Archive for the 'Setting the record straight' Category

25
Dec
09

Happy Birthday, Jesus

Yes, I know he probably wasn’t really born on this day. But it’s the day we’ve picked to celebrate his birth, and it’s the celebration of that, not the date itself, that’s important.

And in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, I re-post this gem that someone else posted, and that she got from someone else. Here’s hoping it goes seriously viral:

Happy Birthday to a radical, nonviolent, anti-death penalty, anti-public prayer (Matt 6:5), never anti-gay, non-english-speaking, long-haired, brown-skinned, homeless, socialist, middle-eastern Jew. Jesus, you are my kinda guy.

06
Oct
09

Christ Before Christianity

jesus_brown2There is a disturbingly common misconception among a lot of folks who are quick to say “praise Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name” who think that the Son of God preached for a few years to establish a religion. Too many people who think that what is laid down as church doctrine came from the mouth of Jesus.

Frankly, there are a lot of people hostile to religion who think the same thing, though I’m gratified to find a fair number of atheists and snarky agnostics who can separate their issues with early Christian church leaders from the teachings of the Christ himself.

Jesus did not establish a religion. Jesus preached that people should turn to God and be obedient to Him. That is, obedient to the underlying spirit of His commandments, which revolve around love, and not so much for the nit-picking of the laws and they way they put people in bondage and encouraged folks to double standards.

Jesus preached against anger and hate and intolerance. He often singled out hypocrisy as one of his biggest pet peeves. Ultimately, what Jesus taught was a spiritual awakening and awareness, and not a religion. After all, he already had a religion: Judaism. He was there to fulfill God the Father’s will and not reinvent the wheel. He was actually trying to tweak that wheel so that it spun true and straight, because it was twisted, pitted, kinked, rusted and otherwise pretty messed up by the time he came around.

True, the New Testament is filled with doctrine and rules and guidelines. Those things that formed the “walls” of the early Christian church, to build upon the foundation that was Jesus and his teachings. I totally understand why the apostles and other early church leaders did that. Keeping people on the right track and preventing heresy around Jesus’ message was important. Fragmenting into cults with personal agendas was something that horrified early church leaders, and rightfully so, because that could have undone everything that they were doing to spread Jesus’ teachings and the good news of the resurrection.

That said, even the early church leaders weren’t tying to establish some rigid doctrine in many cases. Perhaps not even most cases. Many of the things in the New Testament were letters to specific churches and regions, to deal with specific issues and problems they faced. Sometimes, we take a lesson that was meant to point out how easy it is to fall away from the path, and turn it into a rule that everyone must follow…OR ELSE!

Jesus believed in rules and in proper behavior. I don’t deny that. And what he taught was important. But some of what he taught was meant to make people think, not simply to compel them to a certain action or set of rules. I mean, does anyone with any sense really think Jesus was advocating that you rip out your eyes if, for example, you just can’t stop ogling the ladies? Come on, now…

Jesus taught with metaphors and symbols through his parables. He sometimes used hyperbole to make a point. He didn’t write down a doctrine and he didn’t create a church, nor did he command a new church to be created. He set his apostles on the path to create a church of ideas and of good lessons and of reverence to God, but Jesus portrayed himself as a servant as much as a teacher, and he didn’t crave to have people bow and scrape before him. He wasn’t trying to set up himself up as an object of worship but as a gatekeeper, guide, brother, teacher and advocate. He is the messiah and the savior, but he didn’t seek to create Christianity.

He strove to create godliness.

A couple Sundays ago, our pastor preached from the gospel of Mark, if I recall right. Or maybe Matthew. I’m too lazy at the moment frankly, to scour things and remind myself which “M” gospel writer it was or which chapter and verse. But it was the story of the apostles who, after having recently failed miserably at healing and casting out of demons, came to discover that someone outside their circle was casting out demons using Jesus’ name.

They were incensed, and went to Jesus to tell him that they had told the man to stop doing that. Jesus chided them for doing so, reminding them that they man was doing good works, and that “those are not against us are for us.”

Does this sound like a man who wants us to follow a specific church, or a specific religious leader? No. Jesus wanted us to serve and love and embrace God.

Yes, this is the man who also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and none shall come to the Father but through me.”

But that doesn’t mean he wanted us to embrace a religion called Christianity. It simply means he knew that God was going to put him at the metaphorical gates of Heaven to determine who was ready and willing to enter.

