Interesting moment in Sunday worship

So there I was, singing away on some hymn like I usually do, glad that it had four verses ’cause that meant that I could try to sing all four parts (not at once, although some claim I try that too), when a thought crossed my mind:

“You know, Bruce, you’re going to die some day. And when that day comes, your vocal cords will be stilled and you won’t be able to sing these hymns. And your hands will be stilled, and you won’t be able to type and write and speak your piece. You’ve only got so many notes and so many words in you, dude, so use them well, use them wisely — but above all, make use of them while you still have the chance.”

It wasn’t a bad moment, or a guilt moment, or anything like that. It was just sort of a start, a shift in perspective that said “speak out and sing out while you have breath to sing and speak.”

The other thing that seemed to go with it was — speak the truth, or at least the truth as you see it. Don’t be mean, but don’t hold back either. It would be easy to attribute that to being 57 and being past worrying about what other people think — but the truth is, I DO care, probably too much. So, I temper things, and try to be fair and even-handed, and in the process just water down what needs to be said. This moment was like being told “make it count, dude.”

Don’t know if anyone can relate to this. Don’t know if it means anything, or was just a nice thought during a worshipful moment. But, it meant something to ME, and I thought I’d share.

A Book for Artists and Humans of All Kinds

Just finished The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a book about the struggle to create art, to live to our higher calling, and to be and become what we are intended to be. And it has entered a very select category for me: Books That Changed My Life.

If you think that’s hyperbole, think again. Pressfield nails three concepts that any artist — indeed, any human — struggles with daily:

  • Resistance — that force that tries to prevent you from achieving what you are supposed to achieve.
  • Professional versus Amateur — how to approach your calling with the attitude of the Professional, not the Amateur — including the realization that Resistance is real and must be both respected and overcome, every day.
  • Muses and Angels — the idea that when you commit, even in the face of Resistance, there are forces outside of you that come to your aid and align themselves with you.

I’ll be honest — I wasn’t expecting that third section. Every since I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I have wondered about her assertion that the Universe helps you when you are moving down the right path, and that only by starting down that path will we find that out. Seemed too “new agey” for me. But even while I struggled with the concept, I had to acknowledge that there were times when my life felt “in the flow” and times when it didn’t. And, there were times when committing to write or create seemed to unleash forces within me, or even outside of me, that I didn’t know I had.

Pressfield’s discussion of Resistance is worth the cost of the book, all by itself. By putting a name and a personality on the force that seems to oppose our work, he gives us a way to identify, discuss, and defeat that force. It has already helped me to say “this is Resistance at work” in various areas of my life, and to begin using Pressfield’s strategies to fight back.

And lest any of you think this is only for artists, let me point out that Pressfield takes pains to note that Resistance and Being a Pro apply to any activity in our lives that can be classified as either Calling or Higher Purpose. He talks about writing, music-making, starting a business, helping others — almost any human activity that comes from Self and not Ego.

And yes, at the end of the book he ties it all together with a discussion of Ego versus Self. It provides a surprising ending to a surprising book. Whether or not you accept his metaphysical approach to Angels and Muses, the distinction he makes between Ego (the seat of Resistance) and Self is useful and insightful.

This is an important book for anyone looking to better understand the forces in their lives and the path to fulfilling their life’s purpose and calling. Get it, read it, apply it. It may become part of your collection of Books That Changed My Life.

Hubris, Thy Name Is “Conservative Bible Project”

I’m not sure I even know how to write about this. It is so far beyond the pale that all I can do, I think, is tell the story.

There is a web site called Conservapedia. Apparently Wikipedia is too liberal for them, so they have their own online wiki-based encyclopedia. (“The Trustworthy Encyclopedia” is the sub-title, under a logo made to look like the multi-language globe of Wikipedia … except this one is covered by a big American flag. Apparently only American opinions count. But I digress.)

This site has started a new wiki project entitled the “Conservative Bible Project.” I’m going to just quote the opening page, so I’m not accused of distorting their message through my liberal bias, as it were:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts of Christianity
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

Of these three sources of errors, the last introduces the largest error, and the biggest component of that error is liberal bias. Large reductions in this error can be attained simply by retranslating the KJV into modern English.

