Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cowboys & Angels


"There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The Angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah & Master. This is what you're to look for; a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a feed trough."

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a feed trough. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all of these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they had been told."
Luke 2:8-20 (The Message Bible)




I've lived in Israel. I've seen my share of shepherds with sheep, goats and even camels. The Bedouin, who are generally the folks that tend these flocks, tend NOT to look so much like a ripped teenager from an A&F Kids store, as the above picture would allude to. Nor do they tend to sit around the Judean hillsides at night shirtless, no shoes, and only in a towel. (That desert wilderness gets COLD at night!)

<---- Sorry to pop any bubbles you might have about any romantic notions of those shepherds, but odds are that they looked a bit more like these guys.


Sheepherders were not thought of with any particular esteem back in the day. It was not considered the noblest of professions. In many respects, they were the cowboys of their day...except with a lot less bathing involved.

There is also the particular oil that sheep secrete that can apparently have a less-than pleasant aroma. (My Grandfather, who had some on his farm as a boy, refused to eat lamb ever again because of the smell.) Combine that with sleeping in the open, around copious amounts of sheep dung, and you might get the idea that townspeople would know when those guys were in town...even in the dark.

It's tough to be a shepherd.

Yet, look who gets an a-capella chorus from divine messengers.


It must have been very strange for the townsfolk of Bethlehem to hear these smelly cowboys running around, swearing up & down that they had just had an encounter with God AND that this baby they had found was the Messiah that had been promised centuries ago. I would have had a hard time believing it. I mean, seriously, wouldn't God have done better to have made this type of announcement to the entire Sanhedrin or some type of proper and established religious/political authority?

Apparently not.

But then again, why in the world did God choose an unwed teenage girl to be his birth vessel? Why did he reveal through some astrological sign to a bunch of pagan scholars outside the empire that a Jewish king had been born when they already had a king...even if he was a puppet of the Romans? (Jeez, it took those guys almost two years to get to the party.) Why did God choose to make his first appearance in the flesh in a feed trough in some type of barn structure with all of the nasty smells and "Things" to step in all over the place?

It just doesn't make sense. Not to me, anyway.


That having been said, try putting yourself in the Angel's perspective. I'm no expert on angels by any stretch. I do know that generally when they show up on the scene, they tend to take a Male form for some reason. However, nowhere are they seen with either wings, halos or perfect blond hair.

The word "Angel" simply means "Messenger." With that in mind, perhaps they resembled the ancient world's equivalent of the Wester Union delivery boy...with the power to destroy entire cities when authorized. I dunno.

From what I do know about angels, they know God in ways that we never will. Yet, at the same time, we will know God in ways that angels never will either. In fact, according to 1 Cor. 6:3, humans will stand in judgment of angels. (The demonic ones, I'm guessing.) To me, what is most interesting about angels is that the bible hints that they have a healthy sense of jealousy & curiosity about the relational potential that every human has with God. (1 Peter 1:12)

So imagine yourself an angel during this particular "Christmas" scene. First off, you have to go through the usual calming period once you make an appearance. Every time you show up the humans freak out. THEN, you have to wrap your head around the idea that you were just standing in front of God in heaven, and now you are witnessing him in the form on a 8lb. wet human prune, swaddled and placed on a mound of hay that the donkeys desperately want to eat. I may be reading into the text things that are not there, but my take is that angels don't have the type of free-will that we do, and thus do not have the same type of understanding that we do. Their perspective on the way God and humanity relate must be rather odd I would think.

SO...

Angel Bob: "Why's the boss all tied up like that in those strips? His face looks all shiny, but not from the halo."

Angel Scott: "I think that is from the sweat and after-whatever that humans get when they pop out."

Angel Shawn: "They haven't invented diapers yet. I've seen this before when I was keeping an eye on little Moses. They call it Swaddle, but it's really just old clothing that gets snagged on door posts."

Baby God: "Waa, waa...WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

Angel Bob: "HEY, what happened to the boss's voice? He doesn't sound like James Earl Jones!!!"

Angel Shawn: "That's human talk for "Feed me NOW!" Boss is working on his Yiddish accent."

Angel Scott: "Bob, I know they can't see us or sense our presence, but a goat just walked through your legs."

Angel Bob: "I thought I felt something tickle."

Angel Shawn: "Well, don't step backwards because the cow left something on the floor...and I don't think it will tickle."

Angel Bob: "Eeew! Boss just made a mess in the swaddle."

Angel Scott: "Fffeeee-Uuu! I can smell the shepherds coming. Let's get back to heaven and short-sheet one the Seraphs beds."


It could have happened...


Anyway, shepherds...shepherds, an unwed teenage girl, pagan astrologers. Poor people, nobodies, smelly people...people on the margins. In other words, people that most people choose not to think much about, or look away from when they encounter them. And it is to those very people that heaven pours out it's glory in the form of music, and the kingdom of heaven comes crashing into...and the sustainer of everything takes the form of a helpless baby knowing full well what his fate will be when he becomes a grown man.


It makes no sense. No sense. And maybe that's the point.



Happy Christmas

Joe

P.S. Many biblical scholars note that it was the area around Bethlehem that the sheep to be sacrificed in the temple were grazed. The odds are decent that these shepherds may have been tending these flocks because they would have been substantial in number. If so, do not miss the subtle and beautiful irony that they were witnesses to the lamb would would later be sacrificed to take away the sins of the world and grant freedom to all who would repent and follow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Exporting Christmas



"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us...and verily didst he bite the naughty children upon their heads, kidnaping them if wouldst they were beyond incorrigible, or mayhaps leavist them lumps of coal." Hesitations 1:14

I love Christmas. I really do! Although this post might give you the impression that I am a cynical Scrooge to a certain extent. I'm not...really. I know all about the pagan background of Christmas. It doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I find it fascinating how different countries and cultures do up Christmas in their own unique ways.

