30 December 2007

New Testament Eschatology -- Old Testament Background Continued

Some Prophets
'Prophecy is of the nature of poetry, and depicts events, not in the prosaic style of the historian, but in the glowing imagery of the poet.' -- J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia, pg. 81.

Last time we took a brief look at poetic language and how it's used. We saw how celestial images can be used for terrestrial authorities. With that in mind, we now turn our attention to some prophetic passages.
Isaiah 13.9-13. For see, the day of the Lord is coming—the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger. The land will be made desolate, and all the sinners destroyed with it. The heavens will be black above them; the stars will give no light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will provide no light.

“I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty. I will make people scarcer than gold—more rare than the fine gold of Ophir. For I will shake the heavens. The earth will move from its place when the Lord of Heaven’s Armies displays his wrath in the day of his fierce anger.”

Some of this language should be familiar to us. It is peppered throughout the New Testament. Specifically, notice that this passage talks about the 'day of the Lord'; the desolation of the land; the heavenly luminaries are darkened; the 'world', 'sinners', and 'wicked' will all be punished for sin; the heavens will be shaken and the earth will be moved from its place. All of this sounds so very much like what we might read about in the book of Revelation. And we do read some of it. However, the first part of this passage might not be as familiar.
Isaiah 13.1-3. Isaiah son of Amoz received this message concerning the destruction of Babylon:

“Raise a signal flag on a bare hilltop. Call up an army against Babylon. Wave your hand to encourage them as they march into the palaces of the high and mighty. I, the Lord, have dedicated these soldiers for this task. Yes, I have called mighty warriors to express my anger, and they will rejoice when I am exalted.”

As we can see, this was a prophecy 'concerning the destruction of Babylon'. Babylon was destroyed in 539 BCE. There is nothing within the history books that even remotely comes close to what was described here. There was no cataclysmic event of the magnitude described in verses 9-13. In other words, the language used here is not about the destruction of this planet and cosmos. It is poetic language depicting the destruction of Babylon in 539 BCE.

Another example:
Micah 1.3-4. Look! The Lord is coming! He leaves his throne in heaven and tramples the heights of the earth. The mountains melt beneath his feet and flow into the valleys like wax in a fire, like water pouring down a hill.

Again we see the Lord coming from heaven and trampling the 'heights of the earth'. It appears that this 'coming' depicts some kind of thermonuclear scenario as the 'mountains melt' and 'flow...like wax in a fire' or 'water pouring down a hill'. The astonishing thing is that this is a prediction of the fall of Samaria and Jerusalem!
Micah 1.1, 5. The Lord gave this message to Micah of Moresheth during the years when Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah. The visions he saw concerned both Samaria and Jerusalem...And why is this happening? Because of the rebellion of Israel - yes, the sins of the whole nation. Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion? Samaria, its capital city! Where is the center of idolatry in Judah? In Jerusalem, its capital!

So, once more, we see that while this passage depicts 'global destruction' it is really poetic language telling us about the fall of Jerusalem.

Now, something to remember is that, for the inhabitants of those cities or countries, their destruction would amount to a global crises. In their minds, the universe would seem to be completely destroyed. We say similar language today, 'My world is crashing down around me!' someone might exclaim. She doesn't mean that the very fabric of the cosmos is unraveling but that there are some big problems in her own life, her own 'world'. The same is being said in these prophetic passages. So, while the destruction of those cities/countries may not have 'literally' taken place in the way they have been depicted, nevertheless they were 'literally' destroyed. Their judgment was this worldly and not other worldly. In other words, these poetic images were about things that would take place within history in the 'natural' realm, not at the end of history or in the 'spiritual' realm.

That's it for this time. Until next time...

Peace be with you.

OD

27 December 2007

Q?

For those of us that aren't aware, some scholars believe that Matthew and Luke copied a lot of their material from the gospel of Mark (supposedly the oldest Gospel).  But there is a lot in Matthew and Luke that doesn't appear in Mark.  So, some scholars came up with a hypothetical document titled 'quelle' (a German word meaning 'source').  'Q', for short.  Now, it should be noted that no one has ever seen this document and church history doesn't seem to know about it.  But, most...ahem...'liberal' scholarship holds to it like it is the source document for (at least) the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

However, my view is more like this (And mind you, this is just my view.  I haven't heard this from anyone else.).  To me, Mark reads more like an underground subversive tract.  Almost like a secret code -- the kind you swallow or burn up after you've read it.  What I see as a more likely possibility is that  Mark copied from Matthew or Luke and, since those accounts were more fleshed out, the author of Mark didn't need to expound on anything.  That, or maybe 'he' didn't have time.  It could be that the writer could have written that account during immense persecution and could possibly be found out at any moment so 'she' didn't have time to do more that hit the highlights.  Now, I may be naive, but to me, this sounds a lot more reasonable than living and dying on a hypothetical document that no one has ever seen and most people doubt ever existed.

Just some food for thought.

Peace be with you.

OD

26 December 2007

New Testament Eschatology -- Old Testament Background

Often times, the reason people insist that the New Testaments writers were wrong about the 'end of the world' -- i.e., the writers believed it was going to take place very soon for them -- is because of an almost 'wooden' literalism that is used when reading those passages. I find this a little amusing because a lot of times, those same people don't hold to a 'literal' interpretation of the Bible. Yet, they either assume that the writers of the New Testament held to a 'literal' interpretation or we should understand those New Testament passages in a literal way. I hope to show a little different path. But to help us in our journey, before we can look at the New Testament passages themselves, we need to look at some Old Testament passages.

Why?

The reason for this is because the New Testament is a continuation of the Old Testament story. In other words, the Old Testament is the foundation or frame-work from which the New Testament writers were working. Through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the first Christians saw themselves living at the beginning of the climax to the Old Testament story. So, to get a better understanding of what they meant, we should have some kind of working knowledge of the guide they were using. Our first passage to consider is found 'way back' in the book of Genesis.
Genesis 37.9-11. Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.

I'm sure we are all pretty familiar with the story of Joseph and the 'coat of many colors' that his father, Jacob (Israel), gave him. Well, one of the things about Joseph was that he was a 'dreamer' and an interpreter of dreams. In the passage above we have one of the first dreams he had. There are some interesting things in it. Briefly, Joseph dreamed that his elders would bow before him. This included his father, mother, and eleven brothers. For us, the important point is the apocalyptic language or (I prefer) poetic imagery used in the dream. Joseph's mother and father would be the 'sun' and 'moon' while his eleven brothers would be the 'eleven stars'. I submit that this as an example of how apocalyptic language functions. Often times, the use of celestial images corresponds to terrestrial authority. This, like most 'sciences' (and anything with 'ology' at the end of it usually means it's a science), isn't a hard and fast rule. It is more of a guide. Here, our guide is showing us that celestial images are used for those people who have authority over Joseph in the terrestrial realm. (And even here we can see the short comings of the guide. Joseph's younger brother Benjamin was one of the eleven 'stars' and he probably wouldn't have authority over Joseph.)

On another side of this, we wouldn't take a 'literal' approach to understand this dream. There isn't a need. Joseph's father, Jacob, already interpreted the images for us. But, if we used the view of some people, we would say that this never took place because the 'sun, moon, and eleven stars' never actually (literally) bowed down to Joseph. Instantly we can see how silly that interpretation would be. No. We are shown that the proper understanding of the dream is that Joseph's family would bow before him at some point in this life (another important point). And they did just that when they came to Egypt looking for famine relief (Genesis 43ff).

Next time, we will look at a couple of the prophets that use symbolic language.

Peace be with you.

