Train up a child
Our children and grandchildren were homeschooled in loving, caring, academically challenging environments; so, I’m certainly not opposed to homeschooling. On the other hand, there is a strong homeschooling movement among conservative fundamentalist white evangelical Christians in America that is unbiblical and abusive.
Parents are taught to inflict physical pain with their hands, with switches, wooden spoons, and belts on children beginning when they can crawl – placing objects they should not touch in front of them and hitting them when they try. This is done to “break the child’s will” because children are seen as born evil and rebellious. Children are corporally punished for the slightest perceived transgression throughout their childhoods. They are taught that public schools are evil bastions of anti-Christian indoctrination, that the government, educational system, and public libraries are controlled by elite people determined to destroy righteousness, and that America was founded by dedicated Christians who feared God. They are taught that guns are a God-given right, that science is not to be trusted (especially when it comes to vaccines, evolution, and environmentalism), and that women must submit to men.
Absolutely none of that is biblical. Those positions are based on cherry-picking verses out of the Old Testament and justified by ignoring the teachings of Jesus. Christians do not live by the laws of the Old Testament. We don’t stone or beat our children.
Children are not born evil. They are created in the image and likeness of God, innocent. “Total depravity” is an invention of the Middle Ages. Yes, as we mature, we all sin; we all miss the mark. That’s why Jesus came. Because of the cross, sin is off the table – forgiven, gone forever.
Christians do not believe or spread conspiracy theories. Science is not a threat to faith. All truth is God’s truth, whether that truth is found in a laboratory or in the Bible. Speaking of the Bible, Christians interpret all scripture in light of the teachings of Jesus. The New Testament trumps the Old; the red letters trump everything.
So, what did Jesus say about child-raising? How did Paul interpret what Jesus taught?
- “Invite the children to come to me; don’t prevent them.”
- “Come like a child… of such is the Kingdom of God.”
- “It would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend one God’s little ones.”
- “Fathers, do not provoke your children, but raise them in they way they should go.” (The way theyshould go – not the way you think they ought to go.)
- “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is gentle.”
Children are indeed a gift. Treasure them. Love them. You cannot love a child too much. help them discover the glories of creation. Teach them to think critically. Let go of conspiracies. Embrace the wonders science has discovered. Be tender and kind. Support public schools. Trust educators. Stop banning books and trying to rewrite history. Truth sets people free. Saturate your home with unconditional love, mercy and grace. Get out of your silo. Love God. Love others (all of them). Love the natural creation. Love yourself. Gently lead the young.
God kills puppies?!
God killed every person and every animal on earth except a handful in a zoo boat. Saw something to that effect on social media recently. They were referring, of course, to the biblical story of Noah’s flood. Scientifically, a universal flood is impossible. There isn’t enough water. Theologically, it is even more problematic.
God is exactly like Jesus. Jesus is the perfect reflection of who God is. He said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Jesus loves, forgives, brings life and grace and mercy. He doesn’t drown innocent children and puppies.
So, what to make of the flood story? It’s a sacred myth, repeated in different forms in many cultures around the ancient world. It’s based on a collective memory of a terrible flood that devasted the world as they knew it. Most likely, it’s based on a number of catastrophic local floods. Like all sacred myths, it teaches profound spiritual lessons. Lessons about caring for the earth, about the evils of violence, about selfishness, and hatred. And, lessons about mercy, new beginnings, hope for the future.
If you would like to explore the science, check out: https://biologos.org/resources?query=flood.
Some thoughts on the theology of the flood: https://reknew.org/?s=noah
God never ordered anyone to slaughter anyone
God never ordered anyone to slaughter anyone else. How do I know? Because God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God. Jesus is the perfect revelation of who God is. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And, “I and the Father are one.” And, “I do always those things that please the Father.” God is exactly like Jesus and Jesus forgave his enemies, refused retaliation, and rejected violence as a solution.
Yet, in the Old Testament, we have passages where it says God ordered genocide. How can that be? In the Ancient Neareast (of which Israel was part), you honored your god by ascribing all victories to him/her/it. The ancient Jews did the same. They claimed YHWH slaughtered the Canaanites, Hittites and Jebusites. Of course, they knew right well that they did the killing. God told them to possess the land. They assumed that the only way to do was to invade with swords drawn. There’s evidence that if they’d simply trusted God, God would have persuaded the people who lived there (people created in God’s image; people God loved) to move on their own accord. Instead, the ancient Jews invaded, slaughtered, and gave the God of cruciform love the credit.
