...conversations in the Great Hall Mon, 03 Aug 2015 10:53:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...conversations in the Great Hall Some friends I’d like you to meet Mon, 03 Aug 2015 04:01:07 +0000 16999678628_47ffd99dc5_z

Last week I attended the death of a man who had been a police officer and then an investigator for a major corporation. Sometimes he was asked by the company’s HR department to deal with employees who were being dismissed. He would go to that person’s desk or office, watch as they cleaned it out, and then accompany them out of the building to make sure no equipment or proprietary information was stolen and to provide security in case there was an incident. His wife told me that HR liked to have him do this because he was so good at it. In fact, she said that one time, after having escorted a fired employee out, that employee actually sent him a “thank you” note for his kindness and consideration while doing a difficult job. “What is desirable in a man is his kindness…” (Proverbs 19:22, NASB).

• • •

One of the best funerals I’ve attended recently (actually I officiated this one) was of a man who had been non-religious most of his life, but was one of the gentlest and kindest people you’ll ever meet. He was also a musician, and had played saxophone for years in various clubs around the region. For some reason, he and I hit it off on our first visit, and you might have thought we were lifelong friends, the way we enjoyed being together and swapping stories. He eventually went into the hospital and on my last visit was unresponsive. So I took out my phone and played some Billie Holiday for him as I sat at the bedside. At the funeral I was surprised to hear his daughter express thanks that he told her in his final weeks he had come to believe in God. Later, his wife said meeting someone like me, who didn’t fit his image of a “religious person” was one of the key factors in helping him come to faith. At the cemetery the family scattered his ashes in a wooded garden while a sax player from a well-known local jazz club played. One of the saints went marching in while he did.

• • •

14719894274_46ef986059_zSeveral years ago, I had one of my favorite patients. Dick and his wife were also not very devout, unless you count golf. But his terminal illness humbled him and he soon looked forward to my visits and to having me pray for him. They were a funny pair. They had a little dog that got so excited when visitors came it peed all over the floor, and she used to get so embarrassed and make the funniest remarks. They were both pretty hard of hearing, especially Dick, and so she bought him one of those wireless headphone sets so he could watch TV and understand what was being said. Well, she didn’t quite have the concept, because she thought in order for him to hear through the headphones, she had to turn the volume on the TV all the way up. I could hear it at the end of their block. Dick decided he wanted to be baptized and so we set it up. His son and family came to witness and were moved to ask for baptism themselves. As did his wife. It was a “household salvation” moment. Jack died and I did his funeral and a couple of years later his wife succumbed to dementia and died as well. They asked me to do her service also. Just this week I saw their son and his family, and we embraced like our time together had been only yesterday. Jack also had a daughter, with whom I became close. When I saw Jack’s son this week, he told me her husband, a fun, likable guy, has been fighting cancer since January. I called him immediately. “Mike,” he said, “I’m gonna beat this.” I know he’ll give it his best shot and I told him so. So much sadness, and yet so much grace and love. It makes your heart fairly break.

• • •

In late spring I visited a woman who had been a genuine “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II. In her factory, they made one of the main troop carriers that was used in the Pacific theater. She loved to talk about her work and was proud to have contributed to the war effort. Right after hearing her stories, I visited a World War II veteran who had served near the end of the war in the Pacific and Japan. He specifically mentioned the ship he was on. It was one of the carriers my “Rosie” had helped build. Now they lived within five miles of one another, and I had the privilege of meeting them both. It’s life’s little epiphanies like that that make me smile.

• • •

One patient who had been on our hospice service longest (3-4 years) died a couple of weeks ago. Josephine had Alzheimer’s disease and her family had cared for her for nearly a decade before she was admitted to hospice. Her son had been adopted, and now he and his wife and their two young children became her caregivers. She came to them at the beginning of their marriage, survived a move from the east coast to the Midwest, and bounced back from every conceivable infection and medical problem over the years to remain a fixture in their home and in our lives as clinicians. When I heard she died, I wasn’t able to go to the house because of another emergency, but I went on my way home that evening. I had to. I just had to see them, to express not only my condolences but also my deep admiration for this young family. I told them their children will never be the same, having witnessed true devotion and service in their own home. As I prepared to leave, the husband pointed to his wife, who I suddenly noticed had a bit of a protruding belly. “We’re expecting in October,” he said. Josephine’s room will have a new occupant, and the world will be better because this family continues to choose life.

• • •

Two of the kindest, most encouraging people I’ve ever known, a husband and wife, both died this summer. They were members in one of the congregations where I served, they were good friends, helpful with our children, and they were true lights in our community. I deal with death all the time — impending and actual — and go to funeral homes every week to pay my respects or officiate services. But this is different. This kind of loss touches something that sucks the breath out of me and doubles me over. This hurts.

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Sundays with Michael Spencer: August 2, 2015 Sun, 02 Aug 2015 04:01:19 +0000 archie-bunker-unstifled-all-in-the-family-debuts1

“We didn’t crawl out from under no rocks. We didn’t have no tails. And we didn’t come from monkeys you atheist pinko meathead.”

“It ain’t supposed to make sense; it’s faith. Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe.”

• Archie Bunker

• • •

I used to watch “All In The Family” with my dad. It was strange. Strange because my dad was the virtual clone of Archie Bunker (and my mother the twin of Edith), and all the comedy- which I increasingly found both hilarious and truthful — usually went right past him.

Archie was perhaps the greatest practitioner of the art of argumentation ever portrayed on stage or screen. He had all the necessary gifts. He believed himself to be more knowledgeable on any subject than anyone else in the room. He had a vocabulary that ran circles around a normal person. He was never daunted by logic, compassion, or mercy. No, he pressed on, wagging his finger–or cigar–in your face, making his points, calling Mike a meathead or the neighbor an idiot or worse.

Archie loved an argument the way most people love dessert. At the slightest provocation, he bullishly inserted his opinion and denigrated yours. Reality, facts, common sense, sheer numbers of opponents–none of it made a dent in Archie. Inventing and redefining terms was an art form with him. It was Archie who explained that male behavior was determined by khromostones, and later discovered both his-mones and her-mones. When he found humility, it was always his special variety: “The only thing that holds a marriage together is the husband bein’ big enough to keep his mouth shut, to step back and see where his wife is wrong.”

I’ve decided that Archie Bunker is the patron saint of Christians who can’t stop making their point. Christians who love to argue. Christians who can’t stand it that someone somewhere disagrees with them. Christians who are caught up in theological controversy like University of Kentucky basketball fans are caught up in defending their team. Christians who have to correct everyone the way obsessed Lord of the Rings fans must correct any deviation from the Holy Canons of Tolkien. Christians who can’t rest easy if someone somewhere is not understanding, reading, or getting “it,” whatever “it” happens to be.

. . . The little brothers of Saint Archie Bunker, I call them.

I meet Calvinists who have no control over their need to make all Biblical discussions turn into debates on predestination. There are young earth creationists who hunt down anything that smells like a less-than-literal view of Genesis one and label it evolution. Pentecostal/Charismatics have all varieties of little brothers of Saint Archie who can’t stand it that someone isn’t riding the latest wave of the Holy Spirit into last days revival. Seminary students who can’t understand why there is anyone refusing to read N.T. Wright, and hand-wringers staying up nights writing letters to people who do read N.T. Wright.

