Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why Secular Reasons for Marriage Fail

Why get married?  What are the reasons for marriage?

These questions are important in light of the recent debate surrounding homosexual marriage.  Of course, the issue for many revolves around individual rights, but what are those rights based upon?   In the U.S., of course, those rights are the U.S. Constitution, especially the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  So where does marriage fall?  What is the purpose of marriage?

Secular reasoning in this area falls far short.

First, there is, what I call, the biological, evolutionary, social construct model.   Marriage evolved as an institution to provide a safer environment for the care of children.  For the survival of our species, especially since our young take much longer to develop to the point where they can take care of ourselves, a stable environment was needed to ensure this could happen.  Since it took a male and a female to produce offspring, emotional attachments evolved between the two so they would be better able to care for their children long term. 

In our day and age, this raises some problematic issues: what happens if a couple cannot or chooses not to have children?  What happens when children are raised and are on their own?  Is the purpose of marriage then relegated to the trash bin?  In our time and place, this model falls short.

Second, there is, what I call, the emotional satisfaction/fulfillment model.  I define this as individuals entering into a social agreement for mutual companionship which fulfills emotional needs.  As people we need both our individualism AND relationship.  Marriage gives us an avenue to fulfill those relational needs with another person who we enjoy being with and receive a sense of wholeness with.

The problematic issues arise in a couple of areas: 1. What happens when individuals no longer sense fulfillment with the person they are currently married to?  The answer for couples who believe marriage falls within this category is divorce.  We know divorce has devastating effects on people.  More than a few times I have heard people comment, "Divorce is like death, but worse."  The emotional toll is terrible often leading to resentment of another person, resentment of the opposite sex, and emotional barriers which prevent deep friendships/relationships.  And this is if children are not involved.  If there are children, a whole 'nother can of worms is opened. 

Of course, there are amenable divorces, and people are often free, and they do pursue more relationships and marriages.  In fact, a statistic often cited--50% of all marriages end in divorce--is somewhat misleading because quite a few of those divorces are committed by people who have married, divorced, remarried, and divorced again.  Why?  The basis of their marriages is self-fulfillment, and once the sense of this is gone with one individual, it's time to move on to another.

2. What are the limits on such self-fulfillment and emotional satisfaction?  If marriage is simply about self-fulfillment and the need for emotional companionship, why limit such fulfillment to two individuals?  Is there then an argument against polygamy?  Further, is there an argument against an incestuous marriage?  If a two individuals are not going to have children, and a they get a great sense of self-fulfillment in their relationship even though they are closely related, what does it matter?  Prohibitions against polygamy and incest vanish.

Third, there is the economic benefit model to marriage.  When people get married, they enjoy certain legal benefits.  This is all well and good, but again, what are the limits on who and how many persons an individual marries?  If economics drives the reasons to get married, we run into the same issues as number 2 above.  There is no reasonable basis to deny polygamous or incestuous relationships.

Now, if a person is comfortable with polygamy, incest, and higher divorce rates, then the personal/self-fulfillment model and the economic models could be considered decent secular reasons for marriage.  However, if such things are abhorrent--in the case of polygamy and incest or something to be lessened because of the emotional toll it exacts on people and children, then there are no good secular reasons for marriage.

In fact, for people of faith, the reason for marriage runs much deeper, and I have discussed this before here.  Yet, such commentary is often left out of the public debate over marriage.  It is unfortunate, in my estimation, because relegating this debate to only secular arguments leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Stay Rooted

    There is a wonderful little joke I tell myself if I ever get a sudden itch to pursue a doctorate degree.  I also tell the joke whenever someone tells me I should pursue such a venture.  It goes like this:

    The president of a rural congregation decided to call upon several of the members who had stopped attending.  On one of these visits, he met Farmer Joe while Joe was working out in the field.

    “Joe,” the congregation president began, “we’ve missed you in church. You should really come back.”

    “Well,” Joe replied in his slow drawl, “why exactly should I come back to church?”

    The congregation president responded, “Why, Joe, we’ve got a new preacher, and he’s great.”

    “What makes him so great?” Joe asked.

    “Joe, you wouldn’t believe it, but he’s got a B.S., and M.S. and a PhD!” the congregation president said enthusiastically.

    Joe spit onto the ground with disgust, “That settles it.  I ain’t a goin’ to church as long as that guy is there!”

    The congregation president was aghast!  “Why would you say such a thing, Joe?”

    “Well,” came the response, “we all know what B.S. is.  M.S. is just more of the same, and P.H.D. is piled high and deep!”

    Remember what I said last Sunday about laughter.  Believe me, it’s o.k. to laugh, but that’s not really the point, at least this week.  I have a different point, but one that is quite related to this little joke as well as to our second lesson this morning from the book of Colossians.

    For you see, the joke I told has a biting criticism of higher education buried within it–a criticism that goes a bit too far, I admit, because one could think that based upon that joke, I don’t agree with people getting a good, robust education.  Nothing could be further than the truth.  In order to be a pastor, I had to get a master’s degree.  During my educational tenure both at college and in seminary, I learned many, many valuable things–things that I have used throughout my calling to serve as a pastor.

    However, I was also exposed to many, many other ideas and trains of thought.  I was exposed to many, many philosophies and human traditions that were not rooted in Christ–as our second lesson would say.  Some of those philosophies and human traditions were blatantly anti-Christian; anti-Christ; anti-God, and what have you, and exposure to such things does indeed challenge one’s faith.

    Now, on the one hand, there is something very wholesome about having one’s faith challenged.  Whenever your mind is stretched, you are forced to dig down deep and truly reflect upon why you believe what you believe.  You are forced to deal with the very core of yourself and your being.  You are forced to understand yourself and your beliefs by these challenges, and oftentimes, we don’t take the time to allow ourselves to really and truly understand why we believe as we believe.  This is the good part about such education.

    But there is a part which is not as wholesome.  There is a part which causes no small amount of trouble both in the academic setting and in society in general.  We see evidence of this all over the place in our nation today–the seeming need of one group to force its philosophies and beliefs upon another.  And much of this forcing is done within the academic realm.  Unfortunately, many Christians are not well equipped to deal with this.

    I mean, let’s take the example of a teenager who is heading off to college for the first time.  I am going to deal with the reality of teenagers these days, and not the ideal.  For many teens these days do not have a strong understanding of faith.  Most teens these days are not raised to attend Sunday School and church on a regular basis.  Many teens do not understand even the basics of Christian doctrine or the basic Bible stories.  Now, we can pose all sorts of blame for this, but now is not the time.  The problem is a complex one and not likely to be solved by a 10 to 15 minute diatribe given by a country preacher in Cat Spring, TX.  But it is the reality, I can assure you.

    This teenager, who does not have a very strong background in the Christian faith heads off to college.  He decides to take several science classes.  It’s no secret that there are many science professors who are atheistic in their beliefs and practices, and many of them are not afraid to share that perspective in the midst of teaching their classes.  You and I both know the prominence science holds in our society.  You and I know how many times science and reason is hoisted as the pinnacle of knowledge and truth.  Our kids pick up on this quickly–they aren’t dumb at all.  And when a respected professor of science begins articulating the non-existence of God based upon the principles of science and reason, this has a tremendous influence on our teenager–sometimes so influential, he or she drops the faith because it no longer makes sense–or at least makes as much sense as a scientific worldview.

    Now, what happens to our teenager?  Does he ever return to church?  Does he ever give a second thought to the weak Christian faith he once held?  No.  Not a chance.  In fact, there are many voice which will fill his head with the thought that his  faith was actually a limitation upon him and that now he is truly free without his faith!  That’s quite an assertion considering Jesus told us, his followers that if we continue in His Word we are truly His disciples and we will know the Truth and the Truth will set us free!