OD

24 December 2007

New Testament Eschatology - Introduction

From time to time, I hear a lot about the early church’s understanding of the ‘end of the world’ or their belief of the ‘Second Coming of Jesus’ as taking place within their generation. And it's usually not in a very good light. ‘They were obviously mistaken’ is often the remark I hear most. But what if it is we who are mistaken? I know, inconceivable, right. I don’t think so. I am hoping to do a series here on the 'end of the world' statements of the New Testament (or at least the major ones) and show that they were not mistaken in their understanding of the ‘signs of the times’.

Before we begin, however, let’s look at some terms that will have to be used. As most of you know, I try to refrain from using big ‘church’ words but from time to time they are necessary. And this is one of those times. (The reason I don’t use big church words is that they are like suitcases where ideas and thoughts and understandings are packed into them. To explain the words would mean a long time spent unpacking the suitcase. While such a pilgrimage would be very rewarding, doing so usually takes one far off course from the original journey.)

The first word is the word ‘eschatology’. It means the study of ‘last things’. Usually these ‘last things’ are the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus, the Resurrection of the dead, the ‘Judgment’, etc. And, truth be told, even those terms and phrases probably need to be ‘unpacked’ for some of us. While this will be a study of eschatological statements in the New Testament, we will not actually be looking in detail about those things -- we won't be unpacking those terms and phrases. Perhaps in another series of articles.

Another term we will encounter will be ‘apocalyptic’. Apocalyptic is the name of a certain type of literature. It usually has many cataclysmic things in it – like the moon turning to blood, stars falling from heaven, etc. We have seen many a movie about the ‘end of the world’ and this term is usually the catalyst for such movies. But, actually, a better understanding of the word is ‘revelation’ or ‘revealing’. The idea is that of something hidden and then it is ‘discovered’ or ‘uncovered’. The literature that makes use of this type of genre is usually found in prophetic books like Daniel or Isaiah. And since most of us are not very familiar with those types of books in the Old Testament (and the imagery they use), we stumble with what they could possibly mean. But a proper understanding of just this type of literature is crucial to comprehend the New Testaments use of the genre.

So, there is our brief introduction. Next time we will look at some statements in the Old Testament.

Peace be with you.

OD

17 December 2007

A Metaphor of American Culture

During the last few days, Oklahoma has seen a tremendous ice storm (there are plenty of blogs and news articles about it) and while this post won’t primarily focus on that, there was some deep theological reflections I made during the storm. Most notably is that of the Bradford Pear tree.

For those of you not in the know, the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryiana) is a cultivated variety of the Callery Pear. It is mostly grown for its quick growth cycle and beautiful foliage. In Autumn the leaves turn a bright to deep red. Because of the ornamental beauty and quick growth, the Bradford Pear is a very popular tree especially in suburban areas.

But it has a major flaw. It does not stand up to the harsh weather in Oklahoma. During the spring time, when wind gusts can get up to 60mph (and sometimes much stronger), the tree often just snaps. This ice storm destroyed many a Bradford Pear in my neighborhood. In fact, our neighbor to the West lost the whole tree (and his tenant lost a windshield and driver side window as well as adding some nice big dents to his car). As we drove around town looking for some place warm to thaw out all of the Bradford Pears I saw were down for the count. And I don’t mean just missing a limb hear or there. As can be seen by the picture, most trees looked like they had just exploded. And that’s when it dawned on me. The Bradford Pear is a great metaphor for current American society.

Today, we like things fast. We like things pretty. We like things with as little hassle as possible. We like things now. We don’t want to wait a couple of minutes at a traffic light. We get down-right livid if we have to stand in line at a store (especially during the season of perpetual love and light). We don’t want to wait for the old way of doing things. We shouldn’t have to. We have been told that we ‘deserve’ to have the very best. That it is our right to demand the very best. And to get everything our greedy little minds can think of right this bloody second!

We want to look the very best (especially if it means that someone else is made to look less). We are so concerned with our appearance that we even bleach our teeth and skin. We have ‘cosmetic surgery’ so that we can look like ‘America’s Next Top Model’. We have ‘entertainment’ that is all about the ‘pretty people’ and makes fun of all the ‘Ugly Betty’s’ out there.

This is exemplified in the Bradford Pear. You can almost hear it talking to the other trees. ‘Look at how short you are! Hey ‘shorty’ are you ever going to grow up? I was planted a year after you were and I’m already twice your size. And look at how pretty I am. This Fall I am going to kick your butt in the local Autumn foliage pageant. And they call you the ‘Might Oak’. More like the wimpy croak!’

But, the ‘Mighty Oak’ gets its name because it can stand the test of time. It takes a long, long time for it to grow. And during that growing cycle, it develops the tools it needs to withstand some of the worst that Mother Nature can throw at it. Not so with the Bradford Pear. When things get a little turbulent, it buckles. There is no depth. No substance. Oh, sure, it’s pretty. But that beauty is only on the surface.

As our Mother’s taught us, however, beauty is so much more than just what we see on the outside. True beauty comes from deep within. From the very core of our beings -- when we are tested and go through it with God’s help -- True beauty, the beauty of Christ, comes through. The grace and mercy of God beams through us like a tree ablaze during the Autumn season. And that takes time. Time and patience. And, like it or not, a lot of pain.

When we look into the eyes of an elderly person there is a depth there. There is a wisdom. And, yes, there is a beauty. What makes them beautiful only comes from years of developing the tools needed to stand during the tumultuous times. We call that ‘character’. It is something that the Bradford Pear promises but never delivers. When the winds of struggle comes sweeping down the plains, we need to stand under the strength and security of the Mighty Oak knowing that we will be safe.

What is the outcome of all of the downed trees in my neighborhood? I heard that the city will dig huge pits in the earth, collect all of the debris, fill the pits, and burn it all away. That, too, is another metaphor for our culture. I seem to recall the New Testament making similar claims in a variety of places. If we continue to go the route of the Bradford Pear, let’s not be surprised if we find ourselves in a pit ‘where the fire never goes out.’

We still have time. We can learn from this metaphor that God has graciously placed in our midst. But it is up to us. Are we going to continue to go for the gusto now and not care who is dehumanized in the process or are we going to slow down and build some depth and character, loving our neighbors as ourselves? Are we going to continue to buy into the lies of us ‘deserving’ to have the ‘very best’ when the ‘very best’ leads to our down-fall and the down-fall of all things around us?
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14.12)

Peace be with you.

OD

19 November 2007

The End of the World!

Well, not really...but kinda.

Our lessons this last week had a 'end of the world' flair and some people took it literally -- both in the texts and the study groups I was in. Our Old Testament Lesson was taken from Malachi:
Malachi 4.5-6. Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.

In one group I led, I asked the men they understood this passage. The ones who answered said that is was still in our future. I'm sure that many people, especially here in the States, do too. But let's do a little theme study.
Matthew 11.11-15. "I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!"

Matthew 17.10-13. Then his disciples asked him, "Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?"

Jesus replied, "Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him. And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer." Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.

One of the gentlemen at a study questioned that this meant that John was the reincarnation of Elijah. But if we look at Luke 1, we will see this is not the case.
Luke 1.17. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.

So the answer is no. John the Baptist is not Elijah reincarnated. He is John but he has 'the spirit and power of Elijah.' Heck, John even dressed like Elijah (2Kings 1.8; cf. Matthew 3.4)!  Something else that proves this assertion is the fact that the angel stated that John would 'turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.' This is exactly what we read in Malachi, thus showing that, just as Jesus said, John the Baptist was the Elijah that was to come before the 'great and dreadful day of the Lord'.

