Sectarianism occurs when the church self-segregates into a fortress and/or ghetto of it's own design.

Like this...

Both are really, really bad!!!

A day or so ago, this story ran on NPR.

The Pew survey found what anyone paying attention already knew.  America is becoming more and more secular.  People identifying as "Christians" are on the decline.

This morning I woke up to some interesting responses.  The first post is written by a fairly conservative evangelical.  The second is from the perspective of someone a bit more liberal.  I like them both.

America is no longer a "Christian Nation."  

I would argue that this is great news for the church in America!

And in a little bit, I'll explain why...

Before you are inclined to hit me with a bat, let me make a few things painfully clear; I LOVE this country!  I am fortunate and blessed to have been born here.  I've lived in and visited other countries, and I understand very well how good we have it here.  I believe that America is largely a force for good in the world.  Like I said, I love this country.


America never has been, nor will ever be a "Christian Country."  It is not biblically or theologically possible for any kingdom of man to be a "Christian Nation."  It is irrelevant what any founder of any country thinks or wishes.  There is only one "Christian Country," and that is Jesus' kingdom.

The various countries of Europe thought that they were christian nations.  That's why they tied the various denominations to the power of the state.  Then they promptly persecuted and went to war with those who were of different denominations.  Hurray!!!

The result today is that Europe is, at best, agnostic, if not down right atheistic.  I lived in the Czech Republic for a while.  It was there that I met my first real atheists. (I'm used to the pop phenomenon brand of atheism in the U.S., and I find it to be not very well thought through.) The Czechs bore a huge brunt of the various religious wars back in the day.  When the Hapsburgs ruled them, they used the catholic church as enforcers.  So, is it any wonder that the Czechs would be a bit skittish about religion?

Here in the U.S. I hear people say that the Fathers of our country founded America on biblical principles.  I think that would come as a surprise to Thomas Jefferson and the rest.  While a few of them certainly were Believers.  Most of them were simply Deists/Theists.  That was the school of thought at that time.  "Sure, there is a god.  He got everything going and is now off doing something else."

The Founding Fathers were products of the Enlightenment.  That's what they based the Constitution on.  Not the bible, I can promise you that.

But a lot of people like to pretend.


Getting back to Syncretism and Sectarianism; usually those two are the opposite ends of each other when it comes to the Gospel.  You either sell out to the general culture, or you separate yourself.  However, the "Americanized Church" has figured out a way to do both at once. (BTW: There is a massive difference between THE church and the Americanized church.)

The Americanized church has bought into the mythology of this being a christian nation.  As a result, it has allowed itself to be co-opted by secular, more often than not Right-wing, politics.  Politicians aren't always stupid.  If they can get votes by spraying a little Jesus-gloss on their platform, they'll do it.  And the sheep will follow.

So, the Americanized church sells itself to the idolatry of a national myth and has achieved synchronization with the general culture.  Now that it has sold itself, it then goes in to a form of sectarianism and creates an Us vs. Them mentality.

I can't even remember how many times people assume I am a far-right, so-called Conservative simply because I am a Christian.  I've seen more than a few stunned looks when I tell them I am strictly independent.  Even more when I tell them that I kinda like President Obama.  "I thought you Christians hated his guts.  I've seen your T-shirts calling for his death."

< - Like this one.  Makes me wonder who's making a few bucks off of that in the name of Jesus.

They're correct about praying for our leaders.  But I could think of some better verses to cherry pick.

When people automatically make those assumptions about Christians, something is terribly wrong.  That is NOT good news for the Gospel.  The Good News of Jesus must speak into every situation and culture, including this one.  It is the salt and light of the world.  It must never allow itself to become mired in the fallen cultures of this world.


So why is all of this good news for the church?

The Americanized church is dying!!!!  That is great news for the body of Christ.

I have friends, and have talked with many others, who are deep into the Americanized church.  One of them gave me a 6 page screed on why Jesus wants us to own assault rifles in case we need to overthrow the government, based on the most bizarre interpretation of Luke 22:36 I've ever seen.  Others seem to think that Ted Cruz and the TEA Party will help us "Take back" the country. (I'm never sure who/what we are exactly taking it back from.)

What I find fascinating is that due to them being so deeply involved in this type of synchronized sectarianism, they can't see that they have rendered themselves and the Americanized church largely irrelevant.  At best, they can preach to the choir.  But they can't speak into the culture at large.  No one is interested in what they have to say because they already know what it is.

The simple fact is that the Americanized church IS irrelevant!  And that is wonderful news for the Gospel.

Christians have always been, and always will be a minority in any and all countries.  You can splash all the magic water you want on a person.  You can vote for the approved candidate.  You can sit in a pew and sing all of the gospel songs you want.  You can even be born in a "Christian Country."  None of that means you actually follow Jesus!!!

If it is not a position of your heart, rejoicing in the grace and mercy that Christ has extended to you, then it doesn't mean a thing.

The church IN America understands that.  The true church is too excited about the kingdom of Jesus crashing in to this fallen world to let itself get overly concerned about any given fallen kingdom of man.  Now that it has tasted the mercy of the Savior, it is delighted to show it to others.  The true church is a happy church, not a church based on fear. (If you watch the pundits on FOX news, you will see quickly that the Americanized church is all about fear.  Because that is how FOX makes it's money.)