There are political types who won’t shut up, and Dobson types who won’t leave you alone, and don’t even start on those people caught up in the euphoria of the latest evangelical product, and have to make sure any peaceful gathering is subjected to commercials and testimonials.

Are religious enthusiasts just naturally obnoxious? Or do certain forms of Christianity attract people who have an insatiable need to impose their beliefs on others? Do some of us simply have nothing on the the mental dashboard that registers “too intense?”

. . . A few years ago, I started to figure something out. There were people who didn’t want to be around me. Not many, but some. Now it wasn’t hard to engage in all the usual justifications and criticisms to deal with that, and I could easily blow it all off. It wasn’t that I was being rejected, just avoided. At some point, through an offhand comment made by a much older friend, I realized something clearly. I was always making these people listen to my opinions, my arguments, and my insights about everything. They were uncomfortable. I thought it was all important and insightful. They wanted a pleasant lunch.

These were some of the people we’d had in our home for meals who had never reciprocated, and I was starting to suspect why.  I was too much. I came on too strong. My opinions. My insights. My own horn being played loudly and too long in your ear.

Could it be that that if your religion has turned you into a neurotic, others might not want to join it? They might turn out like you.I’m better now. (I’ve given up on real people and just write all my arrogant wise-yammering on here).

. . . It would be far better if we enjoyed the truths we believe, rather than if it appeared we are made anxious by the need to convert others to those truths. Delighting in, exulting in and savoring the truth we believe is a God-honoring witness free from the ministry of Saint Archie. If we yearn for others to know the truth, then may that truth satisfy our own yearnings, even the yearning to be heard and be right. May it bring, as Peter said, the welcome questions that seek to know of the hope that is in us, and why it is a source of joy. It really helps when it IS a source of joy.

And if it doesn’t bring us to that fountain of joy, and bring us delight, trust, worship, and peace, why are we talking about it anyway?

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Saturday Ramblings, August 1, 2015 Sat, 01 Aug 2015 04:01:40 +0000 Hello, imonks, and welcome to the weekend. Gay emojis banned in Russia, Rambo turkeys, re-directed art and ricocheting armadillos. Ready to Ramble?

66 convertible

66 convertible

Marvel continued their amazing run: Antman was the 12th Marvel movie in a row to open at number 1. Yes, Antman. A movie about a superhero whose special power is…to shrink to ant size. Yeah…avengers3small

How’s the weather in your neck of the woods? NOAA announced this week that June, 2015 was the hottest month on record. Ever. And that the first six months of the year also set the record for the hottest beginning half of a year. Ever. This is after 2014 previously set the record for the hottest year. Ever. Man, it’s almost like we’re experiencing some kind of global warming or something. Eh, it’s probably nothing.

New Yorkers have already noticed a difference...

New Yorkers have already noticed a difference…

Oh, but this will help. Maybe. Hard to tell. But a new model of solar activity is predicting a cool-down period in the decades ahead. The models suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645, according to the results presented by Prof Valentina Zharkova at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales. However, despite headlines this generated about the sun “going to sleep”, a 60 percent decrease in solar activity would only equal a decrease in solar output of roughly 0.1 percent, according to James Renwick, a professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “If things played out as described in Zharkova’s paper, and we did see a decrease in solar output roughly as happened in the 1700s, there would be some cooling for 20 or 30 years,” according to Renwick. “But the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are so much higher now (and will be even higher in 2030) that temperatures would not drop much below where they are today. And that drop would last only until 2050 or so. Then we’d have a bounce upwards again.”

 The Seattle Mariners pulled off a rare triple play last weekend. It went 3-6-2. Whatever that means. I told you I don’t watch baseball.

This, at least, gives me a segue-way into our weekly “tweaking Chaplain Mike picture”: b4fa48886c879cc04ae1c616f262272c

School is starting this week here in Indiana. If you have trouble getting your kids out of bed on school mornings, then this latest invention is for you:

An 18 year-old college student got two million hits on a video he posted on YouTube last week. What was the video of? A drone firing a handgun. No one was harmed, nor has the teenager been arrested or charged. Apparently no-one has thought to make a law about this, because whoever heard of attaching a weapon to a drone, right? Still, the video has stirred fresh debate about the use of, and dangers posed by, drones. “There would be no physical evidence. Perfect crime. This can turn into a video game for sick people,” said Mike Bouchard, former assistant director of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “They can play this out like a video game on their computer and just shoot people without ever looking them in the eye.” So, if they re-make West Side Story the Jets and Sharks can settle their differences in a more high-tech way…yoda-drone-wars

Have you ever wandered around Goodwill [what, you’re too good to wander around Goodwill???] and glanced at their “art” section? You know, the one filled with washed-out kitsch paintings? This guy buys them, and gives them a few creative “additions”. He calls it “redirected art.” Here are a few of my favorites:

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Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-07-29 20:54:15Z | |

The graph to the right is from Christianity Today, showing the percent of people in the world unfamiliar with the gospel. Why is the baby doing chin-ups? To illustrate the reason for the trend line has ceased to go down: Christians aren’t having as many babies (proportionally) as non-Christians (especially Muslims). In 1900, 45.7 percent of people everywhere were aware of the gospel, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. More than 100 years later, that number has grown to more than 70 percent. But by 2050, it predicts only another 2 percent of the world’s population will be evangelized, totaling 72 percent. This is mainly because of birthrates.

The effect of births eclipses conversions by far. Pew states that before 2050, about 9.4 million Muslims will leave Islam, while about 12.6 million will join, adding up to a 3.2 million increase—not much when considering the overall leap Islam will take from 1.6 billion adherents in 2010 to 2.76 billion in 2050.

At the same time, Christianity is set to gain 40 million adherents but lose 106 million to religious switching. Christianity’s much smaller overall growth, from 2.17 billion to 2.92 billion adherents, will also come primarily from babies.

The other factor here is that mission groups are now prioritizing discipleship over conversion:

In recent years, mission groups have focused on strengthening churches in countries that have already been introduced to the gospel, according to the CSGC. From 1974 to 2000, 9 out of 10 new missionaries were sent to plant churches or disciple new believers among reached people groups.

Hulk Hogan has been banned from the WWE after a recording surfaced of his racist rant. “In the storm I release control, God and his Universe will sail me where he wants me to be, one love. HH,” he tweeted on Friday. Hogan is a professing Christian and closely follows Joel Osteen. He has offered praise to the megachurch pastor on his Twitter account in the past. “Joel Osteen always has God’s perfect words to help you have a perfect vibrational match with God’s universe,” said Hogan on Twitter in 2012. “Much love.”

Caption contest in the comments!

Caption contest in the comments!

Did you know there have been 29 cases of church arson so far this year, according to Pew Research? This is actually a decline. Arsonists love churches. In 2013, only about one in ten nonresidential fires—and one in twenty residential fires—were caused by arson. The rate for churches: well over half.

Only in America…

download (24)Amnesty International is finding itself opposed by an unusual coalition: prominent faith leaders and A-list Hollywood stars. AI is drafting a policy advocating the legalization of prostitution, which will be voted on next month.  The coalition sent an impassioned letter to Amnesty.

Growing evidence shows the catastrophic effects of decriminalization of the sex trade. The German government, for example, which deregulated the industry of prostitution in 2002, has found that the sex industry was not made safer for women after the enactment of its law. Instead, the explosive growth of legal brothels in Germany has triggered an increase in sex trafficking.