Now, I know what you're thinking. 'This can't be right. The "great and dreadful day of the Lord" is the "Great White Throne Judgment".' Well, perhaps. But perhaps not. To see where this is going we need to look at another one of the Lessons for last week.
Luke 21.5-19. Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”

He replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” Then he added, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you,for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.

Now there is a lot packed in here but I just want to focus on a few things. First, Jesus was answering their question about the destruction of the Temple (v.7).

Second, notice the word 'you'. It is used roughly 18 times in this short passage. Clearly, the disciples would have understood that Jesus was talking to them about things that they would experience before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Third, we see that the disciples would be 'dragged in synagogues' (v.12). This means that there would be a time of persecution led by the Jews.

Lastly, if we take just a glance at the Acts of the Apostles, we will see this taking place just as Jesus predicted. In Acts we see earthquakes (Acts 16.26; see also, Josephus, War.VI.5.3); famines (Acts 11.28); false Messiahs (Acts 5.33-37); and the persecutions, well, just read the whole book of Acts and you will see that it was mostly the Jews who were persecuting the early Christians.

Therefore, the most shocking realization comes to us...Jesus was not talking to us. We weren't even thought of in this passage. This passage has everything to do with the disciples.

Later, we will look at the rest of the chapter and see if what we have discovered so far continues to fit.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

18 November 2007

Affirmations

I like it when I get affirmations about things I see in the Scriptures. A couple of examples of this took place this last week.

First, in Education for Ministry (EfM), Year One is reading the Old Testament (or Jewish Scriptures). Our lesson was over the call and covenant of Abraham. Well, the whole Abraham story, actually. Anyway, there is a great scene when YHWH makes the covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 15.17-18a, we read:
After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day (New Living Translation, emphasis added).

Notice again the 'smoking firepot and a flaming torch'. What is the first thing that pops into your head when you read that? For a number of years I have seen the Exodus in those symbols. In the Exodus, YHWH lead the people by a 'pillar of cloud' during the day and a 'pillar of fire' at night (Exodus 13.21). In the EfM lesson book, referring to Genesis 15.17ff, it stated, 'We see later how God is present to Israel in the wilderness in the form of "pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night".' Finally! I'm not the only one who sees this! Or, perhaps there are plenty of others who sees this too, but that was the first time (I can remember) of someone else pointing it out.

The next affirmation came today during our adult Sunday School class. A couple of years ago, I was talking to a couple of very close friends of mine. We were discussing our mutual journeys and how we think that Western Christianity (particularly in the US) must change. (There is a lot of background to this story that I won't get into here). At one point, however, I had an epiphany. I said, 'Do you remember when Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life"?'

'Yes.'

'What if that is a process?'

'What do you mean?'

'Well, for the longest time, at least the length our lives in the faith, the church has gone straight to 'the life' part. "This is it. This is the only thing that is important." We have been seeing that that is not the case. There is more to it than that. We see that it's more like a journey. What if it would be better if we said, "I'm on this journey. I'm going this 'way'. Why don't you come with me?" And then, along this way, we discover some 'truth'. And then, as we continue on this 'way', learning 'truth' we discover 'life'. What if that is more of what Jesus is meaning there in John?'

This morning in Sunday School class our teacher said basically the same thing. We read the story known as 'The Road to Emmaus' and he said, 'Notice the direction of the story. The couple was heading this way (away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus) and along the way, this person shows up and travels with them. During this journey, going this way, the couple tells their companion why they are down. The companion (Jesus) says, "Let me show you in the Scriptures why these things happened." Then, the couple stops and show hospitality to the companion. And during the meal, they recognized the companion as Jesus. But then what happened? They went back the other way, toward Jerusalem. That is called a "conversion experience"; a "turning around". For the longest time, most churches in America have told people a set of rules, "This is it. This is what you are to believe." But what if we told them a story? What if we walked with them and they with us in this story. And along the way, they discover some truths. And they change their own lives. We don't force them into a set of rules. We invite them on a journey. We ask them to join us in an ongoing story. And we tell them the story.'

I was thinking, 'Yes! Exactly! Someone else sees it.'

