Category Archives: social justice

What is life?

What is life? The typical biological definition includes the ability to reproduce. We think of plants and animals. Yet stars also reproduce. They live and die, and when some of them die, they scatter the elements necessary for carbon-based life. We are literally made of stars. 

Our indigenous friends and ancestors were on to something. In some sense, the ocean is alive and breathing. Trees communicate via underground mycorrhizal networks. In some Aboriginal languages there are far more verbs than nouns because many of the things post-Enlightenment westerners consider to be inanimate objects (like the wind, forests, and streams) they think of as living. There is a sense in which the Spirit of the Creator pervades everything in the natural universe. That is not pantheism. Pantheism says that nature is God. God is in creation and also above, over, beyond creation. God is both in and outside space-time.

What is creation? All that there is. This universe. Multiverses if that’s the case. All of nature. And, the heavenly realm as well. God is there in it all. There is nowhere where God is not. God is omnipresent. If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, or dig down into hades, or rise up into the heavens, God is there. There is nowhere to escape God. 

That is bad news for the person who is greedily destroying the earth, oppressing fellow humans, spreading deadly conspiracies, or promoting white supremacy or religious nationalism. 

It’s wonderful news for those who care for creation, care for the sick, homeless, displaced, poor, and incarcerated. If the Creator is reflected in all of creation, I am obligated to care for creation. All of it. 

Life is the breath of God. 

simplistic binary thinking

In modern western thought, we often express ideas in terms of binary opposites. We Christians seem particularly susceptible. We like our world tidy and imagine that God is on our side.

Male/female. Black/white. Gay/straight. Saved/unsaved. Christian/unbeliever. Citizen/foreigner. Liberal/conservative. Conservation/economic progress. Jew/gentile. Patriot/traitor. Democrat/Republican. Abled/disabled. Heaven/hell. Right/wrong. Us/them. Good/evil. One side of the binary historically holds power. Patriarchy, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and antisemitism result. 

The gospel destroys all our divisions. All are loved equally. All are welcomed and accepted. All are gifted and important. The ground at the foot of the cross is flat. The universal church, the body of Christ on earth, is a multinational, multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, inclusive group of people who have renounced other allegiances in order to be citizens of the Kingdom of God. 

Anything that disrupts that unity in creation is nullified by Jesus.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

What does it mean to be human?

What sets us apart from lichen, aspen groves, dolphins, and chimpanzees? In the past, we have tended to define humanness with attributes such as speech, the ability for altruistic action, or empathy. We said that humans are the only creatures who can reason, who can observe themselves. One by one, what we thought were distinctions disappear. Trees communicate with one another. Chimpanzees display unselfish behaviors. Many of us are convinced that our pets love us. How do we know other species can’t observe and reason? 

And yet, it also seems self-evident that humans are different. Humans discover the quantum universe and build computers and robots, send telescopes into space, and work for justice. We are also responsible for massive environmental destruction, create weapons that threaten to exterminate the planet, and are capable of cruelty unmatched in the animal kingdom. Is our uniqueness to be found simply in the size of our brains? Are we headed for planet of the apes? 

The biblical response is that we humans are created in God’ image. The imago Dei. But, what does that mean? It’s not that we physically resemble God, for God is Spirit. It’s not that we can reason like God, for God’s ways are high above ours. 

Genesis is a temple story. In the ancient Neareast, virtually every society had a creation story. Those stories all had things in common. In them, the gods created humans to be their slaves. If humans are good slaves, the gods protect them – they are victorious in war; their crops flourish. If they are unfaithful slaves, the gods punish them with plagues, disaster, and defeat. 

The job of the human slaves is to build houses for the gods, feed the gods, and in deference tell the gods how wonderful they are. So, humans build temples – vacation homes for the gods. They build ziggurats, staircases so the gods can come down into their temples. In each temple, the human slaves place an image of the god. At the temple’s dedication, the high priest of that particular god breathes into the statue and everyone now believes that the spirit of the god is in it. From then on, the human slaves dutifully offer animal and vegetable sacrifices to feed the gods, and they worship in rituals to keep the gods happy so the harvest will be a good one and enemies will be defeated.

