Category Archives: Justice

An Audio Intro to Isaiah

Gently Drawn By Love

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NRSVUE)

I hear the gentleness of the call. “If you wish to follow me…” No pressure. No coercion. No psychological or emotional manipulation. The call to spiritual formation, to discipleship, to true worship (which is simply doing what Jesus said to do, as unpopular as that may be) is given in freedom.

Deny yourself – I think Jesus means the false, egocentric self, the false personas, the superficial images we try so hard to maintain so others will accept us and so we can feel good about ourselves. Deny, set aside, the ego-driven self that cares about success, achievement, reputation, legacy, and honor.

Denying ourselves feels like a pouring out. At first, the pouring out feels like loss, a death, a loss of identity, but it actually makes space for to embrace the true self, which is who I am as defined by God. 

The true self is soul-drawn. It is not driven. It is beckoned by grace. It is invited into wholeness by Love. It is free. It cares nothing for accomplishments or prestige. Drawn by divine love, it loves to serve, to take up the banner of justice, to be identified with the weak, rejected people on the margins. It cannot be offended because it has no ego to offend. It joyfully takes up the way of the cross, the way of cruciform self-sacrificial love. 

The Grand Divine Plan

The Big Picture

God is love. God was always complete. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, three in one, living in perfect harmony and mutual love. Divine love spilled over. Because God is love, God desired living things to love. So, God created. 

Originally, the realm of nature, the cosmos, and the heavenly spiritual realm were one. 

The oneness was disrupted, torn apart, by two deliberate rebellions – one by some angelic beings, the second by humans. 

Immediately, God began the great divine rescue project of reuniting heaven and earth, i.e., the natural cosmos. God is doing so without violating any creature’s free will. 

God chose a person named Abraham, and through Abraham raised up a nation called Israel. God’s purpose in doing so was to draw all people, all nations, back to the Divine self – to bring all humans into harmony with heaven, the realm of God, the realm of perfect love. 

Israel, like the first humans, failed to live out the love-relationship with the divine, so the other nations were not attracted to YHWH. But God did not abandon the divine rescue project. God became a human being. Jesus claimed to be God. He forgave sins, said he always existed, and asserted he was coming to judge the world. This Jesus did things only God could do – walked on water, transformed water into wine, rebuked storms, raised the dead. 

Was he deluded? Insane? Lying? Or, is Jesus God incarnate? Nice guy, helpful prophet, great teacher, fine ethicist, or model human are not logical options. 

This Jesus, this God-Man, ushered in a new kingdom unlike any other. This kingdom has no military, no politicians vying for power. The citizens of this kingdom love, are nonviolent, inclusive, gracious, forgiving, compassionate. All are invited and welcome in this kingdom. In this kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free – all are one in King Jesus. This kingdom is multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual, multinational. In it, the last are first, the servant of all is the greatest of all, the way up is down, and the meek inherit the earth. 

Jesus initiated this kingdom on the cross. When he allowed himself to be crucified by the Romans, Jesus absorbed into himself all the sin, evil, rebellion, and wickedness in the entire cosmos. Sin and evil imploded as it killed him – evil not realizing that a sinless one freely offered in love cannot remain dead. 

Jesus rose again. Alive. Alive in a real physical body. He appeared to hundreds. Then, he ascended into heaven. That does not mean he flew away to some distant place. It means that now a fully human person is not only living in the realm of God, but is seated on the divine throne, ruling all that is. 

His plan is to spread the kingdom of love to all. How does he spread the kingdom of love? He breathed into his apprentices and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He poured out the Holy Spirit on 120 followers on the day of Pentecost. He breathes his Spirit into, pours his Spirit upon, all who receive him today. Why? So that they (we) would be equipped, enabled, empowered to love as he loved, to give their lives for others, to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, forgive the unforgiveable, and nonviolently resist hatred with love. 

The incarnation means God became human. 

The crucifixion means God has absorbed all sin. 

The ascension means there is a human king ruling in heaven. 

Pentecost means God indwells humans on earth, giving voice to the inarticulate praises of nature, living out the cruciform love that washes feet, soothes wounds, visits the incarcerated, houses the homeless, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and loves the unlovable who live on the margins. 

The realm of heaven, the realm of perfect love, is overlapping with the realm of human destruction. It is overlapping through those of us who seek to follow Jesus.

When Messiah Jesus appears, all will be like him, heaven and earth will be one. Perfect, divine, cruciform love will saturate all that is. Forever.