Perhaps I have always been an Episcopalian but just didn't know it.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

~~~~~~~~

Have you ever had experiences like that?

08 November 2007

Ministry of Reconciliation -- Part 4

The Gateway of Hope

Previously we have learned that the ministry of reconciliation has (at least) four parts: 1) definition; 2) reconciling ourselves to God; and 3) reconciling with other people. In this fourth and final part we will be looking at how we can be reconciled with all of creation.

Before we can see where we are going, it might be helpful to see from where we have come.
Genesis 1.27-31. God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Then God said, "Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

All of creation was in harmony with each other. People were created to reflect God's love and care into the rest of creation. There was no fear or shame. There wasn't any violence or death. There weren't even any carnivores or omnivores for both humans and non-humans alike were vegetarians.

But we know the rest of the story. Humans rebelled and the entire thing has spun out of control. Fear and shame entered the garden. Human responsibility was replaced with 'passing the buck'. Expulsion and community breakdowns occurred. The shock and horror of violence and death emerged. Simply put, sin entered creation and spread like the cancers it brought with it until all of creation was filled with violence and corruption (Gen 6.11-13). Because of this cancerous, sinful rebellion humans became so wicked that 'everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil' (Gen 6.5).

Now, if we left this story right now, it would be horrible! But we know that God did not leave it that way. God set in motion a plan that would reconcile the entire created order back to Godself. What would that look like? We are given some hints in Isaiah 65.

Isaiah 65.17, 25. “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore...The wolf and the lamb will feed together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. But the snakes will eat dust. In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Here we see that YHWH promised to create 'new heavens and a new earth'. This new creation does not represent a complete annilation of the current creation. The idea here is to take the existing creation and reshape it; recreate it. Notice the word 'creating'. This implies an ongoing action. God is not destroying this world. God is recreating this world. How is this being accomplished? When will it happen?
Hosea 2.14-23. "But then I will win [Israel] back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. When that day comes," says the Lord, "you will call me 'my husband' instead of 'my master.' O Israel, I will wipe the many names of Baal from your lips, and you will never mention them again. On that day I will make a covenant with all the wild animals and the birds of the sky and the animals that scurry along the ground so they will not harm you. I will remove all weapons of war from the land, all swords and bows, so you can live unafraid in peace and safety. I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.

"In that day, I will answer," says the Lord. "I will answer the sky as it pleads for clouds. And the sky will answer the earth with rain. Then the earth will answer the thirsty cries of the grain, the grapevines, and the olive trees. And they in turn will answer, 'Jezreel' — 'God plants!' At that time I will plant a crop of Israelites and raise them for myself. I will show love to those I called 'Not loved.' And to those I called 'Not my people,' I will say, 'Now you are my people.' And they will reply, 'You are our God!'"

This passage just oozes with New Creation! There are several things about it but I don't want to make this post longer than necessary so I will just hit the highlights. Notice the progression: YHWH woos Israel > YHWH transforms Israel > Israel will experience a New Exodus > Israel becomes YHWH's bride > YHWH makes a covenant with the animals 'so they will not harm' people > YHWH will remove 'weapons of war' so people can live in 'peace and safety' > 'Israel' will 'finally know [God] as 'Lord' > YHWH will restore creation > YHWH will 'plant a crop of Israelites' > The 'Gentiles' will become YHWH's people.

Please be aware once more of a transformation and not a destruction/creation. This is a re-creation of the cosmos. It starts with the winning of Israel. When will that happen? It already did! That is what the New Testament is all about. God sent Jesus at just the 'right time' to woo Israel; to purchase her and her children from their captives (Gal 4.4-7). Jesus was the new Moses (Acts 3.22ff; 7.37) leading the people out of bondage into a new way of being Israel; into a new way of being truly human (Matt 4.19; 9.9; 16.24; John 1.43; 8.12; 12.26; 21.19-22).

So when does new creation begin? It, too, has already begun! This took place at his resurrection. John wrote that Jesus was raised on the eighth day the 'first day' of New Creation (John 20.1, 19). Jesus was seen as the 'gardener' (John 20.15) -- just like Adam (Gen 2.15). St Paul wrote that Jesus is the 'last Adam' (1Cor 15.45). The New Testament states that the resurrected Jesus is 'the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation' (Rev 3.14).

Furthermore, Paul quoted Hosea 2 in Romans 9. There, his point is that YHWH extends grace and mercy to anyone God wishes. This grace even extends to the 'Gentiles' (those people who were not natural Jews). This incoming of the Gentiles into the 'Israel of God' (Gal 6.16) is, according to Paul, fulfilling Hosea 2. What does this mean? It means that Christians are part of God's New Creation (2Cor 5.17). It means that Christians are to be praying that God's kingdom, God's New Creation, will come 'on earth' as it is in heaven (Matt 6.10). It means that Christians are to be implementing New Creation now (John 20.21-23). It means that the only thing that matters now is New Creation (Gal 6.15).

Therefore, if the only thing that matters now is implementing God's New Creation, i.e., since it is already started we should be coming up with ways of expanding it 'on earth' as in heaven, what should we do? I think that the list from Hosea is a great place to start. We need to treat the earth with respect, letting her replenish from our use of her (Lev 25.2-7). We need to show the non-human creation the same love and compassion as we do the human creation. YHWH cares for the birds and flowers (Luke 12.22-34) therefore so should we (as you know, for me, this includes not eating meat). We need to come up with peaceful means to end disputes with our enemies all the while knowing that we are commanded to 'love our enemies' and 'do good to them who hate [us]' (Luke 6.27-36).

Lastly, I realize the above paragraph is so short on application. It's because this is the improvisational part of our story. Each moment brings new challenges; new opportunities to implement God's New Creation. We need to pray. We need to listen. We need to act. We are now 'priests' of God. We are called to reflect God's love in everything we do or say. We are to be the Word (of Jesus) made flesh.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

<-- Go to Part 3 or Go to Part 1 -->

28 October 2007

Collect (Prayer) of the Week: Pentecost, proper 25

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

26 October 2007

Dual booting: PCLinuxOS 2007 and Ubuntu 7.10

As you all know, I am a HUGE PCLOS fan. It is my distro of choice. However, with Dell selling systems with Ubuntu pre-installed, I know I will be getting some calls about what to do. So, I figured I would install Ubuntu and see what I can figure out. I downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu (7.10, ‘Gutsy Gibbon’) and burned it to a CD. I then rebooted my laptop (an old Compaq) and launched into the Live CD. Everything seemed to work pretty well. (Except my wireless card. But I'm used to this.) So I clicked on the ‘Install’ icon and went about the install process. I wanted to make sure I could keep my PCLinuxOS install intact so I made sure Ubuntu installed on the remaining free space on my hard drive. This is one of the greatest features of Linux, IMO. I can take a small 30GB hard drive (small by today’s standards) and install two operating systems and still have plenty of space for all of my documents and pictures. In fact, I have the exact same on both partitions with room to spare. (For those of you who don’t know, what I’m talking about here is dividing the hard drive up into small drives. The OSs (Operating Systems) looks at the different divided drives as two separate hard drives. On one drive I have installed PCLinuxOS 2007 and on the other, Ubuntu 7.10. Now, isn’t that about as clear as mud?) Of course, to make this possible, I didn’t copy over my music library from the external drive (that takes about 60% of the whole 30GB drive).

Anyway, the install went just fine. When I boot my laptop now I can choose between PCLOS or Ubuntu. So, I chose Ubuntu. And it took FOORRREEEEVVVVVEEEEEERRRRRRR to get to the login screen. After I selected Ubuntu, there were three errors: ‘ACPI: resource is not an IRQ entry’. Then, when I finally got to the login screen, and logged in, I noticed a floppy drive icon in my navigation window. The reason this is weird is because my laptop doesn’t have a floppy drive! Hmm... Next, I saw that there was an icon flashing in the upper right corner alerting me that there were updates. So I clicked on that icon and installed the updates. After that, there was another flashing icon telling me that there were drivers available for my wireless card. Cool. I clicked on that icon and it downloaded and installed the driver for the card. Then I clicked on the network icon in the system tray and selected the wireless connection. I was given a list of wireless networks in my area, including my own. I selected my network and typed in my encryption key. Within a couple of seconds, I was connected to the wireless network. So I unplugged the wired connection and launched Firefox to go check out the Ubuntu forums for my error messages.

I had to search around for a little bit, but I found answers and fixed the problems. Now, Ubuntu boots a lot quicker and before where I had just a blank screen, I now see the Ubuntu artwork. Oh, and I don’t have a floppy drive listed anymore. Ain’t help wonderful!

There are a couple of things that I wanted to install, one being Avant-Window-Manager. This is a dock very similar to Mac OS X’s Dock. Another trip to the forums and I had AWM up and running in no time.