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop; defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”; using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

Thus, a project has begun among members of Conservapedia to translate the Bible in accordance with these principles.

Wow. Just … wow. I’m actually just about speechless at the combination of hubris, ignorance, and distortion present in those ten guidelines.

Here are just two small points, among many, many that I could make:

  • “Free-Market Parables” — so the point of Jesus’s parables was to promote capitalism? Jesus was all about derivatives and NAFTA? The parable of the Sower is to discourage farm subsidies? The problem, of course, is that for many conservatives the so-called “free market” IS a religion. Greed is their god, not Jesus, and anything that gets in the way of that greed is obviously of the devil. Fettering the market to prevent the poor and powerless from being harmed is obviously demonic, in their eyes. I wonder what they do with the rich man and Lazarus — give the rich man more stock options and fire Lazarus one year before retirement so they don’t have to pay his pension?
  • “Liberal Wordiness” — as another writer aptly points out, “how are you going to abide by the conservative mandate to avoid “dumbing down” Holy Writ while at the same time avoiding big words liberals use?” Here’s a clue, dear erstwhile Bible translators: the reason other transations use multiple names for God is because the Bible uses multiple names for God. (I started to put “you twits” on the end of that, but the fact that I’m referencing Wikipedia ought to be enough.)

By far, though, the worst aspect of this misbegotten effort is the subjugation of the Bible, and of Jesus, to a political philosophy. It is one thing to read the Bible and interpret it as supporting your position; it is quite another thing to rewrite it to support your position.

I’m sure, to the people that are doing this, it seems perfectly acceptable to write their own conservative translation of the Bible. To me, it is ultimately a very sad story. Rather than come together over the word, as fellow followers of the Christ, to try to hear the Spirit’s Word to us within the written Word, we simply move further and further apart, with our own churches, our own mission groups, our own television channels and radio stations and publishers and web sites … and now, one side has its own Bible. Once again, a story that appears to have come from the Onion is actually true, and once again I am reminded of the quote from “Hannah and Her Sisters”:

If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.

Brothers and Sisters: Teddy Kennedy’s Religion

(“Brothers and Sisters” is the weekly prayer-and-share diary on Daily Kos where community members share their burdens and needs, and support one another. I am the host for tonight’s edition, and have posted it here first. If you want to read the comments in the Daily Kos version, check it out here. Enjoy! — Bruce)

I have found myself quite moved this week, as I have read and listened to the news coverage of Senator Kennedy. His accomplishments in the Senate are, of course, legendary, in terms of both longevity and productivity. His connection to Camelot and the Kennedy dynasty have been much discussed. But, while I am grateful for all of that, and for his unwavering devotion to liberal causes and ideals, those are not the details that move me.

No, it is his religion and religious actions that have, more than once, moved me to tears this week. What’s that? You don’t recall reading very much about Teddy Kennedy’s religion? Make the jump, and let us consider together the religious practice of Edward M. Kennedy.

One of today’s lections is from the epistle of James — that “right strawy epistle” that Martin Luther sometimes struggled with. It gives us, I think, one of the bases for Kennedy’s practice of his religion:

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Repeatedly throughout the week, we have heard story after story of how Ted Kennedy served others. Not just through legislation, through which he served thousands; but through repeated acts of kindness, and humility, and service, and love. We learned just yesterday that the Senator had read every week to students at an elementary school, helped a family get through immigration with their newly-adopted son in time for Thanksgiving, helped a man get Red Sox tickets for his dying father, and even sat with the great columnist Mary McGrory after she had been stricken by a stroke and sang Irish ballads to her.

My life has been enriched and inspired to learn these things about Edward Kennedy, to realize that here was a man who chose to leave behind bitterness, and regret, and grief, and what-ifs, and focused his life on one thing: service. Service to the many, but also service to the one. Without press releases, without photo ops, without asking for anything in return — service simply in the cause of our shared humanity.

One verse from the James passage is carved into the stone above the main doors of our church’s sanctuary: Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. As part of the service this morning, our pastor had us all turn (the main doors are in the back) and look at the verse, and say it aloud together. As we did, I couldn’t help but think of Ted Kennedy, and his embodiment of that verse.