As the Americanized church continues it's slow, noisy death, the true church will continue to overcome the gates of hell.  It is an offensive force.  It does not cower behind political platforms, and it does not submit itself to any nation.  The Americanized church lost the culture wars when it fired the first shot.  The body of Christ is already victorious.

It is well beyond time for Christians living in America to take the blinders off.  We have always been a minority.  Stop worrying about the secularization of the U.S.  It's always been a secular country.  Stop worrying.

Instead, know who you are.  We are children of the victorious king.  We start as sinners saved by grace.  We end as the righteousness of Christ.  Our mission is to spread that news as an invitation to everyone.

That's the Gospel.  That's good news.

So is the death of the American church.



P.S. And now a song for the death bed...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Gospel of Addiction...

"I don't trust Christians who haven't been broken."
Jason Grey

"Livin' on the edge of night.  You know the sun won't go down slow.  You don't know which drug is right.  Can't decide which way you wanna go.  I feel the way you feel, 'Cause not so long ago
It had a hold on me.  I couldn't let it go.
It wouldn't set me free."

Neil Young, "No More."

"The agony of God is flowing from heaven on to all of the godlessness and idiocy of humanity who suppress the obvious by their stupidity...For since the beginning of creation up to this very moment, the very nature of God has been screaming forth from all that He has made, so that no one has any excuse...For even though their very hearts knew God, they turned their backs to Him...Therefore, God said, "Well, if that's what you really want, have at it." Sin took them to a whole new level of depravity and perversity.  They exchanged the beauty of YHWH for false gods who wish to kill them; such as politics, sports, money, sex, and drugs...lots and lots of drugs to kill the pain of the new reality.  And the Creator -- who is forever praised, wept and wept and wept."
Romans 1:18-25 (My edit)

If anyone ever writes a biography of me, 
it's going to to be one the the weirdest adventure story EVER.

I woke a little before 6AM to a phone call.  A former student/friend of mine was calling from the bus station in downtown Minneapolis.  Near as I can tell, he had walked out the hospital and now wanted a ride home.  Why was he in the hospital?  Drug use.

Last summer I had reconnected with this guy after more than a few years.  He had developed a heroin problem.  As I understand it, various Mexican cartels have been flooding the Twin Cities wealthier areas with cheap, excellent quality heroin to create a ready market.

Earlier this week, he had contacted me and wanted a ride to a detox center.  He was on something called Ketamine, which I was later told is used as a horse tranquilizer.  I didn't take him to the detox center, but I did pick him up from it on Tuesday.  Obviously, it didn't last very long.

I understand addiction.  Many, many years ago I had an anxiety breakdown of sorts.  I liked the first one so much, I had another one 6 months later.  Up until that time, I had to self-medicate to get to sleep.  I had wound myself up so tight over worries, cares and all sorts of things that didn't matter, that my bolt finally popped.  I spent over two years on the therapist's couch. (While I would prefer not to repeat it, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.  Ooh, I'm not exactly recommending this idea to any readers, either.)

Anyhoo, so I understand addiction.  But I still can't wrap my head around the truly evil shit that is out there now.  I've been told that meth contains battery acid and bleach.  Delicious!  Let me put that in my mouth.  Horse tranquilizers?  I've been told that it produces the most amazing hallucinations...while you sit motionless on the floor and drool on yourself.  Heroin?  As I understand, it fools your body into thinking you need it just like you do air.

Thankfully, I am still quite cowardly around needles.

I know myself well.  I know my level of curiosity.  I am truly thankful that ecstasy and raves were not around when I was in H.S. and college.


My friend had a lady friend with him.  While they both denied being high, they obviously were.  Addicts lie.  They have to.  I got an earful of many varying stories from him.

I took them both to breakfast.  
It was interesting.

Neil Young - 02 - No More - 1989 by DumpsDailyDump

So why do I put myself in these situations?  

When I was younger, I was often an arrogant jerk...especially when it came to following Jesus.  I remember taking a class on drugs and alcohol in college and thinking, "Disease?  That's stupid.  It's not like you walk out the door in the winter and catch alcoholism."  What did I know?

Here is a truism; Jesus has never, ever given up on me.  If I were him, I probably would have and should have.  But he hasn't.  Perhaps stubbornness is another divine attribute.  At any rate, if he is the one I want to follow into the kingdom, then he is the model I must follow.

So I enter these see what HE will do.

I am no longer shocked or offended by what I see around me.  Should I be surprised by what sin can and will do in this world?  I simply no longer have the energy or interest in getting all worked up over the things I have little control over.  It's much easier for me to just show up and see what the resurrected  Christ will do. (And it's almost never what I expect.)

When I was younger, at any sign of trouble, I wanted to "Save" that person, people, that situation.  I think that is a nobel impulse to have.  But it's a mistaken one.  I can't really save anyone.  Only Jesus can.

Many Christians think that they have to "BE" witnesses to the world.  We need to "BE" salt and light.  This assumes that God needs a bit of help, because he can't do it on his own.  If that is the case, then this God is in serious trouble.  I think that the response of Jesus is to tell us simply to "Be."

