Monday, November 12, 2012

Debt and Forgiveness

I'd like to look at debt and forgiveness. Facebook friends have already been warned this examination was coming; I hope it's worth the wait.

Let's begin with some Bible citations.

Job 1:20-22

Luke 12:16-21

Luke 7:40-50

Luke 11:1-4

Luke 20:20-26

Romans 13

Luke 18:18-30

And finally, Acts 2:42-47

And now, let's see what all this means.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Return to Normal

Today is Thursday, November 1. In five more days we'll vote in the General Election for the President of the United States, as well as for senators and representatives to our national legislature. A host of other candidates will be vying for our votes, as well as a variety of issues depending on our particular location.

I'm looking forward to the conclusion of this year's election campaign. The heated, partisan rhetoric has gotten pretty toxic in a lot of races. The name-calling in some cases has reached epic proportions. Promises to refrain from negative ads have gone by the wayside, and the nastiness has gotten worse and worse. When the election is over and decided, we can return to normal.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Religious Conservatism and Me

Last week I shared a link on Facebook about a group of extreme Russian Orthodox believers who see the logo of Apple, the maker of iPhones, iPads, and all things Mac, as blasphemous, insofar as it represents original sin. I posted that I thought that religious conservatives needed to get out more.

A good friend of mine commented that he was a religious conservative and that he was well-traveled. These are all true, and moreover, he's also a very good man, and one I am proud to have as a friend. He also indicated that not all religious conservatives were narrow-minded bigots, and that intolerance could be found in liberal circles as well. All of this is true as well.

However, all this did get me thinking about exactly what words might be used to describe my own beliefs. After some thought, here's what I've come up with.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sin and Sinner

Sin and sinner - how are we to deal with them?

We're told, "Hate the sin, love the sinner." Is it really that easy? And more - is it even possible?

I'd like to propose that this is misguided teaching, and that from a technical standpoint, it's not even possible to divide a person and his or her actions quite so easily.

Let's begin with what we read in Scripture. First, a passage from Psalm 139:21-22 (ESV):

21  Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22  I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Believe...

Bill Nye (the Science Guy) has ignited a small firestorm by doing a video that has been posted to YouTube. Check it out:

The result of talking about Creationism as bogus has been pretty predictable, at least in this country. On the one hand, atheists have come out in strong support for the thesis of the video. On the other hand, young Earth creationists have decried his lack of faith. And there's a strong contingent of theistic evolutionists who say, "Why should we make a distinction? Why can't we believe that God was and is involved in the ongoing evolution of life on Earth?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I've been following the election campaign - reluctantly - since last year. Now that we have a presumptive Republican nominee, and a running mate for him, things are beginning to get interesting.

The tenor of the campaign rhetoric is heated. The positions are defended vociferously. And the name-calling and character assassination are epic.

The essence of this year's installment of The Struggle for Power is the same as it's always been. Here's my synopsis of what all the candidates, and all their SuperPACs, are saying. See if you don't agree:

"If X (a) gets into office, or (b) stays in office, (s)he will take away Y, which you've had all along. Don't let that happen!"

Monday, August 13, 2012

What Is Best in Life

There are competing versions of what is best in life, what life's objective should be, why we continue to live. We get them from our religious leaders, from movies, from our parents, or we hammer them out on our own.

Here are three statements that answer that question...

"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."

"Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values."

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

The first quote is from Conan the Barbarian, the original movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The second is from Ayn Rand.

The third is from Micah 6:8 (NIV) in the Old Testament.

Here's my question for the day - Which of these competing visions of life's meaning animates your life? More to the point, which is sustainable for not only yourself, but for society as a whole? And finally, which will continue to work for your children, and theirs?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Control Freaks Part 4

Power, control, and freedom. That's a strange sort of trinity.

Power and the drive to control, as we most often view them, are temporary, partial, and circumstantial.

The knowledge that we use to evaluate our options is incomplete.

The freedom we seek by driving for more control is often an illusion.

I am not writing these words to deny that all efforts at control are wrong or evil. I am writing them to say that we often, too often, go overboard in our desire to have ultimate control. There are more hands on the steering wheel of life than our own, and that doesn't even account for the other vehicles on the road.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Control Freaks Part 3

Control for us human beings is not unlimited. Neither is freedom.

These words may sound like a heresy. But I think they're very true.

Control means that we have the power of choice. We can choose to do one thing, or another. Perhaps there are more than two choices, and we can choose any of them. We have freedom of action.