Most of us will never have the opportunity to affect the lives of thousands through the legislation we write, or the company we found, or the book we publish. But all of us can follow the late Senator in living out that verse, in living lives of service and caring. I, for one, am going to try to do more, to use whatever time I am given to care for others, to be a doer of the word and not just a hearer. Thank you, Senator Kennedy, for living your religion through service and love, and for inspiring us to do the same.

Brothers and Sisters: The Vertical and the Horizontal

(“Brothers and Sisters” is the weekly prayer-and-share diary on Daily Kos where community members share their burdens and needs, and support one another. I was the host for tonight’s edition, and worked for some hours on it once I got home from church. Unfortunately, somehow my draft version got lost just as I posted it on Daily Kos. I later found it, and since it was too late to post there — and since it is time-specific to today’s lections — I decided to just post it here. If you want to read the comments in the Daily Kos version, it is here. Enjoy! — Bruce)

Tonight’s “Brothers and Sisters” is going to go off in all directions. Well, actually, just two: the vertical and the horizontal. Come on in, pull up a chair, and let’s think about both vertices as we gather together. All are welcome to enter, speak, and share, as little or as much as you wish or need.

The Vertical

One of the lections for today is Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

There’s a phrase that accurately describes the place where some of us find ourselves tonight: “the dark night of the soul.” It originated with the writings of Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross. It describes a time when one’s prayers and devotions seem to go nowhere, and no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you do, you have an overwhelming sense that

You. Are. Alone.

All of us have been there. All of us have had those times. It may have been family issues, or personal problems. Or it might just be the existential crisis that is part and parcel of the human condition.

The Psalmist gives voice to this darkness. He calls from the depths, and exhorts the Lord to hear, to be attentive. In a phrase that perfectly captures the despair that such a time can cause, he waits for the Lord “more than those who watch for the morning.” No matter which Force of the universe you call on (if you do), the Psalmist has one final word.

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

Even in the middle of your dark night, you can know this: at some point, the morning will come.

The Horizontal

But what of us who do NOT call on any Force of any kind? And even for those of us who do — is that the only call we can make? Is that the only number in the directory? Or, even as we wait for the morning to come, is there somewhere else, someONE else, we can reach out to for connection, for sustenance?

In another lection, the author of Ephesians has an answer:

Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

I’ve been a member of Daily Kos since the 2004 election. Many of my friends ask me “just what is Daily Kos?” I give the usual answers: progressive political site, super-blog site, one of the places I turn to for well-researched stories about the news of the day. But then I always add — “… it’s a community.” And I tell them about Brothers and Sisters.

The first time I read Brothers and Sisters, I was first amazed, and then deeply gratified. Here was a political site showing the acceptance and caring that many houses of faith could only dream of. Here were people of all creeds, or no creed at all, sharing their burdens, promising to pray or think good thoughts or send energy — and often jumping in to help someone in very physical, tangible ways!

The writer of Ephesians was writing to the early church, of course, but his good word applies to all of us: we are members of each other. All of us share the human condition, including that dark night already noted. If we haven’t experienced it yet, we will.

If you come into our room tonight right smack in the middle of your own dark night of the soul, know this: there is acceptance and understanding here. Many of us have been there, and some of us are there with you, right now.

Whether or not we reach along the vertical, we can all reach along the horizontal. The amazing thing is that naming the issue, and opening yourself to others, allows strength and caring to flow between human beings — even through wifi and cable.

::

One of my favorite liturgists is Bruce Prewer, of Australia. He is retired now, but leaves his site up as a resource to others. His writing is honest, devout, and non-saccharine. Here is his prayer of thanksgiving for this date:

Most loving God, we take too much for granted. Help us to rectify that. By your Spirit within us, change us into thankful people. May we may wonder anew each morning at the privilege of being alive, and go to bed each night giving thanks for all that the day’s living has given us.

We give thanks for all the influences that have brought us to this hour in your church. For family, friends, Sunday School teachers, visitors, pastors, neighbours or helpful strangers who have pointed our feet in the direction of Christ.

We give thanks for our early encounters with the ways of Jesus, and for those people whose example has enlarged our faith. For memories on which we can draw when we are low in spirit, and those faces we can picture when we are tempted to falter.