Genesis uses that common story and turns it on its head. In Genesis, there is only one God. His name is YHWH. God created God’s own temple. It’s not a building made by human hands. The entire cosmos is God’s temple. Then, God placed his own image in his temple – humans, male and female. Unlike the pagan temples made of stone, God’s temple is living – oceans teeming with marine life, mountains draped in snow, forests filled with creatures, stars living and dying, exploding and scattering the building blocks of life as we know it. The humans God created are not slaves; they are God’s beloved children. Their task is to care for the living temple, to take care of nature.

We humans are special objects of God’s love. We are God’s beloved children. God loves all of nature. God loves Perrigin falcons and opossums, cutworms and puppies. But humans are special objects of divine love, created with the capacity to love and be loved, charged with the care of all the rest of the planet, given the awesome responsibility of stewardship. Those who pollute, kill, coerce, and hate are not reflecting the imago Dei. Those who wash feet are.

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 Most Important Prayer in the Old Testament

Shema Yisrael is the most important and central prayer in the Hebrew Bible.

·      Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 

·      (Or, The Lord our God is one Lord; or, The Lord our God, the Lord is one; or, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one)

·      Hebrew: YHWH ‘elohenu YHWH ekhad

·      English: Lord our God, Lord one.

There is no verb “is” in the original. It must be supplied by the context.

Deuteronomy 6:5: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Leviticus 19:18b: you shall love your neighbor as yourself

Which commandment is the most important, the one that ties together all others?

Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love YHWH our God with all your:

·      Heart = kardia = center of being, that which controls everything, the drive behind all thoughts, feelings, and actions

·      Soul = psyche = breath, life-force

·      Mind = dianoias = thinking, reasoning, logic

·      Strength = ischuos = anything that gives us agency, free-will, power, choice, such as physical ability, talent, position, privilege, reputation

In other words, love in four directions:

1.     Love the God of Israel with your whole being

2.     Love others, all others

3.     Love yourself

4.     And, from Genesis 1, Love creation

Love is cruciform, self-sacrificial, altruistic. It involves loyalty, justice, doing what is right and best for others. It looks like Jesus on the cross forgiving his enemies as they were torturing him to death. 

I came across a sermon recently in which the preacher was giving examples of loving. Among them, mow your lawn, go to church, be on a church committee, use whatever skills you have in a church.

That kind of preaching makes me want to scream. There were no church buildings for the first 300 years of church history. Christians loved God and others by taking in orphans, tending to the sick, visiting and advocating for the incarcerated, refusing military service, eschewing weaponry and violence, and forgiving their enemies. 

As a result of their cruciform love, multitudes were attracted to Jesus, and through Jesus they came to know and love YHWH, the God of Israel. They loved God with all their beings. They loved others – all others, no exceptions – with self-sacrificial love. They loved themselves, not egotistically, but by recognizing their belovedness to God. They loved creation by caring for natural world.

There are a lot of such folks around today. You can find them in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice in-patient units, prisons, among the homeless, in soup kitchens, shelters, mental health agencies, visiting the sick, frail, elderly, and broken. You can find them standing firmly against racism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. You find them adopting babies, welcoming immigrants into their homes, and disobeying unjust laws. 

You’ll find them caring for the environment, never exploiting it.

These people come from all backgrounds, are of all nationalities, and speak every language. They identify as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not any particular earthly nation or kingdom. They are pro-life, opposing war and capital punishment. They fight poverty, disease, and addiction. They see every person as created in God’s image and deeply loved by God.

There’s a lot of good in church history. Christians invented hospitals, science, charity, hospice programs, care for widows, orphans, poor, the marginalized and displaced, etc.

There’s a lot of bad in church history (empire-embracing nationalism, violence, wars, crusades, inquisitions, support for despots, greed, etc.)

I choose to identify with those, then and now, whose lives reflect the self-sacrificial, cruciform love of Jesus, regardless of denominational affiliation, ethnicity, culture, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Historically, they were the Christians persecuted by other “Christians.”

