In 2018, I enjoyed writing about love. All year!
But this year… I am going to write about scripture. Mostly the weird stuff and strange stories. Things that you might not know about. Things that might be controversial. You are welcomed to comment and even challenge me!
This should be fun! Please find the “Follow me” button somewhere on this page and follow along.
“If your neighbor sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” — Jesus (Luke 17:4)
This is the only place I know of where Jesus is quoted as making “repentance” a prerequisite for forgiving someone. It brings up several fairly strong reactions in me…
First, I am grateful for this prerequisite, because telling an abused person to reconcile with an unrepentant predator is horribly destructive advice. Sadly, this sort of advice has often been common in the church.
Secondly, repentance does not mean the person feels sorry for what they have done. It literally means that they have “turned around” and are now going in the opposite direction. Repentance is way past feeling sorry. In fact, abusers often feel sorry – be it at some mentally disturbed level — for their actions, but they haven’t repented. Beware of people like this and do not think Jesus was teaching us to reconcile with someone who desires to hurt us again.
Thirdly, in another accounting of this event in Matt 18:15-22, the focus is not on forgiveness and repentance, but on the instruction to “rebuke the offender”:
“If a neighbor sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If they listen to you, you have regained your neighbor. But if they do not listen, take others with you to talk to them . . . “ (Mat 18:15-17)
It makes good sense to go alone and offer the person a way to listen (or repent) in private when one’s physical safety or mental well being is not at risk. Yet for me, telling someone that they have wronged me is the hardest part. Creating space for an unrepentant person to acknowledge their error is hard, because I expect to see denial, anger, manipulation, and rudeness directed at me. I would far rather just forgive, forget, and walk away. But pointing out (not to others, but to the person directly) that they have hurt me is just as much a teaching of Jesus as forgiving them.
Finally, there is another part of this teaching of Jesus – one that is equally hard. We are to get involved when someone has been wronged by another. Could I be a friend – not a neutral friend – but a supportive friend to one who needs me to go with them to seek reconciliation? Would I be willing to go with the offended person to talk to the person who has wronged them? Would I be willing to suffer the offender’s wrath which would likely now be directed as much at me as the one hurt? Am I going to be the kind of person who stays out of things, hiding behind the popular notion that it just isn’t any of my business? Or do I take this part of Jesus’ teaching seriously too?
Jesus is asking a lot. He fully expects his followers to put themselves out there.
April Love-Fordham is a progressive Christian author
living near Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more about her and her books here.
I originally wrote about this in 2012,
but wanted to update it given our present political climate.
When I was living in Washington, D.C., I was part of a women’s group that joined with the ACLU and the family of Angie Carder to petition the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to re-hear a case where they, for all intents and purposes, sentenced a mother to death in order to save her unborn child. I was serving as the president of the women’s group at the time and I still have nightmares about this case when I think of what she and her family went through.
This took place in 1987 at the Jesuit run Georgetown Hospital. Angie Carder had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of thirteen, but she was a fighter! After many surgeries, radiation, and chemo, she survived. At twenty-seven she married and became pregnant. At twenty-five weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and entered the hospital where she was told the cancer was terminal. She asked for help to carry her baby to twenty-eight weeks so that it would be viable. The doctors seemed to agree.
But then, six days later, the pro-life medical staff and Jesuits who ran the hospital decided to pursue a court ordered C-section after neither Angie nor her family would consent. They wanted to save the baby despite the mother’s desire to continue to carry it for two more weeks until it would be far more viable. Her family, including her husband, supported the mother’s desire.
Her husband and parents asked the Court of Appeal judges to support the mother’s wishes. The mother testified that Angie would fight hard enough “to live long enough to hold the baby.” The Court of Appeals refused to honor the mother’s and her family’s wishes. The hospital actually argued in court (absolutely lied in court!) that they heard the mother say she didn’t want the baby to live and so a C-section must be pursued to protect the child from the mother.
The court sided with the hospital and ordered the C-section. Judge Emmet Sullivan (yes, the same conservative judge that sentenced Michel Flynn) ordered the hospital to perform the operation. “I have an obligation to give that fetus an opportunity to live,” he said. “I have ruled.”