At this stage in the game, I rebooted my computer and selected PCLinuxOS from the menu. I wanted to see if the Ubuntu install borked my PCLOS install. It didn’t. Everything was just where it should be and everything was working just fine. I logged out and rebooted into Ubuntu to continue configuring it to my tastes.

There are a couple of new features in Ubuntu. One is Deskbar and the other is Compiz-Fusion. Deskbar is a search applet that sits in the panel. You just select it and search for anything on you computer. A great feature that’s very similar to Spotlight on Macs and Search in Vista (if you have an older system, like Windows XP, you can get Google Desktop to function in similar way). It will take it a little bit to index your computer but once it’s finished you can search for anything on your system even the meta information. For example, I can do a search for text contained within a PDF file and it will show me the document.

Compiz-Fusion is a step up and beyond the Beryl project that comes with PCLinuxOS. At one time, Beryl and Compiz were one company but they split up to work on different things. Later the re-joined forces and Compiz-Fusion was the outcome. Compiz-Fusion is a 3D environment that allows the user to enjoy a little ‘eye candy’, as they say. I don’t think it’s eye candy, per se. One of the features that is extremely helpful is that of virtual desktops. Now, Linux has had this feature for as long as I can remember but with Compiz-Fusion you get a really enjoyable way of seeing your different desktops. I use this feature every day and when I switch over to my Mac, I wish it was there (However, with Leopard, Apple’s new OS, this feature is there. They call it Spaces.).

All of the other standard apps are here that let you browse the Internet, check your email, instant message your friends, manage you music and pictures, and watch movies. And like PCLOS, Ubuntu is completely free. All-in-all this has been an enjoyable experience; much better than my last venture into the world of Ubuntu. So, for now, I’m going to continue using Ubuntu and see how it goes.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

21 October 2007

Collect (Prayer) for the Week: Pentecost, Proper 24

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

14 October 2007

Collect: Pentecost, Proper 23

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

12 October 2007

Different Expressions

'What if well-funded megachurches decided to see some home-based faith communities as partners in ministry, so they could overlap and share resources and not see one another as enemies or even alternatives, but as two expressions of the same thing? That takes us in the direction I think we need to go, and will be good for the whole range of faith communities.'

Brian D. McLaren


I find that quote very exciting. I have never looked at other denominations in this light before and it brings a whole new view from which we can all work together. The problem comes, of course, when we see 'our church' as the 'right' way of 'doing church' instead of a different expression of people who are trying to following Jesus.

What would happen if we tried to follow this model? I think we would be closer to what Jesus prayed in John 17:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

'...that they may become completely one...' I see in this phrase the notion that there will be differences with each other. And that's natural because we are all different. So, this to me, shows that the different expressions of the church becoming completely one is a process. It's going to take time. But the question is, are we working toward that completeness? Are we making strives to show the 'world', i.e., those outside the church, that we are all actually different expressions of the same thing? That we accept different Christian traditions as our brothers and sisters? I pray that this is so.

I can almost hear the cries now. 'But they believe in predestination!' Or, 'They believe in free will!' Or, 'They believe in speaking in tongues!' Or, 'They don't believe the Eucharist actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus!' Or, 'They don't even call it the Eucharist!' And the list goes on and on and on ad nauseam. But do you notice what these are? These are all secondary issues. What we have done is we have taken secondary issues and promoted them to primary issues. Therefore, because of our sudo-primary issues have been looked down upon, we feel we have the right to split the local church; to mutilate the body of Christ. What we must do, family, is remove this pride in ourselves and realize that those sudo-primary issues are just that -- false primary issues. We need to get back to the real primary issues. What are they? The Nicene Creed contains the primary issues. If there is an expression of Christ's body that believes that, then everything else is a secondary issue. Sure, the secondary issues can be debated over, and should be. But they should never, never, be used to dismember the precious body of our Lord Jesus. Those secondary issues, those differences, are there to help the body of Christ reach the world. They should not be seen as a dividing line. Through the Providence of our Lord, those secondary issues have been given to the church to help implement God's kingdom on earth.

So instead of letting those secondary issues divide us, we should see them as different expressions of the same thing and work toward becoming completely one.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

11 October 2007

All Authority?

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Matthew 28.18-20



I have been thinking about this passage for a few days now and I am still contemplating verse 18. Jesus said, 'All authority...on earth has been given to me.' What does this mean?

Some have stated 'all authority on earth' means:

Clarke -- '[To] convert sinners; to sanctify, protect, and perfect his Church; to subdue all nations to himself; and, finally, to judge all mankind.'

Henry -- [Having] prevailed with God, by the sacrifice of atonement, he prevails with men, and deals with them as one having authority, by the ministry of reconciliation. He is indeed, in all causes and over all persons, supreme Moderator and Governor. By him kings reign. All souls are his, and to him every heart and knee must bow, and every tongue confess him to be the Lord. This our Lord Jesus tells them, not only to satisfy them of the authority he had to commission them, and to bring them out in the execution of their commission, but to take off the offence of the cross; they had no reason to be ashamed of Christ crucified, when they saw him thus glorified.

Gill -- '...not only to the saints, whose King he is, and who are made willing to serve him; but to all flesh, to kings and princes, who rule and reign by him; and even to all the wicked of the world, who in some shape or another are made to subserve the ends of his mediatorial kingdom and government: and this is not usurped power, but what is given him, and what he has a right to exercise; having finished sin, abolished death, overcome the world, and destroyed the devil; and must reign till all enemies are subject to him...'

So, I guess my question here is: is this just in the 'unseen' world? I don't know if I buy that. Jesus' whole ministry was about bringing heaven (i.e., the realm of God) to earth (the realm of humanity). He instructed us to pray 'Your kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven'. It seems to me that his whole ministry was concerned with the whole person, with all of creation, not just some platonic dualism where the 'really important part' is in the unseen world.

No. The whole verse seems to counter just that type of thinking. Jesus was given authority 'in heaven' -- so he has spiritual authority. But then he says he was also given authority 'on earth'. This can't mean he was also given spiritual authority 'on earth'. That doesn't make any sense. No. This seems to be saying that Jesus has been given the same type of authority on earth that he has in 'heaven'.  So what does this look like?  Can you think of some examples where Jesus' authority is manifested 'on earth'?

Peace be with you.

+ OD

05 October 2007

The editor formally known as 'P'

For those of us who aren't aware, 'P' (which stands for priestly) is a member of the Documentary Hypothesis. He is seen as the last source (or next to last source) in a line of four editors who compiled the Pentateuch (Genesis -- Deuteronomy). Supposedly, this source was composed and edited circa 550-400 BCE while in exile during the Babylonian captivity. 'P' is said to see God as a 'distant and unmerciful' god and uses 'Elohim' for God's name. Also, 'P' is supposed to be saying that God didn't create the cosmos ex nihilo, i.e., from nothing, because Genesis 1.2 states, 'The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.'. This (supposedly) indicates that there was something already here (the deep waters) when God started the Genesis project.

Some of you are going, 'Wait. What?' I know. I have some issues with this, too. Here are a few things that I want to point out.

First, concerning the author/editor of the Pentateuch:
Deuteronomy is pretty clear that Moses wrote and compiled the Pentateuch -- 'When Moses had finished writing this entire body of instruction in a book...' (Deut. 31.24). Also, 2Chronicles states, '...Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that was written by Moses' (34.14). In the New Testament, Jesus made several statements that leads one to believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (e.g., Matt. 5.17; 19.8; Mark 12.26; etc.) Over and over we read things like 'Moses said' or 'the Law of Moses' or 'Moses wrote'. For centuries both Jews and Christians believed that Moses was the writer of the Pentateuch. Some have concluded that while Moses was using some other material in some places, he still wrote or edited the Pentateuch.

It may come as no surprise (it didn't to me) that the Documentary Hypothesis started in the Enlightenment. Thomas Hobbes started the debate that Moses couldn't be the author and gave a bunch of 'proof texts'. This was then taken on by a lot of other people. (The list is too lengthy to mention here. If you are truly interested, you can read the link provided at the top.) Needless to say, it came to be accepted by some that there were probably at least four different original source documents to the Pentateuch -- J, E, D, and P -- with P being the latest. There are still scores of people -- theologians, scholars, and laity -- who don't feel the 'evidence' is quite that solid. This leads me to the next point.

Second, concerning P's use of 'Elohim':
