Loss and Gain

Someone recently asked on Facebook, “Why do some people beat others down to get ahead?”

People do this for two reasons: to get an emotional high and because it works. The survival of the fittest in its most animal expression.

These people are not endowed with, or at the least are suppressing, all that is noble and good that causes the human race to be somehow more than an animal.

To beat down others is to exploit weaknesses for self gain. It is also self destructive, in the end. What is left of such persons, when they have obtained the pinnacle to which they aspired, is little more than a shell of their former humanity. What does it profit to gain the whole world but lose ones own soul? A very apt question we should ask in these present days.

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The joy of Christmas

Dear friends,

A gentle reminder for those of you who celebrate Christmas. After the giving and receiving and eating and joking and fellowship and fun are over, please pause to reflect that the joy you experienced is but a drop in the bucket compared to the good things which are to come.

Remember that the joy of Christmas is Jesus. Not just an ordinary man but the incarnate God Almighty who came to right all wrongs, lift all burdens, heal all wounds, satisfy all hunger and deliver all who are oppressed.

In the words of the Christmas hymn by Christina Rossetti,

“What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part.

What I can I give him, give my heart.”

It is in giving that we receive, in righting wrongs that we are justified, lifting the burdens of others that we are relieved of our own, tending to the sick that we are healed, feeding the hungry that we are fed ourselves, and in delivering the oppressed that we are delivered. Go, and carry the Incarnate God in your hearts and do good in the world.

The Virtue of Honesty

The greatest virtue of all is love. By it the entire cosmos will be changed. Yet there is another virtue that is prerequisite to love, and in that sense, more essential. That virtue is honesty.

Where there is a dishonest heart, Love is at best a mere sentiment and at worst, hypocrisy.

It is essential to be honest both with our neighbors and especially ourselves. Honesty is not mere recitation of fact. That is what the Greeks called truth. Honesty is more subtle. We speak of brute honesty, but that is not always what the virtue of honesty requires.

Honesty is in covenant with love and they temper one another. To speak honestly is both to love truth and to love ones neighbor. Yet, in point of fact, ones neighbor is more important than simple facts. So when we speak, we must first consider our neighbor. What is best for them? How would we wish to be treated if our positions were reversed? The answer to that question is the honest and loving one. We should not speak to our neighbors harm if he is innocent. Nor should we shrink back from justice when it is needed. But in general dealings, we should temper our words with kindness.

Facts are not always kind. But facts are not the measure of honesty. Honesty has an eye to our neighbor’s good. When we speak ill of them with the intent of casting shadow on them, even if we speak only the facts, we are not being honest. Honesty requires that we speak the facts as they are truly in proper relationship to our neighbor. Any other use of facts constitutes dishonesty.

This is called speaking the truth in love; love being that overarching motivation to seek the good of others even to our own loss.

Suppose a man has lived a life of failure. Whether by his own fault or not, he has arrived at a place where he believes the world would be better without him. The pragmatist will look at this man’s life and be hard pressed to disagree with him. Surely, he will reason, this man has been a blight to society and the world would be better off without him in it. Is the pragmatist correct? Perhaps. But though he is factual, he is not honest. Honesty remembers that every one of us has different gifts, abilities, capabilities, capacity for learning, ability to reason, etc… Further, honesty remembers that an individual does not gain his worth from society, but is intrinsically dignified as a human being. Thus in no way can the honest man assent to the judgment of the pragmatist. That failure of a man can be reformed, or taught, and honesty acknowledges this.

Now, this is a mere example not intended to speak to every possible scenario. I simply wish to illustrate that brute facts do not constitute honesty.

Think before you speak. Speak the truth in love. Be honest with yourself and each other.

Science and Faith

A couple of things.

One cannot know with infallible certainty, anything. Science is the only reliable objective method by which we may reach reasonable certainty about ourselves and the universe. Yet that knowledge is continuously challenged, changing, and sometimes upended.

Science is the realm of knowledge.

Theology is the realm of faith or belief. There are no accepted creeds of Christianity that begin “I know…”. They all begin with “I believe…”.

Faith has its own assurances that science cannot speak to. Yet science, unlike faith, is of such objective character, that only a fool rejects its findings. I dare say that we have an ethical, and hence MORAL obligation to accept the *clear* findings of science. The same cannot be said of faith. No one is morally obligated to believe, in spite of what many xtians say.

Faith is rightly understood to be a response to a perceived encounter with the divine. It cannot be subjected to the scientific method and therefore has no objective ethical obligatory requirement.

I speak as a xtian. I do not believe God has dropped a book in our laps that tells us everything we can and should know about him. There are no such books. Neither is there any divine authority on earth to tell us what to believe.

I do believe the cosmos speaks his name, but my experience is no one else’s experience and is probably irrelevant to anyone but me.

The long and short of it is that God may or may not exist. It cannot be proven by any means to the satisfaction of all or even of mankind in general. Therefore, we should get about the business of being better humans rather than trying to belittle those who do or do not believe.