Jesus also invaded Canaan. In Matthew 15, the story is told of Jesus in Syrophoenicia. Jews and Syrophoenicians didn’t get along, mostly for economic and cultural reasons. A Syrophoenician woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter. Using a bit of street theater, Jesus acted exactly as any Jewish rabbi would be expected – he ignored her. She pressed in. He said he had been sent to lost sheep of Israel. She said even dogs get crumbs. Jesus ended the theater and responded as we knew he would, with grace, love, acceptance, mercy, and healing. His Jewish followers had to be astonished.
Joshua and the ancient Jewish tribes invaded Canaan with sword and genocide. Jesus invaded Canaan with cruciform love. A new kingdom has come.
Deconstructing Religious Faith
Many people in North America are questioning their faith. That doesn’t in anyway intimidate God. God wants us to use our brains to examine and wrestle with issues.
Why are so many people in North America questioning or turning away from faith?
- Some question Christianity because they were told that if the Genesis creation accounts are not literal descriptions of how life formed, the entire Bible is false. An introductory course in evolutionary biology shatters that.
- Still others feel an incongruency between a loving God and eternal conscious torture.
- Mega-churches feel like inauthentic shows to many people.
- Others see white evangelicals and conservative Catholics supporting ultra-right-wing authoritarian politicians whose policies are opposite the teachings of Jesus.
- They see those same people as anti-LGBTQ+
- They see professing Christians as caring more about fetuses than women.
- They hear people who claim to represent Jesus espousing racism, promoting gun ownership, & being in favor of capital punishment.
- They hear Christians promoting revisionist, anti-indigenous and anti-black history.
- They hear “patriots” espousing antisemitism.
- They watch them waving Confederate battle flags and Nazi banners.
Rethinking your belief system is a good thing. It doesn’t in anyway intimidate God.
Just don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Jesus is real.
God is exactly like Jesus.
There is nothing unchristlike in God.
God is perfect, eternal, unconditional, cruciform love.
God loves you and desires to have a loving relationship with you.
God won’t mess up your life.
God will fulfill your life.
Beneath the Massive Oak Tree
Unaware that royal blood courses beneath her wrinkled and
Blackened skin from long hours in brutal humidity,
Her back permanently aching, day after day,
Bent over, fingers raw; bag after bag weighed,
Slave after slave whipped; now, exhausted,
She lies in the dust beneath the oak weary and broken.
She is an old, old woman of forty-one –
The daughter of slaves who were the children of
Slaves who were the children of
Princes and princesses.
He looked like just another field hand
Walking slowly down the lane – most
Likely hired out by a neighbor to make up
For the sickness going around. His clothes
Tattered, old hat shading his face, he walked
With a stooped dignity that broadcast the
Fact that they had never broken him.
Fat, tobacco-chewing overseer spat
Disdainfully and cursed as he read
The newcomer’s paperwork, before walking to the Big House.
There was a commotion within, shouts, and cries –
Master and his lawyer, Misses trailing behind beneath
Her parasol and bonnet. Confusion, upheaval, she was
Curious, but too fatigued to do more than lift her head
From the dusty shade of the massive oak.
The Oak knew the displaced and slaughtered
Indigenous people who were one with this land for
Ten-thousands of years before it was stolen. He survived
The slashing and burning, ploughing and planting by
Invaders who worked stolen land with stolen souls.
The old oak was the first to hear, the first to lift his
Arms in praise to the Almighty. Though the pale-skinned
People remained in shocked denial, the papers were
Clear, legal, and in order. The entire plantation,
Long since fallen into bankruptcy, now belonged
To the scruffy looking field hand. As a first order of
Business, even while the master’s carriages were
Clopping off in the distance to the wails of the entitled,
He called together all the slaves, and gave them
Papers of manumission.
Afterward, he walked toward her, a gentle smile on his face,
A kindness in his eyes such as she had never before seen.
He sat down next to her in the dust and spoke of the
Beauty of the morning’s sunrise. She remained silent,
Still afraid. What did these changes mean for her?
