I’d Rather Be a Stone

I’d Rather Be a Stone than a Leaf

By Jane Tawel

November 16, 2019

 

Simon and Garfunkel have this great old song in which they preach to their listeners that they would “rather be a hammer than a nail” and they would “rather be a sparrow than a snail”.  Good sentiments, sort of along the lines of Ghandi’s ubiquitous “Be the Change” exhortation.  But you know, the problem is that most of us can only manage to fly like a bird for a very short time, and then we tire out. And being a hammer eventually just makes you an overbearing, hard-nosed, abuser of your power against all the little powerless nails. Being a hammer might be a Samson-like calling in the moment, but eventually all hammers hit too hard, just as much as the powers do who currently hold the hammers.  We dare not forget the ends of stories like those of Icarus and Samson.

 

 

I have learned all of this, mostly from literature and other forms of great writers’ artistic endeavors. Stories and poems and authors like Homer, Tolkien, Rowling, and the writers of what we call The Bible, contain what C.S. Lewis calls, True Myth. These stories about hammers, or powerful heroes, or sparrows, high fliers, often end tragically or at least badly for all the little nobodies – that is for the nails who get wacked by the heroes or the people below the high fliers, who get pooped on from those soaring above the fray.

 

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This is the truth that Orwell and Dickens meant to teach us when they wrote about power and revolutions against that power.  Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities to help people understand that even a great cause, such as the French Revolutionaries had, will eventually fall by the way side when the weak become strongmen, and the powerless become power-hungry rulers. And I always loved to teach my students that Orwell was quite clear that Animal Farm  was not simply about Soviet Russia, but also about Fascist Spain and Capitalistic America, and well, about all of us, everywhere, always.   We have been warned—all humanistic, prideful power eventually is corrupted from within.  One only has to look to the powers that those who claim God’s favor, ie all religions, but perhaps today, especially what we call “Christianity”. We have only to see what those in the name of religion or God have stolen, dictated, grasped, and abused, and continue to grasp and abuse, to understand that humanity is always falling prey to either an immoral sense of entitled faith in someone else doing the moral, salvation bit, or  prey to a self-righteous sense of doing for God something that He refuses to do  miraculously for our own entitled sense of greed or benefit.

 

 

I  very often feel guilty and helpless and humiliated, that I am not out there hammering and soaring and fighting and shouting and pledging and contributing and warring and protesting and well, flying.  It has helped me to read great story-tellers, who believe that getting rid of one power to be replaced only with another power will forever condemn history to more greedy and power hungry rulers. If you  say you believe in Jesus, you should have no doubt that he believed this, even for himself, and he had the edge in being the Son of God, so….But we are not allowed to believe that we are to do nothing; that we were put on earth merely to save our own measly excuse for an individual soul and  hightail it to a “Heaven” somewhere out there without all the mess we’ve created here. We are supposed to believe that we were put in charge on this planet, of these beings, and plants, and animals, and volcanoes, and lakes, and rivers, and children. We are meant to believe that there is a way humans were meant to “do good” and “act rightly and righteously” and to make this planet and world and other communities of humans better, more the way we would all like it to be, and that is what Jesus meant by telling us our job was to make “God’s Kingdom real here on earth, like it is in other galaxies, and places we can’t even imagine, ie, the “Heavens- Out-there- Where God is”.

 

So we seek metaphors, and stories, and poetic allusions to figure out how we are supposed to do this thing called “living”. I struggle at my time of life with seeing myself as a soaring eagle or a powerful tool of politics or religion.  My nickname in my family is “Chicken” for good reason and I am definitely mechanically challenged at the best of times. Not sure any one wants me wielding a hammer, though I am prone to the occasional use of the metaphoric kind in conversation. The best metaphor I have recalled lately, for how I might make changes in the world as only one of the little people, a minor character in the plot, is the metaphor of the stone.

 

I think about that great line in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” spoken by a man who suffers death for the sake of his wife and other women, who back then were considered property, and who are accused and condemned unjustly by the over-powerful, over-zealous self-proclaiming evangelical politicians of the time. These abusers of power in Miller’s story, much like the regimes of Orwell’s Animal Farm, or the monarchy of Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities  are up against, hammers and sparrows, and doves who carry secret messages, etc, but in the end the righteous refusal to budge on an ethical, moral response to wrong, badness, and evil, usually comes through those who simply lay down their lives, like a stone in the road, refusing to be carried away by the justifications of those who will not see the Truth behind the lies of the corrupted. Much like many of America’s past and present abusers of power, such as the current configuration of those like President Trump and Senator McConnell and Franklin Graham’s oligarchical Administration, and the Red Scared three-headed beast once seen in the U. S. Judiciary and  FBI and Senator Joseph McCarthy  during that Make America Great Administration, and the “Evangelical” Protestant Witch hunting White Settlers in the Administration who populate Miller’s play. And so, knowing that he would be condoning evil and doing  wrong, by choosing the “lesser of two evils” and thereby, abusing his own power as a conservative, religious man who only wanted to save himself,  Giles Corey, submits to being unjustly charged as a traitor and not Christian-like and is put to death via capital punishment by the state and modern inquisition by the Church. The Puritans did this by the placing of large, heavy stones laid on a man until they had crushed his chest into his heart. As the weight of the stones placed on Giles Corey, one after another, seem too impossible for his body to survive, and the political and religious leaders think surely this man will give in to their way of thinking and behaving now; Corey tells the “Christian” executioners that no, not only will he not join them for any reason but that they must add, “More weight. Add more weight.”

 

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Add more stones.  Arthur Miller, the playwright, would later, be a Giles Corey character in real life, when he refused to tattle to the corrupt “Un-American Activities Committee”, who after all were only trying to “make America great”. Again.

 

Dickens writes about a Christ-like figure who is innocent but allows the state to kill him in order for someone else to live.  Orwell, however, has no such hero.  In Orwell’s dystopian worldview, the Christian leaders, in the character of a black raven, symbolizing death, flies off with his share of the goodies; and the politicians, one after the other, are revealed to be not just literally pigs, but archetypes whose greed devolves them from being animals to, you guessed it, game-playing, powerful, greedy, over-fed humans.

 

And again, and again, and again and on it goes. No wonder we can feel so helpless and hopeless, and that we keep trying to tell ourselves that either someone like Jesus, already did all the work for us, and that the world can go to hell because we personally will be “saved”,  if we only have a mindful acquiescence to some historical god’s reality; or that someone else, like a president or prime minister, or a Gates or Gandhi, will come along and be our world’s savior, and all we need to do is “pray” for them.

 

As for little old me, I do believe in the kind of Judeo-Christian worldview in which humans matter and that there is a God that cares about our world. I try to hang on to a belief that I find not just in stories from the Bible, but in the history books, and in Nature and even in other humans I meet now and then. I believe that Love matters most of all and that the small actions of small people matter. And that little actions done with love by little  people can not only change the world, but that somehow, they have a larger meaning in light of God’s Kingdom and in some as yet, unrealized idea of Eternity.

 

I do believe that there is judgement and reward, for what we say, think, feel, and especially what we do or do not do. It seems clear that the consequences of one’s own life, and well as the tides of time and history are ultimately determined by those dueling sins of omission and commission that tug us as individuals, sometimes confuse us as they pull us in different and seemingly contradictory directions.   I believe we all sense the truth, that in some way, we have messed up what is fair and good, and this is true whether we believe in a reckoning in a God-futured heaven, or the more easily apparent judgement that Jesus did rightly warn us of. Jesus did warn his fellow humans that there is an inherent judgement in life that is an ever present danger. This danger comes when any one, any people pass the point of no return on earth by “losing our souls, losing what this life was meant to reward us with as individual human beings,  and when we seek only to gain more and more for ourselves at any cost”.

Surely even the most foolish of us sometimes awakes in a terrified sweat to the recognition that we are becoming less human, less of what we want to be, more soul-less, and zombie-like. Surely even the most religious of us must stand aghast at what we have allowed to happen on our planetary home, as children kill other children, and farmers starve on what used to be their land, and the food we eat  to nourish us causes us deathly illnesses, and whole species of animals die out, and people wear gas masks to breath, and fires rage, and sea levels rise, and those who are supposed to unite us, divide us for their own gain.  Surely, even the most atheistic or immoral of us understand that there is something horribly, horribly wrong on our planet, in our species, in the inner most parts of who we are?

 

And like me, you may feel angry, depressed, frightened, sad, and helpless and hopeless. After all, what can you do? What can I do? What can we do?

 

 

It came as a consolation and a warning and a judgement and a prophetic goading to me, this past week to re-read the part of a story I was reading.  I will share great swathes of it with you here, but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself.  This is from C.S. Lewis’s Science Fiction Trilogy, and specifically from Perelandra.  In it, the character of Elwin Ransom, a human being, has gone to another planet which has just been created by God, who Lewis calls Maleldil. On this planet, there is a sort of new Garden of Eden set-up, and there this traveling spaceman, meets this planet’s archetypal “Eve” character.  Ransom also meets up with the only other fellow human, a man named, Weston, but who according to Lewis, has become an “Un-man”. Weston has allowed evil, “Satan” to take over his mind, body, and soul, but it happened incrementally over the course of time and Weston did it for all the right reasons, much like people today claim to do. The story’s conflict lies between these two humans, who have a different worldview of what God wants from us, although both claim the Bible and God as their source. They also have different ideas about what is the best way to make the planet of Perelandra and her inhabitants, “Great”.  Oh, it is truly relevant, is it not?  I encourage you to read the story.  But what may encourage you today, as it did me, is C.S. Lewis’ own wrestling with his conscious and the pleading voice coming through in the character of Elwin Ransom.  I have taken the liberty here and substituted Lewis’ name for God, “Maleldil” for the more earth-friendly one, “God”. Ransom is at a loss for how to stop the evil and “bad stuff” happening around him. He has tried and failed so far to save The Lady and the planet, and time seems to be running out. Now he is feeling helpless, and thinking dark thoughts in the darkness, thoughts and feelings much like mine at times. Perhaps much like yours.

