Monday, September 27, 2010

Against my better judgment ...

Dr Platypus is up to something, which will come as no surprise to those who know him. He's suggested summarizing each book of the Bible as haiku, and has started us off with a few of the epistles of the New Testament. Another fellow has joined in with the Pentateuch.

I'll confess freely: my aesthetics are offended. (Tongue in cheek, for those who don't know me well!) Haiku are clearly meant for short topics that can be sketched in three clear artists' lines. While Jude may qualify for that kind of treatment, it's a breech of genre to try to bonzai the Psalms until they become a single haiku. (Now, 150 haiku, possibly ... so long as Psalm 119 gets to be 5 haiku, each beginning h-a-i-k-u ... or if the whole book becomes an acrostic haiku a-l-l-e-l-u-i-a; but I'm losing my own thread here.) Exodus is clearly an epic (no disrespect intended to the fellow who did the Torah, and did a nicer job than I thought possible with it), and Song of Songs ... well, if anything in the Bible is a limerick, that's the one. So, against my better judgment:

Song of Songs
There once was a king and his lover
Who joyfully went under cover
With lilies and myrrh
We're quick to aver:
Wonder is great to discover

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Original sin, original grace?

The following passage is frequently quoted as establishing the doctrine of original sin:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, for all have sinned ... (Romans 5:12, though the whole passage is instructive)
But Paul's point in this passage, overwhelmingly, is that Christ's goodness far surpasses Adam's badness, that Christ's righteousness eclipses Adam's unrighteousness, that "the gift is not like the trespass".

Paul develops the theme with the familiar Hebrew "how much more" style of logic: if a single act by a bad man can have bad consequences worldwide, how much more does the single gift of God have redeeming consequences worldwide.

Most Christian thought shows no real doubt about everyone's sinfulness. But whether Christ's grace reaches out to all, some express doubt. With Christ, many see "if" and "unless" and other limits to the grace that comes through Christ. The mental list of exceptions pile up for how the consequences of Christ's act aren't quite as wide-scoped as the consequences of Adam's act. In effect, we think "How much less" Christ accomplishes than Adam. But Paul's point was the opposite: How much more.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many. (Romans 5:15)

We act as if the sin of Adam was greater than the righteousness of Christ, or as if the sin of man might have further reach than the grace of God. So next time someone discusses Romans 5 as if the main point is original sin, remember Paul's point in bringing up the original sin: to show how small a thing it was next to God's grace:
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The problem with repentance

Every time I work through a major new piece of repentance or forgiveness, every time I hope my heart is clearer of garbage -- it's much like when I clean the garage or the bathroom. The one tiny new bright spot just makes the rest of the mess stand out all the more. (Or realize that while I've been working on that, the yard has been getting out of hand.) Discouraging, even if it may be good for humility.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On being like God (4): Finale

Personal note: My schedule is clearing off so that I should be able to resume some of my earlier series this month. In particular, I've been eager to get back to 'divisions in the church', though those entries take awhile to develop.

For this final entry in the series on being like God, rather than get all explanatory -- I'm sure you have the point by now -- I wanted to approach it in a more prayerful and meditative way.

Great is parenting, for the Holy One chooses to be known as Our Father.
Great is marriage, for the Holy One calls himself a bridegroom and a husband.
Great is forgiveness, for God chose forgiveness in restoring the world.
Great is humility, for God chose to humble himself for the sake of love.
Great is love, for love moved God to act in compassion for his people.

So God calls for us to be like him in devoting ourselves to faithful and enduring love.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A tale of naivety and risk? - How my 9/11 morning went

Amazing morning I had today.

So I had thought, "How can I send the Muslim community a message that most Christians would not burn a Quran? How can I let them know that, as far as it depends on us, we will live at peace and welcome anyone who comes to us?" Especially because that so-called pastor in Florida was threatening to burn the Quran. I wanted to send a better message.

I remember after so many tragedies around the world, people left flowers outside embassies. I remember after a tragedy at NASA, people left flowers outside of JSC. So I thought, "I'll leave flowers outside the gates of the local mosque on 9/11. That way the Muslim community will know that there is another reaction to Islam."

