"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

In God We Trust?

“In God We Trust.” But we trust more in our guns and in our violent ways of enforcing our ways. It’s been that way consistently, regardless of the governmental or economic system in place, in every culture since human history has been recorded.

We trust in violence and we persecute those who advocate any alternative in dealing with social and interpersonal disagreements and problems. Even our films and television shows constantly rehearse the necessity of violence as the only effective way to bring about “justice” (retributive justice) and to ensure our safety.

Even our Scriptures proclaim violence as a way of maintaining order. The Holy Writ attributes violent jealousy and vengeful wrath as a part of God’s character and nature.

Well, at least part of the Scriptures do.

Many of the Hebrew prophetic writings project a compassionate God whose love engenders faith and loyalty in those who seek Him (sic). But most readers of Scripture and practitioners of Christianity choose to ignore those parts, or at best to privatize them. The most common (almost unanimous) assimilation of that message is that God offers love and compassion only to those who are faithful to Him and who jump through His hoops. God’s love is conditional; and that message continues to leak through even our loudest pulpit-pounding about God’s grace.  And those who are outside God’s grace are still doomed to violent retribution by this “loving” God.

The greatest tragedy is that so many of us use Scripture to justify our trust in violence. We have approached the Scriptures on a legalistic all-or-nothing basis, when the Scriptures themselves are not presented as such. Too often we have seen the Scriptures as self-contradictory, and then proceeded to “protect” the Holy Writ from itself by inventing all sorts of incongruous rationalizations and justifications to avoid what we see as contradictions.

But, instead of contradictions, the Scriptures present an ongoing courtroom-like debate among God’s people. On one side is the testimony of those who see God as a hero/warrior who competes with other gods over people and territory. Even after Judaism—or at least most of the religious leadership of Judaism—had become monotheistic, that God image persisted.

On the other side is the counter-testimony of those who understood God as one whose love is universally inclusive. They called upon Israel to be a “light to all nations” (Isaiah 60:1-3, et al).

The reader is the jury, and must decide which testimony to believe. Historically, God’s people consistently have chosen to reject the vulnerability of love in favor of the seemingly more secure use of violence and retributive justice.

Jesus made the unpopular choice. He chose to reject the violence in the Hebrew Scriptures and chose instead to lift up love: compassion, restorative justice, reconciliation and enemy love. And the power people of his time found his message so confronting to their own lives that they killed him. Power people still persecute all who challenge them.

At best, again, we privatize those words of Jesus that call for restoration and healing and love, and we wrap them in conditions. As a society we still trust in violence. We think it keeps us safe; we think it makes us strong.

The problem with a system built upon strength and power is that eventually somebody stronger always—ALWAYS—comes along. Love does not need power, for love is the strongest force in the universe. God is love (I John 4:8).

For all these reasons, it will not be enough simply to point out the harm that comes from violence. That harm will simply be called “unfortunate-but-necessary collateral damage.” We will need to demonstrate to the world that there are viable nonviolent alternatives to dealing with societal problems—“ways that are not only effective, but in fact are more effective than violence at resolving conflict and keeping us safe.”[1]

There are numerous historic manifestations of effective non-violent confrontation of injustice and evil. Even in my own life-time names like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela come to mind. Yes, Bonhoeffer’s and King’s non-violent strategies, like Jesus’, cost them their lives; nevertheless, their effectiveness in weakening the evils they confronted is unquestionable. I know no one who denies that love is risky. And those who have challenged violent defense and retributive justice continue to be persecuted.

Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions: instead of asking, “How can we be safe and protect ourselves?” maybe we should be asking, “How we can be loving as Jesus was loving?”

That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did (San Francisco: Metanoia Press, 2014), Kindle edition, Location 2289.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Spiritual Fruits, or Just Religious Nuts?

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” ~ Galatians 5:22 (NRSV)

The sermon ended with a simple question: “What fruit does your life bear?” Afterward, she confronted me in the narthex: “You totally omitted all the context that goes before that verse—that stuff about the fruit of the flesh and all that sexual immorality.”

Never mind that of the fifteen listed fruits of the flesh, only three made any reference to sexual immorality. Of the dozen remaining fruits (idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing), most of which she (and I) commit regularly, if not daily, eight relate to animosity in human relationships.

We tend to specialize when it comes to sin; and I suspect it’s the sins we don’t regularly commit that show up most frequently on our list of “worst” sins. I want forgiveness and pardon for my jealousy, factionalism, strife, enmity, etc.; but throw the book at him for his sexual immorality.

