Sermons from Outside the Walls- 2

He Called Our Mother a Dog

June 5, 2018

If a sermon does nothing but make you feel good, why bother with it?

Nobody goes to a gym to sit in an easy chair, open a beer, and smoke a cigar while watching the big screen TV. No! If they want a return on their monthly fees, they want to sweat and be out of breath for an hour, then go home sore. They want to lose weight, or tone muscle, or increase the capacities of their cardiovascular system and that doesn’t happen by osmosis or being pampered. It happens with hard work- being intentionally uncomfortable for awhile, so that you can live stronger and healthier for more years than you might have lived otherwise.

The same with learning about your place in the kingdom of God. And, time out: while we’re at it, right now, let’s put that word “kingdom” aside for the rest of this series. “Kingdom” is a word which is loaded, after 20 centuries of military maneuvers, royal trappings of royal weddings, and seven seasons of “Game of Thrones” with so much gold, blood, land-grabbing, and intrigue that it is misleading to a tragic degree in imagining anything Jesus intended for it to mean when he was referring to the community God wanted for humans to live within on earth.

So, from here on out, we’re going to use the word “Community.” The Community of God, as in “thy Community come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” etc. OK? “KIngdom” was only a metaphor, anyway- a word used to help humans imagine something they did not know, by comparing that something to what they did have experience with. The word “kingdom” in the year 30 would have been imagined in a very different way than we can imagine it today; therefore, let’s get it out of the way.

(If you’re stuck on thinking of Jesus as a PRINCE of Peace, like a Prince Charles or Prince Harry, remember that on Palm Sunday he came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a little three foot high donkey. In doing so, by dragging his feet on either side of that bumpy little donkey, Jesus was, if anything, demonstrating himself to be the exact opposite of anything princely, regal, or royal. He was just a guy, just like all the people, people like me and maybe like you on that road that day who were cheering his arrival even as they were thinking, “what the..?” Little did they know of the extraordinary events of the coming few days. Little did they know what Jesus would be called upon to do, or that by doing so, he would be demonstrating the extraordinary things they- we!- are also capable of doing.)

OK..now, back to learning about “your place in the Community of God.”

I’m going to point something out here that you might not like- not at first, anyway:

Jesus didn’t do what he did, say what he said, or go where he went for people like me, a gentile. In fact, for much of the time after we first meet him in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, he had his back to the gentiles. His message was for his people, the people of Israel- the Jewish people. If gentiles heard him, it was accidentally. For a Jewish man to have contact with gentiles was not a good thing by the Jewish standards of the day. By some of those standards, it was even a dirty thing to do, especially when it came to sick, dead, or female gentiles. Yikes!

And Jesus was, make no mistake about it, Jewish. A Jewish man. And he proves it right here:

Mark 7: 24-30 (Common English Bible)

24 Jesus..went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

Jesus called the gentile immigrant woman a “dog.” Try to dress that word up or soften it a little as many biblical commentators have tried to do over the centuries and it’s still a dog. It’s what a Jewish man of the year 30 or so would have called an immigrant woman. It was a default word, an unthinking but common word, a go-to word- like we might hear the words ‘wet back,’ or ‘illegal,’ or ‘hoe,’ or worse. That kind of word. You can’t soften it, it’s too sharp, and it usually leaves a scar.

This uppity gentile Greek woman was being pushy by speaking up when she had not even been invited into the room! She didn’t know her place and, indeed, there wouldn’t have been a place for her in a roomful of Jewish men! So, when Jesus was interrupted by her, when she deliberately threw herself in front of him, Jesus was spiritually, culturally, and personally upset.

syrophoenician woman“Dog!” he says, and we can only imagine the murmured agreement from others who had just witnessed this woman.

But, the woman persists! She insisted and persisted that Jesus pay attention to her. She loved her young daughter more than she cared about her own low status, so she persisted..

And Jesus’ eyes were opened. His eyes were opened by this woman in ways that revealed to him just how big this Community of God he preached about, really was. In her speaking up to him and daring to speak back to him, he heard her desperate cry of need, and he understood that God’s love did extend beyond the Jewish people “in front” of him.

There were others with ears to hear. There were others living desperately at the edges of life who also needed to know God’s love for them. In the woman’s plea, he heard for the first time, the gentiles who had, so far, been “outside” of his community. When said to her, in surprise, “Good answer!” he was, in effect, inviting her into that community. He was inviting her to stand in front of him!