 

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Why did no miracle come? Or rather, why no miracle on the right side? For the presence of the Enemy was in itself a kind of Miracle. Had Hell a prerogative to work wonders? Why did Heaven work none? Not for the first time he found himself questioning Divine Justice. He could not understand why God should remain absent when the Enemy was there in person… Suddenly and sharply, as if the solid darkness about him had spoken with articulate voice, he knew that God was not absent… had never been absent, that only some unconscious activity of his own had succeeded in ignoring it for the past few days…. But where is God’s representative?

The answer which came back to him, quick as a fencer’s or a tennis player’s riposte, out of the silence and the darkness, almost took his breath away.  “Anyway, what can I do? I’ve done all I can. I’ve talked till I’m sick of it. It’s not good, I tell you.”  He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom could not possibly be God’s representative… And then—he wondered how it had escaped him till now—he was at least as much of a marvel as the Enemy’s.   He himself was the miracle.

 

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Yes, we too often forget it. My life itself is a miracle. But we must be careful, for like Ransom, many of us who believe this today, stop there.  Ransom tries to convince himself that this belief, this “faith” in God and in goodness and in his being in “God’s hand”, is enough.  He pats himself on the back that he really has done “his best” and that “God would see to the final issue”.  But Lewis, knows that really, honestly, this is not true-Truth, not even on a mythical planet.

 

 

Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false.  His journey was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in God’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours. They could, if they chose decline to save the innocence of this new race, and if they declined its innocence would not be saved.  It rested with no other creature in all time or all space.  This he saw clearly, though as yet he had no inkling of what he could do.

 

 

As Ransom realizes, we must realize that God cares through Us, not just for us. We are each, each day, standing alone on the precipice between the salvation of the world within and without and the death of all that is in both me and the planet, all that is Good and Right and Healthy. I am the only person right now who is utterly responsible for what happens in my own soul, in the souls of others, and on the planet. This is not the vanity of the powerful nor the hubris of the hero, this is the reality of what it means to be a created human being, created in the likeness of a God.  Ransom, however, can not accept this blithely, just  as I can not do, maybe as you  cannot do, and Lewis through his character, rebels and protests these thoughts.

 

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The voluble self protested, wildly, swiftly, like the propeller of a ship racing when it is out of the water.  The imprudence, the unfairness, the absurdity of it!  Did God want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself? And at that moment he now could not help remembering that men were at war and awaking, like him, to the preposterous truth that all really depended on their actions; and far away in time Horatius stood on the bridge, and Eve herself stood looking upon the forbidden fruit and the Heaven of Heavens waited for her decision. He writhed and ground his teeth, but could not help seeing. Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made.  Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices.  And if something, who could set bounds to it?

A stone may determine the course of a river.  He was that stone at this horrible moment which had become the centre of the whole universe. The angels of all worlds, the sinless organisms of everlasting light, were silent in Deep Heaven to see what Elwin Ransom of Cambridge would do.

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And so each and every day – perhaps moment by moment– one must ask oneself:  Will I be a leaf, blown this way and that by life’s ebb and flow, to eventually be nothing more than the dust from which I grew?

 

Or will I be a stone?  A pebble in the shoe of the king, can irritate him into stopping and perhaps, in that way, the pebble will upend the powerful forces marching towards destruction.  A rock in the road, can cause the jeeps and tanks, to perhaps change direction, and in that way, change the direction of a war. All the little bits of gravel, can build each other up, and change the course of the mighty seas of history, damming the floods of greed, pride, and injustice, restoring the waters to their intended nourishment and life-giving abilities.   And one little pebble found in a righteous slingshot, can slay a Goliath.

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The Cornerstone of God’s Kingdom, proclaimed, that should we fail to be the stones of God, that God Himself could easily raise up actual clods made of dirt and minerals. Should I fail, God does not lack for hands and feet and wings and claws and trunks and even pebbles; for on Ransom’s Earth, on Lewis’ and my planet, a man once came to show us how to live. And this Son of Man, proclaimed that even “the rocks themselves can do our job of crying in praise, ‘Hosanna’!  Blessed is the one who does God’s work on earth, as it is done in all the Heavens and in all the Cosmos!”

 

If I have delayed in my life, ‘til now, skipping a rock on a lake, or dropping a pebble into a pool of deep water, I must delay no longer.  I can not know whether my little stone of an action will create far-reaching ripples, the consequences of which I shall not know until Judgement day; or if my little stone will sink to the bottom of our raging waters, and there, perhaps, small and still as a god’s voice, will change the course of the tide, at least perhaps for someone else.

 

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All I can know without doubt, with fear and even sometimes loathing, is that I must be the stone that God has created me to be. I must use the hands God gave me, the feet God entrusted to me, and the voice God expects me to use. And so, like a good stone, I cry, “Hosanna!  Good news!  God is with us.  And the Gospel is –We are the saviors. We are the ones that God created us to be as the makers and caretakers and workers for Love on our planet. We are the Christ.”

 

We are not called to be innocent bystanders, like dumb rocks by the wayside. Because bystanders, are not innocent, they are just dumb. We neither are called to be dumb as in stupid nor dumb as in silent.  I may be just a stone, but I am a stone that is resting on the Cornerstone, and that Cornerstone, called The Christ, Messiah, Risen Lord and King, has changed the whole course of Time and History. On Christ the solid rock, I stand. Or am crushed. My choice.

 

The next time you are out in the world, stoop down and pick up a little grey pebble. Is it not truly a miracle of creation? Each of us, too, can be that small little stone that is in Truth,  a miracle.

 

Will I be a leaf or a stone?  Daily, moment by moment, I choose. And though, I am not all that important in the great scheme of things, I am the only miracle I have today. But then again, I am the only miracle, I need today.

 

And in the end, after all, as Elwin Ransom realized, as C.S. Lewis, and George Orwell, and Charles Dickens realized, and perhaps as you have realized, accepting that I am the miracle God has sent is not only enough, it is everything. My being a small stone is everything. In fact,

The fate of the planet depends on it.

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All Photos from https://creativecommons.org/

In Praise of Argument

In Praise of Unlike-able Argument

(Caption: You can disagree with me if you want.)

By Jane Tawel

October 2019

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Fight Light TC2 by jimbo0307 licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

A friend shared yet another article by yet another writer who claims we should not argue with each other. This writer is of the persuasion that it is not a likable trait and especially (and here he is wielding the reformulated but age-old weapon beloved by those of the Inquisition), that it is not very “Christian” to argue or disagree, especially in public forums. But no matter Christian or not, I think many people in my own country at least, and no matter their religion or lack thereof, think that it isn’t completely kosher to argue with each other. Of course, if you know me, you will know that I am always dumb enough to think I owe it to other people to jump into the ring. I really have to argue with people like this who make me feel bad for arguing with people like this. Especially when they want to play the moral tone card.

 

 

I have long wanted to make and sell t-shirts that read, “Jesus was not nice, but then neither is God.” Niceness, I’m afraid, isn’t really the point of a god or of a savior. Christianity, at least all too often over here under this flag, has turned God and his supposedly chosen people into self-serving cultists who hide behind tax-free shelters being nice to each other and anyone who agrees with them. Americans, especially, have met so little resistance to our own crusades and imperialisms that we have had no reason to listen to or debate with those from other countries. The United States has had no valuable practice in debating our desperate need to seriously rethink the beloved institutions and historical documents we have enshrined and idolized. And neither church nor state spokespersons understand why, Rodney King fashion, we all can’t just get along– as long as you agree with my point of view, that is.  Janis Joplin might rejoin that our freedom has become just another word for we don’t argue, so we can’t lose. But not losing, doesn’t mean we haven’t lost our way. Thinking we are being nice by not arguing won’t help us find our way, either.

 

 

Niceness is highly over-rated, unlike courtesy or kindness, or sacrifice in the name of love, all which seem to have become virtues we have put on the backburners, along with truthfulness, humility, and restfulness.

 

Ironically this latest article posted by my friend, was shared on social media and the article was about how we shouldn’t argue with people on social media.  Oh, Irony, how I love thee! But then irony seems to be too argumentative a viewpoint for some people today; people who would rather drift along without anyone arguing against hypocrisy, foolishness, wrongness, or the ubiquitous, “that’s just what I think”. The worst are often people like this author; those who claim the Bible says it or some famous person they quote said it, or an historically specific philosophy says it. The worst are those who use that gigantic, greatly misunderstood and little read collection of genres, which is The Bible, and who then make these bold arguments and stunt any dissent; and they do so by cutting and pasting some quip or commentary or verse taken out of the whole contextual mass, or by one of the later day additions to what some people think of as “The Word of God”. Not that you can’t do that, but if you do, please realize that by doing so, you are, in fact, actually inviting people to argue with you.

 

 

People like this author make their sweet-sounding, oh-so-rational and unemotional bullet points about how we should interact, or rather not interact, and that is usually by not arguing with people on social media. Then they get excited that people repost them on…. social media, where …no one can argue with them. Ha!  However, it is not just on Facebook or Twitter that we are unfriended for dissent; we are also strongly cautioned that we are never to debate and argue in the marketplace, or at home, or in the classroom, or in the halls of government, or at work, or at temple or sanctuary or mosque.  God help us! Personally, I would rather you give me instead, any day, the angry, prophetic, justice-seeking disagree-ers like Greta Thunberg; or the friendly, wrangling sages like Kathryn Schultz, who argue about the very basis of our thought processes and our foibles because of our fear of being wrong. Let me read the stories about those crazy old, raging prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah. And I love to sit awhile meditating on the debates among friends like Frodo and Sam and Boromir and Gandalf, as they argue over which way to go and what to do on their journey of immeasurable importance. It is because the characters argue and discuss and point out to each other their different strengths and weaknesses, that we know that one of the deep truths that the author Tolkien is teaching us, is that though each of us must ultimately make his or her own way, the journey is more “Good” and much better if we all try our best to help each other. Even if they are wrong, it is good to have companions who will disagree with us on the way, and those who will try to shed a bit of dim light whenever they think we might trip and fall. When you have a Balrog on one side of you and orcs and trolls on the other side, then losing an argument is infinitely less important than making it safely across the bridge.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are simply many ideas or statements or point of views that are not worth arguing over, and argument for argument’s sake may get the juices flowing in some people I know and love, but not in me. I have an uncle and a few friends who quite often strongly disagree with me and I with them; and we banter publicly when necessary and privately when possible, but we don’t unfriend each other. I absolutely hate any argument with my children, but I would hate even more, not loving them enough to speak my mind about something I fear could hurt or misdirect them. I love and trust these people because we can keep (sometimes) arguing with each other and we can still keep loving each other.