And never mind that the New Testament is abundantly clear that there is no hierarchy of sins. Sin is sin, and “the wages of sin is death.” The breaking of one law—one sinful act—makes us sinners. How fast do you drive in a 65 mph zone? If you drive 66 mph you are a law-breaker.

Yeah but…

So, out of a list of 15 fruits of the flesh, she picked out the three that relate to “all that sexual immorality.” She wanted me to damn the sexual sinners to hell.

My response was, “Yes, I recognize that there is a list of fruits of the flesh. My question for us today is, ‘Do our lives bear fruits of the Spirit?’”

“But, what about those sins of the flesh?” she countered. 

“Don’t do them.” I responded. “If your life produces Fruits of the Spirit you won't have to worry about fruits of the flesh?”

“But aren't we supposed to rebuke and correct sin?” Now I was beginning to get it. She felt safe in her righteousness; so, she wanted the bad guys to "get theirs."

“I’m wondering if you’re confusing the task of Scripture[1] with our task. Our task is to bear fruits of the Spirit.”

She persisted, “Well, we can’t be soft on sin,” and turned on her heels and left in a huff.

It’s been my observation that in a culture smothered in the residue of Puritanism and Victorianism, most people already know all about sin. But threats of hell and other fear tactics never seem to make a dent in the preponderance of sinful behavior. Fear tactics, however, do produce a lot of guilt and self-justifying behavior; and one of the easiest ways to justify oneself is to condemn others: “his sin is greater than mine.”

Among the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Scriptures, far and away the most frequently named sins of Israel were idolatry/unfaithfulness toward God and injustice toward the poor. Jesus most frequently condemned the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and their unjust treatment of the poor. Yet in many Christian circles today injustice toward the poor has become a scripturally sanctioned institution by blaming the poor for their lot. 

The obsession over "welfare fraud," [you don't work, you don't eat (II Thessalonians 3:10)] justifies the withholding of all assistance in all forms from all people. Yet it is documented repeatedly that welfare fraud accounts for a minuscule portion of monies spent on public assistance. Administrative embezzlement accounts for much more.

The strategy I infer from the confrontation in the narthex is, “Don’t let anybody get away with anything!” It’s a diversionary tactic to focus attention away from my own brokenness.

We are not responsible for the sin of others (Ezekiel 18:3, 17, 19). Our calling is part of “the more excellent way” of I Corinthians 12:31. Love calls us to bear faithful witness—with integrity of words and actions—to the Love of God. And Jesus was crystal clear: we will be known by the fruit we bear. But by emphasizing the sin of others, we risk neglecting the orchard.

That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk
Jim 




[1] A reference to II Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” The reference apparently was wasted on her.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Mind of Christ

I've spent most of my life studying the Bible and related sources in an effort to discover who God is and what God wants to accomplish through me. The longer I live the more important it seems that I continue to do so. That activity is called theology, and everybody, even agnostics and atheists, has “a theology.”

The greatest difficulty with theology is keeping ourselves out of it. What passes for Bible study too often is really an exercise in finding justification for what we already are doing or have decided to do. As the old cliché goes: “You can prove anything with the Bible.” In seminary we called that “seducing the text.” Sometimes it’s more like “raping the text.”

Perhaps the most egregious—and at the same time the most denied—abuse of Scripture and theology is how it is twisted to support the use of violence or the threat of violence to inflict and enforce specific doctrines or practices; and it makes little difference whether the enforced doctrine or practice is religious, political, economic or simple greed—even the enslavement of other humans has been justified through the rape of Scripture.

In other words, the history of theology is filled with intrusions of human fallibility. Theology and faith have been shaped by human need, desire and ambition to a much greater degree than they have shaped those human foibles. While most theology emerges as a way of shaping human relationships and culture, in virtually every case, culture eventually shapes theology, rather than the other way around.

The bottom line is power and control. In a recent blog, Kyle Roberts develops the idea that throughout Christian history theology has served “to empower certain persons over others and to inscribe authority in one way of theologizing over another way, one way of thinking of Christ over another, one way of understanding salvation over another way.”[1]

Why drag out all the dirty laundry? Isn't it more uplifting and constructive to lift up Christ and his grace? Absolutely. But, if that’s what we've been doing, we've done a terrible job! We've been long on condemning the sins of others, and short on any kind of self-evaluation.

For a couple of generations people by the droves have been bailing out of virtually every manifestation of organized “religion.”