As expected, the mother did not survive the effects of the operation. Angie had a heart attack on the operating table. Then died two days later after regaining consciousness only to learn that her baby girl, Lindsey Marie Carder had died. She wept when told the news. Furthermore, when the doctors saw the condition of the baby’s lungs, they gave her to the father to hold until she died two hours later. They didn’t even try to save her – there was no point.
So . . . when I hear that the government (and or doctors or even pro-life Jesuits) will dare make decisions about women’s bodies, it overwhelms me with disgust. Women must have the right to make their own decisions. It is not for the government to decide if carrying a baby is a big enough health risk or not. Nor do I think she should have to prove if she was raped or not. She has to have the last word on that determination too. It is a decision no one has the moral right to make for her. No one.
The good news is that because of the lawsuit, in the District of Columbia, women have now been safe from their doctors or hospitals seeking court ordered care for them for about thirty years. Obviously, in states like Georgia and Alabama with their new anti-choice laws, pregnant women are not safe.
April Love-Fordham is a progressive Christian author,
living in Georgia. Learn more about her and her books here.
We have had a Barred Owl visit us several times in the middle of the night recently. She must be resting on our bedroom window ledge, 35 feet above the ground, because the sound is deafening as well as scary. The first night we were both pretty freaked out wondering what the heck had just happened. It sounded nothing like an owl. More like the shrieks of a monkey. Our Great Dane sat up in her bed, but did not make a sound. The next night we got several “hooo hooo hooo hoooooorah”s. Who knew that owls had such a great repertoire of sounds? Recently, we’ve heard more quiet hoots.
I am a vegetarian so I wouldn’t think of eating an owl, but apparently it was once a thing in the ancient world. So much so that a law was made. The Israelites weren’t allowed to eat the run-of-the-mill desert owl, the little owl, or even the great owl (Leviticus 11:13-19). In fact, they weren’t allowed to eat any birds that weren’t vegetarians.
Every night now, I long to hear our owl, hoping she will come for a visit. The Romans believed that if you placed an owl feather next to someone sleeping, they would speak in their sleep and reveal all their secrets. The Greeks believed that the goddess Athena received her wisdom from the little owl that sat on her shoulder. The Ojibwe Native Americans tell the story of Little Red Feather, who the owls kidnapped and placed inside a tree because he made too much noise at night. His grandfather eventually convinced the owls to bring him home. Some indigenous tribes in Mexico believe owls carry messages from the dead to the living.
For me, she makes me marvel… as if the Creator was bringing her to my window just because the Creator knew how much I would enjoy hearing her call out for her lover at night.
Why has the following story been preserved for thousands of years? Are we being taught some ancient ritual to “magically” retrieve items from a river? Probably not. Stick with me though . . . there is actually a message in this story about how the people of God ought to live within society…
Now the company of prophets (think of a seminary) said to Elisha (the head prophet), “As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.”
He answered, “Do so.”
Then one of them said, “Please come with your servants.”
And he answered, “I will.”
So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water; he cried out, “Alas, master! It was borrowed.”
Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?”
When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float.
He said, “Pick it up.”
So he reached out his hand and took it. (2Ki 6:1-7 NRSV)
The seminary had been located among the people of Israel where the seminarians could minister to the people as they learned. But someone got the idea into their head that the seminarians needed to be isolated so they could concentrate on their studies and not be bothered by the needs of the people who they lived among. This place near the River Jordan was where they were to relocate.
Elisha, the head prophet, was against moving the prophets to this isolated place. He wanted his students to speak into and work in society, not be isolated in an ivory tower. Elisha is still stewing about it when his students ask his permission to build a bigger dorm at the new location. Elisha replies with lechu, which above is translated “Do so”, but in real life, it literally means, “Go, and I’m not going with you.” However through a lot of repetitive words translated as “Please,” not capturing the tension in begging Elisha to come with them, the students earnestly begged him to come anyway. And he does.
The lost axe is meant to show the seminarians that this move to the Jordan was wrong. They are in big trouble because axes (made of iron) were particularly costly and precious back then. No way can they pay to replace it or buy one of their own. No way can they build a new dorm without it. Through the lost axe, God was speaking to the prophets telling them that they belonged in society, serving the people, not hidden away in an isolated area.
