Category Archives: Faith

Taking Back The Welcome Mat – The Catholic Church Closes Its Door to Gays & Lesbians.

The Pope and the Catholic Church sent up a trial balloon. They wanted to see if the conservatives within the church could tolerate hospitality toward gay people. At the end of the day, I guess they determined that they cannot welcome people who sin in the areas of sexuality.

Any church that claims to have Jesus of Nazareth at its head should not have to even discuss whether to be a welcoming church to all people regardless of their “sins.” A common theme in the New Testament is how Jesus offended the conservative religious folk of his time by associating with outcasts of his society. Specifically he was criticized for eating with sinners.

In the Catholic Church the priest is supposed to represent Jesus Christ. These Bishops in Rome failed in their representation. Let’s be clear that what they failed to pass was not some change in direction of doctrine about homosexuality; it was a document that simply reiterated the fact that “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy.”

Being A Pro-Life Christian

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Saturday, thousands marched in Washington in favor of making abortion illegal in America. It was inspired by the 40th Anniversary of Roe vs Wade. On his new Twitter account, Pope Benedict XVI supported the march with the following tweet: “I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.” It was only the fourth time in history the Pope had ever sent out a message via Twitter.

On Sunday, thousands marched in Washington in favor of gun control in America. It was inspired by the tragedy in Newtown, CT. On his Twitter account, Pope Benedict XVI was silent. The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi released a statement in favor of gun control in the aftermath of Newtown, but the Pope himself has made no such pronouncements. The Pope is signalling to the world that, in his view, outlawing abortion protects life in a more important way than controlling the proliferation of firearms in society.

I do not believe that government should impose on society its opinion about the question of when human life begins. The morality of abortion hinges on this question. It is both a question of science and of faith. Neither science nor faith give a clear answer. That is why I believe it should be left up to the individual to decide.

For me, it is not simply a question of biology, because that is not what distinguishes humanity from other life on earth. If we make no such distinction between living organism, then we must decry something as common as killing bacteria. The important distinction between human and other life is not biological, it is in the human spirit and soul.

Christians disagree, but I believe the Bible is pretty clear about when the human spirit is implanted in the human body. In the creation story, the human spirit is breathed into Adam after he is fully formed. In the dry bones dream in Ezekiel, God says, “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.” I interpret these and other passages from Scripture to suggest that we become fully human only at birth when we take our first breath of life.

The Catholic Church has for several centuries taught that human life begins at conception. The evangelical Protestants used to disagree, but ever since Jerry Falwell, they have embraced this notion. I believe elevating the status of fetuses is motivated more by a concern over dwindling numbers of members than by Biblical teachings.

I fear that these Christian leaders who decry a woman’s right to choose are primarily concerned about maintaining their power in society through the numbers of their adherents. Teaching their members that abortion (and any form of birth control) is wrong, increases the birthrate among their members, and this in turn helps to ensure that their “kind” maintain or grow it’s percentage within a society.

Jesus said go and make disciples, but I don’t think he meant by forcing women to have babies against their will. I believe being a pro-life Christian means valuing human life, and I believe this mission is undermined by equating a human fetus to a human child.

Day of Contrasts

Saturday was a day of contrasts. The reds came out and spent the day at the Guns Across America Rally. The blues came out and spent the day participating in the National Day of Service. Five people were injured by firearm accidents at several gun shows on Saturday. There is no report yet about how many people were injured participating in the National Day of Service.

Serve others or fight to arm more citizens. WWJD?

Acts 2:1-21: Coping with Miracles

Icon of the Pentecost

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[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for June 5, 2011]

On the Day of Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension to heaven, Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began speaking in tongues. This means that they began speaking in languages that they didn’t know. According the Book of Acts, the people who witnessed this miracle had mixed reactions. Some were “amazed and astonished” (Acts 2:7, NRSV); others “sneered” (Acts 2:13, NRSV) and accused them of being drunk.

I can understand the reaction of those who sneered. I am reluctant to believe in something that I have never heard of before. I tend to be skeptical about things that have no precedent. I don’t tend to believe that something new and miraculous is going on around me.