And the reason they’re leaving? They point primarily to a lack of integrity between what religion preaches and what it practices.

Of course they often generalize the entire religious world on the basis of some single manifestation of religion—quite likely one particular experience related to religion. But the tragedy is that those counterproductive experiences of religion seem to outnumber those of religious integrity.

In short, the church has lost its power, and none too soon! The problem with a power-based ideology is that power eventually runs out. The church has reacted to its loss of power simply by redoubling its investment in ineffective and counterproductive strategies of institutional maintenance.

Three quarters of a century ago those strategies spelled power, and “success.” But success increasingly was measured by the standards of the marketing industry, rather than by biblically-based theology. When “the customer is always right,” the church cedes its power to the market.

Power was never a part of Christ’s agenda in the first place! The truth is, we humans have gotten it wrong—over and over and over!

We’re not perfect; and one of the greatest manifestations of our imperfection is that we don’t always recognize or acknowledge it. It’s always the other guy who gets it wrong (you know, that cinder in the other guy’s eye…).

But the cry from the “spiritually yearning, institutionally disillusioned public”[2] is simple: “Show us how to follow Jesus.”

WHAT A CONCEPT!!!

How does one “follow Jesus?” Many of us have spent the greater part of a lifetime trying to do, and we still don’t get it right on a consistent basis. But how about starting simply by adopting one quality of Jesus at a time? For some of us even that will be a life-long struggle; and for most of us it will be an ongoing exercise in one step forward, two steps back.

I propose the quality of humility as a starting place. Fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate, one of the most frequent stereotypes of Christians today is arrogance. It’s easy to see in some people (please don’t show me a mirror!)

In contrast, consider my favorite passage in the Bible:

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.              ~ Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

Humility, in this text, involves surrender of status, acceptance of a life of servanthood and remaining obedient to the life of service to which God called him.

How about that as a starting place for following Jesus?

That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim





[2] A phrase coined by Thomas G. Bandy and used in several of his books.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A New Paradigm of Faith (which I think is a carbon copy of the original)


  • "I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love." ~ Wendell Berry
  • “Choose being kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.” ~ Richard Carlson

My heart aches to the point almost of tears when I dwell on “man’s inhumanity to man”. Jesus ate with sinners of every variety, touched the untouchables, healed the unclean and even reminded those in Nazareth that when there was famine in Israel, God sent Elijah to feed a woman from Sidon; when there were many lepers in Israel, God had sent Elisha to heal a Syrian named Naaman—both of whom were heathen aliens!

Jesus refused to condemn a woman caught in the act of committing adultery (a capital offense in that culture), he visited in the home of Zacchaeus, a treasonous, embezzling Publican, and he advised carrying a Roman soldier’s pack not just one mile, as the law allowed, but two miles.

 Jesus called upon his followers to forgive others 70 X 7 times (literally 490 times, which is more than any of us would ever attempt; but which in the numerology of the day was probably intended to mean an infinite number of times) and never, ever to retaliate or seek vengeance. He even forgave the ones who nailed him to the cross.

Jesus reserved his strongest reproof for those who openly boasted of their piety and moral superiority and then used their considerable religious authority to dominate all who dared any divergence from their dogmatic pronouncements.

The Pharisees boasted of their righteousness. Perhaps they even kept checklists of the laws they obeyed. They dotted every “i” and crossed every “t”; but Jesus said, “…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NRSV).[1]

But so many who claim to follow Jesus call others the foulest of names over disagreements about political ideologies, and seek legal authorization to discriminate against people they judge to be the vilest of sinners (but will gladly serve sinners of every other category). Then we all assemble at church and congratulate each other on our moral superiority.

We tend to read Scripture selectively. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jesus read Scripture selectively, too; and so did Paul. The crux of the matter is not whether we read the Bible selectively, but rather, which texts we select. Jesus selected those that lead to compassion, healing, restoration, reconciliation and love. He rejected those Scripture passages that lead to vengeance, retaliation and violence or domination of any kind.

Theologian, Walter Wink, begins the 9th chapter of his book, The Powers that Be, with these words:

“American culture is presently in the first stages of a spiritual renaissance. To the degree that this renaissance is Christian at all, it will be the human figure of Jesus that galvanizes hearts to belief and action, and not the Christ of the creeds or the Pauline doctrine of justification by grace through faith. And in the teachings of Jesus, the sayings on nonviolence and love of enemies will hold a central place. Not because they are more true than any others, but because they are crucial in the struggle to overcome domination without creating new forms of domination.”