But not only her. One by one, other gentiles began to come to Jesus- and were seen now by Jesus. God’s chosen people, through the example first shown by Jesus himself, were now able to witness others besides themselves hearing Jesus, being seen by Jesus, and being accepted by Jesus as people worthy of God’s love, too. No longer would “those people”  have to pick up mere crumbs!

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is regarded by many as the holy Mother of us all. And she is worthy of the honor and love shown her- she raised a really good kid, after all! But for those of us who are of the gentile persuasion- and that includes everyone who is not Jewish- isn’t this unnamed, brash, pushy, but loved Syro-phoenician Greek woman our true mother in the faith?

gentiles2

We who were not worthy in the eyes of Jewish legalists were made worthy by invitation to join and become a part of the Community of God being gathered together by Jesus. On our part, there is room for no emotions other than humility and gratitude when we accept that invitation. There is nothing for us to brag about, or to congratulate each other about. We may lead some people within the Community, but we are not leaders of the Community.

The leader remains a man, a very Jewish man. He is an Israeli man, and our cues should always be taken from him and not from false teachers who try constantly to usurp his role or make the United States or England or any other country or culture the “shining city on a hill” Jesus referred to in his sermon on the mount.

His invitation was for the woman, and us, to stand in front of him, and then to follow him. And how close and how far are we to follow?

When Jesus was on the cross, nailed, bleeding, in pain, and suffocating, among the last persons he would have seen as his head tilted forward for the last time, were the group of gentile Roman soldiers gathered below him- the ones who had lifted him onto the cross, secured him there, threw dice for his discarded robe, and finally stuck a sword in his belly to hurry his dying. His words as he looked down on them?

“Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.”

How far are we to follow?

That far.

David B. Weber

syrophoenician woman

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Sermons from Outside the Walls- 1

The Word of God, or..words about God?

May 29, 2018

Warning:

If you want to wake up tomorrow morning thinking exactly about your faith as you do right now.. don’t read this.
If you desire for me to speak that which will affirm what you already believe, and make you feel special for believing that way.. don’t read this.
If you want a Sunday morning pick-me-up, in preparation for a rest-of-the-week beat down, or if you are expecting a mere unpacking of scriptures to be rearranged in neat little piles of homiletic insight..don’t read this- not today, not ever.
However, if you are willing to have your carefully crafted system of spiritual understandings pulled from and added to like a pile of Jenga blocks, until they fall into a pile of disappointment and confusion, proceed. Because like a petunia forcing its way upward through an inch of newly laid asphalt, the breaking of our spiritual shell casings is what allows new Light to enter our lives, and resurrected Life to emerge.
Ready?
Because sermons are arranged best around scriptures, so shall it be with this one. These are the words of the Apostle of Jesus, Paul, who is writing an instructional letter to his disciple, Timothy. In the letter, Paul is telling Timothy how to be an advocate for the story of Jesus the Christ. Timothy is young and separating from Paul’s nearby presence in order to go into the mission field on his own. Paul reminds Timothy of what Paul has demonstrated him about being a missionary for Jesus.
But if and when instruction fails or is forgotten, Paul tells him, this (from 2Timothy 3: 16,17, Common English Bible):
Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.
The scripture Paul wrote of was the collection of Hebrew scripture: the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the prophets, the books of history and wisdom. Paul’s letters, other apostolic letters, and even the four gospels themselves had not yet been gathered together into the smells-good leather bound book we call the New Testament. When Paul says “scripture,” he’s talking about the collection of scrolls written on parchment in Hebrew- what is popularly called the Old Testament.
And he says those scriptures are “inspired by God.” The Greek words for “inspired of God” have been translated as “God-breathed” by countless preachers and teachers in the many centuries since Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. Among many Christians, it is believed that God literally breathed the words of scripture, Old and New, through the quill pens of the men whose names are attached to or mentioned within the various biblical writings.
Believing the words to have been written that way means, to those who teach this way, that the words are infallible (i.e., without error) and interchangeable. “Interchangeable” means that what is written in one part of the Bible can support, amplify, and explain what is written in another part of the Bible. That is why we often see preachers and teachers who believe this way, flipping back and forth from front to back, from one book of the Bible to another, to formulate or give credibility to their arguments. That is a practice that can be done legitimately- Jesus himself refers often to the Old Testament prophets. There are many, many other such examples of one part of the Bible’s writings supporting other parts, as well.
But there are also weak, illogical, even silly such connections made and taught. Whole denominations exist because of some of them, and doctrine has poured like a mighty river from such oddly-contrived connections, and they continue to drown the original intentions behind the individual scriptures.
a augOne example: Augustine, a “Church father” of the fourth century CE, wrestled most of his life with a very active libido. His mother convinced him that such behavior was bad, so Augustine set about finding the biblical reasons that it was bad, so that he could (hopefully) tame those urges within himself.
Sex, Augustine determined from his mother and the fact that people throughout the Bible had babies, was not evil, but the desire for it (all the time in his case) was. He dug around, and around, and found his “Aha!” discovery in what, at the time, was regarded in Christian and “pagan” circles as an obscure, and becoming more obscure book- the first book of the Torah, Genesis.
In it was the story of Adam and Eve, first man and first woman. God, Augustine determined, had created them without evil, so procreation for them, he further determined, would not/ could not possibly involve the kind of desire he fought within himself. He determined that sex, as God created it for humans, would have been something which was merely functional, like the quick, seemingly joyless couplings of birds or turtles. But Adam and Eve went against God and discovered “evil” anyway, by biting into the forbidden fruit of the Knowledge tree.
aa Gossaert_Thyssen_Adam_and_EveHaving done so, Adam’s and Eve’s “eyes were opened” exactly as the temptor devil-serpent had told them they would be opened when it was urging them to go against God and bite the fruit. And when their eyes were opened they saw something neither Adam nor Eve had ever noticed before in their days-old lives: the other person’s genitals.
From that point on, according to Augustine, sexual desire for the other entered their lives and through them, our first parents, into all subsequent generations. It was the Original Sin which has befouled humanity since that first bite, that first glance, and that first lusting.
I’m not making this up. Augustine’s conclusions (about Original Sin and much else) were institutionalized by the growing Christian church, and have been affecting every man, woman, and child in the world since then. (Think about it: what’s the first thing missionaries the world over, throughout history, sought to do when meeting and “converting” indigenous tribes and people in Africa, the Americas, Australia, and everywhere else the merchant families of Europe sent them? They made them put on clothes!)
What Augustine did is called “cherry-picking” by detractors of the infallibility argument. I cherry-picking the Bible, one picks the best cherries for the argument being made from here and from there, from that tree and this tree, and bakes them together into one pie. Add one’s own biases, misinformation, and “druthers,’ and it becomes possible, and it has been done many times, to make almost any argument bend your way through cherry-picking the (approx.) 807,000 words of the Bible, found in its (also approx.) 31,000 verses.
All that is to say this: The Bible is not God-breathed. It is not the Word of God in the sense of “God said it, I believe it, and that’s that.” It didn’t blow down on us from angelic messengers, or fall down from the heavens sealed in a Baggie© for printing into all of our various languages. God didn’t cause the Bible’s many various writers to take quills in hand, fall into trances, and become divine stenographers.
When you hear anyone preface what they’re about to say with the words, “The Bible says..” then you are hearing someone who believes a form of one of the above absurdities. The Bible doesn’t speak! But individuals and communities do speak. And the collection of what many of them have had to say about their encounters with God is the Bible.
Thus, the Bible is “inspired.” People were inspired to write down in many different ways the reactions they had during encounters they believed were with God, the stories handed down to them concerning God, the meanings of historical events in the context of God, the wisdom about God they felt was vital to be preserved and passed on, and laws which they felt would honor their God and preserve their status as “chosen of God.”
Different writers did these things in different ways. Many of the stories in Genesis and Exodus are the kinds of stories passed on for generations around campfires by and for people who cannot read or write. Poetry and song- both memory triggers- were made great use of in stories of the beginnings of all things (Genesis). The story of Adam and Eve, so misused by Augustine (IMO) was, nonetheless, one the truest stories ever told about human shame, guilt, irresponsibility, and our human proclivity to blame the “other” for our own mistakes.
Other writers collected other stories thus told about the beginnings, struggles, and ultimate triumphs of their tribes- the Hebrew tribes of Israel. The Psalms honored God through song, and dance, and musical instruments, and kept the inspiring stories of King David and others alive through time. The Song of Songs must have troubled the later Augustine to no end with its erotic stories of young people in love, which were interpreted to be exactly the kind of intensive love of God for humankind. The tough-to-read histories- Kings and Judges and Chronicles- were records of what were perceived as God’s motivating touch and presence in the establishment of Israel as the home of “God’s chosen people.” And the prophets were social activists who collectively decried the idol-worshipping and poor people neglecting which they determined Israel had become as God was set on a shelf, rather than allowed to continue to inspire, as they believe God once had been allowed to do.
And those are just Old Testament examples! Stick around in coming weeks for many others from the New Testament- the gospels and letters and that so-abused book of Revelation. Those are the stories that wind around my heart and soul and indeed inspire what I write here right now and which I hope color the shade and the light of my life. But they have have been cherry-picked, too! And there are some mouthfuls of the subsequent pies which have been baked as a result of that cherry picking which should also be spat out! Quickly and forever! (Stay tuned!)
My point in all of this, and then I’m done for this week: The forest, the lush, green, vibrant, life-teeming, and deep so deep forest has been obscured by the planting of Bradford pears, kudzu, English ivy, and other invasive weeds. Ancient and very strangely born doctrines are choking the love of God from humans wanting to respond to it, able to respond to it, but thwarted from doing so because of historical and present human egos with loudspeakers set on “too loud” from pulpits raised too high.
But we don’t have to be pawns in the ecclesiastical games of anyone. We don’t have to be afraid. Our eyes are indeed able to be opened and we can help each other to see. Invasive weeds are not easy to get rid of, but in community with others dedicated to doing so, they can be eradicated.
In the meantime, hang onto this: There is more, always more to know. The path of Knowing more winds its way through Doubt sometimes, and even Fear. But it also often bumps head on with wonderful, light drenched Surprise. When it does, just sit back and simply.. behold! And let all things become new..
David B. Weber