However, I've been saying for the past two days that our sense of control is probably greater than the reality of that control. If that's true - and I haven't seen any reason to believe otherwise - then our freedom of action is also more limited than we realize.

If our freedom of action is limited, then there are some things over which we can't exert any control. Back and around and here again.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Control Freaks Part 2

Control is never complete.

I guess that's a short summary of what I've learned about control over the course of my life. In fact, it's far from complete. In fact, that we have much control at all verges on being a miracle.

So. In the first post in this series, I discussed some scenarios in which people experience different degrees of control over their lives. In just about every one, at some point, the wheels fall off the wagon and the formerly smooth trip becomes a breakdown.

How do we react to this event?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Control Freaks Part 1

Let's explore control.

For some time now, I've been meditating on the desire of us human beings to have control over our lives. I've come to this conclusion:  Control is an illusion, as is safety. This, of course, is not without some nuance.

First, let's talk about control.

If we're in control of our lives, we can direct events and outcomes to be what we desire. We can make sure that the re-fi on our home goes through without a hitch. We can insure that we don't contract some crippling disease. We can certify that we'll live long, happy lives, free from sorrow or regret.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Challenge

Another long hiatus, and so much has happened. And I've got a few things, but not a lot, to say about it all.

My last post was three months ago today. My wife had left Kansas City on Saturday before Easter, April 7, with a group of several other people to spend two weeks in Liberia on the west coast of Africa. When she returned she had so much to talk about, so many memories to process, that those tasks are still underway. To say that there was a culture shock would be a gross understatement. One incident can speak for this sense of dislocation.

After she returned, Dyann was outside watering some of our plants around the house. She reached down to the faucet to turn it on, and suddenly realized just how easy it was for her to have water to use, water that was pure enough to drink right from the hose. In contrast, when she was in Liberia, water had to be pumped by hand from wells dug into the reddish soil, and then mixed with chlorine bleach to purify it. Hot water wasn't often available for showers, and the typical method of bathing was a "bucket bath," using water dipped from large barrels with buckets. You stood on a hard floor, dipped your sponge or wash rag into the bucket, and washed and rinsed yourself with that bit of H2O. It's a different world outside the boundaries of the United States, and she had seen this difference first-hand in Liberia.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter - Celebration and Reality

This is a love letter.

First, this is a love letter to my G-d, the Creator and Lord of the universe. I wouldn't be writing this without his presence in my life. All honor and glory to him, for ever and ever.

Second, this is a love letter to my wife.

Easter, as a holiday, has come and gone. We're now in the first week of Eastertide, barely inside the front door, as it were. What we celebrate at Easter, the holiday, and during Eastertide, is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Messiah from death. Rebirth, regeneration, renewal - these are themes that are always present during this time of year.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He Is Risen

He is risen...

He must be risen. He's not there in the grave anymore. I, Simon, have seen the grave, the wrappings rolled up and at either end of the burial slab. The grave was empty - he wasn't there.

The women went there early this morning, to anoint the body, they said. I wonder how they expected to do that. The High Council of our nation had gotten guards to be posted there. It was said that the guards were there to keep us from taking his body away.

And yet... And yet, the women were able to see inside the grave. The heavy stone had been rolled away, and the guards were like dead men. They were dumbstruck, unconscious. They were no guards at all.

The grave was empty. The women saw a young man dressed in white, who told them that the Master was not there, and that we would see him soon. He wasn't there. He was not there.

How could this have been? How can the dead rise? We were told that he had died. John was given care of Jesus' mother. He was able to brave the top of Skull Hill, to actually stand there as the Master died on that cross. He was able to do that. I wish I had had the courage...

I have learned about myself from all this. I have learned that I am not as brave as I thought. I have learned that I am not as strong as I thought. I can never forgive myself for what I have done. I did not believe him. I denied him, just as he told me I would. I ran like a coward when the soldiers came and took him away. I can not forgive myself for my weakness.

He called me Peter - the Rock. How little he knew me. I am nothing like a rock. I am a weak, fearful person. Call me Simon; don't call me Peter. I am not a rock.

If he is risen, then everything is changed. Everything he told us, somehow, it must make sense. I haven't been able to understand it all. I may never understand.

I will try to be strong. I will probably fail. I have learned that I can fail despite myself.

If he is risen, then everything is changed, everything is new. What was true then, is not true now. I must understand - I can not live with myself if I fail to understand. Three years of being with him, day and night, three years of eating and drinking, listening and speaking, three years of living with him in all sorts of places. I must see it make sense.