    The interesting thing of note is that there is an intriguing correlation regarding higher education and belief in God or belief in Christianity.  As one’s education increases, the likelihood of one’s belief decreases.  That’s an important thing for the church to wrestle with since we tend to put a very, very high value on education.  It seems that the church may be defeating itself by encouraging education!  “We all know what B.S. is M.S. is more of the same and P.H.D...”

    Now, once again, with this background in mind, please listen to the words of our second lesson from the book of Colossians, “ 6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”

    The important part of this piece is not necessarily the warning against philosophy and human traditions.  The important part is the emphasis on having one’s life rooted and built up in Christ.  For, you see, there is something quite unspoken in the academic world–that world we generally hope to send our children into.  The unspoken truth about the academic world, the scientific world, the rational world is that this world rests all of its assertions about truth on faith.

    Oh, I know they might quite deny it, but I can assure you, it is true.  There are numerous philosophers who know this quite well.  Even science rests it’s assertions in faith.  For instance, many assume reason is the best method to ascertain the truth.  In fact, they will make the assertion: reason is the best method to ascertain the truth.  Now, I challenge those who make that assertion to prove that assertion by reason.  For those not acquainted with logic, that’s an impossibility due to circular reasoning.  And if one looks at any academic discipline, one finds such unprovable statements.

    What does that mean?  Well, quite simply, it means faith reigns supreme.  It means we have no shame in stating that the very basis of our understanding–the very basis of the way we view the world is the assertion that Jesus is Lord.  At the very root of every human philosophy and tradition is a leap of faith!   The only question is: which one do you want to be rooted in?  I’d argue the one that makes the most sense and forms the best, coherent picture is the one rooted and grounded in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There is no need to be ashamed of this assertion.  Embrace it with joy. Amen. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Richard Dawkins' Sleight of Hand

I can see why Richard Dawkins has won over many disciples in his writing of The God Delusion.  He writes with a certainty usually reserved for religious fanatics, and one thing I have come to know about homo sapiens: we generally crave certainty (unless that certainty clashes against our particular worldview).

Dawkins admits his main argument against the existence of God rests on his Ultimate Boeing 747 argument.  He claims not a single theologian has been able to answer his argument, and they try to skirt around it.

The argument is as follows:

However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. (Kindle Location 1763)

Dawkins' phrasing of the argument is very important here, because he offers a sleight of hand which throws many theologians and others off.  The sleight of hand becomes apparent in the paragraph immediately following the above quote.  Dawkins writes:

The argument from improbability states that complex things could not have come about by chance.  But many people define 'come about by chance' as a synonym for 'come about in the absence of deliberate design.'  Not surprisingly, therefore, they think improbability is evidence for design. (Kindle location1763)

Read those two statements by Dawkins carefully.  Really carefully.

The argument proposed by those of us who look at the universe and its fine tuning; the knowledge that universe came out of nothing; the location of our place in the universe; the location of our solar system within our galaxy, the location of our planet in the solar system; the fact that we have a moon which ran into our planet causing a molten, magnetic core and plate tectonics; the fact that non-living materials produced something living; and thinking entities emerged from non-thinking materials say that such matters could not have arisen by chance or luck.

Here, however, is the problem.  Dawkin's isn't dealing with the theist's argument.  He's dealing with an argument of his own making.

Dawkins' argument basically follows this line of reasoning:

If A=the universe is improbably complex,
And if B=you ascribe the complexity to a designer
Then C=the designer must be more complex than the design.  (That's not necessarily true, but for the sake of argument, let's say Dawkins is correct.)
If C, then, based upon A, the designer is more improbable than A.

In principle, the argument is correct.  But it falls far short of offering a defeater for the theist's argument because it does not contradict the theist's argument at all.  For the theists argument does not rest upon the complexity of the designer.  It rests upon whether or not chance or luck is a viable alternative to a designer, no matter how improbable that designer may seem.

The theists argument follows the following line of reasoning:

If A=the universe is finely tuned for the existence of intelligent life
Then B=there is a reason for this fine tuning.

The question is: what is the reason for this fine tuning?

Is it pure chance or luck?
Is it a given based upon an absurdly large number of alternate universes, and we just happen to be the right one?
Is there a designer who put the thing together?

Theists are willing to explore all of those options and ask, "Which is most reasonable?"

Dawkins actually jumps into two of these options.  At one point, he ascribes such things to luck (Kindle location 2190) --particularly the origin of life.  Yet, when it comes to the origin of the universe and the origin of thinking entities emerging from non-thinking entities, he indulges in the multiverse hypothesis--Kindle location 2263 (It isn't a theory folks.  A theory is testable by observation and measurement.  The multiverse hypothesis is neither and is actually a fanciful, imaginative exercise based solely on statements of belief.)

So, let's actually deal with the probability of the three options presented above.  What is the probability of this, so called, multiverse?  Well, unless we get anything more than the fanciful imagination of some theoretical physicists, the evidence for such a thing is actually zero.  We can't observe such an entity.  We can't measure such and entity.  We can't do experiments to explore and see if such an entity exists.  I think we can rank the multiverse hypothesis right up there with C.S. Lewis' no-see-ums.

What about chance or luck?  Well, this is indeed a possibility.  If so, we are extremely, extremely lucky.  Evidence abounds for the fine tuning of our universe.  Evidence abounds for things which are scientifically impossible--something coming out of nothing (the universe); living entities emerging from non-living materials (the existence of life); and the emergence of thinking beings out of non-thinking materials.  Dawkins estimates that there is a one in a billion chance of life emerging on a given planet.  I am very curious to see where he gets this estimate because given that the building block of life: DNA depends upon certain chemicals lining up in just the right sequence to produce a molecule which is capable of producing life--and those chemicals--according to Dawkins did so on their own--the probability simply has to be much, much lower than one in a billion.  Which leads to a very different conclusion--a conclusion we can actually use Dawkins' own words to find.

To suggest that the original prime mover was complicated enough to indulge in intelligent design, to say nothing of mindreading millions of humans simultaneously, is tantamount to dealing yourself a perfect hand at bridge.  Look around at the world of life, at the Amazon rainforest with its rich interlacement of lianas, bromeliads, roots and flying buttresses; its army of ants and its jaguars, its tapirs and peccaries, treefrogs and parrots.  What you are looking at is the statistical equivalent of a perfect hand of cards (think of all the other ways you could permute the parts, none of which would work)--except that we know how it came about: by the gradualistic crane of natural selection.  (Kindle location 2431)

Dawkins is absolutely correct that as we look at the biological systems, we are seeing a perfect hand of cards, but I would argue, we aren't just seeing one deck.  I would argue, given the entirety of the universe and its components which are geared for life, we are looking at a table in which four perfect hands of bridge are dealt.

if such a thing were to happen to a group of players, they would have to believe one of two things:

1. They were all the luckiest card players to ever exist.


2. Someone stacked the deck.

One of these is more probable than the other--despite the complexity of the one who most probably stacked the deck.

 Dawkins' argument fails and miserably.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Getting Profiled

Yesterday morning, I was profiled.

Yes, believe it or not, in Cat Spring, TX; population 75; after having lived here for nine years, I was still profiled.

I was in the midst of my morning workout, about half-way through my cool down, walking around the block.  A grey, Lexus SUV was driving through the neighborhood.  I recognized the vehicle.  I had seen it numerous times driving by my home.  I nearly always wave at whoever is driving.  Apparently, the driver didn't recognize me.

He slowed down to a crawl as he observed me and my behavior. 

I processed what was going on.  I knew exactly what was going on.

Our paths actually would intersect in just a few moments.  He continued driving very, very slowly toward me.  I kept walking.

I noticed the driver roll down his window--perhaps to get a better look?  As we passed one another, I raised my hand in that friendly gesture called a wave.  I said, "Good morning."