Jesus declared "you ARE" my witnesses.  You ARE salt and light."  It's all grace.  There is no working, no "On and Off" switch.  Jesus declares it.  Just be.

The God of the bible needs nothing from us.  He can spread the Gospel all on his own, and does so.  The God of the bible needs nothing from us, but he invites us in on the action because it is the ultimate thrill ride.  He wants us to partner with him so that we can see what he is already doing.  That's what it is in a nutshell.  And at the end of the age, it's all that really matters.  It's about the relationship.


Jason Grey said that he doesn't trust Christians who haven't been broken.  I understand what he means. Grace is cheap and mercy is easy when you don't need it.  Most people, Christians included, spend a good deal of their life thinking they don't need it.

When I was younger, I was very secure in my faith.  Faith is easy...and simplistic, when everything is hunky-dory.  It isn't until you run smack dab into the reality of this fallen world in one form or another that you realize what a desperate situation we are all in.  I call that "God's Boot Camp."  Once you've experienced that, you tend to see the world and people a bit differently.

We tend to live this illusion that we are all we need.  I am more and more convinced that this is exactly why God allows terrible things to happen to us.  The original sin was wanting to be like God.  We still want to be God-like, but we're not.  The horrible things that come our way are there to remind us of that.


"Makarios" = Blessed, happy, to have the favor of God extended to.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their schools and churches, preaching the good news, and healing all of the horrible things that people suffered from.  News about him spread all over the place, and people came from everywhere with all of their problems.  Massive crowds of Jews and non-jews, very, very religious people, skeptics, agnostics, pagans, clean and unclean people followed him.

Now when he saw this mishmash of humanity, he hiked up the side of a mountain and had a seat.  His students came to him, and he began to teach them and all the others, saying;

"I have an announcement. the worthless, the thieves and whores, to the nobodies, to the addicted, to those who can't stay away from certain web-sites, to those who couldn't tell the truth if their life depended on it.  And to those who fail at everything they try, and fall flat on their face every morning.  Congratulations, because you're the ones I want.  I pick YOU...and all that God is, and everything he has, is all yours. those in pain, those who suffer, those who's eyes are burned red from tears.  I will comfort you, and everything bad will come un-true. the ignored, the little person that no one pays attention to, to those who never got off the bench, went to the prom, and were laughed at by the other kids.  The Revolutionary and the Entrepreneur who build this world don't understand.  Private property is an illusion.  It ALL belongs to me.  I can give it to whom ever I choose, and I choose YOU.  They will just hand you the keys. those who are soaked in sin, those starving for a taste of righteousness, whose mouth burns for an ice, cold glass of redemption and eternal second chances.  I have a feast prepared for you.

Congratulations to all of you, because God is on your side."

And the people said, "Wow, that really is good news."
Matt. 4:23-5:6. (My edit)

Now my car smells like cigarettes and aged socks, but I am extremely curious to see what Jesus is going to do in my friend's situation.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Bible is a messy thing

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
Isaiah 55:8

So I was driving to the gas station yesterday, when I got a call from my dad.  I don't drive and talk on the phone at the same time, so I had to pull into a parking spot to chat.  Dad had a question about something he had heard his pastor say in church the other day.

"So Pastor Bob was reading along and he mentions that at the moment of Jesus' death, other tombs in Jerusalem opened up and dead people came back to life and wandered around the city.  I don't get that at all.  It's only mentioned in one place in the entire bible.  Plus, what happened to them after that?  Did they go back to their homes.  Did they die again later?  Did they just go back in their tombs at the end of the day.  What do you think?"

Dad was referencing Matt. 27:52-53, and yes, it's the only mention of that account in all four Gospels.  I told dad that I really had no clue as far as what to think about that aside by Matthew.  I looked in my own study bible and noticed that the editors conveniently skipped making a comment on that bit.  I also tried looking up some answers on Google.  Not much luck their, either.  So I'm left with this answer; I have no idea what to think about something like that.

And I'm fine with that.


Meet Alex.  At the ripe age of 11 (I think), he can do a spot-on British accent when reading verses from the bible.  It would appear that both he and his other siblings are all talented in the theatrics department, and all are extremely curious for kids their ages.

This is largely due to the fact that they have some great parents who "Get it."  By that I mean that they are not clingy, over protective parents who shield their kids from every thought and deed that is not approved of by a narrow, fundamentalist mindset.  Instead, they encourage their kids to ask questions and explore.

Anyway, last Sunday in Sunday school, we were looking at some of the stuff in the book of Judges.  The Israelites had rejected God as their king and wanted to be like the cool kids around them with a human king.  At the end of the lesson, I encouraged the kids to read the last few chapters of Judges.  I told them that it would shock them and curl their hair. (It's very much NC-17 literature.)

Afterwords, Alex and I were sitting at a table talking.  I told him that the bible is quite a mess if you read it for all it's worth.  Alex asked me why that was.  I said "Because life is a mess.  The world is a mess.  If the bible read like a Disney story, all sweetness and light with a happy ending every time, I wouldn't trust it at all.  Reality is not like a Disney movie.   Reality is messy, the bible reflects that.  Because it's messy, just like me, I trust it."  Alex seemed satisfied with that answer.