We give thanks for the hard lessons as well as the easy. For the times of frustration and disappointment, the pain and the turmoil, and the growing pains of the spirit. For the losses and the tears of grief, through which you have ministered to us even when we thought you were far away.

We give thanks for those special people whom you have sent our way, either as comforters or as discomforters. For every wise or kindly word that has restored our sagging hope, and each confronting word from one who loves you and us enough to dare speak the unpalatable truth.

We give thanks for the very fallible communities of the church in which we have worshipped, shared fellowship and given service to the wider world. For dear kindred spirits , and generous co-workers. But also for those whose views have disturbed us, or whose failings have saddened us and reminded us that we are all sinners being saved by grace.

Most loving God, for these your gifts, many which we have taken for granted, some which at the time we may have complained about as unwelcome impositions, we give you our thanks. Please continue the work you have commenced in us, and let gratitude continue on, not a matter of words but become an attitude.

Through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen!

Brothers and Sisters is now open. Welcome! What is on your mind and heart?

Baptist Group Stands AGAINST Theocrats and their Lying Billboards

From an op-ed in the Tampa Tribune:

For the next six months, people on the roads of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will rumble past billboard ads making false claims and misleading assertions about our country’s history and commitment to religious freedom. One ad even fabricates a comment from the first president of the United States.

::

Those behind the billboards refer to the separation of church and state as a “lie” and say our country’s Judeo-Christian foundation is “the reason that this country has prospered for 200-plus years.”

The only lies being told are featured on the billboards themselves.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Freedom has always stood for freedom: freedom FOR religion and freedom FROM state-sponsored religion. If you look at the topics on the top-left of its web site, you get a sense of the battles it has fought and continues to fight:

  • Free Exercise of Religion
  • Church Electioneering
  • Religious Displays
  • Civil Religion
  • Government Funding
  • Public Prayer
  • Public Schools
  • Political Discourse

So, when a set of pro-theocracy billboards sponsored by the Community Issues Council began sprouting up in Florida, attacking the separation of church and state, the BJC’s executive director Brent Walker spoke out. Here are some more quotes from his op-ed:

When those with an agenda cherry-pick – and completely make up – quotes from our founders, they do a disservice to all. There is a remarkable irony when a group claiming its support for historical accuracy fabricates a statement and attributes it to the nation’s first president. For example, one of the billboards quotes President George Washington as saying, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” As reported, the billboard organizers admit there is no proof Washington ever said this.

Undoubtedly, Washington believed that religion has a place in public life, but one must look at his other statements to understand his view of government’s role in religious matters. In 1789, then-President Washington wrote a letter saying he would establish “barriers” against “spiritual tyranny” and “every species of religious persecution.” He also wrote that everyone should be protected in “worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” Taken together, Washington’s words show his recognition of religion’s benefits and his belief that a person’s preferences were a matter of individual choice in which the government should not interfere.

Moreover, James Madison – the father of our Constitution and arguably one of our most religious founders – observed that “the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of church and state.”

He gives a short lesson on separation of church and state, and why it is so important. Then the closer:

But putting intentional mischaracterizations, half-truths, and outright fabrications on display is patently irresponsible, undermining the very faith the billboard backers claim.

There was a time when almost all Baptists supported strong separation of church and state. I’m glad Brent Walker and the BJC still does.

Toxic Faith and the Tiller Murder

The murder of George Tiller in his church this past Sunday has sparked horror and grief across the political and religious spectrum, as persons on both sides of the abortion debate have condemned the killing as senseless and wrong. Once past the universal condemnation, though, pro-choice advocates have been quick to cast the attack on the well-known abortion doctor as the logical outcome of the rhetoric of some pro-life groups and right-wing bloviators, while pro-life spokespersons have been just as quick to distance themselves from such rhetoric.

A secondary discussion has emerged in some quarters, and the heat and passions generated by this discussion have become, in some cases, bigger and hotter than the original story. Here’s the question:

Can Tiller’s murder be blamed on Christianity or on Christians? In other words, does adherence to the Christian religion make someone more likely to carry out an act such as this?

When I saw that question posted, my first thought was “not any Jesus faith that I’m familiar with.” But my second thought was: “Toxic Faith.”

