The Gospel of the Lord

Romans 5:7-8

7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Perhaps the most beautiful summary of the gospel in the whole of the New Testament.

What is a righteous man? He is a man who follows the rules; the jot and tittle of the law but who is motivated by his own interests. By the standard of the law he is righteous.

A good man, on the other hand, is a man who lives from the heart with love and empathy for others. One who truly cares.

No one really would give up their life for a righteous man. He has done nothing for them. He may be self righteous, arrogant, smug. But he follows the rules. He does nothing really to commend himself to others.

But conceivably, someone might give up their life for a good man. The good man has given of himself to them and in gratitude, one might be willing to die on his behalf.

But Jesus, to show the love of God for all mankind, gave up his life for us while we were neither righteous nor good. Remember, the Epistle to the Romans was written to the Jews living in Rome; those who had converted to Christianity. The context then is the Jewish system of the law. Paul is not suggesting that the law and the consequences for violating it are universal truths. He’s speaking in a parable the Jewish Christians would understand.

In Jewish terms, all who violate the law in any way are guilty of violating the whole law. They are unrighteous. Sinners.

The simple point being that mankind is not in communion with God. By nature, we are self seeking and do not seek after God nor the things of God. But Jesus demonstrated the love of God by giving up his life to the rabble and status quo of the day. His example of self sacrificing love, given for us who did not know God, points the way forward for all humanity. We were alienated from God but God drew near to us, in Jesus, and draws us to himself. He calls us friends, even when we don’t believe, or when we live lives not worthy of his love. He died for us because he considers us friends.

To me, this is the core of the gospel. God giving us himself and all the glory that goes with that when we were blindly groping in darkness. The darkness of depression, abuse, ignorance, pride, self righteousness, hate, unbridled lusts, etc. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And who is in Christ Jesus? The whole human race.

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Deep in the Shadows

This is about sleep paralysis.

Sometimes, late at night, I hear things. Evil things. The howl of ghosts and the silent screams of shadow people. Out of the abyss they come carrying their abominable burdens. Chains and locks of bondage that weigh them down to the netherworld.

As I lay paralyzed, my heart pounds and my mouth moves to scream, but I have no voice. I see them standing at the foot of my bed, darker than the midnight. A shadow of nothingness. A hole in the dark.

But their evil is palpable. Like eyes of malevolence, they gaze on me, unmoving. I imagine they are grinning with perverse delight at my terror. I feel the weight of evil as it falls on me like a metal door or a slab of marble for a tomb.

Whether in dream or vision or reality, I do not know, but the force of their presence is such, that it cannot be forgotten and changes me. This is a night mare. Steed of evil, bearing tidings of horror and abandonment to death. The shadows, darker than darkness, creep and cover me, trying to impose upon my very soul; to bind it with their chains and drag it down to hell.

Cold as ice, the blood runs in my veins. My heart pounds in my ears and every breath I take is a gasp as though the air were thin. I am mute with terror and despair fills my very being.

And, then, suddenly, it is dawn and darkness gives way to light. The shadows disappear and I sleep

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.

A Few Things About Globalization 

It’s one of those days when I want to say something but have not yet gelled my thoughts enough to get it out. So, I’m just going to blabber a bit and hope to say something worthwhile.
Without touching on any specifics about politics, I’d like to say something about the political climate and general feeling of hopelessness and fatigue many of us are experiencing. 
While it may seem trivial, we now live in the 21st century. Not only was this an historical milestone for the books, but it was a generational climax for those born as children to the baby boomers. Most of us counted the years down in anticipation of the new millennium and dreamed countless hours about what life would be like for us in the year 2000. It was as though the “future” were just around the corner and we would live to see it and perhaps even influence and share in it. 
The turn of the century marked a real, tangible break from the old, dated, and tired Western culture with the rediscovery of the broader world and the influx of cultures. The possibility of a united world was made all the more real by the world wide web and the interconnectedness of communication across the globe. While the roots of these technologies lie in the 20th century, their fruitfulness rests in the 21st and beyond. 
Globalization is the enemy of nationalism; its arch-nemesis. Yet to many of Generation X and their offspring, globalization is an absolute inevitability. It’s cliche’, but old ways die hard. The current subculture of nationalism, fascism, nazisim, etc, is the direct result of revolt against globalization. It is the remnants of the 20th century attempting to reassert it’s meaning and value into today and wrest back or at least slow down the impending globalization of culture and politics. 
It takes on the forms of religion and patriotism but is actually, simply, fear of the future and the unknown. The shells of religion and patriotism give it a sense of self viability, but to any with eye to see and ears to hear, it’s “clarion call” is empty of anything but promises that cannot and will not be kept. The exposure of the emperor as naked is happening before our eyes. The hypocrisy of the past, namely misogyny, racism, sexism, and every form of prejudice and discrimination, are becoming so blatant that it’s hard not to laugh. 
There are those who will blame religion or patriotism. But those are merely the conduits through which these forces have chosen to flow. After they are finally dead and gone, religion and patriotism will remain; rejuvenated and transformed. 
In my opinion, not only is globalization inevitable, it is desirable. Without it we cannot solve many of the worlds problems such as hunger, poverty, ecological issues and global warming. 
That said, there are also those who would force globalization on a not yet ready public. While we should work for and toward globalization, to force it on a public that does not want it would be disastrous. Slowly but surly is the best method and the only one that will work. It is not without reason that many have had the foresight to write in literature and cinema about future civilization rising from the *ashes* of the old. I am reminded of the novel “A Canticle for Leibowitz” in which the author explored the unending lust of humanity for self destruction. I pray his assessment is wrong and that we have within us, not only to survive, but to thrive in the future without destroying ourselves. 
Finally, let me say that whatever happens in this election is not the end. For those who despair, the fate of the United States of America is not a signal to the end of the world. Yes, America is Great, but she is not immortal. One day she will die, hopefully to rise again just as the other ancient countries and civilizations have done for millennia. Vote your conscience and go about living your life. Change what you can and hope for the best for yourselves and your children, but do not despair if things don’t go your way. You are but a particle of dust in the winds of history. Your legacy will live through values and ethics you instill in your progeny. When a nation instills great values and ethics into it’s children, then that nation will rise up and be a great nation. Likewise, if those values and ethics are deeply flawed, so will the nation be who follows them.