“Wow!” the 4th Sunday Advent Message

This message will be finished on Christmas Eve, so if you are unable to be here Friday night (at 6 p.m.), you may want to watch on line. (http://ourchurchvideos.com/76458/jacksborofumc)

Wow!”

The fourth Sunday in Advent, 2010

December 19, 2010

David B. Weber, Pastor, First UMC, Jacksboro, TX

I really do believe this gospel story is “Wow!”

I believe this story is still unfolding, still producing new “Wows!”

And I believe we have been waiting in wonder and with wisdom now1, and that we are about to see something new.

We know the gospel story, the nativity story. We know it so well that it feels like settling into a comfortable old chair when we hear those opening words from Luke: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed..”

But my intentions this year have not been to get comfortable again with the story, but to look again at this story as a Thin Place this time- a place where, like the shepherds and the magi, we could encounter the divine nearby- as close as the condensing breath of a baby on the chilly night air.

So, in wonder, with no preconceived, prejudiced, expected or “historically traditional and acceptable” answers at the ready, I asked myself these questions:

1.What have I missed before in this story of Jesus’ birth?

2.Is there still more to be learned or to be known about the story?

Pulling from the wisdom then of a lifetime of authors, teachers, and my very own reflections; authors old and new, many Christian but not all, I am seeing Light. It’s a Light which is leading me to a place in my heart, in my soul..maybe in ways Light has led others to their encounters with the divine.

Here’s what is becoming so firm for me, so manifest, so apparent, so obvious that I am finally beginning to be able to articulate it:

The Word became flesh. And just as everything else in Creation was, once upon a time, described described as Good- that Word, that Word made flesh was also pronounced by God to be “Good.” (As in “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.”) This world, this universe, the earth, the sky, the stars, the animals- God said, “That’s Good.”

Goodness. That is what I am perceiving being revealed.

So from the scene of the stable and the manger, let’s move outward now and look at an always-becoming-larger picture:

Look first at Mary, a young woman, most likely 16, 17, 18 years old. We know nothing about her before the angel Gabriel came knocking. Nobody would have looked at her askance if she had looked out the peephole and hollered, “Get out of here!” But no, her response after the plans of God from the angel was, “Let it be.” She was a good young woman.

Joseph, Mary’s fiance. He could legally have had Mary taken to the edge of town and stoned. And who would have blamed him? His manhood had been insulted. His girlfriend was pregnant, and not by him! But he takes Mary as his wife, and raises her son as his own. Joseph was a good man.

And Elizabeth, Mary’s older cousin who Mary goes immediately to stay with at the beginning of her pregnancy. Does Elizabeth judge her cousin? Does she make Mary jump through moral hoops in return for a favor, or dictate dogma about unwed motherhood to her before she extends an invitation to stay? No, Elizabeth says to Mary, with no hesitation, “Come in, come in.” And then they sing together! Elizabeth was a good woman!