 

 

And as much as I really do hate conflict, I also want to be able to look at myself in the morning, knowing I tried my best with other people to make bridges, not walls. I don’t sleep well at night anyway, I may as well lie awake regurgitating someone’s arguments against my complacency or fuming over a point of view that I don’t understand, or trying to think about whether I have been wrong –maybe wrong yesterday, maybe wrong this past year, maybe wrong for most of my lifetime. Or I might wrestle with an argument and be even more justifiably and peacefully confident that I am even more right today than I was yesterday, because someone had the chutzpah to disagree with me. With that attitude, I may not like argument, but I don’t fear it. I may avoid it if possible, but I won’t avoid it if preferable.

 

If I have the time and need to say something, then I also have the time and need to listen to someone’s argument about what I said. I may as well try to learn something from someone, even if I continue to disagree. I would rather someone take me seriously enough to not like something I post or communicate and to argue with me, (unless they agree with me, of course, which is why most of us speak out, usually, right? — to gather the like-minded troops with our rallying cries.) I would rather share an exhausting volley of words, than I would like to take time to punch one more “like” button on one more picture of a cute pet. Although, I do really love those cute pet pictures.

 

 

Arguing with someone doesn’t have to mean I am shutting her out or putting down his ideas. No, actually, it is not imitation, but argument that is the greatest form of flattery. Argument means that I take you seriously and that you are worth thinking about. You are worth my time, not just to hit the “like” button, but to engage with, to converse with, to learn with. Arguments don’t have to mean I want to tear down someone, but rather I want to build something with someone. Just because we are now on opposite sides of a chasm or gulf, doesn’t mean we both can’t work together.  I am piling up stones on my side of the chasm or river, while you pile up stones on your side; and I hope that one day, we will meet in the middle on a completed bridge of  deeper understanding, and open communication, and real community.

 

 

Of course, everyone just wants everyone to be nice and to let the people we may call our “brothers and sisters”, or our “peeps”,  say whatever they want to say, post whatever they want to post, whether it is true or not, whether it is good for them, or us, or the planet or the church or the school or the workplace or the family — or not. And so, we don’t argue with them.  We also don’t argue, because we hate being wrong, and if we don’t allow other people to debate what we think, well, then, there is little to no chance we will ever be proven wrong. Staying silent seems nicer and safer.

 

 

And we let ourselves forget that silence means acceptance. Silence means you are letting someone else control your narrative. We forget that it isn’t only words that hurt, but wordlessness hurts as well. We forget how much it hurts when someone we care about gives us the “silent treatment”. We forget that one of the very worst things that other humans do to each other is to stay silent in the presence of great wrong. We forget that the thing we hate most about God, is His silence.

 

 

It is rather clever of this author, and so many like him, to take this stance against argument. It is, however, especially disingenuous to brook no argument if you are in a position of leadership, like those in pastoral or “Christian”-speakership roles, or like Senators or CEOs, or teachers or coaches or parents. These powerful people can speak out or write articles or post things about how we must avoid argument, and since no one can argue with them after reading or hearing it, they have by default won the argument  that they won’t let us participate in because we should not argue. Ha!

 

 

Brooking no debate, is of course, one major way especially in the current versions of Christianity and perhaps other religions as well, in which religious peoples have long erred and gone so very wrong. We have accepted the strange and unspiritual corporate structure and marketplace attitudes that have infected groups of human beings since the beginning of shared space and spiritual yearnings. We have become a group of sheepish followers who do not debate or struggle with truth or meaning. We accept the false doctrine that “church” or “community” or “education” is supposed to be made by having a man who stands in front of the rest of the congregation or a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, and who gets to say whatever he or she wants to say while no one else can ask questions or disagree or argue or “teach back”.

And this is where we have come as a country as well, this rotten acceptance that democracy means that with whatever power and freedom I have, I will do what I want to do and I think what I want to think and if you argue with me, you are not nice and I will not continue to discuss things with you or try to work out some solutions to the problems we share. Because like it or not, we all share the same problems on some level or other. Our problem is, we are told that we shouldn’t want to share the solutions.  And then, to feel safe from each other, and self-important, we end up creating and accepting a world with overly powerful leaders in the whole triumvirate of powers, the three- headed beast of state and church and marketplace, and we let these eventually Orwellian-styled rulers apocalyptically write our narrative because they do not have to be nice and they can no longer be argued with. That person who will encourage you not to be argumentative, is, after all, your pastor or priest or mullah, or CEO, or President, or Prime Minister, or owner, employer, or principal, coach, or mom.  And it is why, like that violently arguing prophet, Isaiah said, “all we like docile sheep have gone astray, and each of us has turned to our own way.”

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If we want to look at just one great human being who wasn’t nice and who argued with the best of his argumentative Jewish brethren and who ever since he lived, people have said you should imitate and follow, we could look at Jesus. If you actually read about Jesus, who supposedly all these churches have been set up to honor and follow, he and his followers were little to nothing at all like we tend to think of them today. It would be instructive to look at how much Jesus argued with people who supposedly believed in the same God He did, even just the bits noted in the slight records we have of Christ’s remembered life story. It would be wise to look further at Jesus as the brilliant rabbi, a debater in the temple, a teacher who listened and pushed back and lost as many arguments as the ones that he won. Even from a young age, when Jesus talked back to his parents, dismissing their viewpoint about him as their son, and when a young Jesus questioned his own teachers, he was a man who always wanted to learn more and grow more and open the door to debate to rich and poor, believers and unbelievers alike. Since oral communication with others was the primary way of learning and teaching, the greatest man and teacher and King who ever lived, did a lot of verbal sparring, open-ended debating and question-induced conversing and yes, Jesus did a lot of arguing. Arguing proves someone is listening.

 

 

It might also help some people, like this author, who look to a collection of books they call “The New Testament” and “The Old Testament”, to open-mindedly read what the people in those stories were really like. And I mean, not only Moses who argued with God, or Jacob who wrestled with Jehovah, or Leah who kept nagging God about things from her point of view; but the very people who claimed to know and follow Jesus when he lived here with us for awhile, as a human on our planet. It has been instructive for me to see the saint, Paul, as the irascible, argumentative commentator he really was; a man struggling with making sense of a new form of Judaism, and a worthy opponent who was not always right, but was always up for a good heated back and forth with the others in the ecclesia. This author I am ragging on today, happens to quote Saint Peter. Well, let’s not even go there. If we want to talk about someone, like the disciple Peter, who never waited a nanosecond to make sure he was right or knowledgeable or nice before he spoke out, and who argued with Jesus and the other disciples so much that it’s a wonder he was able to keep  silent when the rooster crowed three times. We are talking about a man, who was nonetheless, specially chosen by Jesus Christ to further the Gospel by continuing to argue with others and for his beliefs, even after Jesus was gone.  Jesus must have been howling with ironic laughter when he said, “By this hard-headed argumentative foolish Rocky of a pugilistic guy, I will further the future of my community of chosen ones.”

 

The current community of the saints was built on centuries of argument and debate, beginning with Jesus and slogging sloppily on through the wrangling of Peter, Paul, and Mary (who had lots of great “hits”, but not a theology nor seminary degree between them). The community of the saints has driven forward rather erratically but it is headed towards home only by the trial and error of argument and debate among those courageous enough to be wrong and loving enough to engage in discussions. The Good News that there is a way that we humans can know truth and love is because of writers, and prophets, and arguers of all sorts and stripes. It is because of people who dared to speak out, speak up, speak against, and speak to others, that the ideas of Jesus and his followers, and with some later-day help from Augustinian Confessions, Ninety-Five Theses arguing against a closed door, and even some wee hobbits and folks in Narnia, have thrived. It is because of people talking with each other, that the ideas that Jesus left us about how we should live are still with us, to argue about and to, first and foremost, seek and yearn after. And if you don’t believe in Jesus, look to your own best man or woman, and try to follow their arguments for engaging in meaningful dialogue with other human beings.

 

 

Instead of arguing for more understanding of the whole of anything, (which none of us can claim complete understanding of, nor can we through soundbites, bite-off all of the whole at once), most of us prefer to keep cutting and pasting ideas or philosophies or Scripture verses or newspaper items, or unrelated facts into manageable two-by-fours which we use to either whack the competing voices with or use to build a foundation for our individual towering house of cards that we have already decided to live alone in until it teeters down on us. We take the bits of ideas that we like and have secured safely, or so we think, into our warehouses of ideas, (gotten there ironically, only by the arguments of willingly or unwillingly hotly debated truths of people who have come before us), and we clip and glue small parts of the whole, taking some one single thing all out of the context of the entire arc of the whole story.

 

 

By telling others how to argue (or not), how to talk (or not), how to be (or not), we are not only losing the point of this planetary experiment, we are losing one of our best human qualities besides.  Especially for anyone who claims to believe in democratic communities or in a God, we must be willing to argue, for “Pete’s Sake” (pun intended). Because if you read the stories, or if you believe even a modicum of religious thought might be true, then you must accept that even God Himself, has some super good arguments on record, some of which He loses! A God who would create a human being, must have debated long and hard with Herself, before giving that creature free will. Who are we to not argue with that?