Despite that, Elisha shows mercy and retrieves the iron axe head.
So… does where you live speak to your values? Where should a follower of Jesus live?
Learn more about scripture through one of April’s Books. If you are interested in what scripture has to say about how the life of a follower of Jesus should be lived radically, you might like James in the Suburbs.
Elisha, the ancient Old Testament prophet, was headed out of town, when a big gang of small boys came out of the village and jeered at him yelling, “Go away bald-head! Go away!” (2 Kings 2:23). What happens next is really awful. Elisha, this man of God, curses the children and immediately two momma bears come out of the woods and maul forty-two of the boys.
What on earth is this story all about? Don’t make fun of bald people? Don’t make fun of prophets? Train your children better than this? Don’t leave 42 small boys without supervision?
I’ve done some thinking about this. It says that Elisha cursed them “in the name of the Lord.” When a prophet does something in the “name of the Lord,” it means that God has instructed them to do it. But I had a really hard time believing that God would tell Elisha to do this. So I went back and looked at what the children actually said in Hebrew.
The children didn’t say, “Go away bald-head.” They said, “Go on up bald-head” which connects this story to another story just a few verses earlier when Elisha witnesses Elijah (another prophet – yes, their names are very close) being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. The deal was that if Elisha witnessed Elijah going up into heaven, then Elisha would be doubly blessed by God with miraculous powers.
If I am right, what these boys were doing is trying to threaten Elisha into “going on up” — as in ascending in a whirlwind. What if they thought that if they witnessed Elisha ascending, they would have Elisha’s powers? Elisha had a lot of power. He could do all kinds of miracles, make food grow, bring the dead back to life, etc. What if these boys wanted his power, but not for good reasons? So Elisha turns and curses them to protect the power that he has been entrusted with. Maybe? Any other ideas?
In Judges 3:12-26, there is a really odd story. As you read the synopsis below, see if you can figure out why it might be included in the Bible. I have been baffled for a long time!
God had stopped protecting Israel because they weren’t living the way God told them to live. In fact, King Eglon, a Moabite, was allowed to conquer their “City of Palms” and rule over them. But after a while, God felt sorry for them and sent Ehud, an Israelite, to oust King Eglon.
Author’s note: Eglon and Ehud are kinda-sorta similar looking names, but just remember King Eglon is bad and Ehud is good. King Eglon was a really heavy Moabite dude, while Ehud was a left-handed Israelite.
Well, Ehud went to see King Eglon under false pretenses of bringing him a tribute. King Eglon was such an ego-maniac that he thought the people he had conquered actually liked him. However, Ehud hid a two edged sword under his clothes on his right thigh. After he presented the gift, he told the King that he also had a secret message for him. So the King sent away all of his security.
It was then that Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into King Eglon’s enormous belly. But after Ehud had stabbed King Eglon, “the fat closed over the blade and handle” and Ehud couldn’t get the blade out. Instead “smelly bowel stuff oozed out.” Which was Ehud’s cue to leave.
King Eglon’s security detail didn’t go back in to check on King Eglon because the smell led them to believe that he was relieving himself and they wanted to give him privacy. Scripture says they “waited until they were embarrassed,” then opened the door and found King Eglon dead.
My question is why on earth did the author of Judges preserve this story in such incredible detail? Maybe it was to remind us that if we are evil, God might stop protecting us. And then our nation might fall into the hands of a very foolish ruler. What is more evil than locking up hungry asylum seekers, taking immigrant children away from their parents, harassing minorities, taxing the poor while giving the rich tax breaks, ignoring healthcare needs, refusing to pay a living wage, destroying native lands, destroying the earth, etc?
In other words, could it be a 2020 warning: “Shape up or you too may find an enormous smelly dude ruling over you?”
Peter said to Jesus… “I will never desert you.”
Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”
Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
. . . Jesus is arrested and taken to the High Priest. Peter follows at a distance . . .
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”
When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”
After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!”