The shepherds..these were the tough guys of their day..the guys who could kill a bear or a lion with their fists and a knife. But they’re knocked over by the beauty of an angelic chorus; they’re made new by the gentleness of a baby’s presence. The shepherds were good men!

The wise men, the magi.. Riding across the property of Imperialist Rome, into the land of the puppet king Herod. The magi, following Wisdom- the Light, saw the prophecies of ancient oracles coming true and they risked their lives, their fortunes to keep that great news from the evil king Herod. They too were good men!

Most of what we have studied and understood about Christianity has been to understand the necessity of Jesus coming as the son of God to take away our sinfulness, our awfulness, our human badness. It seems as if that is how Jesus is most understood- as goodness standing in stark contrast to our badness?!

I’m here today to say something very different. I don’t believe Jesus came to make us ashamed of ourselves, or to stand in bright contrast to our dark-hardened heartlessness. On the contrary, I do believe Jesus enables us to rediscover, celebrate, and to more fully and abundantly live our human goodness. And I think today that I will probably spend the rest of my life understanding and sharing that. It is the Light that is filling my eyes, and it is also the wonderful wisdom I have waited a long time for- a Light that is also filling my heart and mind.

Have we been looking at the manger, at the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ from too many wrong and dark angles?

Have we been missing the covered-over goodness in ourselves and others that Jesus, from the time he was a baby, uncovered in all who came near him?

God looked out on God’s Creation- on the earth, the seas, the sky, the moon, the stars, animals, Adam and Eve and said, “That’s good.” God sent his son to demonstrate, to affirm that it’s still good- that it never stopped being good, and we never stopped being created in a good God’s image!

On Christmas Eve I’ll say more and tell you a story that reveals this truth- a story you will never forget.

And this is a theme you will hear me preach and teach often in the new year. But let this begin to sink in, beginning right now:

You have come near the Christ, you have reached toward Jesus, because you are good. We have been invited to the manger in Bethlehem; more importantly, we have been invited to the cross at Golgotha, because we are good.

Because we are good and we have always been good, but we have also been forgetful. And God, in the son, wants us to remember, to know, to live: we are good people.

Amen

1The three previous Advent messages have been about Thin Places, similar to the Celtic definition of them but concentrating on mental and emotional states rather than places. Wonder, Wisdom, and Waiting have been those states of being.

Words of Love..

 

“When genuine friends of God..repeat words they have heard in secret amidst the silence of the union of love, and these words are in disagreement with the teaching of the Church, it is simply that the language of the marketplace is not that of the nuptial chamber.” (Simone Weil, Waiting for God)

This is important. Because the Great Sausage Grinder that carries so much weight in the American Church doesn’t allow much gristle to make it into the morning’s meat patties. Or any fat whatsoever, or any extra spices. Or much taste. Bland is the standard; that way, aberrations are easily discerned.

Screw it. Pass the pepper, and the sage. Throw on some onions, and add some fat- some chicken fat- fried!-  greasy and crackling. Grind it all down again, one more time with fresh basil, and garlic and cilantro, and a spoonful of sugar..just because. Now grill that sausage over hot-fired mesquite, sprinkled with Jack Daniels, and slathered with a puree of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and oregano.

Good.

God.

Now, eat:

“I was afraid it

would screw up my art

and I would end up

writing sermons

instead of songs.”

(James McMurtry)

“Humankind has not woven the
web of life. We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.”
(Chief Seattle)

Even after all

this time

the sun never

says to the

earth

“You owe me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that.

It lights the

whole sky.

(Hafiz)

In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.
(Rumi)

The Dilemma of Death (part 6 of a series)

“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with.” (Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, The Free Press, 1973, p.26)

I watch my dogs lying in the early afternoon sun. They are on their sides, utterly relaxed into the small variations in grade beneath them. A dandelion clump pressed against a ribcage does not seem to have the power over them that the corner of a misplaced pillow might have over me. Both of them are asleep within moments of lying down, utterly at ease in a safe place with their “pack” (myself, the other dog, and the cat who will occasionally make an appearance). They sleep as if they have been very busy all morning, like they’ve been running and running and are now exhausted. But they have not been especially busy at all. This is how they always rest- wholly and completely, without a single anxious thought about the future gnawing at their psyche. What looks like exhaustion to us is, in fact, perfect relaxation, complete wholeness between the dogs’ consciousness and physical bodies, without a single thought toward “splendid uniqueness.”