In my own family, which is racially diverse, we bring both Norwegian AND Swedish culture to the table. (A lot of ethnic tension there, I can assure you.) The lefse, lutefisk, meatballs, lingonberries and krumake gets pounded down with zest and vigor. (Krumkake sounds dirty, doesn't it?)

N-E-WAY...


This particular post is nothing more than an excuse to get you to watch a video I came across this morning. Yesterday I heard a story on NPR about a movie titled "Rare Exports."
It's a Christmas movie, but not exactly the kind that you would have your kids all gather around with a big bowl of popcorn to watch.

The premise is that way up just below the arctic circle, a group of miners discover the burial mound of the original Santa Claus. I wont spoil it for you. But suffice it to say that the original Santa, according to Nordic legend, wasn't all that interested in giving gifts. Also, as far as naughty people were concerned, well...you better watch out.

If you wish to read the original story from NPR, simply click this link. http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/12/20/144024799/dvd-picks-rare-exports-a-christmas-tale

So I looked it up this morning and found out that it was based on a short film from Finland back in 2003. I watched it, and found myself laughing hysterically about half-way through. There is nothing like the sight of a "Wild" Santa being trained to NOT bite children that just makes me roll. Have a look, won't you?

Advisory: Wild Santas, living in their natural habitat, do not wear cloths!!! So be aware.



Now tell me that you didn't find that funny.


Like I said, I love Christmas. I know that the early church chose the date to counteract the pagan religions around them. I know that the Christmas tree was chosen because it was triangular, which symbolized the Trinity. Also, because it was an Evergreen, which symbolized eternal life. The early church did a lot to missionize the cultures around them by co-opting the symbols of those very cultures. I think that's a good thing. Unfortunately, now days the church is the one being co-opted by our own culture. (Just look at Rick Perry.)

I like to give gifts. I'm good at wrapping, too. My Dad says I can make a dead fish look good the way I wrap a box. Which is true as he'll find out when he opens his presents from me on Christmas Eve. I also tend to be done with any purchases before Thanksgiving. This allows me to go to the mall and enjoy the angst, stress and misery of everyone else around me. Like I said, I love Christmas.

My main complaint about Christmas actually IS the date. December 25th is rather early in the beastly season of a Minnesota Winter. After that we have nothing to look forward to until mid-March when the thaw may or may not happen. This year has been a bit of drought thus far. Last season we had a blizzard every week. (Seriously, we did.) I have every confidence that the weather will seek it's revenge later this season and even into Spring. So, it might be easier to handle if Christmas was celebrated in late January or early February.



Christmas, I love it! I was in Cairo for a Christmas break when I lived in Jerusalem. Cheeseburgers are illegal in Jerusalem due to Kosher laws, ("Oy va VOY!") so we headed to Egypt to find one. The hotel we stayed at had Christmas trees and Santas all over the place. (Which is something considering it is illegal to convert to Christianity in Egypt.) In Jerusalem, Christmas is celebrated with the beating of the Palestinians by Israeli troops. In Bethlehem, it is celebrated by the annual fist fights that Catholic and Orthodox priests get into over who will sweep the manger floor.

Christmas celebrations and traditions are fascinating and awesome to me. In China, they imprison dissidents. (Actually, they tend to do that year round.) In the Scandinavian countries, a hot blond chick will essentially light her head on fire and douse in out in a barrel of whitefish soaked in lye. (Which is how you make traditional Lutefisk.) In the Czech Republic, Dad will go to the market for a live Carp, keep it in the tub until Christmas day, then whack it on the head and smoke it. (Seriously, they do that.)

In Canada, they play hockey, drink Molson Ale, and put Mayonnaise on the tree. In Ethiopia & Eritrea, they drink Christmas coffee and have a delicious meal of roasted sand. In England, Father Christmas leaves a Yul Log in your fireplace. (Seriously, the Brits desperately need to find a better area to place a toilet.) In Iran and Saudi Arabia, they don't "Do" Christmas, but they will beat or stone you for being a woman.

Here in America, we have numerous traditions. Generally, we just tend to go deep into debt in hopes that it will revive our flagging economy. However, there are regional differences. For example, in the mighty metropolis on Minneapolis & St. Paul, we all run down to the Mississippi River and pee in it as it flows to Iowa. (It's our favorite gift to give.) In California, they give Kardashians to men for the weekend. (A LOT of re-gifting in that area.) In both Mississippi & Alabama, cousins and other close relatives will "Make Out" under the mistletoe. Florida gets boat loads of Cubans and Haitians as gifts. Texas and Arizona employs and then incarcerates Mexicans. Finally, in Utah, each husband gets an extra wife.

Not to be outdone, political parties have their own traditions. The Democrats hold a very disorganized "Holiday/Festivus/Non-Offensive, Neutral-Name" party, in which nothing meaningful gets accomplished. Republicans give tax cuts as gifts to the wealthy so as not to encourage class warfare and stimulate the creation of incredibly crappy jobs on the bottom rung of society. Members of the Green Party give each other fruit (Emphasis on "Fruit.") cakes made from %100 organic and "Fair Trade" flour. Finally, Libertarians don't give gifts at all. They expect you to pull yourself up by your own boot straps and buy your own.

As I understand it, Jews celebrate Christmas buy going to the movies after the traditional meal of Chinese.