The Book

Toxic Faith is a book I read many years ago that helped me begin to address my own unhealthy religious baggage. The book “distinguishes between a healthy faith and a misguided religiosity that traps believers in an addictive practice of religion. It shows how unbalanced ministries, misguided churches, and unscrupulous leaders can lead their followers away from God and into a desolate experience of religion that drives many to despair. Toxic Faith shows readers how to find hope for a return to genuine, healthy faith that can add meaning to life.”

The book talks about “spiritual abuse” — the use of religion as a means to power. It also discusses religious addiction, where persons use religion to satisfy emotional needs within themselves in an unhealthy manner.

One of the key points of the book is that many persons caught in a toxic faith system begin to confuse obeying the church, or the pastor, with obeying God. In fact, persons in such a trap will do things that they themselves believe to be wrong in order to follow the wishes/orders of the leadership.

Here are some symptoms of a toxic faith system (special thanks to Bill Jackson and his summary of the book):

  • “Special” claims by the leaders of knowing God’s will
  • Authoritarianism
  • An “Us versus Them” mentality
  • Punitive in nature
  • Overwhelming service that feeds on compulsive followers
  • Legalism
  • Labeling

So What Does This Have To Do With Tiller’s Murder?

Some commentators have talked about “Christian Fundamentalist Terrorism” and pointed out (correctly, I assume) that the person who murdered Dr. Tiller most likely called themselves a Christian and believed that what they were doing was the moral, ethical, and Christian thing to do.

Here’s the money quote from the second link above, though, that led directly to this overly-long blog post. Sorry, but I just have to quote it all for you to get the gist of it:

I have no idea of religion-this, religion-that, since I’ve been an atheist for more than half my 36 years, and a cynic for most of the rest. I am not Anti-Christian (or of any religion) either, but still, kindly refrain from throwing Biblical (or any other religious) passages at me – it will go way over my head and I’ll be none the worse for it.

Please stick with “reality”, since I understand that is what this community is based on.

The reality is that people are getting assaulted, murdered, or otherwise prejudiced against in this country because of their sexual orientation, race / ethnicity, apparent social class for hundreds of years now. The motives have been slightly different, but what is the common thread what binds together most of the perpetrators of such hate crimes?

Not race, that’s for sure. (Heck, if anything, a sizable number of the mass murderers who are making the news in the past couple of years have been of Asian origin… who woulda thunk?).

Not atheism, that’s for sure as well. Neither is it Islam, Hinduism, Taoism or any other –ism. Not even Scientology, even.

What belief system drives them on, then?

Y’know, it’s too damn easy to refuse to own what is broke, and cast out a “believer” from the flock once he/she strays, so that the genus stay pure and everyone can go on with their happy-peaches-n-cream-apple-pie lives. So whether it’s Eric Rudolph, or Ted Haggard, once a Christian fundamentalist is busted for straying from the official “outward appearance”, the problem is instantly “solved” by calling the person “not a Christian”.

Well, it’s just never been that easy.

For others at least.

This country, and most of the world, have never let the Muslims get away with the “those people that do those atrocious acts are not following what the Qur’an preaches” line. We call them Islamic terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists, Muslim terrorists, whatever. The official and unofficial news media casually name-checks their religion thousands of times every day.

These things ingrain in people’s minds, y’know. Which is why this whole Muslim = Evil meme has taken hold so pervasively.

We can hold their religion “accountable”. So why not make sure you’re out of the glass house before you do something about that stone-throwing itch?

“Accountability” never hurt anyone who is trying to make themselves better.

I do understand that this heinous act hurts your decent religious self and I do recognize that you are on the side of what is right and I do apologize to you, in advance, for sounding maybe a bit too harsh
than what I really am…

… But in return, I want you to call it for what it is. ….

This is an act of “Christian terrorism”, and by extension, it was carried out by “a Christian”. Whether anyone is proud of it or not.

If calling this for what it is can at least start a dialogue among true believers that were heretofore afraid or unconcerned to use the thinking, conscientious part of their brain, Dr. Tiller’s horrendous death will not be completely in vain.

Well.

What about it, fellow Little Christs? Do we own this, or not? Does this writer make a good point, or not? Does our belief system lead inexorably from the cross in Jerusalem to the gun in Kansas City? And if you recoil in horror, as do I, and protest “of course not,” then answer me this:

CAN our belief system lead to such an act? And if so, how and where and why?