At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Throughout France, upon every church spire is a cross and on top of that a rooster. Notre Dame was no different. The rooster was placed there to remind us that we are all in danger of being deserters – of denying Jesus just like Peter and the rest of the disciples.
We desert Jesus when we fail to acknowledge our love for him. Or when we pretend he doesn’t matter to us or to the world. Or when we are embarrassed by him.
Something I have been thinking about is how popular it has become to “speak with actions, not words.” But I think this story teaches that we are to do both. It was with his words Peter denied Jesus. It would have been with words that Peter claimed Jesus too.
I remember the story of a follower of Jesus taking care of a Hindu man ravaged with leprosy. The man thanked him saying: “Namaste” which means “I bow to the divine in you.” The follower of Jesus said, “Namaste” back and then patted his own chest adding quietly, “Jesus is in me.” The man smiled and reached out, patted the guy’s chest too and said, “Jesus is in you!”
After describing how a rude group of white women had treated her mother, I heard a child of color ask her white teacher, “Why aren’t you racist?” The teacher replied, “I am a follower of Jesus and Jesus taught that we are all the children of God. Your mom and I are sisters!”
In both of these cases, the followers of Jesus acknowledged their way of thinking came from Jesus instead of hiding that fact. They did it without disrespecting other faiths. I think that is important. It is important to let the world know where our inspiration comes from, especially in a time when the teachings of Jesus are so distorted by some.
Back to Notre Dame . . . the spire fell during the fire and with it the rooster. Yesterday, CNN reported that the rooster had been found in the debris completely intact. Not sure what that symbolizes, but it made me happy and hopeful.
Since Easter is approaching, I have been thinking about this “good news” that Jesus preached — a message that got him in so much trouble that the religious people of his day had him killed. I have come to believe that contemporary Christianity mostly gets “the good news” wrong – to the detriment of the church and the world.
I grew up in a church where the good news was that Jesus forgave our sins so that we could go to heaven when we died. Of course this good news was limited to those who believed the “right” theology about Jesus and were truly sorry for their sins – enough to promise they would try very hard not to sin any more. Sin generally had to do with sex, cussing, dancing, drinking, rock music, and the like.
As a child and even into my teenage years, I continuously asked God to forgive my sins and save me, because I was never sure if I had been repentant enough the time before. It didn’t make for a great relationship with God. Though I was told that this God loved me, his hands were tied. He had to send me to hell if I was not repentant enough. So my prayers (and relationship with God) never consisted of more than “forgive me” and “give me (mostly a ticket to heaven).” I have come to believe that this cuts the good news off at the knees.
In the first chapter of the Gospel attributed to Mark, I think it states the good news clearer than anywhere else. This is how John the Baptist described the good news:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: . . . “I, John the Baptist, have baptized you with water; but Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mar 1:1-8)
The baptism of the Spirit – the indwelling of God’s Spirit – that Jesus was to make possible through his death and resurrection is the good news. This was promised by the ancient prophets: a time when the Holy Spirit would give wisdom and strength directly to those who desired to do the work of God. It is what happened first at Pentecost.
Because of my changing understanding of the good news, my definition of sin changed too. It is no longer focused on breaking a set of rules, but sin is now about not loving God and others, not serving others, not working for justice, not feeding the hungry, not forgiving each other, etc. Sin is about not doing the work of God.
Do you see how this is a different relationship with God than one of “forgive me” and “give me?” Instead it says, “lead me” and “empower me” to be your hands and feet. This is a life we live in service to God and others being guided by the Spirit of God – not a life of rule following. Not a life of fear. Not a life of trying to be sorry enough for our sins that we earn a ticket into heaven.
Back to sin… by the way, the Apostle Paul points out that when we let the Spirit guide us, the Spirit will not lead us into sin (Gal 5:16).
Please give us the wisdom and strength
to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Read one of April’s Books!
April’s new book, St. Francis and the Christian Life,
is about a life guided by the Spirit.
On the night of Jesus’ arrest a cup, a time of trial, and a prayer merge.
About the cup . . .
At the Passover dinner Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luk 22:20).
Later that night before he is arrested he prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luk 22:42).