Trustworthy or Not?

Aside

There once was a man who spent his life in honesty. He was not an intelligent person and didn’t understand much science. He was rather superstitious in his views of the world, but he had personal integrity.

Now, some would argue, that because the man was ignorant and superstitious, he could not be trusted to tell the truth. They would turn his integrity upside down into a terrible vice of dishonesty. Nothing, they would argue, that he says is to be trusted. In fact, only a fool would give him the time of day.

So, let me ask you, the reader, is this fair to the man who lived his life honestly? Granted his errors, but do they trump his overall character of honesty? Is he therefore not a man of integrity?

Suppose your general character were to tell the truth and live according to what you believed. Then, suppose, one day, in weakness you told a lie. The lie was discovered. Does that therefore negate the rest of your life lived in honesty? Are you therefore now 100% dishonest and untrustworthy?

What do you think?

Piety and Me

aristotle-philosopher-for-though-we-love-both-the-truth-and-our-friends-pietyFor most of my adult life, including also my teen years, I have striven to be a pious Christian. Being a questioner by nature, I have always wanted to know exactly what piety is and how to obtain it.

I remember in high school “senior seminar” class, we studied the American puritans, briefly. I recall being impressed with their austerity and conviction and wondered how they arrived at such certainty and willingness to be faithful to their beliefs. I have always been introspective, and this questioning about puritan piety led me to a time of deep reflection. I was filled with doubts about myself, as most teens tend to be, but I also had, unknown at the time to me, clinical depression.

I loved God. I loved the Church. I loved Christianity. I was persuaded in the depths of my soul that it was the true and correct faith and that I should and would live the rest of my life seeking to be as good and loyal and pious a Christian as possible.

But, in the cocktail of emotions that was my inner self, I could not settle down on anything. I was down and sad most of the time. I would try to be good, and fail over and over. Every time I believed I had made some success, I would fall back; all because of my emotional distress over which I had no control. I thought, however, it was my own fault and the fundamentalism I was raised in reinforced this.

In the year after I graduated from high school, I left the Baptist church of my youth, and became Reformed Presbyterian and a Calvinist. Calvinism, with it’s far reaching implications, gave some structure for me to bind up my emotions. I began to read the works of the Puritans and formed my piety after theirs. In doing so, I very nearly destroyed myself. I was wracked with guilt, constantly. I saw myself as a failure as a Christian and a human being. Perversely, Reformed theology lauds such a view of oneself. It is on this pretense that one may “flee to Christ, resting only in him.” And so, I did.

As the years passed and I reached my mid 20’s, I began to realize that I was actually dying inside. The more I worked to be holy and pious, the more reviling I found myself to be. I began to explore Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and discovered a rich trove of spirituality that not only supplemented my Puritan approach, but seemed to correct it…for a while.

I married in 1994 at the age of 24. We had a very Reformed wedding and continued to attend the Presbyterian church of which I was a member. Then, one year into our marriage, we went to seminary. It was a seminary of a conservative denomination in the Episcopal tradition. At first, I was stoked, but as time went on, the pressures of school, work and marriage took a mighty toll on my life. I was literally falling apart at the seams and had no idea what to do about it.

When 2001 and 9/11 happened, I was in a state of major depression. I had spent nearly that entire summer in bed; unable to work or do anything meaningful. My wife and I were fighting every day and in February 2002, she left me. I returned to my parents house as a broken, confused, essentially dying, man. In late 2002 I admitted myself to the hospital for suicidal thoughts and was sent to a mental hospital for a week. There I was diagnosed with major depression and put on medication. I began to feel better. A lot better. I was beginning to see some light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Yet, I was still broken inside. My faith had failed me. My mentors and their promises of happiness if I obeyed the Lord failed me. My orthodoxy failed me. The only things that did not fail me were my parents and a few close friends.