Where would she go? Her husband had been beaten to
Death, his body burned on a stake for trying to escape.
Her children sold down the river; gone. She was alone and
Too weary to care anymore. What did he want?
Does it matter?
He divided the plantation into 40-acre farms
And gave one section to each family, along with
Mules and ploughs, horses and chickens.
What had been a cotton plantation would soon
Become a farming village. The Big House became a
Home for elders no longer able to care for themselves;
The new owner lived as one with the former slaves.
Around campfires, they sang and danced; at
Christmastide, they feasted and gave gifts; at
Easter, they shouted their hallelujahs.
A great war ripped apart the land. Many a mansion
Burned to the ground. Slavery ended, only to be
Replaced by draconian laws, convict leasing,
Hooded riders and lynching trees. The field hand
Kept a watchful eye from the watchtower,
Ever keeping the evil at bay with a presence that
Radiated both power and peace. He had no guns,
No canon, yet there was a force that glowed
Outward from him, as if, with a word, he
Could thresh mountains.
Still she sat, wearied and broken, in the dust
Beneath the massive oak, happy for her neighbors,
But worn out like an old mule, barely able to lift
Her head. Day after day, he visited, bringing
Fresh bread, sweet wine, meat and cheese.
Day after day, he spoke of trees and birds and
Clouds and far off seas. He told her tales of
Her ancestral homeland, of great herds of wildebeest, and
Flowing grasslands. How or when he had been there,
She could not imagine.
Several weeks past until, during one of their visits
Under the old oak, he took her hands, looked into
Her eyes and asked her to be his wife. She wept as
She fell into his arms and felt his strength lift her out
Of the dust and carry her back to her shack.
Seamstresses, musicians, tradesmen came by daily,
Jewelry was made, dresses embroidered, flowers arranged,
But it wasn’t until the wedding itself that it hit her –
She was marrying a King.
She was about to become a Queen.
And the Old Oak lifted his arms in praise to the Almighty.
I sit here in Holland, Michigan gazing at the lake. In Ojibwe, “mishigami” means “large water.” After the French invaded and stole the land from ingenious people who had lived here for thousands of years, and after the English stole it from the French, it came to be called Lake Michigan. (We destroy and displace then name things after what we destroyed and displaced.)
I learned to sail in off the coast of Cape Cod, taught by an old salt who knew every eddy. Like many of us whose idea of sailing means salt water and ocean currents, Ted Turner mocked the fresh water sailors of the Great Lakes. Mocked, that is, until he skippered in a yacht race across Lake Michigan and nearly drowned in a blow. The Great Lakes are a graveyard of wooden and steel vessels. They are notorious for refusing to give up their dead. Cargo ships, freighters, schooners, paddlewheel river boats, steamers, bulk carriers, whaleback freighters, ferries, and even a submarine lie at the bottom of Lake Michigan – their sailors in Davy Jones’ Locker.
Yes, we are connected to the earth. Divine mud-covered hands fashioning imago Dei. Mother Earth we call her, Gaia. But before earth, there was sea. Waters covered the face of the deep. The sea is Mother Earth’s womb. From its primal soup, carbon-based life emerged. Eons are carved into the genes of limulus, brachiopods, and horsetails. We came from the sea before we came from earth.
We can go yet further back to the star-factories that produced every natural element in the universe. It sounds new-age-y, but it’s true – we are made of stars. We are connected to all of life, all the natural world. Creation calls to us.
The call of outer space to the astronaut and astronomer.
The call of the sea to mariner and sailor.
The call of earth to gardener and (non-corporate) farmer.
The call of the forest to ornithologist and hiker.
The call of the mountains to skier and climber.
I feel close to God in nature. I reverence creation. I care for creation. I lament when people destroy her. But I do not worship creation. The natural universe is indifferent. The sea swallows its dead. People, both bad and good, die in floods, earthquakes, tornadoes. Many a back country hiker and many a mountaineer never return.
Ah, but the Creator cares. God is never indifferent. The Creator numbers every hair, is with every dying sparrow, provides for each lily, and entered history with cruciform love to make all things new. Heavens, earth, sea, and mountains proclaim Creator’s handwork. What are humans that Thou art mindful of them?