Decriminalization of the sex trade renders brothel owners “businessmen” who with impunity facilitate the trafficking of very young women predominantly from the poorest countries of Eastern Europe and the Global South to meet the increased demand for prostitution.  Last year, leading trauma experts in Germany petitioned their government to repeal the 2002 law, underlining the extensive psychological harm that serial, unwanted sexual invasion and violence, which are among the hallmarks of prostitution, inflicts on women. Harm reduction is not enough, they explain; governments and civil society must invest in harm elimination.

The primary goals of UNAIDS and other agencies that support limited harm reduction policies in the sex industry seem far more concerned with the health of sex buyers than the lives of prostituted and sex trafficked women. On the other hand, medical professionals, including gynecologists and mental health providers, confirm that regardless of how a woman ends up in the sex trade, the abuse, sexual violence and pervasive injuries these women endure at the hands of their pimps and “clients,” lead to life-long physical and psychological harm — and, too often, death.

Amnesty International has heard the coalition, but says it has not made up its mind on its stance on the issue.

Russia may ban “gay emojis” from social media if an investigation by the state media watchdog rules that they infringe laws against “gay propaganda”. The investigation was prompted by a complaint from Mikhail Marchenko, a Russian senator. Mr Marchenko claims the symbols – which depict smiley-faced same-sex couples – violate a controversial 2013 law which prohibits promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships.

Russia last week also became the first country to ban the main website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Imonk readers with a great memory may recall a story printed here last April about strange incident: Larry McElroy, of Georgia, fired his 9 mm pistol at an armadillo  and the bullet bounced off the animal’s armored skin and went through a fence, a door and a chair to strike mother-in-law Carol Johnson in the back. At least, that’s how Larry said his mother-in-law got shot. Well, we have another armadillo ricochet incident to report, this one in Texas: The Cass County Sheriff’s Office said a man told deputies he was shooting at an armadillo just before 3 a.m. Thursday when his bullet ricocheted off the animal and hit him in the head. The man was wounded, but will survive. The armadillo, like armadillos often do, washed away his trouble with booze. Funny-Armadillos-ZooOdd headline of the week: ‘Very aggressive’ turkey terrorizes University of Michigan campus. The deputy chief of police warned students and faculty to steer clear of the turkey. “Do not try to approach the turkey,” Overton said. “We’ve gotten calls from people who have been trapped and unable to move because he’s cornered them.” Really? You’re telling me 40,000 Wolverines can’t handle one turkey? Is this some type of avian Rambo or something?


Well, that’s it for this week. Let’s end with a music video (as always, blame this on Robert F.). We try to be culturally inclusive at imonk, so I give you, from the early Telugu (Tollywood) film ‘Adavidonga’, this excellent dance scene with bizarre animal masks…enjoy!


]]> 79 Damaris Zehner: Yielding Rights Fri, 31 Jul 2015 04:01:30 +0000 White Crucifixion, Chagall

White Crucifixion, Chagall

Yielding Rights
By Damaris Zehner

When discussions occur on Internet Monk defending abortion rights, contraceptive rights, rights to same-sex marriage, rights to divorce, even rights to receive communion in a denomination not one’s own, I tend not to take part.  One reason I refrain has to do with the rules for ethical argument, at least as I teach them to my students.  I define argument as a means of working together to find the truth; if I do not anticipate being able to change my views no matter how compelling the opposition, then I would be entering into an argument under false pretenses.  So I mostly stay out of the arguments that exist or (with a few exceptions) refrain from starting any myself.  Does that imply that I think I’m right in these areas?  Well, it implies that I think the position I have accepted is the right one – which is why I accepted it, after all.   It says nothing about my own righteousness, which is as filthy rags.

So I stay quiet on Internet Monk, but I feel like a hypocrite.   I have considered quitting the site from time to time and finding more congenial surroundings (assuming there are any), but I would then be isolated from those I disagree with, which is an unhealthy positionMost importantly, though, my refusal to take up an opposing position to those commonly expressed on Internet Monk is an insult to all of you, as if I thought that you weren’t worth the effort of honest discussion.  I regret these sins of mine and resolve to do better.

Here goes:  I cannot condone abortion.  I do not accept same-sex unions as marriage, although I support laws to allow individuals to establish legal relationships of inheritance, sharing of benefits, etc., as they choose.  I believe that divorce is rarely an option.  You know how I feel about artificial forms of contraception.  It has never occurred to me that any denomination is obliged to give me communion when I do not share their beliefs or practices.

Rather than explain my reasons for each of those positions separately, although I have many, I think I can say that they all rest on the same foundation, as do my positions on suicide, extreme aids to conception such as sperm banks and in vitro fertilization, and other issues.  That foundation is not political conservatism; I am not a political conservative, and in fact, politics is as opaque to me as music is to the tone-deaf.  It is a conviction based on Scripture, that when we become Christians, we yield our rights in exchange for grace.

One passage that outlines this idea clearly is from the Gospel of Matthew:

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

• Matthew 5:39-42

It seems from this that when we follow Jesus, we don’t have a right to be treated well, to hang on to our belongings, or to defend ourselves from annoying interruptions.  We are not our own; we are bought with a price.

It’s not that we become chattel when we yield ourselves to God, however.  We get something better from him than our rights.  God showers us with grace, grace in full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over; but the problem comes when the grace he gives us is not the grace we thought we wanted.  God, instead of rubber-stamping our plans and desires, offers us suffering as an invitation to grow into the image of his son.  But rather than embrace that suffering, we want to legislate it away, and in the process we lose the opportunity for holiness and death to self.  We have the wrong picture of how the Christian life works.  It’s less like the life of lead characters in countless rags-to-riches movies who “succeed” by following their dreams and always believing in themselves.  It’s much more like George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life, who time and again gives up his dreams for the sake of others.  Like him we are not the masters of our fate or the captains of our soul as we imagine we are; we grow and are judged by our reactions to what God puts before us.

So when I think about what it means to yield our rights before God, I conclude that if I am pregnant against my plans or desires, even as a result of rape, I should embrace that baby’s life with love and give up my own rights to the life I had planned.  If a woman experiences same-sex attraction and cannot endure a heterosexual marriage, she should take up her cross of enforced chastity and ask God to make her burden as light as possible.  If a man feels stifled in his marriage, he should stay for the love of others and not seek to “maximize his own potential” through divorce.  If you struggle with sexual temptation, you should offer it to God and resist redesigning morality and natural science to let you do what you want.  And if we are denied communion, we should accept the authority of religious leaders rather than demanding that they accord us rights without the mutual obligation of an ongoing relationship.

Jesus’ words present us with the stark difference between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God.  None of what he says in Matthew or what I’ve said above is practical, or even sensible, by worldly standards.  But God is calling us to sainthood, not to sensible behavior.  Do I really think that people can live according to such “unrealistic” ideals of holiness?  Probably not, but what I think is not the point.  I’m not the one asking people to accept suffering – I have a hard time sacrificing my desires in little matters, much less in huge ones such as unwanted pregnancy or sexual temptation.  God, not I, is asking us to die to ourselves.  And arguing in favor of abortion, same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, and open communion is, it seems to me, an attempt to avoid dying to ourselves.