Recognition came to his face then.  He knew who I was.  He returned the greeting, and proceeded merrily on his way.

What would cause him to profile me in such a manner--especially when he had seen me numerous times before?

Well, I wasn't exactly dressed like I normally dress.

You see, when I work out in the morning, I have some general workout attire: shorts, sleeveless shirt, socks and tennis shoes.  However, there are a couple of accessories as well.  I wear a bandanna around my head to stave off the copious amounts of sweat which begin pouring off my forehead.  I also wear a set of black workout gloves as I incorporate push ups into my routine (it's on asphalt which is murder on the bare hands).  I am sure the sight of me walking around in Cat Spring in such a manner is a bit outside the norm.

It obviously was for the driver in the grey SUV, and I don't blame him for profiling me.  He's being neighborly.  He's helping to make sure his community is safe.  He recognizes when things seem a bit out of the ordinary.

And why do you think I reacted in a friendly manner?  Would have it been appropriate for me to address him and say, "What's the deal slowing down and looking at me like that?  You got a problem?"  I surely could have, but what would that have accomplished? 

Cordiality, civility, friendliness, neighborliness.  Important attributes when living in a community together and seeking the greater good.

Just sayin'.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Go Ahead, Laugh

    This morning as I read our Old Testament lesson from the book of Genesis, I was reminded of the following story I once heard:

    Nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday School. 'Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt . When he got to the Red Sea, he had his army engineers build a pontoon bridge while the rear guard held off the approaching Egyptian army.  Once the bridge was assembled, all the people walked across safely. When the Egyptian army started crossing the bridge, Moses radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge.  All the Israelites were saved, and the Egyptian army was completely routed!'

    'Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?' his Mother asked.

    'Well, no, Mom. But, if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!'

    Go ahead and laugh, it’s quite alright to do so.  Many studies have shown that laughter relives stress and helps with the body’s healing process.  It also releases endorphins which make you feel good.  Humor is quite a good thing.  I mean, why do you think Joel Osteen begins every sermon he preaches with a joke?  It gets people feeling good as endorphins surge through their bodies.  Maybe that’s why Otto Reichardt brings me a stack full of jokes every time we have senior service.  We need to laugh.

    Which brings me to the next story.  As a pastor, I’ve been privileged to offer prayers at many, many community functions.  One of the recurring functions I go to is the Austin County Soil and Water Conservation Banquet of Champions.  Philip Shackleford usually emcees the event, and twice, he’s used the podium to pull one on me.  He’s used the same bit twice, but I still think it’s funny.

     Phil began, “One day Pastor Haug was visiting in the homes of his parishioners.
At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door.  Therefore, he took out his card and wrote "Revelation 3:20" on the back of it and stuck it in the door.  Revelation 3:20 begins "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.."

    When the offering was processed the following Sunday, Pastor Haug found that his card had been returned.  The Revelation passage had been scratched out and replaced with  "Genesis 3:10", which reads, "And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."  The room cracked up!

    Unbeknownst to Phil, I had a come-back.  I went up to the podium to pray, but before the prayer, I turned to the audience and said, “My turn.”

    I then proceeded to tell the following story: You know, when I start working in a community, I go around a visit quite a bit, and on another one of those visits, I just so happened to be driving past Phil’s house.  Now, there at his gate was a dead mule, so wanting to be neighborly, I drove up to his house, got out of my car, and knocked on the door.  Phil answered, and I introduced myself.  Then, I said, “I just wanted to tell you there’s a dead mule down by your gate.”

    Phil looked at me and said, “Well, Reverend, I thought it was your job to bury the dead.”

    Without missing a beat, I responded, “Yes sir, it is, but it is also my job to notify the next of kin.”  Pandemonium ensued.

    Go ahead.  Laugh some more.  Laughter is good for the soul.  In fact, I would argue we need much more laughter in our society today.  We need to allow ourselves to have a few deep, resonant belly laughs.  Our society is way, way too serious.  We take things so bloody seriously that our practical jokes are seen as dangerous.  We need humor–it is vital.

    Now, those of you who were listening carefully to our Old Testament lesson might be wondering why I am spending so much time telling you it is o.k. to laugh when laughter seems to be frowned upon in this text about Abraham and Sarah.  I mean, let’s take another moment to look at this passage from Genesis.

    The Lord comes to Abraham to visit, and Abraham busies himself preparing a feast for his guest.  As was custom, they ate and held conversation.  At the appropriate time, the Lord spoke these words to Abraham, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”  Sarah overheard, and she laughed.  Now, let’s take a moment to understand why.

    Scripture tells us that Sarah had ceased to be after the matter of women because she was of advanced age.  Now, I know there are children here this morning, so I won’t go into the exact detail, but let me say this: Sarah was ninety.  Her body had ceased its natural functions which make it possible to have children.  Is the picture clear?  I hope so.  Now, you know why she laughed.  This had to be a joke.  It was impossible for a woman of that age to conceive and have a child.  The body no longer functioned in that manner.  Laughter is possibly the only appropriate response.

    Now, before I go any further, let’s take a moment to examine some of the more humorous things about this faith that we Christians share.  I mean, the idea that a 90 year old woman could conceive and bear a child isn’t the most outlandish things we proclaim–not in the least.

    I mean, stop a moment and think about some of the following claims from scripture and tell me if they aren’t worthy of a good chuckle:

    ●    God appeared in a bush that was burning, but the fire did not consume the bush.  Ever seen such a thing?

    ●    God made the city walls of Jericho fall down because people shouted and trumpets were blown.  Ever seen that happen?

    ●    God made bread appear in the desert on the bare ground.  Have you ever seen food appear out of thin air?

    ●    Elijah called down fire from heaven which ignited a sacrifice which had been drowned in water–and the resulting fire was so hot, it melted the rock.  Has anyone seen a fire like that?

    O.K. let’s turn to the New Testament.  Here are some more whoppers!

    ●    We proclaim that the virgin Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and that Jesus had no earthly father.  That’s not exactly how children get conceived is it?

    ●    We say that Jesus walked on water.  Have you done that?

    ●    We say Jesus fed about 17,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  Ever tried to do
something like that when unexpected guests show up?  Been that successful?

    ●    We say that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried; but that He came back to life.  Ever seen a dead person rise?

    ●    We say that God is the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Three persons; one God.  One God; three persons.  Does that even make sense?  Didn’t think so.

In fact, all of these things are quite laughable.  If we try to understand them from a rational, scientific perspective, we would quite scoff at them and laugh a hearty, belly laugh. 

    But what if...

    What if...

    What if all those things were true.  Just as it came to pass that Sarah indeed conceived and bore a son named Isaac.

    Perhaps it is important to realize laughter is important–as long as we laugh at the right things.  But the promises of God–those are no laughing matter.  Those are real.  Amen.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sick of Racist, Prejudiced, Identity Politics and Theology

This is a follow up on the Justice for Trayvon post from earlier this week.

I listen to a lot of rhetoric--from politics and from theology.

I listen to a lot of the talk about race, racism, and prejudice.

I hear the voices out there talking loudly and clearly about systems which promote racism.

I hear the voices tell me that racism is about prejudice combined with power therefore, minorities who (according to the people arguing) are incapable of racism.  I remember a college professor who spoke these words passionately to proclaim the impossibility of him being racist.  Under my breath I muttered, "No power, huh?  What the hell does he think his grade book represents?"

I hear the voices clamoring and claiming and counter-claiming.  I find it interesting how each particular ethnic "group" finds people to speak for and represent that particular group.

But do you know what "group" I see missing?  (Well, aside from the fact that in the George Zimmerman trial, I heard very little--at least in the national media--from Hispanic groups.)  I don't see much commentary from truly integrated groups.  Groups like my family.

