What Easter Island and Studying Scripture have in Common

Most nights I sleep like a baby – except just every now and then. Last night was one of those nights.  When I can’t sleep, I have learned to embrace being awake.  Like a little kid, I find something that I want to do and enjoy the extra time.  Its found time when I can do whatever I want.  Last night I decided to watch a documentary. Yes, I know that is nerdy, but I love documentaries.  This one was about Easter Island.

Easter Island is that amazing island in the South Pacific where huge carved stone statues were found standing together looking into the ocean. Archaeologists have found the spot where the statues were carved.  And they have discovered the tools used to carve them. But they had never been able to figure out how these 82 ton statues could have been moved the long distance from the quarry where they were carved to their final resting places.

To make the information even harder to discover, the island is an ecological disaster.  The natives had killed each other off.  An infestation of rats and farming gone wild had completely deforested the island.  In addition, the natives were eventually taken as slaves.  By the time archaeologists decided to study the island, there were less than 100 natives left.

Moi

Finally, archaeologists decided to go to the remaining tribe to see if they knew how the statues had been moved.  Of course they knew!  Without hesitation and doubt, the natives declared that the statues had walked into place.  The first archaeologists laughed and disregarded the wisdom of the tribe as being ridiculous.  Then moved on to other theories.  But recently, some archaeologists decided to listen.  And they asked the question… “how might the statues have walked into place?”  They begin to notice several things about the statues – they had notches cut into them where ropes might have been attached and their bottoms were rounded instead of being flat allowing them to rock back and forth in a forward movement.  The archaeologists thought about this for some time when they came up with a theory that the statues had indeed walked into place.  Then they build their own statue and “walked” it into place (see the picture).

What had seemed so crazy suddenly made sense.  The statues really had walked into place.  This is often like studying the Bible.  I am not saying that miracles aren’t possible.  I absolutely believe they are.  But what I am saying is that often we don’t understand what the Bible is saying simply because we don’t ponder it long enough exploring all the possibilities.  We accept what others believe without thinking for ourselves.  We don’t listen to the subtleties of language and tone.  The Bible is an ancient text most often told orally before it was ever written down.  Then written in a culture we no longer understand.  We have to interpret it in the culture that it was written – and translate that for the culture of today.  But so often we give up too easily without real understanding.  We misunderstand scripture and use it to be intolerant, discriminate, hurt others.  But we need to listen better… hear what the Holy Spirit is really saying through the authors.  Explore all the possibilities!  If something isn’t in line with Jesus’ teaching of loving God and others – keep asking questions!  God isn’t afraid of those who ask questions.

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

A Misunderstanding of Good and Evil (Hebrews 5:11-14)

logoJesus wasn’t supposed to work on the Sabbath.  He had very strict rules that he was supposed to follow.  The leaders wanted to trick him into doing evil so they brought a disabled man to Jesus on the Sabbath.  Jesus healed the man despite the set up and broke the ancient rules.

When the temple leaders cried “Ah ha!  We’ve got you!!!”  Jesus told them that they were judging by wrong standards. They cared more about their rules than the man who was healed (John 7:23-24).

How do you distinguish between good and evil?  Do the good people believe all the right things while keeping the right set of rules?  While the evil people believe all the wrong things while disregarding your particular list of rules?

Reverend Tony Campolo started a speech like this:  “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. Thirdly and what’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

Where does your sense of right and wrong fall?  Were you more upset that children died or that Tony cussed?

I know churches who are dead set against allowing women and/or the LGBT community to have an equal communion among the believers.  They are barred from being teachers, elders, and pastors.  But the same churches disregard the teaching in the Bible against divorced people remarrying and being teachers, elders, and pastors.  Women are not required to cover their heads in these churches either.  They keep some of the rules they think they’ve found in scripture and disregard others.  And yet, these churches pride themselves in being able to distinguish good from evil.

So what is this Teaching about Righteousness that the author of Hebrews mentions?  Could it be that it is not following a list of rules, but living in love?    Could it be caring for others more than one’s self?  Could it be following Jesus into the difficult places he calls us to go sharing our spiritual and physical food with vulnerable people?

Mature followers of Christ distinguish between good and evil.

11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Thanks for joining me in this Study of Hebrews.  I’d love to hear your comments and questions (below) or on Facebook.  Don’t forget to click (above right) on “Follow” to receive future posts!  And please invite others to join us!

Why I do not believe God directed the Ancient Jews to Slaughter other Nations

warGetting a lot of emails and questions today about why I do not believe that God directed the Jews to slaughter other nations … so I am doing a quicky post!

There are three things that make me think the Jews acted violently on their own despite the fact that some of the authors of the Old Testament recorded stories saying that God was telling them to slaughter entire nations.