I bought flowers -- plenty of flowers, I thought -- and went early on 9/11 to the nearest mosque. I was wondering if I would see anyone there and have a chance to explain the gift, but I didn't see anyone.

I had been hoping to see someone so I could explain, but I settled for just leaving the flowers outside the gate, hoping that flowers as a goodwill gesture were fairly self-explanatory. I laid them out along the entrance from the road to their driveway.

I looked back at the finished product and thought, "That's not enough flowers." So I went to get some more.

When I came back, the flowers I had left earlier were gone. I wondered to myself who would have removed them. I still didn't see any signs of anyone at the mosque; the few vehicles there were in odd places in the lot as if they'd been left overnight, and it was early yet. I decided to just set out the second batch of flowers and leave.

While I was setting out the flowers, an elderly fellow drove onto the mosque's driveway. He rolled down his window and asked me what I was doing. Glad for an actual person to explain to, I said I was leaving flowers to send them a better message than some of the others they may have heard. He drove through the gates into the mosque.

I finished setting out the flowers quickly; now that there was someone there, I wanted the chance to ask where the first batch had gone and explain why I wanted to leave them.

That's when things got interesting.

While I was heading towards the gate (really a short trip; the driveway isn't that long) I saw another fellow coming my way. I was glad to see him coming at that point, since I didn't quite know where to knock to talk to someone, and it would have been a long walk across the parking lot too.

But he drove across the parking lot quickly -- too quickly, at nearly highway speeds. And he parked right behind my car -- too close. At first I didn't realize why he would park so recklessly close to another vehicle; I soon realized that there was nothing reckless or accidental at all in why he parked so close.

I wished him good morning. He began shouting at me, very angry, asking what I was doing. He asked who told me to leave the flowers. I said they were a gift.
He asked who gave me permission to leave flowers. I was surprised, but I had carefully left them outside the gate by the road; I just answered that I had meant them as a gift, and as a good gesture, not intending any harm. (I had no thought of needing permission to give flowers. I was hoping that by staying calm and open, he would become reassured that the gift was meant exactly as that, and see that there was nothing bad about leaving flowers.)

"I'm calling the police!" he said quite angrily. Then I realized his parking job so close behind me was meant to trap my car and prevent me from leaving. (Interesting that he chose to trap me as he sped across the lot before even speaking to me, knowing nothing except that I had come to drop off flowers.)

The other fellow, the elderly gentleman, was driving out now. The angry one told him to go park his car on the other side of mine, which would have had me even more thoroughly boxed in. I did not hear what the elderly fellow said to him. I mentioned that I had meant it as a good thing; the elderly fellow expressed his disapproval of my leaving flowers, but left without following the angry fellow's instructions to block in my car on another side.

I told the angry fellow that I didn't mind waiting for the police. (I thought this needed saying since he seemed concerned whether I was trapped enough.) I was glad to wait if it would ease his mind and show him I meant no trouble at all, and in fact had been trying to show them some kindness.

He made quite a show of phoning in my license plate number and describing me to the police. I offered to talk to the police and give them my personal information, but he did not respond.

He scooped up all the flowers and put them in the bed of the truck. I said, "Of course, you'll save the flowers so the police can see." He looked at me without answering, but he did leave the flowers in the bed of his truck.

The agitated fellow did not wait where I could see, but left his truck blocking my car. I wasn't even sure if the police had agreed to come or not, and as time went by I became skeptical. Honestly, I could have left by making a small turn across their lawn and circling around, but I didn't want to give him any cause to suspect I had meant any harm or was avoiding the police, so I decided I would give them an hour before I pressed the issue of whether the police were really coming. I waited sitting on the low brick wall outside the gate.

I suppose it was 15 or 20 minutes before the police arrived. The police spoke first to the angry fellow who had called them. I couldn't hear the conversation because of the distance, except that his voice was raised, shouting, at a few points. He had remained decidedly angry and hostile the whole time.

Then the police came over and asked me what was going on. I told them that I wanted to do something to show them that not everyone was against them, this being 9/11 and that nutcase in Florida stirring up trouble, that I wanted to try to do something better.

