Category Archives: Theology

Privileged, and Mostly Oblivious to It

I am a white male. That’s what I’ve always been. That’s what I always will be. I can’t help it. It’s how God made me. If everything was equal, there would be no problem with that. But, things are not equal. I am privileged in this culture. And, God did not make me that. The systems that have been built over centuries have ensured that I would have a privileged position in society. These systems are so deeply embedded in our culture that most of us who are privileged don’t even realize that we are. It’s just ‘the way it is.’
Recently, Tony Jones, a highly educated, white guy made a presentation that rubbed some people the wrong way. One of the people in attendance,Christena Cleveland, called Tony out for being exercising his privilege. Jones responded with obviously hurt feelings. Now, at first, I didn’t see all that much that was offensive in Jones’ remarks. Shoot! I’ve probably said similar things myself! As I reflected on it, though, I became more and more uncomfortable. Then, a few days later Jones, I think in an attempt to show how egalitarian he is, posted a request for women and feminists to join in his blog. Again, an understandable response from a privileged person who sincerely believes that he is above reproach in these matters.
This morning I visited the blog of Caryn Riswold. She pretty much dissed Jones’ offer. And, she challenged readers to go and read what people who are NOT privileged have to say. One of those links led me to Cleveland’s blog. I spent the next 30 minutes reading a 5 part series that she had posted. What great stuff! You see, we who enjoy privilege are blind to it. We simply can’t understand why ‘others’ don’t like us. We don’t get it when marginalized and oppressed people don’t ‘get’ us. In fact, many of us don’t realize that there are any oppressed people out there. After all, we live in a land of equal opportunity. But, as the old cliche goes, “some of us are more equal than others.”
I am adding a link to Cleveland’s series. I would encourage anyone who happens to stop by here to take the time to read it. It is of utmost importance if we are trying to be the Body of Christ to understand where the other members of that body live and breathe and have their being. It is important, no necessary, that we embrace kenosis, emptying, as Jesus did if we are to live as God’s people. 
 

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Hate what God Hates…Whatever that is


Last week I visited a local church. It’s one that I’ve visited a few times over the past few years. I find meaning in the liturgy there. It’s not like the evangelical free church that I was a part of for many years. This church understands the importance of symbol and celebration in a way that actually embodies, at least how I understand it, the work of God in worship. However, the senior pastor made a statement during a prayer that puzzled me. He prayed that we would love what God loves, and hate what God hates. Now, to most evangelicals, this sounds like a good prayer. It is asking God to show us how and where to direct our affection and our disdain. It seems to be asking for wisdom and discernment. Good things, right? But, there is more to this, I think. First, what does God love and hate? The prayer left this wide open to every speculation and opinion. Although, in his sermon he alluded to some moral concerns, primarily directed to young people, there was no direction for any of us to take in order to discern these things. So, I decided to take a quick trip through the Scripture to see if I could find anything that could help me to love the things God loves, and to hate what God hates.
First, I want to say that this is in no way a comprehensive study. Most Christians would not understand it if it was. This is a quick view that any interested person could do in a short amount of time. It is, in its brevity, accessible to anyone.
In the New Testament I found very few references to God hating anyone or anything. There is a reference to Mal. 1:2 in Romans 9. It reads that God has loved Jacob, but has hated Esau. In the Romans context, Paul was trying to explain God’s sovereignty in the form of election. God will have mercy on who God chooses. It’s not up to human actions. In the Malachi reference, it appears that God was explaining that through divine choice, God considered Esau as an enemy. Again, no reason other than God’s choice. PLEASE NOTE that this is an example of God’s own divine choice. It is not something that we could ever possibly act out on our own. We cannot hate Esau because we do not have a reason to. God alone gets to make that call. Besides, for the pastor’s prayer above to have any meaning for us today, we would need to know who the heck Esau is. We cannot hate Esau.
In Hebrews 1:9 we find that Jesus apparently hated lawlessness, but loved righteousness. Again, no definitions here. What did the writer mean by lawlessness? Kittel, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, wrote that in this particular instance, lawlessness could be synonymous with sinfulness. So, the writer was basically making the statement that Jesus hated sin. But, the sin, or lawlessness here appears to be that which Jesus hated in his own life! Not in anyone else’s. Because of this, God set him above his companions. Ok, so we can learn to hate sin IN OUR OWN LIVES. This text does not give us privilege to hate it in anyone else’s life.
There is a statement in Revelation that is a tad confusing. Apparently, God hated the deeds of someone referred to as Nicolaitans. No one really knows for sure who these folks were, nor what deeds are being referred to. Can’t hate what we don’t know about.
So far, there isn’t much that I can find that would help us to hate what God hates. Mostly because, it doesn’t appear that God hates too much.
The Hebrew testament has some interesting things to say about what God hates. Without giving specific references, I found that God hates dishonest gain. Hmm… If we were to bring that statement forward a couple thousand years, perhaps God would not be happy with Western economic systems that reward those who get ‘gain’ using any means, including dishonest ones. Of course, when these people or institutions are found out, there is a great public outcry for a day or two. Then, back to business as usual. Maybe we could find an object of hatred there. But, as Jesus told those who brought the adulteress to him, let whoever is without sin toss the first rock.
The Scripture is clear in many places that God hates idolatry…all idolatry. What can we learn from that? Most people would define idol worship as anything that a person places importance on at the exclusion of other things, especially God. That could be money, house, job, spouse/kids, lover, prestige, RV, or cable TV. Here again, though, it is idolatry that we have in our life that is important here. It’s not up to us to point out the idolatry that we may sense in others. We are pretty much incapable of having accurate discernment.
In Proverbs chapter 6 the writer gave a list of things that God hates. Now, with this kind of list, the main point is usually the last item in the list. In this one that item is one who spreads strife among brothers. In fact, all of the items are interpersonal things. Lying, shedding innocent blood, etc. God apparently doesn’t like it when people treat other people badly. Ok, I can understand that. So, how does that play out as we relate to the LGBT community? What’s that look like as we objectify and marginalize women? Immigrants? The poor? Just something to think about.
There are other texts that I could reference, but, I’ll finish with this one. Amos 5:21-24,
21 “I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
22   “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,I will not accept them;
And I will not even look at the  peace offerings of your fatlings.
                   23  “Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
                   24  “But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Perhaps, now I’m just speculating here, God isn’t all that happy when people use that authority of the pulpit to speak for God. At least, when making general statements that are loaded with emotion. Maybe our church leaders would do well to make sure that the words that come out of their mouths are accurate and precise. From what I’ve found out, these are the ones who may experience God’s displeasure.

