The Sons of Light

I have two scriptures in mind of late. The first is Jesus’ parable of the crooked manager in Luke Chapter 16. The moral of that story is in verse 8

And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.

Luke 16:8 ESV

As I Christian, I take that as a warning because I would put myself in the “sons of light” category. Christians, who love their enemies, refrain from judging others and strive to put our neighbors’ actions in the best possible light are at a disadvantage at the hands of demagogues and fraudsters. I’ve been around a long time and I pride myself (note the “p” word) on being sophisticated and not easily fooled, but I am fooled, and I sometimes withhold judgment when I shouldn’t, and fail to take the moral stand that I should. You see, I’m a sinner like the rest of you, and I fall short.

The other scripture is:

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Matthew 10:16 ESV

Jesus warns us that there are wolves out there, and we cannot trust blindly in others. We must be innocent, but we musn’t let ourselves be eaten. Christians have an obligation to be discerning. What troubles me is that so very many Christians in the United States seem to be under the thrall of Donald Trump, a populist politician who says the right things to white Evangelical Christians, but speaks hatred, slander and violence. We as Christians are not very good at dealing with someone like that, as Jesus warned us. We must strive to do better.

Psychologist Bob Altemeyer cites psychological research that shows that Evangelical Christians tend to have authoritarian follower personalities. He presents this research in his book, The Authoritarians, written in 2006. I recommend it.

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The sins of our fathers

I was presented with the question: “Is the U.S. doomed to follow the ‘sins of its fathers?'”

Yes, I think we are doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers, because we are made of the same stuff. The prophet Elijah says in 1 Kings 19, “I am no better than my fathers.”

I believe that sins, both individual and societal, have long-lasting consequences and I believe that human nature is sinful. While individuals can make their own choices, we cannot change our genes, and we operate under the same political system that our parents inherited from theirs. We are no better than our fathers.

For some reason I have been thinking about Abner Louima this week even though it was 20 years ago when this Haitian immigrant was beaten and brutally sodomized by New York policemen. I looked up a retrospective article on the story just now to include for my answer. If you’re too young to remember the case, read the article. The repercussions of this horrendous sin remain with us today, because police misconduct still exists, and because there is widespread distrust of the police among significant parts of the population.

The rape of the environment was a sin of our fathers, and just now we have elected a president whose administration is steadily rolling back environmental protections, calling the scientific consensus on climate change a Chinese plot to weaken America. “Beautiful clean coal” really?

Discrimination against immigrants, whether slave, Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian or Irish is still with us directed at new populations, Latino and Muslim.

Are we callous and greedy? Do we believe just what we want to hear? Are we vain? Are there far too many sexual predators among us? Do we stereotype? Are we uncivil and disrespectful? Do we sell addiction, overcharge? Is there usury? Are our prisons overcrowded? Are we killing people on the street and in undeclared wars? I think the realist would conclude that we’re doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers. We should combat sin as we can, and perhaps make some things better, but carry no illusions about the sinful nature of our species.

Some historical sins, colonialism and slavery, are not alive and well in the US. but then there is sex trafficking and debt bondage. The forms evolve, but the underlying nature remains.

The words of the hymn come to mind:

Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

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The parable of the tool

Luke 15:8-10

Two summers ago I was volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. I often bring some of my own tools with me, and on this occasion I brought a battery-powered impact driver. I must have been pretty tired at the end of the day because I left some of my tools behind. Over the following couple of weeks I was able to find all of the tools either among the Habitat tools on site, or noticed by a Habitat staffer and returned. I found the impact driver, but not the pricey rechargeable battery.

I looked for the battery. I asked people about the battery. Each time I went to a new job site, I searched the Habitat panel truck, and the onsite container. No luck. I participated at some training at the Habitat warehouse some months later and I went through all the similar batteries they had in storage there, but mine was not among them. Logically it should have turned up, but it hadn’t.

Our local Habitat affiliate moved its warehouse, reorganizing and reshuffling its equipment. I was there doing maintenance last week when I remembered my battery. While I had resigned myself to the fact that the battery was gone, I looked one last time and found it–my battery with my initials engraved among a dozen other similar ones.

I was elated. I went to the other volunteers and said: “Look, I found my battery!” I felt as happy as could be.