So, however you do Christmas, I hope yours is fantastic. Don't mind the pagan stuff or the campiness, just have fun.

Also, be happy you didn't grow up in the Netherlands. (Give it a listen, it's awesome.)



Peace

Joe

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Baked Ham for a Blog Carnival.


So I while back I was conversing with this crazy person from Montana that I know. He had this goofy idea that a bunch of us who write blogs ought to pick a topic and all write about it. That would be the genesis behind this particular post. Once all of the other bloggers have completed this task, we will link up each other's various sights to our on. (So you may very well have to come back to this post down the road to see the other links.)



For the record, the subject is loosely based on "Unconscious Cultural Assumptions." Which is a fancy way of saying "We've always done it like this...so it must be right."

So here goes...



Stop me if you've heard this story before: A young wife is going to bake her first ham for Easter Dinner. She asks her mom for advice on what to do. Her mother gives her a great recipe, and then reminds her to cut 2 inches off the end of the ham. The daughter asks her mom why she should cut off the end by two inches. The mom explains that this is what her own mother taught her to do. "We always do it like that," she tells the younger. "It's the right way to cook the ham." So new wife calls up Grandma to ask why she should cut off the end portion. Grandma explains, "It's the right way to cook the ham, dearie. We've always done it this way." Granny concludes with, "It's how my mother taught me to do it." So, new wife heads over to the nursing home to commune with Great-Grandma about this puzzlement. In between gulps of prune juice from a cup & oxygen from a mask, Great-Grandma simply states; "I had to cut two inches off from the ham because the pan was too short."

TA DA!


And so it is with all of us. We are all products of our environment, culture, family and upbringing. We make assumptions about "Truth" based on a many layered foundation that we rarely think about. A good deal of the time, this "Truth" might not actually be true at all...or at best, partially true or even merely "Functional" and expedient. In fact, even if it is working at the moment, it might be a very short-term "Truth" because it is only relevant to the immediate circumstances.


I'm a Believer. I follow Jesus. More often then not, I'm probably fairly lousy at following him. Still, he is the one I long to be with. I'm guessing that not everyone in on this blog carnival comes from this perspective, but this is my particular world view. So...

I see these "Unconscious Cultural Assumptions" at work in the American church all of the time. In fact, one of my main beefs with the American church is how it has largely been co-opted by the culture at large. "Neo-Paganism" is my own coined term it. (Gotta get that copy written one of these days.) For some odd reason, we seem to think that representative democracy & capitalism are Jesus' preferred & blessed forms of being. They may in fact BE a better form of government than North Korea's, and a better way of creating a decent economy for the society at large. But that hardly makes it biblical. In fact, I will bet you $10 right now that the average American christian only believes this because he/she has never experienced any other form. "We've always done it like this"...ergo; "It's the right thing to do."

My contention is that current American Evangelicalism has been hijacked by secular political forces. (Mostly, but not exclusively, from the Right.) We see a painting of George Washington praying in the snow and we assume that he would sign the statement of faith for students at Bethel University or Northwestern College. We listen to a candidate drop the "Jesus" word in his advertisement and we may begin to think that he/she is god's anointed candidate. (That and the fact that he is not a secret Muslim who was actually born in Kenya.) We make assumptions about this "Christian" country based on "Manifest Destiny" and other types of cultural mythology. And because that worked at the time, we then layer on further assumptions that stand on top of the previous ones. The next thing you know, what ever American stands for Jesus does too...even if the particular issue directly contradicts the bible. The end result is that if you criticize this country, you are somehow less godly or a not a "Christian" at all.

Oddly enough, Jesus was surprisingly silent about ballot initiatives. Nor did he have a great deal to say about Capitalism, Socialism, Collectivism, Mercantilism and so forth. He did, however, say crazy things like; "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matt. 25:40) Also, he did mention on a couple of occasions that when his kingdom was finally established, it was most likely not going to be a democracy, but instead something along the lines of a divine-right, absolute monarchy. (But that could just be my editorializing.)

When I listen to guys like Rev. James Kennedy and Pat Robertson...and Jerry Falwell before them, I often wonder what would happen if they were to be dropped off in a foreign land for an extended period. Would they still even know what a "Christian" was, or how to be one? (I mean, how could one possibly live in Canada and love Jesus?)

There is nothing unique about the American church doing this. Every nation before it that claimed to be a "Christian" nation did the very same things. The same could be said of much of the theology and biblical understandings that are at work in the American church. We take it as given and for granted that whatever position we hold is the right one. Often it is. However, because we are prone to being "Religious," which is a fancy way of saying that we are always trying to earn our grace and be self-righteousness, we often take things way out of context. (I'm big on Context.) We assume they are true because that's what we have grown up with.

I'm neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, but I like to tease hard-core "Calvis" at bit when they get up in arms about their position as being the only proper and obvious one. They will claim that their theology is based on the unchanging, infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God. I like to remind them that Christianity didn't figure that out until the 16th century, and had merrily existed for 1500 years before that. I then like to ask them how people knew they were following Jesus before that if they didn't have the proper "Head Knowledge?" (I usually get some confused looks after that.)

Anyway...

We all have these bags that often need to be unpacked when we talk to each other. Because of these unconscious assumptions we can often be speaking the same language, but mean very different things. I know that I can certainly be a big dope and speak with certainty about issues, not realizing that my sage & wise knowledge is based upon previous experiences that I haven't fully thought through.

When we do things like that...taking things out of context and simply assuming they are true because "that's just whatcha do," all we're really doing is cutting off two inches of the ham for no good reason. (And that's just less really awesome left-over sandwich meat for you, buddy.)