Jubilee

Zacchaeus

To some degree, I suppose I inherited it – my aptitude for business, that is. After all, my father was known as a shrewd businessman who always seemed to be able to come out on top regardless of the economic conditions. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to make him proud.

And make him proud I did, especially when I won the tax-farming contract. I instinctively sensed that more could be squeezed from these peasants, these workaday people who were obviously not as smart as we were. If they were, would they be living in those little huts? Listening to those high and mighty religious leaders; stupid enough to give them their money. Idiots.

Dad threw a party in my honor when I won the contract, recruited a hoard of tax collectors, revenue men, and assigned them territories. Everyone who was anybody was there.

“Ingenious,” dad called me in his toast, because the ways and means of taxing everything seemed to pop into my head spontaneously. Once I got on a roll, the ideas came in spurts day and night, even in my dreams – tax them to travel the roads – any road, all roads; tax income, tax land, tax trees, tax the carts, the donkeys, the grain for planting and the harvest when reaped; tax their houses; penalize them for not making repairs, then tax the repairs; tax goods on their way to market and goods bought at market, goods imported and exported, inherited and bequeathed; tax the clothing they made, the clothing they sold, the clothing they bought, the wool they spun, the goats they milked, and the sheep they sheered. I had them coming and going. We taxed people to protect them from the authorities, to guard their businesses, to safeguard their homes. They couldn’t breathe without being taxed by one of my guys.

And I got a cut – I won’t say what percentage, but it was sizeable – of every tax levied and collected.

If they didn’t pay? Well, let’s just say, all of a sudden, some homes and businesses would be broken into, the residents roughed-up, and their possessions stolen. Or maybe suddenly the authorities would start harassing some uppity cheapskate. Sometimes, every now and then, a person would turn up dead or a house would mysteriously burn down. The fear of God, you know. 

Pretty soon, I did nothing but collect the money. Once in while, one of my taxmen would try to cheat me and I would bribe a couple of soldiers to make them disappear.

Huge mansion – everything money can buy. But lonely. Everybody hated me. They feared me, but they despised me. Oh, sure, there were plenty of sycophants who kissed up and fawned over me, flattered me, but it was obvious it was all fake. They too hated me. Behind my back, they mocked me. Their eyes betrayed their real feelings.

The area was all abuzz. A miracle-working rabbi traveling the land – healing the sick, even raising the dead. I dismissed it all as plebian nonsense, but the reports kept piling in, even from people who normally don’t make stuff up. Then I heard he was headed this way.

Everybody, and I mean literally everybody – young, old, sick, well, women, children, men – they were all surging out to where he would reportedly be passing by.

My curiosity got the best of me. But as I headed out with the crowd, people threw me those looks, bumped into me hard when I wasn’t looking, cursed me under their breath. To be honest, I started to be afraid that the mob would kill me, trample me under foot and deny having ever seen me. 

Outside of town was one of those huge, broad-leafed sycamore trees. I’m short, so I likely couldn’t see over the crowd anyway, and, frankly, I just wanted to see him without being seen, so I scrambled up and hid in the leaves, safe, nestled in my perch.

Shit! He’s coming towards me, the crowd surging along. Did he spot me? If so, I’m a goner. He’s a rabbi. He’ll quote some Bible verses to condemn me, demand some sort of surrender, and turn me over to the mob for stone-justice.

He does see me. He’s looking right at me. My heart is beating in my throat.

He calls me by name. How did he know my name? I guess the crowd told him. I guess one of them spotted me climbing up, told him the notorious tax-farmer was treed, and sicked him on me. How am I going to get out of this one? Should have stayed in the villa behind the locked gates with the bodyguards.

Did I hear right? Am I seeing things?

He is smiling at me all friendly like. Says he wants to eat dinner at my house!

You know the custom – when a prominent rabbi visits a town, he eats dinner at a communitywide banquet in his honor with all the religious people and the important officials. If he comes home with me, he will insult them all. Not that he hasn’t already insulted them simply by not publically condemning me. They never would have shown him where I was sequestered in my tree if they had known that. 