Throughout human history, God has periodically intervened with acts that only God could perform. These events have served to testify to God’s existence and power. However, each of us have an out. Each of us have the choice to deny such things. Each of us can preserve our cherished understanding of how the world works even in the face of miracles. We can find explanations for miracles that ignore and disrespect our Creator.

Acts 1:6-14: Let’s Get To Work On Our Task In The Here & Now

Ascension of Christ

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[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for June 5, 2011]

According to the ascension account in the book of Acts, Jesus answered one final question: “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6, NRSV) In reply he told his disciples that it was not for them to know the times that have been set by God’s authority. He went on to tell them that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and that they are to be his global witnesses.

Our curiosity wants to know. We especially want to know the future. But Jesus tells us that we should not focus on knowing the future or other answers that only God knows. Jesus tells us to focus on what we already know: the past and present. Jesus calls us to testify about how God has been working in the world. We are to spread the word about things to which we have been witnesses. Jesus promised that we would receive power. We are called to use that power to testify to what we know about God to the ends of the earth rather than what we guess about the end of the earth.

As the disciples stood watching Jesus ascend into heaven, they were probably dumbfounded. While they stood frozen on the spot, an angel snapped them out of their stunned amazement. The angel asked them why they were standing there looking up toward heaven.

Jesus had given them an assignment; they had work to do. We Christians have work to do here on earth. We should not be spending our time, energy, and power from the Holy Spirit speculating and longing for the return of Christ. We need to quit trying to unlock mysteries of things that only God knows. We should be about the business of telling others about what we do know. We need to be sharing our testimony about how God has been working in our lives and in the history of the world.

We need to be testifying about God’s love not just through words but through our actions. We need to be proving to others that God is working right now by allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to work in us a love for our neighbors that exceeds any love that we could muster on our own.

Every person you meet today should experience a love from you that is beyond human capabilities. They should be so amazed by your love that they become curious to know its source. Once they ask, you then will have the opportunity and power to be Jesus’ proper witness.

When the “Bill of Rights” Bites Back

This is a closeup of the middle portion of the...

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In our constitution is a Bill of Rights intended to protect citizens against their government. The 8th amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees that the government will not subject people to cruel and unusual punishment. Sometimes overcrowding in prisons has been judged to be cruel and unusual punishment, and some people don’t like that one bit.

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided that California’s overcrowded prisons result in cruel and unusual punishment for the way it subjects prisoners to increased disease, violence, and death.  Here is a situation where the court sided in favor of those with little power and against government excess. One might hope that those who clamor and shout that our government has forgotten the little guy and has forgotten its own Constitution would embrace if not celebrate this ruling. If one hoped that, one would be very disappointed.

Although the conservative movement tries to portray itself as the champion of the victims of government overreach; it actually plays favorites. It prefers the wealthy to the poor. It prefers the majority culture over the minority cultures. In its world, people in prison deserve no accommodation. They don’t know anybody in prison. Their friends have enough influence and money to avoid prison, and so it is easy for them to characterize  inmates as bad people. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the same group who see no problem with ignoring the Geneva Convention‘s rules prohibiting torturing prisoner’s of war are quick to use the same callous logic against its own citizens.

The reaction to this news from the right has been swift, in unison, and fully spun to misrepresent facts. They ignore the fact that the court is giving California time to deal with this court order. The Wall Street Journal was typical in its headline: The Supreme Court’s Prison Break.

John Bolton is considering a run for the presidency, so he came out swinging. According to John, what America needs is another president like Ronald Reagan who knew how to appoint “originalist” justices to the Supreme Court. Ignoring the fact that a Reagan appointee wrote the opinion in favor of this ruling, Bolton embraces originalism as some noble principle of justice.