It was all sorted out within a minute or two of the police coming. I agreed not to come back, naturally (I'd had no idea that it would be taken badly in the first place). And the police made him move his truck so that I could leave.

An amazing morning, all things considered.

But if someone says to you, "Nobody ever makes any goodwill gestures towards the Muslim community" -- just know that they're quite wrong about that.

How those goodwill gestures are received is another question entirely.

(And to a couple of people who know me in real life: No, really, I don't think that was a good plan, all things considered, and I am not planning on any repeats.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

10 More constructive things to do on 9/11 than burn a Quran

  1. Stay in bed (it's more constructive than sowing discord).
  2. Read a Quran.
  3. Read a Bible.
  4. Act on the Bible.
  5. Bless those who curse you.
  6. Pray for those who persecute you.
  7. Do not return evil for evil.
  8. But repay evil with good.
  9. Greet your Muslim neighbor or shopkeeper.
  10. Leave a goodwill memorial outside your local mosque on 9/11 (a wreath, for example). (On second thought, maybe not.)

How about:
10. Pray for all Muslims to come to know Jesus Christ in truth.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

For the love of God, NO: Open letter to Dove World Outreach Center of Gainesville FL

You insist that burning a Quran is "neither an act of love nor of hate." While that is difficult to believe, and difficult to imagine how you might actually believe it -- to the extent that it smells of duplicity -- still, let us suppose that you believe it to be true. The fact that you proclaim it is not an act of love means you have already parted company with Jesus.

If you are not acting in love -- and you freely admit you are not -- then you testify against yourselves that Love of God and Love of Neighbor are not your highest goals. Jesus said that Love of God and Love of Neighbor are the two greatest commandments; yet you choose to set these aside and set something else above these. You set aside the teachings of Jesus when you do this, and in setting aside his teachings you are not his followers. You testify against yourselves that Jesus' teachings on what is the highest good is not your own idea and that you will not listen to him, or that you judge his teachings on this are not worth following all the time.

The most striking thing in all of this has been your utter refusal to repent, your complete hard-heartedness towards anyone who might, frankly, steer you to a wiser course. If you think you are sending the message "the Quran is dangerous" you are badly mistaken. When you speak without love, you are a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal; don't kid yourselves, when you burn a Quran the only thing that people will hear and see is the ugly noise that you are making. Any other message you may have will be lost; the Bible promises that.

Anything you do as a church, or at the church, should be done in the name of God. This cannot be done in the name of God, as it sets aside the greatest of the commandments. As a church you must not burn anything, or do any other loveless acts, ever; especially not in the name of God.

If you love God, if you love Christ, if you trust that Jesus was right that the highest and best of all the commandments is to love God, and the second is to love your neighbor, if you believe the Bible that no one will hear you if you have no love -- then for the love of God, stop.

Friday, September 03, 2010

On being like God (3): creativity and righteousness

Everyone has an ethical system. Everyone makes decisions based on what they think is good and right. Even those who claim that morality and ethics are meaningless go right on every day making judgment calls based on a value system.

Every system of ethics -- every different thing we might value -- leads us to have certain role models, certain people who are living examples of what is good and right, to the best of their ability. I don't mention this to promote a person or group and designate them as having pride of place; I mention it to see what kinds of role models you might get from different ways of thinking about right and wrong. Would the most upright people be the ethics police, those who enforce and uphold the rules? How about the ethics instructors who teach the others? What about people who live ethically (by the rules) more often than others?

But on a view of walking after God, the craftsmen and skilled artists are worthy role models because they increase the objective amount of good in this world that is worthy of loving. The heroes of the Bible include skilled craftsmen; here we find records of acts of worship such as making embroidery and carvings, sculpture and incense. Writing the stories of the people of God was a holy act; writing songs for worship was a holy act. Playing a musical instrument was a holy act.

Those who recognize God as creator, and us the image of God, have gone to great lengths to devise new musical instruments, new art, new literature, new songs. When God created, he saw that it was good. One of the greatest things we do, acting in his image, is to also increase the good in this world by creating something of beauty.

On September 2, 1973, Professor J.R.R. Tolkien died to this world and was born to eternal life. "Memory eternal!" as they say in the East.