So. I must understand this new thing, and I must live for the next day. If he has died, and then risen alive, then death is no longer a finality. Death holds less terror. Death is not an end.

So. I am Simon, called Peter, a simple man trying to understand my Master, who was called the Son of Man, and the Son of G-d. I will say that this is true. I will act as if it's true. I will believe. I will have faith.

He is risen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

He Said...

He said...

He said he was the way.

    We knew he was special;
    We knew he was unique.
    Nobody taught with authority
    The way he could speak.

    He commanded the demons,
    He commanded the storms.
    He welcomed the people,
    Regardless their forms.

    He broke bread with sinners,
    And scandalized scribes.
    We heard that his betrayal
    Was paid for with bribes.

He said he was the truth.

    He called us little children.
    He called us his flock.
    He said he was Son of Man,
    Son of God, the Majesty, the Rock.

    We heard when he faced Pilate
    He affirmed his true state.
    Even so, Pilate condemned him,
    A sacrifice for those who hate.

    Pilate would not accept
    That truth might be this man.
    Even as he was handed over,
    He said this was God's plan.

He said he was the life.

    We walked with him three years,
    Throughout all this land.
    Healing, preaching, and teaching,
    Inviting and lending the Master's kind hand.

    We had such confidence,
    In the kingdom he proclaimed.
    We saw acts of power,
    For the blind, deaf, and maimed.

    We had such hope,
    That the new kingdom of heaven,
    Would set things aright...
    But now we're eleven.

He said he would be put to death.

    One of us, our own friend,
    Gave him a kiss in the garden.
    The soldiers took him away;
    He was condemned with no pardon.

    We watched from hiding,
    As he was beaten and jeered.
    When he was put before the crowd,
    They - all of them! - cheered.

    "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
    Was the cry of the hour.
    He was without friend or defender,
    Sentenced by Roman power.

He said that he would rise again.

    We can look now,
    At the bloody cross where he hung.
    His body has been taken,
    But no dirges will be sung.

    Somebody has taken him,
    Prepared him for his tomb.
    We are waiting and watching,
    Anticipating our own doom.

    It's so hard, so hard,
    To believe it ends this way.
    The night is covering us now;
    Tomorrow will be fearful day.

He said he was going to prepare a place for us.

    So we cower in fear,
    Not knowing what to think.
    We did not see the new kingdom;
    No, it's bitter wine we drink.

    Tomorrow we will see
    What we must do, where we must go.
    We must make plans for ourselves;
    There may yet be a blow.

    We sit this night in numbness,
    Still failing to comprehend
    What he meant by all he said.
    All is gone, and this is its end.

Psalm 88:18 NET Bible

"You cause my friends and neighbors to keep their distance;
those who know me leave me alone in the darkness."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ecce Homo

The Cross...

    Planted in the stoney ground,
    Blood sprinkled, pooled around,
    Dust, sand, fractured rock,
    Flinty faces, mouths that mock.

The Feet...

    Hanging limply, nailed to wood,
    Sandals missing, no more are shod.
    Journey over, the burden done,
    Battle finished, victory won.

The Hands...

    Fingers bloodied, palms scarred,
    Bearing wounds, iron nails have marred.
    Grappled with Satan, the victory sure,
    Foe defeated by the pure.

The Arms...

    Stretching outwards, embracing all,
    Open wide, overcoming the Fall.
    Raised above the redeemed earth,
    Proclaiming now a second birth.

The Head...

    Crowned with thorns on wounded brow,
    Fallen forward, no life there now.
    The cry was uttered, "It is done!"
    At the  cost of God's own Son.

The Body...

    Suspended heavy from the cross,
    No beating heart, all breath is lost.
    A tear is opened in his chest,
    Flows there mixed blood and water blest.

Behold the Man...

    Our Savior finished what he'd begun.
    The race was over, the prize was won.
    From life to death, and back again,
    Eternal life to children of men.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good Friday, Minus One...

The most holy chamber's veil rending;
Climaxes soon the life of Son of Man.

Execution's fallout soon besetting;
Disciples feel Sanhedrin's awful ban.

A Death breaks sin's iron ceiling;
God-man does what no other person can.

Bread and wine a covenant token;
A Meal shared now saves fallen man.

Master's death impact now bating;
Followers know not what to plan.

Something wonderful is about to happen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Good Friday, Minus Two...

So this is our story so far...