It’s tricky, however.  I’m not saying we should wipe out the concept of civil rights.  Christians should work for just laws, for social equity, for the good of mothers and children and all who are oppressed or in need.  We have the responsibility to ask for godly practices in our churches.  It would even have been a good thing if the Romans had repented of their hubris and carried their own packs for that mile or two.  But the issue I want to stress is not our civil rights as citizens of a nation.  In the kingdom of this world, abortion may remain legal, for example, but then Christians should neither avail themselves of it nor change their religious beliefs to justify it.  We should seek justice, but we cannot hide behind laws of our own making when God asks us to take up our cross and die.  We mustn’t think that the laws we pass or the social norms we overset will have anything to do with our defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ.

The result of giving up our rights and relying on grace is that we will spend the rest of our lives in tension – being in the world but not of it, being, for a time, citizens of two kingdoms.  The Kingdom of God, unlike the kingdom of this world, is not subject to movements or fashions.  It is not a democracy.    We can’t vote to change aspects of it that we find uncomfortable or retrograde.  None of us get to dictate the terms of entrance.  To enter the Kingdom of God we must die.  For some of us, death means staying in a difficult marriage or never being married at all; for some it means giving birth to a child who will change our lives in imponderable ways.  It always means suffering – the Bible, and the pattern of Jesus’ life, promise us that.

So if you post comments approving of abortion, no-fault divorce, sex outside of sacramental marriage, or the right to trump church authority in order to find happiness and avoid suffering, I can’t go along with you, whether I join the discussion or not.  However, if you want to work to help mothers and children, to reconcile unhappy couples, to befriend the lonely, or to strive toward church unification at whatever cost to your own desires, then I will work with you as God gives me strength.  In either case I acknowledge that you are my brothers and sisters; please pray for me, and I will pray for you.

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Miguel Ruiz: New light on the oldest profession Thu, 30 Jul 2015 04:01:02 +0000 Judah and Tamar, Gassel

Judah and Tamar, Gassel

Note from CM: After thinking about the way many Christians today devise their moral theology, our friend Miguel offers a “modest proposal” about reconsidering “the oldest profession.”

• • •

The history of Christianity is a twisted tale of conflict over sexuality and the suppression of those who dissent the party line on bedroom ethics.  These days, it is commonly argued that there is only one correct approach, from sound exegesis of Scripture, to human sexuality and appropriate boundaries.  However, we still must concede that what is commonly accepted as “right” today is not exactly how we have always taught.  Throughout the centuries, various sexual practices have gone in and out of favor with the church catholic at various times and in various cultures, as external influences have doubtlessly impacted how the relevant Scripture passages were read and understood.  We’ve run the gamut from repressing to libertine, and everything in between.  It is nothing short of confounding how difficult it is to get the Bible to speak directly and consistently on these matters.  If we truly value and respect the Word of God, we would be wise to continue listening and respectfully consider alternate interpretations, especially those coming from fellow believers as a matter of conscience.  We’ve all made mistakes in Biblical interpretation before, probably not for the last time.  So I challenge you to listen with an open mind as I explain how we’ve been largely wrong about a particular issue for a number of years:  Prostitution.

Prostitution gets a bad rap in our culture today, and as a result, women in this profession are grossly mistreated.  When we think of sex workers, the stereotype that comes to mind is a scantily clad woman, working a corner, wearing too much makeup.  She renders her plunder to a psychologically manipulative and physically abusive pimp who doesn’t take very good care of her.  It has truly become a dangerous profession in our day, largely because a judgmental spirit against it fosters a suppression of its legitimacy, resulting in occupational trauma.  Unfortunately, this is often done in the name of Christianity.  It doesn’t have to be so.  The exegetical scholarship on this issue is no longer as conclusive as we once thought.  Let’s take a look at what the Bible really has to say about prostitution, from the beginning.

The first recorded prostitute is Tamar.  She slept with Judah after his three sons died without knocking her up.  Oddly enough, Judah did not realize it was his three-time daughter in law.  When it was discovered that she was pregnant and she gave proof that it was at his doing, his response was (and I quote the ESV), “She is more righteous than I.”

Consider the significance of this.  Judah is not just one of the patriarchs of Israel.  Neither is he the firstborn, from whom the Messiah was expected to come.  Rather, the first three sons were passed up in favor of Judah!  The very father of the tribe of Jesus, an essential link in the genealogy of salvation, has declared a prostitute to be more righteous than him!  What does that say about how he viewed them?  It reminds me of something Jesus used to say;  “The tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”  From the popular Christian sexual ethic of today, you would expect a much more sever evisceration of this demographic, but these words seem rather flattering.

Further down the history of salvation we see Rahab, who assisted the spies in Jericho at the beginning of the Israeli conquest.  The spies had no qualms heading to her place to hide, which may even have been construed as a “business transaction.”  They showed her respect and promised her both safety and a secured place among the people of God.  Did I mention she also became a part of the lineage which led to Christ?  The holy family is not too good for hookers.  (See Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 for more praise of her.)

Jesus openly elevated the status of prostitutes.  He called many of them as followers, and nary a word is recorded of his chastisement of their livelihood.  Instead, we see “Wherever the Gospel is preached, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”  Jesus went out of his way to honor and uplift these downtrodden members of society.  And all we have for them judgement and condemnation?

Tamar, beautiful daughter of Judah, Chagall

Tamar, beautiful daughter of Judah, Chagall

“Oh, but isn’t prostitution adultery?”  Not according to Webster’s dictionary, which defines it as, “sex between a married person and someone who is not that person’s spouse.”  So prostitution can be adultery, but only if the John is married.

Sure, the Levitical code condemned prostitution, along with the eating of shrimp and the wearing of clothing with mixed fabric.  Unless you hold to those other restrictions, there is no reason to assert some of them as mandatory for today.  What would be the basis for that such a selective reading?  Prejudice.

What about New Testament condemnations of fornication?  The word commonly translated as “fornication” (pornea), actually refers to sexual immorality generally, not fornication specifically.  Many modern translations have reversed this err, effectively removing the word  from the New Testament!  You could, potentially, make the case that fornication is defrauding, in the sense that it is often achieved dishonestly:  promising commitment, feigning infatuation, blindly following temporary feelings of romance.  With a professional, however, the exchange is consensual and contractual.  Everything is mutually agreed upon, transparent, and up front.  Would that all our relations proceeded thusly!  If society were freed from this stigmatization, far fewer would resort to deception to meet this need.

1 Corinthians 6:9 is the ultimate “clobber verse” that is whipped out to shame professional sex workers and prove that God hates them:  “…prostitutes shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  And yet, several of them clearly have:  Rahab, Mary Magdalene, etc.…  Perhaps this verse doesn’t mean what is might seem.  Could it refer to temple prostitutes in the fertility cults of the time, whose pagan worship was mutually exclusive with the worship of the one true God?  It fits the textual evidence so much better than writing off an entire discriminated demographic whose line of work has left them in oppression for millennia.  It also fits with examples from the Old Testament:  When righteous kings of Israel led a revival and return to faithfulness, they always drove out the shrine prostitutes.

Verse 15 mentions prostitution in a seemingly derogatory light, but the passage is about sexual immorality generally.  It lists no specifics besides prostitution.  Surely adultery, rape, etc… are also forms of sexual immorality.  So the intent of the passage clearly isn’t to spell out a definitive list of what is or is not sexually immoral.  Rather, sexual immorality is, analogously, a prostitution of ourselves to the God of pleasure, rather than the one true God.  From this passage alone, prostitution itself may or may not be considered “sexual immorality.”