This is why I reject the idea that only those who claim Jesus’ name officially and directly are saved. Because Jesus was happy to hear about someone who didn’t follow him casting out demons and doing healing in his name. Doing  God’s work.

Yes, I believe that truly embracing the spirit of Jesus’ teachings and recognizing him as one’s savior is an express road to salvation. It’s the short cut, though admittedly a short cut that is riddled with bumps and potholes at times. It’s a better and surer path, but not the only one.

Jesus acknowledged that some out there weren’t his followers, but they were still allies and people to be thanked for doing good. Yes, we will answer to God through Jesus. Yes, we need forgiveness for our sins.

But it isn’t just the Christians getting into heaven, my friends.

And there are a whole mess of Christians who are very much against what Jesus taught, and who will find themselves turned away in the end.

15
Apr
09

Triple Play

three-golden-cogsI do not believe that God and Jesus are the same entity. I simply don’t. If Jesus was God Himself, just in human form, he couldn’t have died. And therefore there could be no true resurrection. In fact, no true sacrifice at all. And if he were God, avoiding sin would have been a piece of cake.

The reason Jesus matters so much is…well, there are a lot of reasons. But some of the chief among them are that he was the only begotten son of God, and thus had direct communion with God and came out of the starting gate clean. But at the same time, he was human, and could be tempted. He knew what it felt like to be lured by sin, yet he was also able to resist it.

A lot of people get hung up on the idea that God and Jesus are the same being, and that the Holy Spirit is the third aspect of this single being. Catholics are among the biggest bloc in this regard.

It doesn’t wash with me. I know things of Heaven are supposed to be out of the realm of true understanding by anyone still stuck on this Earth who wasn’t named Jesus but still, it doesn’t seem that there would be any point in God and Jesus being the same being.

And so, I don’t buy into the Trinity concept, at least not in that regard. Yes, there is a Trinity, but I see it like this: God the Father is the ultimate authority and power. Jesus is his right-hand man, so to speak, as well as being his son and heir to all that is God’s. The Holy Spirit, I believe, is an entity with a distinct personality and purpose to guide and edify us, but is a being that is generate as a result of God’s spirit being in humans to a small degree.

The three of them serve important roles, but they are not the same being, and ultimately, I believe that Jesus and the Holy Ghost answer to God.

This is important, I think, because each is to be respected and approached in different ways. Appreciated and thanked for different reasons. Leaned on more in one case and less in another. We need all three of them.

But they ain’t the same being.

06
Jan
09

A Good Poverty

feet-washingIn trying to find inspiration for a post tonight, despite being in a somewhat funky state of mind, I lighted upon chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus lays out the eight Beatitudes as the kickoff for his Sermon on the Mount.

I realized, for the first time and with much embarrassment, that I haven’t really read the Beatitudes closely enough, because the first one threw me off.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

First thing I keyed in on was the word “poor,” but that probably has a lot to do with finding out today that one of the few clients who gives me monthly work is cutting me back to every other month.

Next I looked at the whole phrase poor in spirit, and I couldn’t figure out why that would be a good thing. I’ve been born again for years, I’m a deacon, and I had no clue what the hell “poor in spirit” was supposed to be. It sure sounds like not having faith or letting things get you down.

So, I did a little quick research, and learned that poor in spirit basically means humility.

One site I found discussing the Beatitudes put it this way:

Humility is the realization that all your gifts and blessings come from the grace of God. To have poverty of spirit means to be completely empty and open to the Word of God. When we are an empty cup and devoid of pride, we are humble. Humility brings an openness and an inner peace, allowing one to do the will of God.

Well, I’m not liking the financial constipation I’m currently enduring, but I am wishing I had a bit more of the kind of poverty noted above. Because as humble as I may think I am, I’m clearly not humble enough yet.

30
Dec
08

Too Offended By the Nails

crucifixionThis past Sunday, our pastor did a “Cannon Sunday” service.

I’d never heard the term before, but apparently it refers to the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s, during which attendance is traditionally so low that you could fire a cannon over the pews and not hit anyone.

So, no formal sermon, no choir, the normal music director wasn’t the one playing the organ.

Figures that it would be a pretty heavy attendance that day.

But, that’s not my point. I’m going tangential on you. Point is that instead of a sermon, the pastor answered questions handed in from the congregation and randomly selected from the pile. Sort of a town-hall style sermon.