Something snapped inside me. Maybe it is because no one – not my father, not my employees, not my siblings, not my mother (whom I barely knew before dad threw her out) – no one was ever this kind to me. He never condemned me. Never judged me. Never spoke an unkind word. Didn’t browbeat me with Bible verses. And, he really seemed to enjoy the dinner. He drank my wine with gusto, helped himself to seconds, told stores and laughed at jokes.

And those eyes – there was something in his eyes. I know it now – divine, everlasting, unconditional, nonjudgmental love and acceptance. 

I had never before known joy. I had never before felt a light heart, danced spontaneously, or felt empathy for anyone, but now I felt what they felt and longed to join them in their huts and around their fires. 

He moved on.

It was a delight, a genuine joy, to give away fully half of everything I owned. The people were suspicious. I don’t blame them. I had quite a reputation. They thought I was drunk or insane when I went to the poorest of them and gave away bags of gold. I paid for weddings, for barrels of wine and olive oil, for cemetery plots and burial expenses. I bought new clothes for the tattered. 

Then, I went through our records. I kept impeccable accounts. I deeded land to widows, contracted to have houses built for the homeless, purchased livestock for the peasants, and tried my best to figure out who I had defrauded, at least those I had most defrauded, because, God knows, I probably defrauded almost everybody. As best I could, I made restitution to those I had cheated, not by repaying them, but by quadrupling what I had taken.

And, most significantly, I quit my job and moved into a very modest little house where I set up a little business advising people on how to pay only as much tax as they had to.

I can’t describe the feeling! Freedom! Jubilee! 

a film review

A Film Called First Reformed

My son turned me on to a deep movie. All really good art lends itself to a variety of interpretations. The film First Reformed is one such work of art. 

Trigger alert: It is dark, at times surreal, and contains a graphic suicide scene. It’s also brilliant.

The Plot: 

First Reformed is a 2017 American drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader staring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, and Cedric Kyles. 

It’s the story of a divorced, bereaved, isolated, 46-year-old pastor of an historic colonial era Dutch Reformed church in upstate New York.  The church building is well-preserved, but has become not much more than a museum.  The pastor, a former military chaplain who talked his son into joining the army only to learn he was killed in action a few months later, is struggling with probable gastrointestinal cancer and self-medicating his pain with alcohol. 

The surrounding countryside is stark, cold, and bleak. Old gravestones, barren trees, dirty cars, empty spaces. The soundtrack is often more the moan of a dying creation than lyrical. Traditional hymns about the comfort and transformative power of Christ are interspersed.

First Reformed church is supported by a megachurch called Abundant Life that is itself buoyed by the large donations of an industrialist who denies climate change and pollutes the environment. Abundant Life never challenges the sins of its financiers. 

Mary, one of only a handful of congregants at First Reformed, is pregnant and married to an environmental activist who is filled with existential angst over humanity’s destruction of the planet. A central theme: “Will God forgive us for destroying his creation?” In despair, Mary’s husband commits suicide in spite of the pastor’s counsel. 

Later, she and the pastor share an out-of-body experience in which they see the beauty of creation and what humans have done to it. It is beautiful and surreal, transcending space-time. 

The combination of his struggle with the relevance of his faith in the light of human greed, his physical sickness, the loss of his son and then his marriage, leads the pastor to the brink of destroying himself and the church at the church’s 250th anniversary celebration, which is attended by the industrialist, the governor, and the megachurch pastor, among many others. Seeing Mary entering the building, he quickly decides against mass destruction and opts for intense self-flagellation. Mary enters, they kiss passionately, and the screen goes black.

Some Thoughts: 

The lead pastor of the megachurch is a good man. He wants his church to do good things to help people. But, to keep it solvent, he compromises truth so as not to offend his biggest donor.

Abundant Life is huge and modern, but in the film, is never abundant. Its choir has four members; its youth group has maybe a dozen. When we see it, it is always mostly empty, just like its theology.

Mary’s husband is kind, caring, and brilliant. Everything he researches and reports is well substantiated. He sees no hope for humanity, no hope for the planet. 