God’s Business

Luke 2:49 is most often translated “in my father’s house,” as if Jesus is referring to the Temple in Jerusalem where, at age 12, he was discussing theology with the elders. The passage is variously translated:

“Didn’t you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father’s affairs?” (CJB)

“You should have known that I must be where my Father’s work is.” (ERV)

“Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s interests? (NRSVUE footnote)

Luke 2:49 literally says: 

“Do you not know that I must be in, or about, the ______ of my Father.” 

There is no verb and the grammar insists that whatever goes in the blank be plural.

Perhaps the best translation follows the Disciples’ Literal New Testament: 

“Did you not know that I must be in the things of My Father?” (DLNT)

“I must be about the things of my Father.”

“I must be in the things of my Father.”

What are the things of God the Father? What is God’s business?

Certainly not a building no matter how magnificent. The Almighty does not dwell in temples made by humans. God is not in need of being housed and fed by enslaved people as were pagan gods. Jesus later refers to this very temple as being abandoned by the God of Abraham.

The things of the Father include all of creation – the worlds, planets, stars, quasars, bunny rabbits, elm trees, red-bellied woodpeckers, humans, ideas, emotions, longings – the entire cosmos, the whole universe, all multiverses if such exist.

The things of the Father: nature, environment, plants, animals, climate-care.

The things of the Father: the broken, sick, dying, homeless, displaced, refugee, incarcerated, mentally ill, sad, depressed, addicted, lonely, starving, war-torn – the least of Jesus’ siblings.

The things of the Father: justice, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, nonviolence, grace.

The things of the Father: spiritual guidance, healthcare, psychological care, safe affordable housing, wholesome food, safe neighborhoods, an end to violence.

The things of the Father: honesty, compassion, lovingkindness, mercy.

To follow Jesus is to join Jesus in being about the things of the Father. 

Jesus vs. Religion. An audio lesson on Mark 11-12

Power

Power

Interesting word, power. It may refer to control, influence, or dominance. It can mean ability, as in aptitude or skill; strength, as in force or might. It can refer to authority or rights, privileges, entitlement. It is used of nations in the sense of military or economic force. Power refers to influence or dominion. As a verb, power may be used in the sense of causing something to be set in motion; or in the sense of fuel. 

Power can be either negative or positive. In the negative sense, it is sin, diametrically opposed to Kingdom living. In the Kingdom of God, we are never to coerce, dominate, control, or force anything on anyone. Violent power is to be eschewed. 

On the other hand, power as ability, skill, and energy to serve, love, and work for justice is godly and Kingdom-like. It is this latter form of power to which Paull refers in 2 Corinthians when he tells us that God told him that power is perfected in weakness. (2 CO. 12:9). 

We have no desire to follow the way of the world with its violence, control, and coercion; we have every desire to follow the Way of the Lord by using the gifts, skills, and energy God gives us to advance the Kingdom of God by spreading shalom, wholeness, grace, mercy, and the good news of redemption to all.

Radical Jesus Freaks

Radical Faith

In a superlative article entitled Bono’s Great Adventure, David Brooks speaks of the conversion of the U2 bandmates that lead to them embracing “a faith that simply bypassed the encrustations of 2,000 years of religious civilization and returned straight to Jesus; the helpless baby who was born on a bed of straw and shit; the wandering troubadour who put the poor, the marginalized, and the ailing at the center of his gaze; the rebel outsider who confronted the power structures of his society and took them all on at once.” (Brooks, David. Bono’s Great Adventure. The Atlantic. Vol. 330-No. 5. December 2022. p. 46)

This is the radical faith of pre-Constantinian Christianity, of the desert mothers and fathers, of Francis and Clare of Assisi, of Anabaptists in the Reformation, and of the Jesus people of the 60s and 70s. Sadly, it is not the faith of most occidental Christians today, be they evangelical, Pentecostal, fundamentalist, or mainline. Instead, our cultural narrative places sex, drugs, rock and roll and libertarian unrestraint on one side of the fence, and religion, judgmentalism, control, sexual repression, and authority of the other. Radical Jesus freaks became fundamentalist megachurch pastors supporting right-wing politicians. 

Ever since February 27, 380, when the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius I (347 – 395) signed a decree in the presence of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II (371 – 392) that made Christianity the religion of the state and punished the practice of pagan rituals, the Christian religion has been encrusted with power, politics, wealth, and violence. 

Radical Christians who bypass the “encrustations of 2,000 years of religious civilization” and return “straight to Jesus” still exist in Bruderhof communities, at the Simple Way in Philadelphia, in small inner-city faith communities tending community gardens, among Mennonites, Brethren, and Amish, and in the hearts and lives of sold-out Jesus-people who are living by the Sermon on the Mount. 