One of those questions wasn’t really a question, and it went something like this:

I am so offended by the image of those railroad nails being driven through Jesus’ hands and feet that I cannot get past the the pain and suffering and refuse to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

I don’t get this. The pastor, for his part, deftly honored the person’s question instead of calling him or her out as a flaming dipwad, and mentioned how it shows sensitivity and compassion to so hate the image of crucifixion and the suffering it entailed.

Now, I can get down with that point, of course. We rarely spend enough time truly understanding and appreciating how much Jesus suffered. This wasn’t some simple execution and not some simple form of torture. Crucifixion remains one of the most excruciating and prolonged methods of killing a person that there is.

That said, the person who handed in the question is still a flaming dipwad.

Sorry if that seems harsh. But it’s how I feel. Honestly.

Because, you see, before he died, Jesus told us to remember him through the Lord’s Supper. Or rather, our imitation of it. Our symbolic representation of it. He called upon us to break bread in his memory, as a remembrance of his soon-to-be-broken body, and to eat that bread as a symbol of taking him into our lives. And we were to drink wine in the same manner as a remembrance of the blood he was shedding as part of the new covenant with God.

He exhorted us to take that bread during worship. It is one of the ways we honor Jesus.

To refuse to take Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper—whatever you call it in your Christian denomination or specific church—is a kind of insult, I think. To say that you are so offended by the crucifixion of our savior that you cannot honor what amounted to his dying request…well, it is silliness at best, and ignorant at worst.

Remember that Jesus paid the price for us. He suffered for us. He told us we would often suffer in his name, but we never have to suffer as much as he did. Nothing we can go through can equal the crucifixion plus bearing all of our sins and having his own heavenly father have to turn His back and cut off the connection between them for a time.

The least we can do is eat a piece of bread without getting caught up in some overblown and, to me, somewhat insincere indignation over what he suffered.

Jesus knew what he was getting into. Let’s respect that, not put such a sharp focus on his suffering that we lose sight of what he wants us to do. And to feel. And to be.

04
Nov
08

Two-fer Tuesday: Suffer the Children by Deacon Blue

jesus-childrenIt’s really tempting to use a play on words with well-known phrase “Suffer the little children…” to focus on them actually suffering, either in reality or in perception. Many people do end up doing that. Lord knows I almost did it myself when I tacked the headline on one of my wife’s posts on this blog, Cry For the Little Children, which I did almost title Suffer the Little Children.

But we need to remember that Jesus came up with that line, and that wasn’t what he was getting at. When he said, “suffer the little children,” it was in this context in the King James version: But Jesus called them unto him, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Here’s the full text, the New American Standard version of Luke chapter 18, verses 15-17:

And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

In the more modern translations like the one above, we see suffer become something like permit or allow. But that misses the flavor of what I strongly suspect Jesus was trying to get across and that the King James version captured. He wasn’t just saying, “Let them come to me because they are important” (he was, of course), but he was also saying, “you will deal with them being around me…you will tolerate it even if you don’t like it…you will suffer it if you must but you will learn to cope with it regardless.”

So why is it that so many churches and churchgoers and church leaders want the children out of sight, out of earshot and out of mind?

I grew up in the Catholic Church. Whatever ill feelings I have for the Vatican leadership and many of the doctrinal matters of Catholic life that depart from scripture, I have nothing against Catholic places of worship; rank-and-file priests, nuns and brothers; or Catholic worshippers. In fact, one thing I recall fondly is that there wasn’t a single “children’s service” in any Catholic church I ever went to. I don’t know if that’s still the way things are; maybe things were different then. Or maybe I went to a whole lot of non-standard churches. But the kids were expected to be in the pews. If they acted up, they got taken out by their parents. If a baby cried, we all dealt with it until the baby could be soothed or the mother could move said infant to a more soundproofed area. But people didn’t get weird about them being there, because there place was there, alongside their families.

Yet, since becoming born again for real (instead of just being born into Christianity as a baby and raised in it) and attending mostly Protestant churches as an adult, I see a lot of churches—in fact, most of them I have attended—shuffling the kids off at some point, sometimes very early in the service, to a children’s church or to the nursery, depending on the age. If you are one of the “odd” sorts who doesn’t want to hand your baby off to a relative stranger and your child makes a fuss at all in the service and you don’t dart of your seat at light speed with kid in tow, people give you dirty looks.

They don’t want to suffer the children.