First is that the prime directive of God to the Jews was to be a people that invited the world to God. And from the very beginning the law told the Jews to love God and others. Even the 10 commandments told the Jews not to kill (it doesn’t say not to “murder” leaving it okay to kill for righteous causes – it says not to kill). So I can’t see God telling the Jews to then kill those who got in their way both because it defeated God’s own prime directive, but also because that meant a human being would have another’s person’s blood on their hands. After working with the PTSD patients at the VA Hospital in Decatur, I can’t see God ever asking someone to harm another person – I think that does something to someone’s soul that is almost unrecoverable.

The second reason is because of what I learned from an orthodox Jew who is a friend of my husband. I admire this man because he still follows the Old Testament laws and that is not easy in our society. One time he and my husband were traveling together and stopped to eat in the airport. Before the man would eat he dialed some sort of Orthodox Jew 1-800 number to find out what he could eat at that particular restaurant. This guy is seriously Jewish! Well, in talking with him, we found out something interesting – that even orthodox Jews don’t believe that the entire Old Testament is holy – just the Mosaic law and the prophets. The rest – all the stories where these vicious acts of violence are recorded – are an important part of their history, but not considered infallible “truth”. This has always been what even the ancient Jews believed. I think they might be right – especially when you consider that there are drastically different accounts of the same battles in different books of the Old Testament.

The third reason is that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.  Jesus agreed with the 10 commandments including “Do not Kill” except he took it even further.  He said that we murder when we so much as hate.  He said we have murdered even if we never took action – just because we hated another person.  He taught us to love our enemies.  He said not to live by the sword. He went to the cross without a fight.  I can’t see Jesus condoning or authorizing genocide.  I can’t see how Jesus could be the God described in some of the stories of violence against other nations.  I think the writers of those particular stories were attributing something to God that God was not a part of.

Well… there are my two cents.  Would love to hear your opinions!!!  April

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April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Held In Slavery by Christianity (Heb 2:14-16)

logoThere are many people held in slavery today by Christianity.  Christians who have a list of rules that they must follow to get into heaven are slaves to that list of rules.  Christians who have a list of good works that they must do to get into heaven are slaves to that list of good works.  Christians who have a list of theological beliefs that they must never doubt in order to get into heaven are slaves to dogma.  And the slaves of rules and works and dogma are all slaves to the fear of death – the worry that they might spend eternity in hell.

 The good news is that Jesus came to free us from just this kind of slavery!  We no longer have to be afraid of death.  No more striving to get enough points to get into heaven, because in his death, Jesus rendered the power of the devil – over eternal spiritual death – inoperable.  This frees us for eternal love – to be loved and to love.

 14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy (render inoperable or ineffective) the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. (Heb 2:14-16 NRS)

A note you might find interesting:  The devil, Diabolos, literally means “slanderer” or “accuser.”  Think diabolical!  He is an evil spirit that once had the power of eternal spiritual death over us.  He lies to us about God and to God about us.  We don’t want to believe he is real.  It sounds almost silly.  But the author of Hebrews did.  And I do too.  Every time I hear a lie about God or about one of God’s children, I know Diabolos is near by.

Refuse to be held in slavery.  Jesus died to set us free from fear and free to love and be loved.

I’d love to hear your comments and questions (below) or on Facebook.  Don’t forget to “Follow” to receive future posts!  And please invite your friends to join us!

Toyota serving the Eucharist… Get there early!

Lord have MercyEarlier this week, just before the sun was up, I drove my Prius to the Toyota dealer for its 40,000 mile checkup. 

By the way, honey, I am ever so grateful that you got me the first appointment of the day.  They hadn’t even opened the shop doors when I got there! And watching the sunrise from the Toyota parking lot was, well, breathtaking. 

After they took my car and gave me a mind blowing estimate (more than $700 – are you serious?) for the services they were to provide, they sent me to the complementary coffee bar where I could plug my PC in and work.

There I sat doing some editing and thinking about how Toyota could have done without the swanky coffee bar during their recent remodel and saved me some cash.  I don’t even drink coffee.

Cranky.  I was cranky.  Which so rarely happens to me.  But working helps so I got busy.

A few minutes later, I was lost in thought, when the twenty-something young man working behind the coffee bar, gently began to sing “Kyrie Eleison” which means “Lord have mercy.”  I was the only one anywhere in sight so it was slightly awkward.  But beautiful.  Angelic.  I looked up at him.  His innocent gorgeous almost vacant brown eyes were looking straight at me and unfettered he kept singing.

I stopped what I was doing and listened… “Christe Eleison”… Christ have mercy.  I breathed in what it meant that Christ shows me mercy – all of us mercy.

Crankiness gone.  Perspective back.  I was awed.  I felt someone had just poured the blessings of God upon my head.  It was like receiving the Eucharist.  Without a word he finished, gave me a big smile, and went back to work.