If we were Jews, living in exile in Babylon, we would have to ask why we're there. Over and over again in 'The Law of Moses' we would have been warned of the consequences of our actions if we did not follow the covenant. Specifically, we were warned that if we followed other gods, we would be driven from the land. So, if I was a priest, living in exile in Babylon, knowing that we were driven from the land for following other gods, and was writing about how the God of Israel created the world, what name would I give God? YHWH. Without question. I mean, think about it. We are in exile for worshiping 'Elohim' -- 'godS'. I most certainly would not write a opening for our Scriptures that had any reference to Elohim! That would be scandalous. And it might further our exile if I didn't give YHWH glory for what YHWH had done. Especially if this addition 'forced' others to continue in that idolatry. Does that make any sense? (So why was Elohim used? I don't know.)

Thirdly, concerning the cosmos not being created ex nihilo:
Verse two does state most clearly that the 'earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters'. However, instead of saying that this proves that something was already here and that God just retooled it for God's own purposes; what if we see it as the first part of the creation process. I mean, one of the ways of translating verse one is, 'When God was creating the heavens and the earth; the earth...'. To me, this gives the impression that this is what God started with. Furthermore, again, the New Testament is quite clear that God created the cosmos from nothing:
John 1.3 (NLT): God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.

1Cor. 8.6 (NLT):
But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.

Col. 1.16 (NLT):
for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.

Hebrews 11.3 (NLT):
By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

From these verses, as well as several hundred years of traditional understanding of these verses, we see that God created everything including the deep water in Genesis 1.2. In fact, another way of translating the phrase is, 'When God began creating the heavens and the earth, the earth...'

Thirdly, concerning God was 'distant':
This is unfounded, imo. Look at the text and see where God is very much active in a 'hands on' kind of way. They text uses three different ways of referring to the creation of the cosmos: God created, God said, and God made. Each of these are different words in Hebrew and, if we focus on 'made', we see that God was very much involved in creation. The word made gives the impression of taking existing material and forming something -- like cutting down a tree and making a table. The Psalmist poetically declared that God placed the stars in their places by 'the work of [God's] fingers' (Ps 8.3). We also have God 'blessing' aquatic and human life with sexual intercourse and 'telling' the humans what they and the rest of the animal kingdom were to eat (btw, it was only a vegetarian diet).

Lastly, I want to say that I enjoy the challenge of new ideas. It is always important to question why we believe what we believe. And, it doesn't really bother me that there were probably different editors (redactors) of the Hebrew Scriptures (just like there were of the Christian Scriptures). What bothers me is when we start with a premise or our own ideas and thoughts and read that into the text. This is called eisegesis. Our job as students of the Bible and followers of Jesus is to engage in exegesis, i.e., of digging out what the text is actually saying and have that challenge our thoughts and ideas.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

01 October 2007

Eucharistic Visitor

I have been appointed as a Eucharistic Visitor.  I have this honor for three years and the privilege of serving the community of St. John's.  I had to attend a training class and fill out some paper work but my 'certification' was issued by Bishop Moody on August 18th, 2007.

So what is a Eucharistic Visitor?  Good question!  What we do is extend the Eucharist to the parish family who can't attend the public service.  We take bulletins, altar flowers, the Lessons, and a little Eucharist kit to people who are in the hospital or home bound for whatever reason.  We receive our kits right after the rest of the body has partaken of the elements and go directly to the other members.  This extends the worship for those people who can't attend.  It's such an honor to be able to do this.  It is also very humbling.  And I have been twice.  The first time, I went with someone else to see how it's done.  (I found out a couple of weeks later that the gentleman we saw had died.  It changed the way I saw the EV ministry.)  Yesterday I went solo and visited a nice lady at the Veteran's Hospital.  We talked briefly and then shared the Eucharist.  It was great.

My only regret is that I wished I had been able to do this with my Mother.  I never got the opportunity to share the Meal with her while she was in this realm of existence.  I know that we celebrate it every week, that she is at the table with me (as well as the rest of my family that has gone 'to be with the Lord') but I it would have been nice.

If you have something like this at your local fellowship, I would highly recommend getting involved.  If there isn't, perhaps you could 'plant the seed' and get one started.  It is a very important ministry.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

27 September 2007

African-American, Asian-American, Native-American and...

...White?

What is wrong with this picture? Does anyone else see the obvious racism in this list? It's not right to say, 'Black person, Yellow person, Red person', so why is it alright to say 'White person'? Does anyone else see the double-standard here?

Have we become too politically correct for our own good? 'Those terms are used in derogatory ways by whites', some will say. And we don't think that 'whites' is derogatory? Or is that the point?

Has the 'white, heterosexual, male' been in power so long that he is seen as public enemy number one? I mean, if you listen to other people, he is blamed for a lot of the problems in the world.  Mind you, this isn't without merit. History is full of his actions.  Even today, there are some Anglo-American males who have just continued the oppression. They feel that they are better than other people because of something as silly as skin color. Some of them are stupid enough to say and think 'foreigners' need to go back to their own country. Seriously? Have they forgotten that everyone other than the Indigenous people of North America are 'foreigners'? Or have they forgotten that a lot of the 'foreigners' were forcibly brought here? And most of those people by their Anglo-American ancestors?  And that, after a hundred years (heck, after the first generation of people born here) those 'foreigners' have become 'authentic' Americans?

Furthermore, it seems that people forget that all people have fought over tribal lands, oppressed other people, and persecuted those people the powers felt threated by or saw as disposable or were just different. This type of 'power' is seen in the non-human creation even among the matriarchal societies (think of ants, for example). Do we think it would be any different if some other people 'group' was in power?

Here's an idea. Let's lay all the cards on the table, shall we? Let's admit that we all have pasts of which we are not proud. And stop pretending that it is okay to call each other names if you are from that same culture. (You probably thought I was going to miss that point, huh?) Then let's realize there is only one race. It is the human race. We are all brothers and sisters. 'From one ancestor [God] made all nations' (Acts 17.26). Those 'nations' are the different cultures we see in the world. No one is better than another based on language or skin or hair or whatever. We are the same race. We are different cultures.

Therefore, let's do one of two things:  Either stop calling Anglo-American people 'white' or start calling us all Americans.  I vote the latter.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

25 September 2007

'Sick to my guts...'

I usually don't make posts like this because I'm way outta my element. But I am sick of all of the hype I see in the media. The whole one sided take on journalism. Each program has an agenda. As my wife says, 'You find what you're looking for'. It would absolutely kill a mainstream media person like Olbermann to say President Bush has done something good and right. Likewise it would kill a 'talk radio' media person like Limbaugh to say that Senator Clinton or Senator Obama did something good and right. We are a country shown the extremes. Most of the mainstream media are such Bush haters, that's right I stated 'haters', that they would actually explode if they had to report on the good that he has done. Likewise 'Fox' news and talk radio hosts are such Democrat haters that they, too, would explode if they had to report on any good that they have done. 'Fair and balanced' my butt! Everyone, everyone has their agenda. It is so true that we find what we are looking for. The mainstream media seems to only report on the stuff that pushes their anti-Bush, anti-Republican agenda. Likewise, talk radio and the like seems to only report on the stuff that pushes their anti-Hilary, anti-Democratic agenda.

And I'm so sick to my guts of it.

I try and listen to both sides of the story but it is so hard to listen through all the second-grade name calling and hype. No one is really talking about anything. Both sides are only showing and pushing the extreme of the opposing view. A good example of this is when I saw a small bit of Bill Maher the other night. I usually don't watch his program because of this very issue but we were up late and channel surfing. Mos Def was one of the guests. He made the statement (and this is paraphrased, you can read the transcript here), 'Everybody wants to be America's friend. And America goes to these places and kills people!' To which Bill replied, 'Islam spread through the sword. Have you read your history?'

'Yes.'

'Then you know for a hundred years the Muslims almost conquered the whole known world and were killing anyone who would not convert to their faith.'

'That's a very convenient revision of history.'

'Really? So, Muslims are better people?'

This is exactly what I'm talking about. One extreme or the other. You are either a murdering, religious, fanatical prude or an open-minded, free-thinking, humanist philanthropist. This is such crap!

The answer is in the middle somewhere where we all live. But that position will not win an election. That position will not even get you on TV or the radio. Nope. People like the dark contrast between the 'evil' Republicans and the 'good' Democrats or the 'good' Republicans and the 'evil' Democrats. 'They (fill in your nemesis here) only want to take away your rights!'

