Category Archives: Spiritual Direction
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.
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?
Deconstructing without throwing the baby out with the bathwater
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, thought as a child, acted as a child. But when I matured, I put away childish things. The Christian life is about being transformed – becoming more and more like Jesus. More loving. More forgiving. Kinder. More gracious and tolerant. Less judgmental. Humbler. The process is called spiritual formation. If we cling to old ideas and old habits, we will never grow.
For example, early in my Christian walk, I was taught that every word of the Bible was literally true. I was taught that God was mad at humanity and that only those who cognitively said a sinner’s prayer could escape eternal conscious torture. I was taught that the earth is about 6,000 years old and that God created everything in it in six 24-hour periods of time. I was taught that there are no errors in the Bible. I was taught that women could not be pastors or preachers. I was taught that America was specially chosen by God, that capitalism was godly, and that killing was justified in times of war, self-defense, or as a punishment for murder. I was taught that the world was going to get worse and worse until Jesus snatches his people out of it and returns in brutal, violent vengeance. I pictured God as stern and unapproachable. I no longer believe any of that.
Stuff happened to challenge my beliefs. I studied biology and genetics. I listened to Christian voices from other cultures. I studied the Bible in the context of the cultures it was written for originally. I saw white, evangelical Christians like me supporting immoral, dishonest, authoritarian politicians. I heard preachers rant condemningly against all sorts or people – immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ+, Muslims, liberals, Democrats, public health officials. I heard them fume against gun control, abortion under any circumstances, and vaccines. I saw them supporting wild conspiracies. I saw mega-churches built on marketing techniques putting on massive shows. I watched as multitudes of millennials and Gen-Zers dumped Christianity. I asked myself if the Jesus I was taught about was really the true Jesus of the Bible. I looked at the fruit and found little cruciform love.
So, I started deconstructing my faith, taking down my assumptions, questioning my preconceived ideas. At times, it felt like death. At times, I was confused, disconcerted, unmoored. But I was never tempted to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. My theology was like I had built a house around my conversion to Christ. The house worked for me when I was younger. Now, it was tattered and falling down. It needed to be torn down and a new house built. My theology needed to change.
What did not change was the core at the center of the house – the foundation – Jesus.
It would be inaccurate to describe me today as a conservative fundamentalist. I’m growing. I’m seeing more clearly who Jesus really is. I am, day by day, loving him more deeply and knowing him more intimately. I find myself loving others, forgiving more easily, caring about those Jesus called “the least” of his siblings. I’m freer, more connected, more understanding, more loving, more teachable. Now, I have a long, long way to go. I’m not what I should be, but thank God, I’m not what I used to be.
I do not think it means what you think it means
The Kingdom of God is upside down compared to the kingdoms of this world. Worldly kingdoms are all about power and wealth. They use violence and coercion to obtain more of both. God’s Kingdom is about love and service.
Jesus’ parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27 is normally interpreted as a set of instructions for good stewardship. The noble, we’re told, represents Jesus who goes away for a long time leaving his slaves to invest for him. He comes back, congratulates the two that made a lot of money, rebukes the one who buried it, and slaughters those who didn’t want him to rule over them.
I think that’s entirely mistaken.
Authoritarian figures in Jesus’ parables either act badly like everyone listening would expect them to, or the opposite of what would normally happen in real life. When they act as one would expect, Jesus’ message is, the Kingdom of God is not like this. When they act contrary to the world, his message is, this is what the Kingdom of God looks like. A king sends people out into the back alleys to bring lame, poor, blind, broken people to his banquet. No worldly king does that, but God does. That’s a picture of the Kingdom of God. Here, we have the opposite.
The noble in this parable acts exactly like rulers did. In fact, he acts exactly like Pilate. Pilate traveled to Rome to get more authority from Caesar. The Jews sent delegations to Rome to complain about him and ask that he be removed from authority (v. 14,27). Pilate slaughtered dissenters, mixing their blood with their sacrifices. That was recent history. All of Jesus’ listeners were aware of Pilate’s despicable actions. The parable’s noble is nothing like God, nothing like Jesus. He’s like Pilate, whom Jesus will face within the week.
When Rome came down on Israel (64-73 AD), those who opposed Roman rule were ruthlessly slaughtered. Jesus saw it coming and wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). When Jesus comes again, he will not physically slaughter anybody.
I know. Revelation 19. Look at it closely – Jesus returns wearing a robe dipped in his own blood before any battle takes place. In the “battle,” only flesh is destroyed. Deny yourself, take up your cross, crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Jesus symbolically “slays” with his word, the sword of his mouth. Revelation is poetic, symbolic, apocryphal literature.
Immediately after Jesus’ parable of the minas is the triumphal entry. Jesus is placed in stark contrast to Pilate. Pilate, the empire’s representative, rides into Jerusalem from the west on a war horse surrounded by 600 armed soldiers. Jesus rides into Jerusalem from the east on a donkey’s colt surrounded by peasants waving palms. The Kingdom of God is the opposite of the Empire.
In the parable, Jesus is saying, “Here’s a picture of Empire. The Kingdom of God is nothing like this.”
So, what about the investors? One guy doubles the noble’s money; another makes a hefty 50% profit. The third buries it and gives it back. I was taught this means we all have gifts and resources we’re supposed to use wisely until Jesus comes back. I’m all for good stewardship, but that’s not what Jesus is teaching here.
Jesus is in Jericho. Zacchaeus, the hated, wealthy, traitorous tax-farmer has just had a radical heart-change. Embracing jubilee, he gives away half his wealth and publicly offers 4-fold restitution to anyone he’s defrauded. He’s free of mammon. Not missing a beat, Jesus goes on to share the story of minas.
Three slaves are owned by a brutal ruler who is seeking more worldly power. Two sycophants are commended for making more money. A third sees the noble for what he is and refuses to participate. He is condemned for not putting the money to interest. Usury is strictly forbidden the Law of Moses. Amassing wealth is impossible if you’re practicing Jubilee.
This parable is not teaching us to adopt the ways of the world, be good business people, and support an authoritarian despot who slaughters people who simply want justice. That’s Rome. That’s Pilate. That’s people who support Rome and Pilate.
The commendable person in this parable is the servant who buried the money. He refused to practice usury, refused to go along with a harsh despot, refused to participate in the worldly empire and its ways of doing things.
Living as Jesus taught is not at all practical. If you sell all you have and give to the poor, who’s going to support you in your old age? If you turn the other cheek, you may be victimized. If you stand up for justice, somebody might mix your blood with your sacrifice. If you don’t practice good capitalistic business practices, somebody else may wind up with your wealth.
In the parable of the minas, Jesus is giving us a picture of exactly what the Kingdom of God does not look like. In the Kingdom of God, resources are shared so no one lives in want. In God’s Kingdom, the wealthy don’t get wealthier while the poor get poorer. People in the Kingdom of God behave like redeemed Zacchaeus, not like Pilate. Servants in empires support corruption and are attracted to power and money. Servants in God’s Kingdom see empires and rulers for who they are and refuse to participate. They are generous, forgiving, and kind; they bring good news to the poor, wash feet, feed the hungry, welcome strangers, house the homeless, heal the sick and visit the incarcerated. We wave palms, not swords. Our King rides a donkey and is crowned with thorns. His throne is a cross.
Luke 19 NRSVUE
19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant region to receive royal power for himself and then return. 13 He summoned ten of his slaves and gave them ten pounds and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14 But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves to whom he had given the money to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ 17 He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19 He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ 20 Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why, then, did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ 24 He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ 25 (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26 ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to rule over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”