It is time for Christianity to move beyond this mistreatment of hard working young women, if we want anybody to take our faith seriously in contemporary society.  Let us consider, as an example of the Gospel’s transformational effect on society, the arrangement in parts of Nevada, where prostitution is legalized and regulated.  The girls receive medical benefits, vacation time, and can freely advertise their services with business cards and websites.  What does this do for the industry?  For one, their services are much more fairly compensated.  We should not take lightly the benefit that their labors provide society.  Those running back-alley operations to hide from the law are far more likely to get dirt for pay.  This results in a higher client load in order to make ends meet, which takes a much more severe toll on their health.  And when society is done with them, we toss them aside like yesterday’s garbage, while the rest of us enjoy our retirement plan.  Is this justice?  Does this model the compassion Christ taught?  We’re so busy patting ourselves on the back for having obtained more “respectable” vocations that we don’t even notice how our systems have trampled them.  Surely these “least of these” would receive a much stronger hand up from Christ Himself; they did when He was walking the earth.  Why not work to transition as many of them as possible from victims of thuggery and abuse to respectable entrepreneurs who run their own escort service?  After all, a women’s body ought to be her own business, not somebody else’s.

Enough with occupational discrimination.  In the past, the church has also shunned bartenders, casino operators, lingerie manufacturers, and goat herders.  These are honorable professions that are widely accepted and valued by Christians today.  The church has changed its mind on other issues, such as polygamy, once permitted and later overturned.  It is time to overturn this ancient prejudice as well.  Sure, prostitutes are sinners, like everybody else, and need forgiveness from Jesus.  But according to the Scriptures, their job isn’t the problem.  The story of God and the Christian prostitute isn’t done being written yet.

Who knows?  Maybe Jesus and Paul really meant to condemn prostitution, but didn’t choose their words carefully enough.  It’s always possible that they were simply wrong on this issue.

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Another Look: That for which every heart yearns Wed, 29 Jul 2015 04:01:30 +0000 corn-field

This is the time of year a Midwestern boy like me looks forward to with all his heart.

It is, without a doubt, the very best time of year.

For this is the season when the three most wonderful words in the English language fill the air.

Three simple, sublime words.

They are everywhere. These three magnificent words come to mind whenever you drive down the road, almost any road around here. When you are out and about, when you go to the store, when you come home and walk in the back door, you think about these words and they make you smile.

They are the most splendid, the most appealing, the most astounding words ever spoken.

They represent what I believe may be the greatest gift in all of God’s creation.

These words bring the promise of satisfaction, delight, and wonder. They capture our hopes and dreams, the yearning we all have deep within us.

As far as I am concerned, there is no greater three-word phrase in all the world. 

Fresh sweet corn!

Makes me want to break into song: ‘Tis music in the sinner’s ear! ‘Tis life and health and peace.

Barely two, yea three other phrases are like unto it…

  • Fresh green beans.
  • Fresh tomatoes.
  • Fresh cantaloupe.

Yet even these wonders do not rise to the level of “fresh sweet corn.”

I love sweet corn. It truly is better than sex! I’m not lying! All across the Midwest tonight, a husband and wife will finish what husbands and wives do, and the wife will ask the husband: “How was that?” And, if the man is honest, he’ll say “Well, it wasn’t sweet corn, but it was nice.” It’s a fact! Sweet corn is better than sex!…fresh sweet corn!…Store bought sweet corn, yes, sex is definitely better than that!

• Garrison Keillor

Sweet corn is, of course, best when picked fresh from the field or garden, then immediately placed in the hands of the fastest sprinter in the county. While cheered on by eager onlookers to set a new land speed record, said sprinter makes a beeline for the kitchen, peeling and slinging off the husks as he races toward the screen door. When he reaches the house, his teammates fling open the door, and our heroic runner breathlessly crosses the finish line, transferring the naked ears into the hands of dear old mom in her checkered apron. With a sure, experienced touch, she drops them at once into a large pot of boiling water.

The harvesting team repeats this routine as often as necessary until the pot is full and the air becomes sweet with steam.

When the golden ears are tender, mom whisks them to the table on a platter. Impatient, hankering hands grab the sacred treasure, slather it in butter, sprinkle it with salt, and devour it as soon as humanly possible. We grip the steaming ears by our fingertips, and like the carriage of an old typewriter we crunch our way down the first line, hit the return and reset, then start chomping down the next row. Over and over again.

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Return.

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Return.

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Return.

The gods look down on us with jealousy. They follow the action like spectators at a tennis match.

As for we who feast, we hardly pause to breathe, and the full ears on the plate are quickly replaced by the colorless cobs of those we’ve decorticated.

Once more, the track and field harvest team is deployed. The screen door slams behind them.

While they go about their business, we who are alive and remain turn our attention to the secondary parts of the meal: grilled chicken or pork chops, green beans, fresh tomatoes, jello salad. We slake our thirst from large, sweating glasses of iced tea.

Then the door flies open and the next batch is dropped into the pot.

The Messianic Banquet can continue.

Amen. Maranatha. Even so, boil quickly!

And there amid the laughter around the family table, the clinking of plates and silverware, the raising of glasses, and the sweet heavenly “crunch” of summer in the Midwest, the song of St. Garrison fills our hearts…

As we travel along on our earthly path
Through this beautiful world God has made
Tramping along at a stately pace
Like elephants on parade.
We discover the pleasure of grass and sun
And music and light and talk
And the joy when a day of hard work is done
And you’ve cleared five acres of rocks.
The joy as you climb in your bed at night
The joy of the brand-new morn
But of all these pleasures the greatest delight
Is a supper of fresh sweet corn.

O that fresh sweet corn that the Lord sent down
So we know how heaven will be,
No grief, no tears, just the young golden ears
Plenty for you and for me.
Though the road be hard and deep is the night
And the future we cannot see
Take my hand, dear Lord, and I’ll be all right
If you’ll save a few ears for me.

…We praise you Lord for this good good life
And praise for the day we were born
And the gifts you have given including this heaven-ly
Fresh sweet corn.

• A Prairie Home Companion script—May 7, 2005

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Ryan McLaughlin: A Luminous Darkness Tue, 28 Jul 2015 04:01:00 +0000 879096_orig

A Luminous Darkness
By Ryan McLaughlin

At long last, I had found my way out of the wilderness!

Or so I thought, at least. My wife and I became Roman Catholic on a beautiful spring evening in the heart of Boston. As Holy Saturday became Easter Sunday, the bells rang out and the lights came on in the century-old parish and I, too, felt like I was leaving a spiritual grave. We’d found a new beginning! Our little apartment smelled like the chrism oil we’d been doused with for days afterwards, and my sense of rapture lasted for many weeks more.

I had been wandering in the “post-evangelical wilderness” for several years at that point. I had been burned to my core by my experiences in Sovereign Grace Ministries (as many readers will know, a “non-denominational denomination” with Calvinist leanings that’s been plagued by scandals for years now), and had been searching for a new home. At some point along the way, I’d become fascinated by Church history, and began reading the Fathers. A little while later, I became enamored by modern Catholic luminaries such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). After that, I fell under the spell of the Catholic pens of the likes of G.K. Chesterton and Flannery O’Connor.