 

 

I personally hate conflict and argument, but I hate even more the strange place we, at least in my country, seem to have gotten to today. To encourage someone how to be like Jesus, is to inherently have debate about who He was. And please, can we let the record show that both Jesus and God even called people names. They name-called people! and it wasn’t usually funny, like it was with Peter.  Try having Jesus, in an argument, call you a “dog” or a “viper” and see how you feel. See if you still think Jesus is nice. See if you decide to take your feel-good Facebook posts and go home. Check out some of the adjectives God uses for us, “obstinate”, “arrogant”, “hard-hearted”; or God who in His many arguments with His children when He calls us “chaff”, “fools”, or “dust”. For a great story about God talking back to humans and arguing, check out His argument to the man Job in the book of that name, beginning with chapter thirty-eight and going on and on and on. And here’s the kicker,  at the end of this great myth, Job gets rewarded, unlike his friends, because he respected God enough to argue with God but never stopped worshipping or serving or loving God.

 

 

Of course, I do not recommend name calling as a persuasive technique unless you are perfect yourself , as Jesus was, or unless you are God. But today, considering how many small-minded men think they are God or The Chosen One, perhaps some of us “nice” people need to throw around a few names after all; names like “hypocrite” or “vipers” or “fools” or  “foxes” or “stiff-necked oxen”.   For those of us who hate to argue but do it anyway because we think it is the right, honorable, loving thing to do; please let the record show to those of us who want to be “good” or “loving”, that Jesus, the “goodest” and “lovingest” of all, was in an emotionally charged conflict so often,  that he had to literally flee from other people, even his family and friends, and escape somewhere alone to chill out and recuperate from the emotional and spiritual toil that his conversations took. As our mothers used to say, “choose your battles wisely” but as our fathers used to say, “tell that kid you will meet him on the playground after school because you respect him, and yourself, enough to fight him”.   If only people would spend more time competing with  ideas and throwing around words, than they did competing on sports fields and throwing around balls. If only we would spend more of our lives wielding honest discussion and loving passionate debate, than we do wielding remote controls and loving passionate fictitious soap operas, we might actually make a go of this thing called humanity.

 

 

I think that we have to keep trying to point people to the truth and to the best ideas and ways of thinking and living that we can. But I can’t assume that because I think it is the best idea, that there isn’t room for argument. We can’t be truly our best of either this or that by only posting, tweeting, writing, and gathering “likes”. We have to wrestle, even if we end up with bruises and sore brain muscles. We have to be willing to walk the narrow road of seekers rather than the wide avenue of controllers. As much as I prefer hiding my thoughts and keeping to myself, I write because I want to learn. I wrestle with you, because I wrestle with my own ideas and beliefs and feelings and choices. And I want to learn as much as I can, even from those I disagree with.

 

 

I would rather have to take down a whole lot of the weak, faulty, un-trued lines of rocks that I have built on my side of the gap between me and you, than I would to keep stacking up my ideas into a wall that no one can assail. I would rather you argue with me even if I get hurt, than I would to never reach the middle of a bridge between your side and mine. And I can only do that by looking over at what you see from your side of the chasm between what I think and what you think; and by together building something strong, and beautiful, and worthy of our humanity.

 

 

Because that is after all, why Jesus came to our planet to argue with us; he wanted to give us a shot at making ourselves better at being human together. Believing all that seems a rather foolish theory, I know, but I would still rather be a fool seeking God’s Kingdom, and to open my mouth and remove all doubt when I argue with you, than I would to wait in silence for whatever happens at the end. That is my Pascal’s wager in praise of argument.

 

 

People like this author that sent me into this multi-sided and rambling debate with myself (and maybe you), make “good points” that we all “want to agree with”; and so we erroneously neglect the true theme, the more devious purpose, and the bent  point of view of people like this. They want to wield their own power of communication without giving their audience that same power. They control the narrative. They control the “conversation”. So, while they encourage you to give up and be nice, or learn a bit more before you take a stand, they speak or write as nicely to you as all dictatorial bullies do and without themselves, giving up an inch of their stated “expertise” or power.  The opiate of the masses has long been, not religion, but the idea that we should all be nice little sheep who don’t argue with authority, whether that authority is your Pope, your President, or your BFF on Facebook.

 

 

I used to teach young people, you can’t control or craft how you write or debate something, until after you learn what it is you want to say and most importantly, why you need to communicate it.  You must write and speak freely, feelingly, unafraid of error, but also unafraid of others who may come along later and point out to you that you might be wrong. We need not only freedom to disagree, but also good conscience to listen to other people’s arguments, and to accept other people’s ways of arguing, even if they argue with passion or emotion or even with wrong facts. When did we start thinking that by listening, we had to agree? When did we start thinking that we learn best by sitting still and shutting up? Or that it is better to never risk being publicly wrong because then we never risk being publicly right?

 

 

If we continue to unlearn how to argue, and go on disconnecting from discussing, debating, arguing, sometimes fighting our ideas even heatedly, pigheadedly, foolishly; then how will any of us ever learn which of all the doors ahead that we can open are the best ones? Sometimes, while we are standing, looking up and down the roads one might take, we need a good friend to argue with us, about the different directions one might use on this path called life.

 

If we are unwilling to argue with each other about important things, belief-type things, planet-survival type things, love thy neighbor type things, then we will not  be remembered as smart, or wise or “Jesus-like” or likable beings on this planet. We will, if we somehow survive to be remembered by anyone at all, be remembered not as nice, but as lost.

 

What Are We So Afraid Of?

What Are We So Afraid Of?

By Jane Tawel

September 2019

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(Jane and  her son Gordon with Americans and Mexicans working together in Tijuana Mexico)

 

I am confused about what people are afraid of. I see this fear infecting the whole world, but as a life-long, card-carrying American, I have to address this fear-mongering problem that is rising in my own nation, like yeast in Egypt before the Hebrews left for the Promised Land. America as an empire has long been an example of capitalism on steroids, masquerading as “democracy” or worse, giving the lie to something certain people call “Christianity”.  It makes me tremble to observe our (and I include myself) hypocrisy and power-hungry, greedy worldview not only rampaging through the world, but in true Orwellian fashion, calling ‘darkness’, “light”, and ‘hate’, “love”.

 

The most shocking (and obliviously, hypocritically ironic) are the people who are so terrified of and who therefore, have no love for the immigrant, the sojourner, the children of different races, ethnicities, cultures, or social strata. These are the people who want in now because they need to leave their homes elsewhere (often because of something we did to their homeland in the first place). These are people who simply want to live. Ironic much, Americans? Hello, calling any immigrants out there in America? Oh, yeah, that’s right, ALL of us are here because of our immigrating ancestors, except for, of course, the Native Americans who we conveniently trounced when we first came here or the slaves we brought here in the name of “more for me”.

 

 

The very fact that we have dubbed certain people “illegal” is a true indication of our rotted value system. These immigrants are not breaking the law, they are begging us for help. If you want to look for law-breakers, though, you don’t have to look to our borders. The entitled oligarchy here does tend to break the laws with impunity and not be penalized; and many of them work very little for the enormous amounts they are paid compared to what their employees are paid. And yet, there are those of us who fearfully brand things like equity and fairness, justice and mercy, and ‘doing unto others as we want done to us’, as “socialism”. Brand someone who is not like me as “illegal”, and it has the added bonus of making everything I do, as “legal” by default.  This is true for those who “serve” us in our government as well as the real people running this country– the 15% of people running mega-companies or the independently wealthy individuals and those who own 86% of this “Republic’s” wealth. If Americans are so up in arms about law breaking, so fearful of others who are not like the “average Jane or John Doe”, then they need look no further than our own beloved institutions and leaders of government, religion, industry, and social entertainment.

 

Historically this has been true of every Empire, I am afraid, and yet, all these years I have lived here and I am still always a bit taken aback when America, which was to be the “shining city on a hill”, proves to be no different. This is what I mean when I ask what values do people think poor immigrants are not catching on to? Perhaps you know different ones than I do? But any recent immigrants that I know of are hard workers, good students who often put themselves through school while holding down jobs; they are people who care for their children, parents, often even grandparents while doing jobs no one else wants to do; they are creative, grateful people who are bringing good things to our nation. Compare them to the “legal” citizens’ whose kids got into colleges by deceit and lies. Compare them to the “legal” immigrants who send their money and jobs to other parts of the world to increase their wealth, while fleecing our citizens. Compare them to our leaders who have no care at all for the health of our own grandparents and children. Compare them to the “legal” citizens who are now almost daily shooting up our citizenry with their freedom to buy weapons of mass destruction. Compare them to people who spend my tax dollars as elected officials and increase their own wealth while in office, not mine. Compare them to pastors or priests or spokespeople for any religion such as Christianity who make millions of dollars a year in God’s name and have the nerve to say their religion is being persecuted. Are those the values some folks are so anxious that our immigrants are supposed to want and have? We are picking at the specks in the eyes of the “other”, while the planks that are blinding us to our own truth, are growing at the same rate that we are deforesting the world.

 

So, I honestly have no idea, I really don’t understand what in the world people are talking about when they want somehow to “go back” to something they think America (or maybe your nation? Or maybe the whole world?)  once was.  It wasn’t; and it isn’t; and it never will be, unless that is we own-up and make it so. I’m not being argumentative, I just don’t get it. What is wrong in this country is what wise people and philosophies and holy books have tried to tell us has been wrong since the beginning of humans’ inhabitation of the earth. What is messed up in me, in you, in us is what is messed up in America. Every one and every place have always eventually gotten broken and messed up, unless and until goodness and truth and right values are either restored and rebuilt or else these things eventually die out so much that the soul of the person or the soul of the place dies along with them. But for God’s sake, or if you’d rather, for America’s sake, just because it is broken, doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility to actually try and fix it. But something broken can never be fixed by trying to go back to an imagined Past. It is only by embracing the Future and the hard task of living into the unknown that we can even survive let alone thrive. It is only by accepting what we have been given (not earned) for Today, with  a heart and mind filled with gratitude, grace, and love, that we can mend the brokenness within and without, and together can build something worth keeping, worth treasuring, worth sharing.