Originalism seeks to follow the intent of those who originally drafted a measure. If it were possible to achieve, then this would yield a perfectly static set of laws in America where Africans would remain enslaved and women would remain powerless to vote. [Of course this may not sound so bad to this crowd]

But the truth is that it is an unrealistic goal. How does one know the extent of the imagination of people who pass laws of principle? Did the words “all men are created equal” only apply to white guys in the minds of our founding fathers? Did the words “cruel and unusual punishment” have specific boundaries? If so, then why didn’t they simply list prohibited punishments rather than draft such an open-ended phrase?

There is also the problem of figuring out who the originator is for a concept. The concept of our Bill of Rights did not originate with us. We borrowed it from the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Furthermore, I would argue that much of our concepts of law derive from the Ten Commandments. Does John Bolton presume to know what was in the “mind” of the originator of the Ten Commandments, God?

Most people imagine that what they were taught about religion when they were a child represents orthodoxy. Similarly in politics people like to imagine their own preferred interpretations as the one’s advanced by the heroes of our nation’s founding. Just as some Christians try to create Jesus in their own image, Americans like to create our forefathers in our own image.

Originalism is just a fancy sounding word that allows people to co-opt the credibility of our founding fathers for their own pet theories and prejudices. And many of the protestations against this Supreme Court decision represent nothing more than a hissy-fit being thrown by spoiled children who are used to getting their own way in all things regarding our government.

If It’s Not Armageddon, Maybe It’s Global Warming

P globe blue

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The world didn’t end this weekend, but 89 people are dead in Joplin, Missouri from a tornado. So far this year tornadoes have killed nearly 400 people in the U.S. Haven’t we had more tornado disasters this year than in recent memory?  Last year 45 people died in tornadoes. The year before that 21 people died.

Jesus listed “famines and earthquakes in various places” as one of the signs of the end of the end of the age and his return. So for some Christians, their certainty or suspicion that the end of the world is near is bolstered by recent weather events. But as we saw the past weekend, it can be risky to try to predict the time for an event that even Jesus said he didn’t know when it would happen.

Anticipating the end of the world allows conservative Christians to put the weather disasters of the past decade into a familiar narrative. It permits them not to worry about whether these events are trying to tell us that something is wrong with our planet. It also allows them not to worry too much about the long-term effects we’re having on our planet because they believe that the world isn’t going to be around much longer anyway.

Severe weather events is one of the consequences predicted by those raising the alarm over global warming. Somehow these events no longer generate much discussion about global warming. It’s as if we have a stalemate now. Gallup reports “48% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41% in 2009 and 31% in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question.” Rasmussen reports that 59% of Americans believe that there is significant disagreement about global warming within the scientific community. These opinions stand in the face of the fact that no scientific body of national or international standing denies global warming or that human activity contributes to it.

It is instructive to consider the final scientific body to cave and agree with everybody else about global warming. That body was the  American Association of Petroleum Geologists. It reminds me of the notion (not mine) that it is very difficult to convince a man of something if his livelihood depends on it not being true. The entire question of global warming has been corrupted by commercial interests. Industries who do not want their activities to be restricted based on the external costs they cause our society will spend lots of money to try to convince the decision makers that they are not causing such a problem.

Unfortunately many Christians have been co-opted politically by business interests in America. This has been done in many ways. One strategy has been to use social issues as wedge issues. Many Christians use questions such as abortion and gay marriage as litmus tests. They trust people who agree with their orthodoxy on these two issues. Political conservatives have learned that adopting the “right” positions on certain social issues give them carte blanche with these people on the economic issues that these conservatives care about.

The world didn’t end this weekend. We don’t know when the world will end. Maybe these signs of the end times are not a result of God fulfilling prophecies about the end of the world. Perhaps they are the result of what we are doing to our planet. Perhaps it is time for Christians to focus less on the end of the bible and more on the beginning when God gave us responsibility to care for God’s creation.

Acts 17:22-31: Searching, Groping, & Finding God

Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. The Book ...

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[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for May 29, 2011]

Paul sums up God’s purpose in creation in a single sentence. According to Paul’s sermon in the seventeenth chapter of Acts, God made us and set each of us into our allotted places within creation so that we would search, grope and find God. Creation surrounds us in order for us to be in the right situation that God has designed for us to eventually find God.