As I said earlier this week, my family is truly integrated.  My two daughters have different skin color than my own.  They are adopted.  My son actually has a skin tone which is a few shades lighter than my own.  He entered our family naturally.  These points will be revisited in a moment.

The systems of which I am a part loves to make distinctions based upon skin color.  When it came to filling out the U.S. Census there were boxes for me to check regarding the ethnicity of my children.  Technically, I should fill out African-American for two and Caucasian for one. 

The church denomination of which I am a part wants me to fill out forms at the end of the year designating what race/ethnicity members of my congregation are.  Based on skin color, I am supposed to designate my two girls as African-American and my son as white.

The nation I am a part of panders in politics to racial groups.  There is talk about winning the "Black vote, the women's vote, the Hispanic vote, the homosexual vote, the male vote, etc. etc."

The church of which I am a part embraces identity theology coached in Liberation theology--Black Theology, Latin American Liberation Theology, Feminist Theology, GLBT Theology, and so on.

The church of which I am a part seeks diversity by starting ethnic congregations: A black church here, a Hispanic church there, an Asian church over there, etc.

I find all of this sickening.  Really.  It actually nauseates me, and then I get angry because I don't want to be nauseous.

You see, being a part of such systems which focus on these distinctions actually causes me quite a bit of cognitive dissonance.  This dissonance comes from the reality of my family versus the reality that the national system and the church system tries to force upon my family.

Let me make this as plain and simple as I possibly can:

Whenever my family and I go out and we meet someone and it comes to introductions, I do not say the following:

This is my black oldest daughter.  This is my black middle daughter.  This is my white son.

Neither do I say this:

This is my adopted oldest daughter.  This is my adopted middle daughter.  This is my natural son.

Honestly, this would be a dumb a$$ way to introduce my family.  Neither is it the way deep down I understand my family to be.  Whenever I introduce people to my family, I say without hesitation, simply:

This is my oldest daughter, Kiera.  This is my middle daughter, Kaylee.  This is my son, Kevin, Jr.

 Sorry to yell, but dammit, this is important I DO NOT MAKE ANY SORT OF DISTINCTION WITHIN MY FAMILY BASED UPON THEIR SKIN COLOR OR WHETHER OR NOT THEY WERE ADOPTED OR NATURAL.  I love my children without any sort of distinction or attention given to their obvious differences.  Families do that, you know.

I mean, do you honestly believe that if God were introducing His children around, He would say, "This are my black children.  These are my white children.  These are my brown children."  Do you think God makes distinctions like this?  (Read Galatians 3:27-28, and you will find the answer.)

And then I run into a society and church culture which wants me to begin making those distinctions.


I refuse.

Go play your identity games.

Go try to make distinctions and divide based upon your fabricated notions of race, prejudice and identity politics and theology.

But don't try to make me play along.  You see, I don't just talk about integration.  I don't just talk theoretically about race being a non-issue.  I live it.  Every day of my life--I live it and love it.  And I will uncompromisingly fight to protect my family from divisive politics and theology whether it is in society or even in the church.  

As I have written before, so I write again.  I remember vividly when asked by a congregation member who has now passed on, "I don't understand why you didn't adopt within your own culture."

Without hesitation, I said, "God doesn't care about such matters.  Neither do I."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Hardest Sermon: Published

Luke 6: 32-38

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

    I think perhaps, this is one of the most difficult sermons I have ever had to deliver.  You may wonder why.

    This may come as a shock to some.  Those closest to Chris know this; most of you probably do not.  Heather was raised as a Christian, but as time went on, she eventually renounced her Christian faith and became an atheist.  I hate to be the one who breaks this news to many of you today, but it is true.  This puts me in a rather difficult position considering the world we live in today–and considering the love and respect that you all had for Heather.  Because what we have happening here this evening is a collision of worldviews.  We have the Christian worldview which many of us embrace, and we have the atheistic worldview which Heather and her husband embraced.  Each have very different understandings about what happens after death–understandings which are seemingly incompatible.  So, how do we reconcile such things?  Is it even possible?

    To begin, please allow me to quote Christian author and speaker Ravi Zacharias who said the following in his Veritas Lecture on the campus of U.C.L.A. in January of this year.  He says, “Whatever our worldview...whatever our convictions, because a conviction is different to an opinion–an opinion is something you have a preference for sort of a hierarchy of options and you make a choice this way somebody else makes a choice another way.  But a conviction is that which is then in many ways rooted in your very soul; it is in your conscience.  And to change a conviction will involve a changing of who you are as a person...And so, when two worldviews collide, when two convictions collide, the best thing that one can hope for is at least the cordiality with which we can disagree and the civility with which we can interact in the midst of that disagreement.”

    The cordiality to disagree and the civility to interact in the midst of that disagreement.  Is such a thing possible?  Is it possible for a Christian worldview and an atheistic worldview to cordially disagree and civilly interact?  Historically, I believe those of us who are Christians have not done such a good job of handling such things.  There are usually two avenues which are chosen by most Christians, and one comes across as very self-righteous and the other comes across as both self-righteous and wishy-washy.

    On the one hand, you have those who almost gleefully proclaim that those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are eternally damned.  Usually, they are quick to quote all of those Bible verses and quotations of Jesus and Paul and others which paint the eternal destination of those who do not believe in a none too positive light.  They use these verses as fearful motivation–trying to convince others to avoid the same fate,  repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  They use those verses to fearfully get those gathered to “get our stuff together” so that we don’t end up in such a horrid place.  I honestly believe the folks who preach in this manner are trying to promote the Kingdom of God.  I believe they are trying to win souls for that Kingdom.  However, whether they know it or not, they usually come across as self-righteous and sanctimonious and do more harm to Christianity than good.  I do not want to go down that road this evening.

    Then, on the other hand, there are those who quite willingly and quickly pronounce that it doesn’t matter what one believes or does not believe–all enjoy a trip to heaven to be with God.  In their desire to promote comfort and  to ease peoples' consciences, they will ignore the words of Jesus; the words of Paul; and other such comments in scripture.  They do not honor the closest witnesses to Jesus as reported in the Bible and so water down what is revealed in Scripture.  Convictions get thrown out the window.  But that is not the least of it.  For in proclaiming this particular worldview, such folks fail to honor or respect the beliefs, convictions, and worldviews of those who believe differently.  In effect, they say, “I don’t care that you believe you will just cease to exist when you die.  It doesn’t matter what you say, what I say about God is more important than your beliefs and understandings.”  As I look at such things, it seems rather disingenuous, and I do not want to travel down that road tonight either.

    And so, what does one do?  How does one handle such situations?  There is no doubt that Scripture reveals to us some very troubling words about those who do not believe in Christ.  There is no doubt that Scripture reveals to us some very disturbing words about those who renounce their faith.  I am not going to sugar coat those this evening, but I am also not going to gleefully proclaim them.  Instead, I am going to hold up the dynamic tension Jesus asks us to hold.

    For, you see, the same Jesus who spoke words of exclusivity announcing that He is the way and the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him also said, “Do not judge and you will not be judged for with the measure you give, the same measure you will receive.”

    Jesus makes it quite clear to you and to me how we are to act toward anyone who does not share our particular beliefs.  He makes it quite clear how we are to proceed with those who have a different worldview.  “Do not judge for with the judgment you give, you will receive.”  In my estimation, this call is a call to humility as we interact with those who do not believe as we believe.  How?

    Well, it goes back to the core convictions and beliefs at the foundation of Christianity.  It goes back to the fact that we all deserve judgment.  We all deserve God’s anger at us for we do not live according to His commands.  Take a read of Matthew chapter 5 through 7 and see how well you do at following Christ’s commands. Be honest as we look at our own lives and realize how we do not live as though we depend only on God for our sustenance and livelihood–we work and slave to store up wealth and property for our future instead of depending on God for our daily bread.  In doing so, we break a basic command of Christ.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; we cannot earn any sort of salvation through our own actions.  It is only by His grace that we are saved through faith. 