 

We have not risen to the clarion call of our ancestors, whomever we might consider them to be. What we really have done is sunk and hunkered down into the values of false pride, self-entitlement, and overarching greed. We are all a result of America’s worship of capitalism or “manna”, in the name of nationalism (selfishness). And all of what we are so anxious to hang on to for ourselves are not valuables based on the moral high-ground of some belief system, but are the result of our true values, which are nothing to do with democracy or justice or freedom, and definitely not anything at all to do with goodness or love or God or Christianity or any such ideal.

 

If you want to spiritualize, which I obviously always tend towards, we “must be born again”. That means, at a minimum, that we must humble ourselves and become like little babies, not in a selfish way, but in an innocent, anticipatory way. As newborn “citizens of the world”, we would have to accept that we each and as a whole have a gigantic amount still to learn. Being born again would mean that just like a newborn baby, I can not differentiate between colors. As a baby, I don’t care what color you are or language you speak, or how old or calloused your hands are when they hold me, or what you believe in as long as it includes a belief in love, or what you eat for dinner, as long as I too, am fed. As a baby, I am not afraid of tomorrow, because today, it is enough to be alive.  And like a baby, I need you; and I have an innate, as yet unformed idea that you probably need me, too.

 

Tragically, our current identity in America has nothing to do with any ethical values that supposedly this nation or our supposedly major religion of choice were “founded on”. And although historically and factually it is highly debatable that either were in fact truly founded on these grand ideals and sacrificial selfless morals, there are still just so many truly good people trying to do good things, that if we can all just stop being afraid of the wrong things, there is great hope. We can still hope that more of us will actually want things like justice for all; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; all people viewed as equals; and just some straight-up real love of others in need. These are still very, very, very good ideals to strive for, both as individuals and as a nation. Don’t we want more people coming here who want to share those values with us?

 

Immigration, legal and otherwise, is a red herring in our national myth. I keep looking for those people who claim that America is the new Israel (God forbid if you actually read the Tanakh), or Christ’s Kingdom on earth (God forbid if you actually read the Gospel). But our actions speak lies louder than our words speak truth. So, feel free to espouse the values of self-first, that is very American. Feel free to espouse the values of I don’t want to share, that is very First World.  Go ahead and gripe and complain about what the people in power are doing or not doing if they are not on your team and go ahead and support the ones on your team no matter how much they lie and steal from you and the world at large.  Go ahead if you want and say, “I just don’t want any more people coming here”, fine, at least that is honest, although indefensible as a good ethical stance. But for the love of God, don’t claim that these ideas have anything to do with either American ideals or Christian values.

 

Real values and honestly earned virtues are hard things. A life of value does not come easily and will not stay, if it is not pruned and weeded. Fear is the antithesis of ethical living. And yet, as the greatest humans have always known, a life of true value without fear is also paradoxically very simple. “Love God as He Is and Love all others in the same way you love yourself.” “Pray humbly for your daily bread and let it be enough until tomorrow.”  “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” “Love conquers all.”

 

Remember we all come from the same dust, and we all yearn for the same eternity.

 

It takes so much misguided effort to somehow do the mind -gymnastics or spiritual -voodoo necessary to say or think that we who are currently on top of the heap and who lead today in this nation, in these halls of justice, in these religious temples, in these mansions, and conglomerates of industry, deserve what we have while those who want in, do not. Many of us have of course come about our station by sincere virtue but none of us is here through something uniquely “value-able” to America. America is so obviously struggling with our worship of the false idol of capitalism. For people to continue to try to convince me that the issue of immigration specifically, but also the other important ethical issues of our times, are about claiming our superior ethics or morality or values, or God forbid, to somehow think that self-serving ideals or fearful hoarding of resources can be anything at all to do with democracy or Christianity, well… I am confused and I just don’t get it. But I am not confused about how afraid that makes me.

 

Blessed will be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

 

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“The fears” by giltay is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

Tear Down Those Prison Walls

Tear Down Those Prison Walls and Run Free

By Jane Tawel

August 18, 2018

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Meister Eckhart

As long as we look for some kind of pay for what we do, as long as we want to get something from God in some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God. Live as if you did not exist. Expect and ask nothing in return. Then the merchant inside you will be driven out of the temple God has made. Then God alone dwells there. See! This is how the temple is cleared: when a person thinks only of God and honors him alone. Only such a person is free and genuine.

 

This quote by Meister Eckhart expresses well what has been on my mind as I look at American Christianity in particular, and The Church in the world in 2018. In my own country, it seems that the curtain has been suddenly and violently pulled back revealing the underbelly of a monstrous misunderstanding of what many of us claim is the truth of God in Christ’s revelations and the words of Holy Scripture.

 

We have gone so far into making Christianity a capitalistic individualistic religion that most of us can’t really see at all how to live The Jesus Way anymore.  We have sold Christ’s Kingdom for paid ministry.  We have justified our gains by calling them blessings. We have shared what we can afford to share and assumed that Christ died for us without any need for us to die to ourselves and live for the love of our enemies. We have disagreed with each other without any purpose higher than our own self-satisfied viewpoint. We have condemned the sinner and refused to condemn the sin of our own pride, greed, and smallness. The speck in our own eye has blinded us to the needs of a dying planet’s planks of rainforest proportion. We have found idols without names and joined cults of personalities without souls. The broad path is Walmart-sized while the narrow path is being littered with the trash of the world’s super-economies.  We are lost and we do not know it, because the marketplace is thriving. And we think that what we do in churches can make up for what we have done to God’s Temple.

 

It may be time to stop calling ourselves “little Christs” until we relearn what that means in this time, in this place, in this trial, in this suffering, in this mammoth Babylon made of paper money, security cameras, and nightly numbing entertainments. Perhaps it is time we stopped training pastors and priests and paying them at all; instead listening to the sidewalk prophets lying homeless on our streets. Perhaps no one should accept money for publishing a devotional Bible. Perhaps evangelism should be as free as the Salvation Jesus offers us. Perhaps instead of moaning about cakes and billboards and carpets and even cancer, we should meditate long and hard on what is profiting our souls as we continue to gain the world.

 

Maybe we should worship in parks and living rooms and share what we bring  — of our goods and of our goodness –to be together in spirit and in truth. Perhaps my job should be just that – my job –and my ministry, my religion, my image bearing should be just that – something wild, something free, something communal, something out of my control, something healing, and lonesome, something humble and meek and bold and crazy – just like Jesus’s ministry was. And is. Or could be, anyway.

 

When is it “Time’s up” for me – for us – to understand that the path is narrow, and almost impossible to walk on. The Jesus Way means I must separate my need to live from my need to live in Him. I must be willing to work to feed myself and work to feed others; to provide fish for my table must be separated from being a fisher of men.  This is actually the opposite of the Gnosticism that we now embrace as Christians, thinking that my daily body life can be sanctified if somehow I have “Jesus in my heart”. I must find a way out of thinking that there is no struggle in the dichotomy of this world now and this world as it was meant to be and as we are meant in God to recreate it. I must let my left hand serve my human needs without knowing what my right hand is doing serving the needs of souls. We must see how far we have fallen into the Solomonic way of thinking that we can have it all and still have Eternity in Christ. I must give up any personal gain that I can fathom, if I want something on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

Perhaps it is time for a temple cleansing. If Christ came to tear the curtain between the Holy One and the sinful ones; then perhaps it is time for us sinful ones to rip apart the curtains of our earthly mansions and looking through the dusty windows of our humbled souls, see the world as God sees it.  Janis Joplin sang it well: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” Or as Jesus said, “What is all your profit really worth, if in the end, all you get to keep is what remains of the God-likeness in you?”  Jesus came to set us free but we have to walk through the prison doors to enjoy that freedom.

 

Perhaps it is time for us to see the prison bars of capitalism and self-serving individualism that we have constructed and  falsely called “Christianity”. Perhaps it is time to tear down those bars and then start setting other prisoners free. Perhaps it is time to tear down the walls of the churches, to stop selling in the temples, and to with fear and trepidation seek the freedom that comes from true worship and true servant-hood.

 

As Jesus said, “It can all be summed up like this:  Love a God Who is not you.  And also –Love others in exactly the same measurements and judgments in which you love yourself.”

 

Maybe it is time to rip apart the walls of our hearts with no apparent protection from the onslaught of freedom. Perhaps it is time to repent from our foolish self-blinding way of seeing our world, and see through the eyes of Christ. And with the eyes of Christ, we can run free indeed.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.”  — Jesus, The Christ (as quoted in Luke 4:18)

Today in the newspaper, I read about a woman who was imprisoned for seventeen years because a false witness lied to the police and no one cared enough to find out the truth. We want to say that we are following the path set out by Jesus but instead we are reclining at our tables while a whole world is imprisoned by lies from the Father of Lies. The oppression of greed goes hand in hand with the oppression of need. Do we care enough to find out the Truth? Do we care enough to find out the truth about The Truth, The Way, and The Life — Messiah? Can I get a witness?

But on “That Day”, The Lord will separate the greedy from the needy. No matter where or when we live, how much we have or don’t have, we are not at all worthy. That is a lie of Satan from the time of Adam and Eve. Yet many in  The Church are fond of telling us that in this cheap grace era but expensive Christian era; that somehow we are worthy. We have stolen  the dross of wealth instead of giving up all for the solid gold crown of eternal worthiness. We are all sinners, guilty as charged. There is only One Witness who is True and who can set us free. Jesus. The Witness, who is The King, who is the Judge, will one day ask me if I lived as a witness for Him.  God will one day ask me as a hard trial lawyer or a judge would, if I own enough to pay to get out of jail. And none of us will be able to say, yes, — not even Mr. Amazon himself.  Will The Church continue to think it is about what we own and not what we are? Should those who want to be like Jesus, claim any freedom to “practice their religion in freedom”? No, we have no freedom except the freedom to give up everything, and take up the cross of Christ. If we who are guilty die with He Who was not guilty, then we will live in resurrected freedom forever.