“The lower animals are, of course, spared this painful contradiction, as they lack a symbolic identity and the self consciousness that goes with it.” (ibid.) In other words, animals have no awareness of the one way journey through physical life which they, like everything else, are on. They give no regard to their own Death; they are not anxious about tomorrow. (Tomorrow? What is that anyway?) Obviously, on some level, carnivorous animals are aware that the physical death of their foodstuff is a desirable state. And it may well be that some animals- dolphins and elephants come to mind- may recognize a consciousness within themselves that is finite. But humans are the only ones who institutionalized the awareness of Death Impending. Humans are the only animals who allow “Death’s second self” (That’s Shakespeare for Sleep) to be interrupted, ever, by thoughts of Dying. Humans are the only ones who can become neurotic about the prevention of things which might be harmful enough to cause death, or who are able to be addicted to substances which alleviate- in always failing measure- their preoccupations with Death.

Every faith tradition has some dogmatic and/or doctrinal tenets that deal with the awareness of Death with which all humans live. All faith traditions acknowledge the pain- fallenness, insanity, suffering- that accompanies this awareness of Death, and the vital need for acceptance of both that awareness and of Death itself. In lieu of that acceptance, the adherents of some faiths are given the option, within their faith’s teachings, of looking beyond death, into eternity. (I’m not here in this series to judge the content of various end of life scenarios, only to acknowledge that do exist and perform vital functions in the whole lives of many persons and communities.

The commonality of our pain takes different specific forms but all of them have dirt in common. All of our lives, after Death, end up in some way, in the dirt. As ashes, or sealed within a metal vacuum which slows down but does not stop the process of decomposition, or laid directly onto the dirt which begins immediately to absorbs the liquids and fats of life, dirt is our bed, sometimes quickly, always eventually.

It is dirt over which we stand in “towering majesty.” It is dirt which contrasts so harshly with our names, our perceptions of our Selves, and the legacy we imagine ourselves leaving behind. It is dirt which covers our face to the world and finally blocks the world to our face.

Dirt is just..so damn final!

And that’s our dilemma. It is a dilemma for every human being on earth, too, and has been since the very first time human consciousness reached into an imagined future and put the 2+2 of life and death together. It added up to dirt then and adds up to dirt now, despite all kinds of conveyances, rituals, religions, and proposed alternative scenarios which have been placed in front that final “resting place.” (And note that phrase- “resting place.” It is one of many, many, many phrases and words used about Death which attempt to take a little bit of Death’s sting away.)

Elysian Fields await, beyond the River Styx, near the New Jerusalem, in the sweet by and by. We’ll visit some of those places and see what they might reveal about our fears, and our hopes.

The Rapture- if you’re reading this, you missed it..!

Whoops !

rapture

It really is easier to read a novel- or a series of novels – about the Rapture, than it is to read a critical history of Rapture theology. Just as it is easier to “believe” in Creationism than it is to study and understand Evolution. Just as it is easier to maintain a fatalistic view of every single thing that happens (“God did it!”) than it is to face the random nature of many (most?) human and physical events, or to accept an iota of personal responsibility when things go wrong. 

Faith has become a short cut around thinking. The words “I believe” have come to mean that whatever pronouncement follows those words is off-limits in terms of criticism. (Although you are allowed, encouraged even, to verbally punctuate such statements with a hearty “Amen!”)

But is being faithful, toward anything, a legitimate excuse for not thinking? Is thinking about faith a forbidden activity? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t like dead ends in thought, where questions are no longer welcomed, because then the only thing left to do is to build a fort and be defensive about that arrived-at place of thinking.  And that’s also where Inquisitions and Jihads are conceived.

The theology of the rapture is relatively recent, beginning in the early 19th Century. It was an odd interpretation of scripture which found wide acceptance in the reactionary intellectual atmosphere of the time. Times were, in 19th century Great Britain (where the rapture story began), a’changing. Pastoral countrysides were seeing, with greater and greater frequency, the smokestacks of nearby cities rising in ugly industrial salute to the Coal and Iron being burned and formed in a revolution of manufacturing. Urban areas were growing, along with the attendant urban problems of bad housing, crime, and alcoholism. The rich grew richer as the poor grew poorer. As Charles Dickens wrote of what was happening, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Some people were feeling left out, and powerless, and in need of a “way out.”