Look, I get the value of a children’s church. I know that in a lot of cases, the kids are being taught scripture in a more kid-understandable fashion. But I also know that in a lot of cases, kids are being indoctrinated into what that church believes kids should do. I don’t mind them teaching my child that he or she should obey God, but it’s fully my prerogative to tell my children whether, and how, they should obey other adults, including myself. Yet in many children’s church settings, kids are taught to obey and to do what they are told and not necessarily to think. That’s why I prefer my child next to me in church, because I want my child taught according to my priorities, particularly when she is still not even school age.

The church we’re in now has a great program for kids and I trust them, so I do send Little Girl Blue down to the nursery/playroom. She’s happier that way, and I’ll ease her into doing services as she gets older. I’ve seen them in action and they ultimately let the kids be kids. Also, our pastor at a recent meeting of new members didn’t ask parents to leave their kids with someone but welcomed them and thanked all those kids afterward for having been such good sports about the whole thing and letting us grown-ups talk.

But in so many other churches I’ve been to, you’re going against the grain if you bring your child, and God forbid you give special instruction like “don’t feed my child X” or “if he/she cries, get me immediately” or anything else, because in my experience, most of the people in charge of the kids don’t listen to what the parents tell them, or don’t care what the parents are saying.

Kids are people too. Trite as it sounds, it’s true. Jesus recognized them as children of God first and foremost, which is the same way he viewed the adults.

We should too. We need to suffer the little children.

And we need to suffer them gladly.

29
Oct
08

Devil in the Details

So, I wasn’t really going to go political today…and, in a sense, I’m still not going all-out political, but rather a 30/70 political-religious rant.

It’s all the fault of Chez over at Deus Ex Malcontent, by the way, and one of his his Tuesday posts with a quote by former Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson. And this is what Jackson said on her blog:

“I don’t want a political label, but Obama bears traits that resemble the anti-Christ and I’m scared to death that un-educated people will ignorantly vote him into office.”

First, I didn’t want to be reminded of what a ditsy whack-job Jackson has become. I had first learned about her blog a few months ago when she was spouting off some religious lunacy related to the election season, and it just twists my gut. For one thing, we don’t need crazy folks making the rest of us Christians look bad by association. People already think those of us who believe that the Book of Revelation will come to pass someday are crazy, but then when folks like Jackson and Sarah Palin start spouting off about the end times certainly-definitely-uh huh yeah coming in their lifetimes, it just reflects poorly. People assume that belief in the Book of Revelation automatically means you’re expecting the Antichrist to pop out of the bushes and that you’re just hoping for the Rapture to come right now.

Frankly, I want the Rapture to come as slowly as possible because there are a lot of people out there who haven’t come to Christ, and the last thing I want is the world coming to a close any time soon. Aside from the fact I do want to see the end of important TV series like Battlestar Galactica and Lost, and the end of the world might fuck with that.

I just want to go on record with my fellow Christians who might be confused on some important points:

  • The Book of Revelation does not really give a description of the Antichrist.
  • In fact, the name/word antichrist doesn’t even appear in that book but in John’s other writings.
  • For the most part, antichrist is a generic term for people who are directly counter to Jesus.
  • The guy who screws things up in Revelation is referred to as The Beast. He’s the big kahuna of all antichrists, so I suppose you could give him a capital-A version of the antichrist name if you really want.

There is a nice overview of the who False Prophet/Beast thing here. It’s not the most complete I’ve seen, but at least it is honest enough to note that we just don’t know the specifics of who, what or when with the Antichrist/Beast. We just don’t. Apparently, it will be abundantly clear, though, when he arrives, at least to those who are born again.

Well, I’m born again, and it hardly seems like a slam-dunk that Barack Obama is going to be the Antichrist, even though in addition to Victoria Jackson, I’ve seen other bloggers claim this and viral e-mails that claim this. For one thing, Obama professes to be a Christian. That means he professes Jesus as the risen Lord. That already make things muddy and confusing. Because the Antichrist/Beast will preach against any kind of worship but worship of himself and a rejection of Jesus and other faiths.

Obama doesn’t reject Jesus.

I don’t care how much you might think the Antichrist will be the ultimate liar, that guy simply won’t be able to get those kinds of words out of his mouth. To lift up Jesus at all or profess that Christianity is a course to salvation would be entirely anathema to any agenda of a servant of Satan ushering in the end times.

End of story.

Please, if you are a religious wacko who insists on painting Barack Obama as the Antichrist, don’t spout your bullshit in my presence. Because I will slap you until some sense returns to your brain.

(There a nice piece dissecting the ridiculousnness of Obama-as-Antichrist here, by the way, too.)




Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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