Jesus has our get out of jail card and the right directions on the path to eternal freedom. Above this world’s prison bars is this message: “If you want true freedom, even the ultimate freedom from death, then give up everything, and follow God.” And this is absolutely impossible to do. And yet, Christ did it. And Christ offers to do it for, in and through us.

Perhaps it is time, we let Him set us free.

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Desperately Needed: Translators

Desperately Needed: Translators

“Do Not Pray for This People: I Will Not Hear You”

By Jane Tawel

February 17, 2018

 

 

We the People, who claim some sort of kinship with God, seem to be lost in “non-translation”. “God hear our prayers” becomes impossible if not acted out with our own blood, sweat and tears for others. A quote by the poet, Christian Wiman, was for me today, yet another nail in the coffin of our “go to” – “thoughts and prayers”, “I’ll pray for you”, and so forth.  Not that I don’t in fact, ask for prayer often, and pray for people and give much thought to others daily. However, I remain cognizant of the fact that much of my sort of prayer is only possible because I am a first-world rich, “fat-cat”. Being a first-world citizen is also why I can sinfully often remain inactive in actually “working out my salvation”. Wiman writes in his My Bright Abyss:

 

Silence is the language of faith. Action – be it church or charity, politics or poetry – is the translation. As with any translation, action is a mere echo of its original, inevitably faded and distorted, especially as it moves farther from its source. There the comparison ends, though, for while it is true that action degrades that original silence, and your moments of meditative communion with God can seem a world away from the chaotic human encounters to which those moments compel you, it is also true that without these constant translations into action, that original, sustaining silence begins to be less powerful, and then less accessible, and then finally impossible.

 

 

Today is the fourth day of Lent. This year, Ash Wednesday fell ironically on the same day as the Hallmark Holiday, Valentine’s Day, and tragically on another violence by gun day at a school in Florida.  Of course, every day in America has become a violence by gun day.  When it happens to me or my kids, please don’t give me your thoughts and prayers.  Our prayers in this country have become impossible for God to answer, because we think of them like we do all currency – ours—belonging by rights to us because what?  We call ourselves “Christians”?  We have become a people who admire those who make money without work that benefits others and those who admire prayers that remain silent and not active. Unless we begin to spend the currency of our prayers in action, the Bible says, it will be impossible for God to hear us.

 

“Give us this day our daily bread” is meaningless for those who have more bread than is good for them.  God has no role in our need, and therefore, no need to give us “rolls”.  As we continue to pray for protection, we must accept that we have created a nation that doesn’t need God for that any more either.  Neither do God’s original people, by the way, the Israelites. Plenty of ammo to go around there, too. God is willing to let us continue to protect ourselves with our weapons of mass destruction.  Free will, and all that.

 

If I want to know how to act in the Babylon I live in, I should read the newspapers, and this doesn’t always make me feel good. If I want to know whose prayers God listens to, I have to read the Bible parts that don’t make me feel all that good either.  I must carefully and humbly read my Bible – especially the bits that convict me.

 

Psalm 69:33 For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

 

Psalm 34:17: The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles.

 

Proverbs 21:13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

 

We must stop believing that we can go into our closets and pray and be a “good” church goer and be saved.  If this world we have created hasn’t become scary and awful enough for you, look at the next one we claim we want to go to – a new earth and a new heaven lived as God originally planned.  If we don’t start living in that world now, God is quite clear that we are having no part of Him and that He will have no part of us.  The words of the prophet Jeremiah should propel us out of our “thoughts and prayers” —

 

Jeremiah:  Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah (The Church, America, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, China……) who come through these gates (church doors, democracies) to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

“‘Will you steal and murder, (shoot up your own children as living sacrifices to your freedom to own something?)  commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal (Capitalism, America, Freedom…)and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh (oh, Irony – Shiloh is now The West Bank!!!)  where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’

16 So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah (Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, Karbala, Najaf, Kandahar, Kabul, Kedrovoye, Bethlehem….)  and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. 19 But am I the one they are provoking? declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched. (Cheap grace will be seen as the counterfeit salvation it is!)

21 “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings (tithes, prayers, sermons, “thoughts for Me”)  to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! 22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt  (Europe, Africa, Asia) and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff -necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’ (Jeremiah as recorded by the Holy Spirit in chapter 7, Book of Jeremiah)

 

I am taking time away from reading my newspapers this Lent.  But I hardly need to do that to understand that American Christians have been swept along in the tides of history like all others who grow out of their need or desire to be with and like a righteous God; who break their covenant with God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We have taken such incremental steps away from Jehovah, Yahweh, that we are unable to see how many degrees off True North we have journeyed.  This is what has happened throughout recorded history with God’s people:  with the Egyptians who gave God’s people bread, with the Babylonians who let them pray behind closed doors, and of course, with the Romans as they took the money into the coffers of God’s temple. We too, have offered our prayers out of one side of our mouths, while chanting, “Crucify Him” out of the other side.

 

Jesus did not come to merely die for us. He came to live for us and to live as us.  He came to show us The Way – because we keep losing our way.  Most importantly, He came to make history.  He did not make history when He died – we will all do that since that first Adam chose death over serving Yahweh.  Jesus made history as the first human ever to be RESURRECTED from the dead – for eternity.  This is what He came to show us that God intended all along — from the beginning to today. God through The Christ,  has now offered a way for us too, to be resurrected.  IF!! IF!!!  IF!!!

 

THEN!!!  THEN!!! THEN!!!!  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (As recorded by the Prophet Paul in his 6th chapter to the Romans –and to us?)

 

I don’t really need to read the newspapers since History repeats itself again and again –in The Garden of Eden, in Israel, in America – on a Roman cross. The only different news-paper is The Good News of Jesus The Christ. Jesus broke the bonds of history – He broke the bonds of Time – He broke the bonds of Death. The news has always told us the same thing – we will die because we sin.  But all of that changed in the life, death and resurrection of the man we call Jesus and who believers call, Messiah, Christos, The Christ.  My prayers for Jesus to be my Savior are always a good start, but The Good News is that they cannot be the only thing I do.

I thank my God, My Savior, that He didn’t come to earth to offer me His “thoughts and prayers”.

 

 

 

My Country Tis Not of Thee

My Country ‘Tis Not of Thee

by Jane Tawel

September 26, 2017

There has been a lot of hoopla lately over public figures protesting during the national anthem at sporting events.  As someone who does not watch sports, I am a little taken aback by the fierce emotions surrounding the protests and the singing of the national anthem.  We lose our way so easily.  The national anthem, is just that — a song. It isn’t even the pledge to our country that we say to a flag. It is a song.  There are many other anthems that celebrate our country.  The funny thing is whenever I am around people singing this anthem, most of them don’t know the words and can’t hit the high notes if they do.  Is that a form of protest, I wonder?  Could we start maybe requiring people to learn the words and take voice lessons?  Or is that just too much like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia?  I am sort of just shaking my head, I must admit.  I mean, do we play the national anthem before chess meets, or spelling bees, or tiddly- wink contests.  Shall we start playing it before the kids go out in the yard to play kick ball?

I have an anthem for my country.  Actually in my country, just like for America, there are many  great anthems.  One of my favorites is called “Amazing Grace” and the other is called “Jesus Loves Me”.  One of my country’s best anthems is called “How Great Thou Art”.  I have found many people do not now know the words or tunes to those great anthems either.  I daily try to understand their meaning. And you know, the King of my country doesn’t care if I stand or sit or lie down when I am singing His Anthems.  In fact, my King says, it is better if you go in a closet and privately and sincerely sing anthems to our Kingdom ideals.

The  United States of America’s anthem was never written to be played before what is officially called a “pastime” or “game”.  War is not actually any thing like a game and definitely not something people do to pass the time.  The national anthem of our particular country was meant to be played for special occasions that celebrate what our country has done for the people who live here and as an example to the countries of people who don’t live here.  It was meant to celebrate things like freedom and sacrifice.  Protests, at their best,  are meant to do the same thing.

For centuries, there have been many anonymous people who have quietly and respectfully decided not to pledge allegiance to a flag of a country.  These are people who feel their only allegiance belongs to God and that the words that they say matter in a different way on a daily basis than perhaps those words might mean if they were actually in a war defending the country they reside in.  If I were in the military fighting for my country, I would pledge to that country’s ideals daily.  But game players are not fighting for their country and if we have given them the right to play for our team, our state, our school on a field, then we should give them the rights all citizens have in the country — the freedom to speak about what they believe.

We tend to want our public figures, whether on a court and field or on a movie screen, to tow the line.  We pay them, they entertain us.  We are a nation that would rather pay a lot of money to be entertained than to clean up someone else’s hurricane damage or take care of someone’s health issues. We would rather fifth quarterback the missteps of a game than analyze police missteps.  So when these public figures decide they must protest publicly, we get miffed.  “I watch you to feel good about myself in a sort of narcissistic, self-caring, numbing way”, we might say.  And ranting at public figures lets us off the hook in terms of looking at what we really believe and what the real person sitting next to us really believes and what we should DO about what we believe.  Because sitting and watching seems to be a sort of non- protest, doesn’t it?  In God’s kingdom, though, it is the players with the self-serving protestations of the non-involved that will be kicked out.  In  Matthew, Jesus tells a parable about God’s playing field:

For it will be like a coach (man) getting ready for a game (journey), who called his players (servants) and entrusted to them his wealth and property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

For what does it profit me if my team wins, but I lose my soul on the sidelines?  I want to be careful that my love of the game or my love of my own words, does not blind me to God’s love for all people.  The Lord asks us to be respectful of whatever country we find ourselves in but to never confuse our respect for a foreign land with worship.  Worship belongs only to God and our allegiance to Christ alone.  Walking in the light of God’s world is no halftime, pastime, couch potato event.  It involves much more than a hand over my heart and once a week pledge.  It is not a game.  And yet, the victories in Jesus are so much sweeter than any other win could be.  Which reminds me of another great anthem people in my country sing:

“I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

 

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

 

I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

Now that anthem, about that Game-changer, and that kingdom — that– makes me want to take a knee.

