We often hear about the "Christian Right," or "Conservative Christians." Yet, if you think about it, Jesus was the original liberal.  He cared about motives more than the deeds themselves (Matthew 23:5 & Mark 12:41-43) and more about compassion than adhering to rules (Luke 6:1-11 & Luke 13:10-17). This blog will reflect liberal Christian values of compassion, tolerance, mercy, charity, a thirst for knowledge & understanding, and, above all, love.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A History of Violence

3 Maccabees 3: 1-10 ~ "When the impious king comprehended this situation, he became so infuriated that not only was he enraged against those Jews who lived in Alexandria, but was still more bitterly hostile toward those in the countryside; and he ordered that all should promptly be gathered into one place, and put to death by the most cruel means. While these matters were being arranged, a hostile rumor was circulated against the Jewish nation by men who conspired to do them ill, a pretext being given by a report that they hindered others from the observance of their customs. The Jews, however, continued to maintain good will and unswerving loyalty toward the dynasty; but because they worshiped God and conducted themselves by his law, they kept their separateness with respect to foods. For this reason they appeared hateful to some; but since they adorned their style of life with the good deeds of upright people, they were established in good repute among all men. Nevertheless those of other races paid no heed to their good service to their nation, which was common talk among all; instead they gossiped about the differences in worship and foods, alleging that these people were loyal neither to the king nor to his authorities, but were hostile and greatly opposed to his government. So they attached no ordinary reproach to them. The Greeks in the city, though wronged in no way, when they saw an unexpected tumult around these people and the crowds that suddenly were forming, were not strong enough to help them, for they lived under tyranny. They did try to console them, being grieved at the situation, and expected that matters would change; for such a great community ought not be left to its fate when it had committed no offense. And already some of their neighbors and friends and business associates had taken some of them aside privately and were pledging to protect them and to exert more earnest efforts for their assistance."

I like to begin the day with a chapter of scripture and prayer time.  Once I finished the Bible, I decided to make my way through the Apocryphal books in the same way.  Last Friday I came to the passage above, not realizing how timely it would prove to be.

On the morning of  Saturday, October 27th, Robert Bowers, 46, stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the affluent Squirrel Hill neighborhood shouting hate for Jews and killing eleven worshipers in a 20-minute attack.

The passage illustrates the fact that the Jewish people have been targets of cruelty and violence for more than two thousand years.  Think about that for a minute.  A race of people have been tortured and killed for countless generations.

The prejudice against the Jewish people has always been there, for reasons beyond understanding.  Factions of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities hate each other enough to kill each other in the name of God.  Besides the fact that they commit acts of violence in the name of a loving God, the truly bizarre part is that they're doing it in the name of THE SAME GOD!

When Ishmael and Isaac parted ways, the Arab and Jewish races were born.  The Arabs fashioned the Muslim faith to worship the God of Abraham (Ishmael's father).  They adopted the same God, but chose to worship him in a different way.

Then, Jesus Christ performed his ministry.  Those who accepted Christ as the Messiah became Christians, and followers of traditional Judaism are still waiting for the Messiah.  Again, same God, different take.

In the Christian tradition the number three is the number of completion.  If that's true, then perhaps the fact that there are three primary schools of thought regarding the same God (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is no accident.  Maybe we're SUPPOSED TO view God from three different angles.  If so, then such violence becomes even STUPIDER!!!!!!!

Bottom line, we're three different squads of the same team.  Yes, we live in a divisive time in which cruelty is fueled by opportunists posing as leaders.  But, it's precisely during times such as these that people of good faith must stand up and demonstrate the virtues of love and tolerance.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

God Is Love

"So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. ~ 1 John 4:16 ESV

The quote from 1 John came to me in my verse of the day newsletter this week.  I usually read the verse in the morning, think about it for a moment, and then move on to something else.  But, this one was different.  I kept thinking about this one through out the day.

I realized it was a concept I'd always known, and accepted, but never really thought about.  I mean, God is love sounds good.  It sounds right.  But, what does it mean?  Love is an emotion.  If God is God, then how can he be an emotion?

Once I started picking it apart, it stopped making sense.  Did it mean that God is just something that we feel, but not really there.  I wasn't going to accept that.  I believe there is a there there.  So, if God is real, if he's (I'm using "him" for the sake of convenience to keep my mind from exploding as I write this) "there," then how can he be love?

Assuming that the idea is more than just what some people say as they hand out flowers at the airport, there had to be an answer.  I decided a good starting point would be to first understand what love is.

According to the Bible, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV

While I don't necessarily think God believes all things, and I think He does insist on His own way, the rest of the quotation works.  God is patient and kind; God does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. He is not irritable or resentful; He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  God bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Perhaps instead of love being God, it's more accurate to say that love possesses the same characteristics as God.  If so, then when we act in ways that are motivated by love we're doing as God would have us do.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Heaven May Be What We Make It

I just finished watching the memorial service for Senator John McCain.  He was truly a unifying force in a time of divisiveness.  As I watched men from across the political spectrum pay homage to the Senator, I couldn't help but think about the afterlife.

Subject: The 3 Roads to Eternity | Date: 1825 | Artist: Georgin Fran├žois |This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.

A few weeks ago my pastor gave a sermon on our conception of Heaven and Hell. Apparently the Judeo Christian tradition didn't have a concept of Heaven and Hell until it adopted the idea from Zoroastrianism.  I won't regurgitate his entire lesson regarding the kingdom of God being here, on Earth, rather than some heavenly realm.

I grew up Mormon, and the LDS Church has the afterlife pretty much mapped out.  They have things divided into kingdoms with different tiers for each kingdom.  It felt great knowing that if I remained a faithful Mormon that I could earn my way to the Celestial Kingdom (the highest level of Heaven).  It was a secure feeling to KNOW what was waiting for me on the other side.

Of course when I left the church I left that map behind.  Yet, there was still the feeling that no matter how much I suffered in this life, I had Heaven to look forward to.  I didn't want to let go of that perceived promise.  The idea of being able to earn a place in Heaven, and avoid a trip to Hell, by asking Jesus into my heart and living a good life was as much a part of my psyche as my identity as a man and my political affiliation.

Being a computer nerd, I looked it up online.  Sure enough, captive Jews most likely picked up the concept from their Persian captors in Babylonia.  When they were liberated in 539 BCE they took the idea back to Jerusalem where it was integrated into Judaism.

If this is so, and Jesus was teaching people how to live as a complete person while on Earth, I was forced to wonder how this information would change my outlook.  I still believe in an afterlife.  I believe that a spirit, such as McCain's, simply doesn't cease to exist.  Heck, I believe I'll always exist in some form.  Perhaps, the only thing I need to let go of is the idea that we can understand the structure of the afterlife.

I DO believe that we will take our memories and feelings with us.  If that's the case, then maybe "Heaven" is simply eternity with a clear conscience.  On the flip side, perhaps "Hell" is having to spend eternity under the weight of our own guilt.  I have no idea if I'm right, but for now I think it's a healthy way to think of life after death.