Under a deluge of Roman books, I began to feel like Catholicism had the answer to all of the questions I’d left Evangelicalism with a few years earlier. Eventually, we signed up for RCIA classes, and that bright night in Boston came just 4 months later.

We were excited to begin life as practicing Catholics. What we weren’t ready for was the agony and frustration of it all.

We weren’t ready for the huge disparity between what we read and what we were about to experience. Being a practicing Roman Catholic in the United States has nothing to do with reading a good Ratzinger or Chesterton book. For us, American Catholicism was a wilderness that made the post-evangelical one pale in comparison.

To begin with the smaller things: nobody prepared us for the fact that the beautiful liturgy that inspired Catholics of old is almost entirely gone, and has largely been replaced by a silly caricature of contemporary Evangelical worship. Or that modern Catholic priests often just don’t take preaching seriously, and many a homily is just ten minutes of your time that’s wasted. Or that becoming a member of a Catholic parish means that you will be constantly hounded for money—I mean, they pass the collection plate TWICE almost every Sunday of the year. And that’s just the parish, wait until the diocese comes after you for the annual “pastoral appeal.”

Nobody warned us that Catholics don’t talk to each other on Sundays, and that making friends and finding fellowship was going to be brutally difficult, and that you can attend a parish for over a year and still feel like a complete stranger there. We didn’t get a heads up that when we did finally manage to make Catholic friends, the liberal ones were going to think it odd that we went to Eucharistic Adoration, and the conservative ones were going to raise their eyebrows at the fact that we vaccinate our children or that we’re not planning on homeschooling them.

We weren’t ready for the new bishop we’d have after we moved to Florida, who is widely known to have sexually harassed a male employee of the diocese and yet still serves in office. We weren’t ready for the priest at a prominent local parish that was arrested for masturbating in public, but who is still in ministry. We’d figured all of that had been taken care of a decade earlier after the clergy sex abuse scandal had broken. Wasn’t there zero tolerance for that sort of thing now?

Doctrine felt like a bait-and-switch: somehow, in all of the deep and inspiring books I’d read, I missed the fact that the Catholic Church still teaches that missing Mass on just one Sunday without a good reason puts you out of the state of grace, and into immediate danger of hellfire. Not once in our RCIA class did we hear that using contraception isn’t just against the Church’s teachings, but that it can actually send an otherwise faithful Catholic married couple into an eternity in hell if left unconfessed. When we learned all of this after we’d already gone through with becoming Catholic, we did the best we could to be faithful to the Church we’d committed ourselves to. Still, deep in the recesses of my heart, it was hard to square those beliefs with faith in a loving and merciful God… I learned that while the depths of Catholic academic theology are profound and beautiful, the doctrines that affect a Christian’s day-to-day life—the ones I’d failed to read about before becoming Catholic–seem to come from a different universe.

I wasn’t ready to feel angry and confused all the time, or to feel like God was slipping further and further away from me the more I tried to get close to Him. Most of all, I wasn’t ready to think about the Catholic Church in America, and then look at my three young children, and think “how on earth am I supposed to raise my kids to love Jesus in an environment like this? If I stick with this, they’re going to want nothing to do with religion of any kind long before they turn 18.”

If this was leaving the wilderness, man, maybe the wilderness wasn’t that bad.

I don’t want you to get the impression that I’d expected a perfect, sinless church when we became Catholic. But I had made a decision to convert that was entirely intellectual, and not based in reality. The church to which I thought I was converting didn’t seem to exist anywhere in the real world. And the doubts I was having about various points of doctrine were really gnawing at me…

Last year I finally broke down. I just couldn’t see myself staying Catholic anymore. It was painful to admit it to myself, but I’d been wrong. I was embarrassed: I was very vocal and public about becoming Catholic, and was now making a retraction. But I was too far down the rabbit hole of Church history to go back to being an Evangelical. You see, I was still convinced by many of the things I’d learned about the Eucharist, Mary, the Saints… These were firm convictions that I’d formed through years of study. Meanwhile, I’d had some friends that converted to Eastern Orthodoxy…

3572677_origWe visited an Eastern Orthodox parish. Then we visited another one. And we kept going back to that second one… The people there actually talked to each other, and to us, and the priest was really kind. The liturgy was serious and beautiful. At some point, my wife told me that it was the first time in years that she was looking forward to going to church on Sunday mornings.

Meanwhile, I’d gone back to my reading, looking to reevaluate what I’d been so sure of a few years earlier… My doubts began to grow, and I decided to take down the triumphalist little Catholic convert blog I’d been writing. Honestly, I’d gone from being angry all the time to just feeling hollow and spent. I felt broken, humbled, and in need of peace. I found enormous comfort in going to vespers at the Orthodox parish by myself on Saturday nights, lighting a few candles and just letting the words of the prayers and the Scripture readings carry me along.

Eventually, we knew we were supposed to be Orthodox. I wish I could tell you that we had a “seeing the light” kind of moment. But it was more like climbing into what St. Gregory of Nyssa calls a “luminous darkness.” It wasn’t finding the answer to all of our questions, it was more like finally figuring out that God wasn’t in the earthquake or the storm or the raging fire, but in the gentle whisper of the wind. And while I did my fair share of reading great books, and I truly fell in love with Eastern Orthodox theology, that’s not what finally convinced me that I needed to become Orthodox: it was the offer of healing. It was the slow realization that I wasn’t going to able to read my way out of the spiritual wilderness I’d thought I’d left, I was going to need to learn how to really pray and fast. It was looking around at the dear people of St. Andrew’s OCA, and hearing Fr. Patrick preach, and thinking to myself: “yeah, I could see myself raising my kids to love Jesus here.”

We were chrismated into Orthodoxy in February. This time we weren’t received into our new Church during the Easter Vigil. It was, appropriately enough, the last Sunday before Lent. And so we began again, not triumphantly, not feeling like we’d figured everything out, not thinking that the healing process was done… but we began again in peace.

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Teaching One Another: Feeding the Crowds Mon, 27 Jul 2015 04:01:43 +0000 Blessing_of_the_Five_Loaves

We haven’t done much Bible study recently, and I thought today might be a good day to dig in again. Yesterday’s lectionary readings intrigued me, particularly the OT reading and the Gospel. I think they raise some questions, not only of biblical interpretation, but of how we approach the Bible and stories like this.

📖 First Testament Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.

📖 Gospel Reading: John 6:1-21 (1-15 is below)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

• • •

“The Feeding of the 5000″ is one of Jesus’ miracles that invites a lot of thought and discussion.