With loving, serving hearts, they forgive enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, wash feet, oppose killing for any reason, protect and care for the environment. They stand against racism, homophobia, misogyny, antisemitism, islamophobia, and injustice, and work to alleviate poverty and end exploitation. They join God in making all things new by taking up the causes of the homeless, incarcerated, addicted, disabled, and mentally ill. They confront the power structures that perpetuate injustice. The speak truth to power.

And, they are known by their love.

Following Jesus Changes Everything: an audio teaching on MARK 9:42-10:34

A Radical Christ: an audio teaching on Mark 9:2-41

On Being Teachable

Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest[1]

William James wrote of those whose desire is “a closed and completed system of truth.”[2] That is an apt description of a very conservative mindset, which, when reinforced by a rigid political-religiophilosophical worldview, produces the intolerance and closemindedness of the fundamentalist. 

After I came to faith, I was influenced by a woodenly literalistic way of reading scripture. As a result, in college and beyond, I simply dismissed ideas that challenged my preconceived opinions. Without any evidence, with almost no thought, I rejected many truths simply because they didn’t fit with my forgone conclusions. 

A woman visiting Ken Ham’s pseudoscientific young earth “Creation Museum” in Kentucky was overheard joyfully exclaiming, “This explains everything!”[3] That, despite the fact that the entire exhibit is based on misinformation.[4]

I couldn’t help but overhear the conspiracy promoting proprietor of a shop selling ultra-right-wing swag loudly bellowing, “You can’t educate stupid!” He had much volume in lieu of facts.

At a recent rally, Donald Trump again proclaimed, “The election was stolen. Everybody knows it.” That, in spite of the fact that it very clearly was not.[5]

Why do we like definitive answers? Why do we cling to lies in the face of facts?

There is something very American about being attracted to an extremely self-confident, narcissistic, charismatic person who appears to have all the answers. 

We like things tidy, neatly wrapped up and settled. Authoritative answers are attractive. They bring us a sense of security and reinforce a feeling of rightness, which then helps us feel superior. Many white[6]evangelical[7] Christians, especially those with large and popular platforms, project an air of all-knowing. Those same Christians are quite often supporters of extreme right-wing politics and of amoral, unethical politicians.[8]

Historian and author Jemar Tisby outlines examples of the way the white evangelical world gives answers to every question. He writes:

On every issue, they had a “biblical” stance. 

Question: How old is the earth?

Answer: Six-thousand years old, clearly. 

Question: How should a household function?

Answer: The husband/father works outside of the home to provide money and resources for the family. The wife/mother stays home, raises the children, and supports the husband/father. All other arrangements are less desirable and probably the result of a lack of obedience or outright sin.

Question: What should we think about racism?

Answer: Hating any person because of their skin color is wrong. Thank God we have moved past that. Now people of any race or ethnicity have the same opportunities if they just work hard enough. People who still talk about racism make overblown claims, blame all white people for their problems, and some are trying to get rich off of a grift.

Question: What do we think about public education?

Answer: The government is godless, and so are their schools. Our children will be introduced to sinful ideas and reject the God of the Bible if they attend public schools. We either need to start private schools (preferably with public funding) where we can control the curriculum or we need to take over public education at all levels so we can bring the schools in line with a “Christian worldview.” 

Question: How should Christians vote?

Answer: Christians should only vote for “pro-life” candidates because the most important social issue of our day is repealing the laws that permit abortion and eliminating the practice altogether. We should also elect candidates who will appoint judges who believe the same. While other issues may be important, when you cast your vote, this single matter trumps all others. 

Question: What is the best economic system?

Answer: Capitalism is the best economic system. It is the only one based purely on merit, and it leads to the most wealth for everyone. Other systems, like socialism, steal wealth from hard-working people and give it out to lazy, undeserving poor people. They just need to work harder. And let’s lower taxes on the richest people because they are the ones who create jobs for the rest of us, and the government should just get out of their way. 

Whatever the question–whether it concerns politics, law, economics, relationships, science, the Bible, or whatever–white evangelicals have been discipled to always have a ready response that requires no further questions. 

The only areas where white evangelicals consistently demonstrated a willingness to concede to divine mystery is when trying to explain precisely why they could be so sure about so many things. 

All you need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit. A background in ancient Hebrew and Greek is a bonus. But it also helps to be a man, white, middle class or wealthy, English-speaking, U.S.-born, politically conservative, etc., etc.[9]

Imagining we have definitive answers to every question lacks humility. 