What is the situation in which you find yourself within creation? Do you consider yourself fortunate to be living in “modern” times? Do you praise God for the blessing of having been born where you were born? Are you thankful for all of the privileges that you have enjoyed based on your allotted place in creation?

Paul contrasts God to other things that humans worship. God is not like “gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals” (Acts 17:29, NRSV). But those are the things that we find ourselves surrounded by in our allotted place in the world. And those are the things that misdirect us in our search for God. We grope not for God but for gold and silver. But such things are counterfeits, and such things cannot satisfy the longing that God created in our hearts.

God has put us all into the right situations in order for us to search for God. Those situations present many counterfeits for us to consider.  We might first go through a period of groping, but we can eventually find God, and finding God is our purpose here on earth.

First Peter 2:2-10: Salvation Is A Process Rather Than An Event

The key as symbol of St. Peter

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[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for May 22, 2011]

Peter says that by spiritual milk we “grow into salvation” (1 Pet 2:2, NRSV). Christians call this growth “sanctification.” Sanctification is part of the process of salvation.

When they think about salvation, some Christians like to focus only on the thrilling moment of new birth. Peter sees it as a process rather than an event. If salvation is an event, then once it is complete, there is little requirement to grow.

Jesus said, “the one who believes in me will also do the work that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12, NRSV) Jesus did not see salvation as something that ends in an event of surrender.  That is just the beginning. Belief in Jesus draws one into a life of action that mirrors Jesus’ ministry.

Many Christians have the salvation experience of being born again, but then they become paralyzed as they continue to adore and revere that single moment. Do we not know that we are here to continue Jesus’ ministry? Do we not understand that our lives are to be so changed that we become charismatic beacons of love and truth in a world filled with hatred and lies?

A focus on the new birth can also lead us into believing that our entire task on earth is to save as many people as possible from sin. We take pride in the number of notches that we can carve on our holster of holiness. Yet it is only the Holy Spirit who has the power to save.  We have the power to live our lives in a way that serves as a testimony to the loving grace of our Lord.

Acts 2:42-47 – Godly Communism

You Cannot Serve Both God & Mammon

Image by Mike_tn via Flickr

[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for May 15, 2011]

Jesus did not advocate for political causes.  Jesus did not ordain one form of government as the Christian form of government. Jesus didn’t embrace any economic theory. The Protestant work ethic has led many in our culture to embrace free enterprise as Christian. The combination of Russia’s embrace of communism and atheism leads many to view communism as godless.

Inconveniently for our tendency to mix culture and religion, Scripture tells us that the earliest Christian church functioned like a commune. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45, NRSV). In America today, those disciples of Christ would be accused of being disciples of Karl Marx. For American Christians it is uncomfortable to see this illustration of godly communism in our Scriptures.

Although Jesus did not advocate for or against any political or economic systems, he did talk about money.  In fact he talked a lot about money. He told us that we cannot love both God and money, for then we are serving two masters. He told us that we should not spend our time and energy storing up material treasures on earth. He told at least one rich and powerful man that he must give away all his riches in order to become a disciple.

I am a Christian, and I believe that capitalism is superior to communism. I think it works better for a society. I find that capitalism is based on the recognition that people are basically selfish and greedy. It is designed to try to leverage that selfish drive for the benefit of society. I find that communism has an idealistic view of humanity. It assumes that people’s nature is good and generous. It does not yield the same benefit to society as capitalism because greed mucks up the works of communism.

My point is not to extol the virtues of capitalism. My point is to note the danger in my view. By embracing a system that acknowledges and uses greed; we run the risk of society embracing greed as a virtue. The danger for Christians would be to become disciples of capitalism.  As Jesus said, we cannot serve two masters.

For those of us who are Christians, we must never fully become capitalists or communists. Both systems have their flaws. We must stand against each when it violates Christian ethics. I embrace capitalism, but I am quick to say that it must not be allowed free reign in society.  We must strive to keep it in check, and we must strive to stand outside its thrall. We must never allow ourselves to fall in love with capitalism or its god: money.