As I said earlier, we all read the Scriptures selectively, and that’s not necessarily bad. Having surrendered all anxiety over my eternal destiny to the one who said, “My grace is sufficient,” it is my intention, and my prayer, that my reading of Scripture will always put me on the path of following Jesus, even in—especially in—the selection of Scripture texts I choose as my standard for living.

Having arrived so late in life at this paradigm of faith, I have a deeper sense of freedom and joy in Christ, and I have a smidgen of resentment for all those years wasted in the old pattern of reading the Bible to find evidence that I’m right. I’ll never be totally right, except in the act of entrusting my eternal destiny to Christ and moving on to serve him.

That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim




[1] I believe the Pharisees were totally sincere in their attempts to be faithful; but, their faithfulness had become misdirected toward legalistic and unquestioning obedience to a set of laws, and their manipulation of those laws pointed them away from their intended purpose, which was to describe a relationship with God that resulted in loving treatment of persons. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Can Love Rise Again?

Easter:
·         Resurrection
·         New Life
·         Hope

Through disputation and deliberation and discernment, the people of God laid their varied, even opposing, understandings on the table and through faithful questioning and honest collaboration successive generations moved closer to the understanding of God reflected in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus then sided with one specific side in the debate, and plotted a redemptive trajectory of healing, restoration, compassion and love based on his way of interpreting Scripture.

But, somewhere around the third and fourth centuries the rabbinic process of faithful questioning and Jesus’ redemptive trajectory were strangled by the Pharisaic practice of unquestioning obedience to their understanding of Scripture, which they saw as frozen in time, for all time. The problem is, given that humans are limited by the clay of which we are made, and given the subsequent human penchant for control and domination, what they would have everyone obey unquestioningly is not always consistent with the way Jesus read Scripture.

Subsequent generations have followed the Pharisees, replacing the Word with our doctrines, thereby splintering the Body of Christ.

All the foregoing is essentially what prompted the founders of my denomination [Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)] to break from their established churches. It was never their intention to form a separate denomination. In fact, at one point in the unfolding of our history, the founders formed “The Springfield Presbytery”, which was intended as a venue for uniting the splintered Body of Christ. When it quickly became evident that the participants were beginning to institutionalize specific doctrines and polities, the founders disbanded what they perceived to be an increasingly sectarian Presbytery and published “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery” to clarify their non-sectarian position.

The founders would turn over in their graves today if they knew the movement they birthed has now become not a separate denomination, but three separate denominations that don’t get along with each other; indeed, some manifestations of what once was known as the Restoration Movement now demonstrate difficulty getting along with all other Christian bodies; indeed, they contribute significantly to the further splintering of the Body.

If Christians can’t interact with loving collaboration, then I fear for the future. But doctrine has trumped love as a foundation of identity for too many Christian bodies.

Still, a valid concern is how do we thrive without a body of beliefs?

According to Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40) and Paul (Romans 13:9-10), when we love we have fulfilled all the requirements of the law. Love is the face of true faith.

That understanding of faith and Scripture was put to death by an unquestioning obedience to a reading of Scripture that condones violence as a valid way of enforcing “right” doctrines and vengeance as an appropriate response to evil. It was buried by the act of freezing Scripture in time, for all time.

But Easter calls us to resurrection. Can love rise again from the grave of intolerance reinforced by an unloving reading of Scripture?

What if, for one year, a significant number of Christians from across the denominational spectrum all agreed to set aside the creeds and doctrines we have so meticulously categorized and so fervently venerated, and what if we agreed to support and encourage each other in an effort to drape our actions over the framework of love?

In 1896 Charles Sheldon published In His Steps, a novel about a minister who challenged his congregation to preface every act and every response with the question, “What would Jesus do?” As the plot develops it expresses the values and ethical mores of late 19th century Christianity; but the point it makes is still valid. The lives of those people were changed; and through them their community was changed. Yes, it was fiction; but while it may not have been fact, it bore every characteristic of Truth.

So, what if congregations and individual Christians covenanted together to support and encourage each other to preface every act and every response with the question, “What would Love do?” Instead of obsessing over what some people are “getting away with,” what if we simply took responsibility—and held each other accountable—for our own actions and responses?

What if we take as our only doctrine the way of Christ and his redemptive trajectory of compassion, grace and love of the enemy? Might we discover better Jesus-shaped alternatives to the way we have been pursuing?[1] (And, by the way, how have those alternatives we’ve been pursuing been working out for you?)