On the night that Jesus was arrested, he told the disciples to remember him by sharing a cup of wine. The cup was his blood poured out for us. This sacrifice of Jesus’ blood on the cross, as taught by the ancient prophets, would clean our hearts, allowing them to become a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. And for the first time, each individual could be guided directly by the Spirit of God.
Jesus knows his role in the ancient prophecies. He has told his disciples of the suffering that he is about to experience on the cross. But he appears to be afraid of what is to come. I imagine the torture and pain would scare anyone. So he asks God if there isn’t some other way. God says no. God says no to Jesus’s prayer.
About the time of trial . . .
Days or maybe weeks earlier, Jesus had taught the disciples to pray what we know now as The Lord’s Prayer, ” . . . do not bring us to the time of trial” (Luk 11:2-4).
Just before Jesus is arrested, he rebukes the disciples, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (Luk 22:46).
I think praying that we will not come into the time of trial is strange. Why aren’t we praying for wisdom and strength to overcome our trials, instead? But this is not what Jesus taught. He said to pray that God will not bring us into a time of trial (often translated “lead us not into temptation”). Then by example, we see Jesus praying this very thing right before he is arrested: “Remove this cup from me.”
About the prayer . . .
Jesus bookends his request by praying, “If you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” This is the same way that Jesus had taught the disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer:
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
I had not realized it, but it was the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus was praying that night just before his arrest. Not exactly the same words and much more specific, but exactly the same meaning.
Jesus shows us that we are to ask God to keep us away from the time of trial, but we are also to be willing to go through trials if it is the will of God. This willingness to experience sacrifice for the sake of God is the most difficult thing a follower of Jesus will ever do and that is why Jesus rebukes the disciples, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
Are you and I asleep? Pray!
Quick Announcement… For anyone living near Tucker… I am going to be at the DCPL Local Author Expo today Saturday, March 30, 10am-4pm at the Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library – 5234 LaVista Road – Tucker, GA 30084. Stop by if you can!
Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18).
Scripture mentions several different types of supernatural beings – angels, fallen angels, demons, unclean spirits, Satan, the devil – to name a few. Some scholars believe that all of these supernatural beings refer to the same kind of entity. However, to the discerning eye, they seem to be different entities.
For instance, demons and unclean spirits don’t so much cause people to sin, but cause disease and mental illness in those they possess. Demons and unclean spirits can be cast out and the person can return to normal. People can be inhabited by more than one demon. Demons don’t seem to be able to lie, but they do sometimes talk. They were everywhere in the first century and Jesus often cast them out – sometimes into animals. But nowhere are they mentioned in the Old Testament. By the way, not everyone in the New Testament who had a disease or mental illness was possessed or tormented by a demon or unclean spirit.
Then there are angels and fallen-angels mentioned in both Old and New Testaments. Regular angels are God’s messengers, fallen-angels fight with God’s messengers and have a whole militaristic hierarchy of their own with Satan as their leader (Daniel 10:13).
When Satan, who is likely a fallen-angel himself, fell from heaven, his angels fell with him. Satan has the ability to possess animals (remember the snake in the garden?) and humans (he entered Judas before Judas betrayed Jesus). He likes to masquerade as a good angel (2 Cor 11:14) and plans all kinds of schemes to hurt humans (Eph 6:11). He is a liar (John 8:44) and puts temptation in front of us hoping we will bite (remember the fruit in the garden?). The reason Jesus appeared on earth was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), who wants nothing more than to devour us (2 Cor 4:4). Satan, Lucifer (more of a description than a name), and the Devil are the same entity (Rev 12:7-9).
Interestingly, though the followers of Christ are able to cast out demons, it has never been an instruction from God for us to try and destroy evil entities themselves. Instead we are told to resist their evil.
All that said, the information we have about these supernatural beings is scattered throughout scripture and hard to resolve into something that makes complete sense. Many scholars believe they are not real – just humanity’s way of trying to explain evil. Yet, the warning from Pope Francis is this:
“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea . . . This mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” Taking advantage of that vulnerability, he added, the devil “does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice.” In the fight against the devil, Pope Francis added, “cultivating good, progressing in the spiritual life and growing in love are the best ways to counter evil.” – April 9, 2018, Catholic Herald.