After I was on the meds for several years, I thought I had “dealt” with the underlying issues that were causing my depression. So, under my doctors supervision, I went off the medications. Within six months I was suicidal again and again admitted myself to the hospital. However, this time, I was determined not to come out of the hospital the same person. I made an oath to myself that I would find out the truth about myself, God and the world, and then I would be free. What I didn’t realize, was that by making such a promise to myself, I had already taken the first step in the right direction by acknowledging that the ways of the past had not worked and I needed to separate myself from them.

I began to systematically deconstruct my entire moral and ethical system in my head. I seriously wanted to start over again and I did my best to rid myself of any and all baggage from the past. I realized what I needed was not to be good or follow the rules, but to have someone, like my parents, who loved me unconditionally. I needed a God like that. Not the God of the Puritans who was impossible to approach and only rewarded impossibly difficult to keep rules.

I was nearly 40 by the time I came to myself, as a real person, and decided I would no longer believe anything simply because someone told me, no matter who they were or what esteem I held them in. I determined to find the truth, but this time without so much baggage from Fundamentalism. I largely threw that out the door with it’s narrow piety and legalism.

Now, as I am in my mid 40’s, reaching on toward 50, I still feel the baggage that I have tried to offload. But, the future is much brighter. In the past, I had lived my life in fear of everything, especially hell. But I have made it clear to myself that I will fear nothing because where there is fear, there is not love. Love being the key to happiness.

My piety has greatly changed from my teenage years. I still love God, the church not so much because of the horrendous abuse and evil I have experienced in it. I still want to be holy. I still pray every day. I still seek to do the will of God, but my perspective is very different now. Whereas before, I would be mystified at how to be “good”, I no longer feel the need. Being a Christian is not about right doctrine, tradition, or a specific brand of piety, but about following Jesus. According to St James, “True religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is to visit widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” There is a vast difference between the piety of James and that of most Christian traditions today. Most traditions have lost sight of the simplicity of piety as “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” and myopically focused on the emotional/internal aspect of piety. Feeling right has trumped doing right. In fact, doing right, in these traditions, cannot be pleasing to God unless it is done from a “pure heart” aka: right emotional state. I’ve left that all behind. All that matters to me and God is that widows and orphans and anyone who is oppressed, disenfranchised, marginalized, should be treated with love and respect and dignity as is becoming for a human being. I will stand against injustice wherever I see it.

This is genuine piety. Say your rosary. Do your prostrations. Pray the daily office. Fine. But these are merely peripheral practices that have little if anything to do with piety. If you do not love your neighbor as yourself, you have failed both God and the Gospel. That is the bottom line.

How to Fix the Border Problem

d0dcf869247f0494e7f38adab27e2b241112136037-500x338Christians in the United States of America, are you concerned about our borders? Are you concerned about the de-christianization of America?

I have words for you.

Psalm 146.

It is not the duty of the US government to protect and defend Christianity. There is no official religion of these United States and, indeed, separation of Church and State are written into the warp and woof of who we are as a nation. All religions have a place here under our government, and each has the very same rights and privilege as our own: the free exercise of religion.

Do you want a Christian nation? It will never, indeed cannot, happen under our current Constitution. Do you want people to be Christians? Then start with yourself and begin living like Jesus. Stop your dogmatism. Stop the arrogance. Stop with the superiority complex. Start feeding and caring for the poor. Start loving the outcast, the disenfranchised, the minorities. Start treating all as human beings who bear the dignity of God’s image. Stop telling others how to live. Instead, show them a better way by living it yourself. You cannot legislate religion.

You who depend on the US government to “save” this “christian” nation, go and read Psalm 146. Our hope is in the name of the Lord our God, not in presidents or congressmen/women. God cares not a whit for your concerns about immigration. He does care how you treat those immigrants. You want to recapture our nation for Christ? Be captured by him yourself, first. Ours is not a kingdom of this world. We do not win elections. We do not vote in this kingdom. We do not swear allegiance to any king, emperor, president or prime minister. We belong to Christ! We do not use the government to foster our own ends.

If you want to capture America for Jesus, it must be done one person at a time through our own faithful living out of the gospel. Any other worldly method cannot and will not ever be blessed by God.

Here, for your convenience, is Psalm 146. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. This and this alone is the answer to our problems. America hasn’t failed, Christians have failed to honor their Lord through living holy and righteous lives.

146 Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
3 Do not trust in princes,
In [c]mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to [d]the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
5 How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps [e]faith forever;
7 Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
9 The Lord [f]protects the [g]strangers;
He [h]supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He [i]thwarts the way of the wicked.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Hallelujah!