BTW: I don't trust christians who aren't messy.  It's been my experience that the very formal, tight and "Proper" christians are almost always hiding something.  Messy christians aren't afraid to admit it, and hand it over to Jesus. 


There is stuff in the bible that I don't get at all.  Some times skeptics will ask me about the contradictions in the bible.  My normal response is to ask for an example.  19 out of 20 times that will shut them down because they don't actually know of any, they have just heard that there are.  Call me a dirty heretic, but I will then give them examples of actual contradictions that are, indeed, in the bible.  Sometimes they are sitting right next to each other.

My favorite example is Genesis 1 and 2.  There are many (Generally more traditional/conservative, fundamentalist types) who believe that all of the stories in Genesis are historically and scientifically dead on.  Well, in Genesis 1, the writer clearly states that plants and animals were created before any humans.  However, Genesis 2 clearly states that plants were created after the first human male, and even hints that animals were made after the creation of the first man.  So which one is it?  You have a serious problem if you are a fundy.

The most interesting thing for me in this instance is that those stories are sitting right next to each other. It is highly, highly doubtful that the writers and compilers of the Old Testament didn't notice this problem.

But they clearly didn't care.

So why didn't they care?!?!  What else is going on that I am missing?  I'm an American!  I need detailed and specific answers that I can measure and weigh.  Shame on the biblical writers for not thinking like an American.

You want some others? "Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself." (Prov. 26:4)  "Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes." (Prov. 26:5) Right next to each other.

If you want to have even more fun, and assuming that you need a cure for insomnia, try digging through the Levitical law.  In Exodus, it says that Hebrews can own other Hebrews as slaves, but males only for 6 years.  In Deuteronomy, it says they could own slaves, but both men AND women could choose freedom after a time.  THEN you have Leviticus, which says there ain't no way you could own a fellow Hebrew as a slave.  So what's a good, orthodox Jewish boy to do when trying to obey the law?

Believe me, there are many, many, many other examples of this.


I got this book for Christmas.  I highly recommend it.  The author is Dr. Peter Enns.  In it, he digs deeply in to the ancient cultures in which the bible was written.  I've heard it said from a few scholars that we know that we have to translate the languages of the bible so that we can read it, but we forget that we have to translate the cultures, too.

The bible was NOT written TO us.  It was written FOR us, because it's God's word.  However, unless your name is Timothy, and you are pastoring a first century church in the city of Ephesus, 1st and 2nd Timothy were not written to you.

The mistake that I see so many American christians making is that they will read the bible through the eyes of 21st century American culture and thought.  The result is making the text say things that it never, ever meant. (This includes the 3 different creation stories, pretty much all of Genesis before the call of Abraham, and even well into the New Testament.) No wonder we get some of the goofy theologies that are out there.


Like I said earlier, there are things in the bible that I don't get at all.  I know that the way the ancient Hebrews thought of numbers was very different than the way we do.  I'll read some of these ancient genealogies, and I get thoroughly confused with the idea that some people lived 600, 700, or 800 years and more.  Is this real?  If not, what do these numbers mean in the context of the ancient world?  I don't know, and I'm fine with that.

Or what about the story of Noah?  In Genesis 6:3, God says that humans were getting on his nerves, so he clearly states that no one would get to live longer than 120 years.  Yet at the end of the flood story, in Gen. 9:29, Noah lives to be 950 years old.

Oooooh, and if that isn't enough, check out Gen. 6:6.  In that passage it says that "The Lord was grieved that he had made man on earth, and his heart was filled with pain."  Wait a minute!  God is sad that he created people???  God made a mistake?!?!?!?!?!?


For the record, I don't think God makes mistakes.  I think there is more to that story...and many others, than meet the eye.  Also, you throw in God's foreknowledge, and you get the idea that he pretty much knew all of this in advance.

But, again, something's going on in that text,
and I don't get it.
And I'm perfectly fine with that.

Here's a truism.  We like our gods nice and domesticated.  We like our bible that way, too.  We like them that way so that we can control them and make them do our bidding.  Here's the problem with that, if you actually read the bible for all it's worth, you figure out pretty quickly that both the bible and God will almost never do what you think they should do for you.

It's almost like being given the divine finger.

I try not to read the bible anymore.  I prefer to swim in it.  More and more, I see scripture as an invitation to a wrestling match with God.  It's thick with multiple layers and nuance.  Sometimes there are stories with in stories with in even more stories.  There are multiple parallel stories scattered all over the place.  Those confusing areas of the bible?  They just get my curiosity revved up and hungry for more.  Sometimes, reading the bible is like trying to swim against a stiff current.  It can exhaust you both mentally and physically.  I love it!

I understand how for many people, the confusing portions of the bible might be a threat to their faith. (If this story isn't 100% historically and scientifically accurate, can I believe in the resurrection???)  I also understand that it can give ammunition to skeptics.  I would say two things about that.  #1. Don't worry about the skeptics.  Don't let them intimidate you.  If someone doesn't want to believe and follow Jesus, it's not your problem.  No amount of arguing, yelling or screaming is going to change any of that.