Humility admits we have a lot to learn. Humility knows it can learn from every other person and situation. Humility listens to those who are different – different cultures, different ethnicities, different beliefs, different worldviews. Humility is teachable. Humility welcomes honest doubt. 

The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is pharisaical certitude. Only small-minded people refuse to rethink their opinions. As Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”[10]  Foolish consistency includes stubbornly clinging to conclusions in the light of new factual evidence. 

The key is to be open and curious. All good journalists and scientists try their best to set aside biases and preconceived ideas and listen, explore, question, learn. When I worked in child protective services, I was taught to always believe the victim. While most often the victim is truthful, a better approach is to always listen open-mindedly to the victim. It is at least possible that the victim may be misremembering, or was manipulated into falsehoods. Listening with an open mind is central – listening to others, especially others of differing opinions and backgrounds, listening to authors, listening to scripture, listening to God.

Moral clarity is often dubious. Human behavior is nearly always a complex interaction of genetic, psychological, neurological, familial, environmental, and societal influences. Condemning or passing judgment on others is a job best left to divine omniscience. 

There are, however, some things that are indisputably morally wrong[11] – genocide, slavery, torture, racism. We can and should take stands against clear injustices. Protecting the displaced from xenophobia, speaking out against racism, homophobia, the devaluation of human life, environmental destruction, war, poverty, and capital punishment are, for me, among the moral imperatives of being a follower of Jesus. Condemning and judging I leave to God. 

While I am clear on some issues, I recognize that the life falls on a spectrum, and that my knowledge of virtually everything is incomplete. I once was quite certain of all my theology. I had a flat Bible in which every verse carried equal weight. One day it occurred to me that I was trumping the words of Jesus with those of Moses. I was once convinced of young earth creationism until I learned more biology and began listening to devout Christian evolutionary theists. I thought I knew what was wrong with society until I met, befriended, read, and listened to the voices of African Americans, women, Natives, and people of diverse cultures. 

I was so much older then

I’m younger than that now.[12]

God help us to be teachable.


[1] The Boxer, Song & lyrics by Paul Simon. The Boxer lyrics © Paul Simon Music, Sony/atv Songs Llc, Warner/chappell Music Ltd

[2] William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy/What Psychical Research Has Accomplished

[3] https://biologos.org/articles/my-trip-to-the-creation-museum Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

[4] My primary objection to young earth creationism, beyond the fact that it is bogus science, is that it is so easily dismissed that promoting it has led to the rejection of Christianity by many a first-year science student. Promoting falsehood undermines Christian witness. Young earth creationism is a cousin to belief in a flat earth. For some of the science, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bhzuitLM5w and https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10493575

[5] The popular vote in 2020: 81,283,098 votes for Biden; 74,222,958 for Trump. Electoral College: 306 to 232.

[6] I despise the reference to “white.” There is no such thing as a “white race.” That is a construct of modernism invented by light skinned people of European decent to justify chattel slavery. There is only one race: human.

[7] “Evangelical” is the name given to a chiefly American movement that arose in reaction against the legalistic fundamentalism of the kind mocked by the Scopes Trial. Fundamentalism itself was a reaction against the rise of higher criticism imported to North American seminaries from Germany in the late 19th century. Evangelicals in America are a wide spectrum of Christians, and can be divided into several subgroups, e.g., politically conservative “white” Christian nationalists, and people of any skin tone who seek to take the Bible seriously and try to follow the teachings of Jesus. The former definition has overtaken the latter to the extent that many of those in the second category don’t use the term “evangelical” any longer.

[8] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/june-web-only/whos-who-of-trumps-tremendous-faith-advisors.html

[9] https://jemartisby.substack.com/p/the-people-who-dont-have-any-questions?r=dfab0&s=w&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&fbclid=IwAR2Fgwo7XCYttWSdU6DHABGAfaon0zX2aPiTjlaBv4GU8ROEVogHPxg4fQcAccessed 28 Sept. 2022. 

[10] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

[11] Some things are indisputably morally wrong to those who hold to the universe having a moral center. If all is meaningless, if life has no telos, and humanity no purpose, then there would appear to be no rational philosophical basis to forbid slavery, genocide, or anything else. What is defined as wrong becomes a decision about what is utilitarian, good for society. But who is to decide that, and on what basis? From whence comes a moral code?

[12] Bob Dylan, My Back Pages My Back Pages lyrics © Special Rider Music, Universal Tunes

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