It may be easy, and even tempting, to divert attention away from the difficulty implied by this direction. It would be easy to return to those passages in the Bible that justify and even celebrate retaliation and violence—the very passages Jesus rejected. Love is difficult. Love is risky. Love makes us vulnerable, just as it made Jesus vulnerable.

The Pharisees and other religious leaders had adopted those vengeance-oriented texts from the Hebrew Scriptures and had venerated them as the way of liberation from their oppressors (or more likely as the way of wreaking bloody vengeance upon them!) And when Jesus rejected those passages and chose instead the way of Love, his vulnerability was multiplied all the way to the cross.

But the call is to approach the Bible not as passive readers, but as morally engaged and thinking readers. It involves faithfully questioning the Bible, but it equally involves allowing ourselves to be challenged and stretched by it as well. It demonstrates that truth is found in the struggle—that questioning is the mark of a healthy faith, and the reflection of a robust character.[2]

Christ Is Risen! Can his love live again?

That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did (San Francisco: Metanoia Press, 2014) Kindle edition, Location 1502.
[2] Ibid., Location 1590.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On Course

In summarizing the overall theme of Derek Flood’s work[1] we have noted that in the most ancient culture reflected in Scripture the ethic was one of conquest and violent retribution, all sanctioned by God; indeed, often commanded by God. In later eras a counter-testimony was added, calling for a more compassionate ethic. The Hebrew Scriptures are characterized by a testimony/counter-testimony debate, with each side of the debate lifting up justifications for its perspective.

Jesus moved the debate to a new level, siding totally with the compassionate counter-testimony and advocating non-violence and enemy love. But if we read the New Testament’s message as an ultimate ethic, frozen in time for all time, we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees, whether those of Jesus’ time or the variety from our time. It is that way of reading Scripture that justified all kinds of human oppression and suffering, including slavery.

As I read Flood’s comments I keep remembering the quote from Revelation 21:5, “Behold I am always making all things new.” Nothing about God or God’s creation, and therefore nothing about human life or history is static. Nothing stays the same, and that flies in the face of much of what we long to achieve and experience. Spiritual life is a journey that frequently leads through a wilderness, but our culture is destination-oriented, and we much prefer a settled life of comfort: "Let's get this over so we can go home."

If we are to be true followers of Jesus and read the Scriptures as he read them, instead of reading Scripture as a static ethic, frozen in time for all time, we will read it recognizing the redemptive trajectory it establishes.

From the earliest disputations in the Hebrew Scriptures through the interpretations of Jesus and Paul, the writings we hold as Holy have pointed us along the path from religious violence and toward love and compassion, restoration and harmony. “In other words, we cannot stop at the place the New Testament got to, but must recognize where it was headed,[2] and we must continue on that trajectory.

William Webb reinforces Flood's comments by proposing that we learn to recognize the redemptive direction in which Scripture is moving, and differentiate that movement from the cultural assumptions of the time.[3] He calls upon us to move from the concrete words on the pages of Scripture, frozen in time, toward a Redemptive Spirit indicated by the trajectory of those words.

The question for us, then, is how to recognize the redemptive trajectory of the New Testament—to find the path Jesus plotted that leads us away from justifying violence and oppression and toward compassion, grace and enemy love.

“A trajectory reading results in a forward-moving, growing, progressing ethic at the cutting edge of moral advance, rather than one that is tethered to the past, often found on the side of fighting against moral progress in human and civil rights, being the very last to change, pulled kicking and screaming and dragging its feet into the future.

“There are indeed enduring eternal principles found in Scripture, such as love, grace and compassion. However, we do not maintain those by standing still, but by ever seeking to grow and advance in them.”[4]

Surely Jesus rejoiced at the non-violent strategies employed against evil by the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. Surely he rejoiced at the path taken by South African President, Nelson Mandela, viz, healing and reconciliation instead of the bloody vengeance that could so easily have been justified by the cultural assumptions held by most of the world. Surely Jesus is pleased when organizations like Bread for the World and Compassion International care for the poor.

Jesus would smile as he recognizes the fulfillment of his own words: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12, emphasis added.)

My thanks to Derek Flood for being my guide through this Lenten Pilgrimage, and for the growth in understanding and faith that have resulted.