#2. Don't be afraid of the confusing stuff.  OWN it!  Embrace it.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding." ( Prov. 3:5) Understand that you will never, ever fully understand either God or the bible. (Seriously, if you could actually reduce this God to a formula on a piece of paper, he wouldn't be very impressive.) This God doesn't want or care if you can totally figure him out.  He doesn't have self-esteem issues.  He doesn't need group hugs or the latest hair style.  He doesn't want you to hold his hand, he wants to hold yours.  He doesn't want to be understood.  He wants to be trusted.

I am more and more convinced that the confusing stuff is in the bible for a very specific purpose; to keep us off balance.  It forces us to be humble.  It forces us to admit were don't actually know everything.  If we are honest, it forces us to stand in the knowledge that we very finite, indeed, that we don't have all the answers, but Jesus does.

So like I told Alex, the bible is a very messy thing, and that's why I trust it.



For some resources that will help you to understand much of Genesis in it's ancient cultural context, I provide to following links.  Do yourself a favor and look up the various commentators in these videos.  Most of them walk in the halls of geniuses.

I find this one to be the best overview of Genesis 1 I've ever heard. (Ken Ham really needs to pay attention to this.)


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fear & Loathing in "Christian" bookstores.

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
2 Tim. 2:15

Sometimes I dig a little King James version.  You just never know where it's going to shew up.

So anyway...

Last month I went over to Lifeway near a mall by me.  If you didn't know, Lifeway is a "Christian" bookstore.  Before it became Lifeway, it was Northwestern books.  I was looking for some books by a theologian I enjoy.  Turns out, they didn't have any of his stuff.

They did, however, have just about everything that John MacArthur has ever written.

I've always been a little uncomfortable about "Christian" bookstores.  It's not that I don't appreciate a one stop shop for all of my evangelical needs.  It's just that I'm not a fan of self-imposed ghettos.

We have "Christian" bookstores that sell "Christian" music, "Christian" books, "Christian" coffee mugs, "Christian" T-shirts, etc.  Some of them have baristas so that you can get "Christian" coffee in your "Christian" mug, which was probably grown by a "Christian" in Central America using "Christian" beans.  If you ask nicely, you can get a dollop of cream on top that was certainly taken from a "Christian" cow.

When I am in a store like this, I appreciate the fine selection of pictures of Jesus that they normally carry.  It's good to be reminded that Jesus is very white, like me. (Sometimes he even has blue eyes, which I'm sure is straight out of the book of Revelation.) Jesus also has a full head of hair, which is normally styled a like a good mid-westerner from Iowa of Nebraska.

I have also noticed the wide variety of bibles available.  They have sports bibles, with handy sayings for your team to quote.  They have bibles for hunters and other outdoorsy activities.  They even have a "Patriots" bible, with verses taken out of context and highlighted so that you can prove that America is Jesus' favorite country at your next NASCAR rally.

They also have a John MacArthur study bible...

Back when Lifeway was still Northwestern books, I went in and noticed that they were selling books by Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura.  I found that odd since neither of them are Christians.  But then I remembered that to follow Jesus properly, you must partake daily of the sacrament of FOX news.

Actually, to their credit, Northwestern carried a rather wide variety back in the day.  They had books by prosperity preachers, which I completely disagree with.  They also carried books by Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. (Guys I enjoy, but have some very profound disagreements with.) So they were all over the map.

Once Northwestern became Lifeway, that all changed.  I remember the first time I went in there after the new owners came in.  Holy moly, the variety was out the door.  White Jesus was still there, but now  the amount of John MacArthur's works had quadrupled.  There was a noticeable increase in other Dispensationalist authors, too.


Now I know that Lifeway is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.  The SBC is lead by Albert Mohler.  Al isn't known for being the most open minded guy.  This may explain a great deal.


BTW: Please don't think I am picking on John MacArthur.  Most of his stuff is good.  However, you have to realize that he views the bible and everything else through the lens of Dispensationalist theology.  Dispensationalism has some merits, but can run into some pretty goofy stuff.  In a nut shell, they have sliced and diced the bible into pieces like a loaf of bread.  Most of modern American evangelicalism has this as it's foundation without most people being aware of it.  Certainly when it comes to understanding eschatology. (End times stuff.)

If you are a fan of those "Left behind" movies, that's all based on Dispensationalism.

I like a lot of John MacArthur's stuff.  However, he and his followers also believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not applicable to today. (And, boy, is he adamant about that!) This would come as a surprise to a few missionaries I know.  I think it would come as a surprise to the Holy Spirit, too.


I think it's a really bad idea to only read/listen/learn from people you agree with.  That's why I like to get a variety of opinions when it comes to following Jesus.  My opinion is that way to many American evangelicals live in self-imposed bubbles.  This renders us virtually incapable to speaking into the broader culture, unless it is to condemn.

I don't think I would really know what I believe and stand for unless I took the time to hear as many sides as I can.  How can I be articulate to someone when I don't know their side of the story?  I don't have to agree with them.  That's not the question.  I think the question is wether or not I will be well-rounded and properly informed.

It seems to me that too many Christians are afraid of asking questions.