Times when it’s best to just Shut Up!

I read a blog today written by a man about women and abortion. The author is a retiree from the L.A.Sheriff’s Dept. named Tony Miano. I think that this is important to remember. I’ll reference it later.
Anyway, the blog is at:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/borntoreform/2013/03/do-women-regret-their-abortions-enough/
In it Miano laid out his position on abortion and the woman’s responsibility in it. Now, I’m a man and I will not get into this debate. Which is something that Miano should have done. What I do want to address is his argument and method. Particularly, I want to focus on his language and theology. Both of which are poor.
His purpose in writing appears to be to encourage women to reconsider the choice of abortion, or to reflect on the consequences of the abortion after the fact. In this process, he seems to want these women to turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. Of course, he provides the usual steps to take to do this…through faith, repent and ask Jesus to be Lord and Savior. Prior to this invitation he does his best to show these wayward female souls the error of their way. He accuses them of “murdering their unborn child,” of deciding to “kill their child,” of wondering about “such depravity that leads a woman to slaughter her own child.” He is magnanimous enough to “give abortive women the benefit of the doubt and assert that most women later regret killing their unborn children.” He hopes that women will regret and feel what he refers to as “godly grief” that will produce repentance. Now, for some who read this may support Miano’s effort. From a modern, literalist point of view he seems to be heading in the right direction. Abortion is sin, therefore, those who have abortions are sinners who need God’s grace. But, Miano doesn’t stop there.
First, he has singled out women as the sinner, or from his law enforcement background, they are the ‘perpetrator.’ As such, they must be brought to justice. This is misogyny. For every woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy there is a man who did the impregnating. Now, I realize that in the U.S. the father has no say in this issue. There may be many who oppose the choice of the woman. But, that doesn’t negate his responsibility in conception. Miano did not mention men’s responsibility at all.
Second, he is standing on a soap box deriding human beings for whom Jesus came. Many of the women that he simply wants to give the “benefit of the doubt” are dealing with issues and feelings that NO MAN can ever understand. In this he is spouting vitriol from a position of privilege. This would have been a time when it would have been best to shut up.
Third, he misrepresents God. By painting the Father of Jesus as One who is out to get vengeance on wayward people is a horrible misreading of the gospel. Jesus came to usher in God’s realm and to reveal God’s character as One who loves the Good Creation and those of us who inhabit it. To use Christian code to bash people is just wrong.
Fourth is his arrogance. He is clear that how he has read and understands the biblical text is absolutely the only proper way to read and understand it. Sorry, Tony, but it’s not. Perhaps if he would have actually gone to a reputable institution of higher learning he would know that. But, nothing in his posted resume indicates this. He was in law enforcement. In this position he would have accepted the dualism of right and wrong and black and white. There is no room for gray or colors with this thinking. And, of course, he is always right.
Miano advertises himself as an ‘itinerant preacher.’ But, I wonder what it is that he preaches. It seems to be hate and judgement. I’m pretty certain it’s not the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Imago Dei

Read an interesting blog this A.M. It reveals much of the current direction that Christ followers are taking theology. I find the position refreshing. If for no other reason than it provides fodder for reflection. For those of you who know me, that’s one of my favorite past times! Anyway, here is the link. Please take a minute to read it. Then take more than a minute to reflect.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2013/01/the-image-of-holiness/#comment-13066