Jesus has been an itinerant rabbi for the last three years, going around Roman-occupied Judea, followed by a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and ne'er-do-wells. He's been preaching about the kingdom of heaven, saying it's real, here and now, and is going to come in even more fullness after some spectacular event in the near future. His followers haven't been able to make sense of these proclamations, but they've nodded and figured that sooner or later he'd make himself clear.

The Passover, the most holy festival of the Jewish nation, is coming up soon. Everyone goes to Jerusalem to celebrate this greatest of holy days. Jesus and his disciples have come as well. His entry into the city was nothing if not unusual - he came riding in on a donkey's colt, an animal that had never been ridden. People lined the road, throwing their cloaks onto the roadway and praising g-d to the highest heavens. They declared Jesus to be "he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

The Roman soldiers guarding the city were on alert for signs of unrest, for any kind of incident that would upset the stalemate that endured in Judea. When some of them saw Jesus riding in with the crowds acclaiming him, they sent word to Pontius Pilate, the governor, that there was something unusual in the air. Pilate was prudent, and he made sure that he was kept up to date on the circumstances about this man Jesus.

Jesus didn't do anything to maintain a low profile either. He drove merchants out of the Temple courts, where they had been selling sacrificial animals and changing Roman coins into the Temple currency. This got the attention of the Sanhedrin, the high priests and their lieutenants, and they began to make plans for their own response to Jesus and the excitement surrounding him.

Soon, Thursday will dawn, and it will be time to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus has already planned to dine with his disciples. He's going to announce something to them, something they will have trouble understanding. Earth-shaking events are in the wings, but no one knows at this point what their effect will be.

The world waits for the next scene in this drama, as do we.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Quid Est Veritas? Part Four

And now we come to the core of the matter.

I've discussed the different types of knowledge, one building on the one before it. I've pointed out how, once we get past the raw physical sensations, we begin to use language to add dimension to our knowledge through narrative about our world and its parts. I've noted how language takes on a social or communal character, so it moves beyond an individualistic concept.

Now I want to look at truth, and how it fits into our Lenten meditations and reflections.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Quid Est Veritas? Part Three

What do you look forward to?

We all have dreams, hopes, some sort of thing that we don't experience yet, but that we hope for sooner or later.

This is what I would call the third kind of knowledge. Just as visceral knowledge is awareness of the stimulations of our nervous systems, and just as conjectural knowledge is a set of narratives about the things that impinge on our lives, anticipatory knowledge is the next level of abstraction from the purely physical.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quid Est Veritas? Part Two

Are you sitting comfortably?

What is under your butt? A chair? A couch? Or perhaps you're standing, reading this on your smartphone. What kind of floor is beneath your feet? What are you wearing on those feet? Shoes? Slippers? Are you barefoot? Why one thing, and not something else?

These questions are based on that first kind of knowledge I wrote about last time, the sensory or visceral knowledge. We don't have to be human to experience this type of awareness. It helps to be human to experience what I've just been asking about, though.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Quid Est Veritas? Part One

What do we know that's true?

This seems like a simple enough question. For many things, it's quite easy to see that one thing is true, and another isn't. But is this knowledge really that simple?

Since one of the movements of the season of Lent is self-examination, it's important to see yourself as you are, and not as you might like yourself to be. Viewing yourself in candor and without prejudice can deflate those who think too highly of themselves, and can elevate those who have low self-esteem. It cuts both ways.

So, let's embark on a little journey to examine what we can know, and find how far we can say that something is true.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lenten Meditation

This is the season of Lent. In the church calendar, it's the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter during which we Christians examine ourselves and our relationship to g-d, and spend time facing the chasm that separates us from true holiness and true righteousness. We also get to contemplate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf by Jesus the Christ, and what that means in our lives.

I hope to post some thoughts over the next few days about what it means to know the truth. I hope to examine the very concept of truth, our ability to know it, and how this actually works in real life. A lot has been written over the centuries about truth. We all act as if we know what it is. But it's more subtle than we might think, so please come back to see what we can learn from examining what we can actually know about the world around us.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I'm Back...

After a long absence, during which we went through the Christmas holiday, and the New Year's holiday, and the Valentine's Day holiday, and the Fat Tuesday holiday, and finally, the change to Daylight Saving Time, I've returned. I'll be posting much more frequently now, and there may be some slight political commentary - there's just too much good source material there not to find some that's relevant to the spiritual concerns that are the main focus of this blog.

Regardless of what that winds up looking like, there will be words. Prepare yourselves.