I really love Rob Bell.  Now, before you burn me in effigy, let me explain.  I think that in the past few years, Bell has gone off the reservation.  However, I also think that evangelicals are partly responsible for this.  I remember the big stink when he published "Love Wins."  Since it was controversial, I naturally had to read it.  Over all it was good, particularly the last chapter which read like a Billy Graham alter-call.  However, the weakest link was the very chapter that got Bell into trouble.

Bell wondered if God might give people second chances after thy die.  That was it.  Rob asked questions...and we can't have that.

Rob left the reservation.  But we are extremely guilty of pushing and shoving him along the way.  In fact, a few weeks ago a friend of mine stated that she had kicked Bell to the curb a long time ago.  I noted that we American christians are really good at kicking people to the curb.

I like Rob Bell because he makes me think.  It is irrelevant wether I agree with him all of the time, because I don't.  He makes me think!

This past year, Mark Driscoll lost his entire ministry for being a tough guy, hard ass.  Guess what?  I like Mark Driscoll, too.  I like John Piper, Rick Warren, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Peter Rollins, Roger E. Olson, etc.  I have yet to agree 100% with ANY of them!  But they make me think!!! (I do not care for Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.  They give me itchy, burning hives.) Heck, I can't even agree with myself a good deal of the time.

Too many Christians lick their lips in joyful anticipation when a leader falls from Grace.  I'm much more interested in seeing the restoration of guys like Driscoll and Bell.  It seems to me that the only prominent Thinker who got the Bell broohaha right was Francis Chan.  In response to "Love Wins," Chan wrote "Erasing Hell," which was an excellent book.  He didn't condemn Bell with silly tweets.  He engaged him politely and out of love.


In my last post, I said that American Christians have a lot of fear.  I still think that's true.  But I also think it's nonsense.  Of the few things that I am certain about in life is that Jesus always wins...ALWAYS!  If that's true, then what is there to be afraid of?

My faith isn't the least bit threatened by some dumb plan or law the government might be working on.  It's not threatened by Islamic militants or Right-Wing kooks.  It isn't threatened by secular music, or some evil song by Marilyn Manson or Bette Middler.  It isn't threatened by my fellow Believers who deny science based on their own misunderstanding of Scripture.  And it certainly isn't threatened by questionable ideas put forth in a book sold in a "Christian" ghetto...I mean, bookstore.

I would prefer any day, a "Christian" bookstore that carried everything, including the works of those theological masters, Joel Osteen, Robert Tilton and "Dr." Mike Murdock, than I would one that sells only the "Approved" ones.  I trust Jesus enough that his spirit will guide me through any of that.

Since I've never been one to shy away from the heretical, I'll leave you with a quote from Rob Bell that I actually DO agree with 100%; "I'm not afraid of people who ask questions.  I'm afraid of people who don't."



P.S. Peter Rollins is a Christian philosopher from Belfast.  I have some profound disagreements with him.  But surprise, I like him because he makes me think.  Here's a bit of his that I actually think is profound and brilliant...

Divine atheism from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.


Just for farts and giggles, here's a little Bobby Tilton fo ya...

It just gets better.

And last but not least...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Talkin' Mega Mall Blues

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
Ecc. 1:9

"I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Two days ago I had to run some errands.  One of them was to talk to the good folks at T-Mobile about some phone stuff.  The nearest T-Mobile place for me is at the Mall of America.

You may have heard of this place before.  It's the largest mall in the U.S., and soon to be the largest mall in the world. (The construction going on is impressive, and causes me to get lost rather easily.) It's located on the east side of Bloomington, Minnesota, and right across the freeway from the Twin Cities' metro airport.  This, in turn, makes the roof of the mall a handy spot for emergency landings.

You may also have heard of the mall because the Somali group, Al-Shabab, recently asked for it's followers to commit a terrorist act there.  Lovely!

My first thought on hearing this news was to think, "If you could really pull something like that off, you wouldn't blab to everyone where you were going to do it."  My second thought was, "Yeah, but it only takes one crazy."

Minnesota has one of the largest Somali populations in the U.S.  There have been young people from that community heading over to join either Al-Shabab in Somalia, or ISIS over in Iraq and Syria.  Needless to say, the Somali community is enraged over this.  They have been doing everything they can to keep crazies from recruiting their kids.

I have no idea what would cause a young person to join a death-cult.  When I was their age, I grew my hair longer to show my teenage rebellion. (I even had a Mullet for a while.  YAY!!!!) The thought of strapping on dynamite or grabbing an assault rifle wasn't in the cards.

Anyway, the local Somali community has a tradition for the end of Ramadan.  Thousands of them will descend on the Mega Mall for an all night party (Minus the beer.), chow down in the food courts, and ride the rides in the amusement park.  Therefore, I am inclined to think that most of them are not interested in blowing up one of their favorite places.

So I'm at the mall around noon on a Friday.  It wasn't terribly busy, but busy enough.  As I was walking around, it only took me only a few minutes to notice the increased police presence.  The white uniformed mall police were partnered with officers of the Bloomington police department.  I would guestimate that there were at least 4 times the usual amount.