It seems that you can't be a Republican unless you are for guns, war, low taxes, and small government. And you can't be a Democrat unless you are for anti-guns, no war, high taxes and big government. But that is the extreme in both parties. A lot of people I know are all for low taxes and small government but at the same time they don't like guns or war.

Something that is going to go by the wayside, i.e., I'm sure that the mainstream media won't comment on it or add it to a Countdown rant, is Senator Clinton was asked if she would bring the troops home during her first year of being president. Her (paraphased) answer? 'We don't know what will be happing then. We don't know how involved Iran will be. We don't know what Iraq will be like. Etc.' What? She is demanding that we bring our troops home now but sidesteps the issue if she were president?!? 'This is George Bush's war' was her cry not too long ago. Now she doesn't want to make a stand to say she will bring the troops home if she's elected?

And don't even get me started on the whole General Petraeus thing. I have seen where one side is saying that President Bush is the one who has desecrated the General and the other side is pointing out that it was the Democrats that wanted the report in the first place but now don't like the outcome. I hate that we have made the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people political.

Where is the voice of the people? Or, is there really just a few of us that are actually in the dreaded (and hated) middle? Maybe I'm naive and the country really is extremist one way or the other. Maybe that's why I'm an Episcopalian.

Here is a prayer that all of us should be able to pray whichever side of the aisle we're on:

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.


Lord, keep this nation under your care.


To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.

For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

22 September 2007

Slave or Free?

'Freedom in Jesus looks like slavery to the world, and indeed it is slavery to God and to righteousness, and in following Christ, if need be, even to death, which brings the final freedom, especially at the resurrection.'

This is a quote from Ted over at Jesus Community. He was responding to comments made to his post Freedom. And I think it's brilliant. What I think is important in all of this is a question that a lot of people don't even ask: What has our 'freedom' cost us? In other words, we may think we are free, but we are enslaved by that very thing we are free to do. Alcohol is a perfect example of that. We are free to choose to drink or not to drink. That is one of the 'rights' we have living as free people in the USA (as well as other countries). But at what cost? There are some people who can't drink alcohol. They become addicts. But, by god, they freely chose to drink! It is their 'god given right' to drink! But, again, at what cost? Alcoholics lose almost everything -- jobs, family, health, and sometimes the lives of others and sometimes even their own lives. Is that worth it? Some people say 'yes'. But others would heartily say 'no'. So that's the rub.

Following Jesus is all about laying aside our (supposed) freedom and becoming a willing slave. Did you catch that?  We are slaves one way or the other.  We will be forced to be slaves of something (alcohol, sex, drugs, work, country, 'freedom', etc.) or someone (usually ourselves) or we can choose to be slaves of Jesus.  And in choosing Jesus we are expected to put our loyalty to Jesus before everything else -- spouse, family, friends, community, country, etc. Everything must be considered to be a steaming pile of...loss...when evaluating following Jesus or not. As Ted states in the post and comments, we are expected to 'cut off' whatever won't conform. This is a brutal thing we are talking about here. Following Jesus -- truly, honestly -- is not for the weak.

Something that I have brought up in the Men's Bible Study group at church is the very 'either/or' picture painted in the Bible. It seems over and over again, there are only two sides. Take our Gospel reading for this week, Luke 16.1-13. Jesus said, 'No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other' (v. 13). Notice that it is so 'black and white' in this section. We can't serve personal freedom and Jesus. We will 'hate one and love the other'...we will 'be devoted to one and despise the other.' I understand that Jesus is talking about money in the story but I think the application is far reaching. It shows that people are enslaved. Even 'free' people. The question is, who is the master? Is it ourselves or is it Jesus? That, to me, is the biggest obstacle for people, not only today, in this culture, but for all time. We are commanded to conform to Jesus. To be like him. And he was all about self-sacrifice. People don't like that. People want to be able to (supposedly) do what they want when they want it. But that is a smokescreen. It's a flat out lie. We have never been able to just do what we want. We are, by our very natures as created beings, servants. We will always serve someone or something. Jesus is calling people to serve him instead of all the 'posers' out there. And the biggest poser of them all is freedom.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

19 September 2007

Quote

From my reading for EfM class:
How a community worships its god or gods [goddess or goddesses -- OD] shows how that community sees the very foundations of its culture.

Given today's culture, what are your thoughts of this?

Peace be with you.

+ OD

18 September 2007

Formerly

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1Timothy 1.12-17 (NRSV)



I want talk about change. In this passage, St Paul wrote that he was 'formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence'. The key word here is 'formerly'. Too often, especially in our culture today, we don't want to talk about personal change. That is, we don't want to admit that we might need to change; that we might be wrong about things in our lives; we might be wrong about our lifestyles; we might be wrong in our attitudes. In our Men's group, there is a gentleman who often defines 'sin' as 'something that (physically) harms someone else'. Yet, St Paul stated that he was 'formerly a blasphemer'. Blaspheming doesn't hurt anyone else. And yet, he used to be that way. This is important. It reminds me of another passage. In Colossians, St Paul wrote:

 



Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Colossians 3.5-11 (NRSV)



Here, again, we see that the Colossians used to be a certain way and do certain things. But now they don't. Why is that? The reason is pretty clear. When someone becomes a Christian, Jesus changes us. You can't come to the table and not be changed. However, we must realize that change does not come all at once. It is a process. On the other hand, as we can see from both passages, there is an understood change that takes place within a person's life that manifests itself in actions. Paul wrote the he used to be a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man. But we don't see any of those things continuing on after his conversion. It is the same in Colossians. Some of them, before Jesus, used to be fornicators, impure, etc. These things were not acceptable behavior for someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus. But as the next verse shows, they still had some changing to do. And these things, primarily, didn't have anything to do with physically harming other people. They were attitudes and intentions. I can almost hear some people saying, 'God made me this way.' Yet St Paul is clear. You must change those things. New Creation has taken place and that must permeate the old creation. This is not just limited to our actions but includes our attitudes and intentions and desires.


My question is where are the people who are speaking out on these matters? Specifically, where are the church leaders who are speaking out on these issues?


'Sin' has been classified as separation from God. But it is also (or should be) separation from each other, as well. We can't live any way we want. There are behaviors that are acceptable and some that are not. Again, St Paul was very clear on this matter. In 1Corinthians 5 (the whole chapter), St Paul condemns the actions of both the church and the church member living in sin. He wrote:



I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.

1Corinthians 5.1-2 (NLT)



He goes on to write that if this behavior continues in the church it will spread like yeast in dough; pretty soon the whole church will be contaminated. He wrote that, when he told them to not associate with sexually immoral people, he was not talking about people outside the church. 'God will judge those outside' the church, he wrote (v. 13a). But we, that is, the Christian community, are supposed to judge those inside the church and 'remove the evil person' from among us. There seemed to be a 'moral code' among the early church. There was an morality that people in the church 'must' live by. And if someone doesn't, the the church is to remove such a person from the community.


I know that this is hard. But that is the way it has to be. We must stop looking at Christianity as a 'religion' and realize what it actually is -- the new way of life. The new way of life in the new country. The new way of life, in the new country, in the New Creation. It is the way of being truly human. The old way of being human is not to be here. That life, that way of acting, thinking -- and yes, evening being -- those ways are to be done away with.


When we come to faith in Jesus, we are not to remain the same. There are things in our lives that need to, nay, must change. It is the responsibility of the church to step up and tell their communities that we must change. That there are things that are not acceptable within the church.


Now, the question is, from where do we get this 'moral code'? Do we get this from the culture around us? Do we get this from within ourselves? Or is there another source of 'authority'? The Episcopal Church, to the shock and dismay of some without and within, sees the Bible as this authority. But it is not alone. The Bible, together with Tradition (church history) and Reason (based on the Bible and Tradition) are to be used in concert together to address these issues. And here is one way of looking at the issues of personal change: What does society accept? If society accepts something, we need to look long and hard at it within the New Creation of God. Just because it is accepted in our culture does not automatically mean we should accept it within the church.