Yesterday I was volunteering on a Habitat site doing framing. I have a small flat bar that I carry with me and use it all the time. Somehow it went missing. I looked all over the house and on the grounds around it. Bummer. I’d already lost one of those some years ago and this was #2. Anyway, I was nailing some sheathing low on the side of the house, and I found it easier to nail while sitting on the ground. As I shifted my position, I saw my flat bar almost invisible among the wheat straw spread over the damp ground and mud. I was happy again, but this time I remembered the parable of Jesus about the lost coin. Then I realized how joyful God feels when someone lost is found. I finally got the point of the parable.

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Heaven v. Retirement

All Saints Sunday 2012

Pastor Maria was supply pastor this morning. She is a hospice chaplain and when she talks about the departed saints in Christ, there is a special concreteness about a topic often discussed in platitudes. She talked briefly about heaven and that got me to thinking about where I am in my life journey, and that led to this essay.

Most of the articles on this blog are more than a decade old. A lot has happened to me since then. They represent where I was at one point in my life. What I wrote then is authentic and it stands as a snapshot in time with its own validity, but I daresay if I were writing these articles today, they would be different, and the topics would be different.

I retired from the paid workforce at the end of 2010. I’ve saved enough money so that now I can do pretty much go where I want and do what I want (I don’t have extravagant desires). I have a wonderful wife and friends. I’ve certainly attained rest and haven’t had any tears of sorrow for a while. Is this heaven?

With the exception of not being reunited with my departed loved ones and the occasional minor physical ailment, I think that I’m in the popular view of what heaven is often thought of. Is that it?

Eternity  is a problem. One of the problems with being retired and seeming to have “all the time in the world” is that it never quite seems the particular time time to do something. To really have all the time in the world and beyond would seem to take any sense of urgency out of everything. I could be wrong, but it seems that just doing nothing but feeling blissful would get old.

I try to stay busy in my blissful estate. I write a lot on another blog that has become somewhat popular. I volunteer with a civic organization, I work on Habitat for Humanity houses, I sing in the church choir and run their web site. Life, however, isn’t particularly challenging and it can be boring sometimes.

So I think that Heaven, if it’s all it’s cracked up to be will not be like retirement. It will surely be rest for the weary, healing for the troubled soul, and the putting right of what was wrong before, but eternal rest? I think not. Perhaps I need to learn more about living in the moment from the Buddhists to appreciate heaven more.

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Mark of the Beast discovered

And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. Rev 13:16-18. NASB

imageIn Hebrew, like Latin, letters stand for numbers. The Hebrew transliteration for “Nero Caesar”, the inscription on the Roman coin shown on the right, is NRWN QSR or 50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200 = 6661.

The inscription is on the forehead. There are also Roman coins with a figure on the obverse side whose right hand points to the word “Augustus.”

1The calculation comes from Bruce M. Metzger’s book, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation.

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First International Conference on Sexuality

Perhaps this is a good opportunity to take a historical perspective and to recall the very first conference on sexuality.

Minutes of the First International Conference on Sexuality

[Editors note: Some of the early parts of this transcript have been damaged due to extreme age and in particular the exact date of the conference has been lost–however it is known to have been several billion years B.C.E..]

… recognizes the Delegate from the Western Gondwanaland Coast

First, I want to make it clear that the entire concept of “sexual reproduction” is one which I find abhorrent. Mitosis was good enough for my parent and this idea of (ugh) “mingling” genetic material goes against the very integrity of our cell walls.

I want to read into the record at this time the entire text of our sacred scriptures: The Book of Creation.

“In the beginning was the ooze. And God moved across the face of the ooze and he divided the silt from the pure water. And God saw that it was good. And so the evening and the morning were the first day.

“Then God said, “Let there be LIFE!” and the water teemed with single-celled asexually-reproducing organisms. And God saw that it was good. And so the evening and the morning were the second day.

Then God saw all that he had created, and behold it was good and it was perfect. And on the third day God rested from all of his labors.”

The End

Our scientists have speculated that this “mingling” of genetic material may lead to DIVERSITY and even SPECIATION! We know from the BoC that each of our original ancestors was created perfect. We have asexually divided faithfully from that ancient time, each mitotic division perfectly reproducing each new generation without variation–without error.

We are each made in the IMAGE OF GOD and to change that would be wrong. God made Adam, not Adam and Eve.

Those genetic minglers (I say meddlers!) say that they are genetically different from the rest of us and that it is natural for them to divide both sexually and asexually. But this is impossible. We are each perfect replicas of our original prototypical ancestor.

There are those, the so-called “evolutionists” who raise the false hope that we can become something better through what they call “selection”. But I say, that we were made directly by God himself.