 

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A Sort of Answer

I have a new Facebook friend, named Jeremy whom I have come to really like a lot.  He is a friend of a previous student of mine and he is willing to ask me – a stranger – questions about what I believe and think.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love that.  I love wrestling through ideas and beliefs, especially when they have anything to do with what I call Worldview or Christianity or Truth or Spiritual Things. So here goes Jeremy, my answer to your question:

 

A Sort of Answer to Jeremy from Jane

By Jane Tawel

February 2, 2017

 

Dear Jeremy:

 

Do not imagine, Jeremy, that I feel that what I am going to say is adequate or will answer your deep question, even though it is a very long and circular answer. I do circuitously and at length usually answer most everything, even when asked a simple, “How are you”– just ask anyone who is acquainted with me. If you don’t feel like reading all this I will understand and you can skip to the very last paragraph or two.

 

In his preface to “The Active Life”, Parker Palmer says something that speaks to how I am going to try to answer your question. About his own writing and knowledge, Parker says: (Jane’s side comments are bolded in parentheses): “It is a mistake to imagine that writers (dare I insert “Christians”?) are experts on the things they write about—at least, it is a mistake in my case! I write about things I am still wrestling with, things that are important to me but that I have not yet figured out. Once I master something (for me that is never — mastered that is– so far!), I put it behind me.  I lose the passionate curiosity that writing a book requires.  I write to explore vexing questions and real dilemmas, to take myself into territories I have never seen before in hopes of understanding myself and the world a bit better, (dare I say understanding Christ and His Kingdom better?).”

 

So, Jeremy, I write because I am an often afraid, worried, pretty inadequate, but passionately desiring –to- know human being. I say “dare”, because I am metaphorically the woman who pours perfume on Christ’s feet, having no or at least little idea of what I am doing and whether I am “right or not”– only knowing I want to find a way to know this Jesus better  and to be able to someday be welcomed into His Kingdom. I pour out words like perfume, in a pathetic attempt to wrestle with God’s truth and seek God’s blessing, as Jacob did, and to pour out my love for the Savior who saved me and guides me.

 

So one thing you should know, Jeremy, before you go on, is that I guess the first pouring out of a perfume/idea is that I do not believe “praying the sinner’s prayer” makes you a disciple of Jesus.  It is a very, very good start, but it is only a start.  Being a disciple means studying and following –being born again,  being twisted and molded into a whole new being. It means giving over everything to His Refiner’s fire – heart, soul and mind. It means less of me and more of Him.  It means becoming the least of the least. (Matthew 11:11 and Matt. 20:16) But most of all being a disciple of Jesus means taking up Christ’s Cross. That is not “your cross”, that is His. (Matt. 16:24)  The cross was a punishment for a criminal, it was literal death, and for a religious Hebrew, spiritual death. For Jesus, of course it was a misunderstood yet humiliating public spectacle; in Christ’s case for a man who was considered and condemned as a traitor to both his nation of Rome and the nation of Israel (the people of Jehovah). The cross was a humiliating event meant to shame in excruciating death while causing the most suffering, and for The Christ it was also a deep heart and Soul suffering—a suffering  by God! for the people who had actually sinned against God – which ironically of course did not include the one man who took it up willingly, revealing Himself to be The Promised Son of Man, the Messiah.

 

None of us can take up The Cross – The One Way, Truth and Life as Jesus did because He did it once and for all for the whole world. And yet we are called to take His cross as we take Christ’s yoke, walking as best we can in tandem with Him as Jesus takes the burden once and for all. (Matt 11:30) This is the great mystery of The Cross. The important thing is, “my cross” is my “deep  heart suffering” for a lost world, my willingness to give up all of “me” for the salvation of others.

 

All of that to say, when we call ourselves, “little Christs”, which is what Christian means, we do so with humility and trepidation and suffering and eyes trained completely on Jesus, the revelation to us of the Father’s heart and the modeled life lived as the one True God’s behavior. A behavior that comes from grief for His people, a willingness to listen and suffer with His people, and a desire for truth, justice, grace, mercy, and love combined in a way which we as sinners and temporal beings see only as if “through a foggy glass”. (I Corinthians 13:12) We suffer for and with others and the weird hard thing about the Jesus Way is that the others must be our enemies, the hardest people we could imagine to suffer for–if we are to go The Jesus Way.  My problem is, we as Christians seem to be choosing power over love and choosing to suffer for the people it is easiest to suffer for, not the people it is hardest to suffer for.  We have become the priests and rulers who see people in need, broken people and we cross to the other side of the road so we don’t have to spend time or money or thought or get our hands dirty by helping. We feel safer condemning the outsider while coddling our own, raising lukewarm baby Christians and hardening the hearts of those who don’t believe.  So the Samaritan, which would be what we think of as today’s non-believer, or, unsettling thought for most Christians, the wayfarer who today is perhaps a Muslim, has to model a God we say we have the corner on. It is not up to us to choose whom to help but we “cross the road” and thereby leave up to others the opportunity to model a God they may not believe in but –in the image of God– they unknowingly serve Him by helping the needy. Of course there are lots of Christians giving up their lives and livelihood to help others, but … that wasn’t your question to me exactly so I am being as hard on myself as possible.

 

So, Jeremy, you asked me a question about what I believe about abortion and I thought I would try to answer you here because there is no way Facebook could handle this long- winded response.  My caveat is that it is a response for only today with the sure knowledge that tomorrow – maybe even five minutes from now– I will need to find a new lens, a new glass, a new heart, a “renewed” mind (Ephesians 4:23, Romans 12: 1 & 2) in order to see even more clearly how the “narrow path” leads me (Matthew 7:14).  As Augustine said, “I err, therefore I am” and perhaps the way Jane best errs is by writing.

 

Jeremy, I think my point to you in a previous post on this was not to argue one way of seeing a national policy in Christian or biblical terms. Rather it was to create an inner dialogue for myself and maybe someone else.  My point is more to fellow seekers and believers and that is this: The Bible is a big, big, big book with many, many calls on a person’s life if that person wants to take it seriously as the only inspired Word of God. We take it “in parts” greatly to our peril. And we should only and ever use and wield God’s Word as the sword of God with humility and love. I love “conversing” with you because you are thinking, listening and digging in.

 

The Bible has many examples of people (see Paul and Peter) who vehemently disagreed on things, who had to talk and listen and be content that they would not reach a mutual agreement or conclusion.  And yet we call them saints because they did not fall by the wayside; they did not veer from the path that their King, their Lord called them to walk.  And because of Peter and Paul  (and yes, several Marys) the Christ Way, or Kingdom Life was spread throughout the world. And with Paul and Peter, it was perhaps actually somewhat surprisingly because of the very fact they disagree on theology but still did not veer—because of their wrestling together through Christ’s words and life and calling –because of that — many were saved and brought to faith and a whole new life. So since you asked, and I appreciate that! — let me try to say a few things rolling around in my head about the current pro-choice, pro-life discussion.

 

Your question to me about pro-life/ pro-choice is difficult for me to answer because of my own digging in and life experience and desire to understand what it truly means to be a Yahweh follower. As I mentioned to you earlier, I believe the same questions about choice and life must be consistently and humbly asked about all lives – soldiers and war, refugees and political asylum, guns and citizens, poor and needy.  You asked about war and as I said, I believe that usually any decision about taking a life, whether it is a war or self-defense or an abortion, comes from several previous bad mistakes or bad decisions—but not always the individual making the choice! And these decisions come from what you and I would call sin – personal sin yes,  but what it is critical to understand is that they also come from the avalanche of fallen humans’ sins — the world as a whole’s sin, the systems of power and of nations and powers and greedy monsters’ Sins.  And this is what leads a beloved human creation of God – a human soul that God loves more than anything — to make a lesser than God’s ideal choice.  I have made so many lesser choices in my lifetime. And I have sinned quite, quite a lot and daily.

 

Any one I have personally ever met or read about, unless they have given themselves over to evil, feels heartbroken for taking a life, whether they believe in a God or not. But here is my big point, I guess –We “little Christs” are called as Christ was to “bind up the broken hearted”. We are not called to shame them nor legislate them. We are called to heal them and in so doing, to in great part through our own faith, to heal ourselves. (Psalm 147:3, Isaiah 61:1)

 

Taking a life is never a good choice.   BUT – ever since Adam and Eve chose power over trust and rule over relationship, the one thing God wanted us to understand is that we would continue to have freedom to choose and that this would be a blessing as well as a curse.  As a seeker, I also each day have freedom to choose to follow the Greatest Model of Humanity– or not. I can as Lewis says, choose to follow The One who calls, “Come, further up. Come further in!”

 

Now back to where we live now. The one thing America has seemed to get right in this great experiment is this idea of freedom with checks and balances for justice’s sake. Of course, a nation or “State” must combine freedom with good ways to protect and care for all citizens. This is good stewardship. God has proved Himself to be a God on the side of nations and people who care for the least, the lost, the needy, and the unable. God tried very, very hard to help His chosen people to have this kind of community on earth (as it is in His Heavens).  But they really ended up just wanting what everyone else wanted – a king.  And with great sorrow, knowing that the Israelites would eventually worship their nation more than they worshipped Yahweh, He gave them the freedom to institute an earthly king as an authority – to be like other nations.  It was pretty much with a few exceptions, all downhill from there. I confess – I believe many American Christians are confused about what Kingdom we are supposed to be living in. And what authority we are supposed to honor and serve.