    And that is not the half of it.  We cannot even believe in God without His help.  You may shake your head at that one, but if you do, take a moment to read 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and see that wonderful little snippet by St. Paul who says, “No one says Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  You cannot even come to believe in Jesus on your own!  You can walk away on your own, but you certainly cannot believe in God through your own reason or strength.  You and I are totally dependent upon God not only for our salvation but for our very belief in Jesus Christ.

    So what does that mean?  I don’t know exactly what it means to you, but for me, it means that I am humbled.  I am totally dependent upon God, and I honor Him by following Him and the teachings of His Son who died for me.  And that Son was absolutely clear in His teachings: “Those who want to be first in the Kingdom of God must be last of all and servant of all.”  All, mind you.  Not just those who share the same belief, but we are called to love and serve all no matter what they believe–even if it is vastly different than what we believe.  We are to love others as God loved us.  Now, how is this possible?

    This was the exact same question Chris and I talked about as Heather’s life was coming to a close.  She and I had several conversations about this as she struggled with the question, “What should I do?”  The answer: love her.  Plain and simple.  Of course, Chris also witnessed to Heather.  Of course, she wanted her daughter to believe, but it was not her job to arm twist.  It was not her job to use her love or the revocation of her love as a tool of manipulation.  This is not what a parent does.  A parent never stops loving his or her children.  A parent never withdraws that kind of support.  But a parent also respects a child enough to allow that child to go his or her own way. 

    I’ve got three kids, 8, 7, and 5.  Do you think they do everything I tell them to do?  Of course not.  Does that mean I stop loving them?  Never.  You see at a certain point and time, a good parent realizes his or her children are independent.  They make their own decisions.  They blaze their own paths.  They choose to go their own ways.  Those ways may be very different than our own, but a good parent respects his or her children enough to allow them to go their own way.  And even though there may be disagreement, a parent loves and supports his or her child until death claims one or the other.  Chris showed that kind of love to Heather until the very end.  It’s what good parents do.

    It is what God does as well.  He loves us so much that He respects our choices–even if those choices take us away from Him; even if those choices lead us to cease believing in Him.  But that doesn’t mean He stops seeking us out.  That doesn’t mean He ever stops loving us.  He loves us to the very end.  Period.

    And now, we arrive at that crucial moment–that time where you may wish for me to announce Heather’s eternal resting place.  I must apologize for I am afraid I must disappoint you.  I am afraid the best answer I can tell you is that such a proclamation does not rest on me or in my hands.  It rests in the hands of One and One alone.  Such matters are now in God’s hands.  And thankfully, those are very good hands to rest such matters in.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Justice for Tryavon

The criminal trial has been conducted.  Justice, theoretically, has been served.

So, why now the protests?  Why three nights of people gathering--thankfully, for the most part, peacefully?

When the first round of "Justice for Trayvon" marches and gatherings took place, the call was for the arrest of George Zimmerman and the need for a trial.  At a minimum, this was needed.  Justice demanded it.

Well, the trial was held.  The evidence was presented.  The jury returned the verdict: Not guilty.  Certainly not of second degree murder.  And then, it was concluded, not of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

But this was not enough.  Protests erupt again.  Why?

Well, it's certainly not because there was a trial.  It's certainly not because the evidence was presented.  In my estimation, it's because the "correct" verdict was not brought forward.

I was intrigued by the comments of the anonymous juror who came forward and was interviewed by Andersen Cooper.  She reported that Zimmerman was guilty of bad judgment, but was not guilty of the crimes he was accused of.

I concur.

  • Zimmerman used very poor judgment by getting out of his car.  But this was not illegal.
  • He used poor judgment by not listening to the police dispatcher when she told him, "We don't need you to do that."  But this was not illegal.
  • If--we don't have proof of this, but for the sake of argument, let's say Zimmerman did this--he approached Trayvon and verbally confronted him, Zimmerman used bad judgment.  But this too is not illegal.
And here is where the physical evidence becomes important.  Even the juror says the physical evidence shows this: Trayvon hit first.  There is really no doubt about this.  Trayvon had bruising and an abrasion on his knuckles.  This is first rate evidence that he used his fists on something.  Zimmerman had bruising on his face--and then consequently on the back of his head--bruising caused by Trayvon's fists.  Zimmerman had no bruising on his fists which means--even though he supposedly had some martial arts training--he never landed a punch.  There is further physical evidence to show this in that Trayvon's only injuries were the bruising and abrasion on his hands and his gunshot wound.

As the juror said, it then became a matter of whether or not Zimmerman feared for his life.  That's a call which cannot be made by an outsider for different people experience fear differently.  The juror believe there was no doubt Zimmerman feared for his life--five others agreed.  Acquittal.

In our legal system, you cannot convict someone on bad judgment.  You can only convict if they have broken the law or shown malicious intent to harm someone.  Neither of these things were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  The prosecution had a very, very weak case.  They knew it.  Those who have followed this trial with reason and thought instead of emotion knew it.  But in our society, emotion normally overrules reason.  Hence the protests.

No doubt, someone will point to my station as a white person who is writing from a position of white privilege.  It is one's estimation of such things, but don't let your emotion carry you too far on this charge.  Remember, I have a vested interest in what happens to and in the black community.  I have a vested interest in challenging racism.  I have two black daughters.  (Actually, they are bi-racial, but no one really wants to listen to me when I decry these dumb a$$ distinctions and simply want to call my own children human.  Some people always want to make distinctions and point to skin color.  Forgive me for wishing to change such matters, not by words, but by actual deeds in having a family of mixed skin color where we make no distinction but love one another despite differences.)  I work diligently toward a society where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  And their actions prove their character.

In this trail, two very flawed characters came into conflict.  Tragedy ensued.  Even more tragedy is occurring now.  If I am fortunate, lessons will be learned.  But I am afraid the same sort of mentalities will continue to pervade our culture.  Worldviews will not change.  People will see only what they want to see.  Assumptions will remain unexamined.

But I will be d@mned if it causes me to change course in what I am working toward--to paraphrase St. Paul--a place where there is no distinction.  Where all are recognized as children of God where there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, black or white, brown or red, for all are one in Christ.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Is One Law More Important than Another

    While I was on vacation, I took the time to read a book I was very interested in.  It was titled: Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, and it was written by Scottish scholar Richard Bauckham.  I have begun to have a very high respect for Dr. Bauckham’s work, and it just so happened that he dealt with the parable presented in our Gospel lesson for this Sunday.

   Luke places Jesus’ parable immediately after a lawyer asks Jesus an important question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    In all actuality, the lawyer knew the answer to this question.  I mean, let’s be real.  Lawyers don’t ask questions they don’t already know the answers to.  As an expert in the law of Israel, this lawyer knew the 600+ commands of God listed in the first five books of the Bible backwards and forwards.  He knew what it took to inherit eternal life.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  This is probably why he asked Jesus the question–he indeed wanted to see if Jesus knew what it took to inherit eternal life.

    Jesus doesn’t bite.  You see, Jesus knew the situation in Israel.  He knew there were several different religious groups, and they all had their understandings about eternal life.  They each had a particular slant on what it would take to enter God’s Kingdom.  The Pharisees believed it was keeping the purity of the people.  This is why they emphasized all the rituals of cleanliness listed in the Law: washing hands appropriately, wearing the right kinds of clothing, associating with the right kinds of people, etc.  The Sadducees didn’t believe in any sort of afterlife, so their understanding of the Kingdom of God was a bit different, and the question would have been irrelevant to them.  The Zealots believed in a very present reality of the Kingdom, a reality brought about by armed revolution.  The priestly class emphasized temple worship and sacrifice.  All of these groups formed a conglomeration of thought when it came to what was needed to be in God’s good graces.  Each group emphasized a different part of the law.  If Jesus were to answer straight out, He would make enemies and fast.  So, instead of answering straight-forward, Jesus turns the question around.