FINALLY.

Anyone who knows my blog, knows that I try to find an appropriate video that will help illustrate each post. In this case I'm running a bit dry. However, since I first ran into Iggy (The guy whose idea this whole thing was) while looking for pictures of the Ramones, this one seems relatively fitting...



Peace

Joe

P.S. The following are links to the others who posted in this blog carnival.







Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Christmas Story...from "Down Under."




I can get fairly cynical about much of what passes for "Christianity" in this country...or "Christianity" in general. There is plenty to be cynical about. The Christmas story is no different. It's routinely misunderstood and misinterpreted. (Call me Scrooge.)

However, every once in a while I stumble across something that I think is brilliant & beautiful...even if the exegesis & theology is not exactly spot on. So, with out further ado, here is "The Christmas Story" as told by The Mom Creative. Much thanks to Jesus Needs New PR. http://www.jesusneedsnewpr.net/




BRILLIANT!!!

Plus, who couldn't love little kids with Aussie accents?

"G'Day"

Joe

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to make me lose my lunch...and respect for you.


"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth...ALL SCRIPTURE is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Tim. 3:15 & 3:16

That was Paul writing to his little buddy, Timmy, as Timmy became the pastor at his local church. Paul is telling Timmy that every bit of Scripture is "God-breathed." Which is a fancy way of saying that whoever happened to be writing at the time was somehow under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Now, let's take a look at the way other writers of the New Testament felt about Paul's writings, shall we. (Unfortunately, for space & time's sake, I have to smoosh all of this next bit together. But feel free to read it all for yourself.)

"First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires (Ain't that the truth!)...So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures, to their own destruction..." 2 Peter 3

Well, it would appear that even before the early church canonized what we now call the New Testament, the other Apostles already recognized that some of them, and certainly Paul, were writing divinely inspired Scripture. Interesting, don't you think?


I've been reading some stuff as of late, and hearing some things from others, that really tends to make me sick to my stomach. It's by people who call themselves Believers, and yet they complain & equivocate about what's in the bible. In particular, Paul seems to be everyone's favorite whipping boy. "That Paul was messed up," they'll say. Or, they will complain; "I don't like what he had to say about X,Y & Z." It's always something along these lines.

For the record, I am not talking about legitimate arguments and debates about actual theological issues. Those arguments are for the people who actually DO take the WHOLE bible seriously. Nor am I talking about wether or not someone is reading the bible in or out of a particular portion's context. I'm talking about wether or not you actually take the bible seriously at all, or wether you are just picking & choosing which bits seem convenient for you on any given day.

I get really frustrated by Fundies...and for lack of a better term; "Word-for-word Literalist, Far-Conservative" people, who treat the bible like a chunk of dead wood with which to bash others. They often dismember & dissect the bible like an object on a lab table. Then they cherry pick the verses that make themselves feel self-righteous.

But that's not what makes me lose my lunch and my respect for someone.

I get the most upset with the liberal "What-Everists," who look down at the bible as simply a man-made work, that can then have portions discarded when they become uncomfortable. A few days ago, I listened to a very influential idiot refer to the bible as "Holy Scripture," but then immediately turned around and spoke of how it was simply a man-constructed work, and that anything that was not to his liking should be ignored...because what ever those portions might be were simply the words of men.

I wanted to ask him why, in any way, shape or form, he then thought there was anything "Holy" about the supposed "Scriptures" he was reading.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend who I care deeply about. When we got close to talking about how one might wish to live a life pleasing to Jesus, he immediately jumped on to a very familiar bandwagon. He simply dismissed parts of the New Testament because they had been written by Paul. And as we all know, "Paul was messed up." (I lost a tremendous amount of respect for him at that moment.)

It was nothing I haven't heard before. However, what I would like to point out is that just because Paul...or Peter, Luke, Isaiah, Moses, John or Micah, was holding the pen, quill, chisel at the moment, don't blame them for what they wrote. Blame God. Yes, blame God for the parts you don't like. In fact, the next time someone whines about what they don't like about the bible, a better and more accurate complaint would be to say; "That Holy Spirit is messed up," OR "That breath of God needs some mouth wash." Because the blame for passages you don't happen to like land squarely at God's feet.

Agnostics, "Skeptics" and Atheists are one thing. They can poo-poo the bible all they want. That is their right. However, if you really and truly DO want to follow Jesus, then you have to take the bible seriously...because HE DID. (And please do not give me some stupid excuse along the lines of agreeing to take it serious only & up the book of Acts.)

The overwhelming amount of the time when I hear people whining about what's in the bible has to do with behavior and personal piety. We love the bits about how "God is love," and that he is willing to forgive anyone who asks. We can't get enough of those parts.

But then we come to the parts about how we are to be living sacrifices to Jesus. How Jesus expects us to be disciplined, and not hedonistic, in honor of him. We don't like those ones at all. "You mean I can't get drunk when ever I want? I have to love the unlovable? I have to keep my pants on? I can't drool over and reduce another human created in the image of God to an object of my lust?"

And then I'll hear; "But that's not fair. I was born this way! I was born loving to booze it up. I was born greedy for money & material objects. I was born wanting to get stoned. I was born horny for women, men, sheep, goats and all-of-the-above. It's not natural to be committed to only one person because I was born selfish. Science proves it!"

Buzzzzzzzzz! WRONG! You were born with a sinful nature! That's what science proves!