  • First of all, it is one of those rare miracles that is told in all four Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-15). This fact in and of itself makes it interesting, for comparing and contrasting the different Gospel accounts brings out the theological interests of each Gospel writer.  For example, John is the only one who mentions that Passover was at hand. John also specifies that Jesus initiated a conversation with Philip about how they were going to feed the crowds, and that he did so in order to test him. John also is alone in recording the crowd’s reaction (v. 14), that Jesus perceived they were going to try and make him king by force, and that this was the reason Jesus withdrew to the mountain. Matthew and Mark, by contrast, only say that he went up on the mountain to pray. The other unique thing in John’s Gospel, characteristic of the way he follows events with extended discourses and controversy narratives, is that this story leads into the great “Bread of Life” account later in the chapter. The fact that we can examine this same miracle in all four Gospels brings up questions of why they considered this miracle so important and what lessons they each drew from it for their readers.
  • Jesus feeding the multitude_jpgSecond, it is a miracle that recalls a specific First Testament miracle (2Kings 4:42-44). There is inter-textuality not only between the four Gospels with reference to this miracle, but also with the OT narratives of Elisha the prophet. There must be some tie between the two stories; the parallels between them are nearly identical. Now this certainly raises questions, does it not? What is the relationship between the story of Jesus and that of Elisha? Do the Gospel writers intend that we readers will have the Elisha narratives in mind as a foundation for understanding this miracle Jesus worked? Did they shape their accounts in order to make them parallel to the Elisha miracle and to draw attention to those parallels (and differences)?
  • Third, it is a miracle that also has a parallel in the Gospels themselves (Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 8:1-10). “The Feeding of the Four Thousand” shows up later in Matthew and Mark, and the story follows the same arc. This kind of a “doublet” in the Gospels is a rarity, and has led, as one might imagine, to all kinds of discussion among NT scholars about the possible relationships between the events and their tellings.
  • Fourth, it is a miracle that raises some theological questions, especially with regard to matters like the Eucharist. This discussion usually has focused on how John sets this story at Passover and develops it into the discourse about Jesus, the Bread of Life, and about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. But don’t miss the fact that the Synoptics also contain elements that evoke Eucharistic themes as well. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that Jesus “looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke [the loaves], and gave them to the disciples.” It is not likely that the event itself had anything to do with the Eucharist, but we are talking here about how the Gospel writers chose to tell the story. They all included details which the Church, who read these accounts, would recognize as characteristic of the Eucharistic meals they celebrated. If these stories do evoke the Christian meal gathering, the Church’s worship, what do they tell us about it?
  • Finally, we must not forget to say that this is a wonderful story about Jesus. No matter what interesting biblical or theological issues it raises, it ultimately is designed to tell us about him, to help us encounter him, to experience something of what he came to do for Israel and the world. How does Jesus meet us in this account?

• • •

Well, that’s enough priming the pump for today.

This is a day for “teaching one another.” Let’s talk together about “The Feeding of the 5000.”

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Sundays with Michael Spencer: July 26, 2015 Sun, 26 Jul 2015 04:01:20 +0000 Carina Nebula Details: Great Clouds

Carina Nebula Details: Great Clouds

Note from CM: You will find a link to the HubbleSite in our Links list as well as in this post. I encourage you to go there often and “consider the heavens.”

 • • •

One of my life-long loves is astronomy. I’ve owned some very nice telescopes, and I’ve spent many a clear, cold winter night out on someone’s farm, looking at the glories of the heavens. Since I was a child of the golden age of the space program, my interest in astronomy and NASA made me a big fan of the Hubble Space Telescope. My students are quite used to me refering to my favorite Hubble photographs, and getting a bit glassy-eyed about the vast universe that Hubble brings into view through its photos. The beauty of the Hubble photos continues to be a delight for me, and I can never get enough of those that show dozens of galaxies filling a photo the size of a postcard. It’s quite astonishing.

When I look at Hubble’s pictures, I get some idea — a very paltry one — of the vastness and greatness of the universe. The miniscule fact of all earthly concerns fills my mind. I realize that I am far less than dust. There is really no calculation as to how small I am, and how insignificant I am, in such a vast and majestic universe as we glimpse through Hubble’s mirror. What we cansee is awe-inspiring, but it is less than a sliver — less than a grain of dust — of what we cannot see.

Hubble has always been a deeply theological hobby for me, because the men who wrote lines about “the heavens declare the glory of God,” had no idea what they were actually saying. Hubble deepens and further exalts the greatness of God. It magnifies the miracle of the incarnation. It inspires worship at the being that would call such a universe into existence and sustain it by the word of His power.

Contemplating the universe revealed in the Hubble photos, those of us who believe in the personal God revealed in Jesus must be, if we are at all cognizant of what we are seeing, brought to a kind of worshipful silence and humility. The God who created this universe, and who holds it in the palm of his hand like I hold a drop of water in my own, has presented himself to me in the person of Jesus. He has brought the mind that conceived the mysteries of this universe to express itself in the words and teachings of Jesus. He has brought the power that sustains such a universe into our world in those tiny demonstrations of power we call “miracles.”

I will admit that meditating on the Hubble photos plays havoc with my understanding of theology. The Bible was written in a pre-scientific culture. Despite the valiant attempts of my Creationist friends to rescue the Bible as a book of literal science, I increasingly see that the Bible delivers its story to us in the language of people who simply could not have fathomed what Hubble is showing us. The greatness of God was measured in stars that were mysterious powers in the firmament and the power demonstrated in weather and earthquake. Hubble shows us a God who spins galaxies into existence with the ease and delight of a child throwing sand into the air; a God who continually paints his universe with the tapestries of nebulae that surpass any Michelangelo.

I realize that the heart of reality, however, is not the depth and beauties of space. The heart of reality is the God revealed in Jesus. The story of the Prodigal Son takes me deeper into God’s universe than any telescope or space probe. The cross and resurrection show me more of the essence of reality than can be seen in the information gathered by any ingenious human instrument.

The imagery of Hubble has also affected my theology in another way. More and more, my books of theology seem comically inadequate. The theological debates that populate the blogosphere — debates that feature an endless string of experts so confident in their ideas about God that all variation from their opinions is a rejection of God’s own truth — can easily take on the character of children viciously arguing about matters of which they can know only the vaguest crumbs of reality. My outlines of “systematic” theology and my certainties on how God views every issue seem remarkably pallid.

Jet in the Carina Nebula

Jet in the Carina Nebula

In fact, the very notion that theologians, in all their various expertise, have reduced the God of the Hubble photographs down to their personal collection of words, is laughable to me anymore. Is God — this God? the God of this majestic universe — sorting out eternal fellowship with or exclusion from Himself based on whether I agree with the language of some denomination’s description of something called justification or some other doctrine we deem essential? Do my words and conceptions determine the extent to which I am taken in by the grace of such a God? Is Jesus really all about the message of “You better get it right?”

I am convinced that every person who met Jesus was utterly, deeply, life-alteringly convinced that God loved him/her with the love of a Father for his very own child. “This is beloved child; with you I am well-pleased.” I do not know what those first persons who met Jesus thought about many other things, but I have no doubt that every person who encountered Jesus realized that God’s love for him/her was unshakable and unending. Lepers. Adultresses. Fishermen. Tax collectors. Teenagers. Grandmothers. Rabbis. Demon oppressed. Gentiles. Women. Samaritans. Everyone. They all walked away knowing that God loved them in and through Jesus, and that all they needed to do was receive this love, and not reject it. (Amazingly, there were those who not only walked away, but insisted on killing Jesus and his God of relentless love.)

This is what the God who made the universe, the galaxies and my life wants me to know. It is the love of God taking hold of me in the Word, Jesus. It is his teaching. It is his example. It is his stories. It is his exorcisms. It is his miracles. It is his suffering. It is his cross and resurrection. It is his call to his disciples to live in through, with and by this Love of God. The God of the Hubble photos wants me to know this, and to live generously serving Him and die fearlessly trusting in Him because of Jesus.

My friends will notice I am debating theology less these days. The team sport of theological jousting is less interesting that those Hubble pictures…and the one who created all that is in them. I am caring about Jesus more as life grows longer. I look at my shelves of books, and I listen to the endless debates over this theology or that theologian or another interpretation of a scripture. I am told, constantly, that all depends on embracing someone’s theology.