It was only then that I saw the little laminate folded brochures standing every few feet down the length of the bar.  The brochures told the customers that the coffee bar was staffed by autistic young adults employed by Toyota.

“Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra”… O Lord, preserve this boy, and give him life, and bless his days on this earth!  

Amen.

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April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Needing to Serve

Gma and Gpa Formal
Mom and Dad at a college formal at Western Carolina University

We have started a new tradition at my house!  Since my mother came down with a very aggressive, yet un-diagnosed, disease that acts a whole lot like Alzheimer’s on steroids, Mom and Dad have been coming over every night for dinner.  It is my way of giving Dad a break to read or take a nap – both of which he usually does in my back porch swing while I spend time with Mom.  And this way, I can also make sure they are getting at least one meal a day that doesn’t come from a fast food restaurant. 

At first, I would try to have dinner ready when they got here so I could spend all of my energy trying to entertain her.  But that took time away from getting my book finished and after a few days, I realized entertaining her was impossible.  And when she began to repeatedly apologize for coming over and bothering us, I realized this worry of inconveniencing me was causing her a lot of stress.  After she had said it 5 times in less than two minutes, I realized I needed to figure something else out.

So next, I decided to wait until my parents got here to start cooking.  That way, she could sit at the kitchen bar and watch me cook.  It would give me something to do while dad rested. I could put in a full day on the book, maybe generate some conversation with mom about the cooking, and still get dinner ready.  But that worked no better and she apologized and worried over burdening me just as much.

Then I discovered that she wanted to help me.  For the last week or so, when they get here, I take her shopping for whatever groceries we need for dinner.  When we get home, I put her to work in the kitchen.  I have to show her how to use the vegetable peeler almost every day.  She can’t remember where the silverware is stored or the plates.  But she really wants to work.  And once she gets started, her mind seems to rest and all sorts of memories come back to her.

She doesn’t always recognize my dad any more.  And for weeks now, she hasn’t recognized her own home.  But after we got dinner ready yesterday, she went over to dad obviously knowing who he was and hugged him saying, “I love you.”  He kissed her on the forehead and it was all any of us could do to keep from weeping.

I now realize that despite her disease, she needs purpose – not entertainment.  She needs to serve others.  Isn’t that just what followers of Christ are meant to do?   Since I put her to work, she has stopped constantly apologizing.  We all make such a big deal over how much she helps me and how easy she makes cleaning up.  She is contributing again.  And it really makes her happy.

When we sit down at dinner, she tells us about her life.  She likes the memories of her father teaching Sunday School the best.  We hear about that a lot.  He taught the teenagers and they came home for dinner with him every Sunday after church.  Her mother couldn’t go to church on Sunday mornings, because she had to get lunch ready for all those teenagers, but she could go to church on Sunday nights.  My mom had a horse she rode to Lake Junaluska every day after school.  She learned to drive by taking her father’s jeep across a creek to an island where she could practice.  And she misses her mom – a lot.

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Kumaré

KumareA friend of mine asked me to watch a documentary called Kumaré to see what I thought about it.  You can watch it too at http://kumaremovie.com/.  I would love to hear your impressions. Somehow I missed it when it hit movie theaters in 2012.  But it is really a very important work on spirituality and religion! 

Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi, impersonates a fake guru and intentionally builds a following of real people in Phoenix, Arizona in hopes of discovering if spirituality and religion are real experiences or simply manufactured.

Vikram grows out his hair and beard, dresses like an Eastern guru, adopts his Indian grandmother’s accent, carries a unusual staff, holds spiritual classes at the local yoga studios, and visits other gurus. The followers he gathers are a fairly diverse group of mostly very intelligent people.  One of the amazing aspects of the documentary is that the more he gets to know his followers, the more compassionate he becomes towards them.  He finds himself wanting to help them with their problems.  They become very special to him.

Meanwhile, he is developing a set of teachings to teach them.  Actually regretting his farse, he brillantly succeeds in making his teachings as close to the truth as he understands truth.  He teaches them that he is a illusion – that all gurus are an illusion.  That people are their own teachers and must teach themselves.  In the end, after 3 months of intensive interaction with fourteen of his followers, he reveals the truth of himself to them with rather surprising results.  You’ll have to watch the documentary to see the reveal.  I don’t want to give it away.

But the question that this experiment brings up for a Christian is:  What if Jesus was a fake guru? What if our following him was no more real than these students following Vikram?  What if he was just a real good guy who loved us?

There was one thing that Vikram and Jesus had in common: They loved their followers.  But I use the word “love” here losely.  Vikram’s love is easy, always affirming.  It didn’t require much of Vikram or his followers. He never went the extra mile to get his hands dirty and serve them in practical ways. His love wasn’t tested with hardship or choice between serving himself and serving his followers.  Vikram’s love was simply a mirror that always pointed them back to themselves.

Jesus’ love is very different.  It is unconditional – given to followers and enemies alike.  It is not always affirming, but sometimes it painfully judges us and corrects us.  Jesus’ love requires much of Jesus – he endures hate, violence, even death.  Jesus’ love was tested and survives more than 2000 years later.  Jesus’ love points us not to ourselves or even back to himself, but to reconciliation with God and others.  Jesus’ love was spoken of thousand of years before his birth.  Jesus is still the real deal to me!

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

God’s Gift of Wilderness

So many people have “wilderness experiences” after family and friends return home from the holidays.  Just in case you are feeling alone today…

“The child (John the Baptist) grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” Luke 1:80

Throughout the stories in scripture, God provides “wilderness experiences” for those God loves.  Wilderness time usually occurs because God wants the person’s attention for some reason.   In the scripture above, John the Baptist is given wilderness time so he could become strong in spirit before taking on the task of preparing the way for Jesus.

But John the Baptist’s family was not new to wilderness “time outs.”  Years earlier, his dad, Zechariah, had doubted an angel’s message that his way-too-old wife was pregnant with John.  So God provided Zechariah with a “time out” by taking away his ability to speak.  Nine months later, after John the Baptist’s birth, God not only restored Zechariah’s ability to speak, but he gave him a new gift: prophetic words to speak to the people of God.  God used this silent time in Zechariah’s life to both let him consider the consequences of his doubt (does the world really need a doubting priest?), but also to prepare him to prophesy a very important message to the world.  God uses this “time out” to reshape Zechariah’s faith and to enlarge Zechariah’s ministry. In Zechariah’s case, it was because he had doubted and God wanted to change that behavior, but many times it has nothing to do with a failure of some sort. It has to do with God wanting to provide a space for growth.

I thought it would be interesting to think about other ways that God has used wilderness time in scripture…

  • Wilderness Maturing:  An idealistic, but immature Moses felt compelled to protect his fellow Hebrews from the Egyptians, but ended up running for his life into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian who was hurting one of his fellow Hebrews (Acts 7:29-30).  God kept Moses in the wilderness for forty years while he matured.  This was time well spent, because Moses would spend another forty years guiding the spiritually immature Hebrews through the desert.  If you are going through a time of wilderness maturing, look for lessons to absorb!
  • Wilderness Injustice:  Joseph spent a lifetime in slavery and at least two years in prison having done nothing to deserve it (Genesis 39:20-23).  He could have developed a terrible faithless attitude toward God, but instead he did a quality job every time a job was required of him – mostly forced on him.  If you are going through a time of wilderness injustice, pay attention to your attitude and look for creative ways that God might use you.  Joseph eventually became a ruler of Egypt.
  • Wilderness Nourishment:  King Saul forced David into the wilderness to protect his throne for himself and his son, Prince Jonathan (1 Samuel 23:13-17).  Even though Prince Jonathan was the rightful heir to the throne, Jonathan protected David from King Saul and showed him mercy, love, and kindness. Lessons David put to use as King.  If you are receiving wilderness nourishment from another person, accept it!  And pay attention to how you might mimic their behavior on down the line.
  • Wilderness Rejection:  Jephthah was rejected by the really awful people in his life (Judges 11:3-6).  And was eventually forced to live as an outcast in the wilderness.  He experienced wilderness rejection!  If you feel unwanted and unloved in the wilderness, it may be that God is using this time to teach you the kind of self-confidence that seeks only God’s acceptance.  Learn to get your affirmations from God and God alone.  Eventually, God not only sent other outcasts to join Jephthah, but Jephthah learned to lead these outcasts. If you feel unwanted and unloved in the wilderness, it may be that God is using this time to teach you compassion for other outcasts.  Eventually Jephthah became the commander of the Hebrew army.
  • Wilderness Temptation:  The Holy Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness (Luke 4:1-2) where he would be tested.  Jesus needed the experience of overcoming temptations. If you are going through a time of wilderness temptation, call on God to guide you so that you can overcome temptation!
  • Wilderness Isolation:  Before Paul committed his life to following Jesus, he murdered Christians (Galatians 1:15-18).  Then one day Jesus met up with him.  Afterwards, instead of sending Paul into the world immediately to bare witness to his new faith, God sent Paul into the wilderness of Arabia for three years.  There is no record of anyone with Paul in the wilderness. During this time the Holy Spirit must have taught him the theology that comprises most of the New Testament, because Paul says that God taught him directly.  God isolated Paul so he could be in a tight relationship with God learning new things and unlearning old things. Before we can effectively minister to others, we must be ministered to by God. If you are experiencing wilderness isolation, allow God to minister to you.

Most of us have a hard time going through the wilderness.  We are often consumed with finding our way back to “civilization”, but the lessons we learn during our wilderness time can be essential for serving God in the future.  Embrace this time expectantly!

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April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.