 

So, from Israel,  fast forward to America –To be simplistic — I believe one of the great things America did is separate church and state.  I see the problems Israel had when they did not want a separation from this world’s power and “stuff” and Yahweh’s Power and “Stuff”. Israel wanted a king not a God to rule them.

 

I also look at history — not only the history of America but the history of God’s people as storied in the Bible and the history of The Church, from its humble terrified persecuted but Holy Spirit-filled beginnings to when “the church” became powerful and greedy and condemning and self-justifying –instead of suffering with Christ’s cross leading. Instead of rejoicing! with Christ’s cross leading. Instead of loving! with Christ’s cross leading. I am not very smart when it comes to anything, including history but I look at the Church from Constantine to Pope Julius to Calvin etc. and I just don’t ever see good things happening when Christ’s Bride tries to rule as Government – not good things for the people under that government and not good things for Christ’s Church. **Side note – this is why so many people of all faiths, like and respect the current Pope Francis.  He actually seems to try to be a servant and to influence His flock and the rulers of this world to turn from wickedness and toward love. And Pope Francis is trying to show the Jesus Way even in the great halls of power he has been elevated to. Sort of like Jesus! Philippians 2:5-11. The Pope is one of this world’s current authorities that many can get behind and pray for. That is we can pray for Him as a true Christ follower. It is in “the fruit”. (Matthew 7:16) Of course we can pray for any particular authority in church or state, like all souls, to find true salvation. And which of course if it happened, would change everything.

 

We have only to look at the Kings of Israel to see that it was with sorrow that God gave his people what they wanted — a government on earth to rule them in His stead. And then “in the fullness of time”, God came Himself as He promised He would – but in a way no one could imagine – with no power, ever– suffering, the least of the least, and with no claim on national influence anywhere not even to the nation of Israel. God slipped under the radar to establish His Kingdom on earth as it has always been in His world –  Heaven).  All of that to say, I know it is not a popular view, but I think if we claim Christ’s name, we need to see America as Babylon or Rome. If we want to see it as a new Israel, then we should definitely know the perilous thinking we have let ourselves in for. No, Jeremy, Our role is to “rebuild the temple” ie. the body of Christ, His Bride, and to care for the people — all people, perhaps especially those outside the walls of “that temple” — in Jehovah’s desire to bring all to Himself. Of course a lot of Hebrews preferred to remain in Babylon. Metaphor intended.

 

Just as when God’s people were in Babylon, and many decided they preferred the life of the nation, to the life of God’s temple people– So I fear The Church of America does today. And that means me too. And Jesus keeps begging us –standing at the door and knocking– that we who have been given so much knowledge, so much of Himself, so much grace, so much forgiveness, so much LIFE – He asks us, silly old, flawed, broken us –to “feed the sheep”, to BE His Temple.(John 21:17).  He asks me, silly old me, to understand that to whom much is given much will be required. He asked me to leave behind daily that which makes me comfortable and to enter into His Kingdom.(Luke 12:48)

 

So I am struggling with this conviction that as a believer, I must start cleaning my own “inside of the cup” even as I try to address the dirt on the outside. (Matt. 23:26) Of course we must speak out against injustice—the dirt on the outside– as this is a primary requirement of following Yahweh. But we must be humble, humble, humble in doing so, with our eyes constantly searching the insides of our own cups– and we must know that it must come from a Christian worldview that is rooted in truth and love, not in an American worldview that is rooted in “Us First”. And this is a problem when so many Christians – myself included—have tied their bank accounts, bottom lines, and incomes along with their way of seeing Jesus and God — to their Christianity.  We cannot serve two masters. (Matt. 6:24)

 

I– with sadness– and by convicting myself as the number one culprit, submit to you that the American Christian needs to understand that we are the world’s current Sadducees and Pharisees. (Matthew 23:13). We are the rich young rulers who go away sad and break Christ’s heart. (Mark 10:17 – 27). And by placing myself in those people’s places, not in the place of those disciples I wish I were like, by casting myself as the Pharisee, I am humbled. This paradigm shift in seeking directs my thinking. I have to meekly, foolishly come to Jesus daily—No– I must submit moment by moment.

 

My greatest yet nagging guide and struggle in the past years has been to meditate on these fearsome words Jesus speaks to Christians:“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7: 21-23.

 

Do I long with passion to know Jesus? It means His cross but it also means His power of the resurrection. (Philippians 3:10)

 

The rich and powerful have a difficult time entering The Kingdom, because they don’t want to.We don’t need to. And so we persuade ourselves that we are “doing many wonders in His name” – but we don’t know Him and therefore, He doesn’t know us. Thank God — Jesus assures us that nothing is impossible with God, praise the Lord. Even though it is harder for a rich man to “enter” His kingdom, God is able when we are not. God through Christ made The Way (Isaiah 43:16, Hebrews 10:20). But we get to choose. And we have to walk through a very narrow way to enter His Kingdom – We can not have one foot in some one else’s kingdom, lest we topple over. (Matt. 7:13 & 14)

 

I think especially as one raised in the Church and as an American -raised “Christian”, I  have grown up with a giant tree trunk in my own eye and I need to be very, very careful about picking splinters out of others’ eyes, especially those from different lands, different “countries”, different belief systems. (Matt. 7:5). I fail at this knowing myself in the light of God on a daily basis.  Hence my extreme need to understand what Christ means by hypocrisy and my agonizing need to have the hypocrisy in myself removed. It is sort of like choosing to get a root canal, but there it is.

 

Finally, Jeremy, if you are not comatose by now with my searching through many words and ideas — Since we mentioned Bonhoeffer, I struggle with the fact that I believe the “First World” Church as we might deem the Western World and hence, America, has tragically cheapened grace for “their own” –while it has offered very, very little grace to those outside its “walls”.  If you read the Bible, you will see that Jesus did the exact opposite and that His stories radically turned upside down people’s understanding of who behaves justly in the image of God and who believes rightly– and who does not. Again, we must cast ourselves as the Pharisees, the eldest son, the ones who have been given much both in “stuff” and in knowledge – both in power and in forgiveness, in love and in truth. We have so, so much. And yet we still do not know the Father and how much He loves. We need only turn to The Rabbi Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal (Luke 15:11-32) and His parable of the Good Samaritan  (Luke 10:25-37) to have a view of Christ’ “crazy” Upside Down Kingdom.

 

Jeremy,  I appreciate your hanging in there through all this (if you have managed )  I know I haven’t really answered your question.  But then again, I find that the Jesus I read about in the Scriptures, doesn’t really answer people’s questions, including my own. And this is also much like The Father, Creator if you read the Old Testament. Jehovah doesn’t answer. He doesn’t answer Job or the Hebrews’ questions or frankly any one else’s really.  God mostly says, “Be still and know that I Am.” And in that are all the answers. (Psalm 46:10).

 

When it comes to peoples’ questions, Jesus is mostly a Doer. Jesus isn’t really  much of an Explainer.  In fact, when asked to explain, The Messiah mostly tells stories about people who Do Stuff, not Talk Stuff.  This is an irony, I agree, for me, a woman who has now spent pages “talking about this stuff” to you.  Which is why I am really seeking God’s call on my life to “be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only, thereby deceiving myself” into thinking that I am living for God or Jesus.  (James 1:22).  God does not need little ole’ Jane to speak for Him and I must be very careful about doing so. We take God’s name in vain when we try to wield Him for our own misunderstood needs. There is a commandment against using God for the own misguided or dimly lit desires of my heart. (Exodus 20:7).

 

Christ, God’s only begotten Son does require much of me since He sent the Holy Spirit to work through my body until I meet Him at the gates of eternity. The Church is now Christ’s Body, and as He gave His own Body, we now join together communally in remembrance of Him, becoming His Body: His eyes, His hands, His feet. I am struggling to become so much as a pinky finger. I am striving just to hand out metaphoric cups of water and some real ones as well.  As another Francis once said: “Preach the gospel, and if you must, use words.”

 

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Matt. 10:42 I Corinthians 12: 4-13 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

 

So, Jeremy, this has been a whole lot of “perfume” poured out, and not necessarily the designer expensive kind of scented words. I am glad that you as a young man are seeking to find the scented perfume of brilliant theologians and seekers of God.  Hopefully you figured out if you don’t want to read this whole thing that you could scroll down here to the bottom for my answer.

And my answer is, “Yes.”

You told me you couldn’t figure out from what I was saying whether I am pro-choice or pro-life.  I sort of think Jesus (not that I am comparing myself to Him at all) often had the same issue – people just could not figure Him out. He refused to give a direct answer, not because He didn’t know – unlike Jane who doesn’t usually know much of anything.  Jesus didn’t answer because He did know – HE KNEW THEM.  He knew their real hearts and He knew what it was like to be  them – because He was fully human and fully God.

Jesus refused to cast stones even though He was the one person who could. But He also refused to cast pearls before the people who didn’t know what do with them because they were so, so hungry. And what can a hungry-souled woman do with a pearl?  She can’t eat it, and she so desperately longs to be fed.  “Feed my sheep.” The Christ kept eating with sinners and then doing miracles, healing even the unfaithful and ungrateful ones – because that is what God does.  Confusing.  I apologize Jeremy, I do get rather confused about how I am supposed to be like Jesus. But I’m going to keep living in the mystery and confusion and keep trying to step back onto the narrow Way when I fall off and seek with all of me to know All of Him and be known by Him.

I can’t thank you enough for helping me to try to find my way – no Jehovah’s way – further in and further up. Thank you for helping me by asking me your questions and thanks to you and to others who have forgiven my missteps.

I guess in answer to your question– Am I pro-choice or pro-life, the simple answer would be:  YES!

With gratefulness for your journeying with me,

Jane