I cannot believe it. I do not believe the God who created and became incarnation leaves it up to me to think the right thoughts; to be a proper and correct theologian. I believe this God came to earth in Jesus, loved me, and gave Himself that I might know him and freely receive his salvation. The Bible is the story of this God, introducing himself to us human language and culture through the story of Israel, but always setting the stage for the time that He, himself, would come to this little blue planet and show us that the Word has been made flesh, and how those who receive Him are now and forever, the children of God.

Forgive my absence from the latest debate. I am looking at my Hubble pictures, and thinking of God.

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Saturday Ramblings, July 25, 2014 Sat, 25 Jul 2015 04:01:04 +0000 Hello imonks, and welcome to the weekend. Ready to Ramble?nash-rambler-03

Good thing he doesn’t have to run for re-election. Pope Francis’s approval rating in America has plummeted in the last year. The drop-off has been especially sharp among American conservatives: “This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and attributing climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality — all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs,” Gallup analyst Art Swift wrote Wednesday when the survey was published. But he’s also down 14 percent among liberals.4ocrj5a4c0affsj7wvpklg

After hearing the news, Pope Francis sought to shore up his support among Americans by showing off some sick new dance moves while his homie dropped some beat-boxing.

And his homie, the prez of Italy, drops a phat back-beat

And that homie is the president of Italy, by the way. “His Holy Homie”?

If you’ve ever gone to a movie based on a board game (Battleship) or a child’s toy (Legos, G.I Joe), and caught yourself saying, “ya know, I wish they could make some movies based on even less narrative source material”, then you’re in luck. In a deal near seven figures, Sony Pictures Animation won a three-studio auction for an animated movie pitch centering on the Emoji. Why????emoji-1

I am really trying not to mention Donald Trump every week. I am really, really trying. But how can I pass up on his answers to questions of faith at the Family Leadership Summit last weekend?

“People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church,” he said.

Moderator Frank Luntz asked Trump whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions. “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion. “When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.'”

Soooooo many questions. Why does The Donald not bring God into the forgiveness picture? Is it because The Donald doesn’t ask for favors from God,  but negotiates with Him?  Is “my little cracker” really how they describe the communion elements in his church? And don’t Presbys use grape juice in their communion, not wine? Or does The Donald ferment it the moment he touches it? Is this what he thinks transubstantiation is? The imagination staggers…

UPDATE: After I wrote the above, I came across this interview where Anderson Cooper asked Trump about his rather cavalier attitude towards repentance. Trump’s response: “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honorable person. I employ thousands of persons.” Okay, I think I understand now…

So, it has come to this…


Did you hear there is a lion loose in Milwaukee? Well, maybe at least.  Hard evidence has been hard to find — no hair, paw prints, feces or Tin Man-type accomplices — but police say they have received two dozen calls from residents who claim to have seen the big cat. And On Monday a woman took blurry cellphone video of a large feline on E. Garfield Ave. Sadly one resident shot a white pit bull Wednesday, thinking it was the lion. “It’s ludicrous. It’s not tall and not anywhere near the size of a lion,” said Karen Sparapani, director of the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission. Fortunately, the dog is expected to make a full recovery.

As you may have noticed, Hillary Clinton is a woman. But lest you labor under the misapprehension that her presidential campaign is based on her gender, rather than her policies or character or decisions as a public figure, prepare to be set straight: “Clearly, I’m not asking people to vote for me simply because I’m a woman. I’m asking people to vote for me on the merits. And I think one of the merits is: I am a woman, and can bring those views and perspectives to the White House.” Okay, then.

For some reason, this makes me giddy:

Our good friend Pat Robertson has some advice for President Obama. The prez is visiting Kenya this weekend.  Reflecting on Kenya’s criminalization of homosexual sex (with up to 14 years in the slammer), and the warnings from an Kenyan Bishop that “Obama has an agenda against God”, Robertson said, “One wishes that the president of the United States would listen to some of his fellow Africans, cousins, to what they have to say because they speak truth and they speak wisdom.”

Weekly “tweaking Chaplain Mike pic”: download (21)

Ben Carson was asked this week about Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood. “You wonder if he actually knows the history of Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger, who was trying to eliminate black people,” Carson replied. “That was the whole purpose of it.” That is obviously political hyperbole. But founder Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist, who constantly talked about the need to keep “inferior” types from breeding, even if she did not specify the nature of their inferiority. “[We should] apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.” “The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” And then there’s this:

She even presented at a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1926 in Silver Lake, N.J. She recounted this event in her autobiography: “I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan … I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses … I was escorted to the platform, was introduced, and began to speak … In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered” (Margaret Sanger, “An Autobiography,” Page 366). That she generated enthusiasm among some of America’s leading racists says something about the content and tone of her remarks.

So here is a question worthy of discussion: is it hypocritical to decry the Confederate legacy and demand its flag be removed while many on the left, including Hillary, give accolades to Margaret Sanger?

You know, it’s so sad when religious leaders cash in:


David Barton has not always been kindly received at InternetMonk. Jeff Dunn gave him a dressing-down here. But credit where credit is due:

On his “WallBuilders Live” radio program today, Barton took a question from a listener on the controversy over the Confederate flag and the idea that the Civil War was really fought over the principle of states’ rights and not the issue of slavery.

“It was not about states’ rights,” Barton said. “It was about slavery.” As Barton explained, the documents written and speeches given by those who supported secession regularly cited the preservation of slavery as the primary factor. The idea that the Civil War was fought to protect states’ rights, Barton said, is absurd considering that the Confederate constitution explicitly prohibited states from abolishing slavery.

Barton went on to liken Confederate prisoner of war camps for Union soldiers to Nazi death camps as he revealed that of all the official prayer proclamations that he collects for this library, he will not accept any Confederate proclamations from the likes of Jefferson Davis “because what they were praying for to God is like ISIS praying.”

“Look at the pictures, read the accounts,” Barton said. “Read what happened to blacks, read the hearings in Congress on the various things that were done to blacks. It’s not human. It’s what Germans did to Jews, saying ‘Well, they aren’t human, we can do this to them.'”

Spotted this week: download (5)

Hafvsbard, Norway, has a pooper problem. At least, it’s a problem if you’re a golfer. Kenneth Tennfjord, groundskeeper at the Stavanger Golf Club, said he has been finding human feces and toilet paper in course holes since 2005. “He has a couple of favorite holes,” Tennfjord told the Rogaland Avis newspaper. “And we know it is a man because the poos are too massive to be from a woman.” Well, that narrows it down.


Hey Sven, sure you want that to go in?

On Sunday, Australian champion surfer Mick Fanning was competing in the finals of the J-Bay Open tournament in South Africa when a shark surfaced next to him. Fanning fought the shark until it swam away.

A boat came by and picked Fanning up, unharmed. The whole incident left the shark feeling sad and misunderstood.


Ashley Madison is a website dedicated to promoting adultery. Their slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair”. They also boast they have “over 37 million anonymous users.” Well, scratch the anonymous part. A hacker broke into their database and has started to out those users. download (15)

Well, that’s it for this week. Let’s end with a video. This week Theodore Bikel, who played Teyve in the broadway version of Fiddler on the Roof , died. In his honor, here is the opening number from the movie version. Enjoy.

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