That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim


[1] Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did (San Francisco: Metanoia Press, 2014) Kindle edition, Location 1590.
[2] Ibid., Location 1685.
[3] William Webb, Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive Movement-Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts (Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2011), page 59.
[4] Derek Flood, op. cit., Location 1729.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

We Have Met the Enemy

When the late Walter Wink wrote that religion all too often neglects the soul in its preoccupation with institutional maintenance he echoed the cry of the millennial—“spiritual but not religious”—generation. In response, the religious community accuses that generation of not being faithful. Faithful to what? Generally faithfulness is judged by conformity to a specific doctrine—ours.

Western Christianity’s competitiveness to identify and enforce “correct” doctrine has led to an “us vs. them” mentality. Such a dichotomy always leans toward an exclusionary witness and doctrine that is enforced with power and often with violence.

Regarding people with that mind-set, a recent blog stated, “To them, the Bible is a message of selective grace… Conveniently, they always see themselves as privy to special revelation that’s given only to them and the select few who adhere to their strict rules, practices, and traditions. They view God’s ‘love’ as exclusive rather than inclusive.” He continues, “The concept of ‘the mystery of God’ is a direct threat to their ideologies. Therefore, almost every situation and question has an answer and explanation. Everything is black and white — nothing is unknown.[1]

In this outlook “we Christians are the good guys with the good book, and ‘they’ (feel free to insert your own enemy here, be it Jews, Muslims, Fundamentalists, Liberals, etc.) are the bad guys with the bad book. So rather than deflecting the blame to some “other” we need to have a way to recognize and deal with the problem of violence in ourselves—in our culture, nation and faith.”[2]

Wink points out the human tendency to locate evil outside ourselves. In ancient times people did this by projecting demons and evil spirits. Flip Wilson’s alter ego, Geraldine, put it this way: “The Devil made me do it!”

But, Wink insists, “None of these ‘spiritual’ realities has an existence independent of its material counterpart. None persists through time without embodiment in a people or a culture or a regime or a corporation or a dictator.”[3]

Perhaps the greatest barrier to human reconciliation and unity is the unwillingness of so many to consider, even remotely, “What if I’m wrong?”

During conflict resolution, when I confront people with the question, “But, what if you’re wrong?” the invariable response, almost without fail, is, “But I’m not.”

There is a world of difference between, “I believe this with all my heart, and I stake my eternal destiny on that belief,” and “I’m right. Period;” between, “That’s just wrong!” and “I have a problem with that.”

The insecurity-driven obsession over control has risen to demonic levels; and yet even as we try to convince ourselves that we are in control, we simultaneously whine and complain about all the ills that happen to us. Bottom line: we control nothing—except our own choices.

Derek Flood takes up Walter Wink’s idea by suggesting that as Israel moved into a monotheistic faith, the people still had a need to locate evil outside themselves. But with only one deity, the only place to lay blame for evil was God. So in the earliest phase of their monotheism, God was credited with both good and evil.

“When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” (Amos 3:6)

When David’s infant son died, according to II Samuel, it was the Lord who had struck the child (II Samuel 12:15), because, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers!”

Later counter-testimony emerges in Ezekiel: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel … He will not die for his father’s sin, he will surely live … The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son” (Ezekiel 18:3, 17, 19).

And by the time of Jesus, Israel was addressing the obvious moral difficulty of attributing acts of evil to God. They simply attributed it to the devil.

Jesus affirmed that God is not the author of evil, and that our response should be the same as God’s, namely, compassion and care. Suffering is never to be considered a part of God’s will; rather, it is to be opposed in the name of love.

The process of identifying the source of evil outside ourselves is an exercise in self-deception. Of course some things the ancients called evil still manifest themselves beyond our choice and control. No one would choose cancer, or a tornado or Tsunami. But we do control our choices and our responses to those events that transcend our control.

Since at least the early 4th century when Constantine decreed the Roman Empire to be “Holy” and enforced a bastard Christianity through the power of the state, the ugly truth is that human choice more frequently has chosen to follow the way of the Pharisees than the way of Jesus. Therefore, the history of the Christian movement has been bloody.
The first step in following Jesus is to cleanse our own house—to rid our lives of the myth of “redemptive violence” so we might pursue the way of love and peace. That may require us to face the hard question: “What if I’m wrong?” or to admit, in the immortal words of the prophet from Okefenokee, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim




[2] Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did (San Francisco: Metanoia Press, 2014), Kindle edition, Location 1085.
[3] Walter Wink, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Doubleday Galilee, 1999), Kindle edition, Location 360.