My Take On It

I think it is obvious to anyone that has studied the New Testament that the Jesus we meet in the Gospels is not into killing people who disagree with him. I know, I know — he curses the fig tree, and pronounces Woe upon the hypocrites. But for the most part, he’s pretty adamant about his New Way, the way of love and acceptance, not only of those who disagree with you, but also those who abuse you. No, the Jesus I find in the Bible would not have killed George Tiller, and would not have encouraged others to do so either.

I think it is also obvious to anyone who studies modern Christianity in all its multitude of manifestations that there is a strain of Christianity (virus reference chosen intentionally) that is more focused on the God of Exodus 32 than the Jesus of Matthew 5:44. This version of the Gospel is only “good news” to the ones who agree with it and become part of it; for everyone else, it is very bad news indeed, starting with eternity and working backward. Add to that the distortion of hyper-Calvinism, and you have a perfectly designed closed-loop system: if you were destined for heaven, you would be part of us, but since you are not, you are obviously destined for hell, and we are justified in dismissing you, attacking you, or condemning you. We are Us and you are part of the Them.

And if you believe that you know, without a doubt, the eternal destination of another person, then it is a small step in some minds to simply carry out what has already been decided.

The point of this post is simple: while I reject the broad-brush view that the entire Christian religion is culpable or even suspect in the Tiller murder, I believe we have to admit that there are elements within the range of faith systems that call themselves “Christian” that are, in fact, in opposition to the Good News that Jesus came to share. They are not unique to Christianity; every religion has adherents willing to commit violence in the name of their god. We who claim the name of Christ, though, are not called to deal with Jews or Buddhists or Muslims who are in that place in their religion — we are called to preach the gospel of peace, and lead others to do the same.

It is time for all of us to reject not only Dr. Tiller’s murderer, but also the belief systems that person represents.

Stupid Bumper Sticker of the Week

Saw this in Knoxville while visiting my mom:

If it’s not King James, it’s not Bible.

I grunted in disgust, and my mom asked what was wrong. I pointed out the bumper sticker in front of us, and she (daughter of a Baptist preacher and faithful church goer) just muttered “Oh good grief.”

I mean, how do you even answer something like this? It sets new heights for both arrogance AND stupidity. First of all, Mr. KJV, what authority has told you that the KJV is the only true Bible? Did God send you an email? Oh, sorry, I forgot — you have another bumper sticker that says “if it’s not rotary, it’s not a phone.”

Even conservative Biblical scholars agree that the Greek texts on which the KJV is based are not as good as the texts translators work from now. And those texts are not the autographs. We are working with translations of copies of copies of copies. And, a single word in the Greek may need more than one word in English to even come close to the thought (and vice versa). Since, then, any English Bible is going to be an approximation of the original text, why not get the best translation we can get? Why not strive for one that is true to the best texts we have AND that is readable by today’s seekers and learners?

Ultimately, of course, my biggest objection to such a bumper sticker — and to the faith approach it represents — is that it is such a troubling example of majoring on the minors. Every minute we spend trying to convince someone that the KJV is the only “true” Bible is a minute we don’t spend meeting the real needs of the world.

Let’s see if we can move beyond — or around — issues like this, a la McLaren. Let’s major on the majors.

One-Sentence Guideline for Christians

From Connie Schultz, panelist on last night’s Bill Maher show:

I was raised by a born-again Christian who taught us that being a good Christian meant fixing yourself and helping others, not the other way around.

Okay, folks, there’s your sermon for today; no need to attend tomorrow.

Seriously — spend ten minutes, or ten hours, thinking about this sentence and its implications for your own life, and for the life of your faith community. What percent of that life is spent in this sentence, and what percent is spent in its inverse?

Many non-Christians see today’s Christian community as promoting two things: “God wants us to get ours” and “God hates everyone not like us, so let’s join him in that.” Unfortunately, we haven’t always done a good job of reversing that perception. We need to do a better job of that — and of calling out the getters and the haters.

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More on Connie Schultz at Wikipedia. Here’s hoping I can be half that pungent in MY writing.