    “Well,” Jesus asks, “what is it that the Law says?  How do you read it?” 

    Now, what lawyer isn’t going to take the time to show off how well he knows the law?  I’ve known a few lawyers, and they always seem happy to jump in and tell you how much they know about their given area of expertise, and this guy is no exception.  Before he realizes what Jesus has done to him, he blurts out, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  And you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

    Jesus replies that the lawyer has answered well.

    The lawyer then realizes what Jesus has done.  He realizes Jesus has escaped the little snare, so he wants to save face in some form or fashion.  “And who is my neighbor?”

    Jesus tells a story–again, not a direct answer, but something which makes people think.  Now, I am going to begin sharing some of Bauckham’s insights into this story most of us know by heart.

    Jesus begins by garnering our sympathy.  A man is traveling down to Jericho.  He’s minding his own business; doing his own thing like any such traveler.  However, this guy is waylaid by bandits.  He is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left half-dead.  No one ever wants to be in this position.  The crowd gathered to hear this story has immediate sympathy. 

    It’s important to realize here that the man was half-dead.  He’s not exactly in a state of prime health.  In fact, according to Bauckham, this meant that from a distance one couldn’t tell if he were dead or alive.  This is an important detail as we shall see in a moment.

    Jesus continues the story by telling us that first a priest and then a Levi walk by.  They notice the man lying there, but then they hurry on their way.  Oftentimes, we think these two guys just couldn’t be bothered.  They feared for their life, or they were so occupied with their own thoughts and importance that they just went on their merry way.       Bauckham believes differently.  You see, there is a Jewish law concerning dealing with those who are dead.  If one even comes near a dead body, then that person is considered unclean.  The priest and the Levi work in the temple, and if they come near this man–who looks half-dead–possibly is dead, then they would be unclean.  They would be breaking a command of God to remain pure.  They would have to go through the rituals of cleanliness and they would not be able to fulfill their duties in the temple.  Therefore, rather than become unclean and break this law, they went on their way. 

    But the next person who came a long did not go on.  The next person who came along decided to break the purity law and see if the beaten man were indeed alive.  But there was a catch to this one–the next person in line was a Samaritan.  The Samaritan’s were cousins of the Jews, but they were reviled.  They essentially followed much of the Jewish Law, but the Jews felt they had warped it and were outside the true faith.  Despite this, Jesus reveals the Samaritan to be the hero.  The Samaritan is willing to break the purity code to show compassion. 

    There is a double whammy in this parable.  The first whammy, of course, is the Samaritan being the hero.  Good Jews wouldn’t like that, but it is an attention getter.  The second whammy is Jesus’ clear articulation that some of God’s laws have a higher priority than others. 

    Think about that for just a moment.  I mean, perhaps you were raised just as I was raised.  Perhaps you were told and still believe that a sin is a sin is a sin–one sin is not greater than another.  Many of us were brought up believing just this very thing, and so there is an implication in that understanding.  If a sin is a sin is a sin and no sin is greater than another, then all of God’s laws must be equal as well, correct?  It doesn’t matter which law you break, all are of equal importance since God views all sin the same.  Am I off base in this understanding of how many of us think?

    Unfortunately, Jesus’ teaching is different from what many of us have come to believe.  Jesus believes there are some laws which are more important than others.  If you don’t believe the parable of the Good Samaritan, then take a read at the other two times Jesus is asked about the most important or greatest commandments in the books of Mark and Matthew.  In Mark 12 and Matthew 22, Jesus is asked, “Which commandment is first? Or Which commandment is greatest?”  This implies a hierarchy of commandments.  It implies that there are some which are more important.  Does Jesus ever say, “All of the commandments carry equal weight.”?  No.  Not a chance.  Jesus prioritizes.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  These are most important, and everything else follows after these two.

    The implications are important–very important.  We live in a very litigious society.  We really, really like making laws.  We try to cover each and every situation known to man with a law.  We try to write laws governing every type of situation including telling kids they cannot make pretend guns with their hands lest they get suspended from school!  It’s almost enough to make one pull out your hair.

    But the fact of the matter is, laws will eventually come into conflict with one another.  Laws cannot cover all the basis.  For instance, in the U.S. we believe we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We pass all kinds of laws interpreting these rights, but they easily come into conflict.  For instance, my pursuit of happiness may be that I like telling everyone what to do and how they should do it.  This directly impinges upon others’ right to liberty.  The two come into conflict–which one wins? 

    Or, how about another scenario.  Let’s say you’ve fallen on hard times.  You have a family to feed, and you have been unable to obtain food for them.  Would you steal in order to feed your family?  Would you take bread or meat or other such food from someone in order to make sure your family did not starve?  I personally would if I had run out of options.

    Is such a thing wrong?  Yes.  But which is more important–making sure children don’t starve or keeping one’s record clean?  Neither is right, but life wins out.

    Jesus makes the same point.  The purity code is less important than showing compassion to one who is injured and in need of assistance.  It is better to be defiled and check to see if one is injured than to pass by just so one can fulfill one’s temple duties.

    There are circumstances in life when we come across such choices as well.  There are times when we must choose which laws to follow and which laws to break.  Jesus offers us our guide.  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  This is our measuring stick as to importance when faced with conflicting situations.  May we practice them without fear.  Amen.

Writer's Note: Following the sermon, one of my congregation members who studied some theology in Europe commented about this sermon, "I am surprised this was the first time you'd run into that interpretation of the Good Samaritan.  I thought it was common knowledge." 

I replied, "Hey, I was schooled in the Crossan and Borg school of theology."

She said, "We need to talk."

I agree.  It might give me a chance to vent over the rather poor biblical scholarship I received.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Personal Experience, Proof of God, and Richard Dawkins

In the midst of writing my book, I came to the realization I would need to read Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion.  I had seen Dawkins debate Christian philosophers and scientists on Youtube, but I had yet to read his works.  Necessity drove me to finally purchase the book.

I have managed the first quarter of the book so far, and there is much to discuss--too much to manage in a blog post.  Dawkins' book actually received scathing reviews by many, and it is no surprise.  What perhaps is surprising is Dawkins' apologetics in dealing with those reviews in the Kindle Edition.  Basically, as I read him, he believes his critics are simply delusional--as is anyone who believes in God. 

Whether or not I am delusional, along with the majority of the world's population remains to be seen.  And I am currently writing a book to argue to the contrary; however, there is one item in Dawkins' book which I believe needs to be addressed: his rebuttal of the "Argument from Experience" for the existence of God.

Dawkins writes:

Many people believe in God because they believe they have seen a vision of him--or of an angel or a virgin in blue--with their own eyes.  Or he speaks to them inside their heads.  This argument from personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim to have had one.  But it is the least convincing to anyone else, and anyone knowledgeable about psychology.  (Kindle Location 1397)

What makes Dawkins say such things?

The human brain runs first-class simulation software.  Our eyes don't present to our brains a faithful photograph of what is out there, or an accurate movie of what is going on through time.  Our brains construct a continuously updated model: updated by coded pulses chattering along the optic nerve, but constructed nevertheless.  (Kindle location 1414)

...[The brain] is well capable of constructing 'visions' and 'visitations' of the utmost veridical power.  To simulate a ghost or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child's play to software of this sophistication.  And the same works for hearing. (Kindle location 1431)

That is really all that needs to be said about personal 'experiences' of gods or other religious phenomena.  If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real.  But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings.  (Kindle location 1471)

It may surprise you that I will not argue with Dawkins' commentary on the way the brain works.  My own studies through Bowen Family Systems Theory confirms exactly this phenomena of the brain.  In fact, it is well known that we all have a blind spot in each eye.  Yet, if we close one eye, no such spot appears.  Our brains fill it in!!!