Now, let me say something else here. Jesus is all about bringing in the people that society kicks to the curb, as the saying goes. He seems most particularly drawn to the people that are the outcasts. These people are often looked down upon by society -- prostitutes, people with chemical addictions, the homeless, the homosexual, et al. And it is these people with whom Jesus was often associated. Heck, he even ate with them! That equated to those people being accepted as members of his family. But, and here is the rub, they were not to stay that way. That is, just because someone was accepted just as he or she is doesn't mean she or he was expected to stay that way. Jesus changes people. He has to. He is all about bringing his New Creation to every part of creation, including the human condition. He told the woman caught in adultery, 'Go and sin no more' (John 8.11). He didn't condemn her, but he told her she must change. That is hard to hear. That is something that the church needs to tell its communities. Again, not those outside the family of God but those inside it need to know that there are somethings that should not be accepted or allowed.


Lastly, I am not posting all of this to sound 'holier that thou'. God forbid. I, too, am a sinner saved by God's grace alone. But I have changed a lot. But I have a long, long way to go.


Peace be with you.


+ OD

12 September 2007

Education for Ministry

efm.pngI am so excited!  I have started EfM this year and am chomping at the bit.  This is a four year program to help people with ministry.  It covers the basics of a theological education in the Old and New Testaments, church history, liturgy, and theology.  Last night was the first class and it covered the typical introductory stuff.  One thing that is done at the beginning each year is to establish Guiding Principles -- kind of a guide to help us keep on track.  A couple of the best things was confidentiality and 'no cross-talking'.  These two things alone will help set a nice 'safe' place for us to discuss things openly without worry of childish name-calling.  Another important guide is that of growth.  The idea is that we come to class with the mind set on being stretched theologically.

This is more of a 'student led' type of course, meaning that we don't have a 'teacher' but a mentor.  Our mentor is there to guide the conversations and help keep us on task.  This is crucial because all years are in the same room.  We have all four year students in our group so the conversations should be rather exciting and challenging.

Each year we are given a 3", 3-ringed binder filled with that years assigned readings.  On top of that, we also have a Common Lesson binder.  There is just one of those, however.  There are also additional resource suggestions.

Every class (and we meet every week except for regular holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Spring Break) for nine months) open and closes with...well...and Opening and Closing.  There are just little poems or songs or prayers or short stories, etc., to help us focus in and get us ready for class or give us something to ponder as we leave class.

I could go on and on.  Needless to say that I will keep you posted as this journey continues.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

23 August 2007

iMac

iMacAs some of you know, I am a Geek. I own my own computer consulting business and last night was a special treat. One of my clients asked me to accompany her to purchase a new computer. And not just any computer. A brand-spanking new iMac. In case you don't know, the iMac is made by Apple Inc. It is a all-in-one design that is beautiful as well as practical. It comes in either a 20" or 24" model. My client opted for the 20" model (after much discussion). Here are the other hardware specs:

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo

  • 1GB memory

  • 320GB SATA hard drive

  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive

  • ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO with 256MB memory

  • AirPort Extreme (802.11n wifi)

  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR

  • Apple Keyboard

  • Apple Remote

  • Mighty Mouse


Each model comes with an iSight camera (for video chat), SuperDrive (DVD burner), Mac OS X (of course), and iLife (Apple's multimedia suite), just to mention a few. She also purchased an Airport Extreme wireless base station.


As noted, the new iMac comes with the new 802.11n wireless technology. This is new technology provides up to five times the performance and up to twice the range compared to the earlier 802.11g standard.

Last night, I set up the new iMac and configured it. Next, I installed the Airport Extreme base station and installed the software. Once the iMac rebooted (which took all of 20 seconds, max), I launched the wifi config tool and set up the base station wirelessly. Yep, you read that right. In the past, when setting up a wireless router (beit Linksys or Dell or whomever) I would always have to set it up through a Cat5 ethernet cable first. Not so with the iMac! The iMac saw the base station and I set it up and then connected to it. The other cool part? Her existing WindowsXP computer was plugged into the base station via ethernet cable and I could see iMac. I copied her 'My Pictures' folder to the iMac.

Front RowWhile we were doing that, I testing Front Row. This is a really cool app that allows your Mac to become a virtual entertainment hub. With the use of the Apple Remote, you can select between iTunes, iPhoto, Videos, or DVDs. The menu becomes full screen when you select the Menu button on the remote. We put in a DVD in the slot loading Optical Drive and then selected DVD from the menu. It loaded the DVD and we were given some different options but I just select Play. Soon we were watching the trailer for 'The Nativity' (which sounded wonderful on her Bose 2.1 speakers).

I have more work to do over there today, but all-in-all, both me and my client, are excited about her new adventure.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

21 August 2007

Proper 16 + Tuesday

A reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians by Clement, Bishop of Rome [c. 100]

Beloved, see what a marvelous thing love is, its perfection is beyond our expression.  Who can truly love save those to whom God grants it?  We ought to beg and beseech him in his mercy that our love may be genuine, unmarred by any too human inclination.  From Adam down to the present time all generations have passed away; but those who were perfected in love by God’s grace have a place among the saints who will be revealed when the kingdom of Christ comes to us.  As it is written: ‘Enter your chambers for a little while, until my wrath and anger pass away; and I shall remember a good day and raise you from your graves.’  We are blessed, beloved, if we fulfill the commands of the Lord in harmonious, loving union, so that through love our sins may be forgiven.  For it is written: ‘Blessed are those whose transgression are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one to whom the Lord imputes not iniquity, and in whose mouth there is no deceit.’  This is the blessing that has been given to those who have been chosen by God through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever.

We should pry then that we may be granted forgiveness for our sins and for whatever we may have done when led astray by our adversary’s servants.  And as for those who were the leaders of the schism and the sedition, they too should look to the common hope.  For those who live in pious fear and in love are willing to endure torment rather than have their neighbor suffer; and they more willingly suffer their own condemnation than the loss of that harmony that has been so nobly and righteously handed down to us.  For it is better to confess one’s sins that to harden one’s heart.

Who then among you is generous, who is compassionate, who is filled with love?  You should speak out as follows: If I have been the cause of sedition, conflict, and schisms, then I shall depart; I shall go away wherever you wish, and I shall do what the community wants, if only the flock of Christ live in peace with the presbyters who are set over them.  Whoever acts thus would win great glory in Christ, and would be received everywhere, ‘for the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.’  Thus have they acted in the past and will continue to act in the future who live without regret as citizens in the city of God.

--------

Peace be with you.

+ OD

13 August 2007

The Heart of a Daughter

The heart of a daughter is a precious and fragile thing. And yet, it is the most resilient Juggernaut of all hearts. I see in the brokenness of my daughter's heart, my heart. It is my belief that every Father's heart grows with the breaking of his daughter's heart. Not that it doesn't grow at other times, but when a daughter's heart is breaking and broken, the swell of love and compassion is unspeakable. It almost becomes a mother's heart. Almost.

The Father's heart is a strange thing. At times, it must be 'tough' at the expense of being compassionate. But even in that toughness, the compassion runs through. In the quiet moments, the compassion demands to be heard. The toughness runs like a scared child and the compassion, with groans that cannot be understood, comes rushing forward. It is almost like birth pangs. Almost.

It's times like these I question. I question God and Love and all that makes me a Christian. Not to the point of losing my faith. No. It is that faith that sustains me through these times and out the other side. I am mature enough to know that it is because of times like these that a person truly grows. That 'what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.' But my daughter...my precious only child... doesn't understand that. She can't. She is in the worst pain of her young life. And I haven't the heart to tell her again that it will only happen again. And again. And, perhaps, again.

But, this is like being in shark infested waters. This is where I realize that I am not yet what I need to be. I don't have the words for either my daughter or my wife. Both are in pain and grieving. I can only think of my Mother and how she would have handled it. I'm certain she would have been just like me...in uncharted territory. We know that this is hard. The heart is a strange and wonderful thing. It breaks but is not irreparable. It shatters but is still whole. Almost.

I wish I had the answers for my daughter. But, only in a selfish way. I am glad that I don't have the answers. I am hopeful, that is, full of hope, that through this, she will see Jesus more clearly. I don't know how. But I know she will.

Please pray for us as we go through this and out the other side.

Peace be with you.

+ OD