I headed in to the Apple store with some questions about my computer.  At the door was guard.  I figure he was in his 70s, and was clearly blind in one eye.  Perhaps Apple is concerned that an elderly terrorist will strap something to their walker and head on over.

So I ask the guard about the noticeable police presence.  He said that, yes indeed, they were there to reassure the nervous.  I asked him if the threat was credible?  He said no, but that it only takes one crazy...

I have noticed that the church in America has a lot of fear in it.  In fact, a lot of our theology and behavior is based on fear. (So it seems to me, anyway.) We fear Muslims.  We fear our neighbors.  We fear Marxist/Socialist/Secretly Kenyan Presidents.  We fear that the government will take away our guns so that we can't overthrow it when we feel the need.  We fear Evolution because we know that God has to bring creation into existence according to our wishes and really poor exegesis of Scripture.  We fear that if we can't legislate our morality God will smite our nation.

You know what I fear?  
Strawberries with hair on them.


"There is nothing new under the sun."

I like history.  I have fully embraced my "Inner Nerd."  I've been reading various history books since I was a kid.  One constant that I have noticed as far back as Socrates and Plato, is that every generation complains that the younger one is full of spoiled brats and is destroying society.  Today, humanities' ability to wreak havoc and do it in a spectacular fashion for all to see, has been greatly expanded.  But the impulse to do it is nothing new.  It's been there ever since the fall of man.  The world has been coming to an end for along, long time.

Of the many, many things I love about Jesus is his ability to tell the truth bluntly.  Unlike prosperity preachers, Jesus is honest.  He told his followers that they would have plenty of problems, troubles, persecution, etc.  And then he would say, "Trust me.  I know what I'm doing." (My translation.)

I admit it.  Trusting Jesus is hard.  I have a 50 year track record of him having my back and saving my butt over and over again.  But it's still hard.

A friend at work asked me once what he needed to do to be saved.  I told him, "Just put your faith in the faithfulness of Jesus."  At the end of the day, he's the only one who can/did/will pull it off.  My faithfulness sucks!  But he's really good at it.


There is a Mosque with a Halal market near where I live.  It's the only place I know of where I can find camel and goat meat. (Hey, I lived in the Middle East for a while.  I dig me some Arab cuisine from time to time.) I like to go in there just to see the looks on their faces. "What's that Cracker doing here?!?!?!  Is he F.B.I???"  I like to use the few Arabic phrases I know.  Pretty soon it's like I'm an old friend.  They are genuinely happy that some blonde hair, blue eyed person is showing some respect to and enjoyment of their culture.  If Jesus wants to use that to plant some seeds for his kingdom, then I'm happy to oblige...and get some camel meat.

I am not afraid to go into a place like that.

There is a gas station down the road where I normally fill up.  It is owned by a Lebanese family.  I had assumed for a long time that they were a tribal christian family.  I filled up there after having been at the mall.  I was talking to Ali, the owner, about what I had seen.  He gave me an earful about how much he hates ISIS, then he told me he was a Muslim.  He then told me that he almost never tells anyone that because he is scared.  He is not scared when I am there...and I am not afraid to buy my gas from him.

While I was at the mall, I people watch.  There are people from all over the world there even at the oddest of times.  I hear a lot of different languages.  I'm decent at guessing which are which.  I'm curious.  I'm not scared.  That which is different intrigues me.  Those who were made in the image of God come in all shapes and sizes.

There certainly were many Somalis at the mall that day.  As I was leaving, a group of four Somali girls were standing outside one of the cheesy restaurants at the mall.  They were taking selfies of each other. They had on colorful headscarves, robes, and were chattering away in a language I couldn't understand.  They were giggling and goofing around like any 20-something would.  I was not afraid.

I'll probably go back to the mall next week.

I'm not afraid.



P.S. Normally, I try to find a video to end my screeds with one that is appropriate to the tone of the post.  I couldn't find one that worked for the Mega Mall.  However, this was the song on my Pandora station as I was finishing up.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Some thoughts on some thoughts

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 
 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"
Mt. 7:15-23

About a week ago, the President attended and spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast.  I didn't listen to it, but read about it in the paper.  I saw that the former race car driver, Darrel Waltrip gave his testimony.  Then I noticed that the Dalai Lama was in attendance.  I thought to myself, "Oooh, THAT'S gonna rub some folks the wrong way." But then again, I'm not the sort to freak out over that sort of thing.  My second thought was, "Well, that's awesome!  I'll bet you $10 that the Dalai Lama has never actual heard the Gospel presented before."  God moves in some pretty clever ways.

Actually, the fact is that plenty of non-Christians have been invited, including King Abdullah II of Jordan back in 2006 when Bush was still President.

Well, it turns out I was wrong.  People didn't freak out over the Dalai Lama being at the prayer breakfast.  No.  Instead they freaked out over this...

When I first read those lines in the paper, it didn't rub me the wrong way at all.  In fact, it didn't even raise a pulse.  Those are simply sad, historical facts.  In America and the rest of the world, Scripture has been repeatedly twisted and warped to justify all sorts of evil.  And it's still happening.  The President was simply quoting history.  What's the big deal?