Yes, indeed, our brains are capable of producing a model of reality, and they do it all the time.

But Dawkins has a problem here.  A big problem which he doesn't seem to grasp.  He uses this phenomena to argue against any sort of religious phenomena without admitting that his brain is running a model on the observations he too is relating to us about biology and evolution.  He may try to argue that he is subjecting his observations to rigorous methodology, but it is still being processed by his own simulator in his own brain.  And he certainly cannot argue that others have run the simulation and come up with the same results thereby confirming his own simulation because he admits: "Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous."  (Kindle location 1403) 

So, applying Dawkins' own argument to his works invalidates them, correct?  I hardly think he would agree, yet, this is the logical conclusion.

There is more to be said; however.  For Dawkins' only deals with the "simulation software's" ability to add things in.  What he does not delve into--either by choice or by ignorance--is that the simulation software in our brain also OMITS things.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  The simulation software omits things--especially when there is a bias attached; and there is always a bias attached.

Please watch the following video as illustration:
If you are like me, you rewound it just to make sure there wasn't some sleight of hand.

Did you see that your brain omitted something important?  Did you see how your simulation software omitted the obvious?

Perhaps Professor Dawkins knows this.  Perhaps he does not.  If he does and refused to include this important fact, I think he is guilty of major confirmation bias.  Why?

Well, if one admits that one's brain simulation software omits things based upon a particular bias...

And Dawkins' particular bias is a singular hatred (believe me, that's not too strong a word) of all things religious...

Then it is not only quite possible, but quite likely his brain omits and overlooks religious experiences that may be happening in his own life.  It is possible, even likely, Dawkins is missing something that is obvious to the rest of us: religious experience.

What Dawkins fails to recognize is the trustworthiness of the source.  It is quite possible to dismiss religious experiences as false among those who are indeed mentally ill and unbalanced.  It is quite another thing to dismiss them among people who live lives full of sanity, regularity, and normalcy (whatever that might be).  Dawkins lumps them all together, and in doing so--along with omitting a very important detail in how our brains work--falls far short of offering a dismissal of religious experience as proof of God's existence.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Hardest Sermon

Next Tuesday evening, I will quite possibly be preaching the most difficult sermon I have been called to preach in my years of serving as a pastor.

I do not wish to go into the details at this moment, but if you would, please begin lifting me up in prayer. 

Monday, July 8, 2013


I just finished looking over the proposed Bible texts for Sunday.

The Gospel lesson is from Luke 10: 25-37--better known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

It just so happens that I read a neat little commentary on this passage while on vacation from Richard Bauckham's book: Jesus: A Very Short Introduction.


I think not.

Guess which lesson I will be preaching on this Sunday?  :-)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Examining Motivations

Last week, I offered two posts which were highly critical of the theological methodology being used in the denomination of which I am a part: the ELCA.  No, I am not going back on those criticisms, but I am taking a moment to examine my motivations for writing as I did.

I am a student of Bowen Family Systems Theory.  This theory has some interesting things to say about criticism.

#1. Criticism is a form of pursuit.  Whenever a person is critical of you, that person actually desires to be in a relationship with you and feels like you are distancing yourself from him or her.

I won't dispute this point of BFST.  The more I have developed theologically, the more the ELCA has accepted certain forms of theology, the more I feel the ELCA is becoming more distant from me.  I'm not happy with this development since this denomination is my "parent."  It is the only church I have a memory of on the denominational level.

At this point, one might ask, "Why don't you just pack up and leave?  If you feel the church has left you, why not let it go and simply go on your own way.  Find a denomination where you feel comfortable."

Well, in all honesty, does one become a part of a congregation/denomination to be "comfortable"?  As a pastor, I have come to the point where I realize that sitting in the pew should be comforting and discomforting at one and the same time.  In fact, if I'm not uncomfortable, then there is little chance of theological/spiritual growth.  In order to better know one's identity and develop, one must engage others who are different.  So, comfort isn't the issue.

I am also one who has a high sense of commitment.  I am not one who walks away from relationships easily.  I try to give them every chance possible.  It would take massive infidelity on the part of another--a massive break of trust--for me to terminate any sort of relationship.

The ELCA isn't seeking to do anything which has pushed me to that limit at this time.  I hope it won't.  Are there some lines I won't cross.  Yep, but we aren't close to there now.

#2. Whenever you hear criticism from the least emotionally mature, you are doing something right.

This is an interesting tenet of BFST, and one that makes me ponder deeply.  Am I being critical because of pursuit?  Am I being critical because I am one of the least mature?  Am I being critical because I am taking a stand and preventing the choices of others from being invasive?

These are difficult questions because it is easy to say that I am the latter of the questions.  I want to define myself as someone who is emotionally and theologically mature who is taking a stand and refusing to accept the theological position of the ELCA.  But, I am well aware that nearly everyone would choose to see themselves as such.  No one likes to think that he or she is immature--emotionally or otherwise.

So, I am forced to ask myself whether or not I am immature.  Is it a possibility?  Sure.  I have to recognize this and walk carefully and humbly.

I am also forced to recognize the world in which we live.  There was a day and age when communication was limited and theological arguments were held in the academy and through journal publications and the publication of books.  But that day is long gone.  Because of the advent of the internet and the rise of relativism--anyone can be an amateur theologian.  Anyone can start up a blog--just as I did--and add their voice to the cacophony of voices.  There is so much sound being made, it is only the loudest who garner attention.  However, the loudest are not always the best theologians or the brightest.  The loudest sometimes simply yell just to hear their own voices.  The loudest oftentimes just shout to try and overwhelm the other voices which are out there and silence them through intimidation.

I hope I do not come across in such fashion.   I hope I am entering this fray being seen as having the intention I truly have: to call the church, particularly my own denomination toward reformation.  It is my belief the denomination has strayed too far from the orthodox faith and teaching.  Theologically, I believe she is on the wrong track, and I will do my best to plainly articulate why and hopefully to do so without malice.  That will be a huge challenge, but I am hoping to accomplish such a thing.

Whether or not my voice will be heard or make a difference remains to be seen, but at least my readers know my motivations.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vacation Reading

I am thoroughly enjoying Richard Bauckham's Jesus: A Very Short Introduction.  So many of the historical Jesus books which have come out fail to deal with the totality of Jesus presented in the gospels.  They literally whittle Him down in an attempt to make Him "palatable" to the authors or to their supposed readers.

Bauckham doesn't whittle down.  He deals with Jesus as presented in these ancient, historical biographies we call the gospels.

One particular sentence grabbed me thoroughly in light of all of those who keep proclaiming, "Jesus sought out the outcast and poor and was non-judgemental."  Well, that's not exactly true when reading the gospels.  Those who portray Jesus in this fashion are actually being selective.  Most of the biblical scholars I read in college and seminary portrayed Jesus in this fashion.

Therefore, it is refreshing to read Bauckham's statement:

While he [Jesus] characteristically takes the part of the poor and the weak, he unrelentingly condemns the persistently wicked.

Yep.  If you read the gospels, you see Jesus doing exactly that.  It's exactly what one would expect from one who proclaimed the kingdom of God: Law and Gospel.  Good news for the oppressed and condemnation for those who persist in breaking God's will despite knowing it. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sanatizing the Bible Part II

Once is a mistake.  Twice is iffy.  Three times is a trend.  Four times...we've got issues.  Major issues, with the Revised Common Lectionary.   There is a definite trend in the types of Biblical passages being omitted by those selecting texts.  Your's truly is putting those omissions back into the readings since we print our own bulletins.