The one thing we DO have in common is our humanity, and I think that is enough to warrant morality and good living.

Sin and the Problem of Natural Evil

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I cannot help but think the problem of sin was not the primary reason for the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the story line goes that mankind fell into sin through Adam and Jesus came to redeem man from it. It’s all pretty transactional. Adam sinned, we inherited the guilt of sin and it’s consequences, Jesus came to deliver us from that and give us new life.

That’s all fine and good, but what about the problem of evil? It just doesn’t work to say that all evil in the world is because of the moral failure or sin of Adam. Nope. I don’t think Adam is to blame for hurricane Maria’s devastation of the Caribbean. Hurricanes aren’t caused by moral failure. They are purely a natural phenomenon; yet they produce tremendous evil and suffering.

Looking at Holy Scripture in the light of modern scientific knowledge, I have arrived at an hypothesis. God created the cosmos in a state of chaos. As Genesis tells us, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) The pattern we see throughout the first chapter of Genesis is of chaos being brought into order. Generally, Christians have concluded that the creative work of God is done and that he simply sustains the creation by his Spirit. I think this is incorrect. It appears to me that the Genesis pattern is the pattern for the whole of history and future of the cosmos. God is not finished creating; he is still bringing order to chaos and hastening the creation to it’s final eschatological end of perfection in order and symmetry.

The Big Bang is how science describes the initial creative event. Evolution is how science describes the rise of life and various life forms. I’m not certain there is a name for the evolution of the cosmos as such, but I believe it is a reality.

I admit,  I may be off the mark here, but it seems to me that primitive history was far more barbarous and “evil” than today’s world. It is now theorized that birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. Consider how brutal the world of the dinosaurs was. Bloody life and death, day in and day out. Yet through a series of events still not fully know, that world has passed away and the descendants of that world are likely the beautiful feathered singers we call birds. The chaos of those days has evolved into an ordered beauty.

This scenario is a microcosm of the whole of history, I think. Sin, as moral failure, only became a reality with the rise of consciousness in humanity. Prior to that there could have been no moral or ethical values. Yet, looking back, we see there was great brutality and evil. It was not a world which was ordered and peaceful. So, when Holy Scripture speaks of “sin”, I think it is this larger, broader perspective that is ultimately in view. Jesus did not come simply to erase our transgressions, but to right all wrong. He came to bring “shalom”: to make things as they should be.

It was in his humble submission to the brutality, the evil of this world, this cosmos, that he entered into death and triumphed over that evil by his resurrection from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus both demonstrates God’s approval of Jesus and his life and work, as well as seals forever the victory of God over the powers of sin and death.

The notion that sin is primarily moral failure fails to address the idea of natural evil. It personalizes sin in the extreme and removes the redemption of God from the cosmos and places it merely on the souls of mankind. The personalization of sin has, at length, brought about a myopic view of the world to the Church. Christians are unable to deal with natural evil without invoking God or Satan as it’s cause. Natural evil is seen as judgment and a culprit is often found to blame it on. Often the culprit is a social minority seen as “sinful” by Christians. Christians fail to remember that judgment begins with the House of God. Only when His house is set in order will he judge the world.

So, to sum up, the word “sin”, in my opinion, should include natural evil. Especially in light of modern scientific discoveries that show us the chaotic brutal past that is our history on this planet. The cosmos is moving towards it’s consummation of perfect order and symmetry as the redemption of Christ plays out in history.

 

The Beastly Priest

Here is a poem I wrote some time ago about a corrupt priest. I think it’s quite fitting to repost it now in light of the Charlottesville terrorist attack by white supremacists.

White people, white CHRISTIANS, wake up! You ignore racism to your own peril. If it’s not being preached against in your pulpit, YOU are the problem and your church is complicit. You don’t want to be complicit. Trust me.

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There once was a priest
who was a little beast
His name was Daniel Brown.
Hellfire and damnation
was what he preached
in the church in the center of town.
Women would swoon
in the warm afternoon
when the heat of the hellfire was hot
Ol’ Daniel would bellow
and scare all his fellows
til repentance they had got.
The little ones cried
and the elderly died
under the hand of the beastly priest.
At judgement I”m sure
he’ll come out like manure
Because he didn’t care in the least.
When the graves open up
and the carrion birds sup
When Armageddon is nigh
Then Father Brown
will stroll into town
to watch all humanity die.
Some call him “Scratch”
others, after a match,
call him Lucifer because of his smell
But the truth, dark and sordid
Is Farther Brown always courted
The devil in his preaching of Hell.
The moral is this
you cannot achieve bliss
by threatening people with fear
For fear leads to dying
and eternal sighing
in the place where nothing is dear.
If you’re going to preach
then season your speech
with mercy and grace and love.
For this is the way
that in the end will pay
with everlasting joy up above.

Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.