And the Rapture is the ultimate Way Out! Every year for the past two centuries someone, somewhere has claimed that this is the year:  This is the year that the Lord returns for his own!  It’s an appealing hope for many people: it costs nothing, it could happen any moment, and it makes those who know they’re ‘going’ better than those who don’t know they’re not going!

The popularity of the Rapture grows wherever people feel out of control. It gives people who believe they will not be left behind, a sense of power- perhaps even, a sense of superiority, over those who will not make the cut. As the doctrine’s popularity has grown, it has become more complex. Schools of thinking have grown about when the rapture will occur in relation to perceived timetables they are able to find in the books of Daniel and Revelation.  On-line resources are available for wills to be read and messages to be sent to relatives and friends who are left here after the rapture to face the horrors of Armageddon, or not.

When Jesus said, on the cross, “It is finished,” little did he know that 1800 years later the rest of the story would be uncovered. Nor did he know it would all be over in 1992, or not.

God, Sex, Goliath, and Other Scary Things..

What’s wrong? Here’s the answer:

(These thoughts are complicatedly interrelated as most of the thoughts in all of our minds are. I admire deeply, though, those persons that are able to simplify in ways that I can’t. Bear with me. I promise some new ideas here that will affect the way some of you see the world from this point on. Really!)

Families, Bands, and Tribes

Our species evolved and spent most its communal history in bands of families and tribes of bands. Families bonded together for security and diversification of the gene pool, and crossed the difficult barriers of geography and suspicion to become bands. The people who lived on that side of the mountain needed to get at animals on the other side of the mountain and- “oh, by the way, while we’re over there hunting can we procreate with your people?”

(Trying my best to simplify- I trust you understand. This is cultural anthropology in the smallest nutshell it’s ever been crammed into.)

The bands became tribes. Not overnight and not automatically, but as populations increased and as climate changes (like ice melt), geographical episodes (like volcanoes), and animal migrations or extinctions occurred, the advantages of cooperation over competition were hard to ignore! Now, Americans, think Ojibway, Dakotah, Chipppewa, or Apache. Those are tribes– they lived in districts, many lived in smaller bands, they spread out over a geography, and sometimes at peace and sometimes at struggle with adjacent tribes. What united them was the geography, the resources they learned to share (Apaches and the earliest horses, for instance), language, and shared DNA. A member of a tribe knew they could move from valley to valley without harm, because that was tribal land. They also knew they might have problems on the other side of the valley, over the mountain, because that was the land of another tribe.

Stories

Stories evolve among any group of people over time and every tribe on earth was abundant with them. Stories informed those who heard them how to think, how to act, and what the tribe determined was important to know. The shared knowledge of tribes through the telling of stories is why we as humans are still vital (too vital from other species’ viewpoints!). The Dakotah had stories about the Cold and Buffalo, the Aleutians had stories about shifting ice and Walruses (is more than one Walrus, Walri?), the Aztec had stories Warm Seas and Fish, etc, etc, etc.

These stories were how children learned. They weren’t “made up” stories. They were truths that had been observed, or thought about; conclusions about the world around them were made, and those thoughts and conclusions were made memorable and interesting through stories. The stories contained the most current truths available.

Now, here’s the part that has everything to do with today: One way to make sure children in a tribe knew their place, understood their role, and knew to never go over that mountain was through fear. Fear works. Has, does, and will. It’s no accident that the purveyor of bad tidings in the Garden of Eden was a Serpent (hissss!) rather than a cow or a chicken (yum!). Nor, continuing with the familiar stories of the Hebrew tribe, was it surprising that the awful, horrible, sneaky Philistines had a secret weapon (Goliath) or that the loose-living, oft-married Samaritans were trash. Both were good reasons to keep the kids who were feeling their wild oats blooming, at home, where having no other gods before YHWH was much more manageable.

More To Come

OK, I’m going to continue with this tomorrow, and I will deal with these two ideas:

1. Humans lived in tribes a long, long, long time- longer than any of us have the ability to imagine. Ideas and concepts are as deeply a part of us as our physical structure or repertoire of emotions are, and as our abilities to stand erect and run evolved, so did our need for stories and the structure with which they were told. Stories are in us. We need them.

2. We live in a time, however, when we do not need to be afraid, out of ignorance, of the people who live on the other side of the mountain. Our tribe is global now. The separations no longer keep us alive by insuring our safety. The separations now, exacerbated by fools, are going to kill us. Our stories must be re-written.