The protagonist is struggling with existential anguish. He is grieving the loss of his marriage, feels guilty over the death of his son, is sick with probable cancer, and is alone. He hates being nothing more than a docent, and longs to be relevant in the world. He reads Thomas Merton and G.K. Chesterton, and keeps a journal. The parsonage in which he lives is almost void of furniture. It is dark and empty, like him.

Mary is pregnant, like the Mary in the nativity stories. She alone has hope. She agrees with her husband’s conclusions, but still wants to bring her baby boy into the world. Like the Virgin Mary, she brings light into darkness, hope into despair. At the very end of the film, her love saves and redeems the pastor.

So many lessons:

  • Speak truth to power. Ignore the budget.
  • Stand for justice. 
  • Steward God’s creation.
  • Eschew violence. In the end, it accomplishes nothing.
  • Let yourself love and be loved.
  • Love is redemptive.
  • Love brings hope.
  • Love conquers despair.
  • The industrialist lost his way through greed.
  • The megachurch pastor lost his way through success.
  • Mary’s husband lost his way by abandoning hope.
  • The pastor of First Reformed lost his way through grief.
  • Mother Mary never lost her way.

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.

In Those Days

We love sentimentality, especially at Christmas time. 

Syrupy movies with bad acting. 

Teach the world to sing.

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by

That’s a lie.

The cattle are lowing
The Baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

I very much doubt it.

It came to pass in those days…

What were those days really like?

·      Israel-Palestine was occupied.

·      Caesar Augustus was on the throne.

·      His name was Gaius Octavius.

·      His great uncle was Julius Caesar.

·      Augustus is a title indicating that he was a son of the gods.

·      Everyone was required to worship him as divine lord.

·      He was an absolute despot who ruled by terror.

·      At the slightest hint of protest, Roman troops swept into town, randomly rounded up a bunch of innocent people and crucified all of them on a high hill nearby. 

·      There was no freedom. Everyone had been bludgeoned into submission.

·      Poverty and oppression reigned.

·      Judaism was corrupt. Its leaders were rich off the backs of the ordinary. 

·      The Temple was a den of thieves. 

·      Racism was prominent – Jews, Samaritans, and Romans, all hated each other.

·      Women were property to be used, abused, and discarded at will.

·      Unwanted children were left outside in the elements to die.

·      A father could order his wife or children killed.

·      There was no social safety net. Widows, orphans, and the disabled begged or starved. 

·      Life was brutal, unjust, and short. 

Into that world God came.

Not as a conquering king, but as an infant.

Completely helpless and dependent. 

The infant son of a poor teenage Jewish mother, displaced from home.

No generational wealth; no advantages.

No room in the kataluma, the caravansary.

Outside everything.

Perhaps in a cave or grotto, no one knows for sure.

Dirt, filth, poverty, exposure.

Hailed by shepherds. Being a shepherd was the lowest, most despised job you could have. Shepherds are dirty.

At the age of eight days, he’ll be circumcised.

Pagan astrologers from Persia will visit and adore.

Soon, because of this birth, all the baby boys in the region will be brutally ripped from their mothers’ arms and slaughtered.

Inconsolable wails will fill the air.

The baby’s parents will flee to Egypt with him – displaced refugees. 

We don’t much like this kind of Messiah, this kind of God.

What kind of Messiah is this?

What kind of God is this?

We don’t want a God who forgives, turns the other cheek, eschews violence, includes women, embraces children, who proclaims good news to the poor, freedom to the incarcerated, recovery of sight to the blind, sets the oppressed free, and proclaims YHWH’s favor.

“True worship of God consists quite simply in doing God’s will, but this sort of worship has never been to people’s taste.” – Søren Kierkegaard

No, we want a warlord, a conqueror, a king who will crush our enemies, marginalize those with different opinions and beliefs, put minorities in their place, make us victorious, powerful, and wealthy. 

What’s all this nonsense about denying self, washing feet, serving others? We all know where that stuff leads – rejection, death, Golgotha. 

Ah, but also Easter.

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. 

%d bloggers like this: