Category Archives: creation
Flames, Floods, Fatalities, Fears
- Flames. As of this morning (September 1, 2021) 300 square miles torched near Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border. Family members choking on smoke, imprisoned in their house. Loved ones of a dear friend in harm’s way.
- Floods. Ida, a category 4 hurricane with winds of 165 mph, and its remnants, flooding areas from New Orleans to New England.
- Fatalities. Climbing daily, now 219 million sickened, and 4.5 million human beings dead, from COVID-19. Delta variant racing across the southern United States. C.1.1 variant mutating with lightening speed. Hospitals at capacity; ICUs full.
- Fears. Fear of persecution, fear of government, fear of immigrants, fear of Moslems and Jews, fear of young Black men, fear of change – fear, driving heretical toxic theology.
- Flames. The rampant wildfires around the world are all exacerbated by global warming, which is causing extreme droughts in some areas and excess precipitation in others.
- Floods. Ida jumped rapidly from a Cat-2 to a Cat-4 because the Gulf waters are hotter than ever.
- Fatalities. We have amazingly safe and effective vaccines that protect us from the worst symptoms of COVID-19, but a huge portion of the population refuses to get them, and an even larger portion won’t wear masks or practice social distancing.
- Fears. A theology of fear is behind the Capitol insurrection, soaring gun sales, a resurgence of white nationalism, xenophobic reaction to refuges, and militant opposition to civil rights for minorities.
Flames, Floods, Fatalities, Fears – all exacerbated by human choices. Flames and floods dramatically intensified by man-made, greed-driven global warming. COVID fatalities in North America almost entirely preventable by vaccinations, masks, and social distancing. Fears based on false theology that threatens democracy at its core.
Flames and Floods. The first ministry God gave to humans was to care for creation, to be stewards, not exploiters. There was a time when we didn’t know any better, but we do now. The use of fossil fuels is burning up the planet. Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of environmentalism.
Fatalities. Vaccines are a gift from God. Wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is loving our neighbors. Loving our neighbors is loving God. Wearing a mask is not a violation of personal rights, nor is it persecution, nor is it child abuse.
Fears. The opposite of fear is love. Perfect love casts out fear. Christians and Christianity are not under attack; Christians are not being persecuted in America. White “Christian” Nationalism 1.0 affiliated itself unabashedly with the Republican Party. White “Christian” Nationalism 2.0 says it loves America, hates the government, is convinced it is bipartisan (in spite of referring to Democrats as “demon-crats”), embraces conspiracies, rejects science, believes bizarre neo-Pentecostal “prophesies,” sees no incongruity with simultaneously flying American, Confederate, and Christian flags, and claims to have faith while stockpiling weapons. There is nothing Christian about White “Christian” Nationalism. It is unbiblical, heretical, toxic, extremely dangerous, and growing rapidly.
Come out of her, my people, and follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Live by the Sermon on the Mount.
Reckon the old man dead.
I am crucified with Christ.
Counted to be righteous.
Beauty for ashes.
New creations in Christ.
Ever since I came to faith, I’ve heard these quotes and sayings. I love them. I believe them.
But, how? How is it that I am crucified with Christ or declared righteous? Sometimes it seems like magical thinking, like make believe, a game of pretend.
If I were crucified with Christ, I’d be like Jesus, wouldn’t I? I’d be consistently loving my enemies, caring for creation, serving the poor, hospitable to the immigrant and refugee, embracing sinners, welcoming the least, caring for the poor, homeless, marginalized, disenfranchised, the mentally ill, the addicted, the sick, the lonely and the lost. I’d be the nonviolent servant of all. If I were crucified with Christ, I’d be standing up against racism, injustice, consumerism, despotism, patriarchy, conspiracy theories, violence, poverty, and militarism. I’d be living by the Sermon on the Mount.
I look at my life and I don’t feel much different than most people around me. Surveys and statistics consistently bear out the fact that church-going, Bible-believing, born-again Christians in general act no differently than others.
Is the gospel only about “going to heaven when you die,” and not about bringing God’s love to the world?
“They’ll know you are my followers by your love,” said Jesus.
The problem, at least for me, is that I’ve long been a part of a tradition that emphasizes Bible knowledge at the expense of transformation.
I’m grateful for the Bible knowledge. The more we know the Bible, the better. When I belatedly went to seminary, I discovered I knew the scriptures better than some of the professors. The problem was that those professors were more Christ-like than me. Knowledge without transformation puffs up.
As he looked around Denmark in the 19th century, Kierkegaard saw clearly that the whole nation claimed to be Christian, yet virtually no one acted like Jesus. Gen-Z and Millennials look around 21st century North America and see the same thing. That’s why they’ve nearly universally abandoned evangelicalism.
I looked at myself and didn’t like what I saw. I was angry, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, supportive of policies that hurt those Jesus called “the least of these my sisters and brothers,” and full of judgmentalism.
The intensive training that goes into becoming a legitimate pastor, counselor, chaplain, life coach, and spiritual director is helping teach me to listen, observe, accept, and be teachable. I’m learning humility. I’m learning I don’t know it all. I’m learning that some of what I know and believe needs to be challenged. I’m learning to be ok with nuance and mystery.
Most of all, I’m learning to love.
The Bible is not a flat book. It’s all God’s word, but every verse is not equal to every other verse. Love your neighbor is more important than don’t eat shrimp.
I’ve heard many people say, “I don’t interpret the Bible, I just read it.” I may well have said it myself. But, that’s simply not possible. All of us read through the lens of who we are and what we’ve experienced.
We all have a perspective. Everything we read or hear comes to us through the filter of our background, influences, preconceptions, and worldview.
I have to listen deeply when I read scripture or hear a sermon or lecture. When it comes to the Bible, I’m learning to ask questions – How do we know that’s true? What’s the context of this passage? What kind of literature is this? To whom was it originally written? What do I know about them? How would they have read and understood this text? How does this passage point me to Jesus? How am I to apply this passage in my life? What do a wide variety of commentators say about this passage?
When I scan the collection of books in my library, I notice a commonality. The majority of commentaries and books on Christian living were written by affluent heterosexual men of northern European decent. That’s because those were the only people who had the means to gain the education, the time to write books, and the connections to get them published. It’s not that there was necessarily any overt plan to exclude others, nor any conscious racism. Nevertheless, as a result, the only voices available all shared the same perspective. I never thought to ask how a biblical text might look through the eyes of a Native American, a descendant of African slaves, or a woman.
Moreover, there’s the danger of reading our favorite theological position into the text. The original authors knew nothing of Calvinism, Arminianism, Catholicism, or Pentecostalism.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve made a conscious effort to expose my mind to brilliant scholars from widely diverse backgrounds. The result is amazing. When the rains fell on the rich soils of the northern plains, the farmers in my congregation used to say you could hear the corn growing. I can almost hear myself growing spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually because I’m listening to voices across the ethnic, economic, gender, cultural, political, social, and theological spectra. Diversity is a vital divine gift. I’m trying to learn to listen to and learn from everyone I meet.
But then, how does one sort out the true from the false?
We have to start with who God is. God is love. Jesus is God incarnate, God in human flesh. God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God. We have an amazing and historically accurate record of what Jesus spoke and did.
When reading the Bible, I try to filter the text through Jesus, through the loving incarnate God. I’m learning to read the Bible with a cruciform hermeneutic, to look at every text in light of the cross.
I read the Bible this way because Jesus said to. All scripture is divinely inspired, and all scripture points to Jesus. Jesus challenged the religious scholars: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39)
Jesus changed everything on the cross. All evil was absorbed and obliterated. Perfect self-sacrificing, enemy-forgiving love conquered sin and satan.
Eternal life is not in reading the Bible. It is in Jesus. The Bible points us to the true, eternal, infallible Word of God, whose name is Jesus. Every passage in the Old Testament bears witness about Jesus. The Gospels are the stories of the life of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament points us back to Jesus. What does this passage mean in light of the cross? How can I see the love of God behind every Bible passage?
Doing so takes a great deal of deconstruction. I’m learning to recognize and set aside my biases, to acknowledge my natural lenses. I’ve dispensed with a lot of dogma.
And, I try to be humble – to keep an attitude of teachableness, of recognition that I have a lot to learn, and some of what I think is true may need adjusting.