You don't have to like those passages. But don't pretend they are not there, or that they should not be taken seriously. Exactly how much disrespect do you want to show to Jesus? If you decide to pick & choose which parts of the bible are convenient for you, be sure to throw out the ones about Jesus becoming sin for us and volunteering his life as a ransom on that cross while you are at it.

Also, while you are at it, stop calling yourself a Christian. As much as I dislike that label because of all the negative baggage it now carries, it still essentially means "One who follows Christ." So if you are one that chooses to ignore the parts of Scripture you don't like, because they actually require you to give back to Jesus in honor of everything he did for you, start saying something like, "Well, I'm a little "Chri-Curious" on the weekends sometimes."



Quite often, the bible can drive me nuts. The fact is that there are plenty of portions of Scripture that I can't explain. I certainly know that we are prone to take things out of context. However, when you look at the big picture, and DO make an attempt to read it all in context, there is more than enough to satisfy the soul of a Believer. In fact, quite often I will look at some of the more tricky parts of Scripture and think that it must be more than man-made. Why? Because if it were all a man-made creation, those writers would have done some very serous editorializing to clean it up.

Every single "Hero" in the bible was messed up with major character flaws. In fact, one good argument for banning the bible from schools is that the book should be rated NC-17. (Try reading the "Song of Solomon" if you don't believe me.) There is rape, murder, incest, revenge, polygamy, lying, deceit, betrayal, and so on & on. In fact, the only "Good Guy" in the bible would appear to be God, who ultimately reveals himself in that crazy, homeless rabbi named Jesus. That crazy rabbi goes on to love those deceitful, cowardly, scum-bag followers of his so much that he gives his life away for them.

The fact is that the bible is brutally honest & blunt about the human condition, the sinful nature at work in all of us, and how a very, very holy God deals with all of it...and sometimes it is not all that pretty. However it is that very honestly that causes me to believe.


He was writing about the Scripture verses he sees people posting on Facebook. They are always cheery, pick-me-up style verses. He said that was great, and people should keep it up. But he wondered why people never posted the freaky verses from the bible...of which there are legion. But that made him think...

"The Bible is filled with verses you never see in those daily calendars with a Bible verse each day in it. Or on Christian coffee cups or t-shirts or memory verse cards. There are hundreds of very strange sounding, weird, sex descriptive, bizarre and even violent verses in the Bible. It shouldn't be a surprise as life is filled with weird, bizarre and all kinds of unusual things. The Bible captures life at different time periods in history and I love the honesty of the Bible. That is one of the things when I first was studying the Bible I was impressed with and made me have more confidence in it's inspiration. If it was soley a human document, we probably would have cleaned up all the stories to have nice endings and removed the weird sounding things. But I believe God gave us an accurate record of what was happening and left in the happy, encouraging parts as well as the bizarre, weird and not so happy ending parts."

I agree with him. The bible IS accurate in so far as what God chose to reveal to people, through people, about himself and this world in particular places, times and events. Just because parts of it make me, you or anyone else uncomfortable does not give you the right to ignore it or throw it out. If you do, you are not being faithful. Nor are you getting an accurate picture. Do not "Cherry Pick" the verses you like to beat people up. But then again, do not "Cherry Pick" the verses you do not like and throw them out just so you can go on with what ever suits you.


One thing I have seen over and over again...and I am often very guilty of this too. We love the idea of Jesus as our savior, but we very often HATE the idea of him as our Lord. We desperately want that "Get out of Hell" ticket. But the idea of submitting our lives to Jesus after that? Well...

It's just a thought



I'll end this post with a video of N.T. Wright. He has a very thoughtful approach to Scripture that I find very wise. Because of our sinful nature, we will often look at Scripture through our "Religious" eyeballs and come away with all sorts of bad ideas & theologies...wether it's "Dead wood," conservative, fundamentalist nonsense, or watered down, liberal, "What-Everist" nonsense. I think Wright hits just the right tone. (No pun intended.)


Peace

Joe

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For Phil


"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear....Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?...For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matt. 6:25-34


So the other night I was having a discussion with a friend named Phil. He is a very cool guy who in many respects is wise beyond his years. However, I can out-fish him any day of the week. Despite his fishing weaknesses, his faith is genuine & strong, and I enjoy watching what the Living God is doing in his life. I also miss the fact that I don't get to talk to him on a regular basis.

We were talking about politics & religion. (Yea & verily, they of the dangerous mix.) He tends to be a bit of a Ron Paul supporter. I like a few of Paul's ideas, but think he doesn't stand a snowball's chance. I also tend to think it's kind of funny how so many people look to him, and yet somehow instinctively understand that Ron Paul is essentially Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

My friend worries about the world's economy and how it seems to be falling apart. He doesn't see much hope for this world or this nation in the long term. I tend to agree with him. So we both worry...a lot.

I'm really good at worrying. I rarely even realize I'm doing it. It can manifest itself at strange times and in strange situations. Yet, at the same time, I worry a whole lot less then I used to.

I told my friend a true story about myself and how I learned to worry a little less. Here is that story in a short form:

Many years ago I had what I term an "Anxiety Breakdown." Nervous breakdown would also work, I suppose. But this pretty much had to do with all of my pent up anxieties, so...

I ended up on the therapist's couch for a quite a while. It was an interesting experience. In fact, I enjoyed the first breakdown so much that I had another one about 6 months into therapy. (Who wouldn't enjoy a complete break from emotional stability, a semi-public self-humiliation?) Like I said, it was an interesting experience.

Anyhoo, I told my friend about the moment that God began to heal me. (He's still working on that. I'm quite the mess.) I remember that I was sitting in my favorite chair at home one morning. Naturally, I had stuff stewing in my mind about all of my stupidity, past, present and all my potential future stupidities. I worried.

I also happened to be reading through "The Lord of the Rings" at the time. I remember very clearly what happened. As I was going through the book and I came across the part where Frodo was lamenting to Gandalf about every having been given that evil ring, and all of the trouble that it was going to cause. And Gandalf said something very interesting to Frodo in response...


The film changed the setting of this quote, but you get the idea.

I remember sitting there reading and re-reading that section. Then I reached over to my bible and opened it to Matthew 6. (Anyone who misses all of the obvious Christian metaphors & allegory in Tolkien's story is clearly not paying attention.) I read what Jesus had to say about the subject of worrying, and it all just began to wash over me like a warm wave. And that is also the moment that God began to clean up my goofed up mind.


It's not that people should NOT be concerned about daily events and planning for their futures. But where are we placing those concerns? Are we so caught up with making sure that our lives are safe & secure that we miss out on the adventure that God has for us? Are we making the mistake of, once again, trying to BE God, and working to control all aspects of our lives? Or are we placing those cares on him in trust and humility, knowing that ultimately he is in control?



Americans are looking for a new messiah to rescue us from the last messiah we put into the Presidency. I remember how the Left had icons of Obama made with the word "Hope" written on the bottom of it. He would be the promised one who would rescue us from the evils of the Bush administration. Plenty of hopes & dreams were placed on the new President. Hopes & dreams that no man could possibly fulfill. Now, the Right is doing the same thing...with the same religious fervor...if not more so, considering how "Neo-Paganized" the Right has become. (Looking at the choices that the Republicans are offering makes me wonder why anyone would vote for a cartoon character. But, hey...)

Americans worry. Americans place their hopes in their fallible and VERY human candidates. Americans, like other humans, never seem to learn that their trust should not be in other humans, their institutions, economic & political ideas, or the "Isms" of this world.



So tonight at the men's bible study, Shorty (I don't even know his real name) was talking about his trust in God. Shorty is a very interesting & likable guy. His joy tends to be infectious. If it were someone else, I might not believe it when he says that he has learned how to give over almost everything to God. I believe Shorty. I want to be more like him. Shorty has a very healthy, child-like trust in Jesus.


Jesus put things into perspective to his listeners. The Father is not as dim as we tend to treat him. He knows what our needs are. In fact, he knows them better than we do. If we would stop worrying so much and simply trust him, things could be very different. God will give us our needs when we place them in his hands.

I have seen people completely yank those verses from Matthew 6 out of context. The idiots who spout that "Health & Wealth" apostasy will tell you that if you come to Jesus, he will make you a millionaire. "Jesus said that God will give you the desires of your heart. This means that if you desire a mercedes, God will give you one." I've really heard them say that. It certainly demonstrates where the heart of someone who says such things truly is.

Jesus said, right before telling his followers not to worry so much; "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I would ask those people who teach the above mentioned nonsense the same thing I need to ask myself regularly; "So where is your heart really at?"



Over the last few months, YHWH has been revealing to me just how faithful he has been. During that time, I worried a lot. I still worry. However, God has shown how faithful he has been to me even when I did not see it, and was not always faithful to him. He is always faithful. That way, he gets all the credit. And that is as it should be.

Currently, I am trying to learn to "Wait in Anticipation" on the Lord. This is not an easy task for me. You may have noticed, I like to worry. (Perhaps it's a hobby.) Still, I am eager to learn how to do this. It's weird, scary and exciting all at the same time. Last year, a short-term teaching job came to me completely out of the blue. I wasn't looking that direction, nor would I have seen it coming in a hundred years. Yet there it was, dropped right in my lap.

God got all of the credit.

At the moment I have very few options other than to trust the Father...or to worry a lot.

God knows what I need. I have little faith in politicians. I have even less faith in the institutions of man. This world is a mess, and it ain't getting any better...and there is very little I can do about any of it.

God has slowly, but surely, been teaching me to seek his kingdom first, and that all will truly be well. I would like to say that this lesson is complete, and that I now have the faith of Shorty. But I don't, and the lesson is not over yet. Still, in it's own freaky way, it is exciting. I sit. I wait in anticipation. I can honestly say that in my own VERY imperfect and wiggly, squirmy way, that I am anticipating that YHWH my God will do a work that will bring him all the credit & glory...and blow my freakin' mind in the process.

Where else would it be wise to place my hope?




Peace

Joe

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"The Advent of Justin Bieber"...as a Chewy Toy, Redux



I rarely post anything on here that is deadly serious or does not have a bit of "Tongue in Cheek" to it. And not every post needs to be blatantly about Christianity. Hence, this particular one.


So last year I bought my awesome dog a very special chewy toy. Before I gave it to her, I decided to have a little fun...because I have no life. Perhaps it would make a delightful children's book. I dunno. You tell me.

So without further ado, I now present an updated version "The Advent of Justin Bieber."

.....................................





Little Bieber had a new home, and he was very, very happy. "I'mma tell you one time. Please take me out of this package so I can play with you," said he.
















"I will help you decorate your house for Christmas," said little Bieber as he put on his awesome blue kicks.


















So little Bieber climbed the ladder to put up the big, green light above the garage. "This is difficult for me because I am so tiny," said he.













After he installed the pretty light, little Bieber put the top back on the lamp. He thought to himself, "There will now be one less lonely lamp."





















Oops! Little Bieber slipped off the light and missed the ladder. "Baby, baby, NO!" cried little Bieber.










Little Bieber was in a pickle. Because he was such a tiny, little midget, he could not get back to the ladder. "I know I said I will never let you go, but I must do so and jump to the pavement from here," spoke the Biebs.















Oops! Poor little Bieber fell right onto the mouse traps that mean old Joey had strewn about the garage floor. "Ow, ow, ow!" squealed little Bieber. "I will never make it to puberty at this rate."



















Little Bieber freed himself from the mouse traps and sulked back into the house. "I need an Usher to open these doors for me," said the Biebs.
















Little Bieber was very sad as he climbed the stairs.






















Little Bieber sat at the top of the stairs and cried. "Boo-Hoo," he sniffed. "I only wanted to help make Christmas special before the dog starts chewing on me."





















Then along came Smeagol who asked, "What's Christmas, Precious?!?!"





Little Bieber said, "It's when Jesus gave birth to Santa in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It's a tradition to go deep into debt to buy items that will be quickly forgotten, and give them to people that you often can barely tolerate in a vain attempt to win their affection."







"Okie dokie," said Smeagol to little Bieber. "I will give you this microphone as a present. Then you can sing to me for my present."




















Little Bieber went into the bathroom and cleaned himself up for his big performance for Smeagol. "Now I will be one less lonely girl," said little Bieber.
















So little Bieber sang and sang and sang all night long. Mostly he covered ballads by Marty Robbins and Hank Williams, but also a few by Foster the People, Adele and the Dead Kennedys.
















Smeagol was mildly disappointed that little Bieber did not sing the "Flower Duet" from Delibes' opera Lakme. However, he thoroughly enjoyed the fan magazine that he purchased at the concession stand. "My precious!" said Smeagol as he perused the weighty tome of literature.













Little Bieber's performance at the Bloomington "Fish" Bowl was a big success. (The guppies were very happy too.)














After the show, Smeagol helped little Bieber put up a Christmas tree. "This will be the best Christmas EVER!" squealed little Bieber in his exceptionally girlish voice.














"I am glad that we are friends," said Smeagol to little Bieber. "I have another friend in Mordor that I would like you to meet."






"Oh BOY! This really IS the best Christmas ever," said little Bieber as they both walked off together, hand in hand, to the Black Gate.






And may all your Christmases be just as merry and Bieber-licious!

THE END

..........................

N-E-Way. If anyone is curious as to what became of little Bieber, the following photos should lay those questions to rest.



<--- That would be Rika, the Wonder Dog, to the left. Clearly she is anticipating a delightfully good chew on her new toy. Justin would be the the one on the right with the confused expression on his face.










For the record, little Bieber only lasted about 3 days. I guess there was just something about his hair that was irresistible.












Peace

Joe

P.S. As an added bonus...



Ya gotta love how he color coordinates his shoes with his gloves. Gotta get me some kicks like that.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Neo-Pagan America Part 2.



<--- America's most favorite and "Bestie" of gods.

"...And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, "If you are returning to YHWH with all your hearts, then rid yourself of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourself to YHWH and serve him only..." 1 Sam. 7:3

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. --- No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Matt. 6:19-24

"Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Acts 2:40


And with that, I have a question in the form of a video for you from one of my favorite heretics...


That's a really good question, and far deeper than many would suppose.



<--- Do we? Oh yes, yes we do trust in God. America trusts it's God completely. (Although, for the past many years our god has been making us a bit nervous.)

Actually, a better question might be "Which god do we trust?" Or even "Which godS?" Because in many respects, while America thinks of itself as believing in only one god, in practice, we have numerous gods that we bow down to.


Back in the days of ancient Israel, the people were tempted to follow numerous gods other than the one who had rescued them from Egypt. While there were many to choose from, there were three major ones that stood out. And the best part is, all three of them are still with us today!!! Let's take a look at them, shall we?

BTW: You can look up pictures of these ancient gods with a simple Google search. But to save you time & frustration, I was able to find updated versions of these gods in contemporary fashion. This will help to explain the following...

BA'AL: The "Hipster god." (Formally know as the Emo & Scene Kid god.) Back in the 70s, he was the god of Disco and gold medallion necklaces the size of dinner plates.

The trendiest of gods, Ba'al was perhaps the most popular of gods in and around ancient Palestine. If you wanted to be cool like the other kids, he was the one you would bow down to. Oddly enough, the worship of Ba'al generally required ritual cutting & blood letting to arouse him from his slumber. This was not unlike the modern tendency of Emos to cut themselves to show that no one understands them but their little sister's pants. OR, the wearing of jeans so skinny by Hipsters that blood flow is restricted to that awesome "Pube"-stache that is blooming upon the upper lip. To quote the prophet Frank Zappa on this matter; "Beauty knows no pain." (To be honest, I'll take the skinny jeans over the nasty, sagging, "I dumped in my pants" ones that I still see too often.)

Suffice it to say, if you wanted to "Prosper" in the coolness and popularity department, Ba'al was the god for you, and unto him wouldst thou make thy sacrifices.


ASHERA: The "Sex goddess." (Formerly known as Mae West, Madonna and Brittany.) Ashera has male versions too, as seen in Ron Jeremy, Frat Boys and Wavey Davey.

Need a good old fashioned "Fertility Cult" to make sure your crops do well, and you find sexual hedonism a great lifestyle? Ashera is the one for you! She happens to be married to Ba'al. But not to fret, they apparently have quite the "Open Marriage." Just head on down to the local temple, and the seeds you sow there will surely result in much success in life.

Can't find a proper temple? Never fear. Just find the nearest "High Place." It will most likely have a handy and LARGE Ashera Poll protruding skyward from it.