There CAN BE NO IMPROVEMENT. Change can only lead to decay and to death. I hesitate to talk about this, but it is known that there have been a few cases when the cellular division has not been completely faithful to the ancestor cell–and in such cases the divided cells die or are horribly deformed. Is this what we want to bring on ourselves and our next generation?

At this time the chair recognizes the representative from the Tropical Seas of the Antarctic.

My fellow creatures. I will be brief. I have the greatest respect for all of the other speakers who have been heard here today. But I feel deep in my protoplasm, that there is something more for us to become. I don’t think that we were made perfect, but with potential. I think that there are more chapters to be written in the Book of Creation and that we today have the opportunity to begin the course that will let them be written.

[At this point the document is again damaged beyond recognition except for a brief fragment regarding an “unfortunate accident” which befell the Tropical Seas representative. Ed.]

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“A revelation should be revealing,” Martin Luther.

The New Testament book of Revelation (or Apocalypse) is viewed in different ways:

Hands Off

Some folks don’t think much of  Revelation. It’s either too obscure or too bizarre to be worth the trouble. Some, like Luther, distrusted the book, giving it a subordinate status. The problem with this approach is that there is some good stuff in Revelation that gets overlooked.

Historical Analytical

Revelation, by its own words, was written to 7 churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Reason dictates that the book had a comprehensible message to those original recipients. When in Chapter 13 it says “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six”, Revelation must refer to a person that readers in the first century knew about, and later when it says (Rev 17:9 NRSV) “This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated…” we should call to mind the ancient city that was built on seven hills (Rome). 666 is Nero, the two prophets are Peter and Paul, the baby attacked by the beast is Jesus–all fairly straightforward stuff. The problem with this approach is that Revelation was not written for the primary purpose of being a coded history–its original hearers already knew the history. Continue reading

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Jesus Seminar (2)

Someone wrote to me:

I will take only a few presuppositions of the Jesus Seminar because a posting going through every presupposition would be much too large for this or any newsgroup; The Jesus Seminar based its examination on the presupposition, “The evangelists frequently attribute their own statements to Jesus.” How do they know this? Do they give evidence from an independent eyewitness source that challenges the contents of the Gospels. Their presupposition has no support. It would only have support were they able to quite some ancient author who heard Jesus preach and stated that Jesus did not say something attributed to Him by the Evangelists.

OK, that’s a fair objection. I’m going to comment on it, but not as a historian, because that is not my discipline. As you know, there are no independent witnesses to Jesus beyond the Gospels (and perhaps the apocryphal Gospels–but I don’t think we have much quality there). As a result, any attempt to discern what “Jesus really said” must be based, as I see it, on three things: the Gospels, what is known about the transmission of oral traditions in general and the literary form of Greek and Roman biography in particular, and what is known about the historical context, both of Jesus and of the Christian community from which the Gospel texts came. [The Jesus Seminar sometimes mentions that a saying attributed to Jesus is an aphorism which appears in other independent contemporary sources.] Continue reading

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The Letter Kills

(2 Cor 3:6 NASB) …who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

John, chapter 3, describes the visit under cover of darkness by a Jewish leader named Nicodemus. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again”, but Nicodemus takes Jesus literally and asks how can an adult crawl back into the womb. Jesus expected some flexibility in thinking as he says: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The legacy of Nicodemus is alive and well in Christianity, and this literal mindedness is the single greatest threat to the movement that Jesus started. Continue reading

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This a topic about which I have written much both on USENET, mailing lists and IRC. It is a difficult topic to discuss because those with whom I’ve discussed it had strong opinions which were not really open to change. Nevertheless, out of conscience, I want to express my personal views on the subject here on my web site. Just as the racial bigotry I was brought up crumbled when I actually got to know people of other races, so did my views on homosexuality change when a friend came out of the closet.

The Bible and Homosexuality

A common response that I get from most religious people on this topic is, “What is there to discuss? The Bible is quite clear on the issue.” But from my viewpoint, the Bible is only clear for those who have already decided the answer. The reader at this point might bring to mind a number of verses from the Bible, and in particular from Leviticus and Romans. And I will discuss these here in general way.

What about Leviticus? The anti-homosexual texts in Leviticus appear in the same chapters as the dietary laws: no pork or shellfish. Now I would ask why someone would condemn homosexuality based on Leviticus on their way home from a nice shrimp dinner. I cannot think of any objective reason to pick one and discard the other prohibition. So, the Bible is clear only if the matter had already been decided. Continue reading

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