Tolstoy and Moral Relativism

As anyone who knows me or has read this blog can attest, I really like a couple of the Renovare resources for devotions. I am now working through Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines…again. Today’s was an excerpt from an essay by Leo Tolstoy. In it he decried the use, or abuse, of various substances that tend to dull one’s consciousness and render their ability to think and grow. In his reflection on the reading, Richard Foster, who co-edited the book, stated his concern for using conscience as a guide to moral living. He wrote, “it is especially problematic in our day in which modern relativism has turned conscience into virtually anything we want it to mean.” He then turned the idea of relativism into a similar “stupefying substance” not unlike the alcohol, tobacco and opium that Tolstoy denounced. He cited as a corroborating source Dallas Willard. He quoted Willard, “there is now no recognized moral knowledge upon which projects of fostering moral development could be based.”
Now, I’ve been hearing this same kind of concern for many, many years. It seems that it is used anytime the established ‘norm’ is challenged. In my time it has been applied to the liberal 60’s and all those hippies who turned the world upside down. It became the cry from the watchmen and moral gatekeepers when post modernism began to show its hoary head in our culture. Now, these same folks are stating that all of the support and underpinnings of a moral and virtuous society have been destroyed. Watch out! The end of the world as we know it is upon us!
Many folks, particularly conservatives, feel that without some commonly accepted absolute truth(s) society necessarily must founder; rudderless in and ocean of individualistic ambiguity. I’m not sure that I entirely agree with this prognosis. Yes, absolutes that were accepted as truth by our parents, grandparents and, maybe, great-grandparents have been challenged. And, I think, rightfully so. Without fresh insights and understanding gained through challenge we cannot really ‘own’ any kind of moral or virtuous action or thought. There is NO real threat in challenge! Even when these actually reveal inconsistencies and inaccuracies in long held positions, they are still not a threat. Sometimes it’s necessary to dig through and shovel away the crap in order to see the kernel of truth that has been buried. That kernel can them be rethought and recast to better serve society as it is now; today.
I actually believe that there is a very healthy moral under girding for today’s society. I see it revealed in actions taken by entire communities to support folks in the aftermath of Newtown. It is embodied when people stand up to powerful forces of injustice. The moral fiber of those who care for the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow humans is a strong witness. It shines in the lives of Palestinians and Israelis whose hearts and lives are linked in support for one another. Virtue shines when people chose what is right over that which fosters hate and division.
But, perhaps the most problematic point that comes from the moral gatekeepers is the fear and distrust that it engenders. The obvious objects are those who question and challenge. These are enemies to be fought and destroyed. They are no longer fellow travelers through life, but something ‘other’ and evil. I’m sorry, but I haven’t yet found where Jesus took that position. More disconcerting for me, though, is the palpable lack of trust in Yahweh. It seems that God is rendered impotent by the challenges raised by those who have been created in the Divine image.
I have hope. I trust that God’s will surely will be done on earth as in heaven. I am equally sure that when assumptions and interpretations, that MUST be flawed because they are of human origination, are challenged that we really have nothing to fear. In fact, we may, as one wise person was reported to have said under similar circumstances, “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these [people] alone!…For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop [it]; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).

Away for a bit

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been here. There’s simply been too much on my plate to spend time with this blog. My dad was back in hospital again. It really sux getting old. He’s a tough old codger, though. And, I started at a new position at work last week. New stuff to learn and not a lot of time to learn it. Ah, yes! I love it when they move the cheese.
Anyway, I’ve spent the better share of the last month ruminating on how the Euro-American worldview is simply NOT the best way to live a full and abundant life. I’ve read a couple books from a Zen point of view. One of them by a Jesuit priest who uses Zen practices to deepen his spiritual life with Yahweh. Interesting stuff that I will comment on later. I’ve also been studying material written from a First Inhabitant point of view. I have been encouraged to look at this by Randy Woodley. He is an American Cherokee with a Ph.D from Asbury Seminary. Having been following his online works and blogs, as well as working through his newest tome, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, has given me much to meditate on. This, too, I’ll comment on later. All of this to say, I am in the process of trying to reconcile the Euro-American culture with the Very Good Creation that Yahweh has provided for all living things to dwell in. It’s difficult. Actually, it’s impossible. We who are of European descent have much to bring to the discussion, but we are not the answer or telos of that discussion.

American Pie: Christian Style

I am always on the lookout for pieces that help to put cultural hermeneutics in some kind of proper perspective. I have learned over the past few years that much of what I had thought true is actually a view that has been skewed by my position as a white male in North America. Not only is the view of this dominant culture biased in the extreme, it is wrong in more places than I can get to in a short blog. Thankfully, there are a multitude of others who see this as a problem and are discussing it in books, blogs, seminaries, colleges, and even some churches. The link I have posted here leads to one view that I think is important for Christ followers to ruminate on. Enjoy!
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2012/04/strange-christianity-made-in-america-part-iii-by-randy-woodley/#more-1228