A brief aside here: If you think all of this is ancient history, you are fooling yourself.  Take a gander at this link about Bob Jones University in S. Carolina.  It was founded as a VERY Fundamentalist college back in the day.  Up into the 1970s, it still forbade Black Americans from attending.  Once they were allowed in, no inter-racial dating was allowed.  When I was in Bethel College in the 80s, I saw a story from there about a girl who was half black and half white.  The school made her sign a sheet to decide what she really was before she could attend an event with boy of the Cracker persuasion.

And all of this based on some truly pathetic interpretations of the bible.


So anyway, the President speaks an uncomfortable truth.  No big deal I thought.

Oops.  The next thing you know, social media, FOX, "Christian" leaders, and of course greedy power brokers, are having a field day.  The picture at the top of this post is from Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee.  I first saw it on Facebook yesterday.  He's no fool.  He knew instinctively how to capitalize on gullible, angry, professional President haters.  And the sad fact is that many, if not most, of these haters are people who call themselves christians.

David Brooks is not a believer, but I've heard him speak on this many times, and I thought his response was spot on...

(BTW: If you want some fun, watch the clip through to the end.  Shields pops a bolt over dumb people who don't believe in vaccinations.  LOL.)

If part of the core of Christianity isn't about acknowledging our sin and seeking redemption, what is it?  Have not all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?  I can assure you that at this point in my life, I have made enough mistakes before God that I fully understand King David when he wrote, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3) I am no longer ashamed to admit them.  If you want details, I'm not terribly shy about that either...but it might make your ears smoke.

Shouldn't nations be willing to do the same?

The President simply told the truth.  I honestly don't understand what the offense was.



"I don't want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it."  Billy Graham

"Christians should never have a political party.  It is a huge mistake to become married to an ideology, because the greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology.  Ideology is a man-made format of how the world ought to work, and Christians instead believe in the revealing truth of Scripture."  Chuck Colson 

It's not exactly a secret that the church in America has been sold out to far-right politics in most respects.  When I talk to many, if not most, non-christians, they just assume that since I am a christian, I must be a Republican and probably a TEA-Bagger at that.  How in the world did that happen??????

For the record, I do tend to vote Republican the majority of the time.  But I'm not blind.  I'm not wedded to the idea that I am doing Jesus a favor by voting for his ordained party.  I'm strictly independent.  In fact, I reject the idiotic labels of "Liberal" or "Conservative."  Those are man-made
 philosophical constructs with all of the inherent flaws and falleness that comes with them.

When someone says to me, "Yeah, I'm a Christian and a Liberal...Conservative," what I hear is, "Yeah, I'm half a Christian."  I'm pretty sure that that bible warns about taking on worldly labels.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's perfect will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Romans 12:2

The church in America is massively compromised thanks to politics, particularly far-right politics.  The Left has some of it, but not nearly as much.  I'm uncertain why that is the case.  Perhaps liberals tend to be more secular to begin with.  I don't know.  But for some reason, the church in America is kowtowing to extremism on the Right like a dirty, little whore. (Blunt, but I mean exactly that!) The result is that the purity of the Gospel has been compromised and seriously harmed.

The church in America, either through willful ignorance or shear gullibility or just plain stupidity, has allowed itself to be played and used by politicians, and by those out to make a buck in the media.  If you spray a little Jesus-gloss on whatever you're saying, witless American christians will buy it.  It just breaks my heart.

I know sooooooooooooo many Christians who allow themselves to be influenced by godless, wicked people like Ayn Rand (Militant, Jesus-hating Atheist), Glenn Beck (Mormon), Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (Gas bags out to sell commercials to masses of sheep) and it makes me weep.  It's one thing to know what they say.  It's entirely different to embrace their ideas.  It's the equivalent of saying you're a Believer, but when it comes to your sexuality, you embrace the ideas of Mick Jagger, Hugh Hefner and Dan Savage.


The movie, "American Sniper," has been out for a while now.  I haven't read the book or seen the film. Apparently, it has sparked some controversy.  I'm not a pacifist.  War is an ugly business and ugly things happen in it.  However, if you want to see what ugly truly is, watch this next clip.

I don't really care what Michael Moore has to say about anything.  I get a kick out of his movies, but I know from the start that he's loaded it with all of his biases.  Apparently he had some comments about the movie.  FOX news knew right away how to make some money off of that.

I had never heard of this talking twat, Todd Starnes, before this.  He impressed me!  I had no idea that anyone could fart out of their mouth as long has he does here...

If that isn't a perfect example of a complete perversion of Scripture, I don't know what is.  To take my Messiah, my KING, and treat him like a prostitute makes me absolutely LIVID!  That man is NOT my brother in Christ!!!!!!!  No one who follows Jesus would EVER say something like that.  That man is a fool and nothing less.

I highly doubt he even believes what he is saying, but he knows it's good for ratings.  And there will be so many "Christians" who agree with him...

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 1 Tim. 4:1

And so it has begun...

Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea.
They will leave you drifting in the shallows,

drowning in the oceans of history.
Travellin' the world, you're in search of no good.
But I'm sure you'll build your Sodom like I knew you would.
Using all the good people for your galley slaves.
As your little boat struggles through the the warning waves.
But you will pay, you will pay tomorrow.
You're gonna pay tomorrow.