I won't bother to explain the religious & cultural significance of an Ashera Poll because to be blunt, it's rather NC-17 rated...worse, actually. (Who said the Bible was dull & boring?) Suffice it to say that you can still find smaller & more portable versions of them today in certain store that cater to Adults-Only.


Back in the day, the priests and temple prostitutes of both Ba'al and Ashera could be spotted by the various tattoos and B.C.-style mohawk haircuts they had. Hence, YHWH's prohibition in Leviticus 19 against acting like or resembling those dirty, little tramps. (Lev. 19:27-29 in particular.) It was the ancient equivalent of God/Your Parent saying; "Listen kid, no child of mine is going out dressed like that!!!"


And finally...

Molech/Chemosh: The "Free-Market/Business god" (Also known as Wall Street, Modern Economics, Ayn Rand and "Black Friday.") Oddly enough, Socialism falls equally comfortably into this slot too, as you will see...

Is your butt too big to fit into skinny jeans, your not all that into the latest trends, prefer to keep your clothes on, but still want to be a success...especially in business? Molech is the god for you!

Molech was a bit more of an Urban god. He could care less about trends, because he knows that he is the one that develops and markets those very trends to unsuspecting twits. "The business of Molech IS business," as one of his prophets, Calvin Coolidge, said. Nothing is more important than your work, NOTHING! Which is why, back in the day, worshippers of Molech would sacrifice their children to him.

In today's world, we do not have a formal alter where we can place our offspring to be burned in the fire of Molech. However, we do have shopping malls where we can send them to get them out of our hair so we can concentrate on more important things. In the last few years, we have even invented a new way to sacrifice our families. It's called the "Black Friday Midnight Special." Who needs quality time around the Thanksgiving table with relatives when you can stand in the cold for hours outside of Best Buy so as to acquire the latest gadget at a discount for moth & rust to destroy, and for thieves to break in and steal?


Oddly enough, I read a great article in the Star/Tribune yesterday from someone who is not a Believer. It's about the dangers of the whole mindset of Black Friday and conspicuous consumption AND it's affect on the workers who have to suffer through all of it. Take a gander when you get a chance. http://www.startribune.com/opinion/otherviews/134640288.html


If getting your job done, be it for a private enterprise, the military or the government seems to come first for you, then you ARE worshipping Molech. Don't give me lip service about how important your family is. PROOVE IT! I could tell story after story of various students from the affluent school I taught at whose parents sacrificed them on a regular basis for their careers. (Handing a kid a wad of cash is NOT how you show them love, and certainly is no substitute to actually "Being there" for them.)



In my last post, I took to task those who unwittingly worship America...this supposedly "Christian" country. (A great & richly blessed country, but NOT the "Kingdom of Heaven"...despite what Pat Robertson & Jerry Falwell think.) I referred to it as Neo-Paganism. I.e. Where Jesus gets tied & glued to secular man-made institutions, and the Gospel then loses it's power to transform...unless it's through the candidate you vote for.


Well, if mistaking the U.S. for God's favorite, unblemished city on a hill is Neo-Paganism, today's offering is merely good old fashioned, straight-up paganism. And it's been with us since humanity first began to go astray. We might not realize that we are worshipping false gods, but in practice we are.

Let's be honest, your religion is what ever is most important to you. Your god or gods are the idols you chase after, wether it's your career, your popularity, your sexuality, your acquisition of material things, what ever. Those are indeed your gods. And this nation is chock full of all sorts of pagan gods.

I am guilty of worshipping a couple of different gods. My favorite god is myself. (That goes back to Gen. 3) But I often have a few others. Far, far too often, I will put Jesus on a shelf, or over on the sofa, and just run off to worship another god. All Believers struggle with this if we are honest with ourselves.

I actually have a friend (Hard to believe, I know.) who even has his own version of the Trinity. He is his own "Father." "The Son" in his penis. The "Holy Spirit" is his sexual identity. I've observed him long enough to notice that his personal trinity is much more central and important to him than the actual one. Jesus is fine, as long as he doesn't get in the way.

We all do this from time to time. We do, and I'm as guilty as the next. So, perhaps a distinguishing question would be "Do we recognize this?" Do we realize when we are chasing after false gods? Those outside of Christ are in trouble because they have no gods but the ones they create. Believers are in trouble because we are often so unfaithful to Jesus by following lesser gods from time to time.

I highly doubt that YHWH is as dim as we often treat him. He understands the temptations that are out there. That's why he offers forgiveness so freely. But you can't actually ask for that forgiveness if you don't truly recognize the problem.

This nation and culture is as thoroughly pagan as every other Kingdom of Man that has been and will be. Every one of us is confronted on a daily basis with the opportunity to worship other gods, and we quite often do. Don't pretend that because you vote a certain way, only shop at "Christian" stores and have a Jesus-fish on your bumper that this is not the case.

Perhaps it's time to follow Peter's warning from his own time and repent and "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."



This next portion should be a treat for people. I'll bet most readers would never think that I would actually include a post that began with Rob Bell and ends with both Mark Driscoll & John Piper.

The fact of the matter is that while Piper & Driscoll often drive me crazy with their emphasis on Calvin's doctrines above all else...along with other issues I have with them, that should never mean that I do not see eye-to-eye with them in other areas. In this instance, I COMPLETELY agree with them. (Hey, they ARE my christian brothers first and foremost!) Besides, I think it's ridiculous to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So first up is Mark "Drizzy" Driscoll with an outsider's observation on modern American culture. Frankly, I think it's not only insightful, but also absolutely brilliant.



And to finish up, good ol' J.P.




"Th-th-the, th-th-the, th-that's US, folks!"


Peace

Joe