For the sake of record, I am going to begin posting blatant omissions from the Revised Common Lectionary.  I did so a while ago, and I am going to do so in the future to see if there is a pattern in what is omitted from the suggested texts.

On June 16th, the Old Testament suggested lesson is 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10; 13-15.  The omitted portion will be included in bold italics:

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, 1and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meagre fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.’ 5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’
7 Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’ 13David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.’ 15Then Nathan went to his house.

For June 30: the omitted portion is bold italics once again:

 1 Kings 19: 15-21

15Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ 19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’ 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

For July 7th: the omitted portion is bold italic again.  This portion is omitted in the ELCA and WELS suggested texts:

Luke 10: 1-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11“Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. 13 ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?   No, you will be brought down to Hades.  16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

I raised the warning on such sanitizing a few months ago.  There seems to be an intentional omission of texts which refer to God's anger and actions against those who cross Him--even omitting what Jesus says.  Is it any wonder people ignore the idea that Luther put forth in his small catechism 500 years ago while explaining the 10 Commandments, "We are to fear and love God..."

Since God's strong judgement is omitted, many have gotten this wonderful idea God is simply love with no judgement.  The folks at the RCL are doing people in the pews no favors by omitting these texts and "sanitizing" the Bible.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Producing Good Fruit

    This past week, the Supreme Court of the U.S. made several decisions which upset half of our nation.  It’s not surprising considering the polarizing times we live in.  Of course, one of the ones that piqued the interest of many was the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.  This was either a cause for great celebration or of great mourning depending upon one’s particular perspective.  Depending upon where one stands, one either believes our country took a great step toward equality or has added further grease on the railway to hell.

    Most of you know where I stand on this particular issue.  If you have not read it in my blog, you have probably heard it.  And if you haven’t heard it and would like me to tell you, I will be happy to talk to you and explain where I stand and why; however, I do not believe this is the time or place to do such things.  What I wish to deal with this morning is something related but a bit different.  I would like to wrestle with the question of how the church is called to work in and with a society that does not share its particular worldview.  Now what do I mean by that?  Let me explain by taking one avenue in the Supreme Court’s decision regarding marriage.

    Historically, the Church has come to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.  Now, this is not the only kind of marriage found in the Bible–we can do an at length Bible study on that sometime if you like–in fact, I actually just did one where we touched on such matters.  Most of the Christian church adheres to this definition, and those that do not are actually in the vast minority.  So, the question arises for such churches, “How does the church respond when society embraces a very different understanding of marriage?  What does the church do in such cases?”

●    Does it rush out to register tons of like minded voters to change government by ballot?

●    Does it send people out onto the street corners to warn about breaking God’s laws?

●    Does it seek to lobby government officials to pass laws which are in accord with its particular understanding of marriage?

●    Does it crawl into a hole and pretend the rest of society is wrong and that it alone holds the truth? 

●    Does it refuse to engage the surrounding culture and disassociate itself from it because it feels the surrounding culture is a horrid influence?

In some way, the church throughout history has embraced any one of these particular methods of response, but this morning I would like to argue for another way–a way which finds itself rooted and grounded in the earliest days of the Christian community before it ascended to power and prestige in the Roman empire.

    If one studies the history of the early church as it began to spread from Jerusalem and into the Roman
empire, one is struck by the fact that it began between a rock and a hard place.  The rock was Second Temple Judaism.  When the early Church proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, indeed, God incarnate who was raised from the dead, the leaders within Judaism saw this as blasphemy.  There was only one God–Yahweh–undivided who lived in the temple in the holy of holies.  Any claim outside of this–including that Jesus is Lord–was seen to be breaking the first and greatest commandment.  It was not too long before the Jewish authorities kicked the Christians out of the synagogue proclaiming that Christianity was incompatible with Judaism and was a heresy.

    This put the Christian church in a very precarious position.  For now it came up against the hard place: the Roman empire.  For, you see, the Roman empire actually tried to be a pretty tolerant place.  It accepted the practice of many and various religions within it–but those religions had to be authorized and accepted by the Roman government.  You had to be on the acceptable list.  Judaism was on that list.  Christianity was not.  This meant the Church could be justifiably persecuted within the Roman empire.  Simply by being a Christian, you could find yourself on the short end of persecution.  As I said, the early Church developed between a rock and a hard place.

    But that is not the half of it.  I don’t know how much you have studied about the Roman Empire, but it was not exactly a bastion of morality and justice–at least justice and morality as we understand it.  I am sure you have probably heard reference to the pax romana or the peace of Rome, but I wonder if you know how Rome enforced that peace?  Well, they weren’t exactly too particular about who they killed to enforce it.  And perhaps you have heard about Caligula and his reign of terror as Emperor and his wonton assassination of others before he himself was assassinated.  And in case you didn’t know where those infamous toga parties in college came from...well, let’s just say the Romans perfected such matters way before frats and sororities.

    It was into this social and political milieu the early Church was born.  And how did they handle such matters?  How did they handle such a society?  How did they strive to influence matters? 

●    Did they demand to be recognized as an acceptable religion?

●    Did they lobby the emperor or the Roman senate for acceptance?

●    Did they try to influence Roman law and change things from a legal standpoint?

I challenge you to read through the entire New Testament and find one place where they tried to do such things.  I challenge you to show one place where St. Paul, or St. Peter, or St. Stephen, or St. John admonished the Roman empire to change their laws or practices or policies so that Christianity might be accepted, acceptable, or it’s morals and understandings be accepted by the entire empire.

    You won’t find it.  At best, you will find the apostles testifying before kings and governors.  You will see them trying to convince them to become Christian, but you will not see them trying to make others follow Christ by changing governmental law.  That is simply not there.  Why?

    The early Church believed they had a mission regardless of what laws the surrounding culture enacted.  The early Church believed it had a mission regardless of the morality of the surrounding society.  The early Church had been commissioned by Jesus himself to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching everyone everything that Christ had taught.  The apostles threw themselves into this mission with reckless abandon.  Through their preaching and teaching, which was empowered by the Holy Spirit, others were convicted and began following Christ. 

    When the Christians practiced their faith and lived lives according to God’s guidance and God’s commands, the surrounding culture took notice.  Here was a group of people who voluntarily chose to live differently; move differently; talk differently; act differently; worship differently–who received no special privileges from the government or society–who at times was actively persecuted by the government and by authority.  Yet, despite this, they carried on.  They worked to tell others about Jesus no matter the circumstance.

    This is one of the reasons Christianity did and continues to flourish no matter what kind of government is in power.  The Church’s mission is not contingent upon what the government decides to do or not do.  The Church’s mission is not contingent upon what certain parts of the society embrace in regards to morality.  The Church’s mission is contingent upon the commands of Jesus Christ, and we are called to engage in it practicing a culture within a larger culture–engaging that larger culture and inviting people to leave those things behind and follow Christ.

    But we must be willing to do so ourselves.  We must be willing to embrace following Christ and practicing such faith right here and right now.  And we have guidance as to how such a community looks.  We have guidance in to how such a community functions.  We are shown what it means to produce fruit.  St. Paul reveals that fruit in the 5th chapter of the book of Galatians.  “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control.”  These are the fruits inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Take a look around.  Are we as a church producing them?  Take a look in the mirror.  Do you see these fruits in your life?  Do you need the government or society making you produce them? 

    It doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court decides.  It doesn’t matter what laws the government passes.  We have a job.  We have a calling.  We are called to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and produce good fruit.  Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing or thinks–produce good fruit; spread the good news of Jesus.  The rest will take care of itself.  Amen.