Thursday, May 28, 2009

Biblical Scholars

Life is so coincidental and comical. My pseudo-intellectual interests in Scripture are mirrored, unbidden, around me.
After school, as I was driving my two children and a neighborhood kid home, this conversation took place...completely out of the blue.

Mark, the neighborhood kid, to me: "Did Jesus really die and get raised up again after three days?"

Me: "Yes."

Mark: "I know what happened to Jesus....he was nailed to a cross and hit with ropes."

Me: "Uh huh"

Mark: "Where's Jesus now?"

Me:"In Heaven....with God."

Mark: "Who is God?  Where is Heaven?"

Me: "Well.....God isn't a person like you and I are persons.  SO...I'm not exactly sure where Heaven is."

The Rationalist: "Jesus isn't with God...Jesus is God."

Mark: "!  Jesus was God's Son!"

The Intuitive: "No.  Jesus was Mary and Joseph's son."

The Rationalist: " see God took a part of himself and made it into a Jesus. God made Jesus."

Mark: ".....yeah, but did Jesus really get back alive?"

I was laughing on the inside during this whole conversation.  I read the exact same arguments on multiple biblio-blogs written by men in their forties who are in essence having the same conversation, albeit with a much more expanded vocabulary.

Spiders on Drugs

(slight language warning towards the end)

I feel really stupid that it actually took me a while to catch on to this as a joke.

How Relevant is the Old Testament? Part 2

When I was thinking about the ideas for my last post, I was impressed with how radically Christianity has departed from Judaism.  While Jesus was a Jewish man, living in a Jewish culture, conforming himself to Jewish law, he really upset the entire system of Jewish worship.

I contended that that's why the Pharisees and Sadducees hated him so much.  His teachings undermined the religious system that had developed over hundreds of years.  Not only did his teachings undermine the religious system, but the authority with which Jesus taught sent a clear message as to how Jesus viewed his legitimacy and his ability to refine the sacred texts of Israel.

Jesus spoke with certainty and confidence.  He taught the people truths about God without the approval of the religious leaders.  Even the common people noticed this.
Matthew 7:28-29
8When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
"By whose authority do you do these things?" the Pharisees often asked.
Matthew 21:23-27
23Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you this authority?"
24Jesus replied, "I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25John's baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?"

They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' 26But if we say, 'From men'—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet."

27So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."
Then he said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The religious leaders, who described themselves as disciples of Moses, could never authoritatively alter the Law. They could only parse and debate its meaning, attempting to fit it into their current circumstances.  They couldn't relate a higher standard than what they already had in the Law, because to do so would imply that the Law was insufficient....which is exactly what the New Testament teaches.
Galatians 3:19-25
19What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

21Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
Ephesians 2:14-15a
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
Hebrews 10:1
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

To put all of this together we need to understand that the story of Scripture is an evolving revelation of humans interacting with the Divine.  The Israelites under Moses had more experience with the Divine than they did before Moses.  The Israelites hundreds of years after Moses had further experiences which informed their views about God.  It is a progressive accumulation and refinement of how a particular people understood God and his relationship with people.

To say that maybe not everything in the Mosaic code was straight from God is not to denigrate it. Instead, by understanding it in terms of a path eventually leading to Jesus, we affirm Jesus' message. We affirm that God works on purifying His people from the inside out, through his indwelling  Spirit, rather than through external actions.  

This is what is meant by John 4:23:
23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
Admitting the human dynamic in the formation of Scripture does not subtract from God, but instead affirms that He is higher than we limited beings are capable of expressing adequately. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How Relevant is The Old Testament?

Before you get out the pitchforks and torches, let me say that I am not saying we can't learn things from the Old Testament.  It is full of the history which serves as a foundation for Christianity. However, I've noticed that most of the time I come across a particularly wacky teaching, whether it's prosperity gospel, special diets, the "favor" of God, etc., it is based on the Old Testament. A few verses here, a passage out of context there, and a couple of mental gymnastics combine to make a "new" teaching.

Our Sunday School class has been using a bible study which has focused on the Old Testament for quite a while. I began noticing that the questions the study used were reaching for lessons that weren't in the text.  A particular section might deal with a bizarre miraculous event, and then try to force an application out of it.

Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to sacrifice a burnt offering to their god  and he will do the same.  The catch is, whose god can burn up the offering without the intervention of his human followers? Elijah's God wins and Elijah orders the slaughter of the priests of Baal.

Bible study question:  Can you think of a time when you faced "prophets of Baal" in your life. What did you do?

Gee...I can't remember the last time I had to kill someone to preserve the one, true faith.  Give me a moment to think about it.

Then, there are huge swaths of Leviticus which are hard for me to read, much less comprehend. As a woman, reading the codes of behavior and seeing what little worth I would have had in that time is overwhelming.  I can think of a few churches that would still teach that because those parts are in the Old Testament, they are part of the universal standards God has.  These are the same types of churches which would also defend slavery, because there are slavery regulations, which means that God must approve of slavery.

Reading something like this is disconcerting:
Exodus 21:20-21

 20 "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.
It's OK to beat your slave senseless with a rod as long he gets up after a day or two.

There should be a recognition that we are reading through a vast chasm of time and cultural distance when we come across these passages. Slavery was common and accepted; yet, simply because it existed does not mean it was by God's divine wish. 

A frequent claim is made by Christians that God never changes.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever(Hebrews 13:8).  This is supposed to mean that if God wanted things done a certain way in the Old Testament, then nothing has changed.  He still operates in the same ways. We know that He doesn't because no one has recently beheld a burning bush, or received manna or quail from Heaven, so we usually try to force our current, Christian understandings into these ancient texts.

When we read David venting his spleen at "enemies" in the Psalms, we interpret it in terms of spiritual enemies, thinking of spiritual forces, or devils, replacing the literal enemies with whom David contended, with our Christianized version. We have to do that because as Christians we aren't supposed to have "enemies", or if we have them, we aren't supposed to wish evil things to happen to them.  We're supposed to pray for them. Our choice is to either make the Psalms mean something they didn't, or recognize them as the passionate, human songs of people trying to express what they thought was right.

Reading though the gospels, I noticed that when Jesus discussed things with the Pharisees, he almost always referred to the Old Testament regulations as the Law of Moses.  Or he would say,"Moses said....I say," creating a contrast between what Moses had written and what he, as the Messiah, has declared.

Matthew 8:4
Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."
Why does Jesus refer to the Law in this way?  Why doesn't he say,"offer the gift God commanded."?

He also revises the Mosaic code on divorce:

Matthew 19:8
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."
I can't read that without thinking about the implications of what it means; that not everything in the Mosaic Law was based on God's divine decree. Moses had been chosen as a leader for the Israelite people and given the authority to create a code for them to live by.  The code was not, in and of itself, a word for word recording of God's communication with Moses.  Moses was free to guide the Israelites on the basis of what he did know of God's will.  As the appointed mediator, he was given discretion to lead them to the best of his ability.

That last paragraph would probably earn me the title of "heretic" in some circles, but I can't make any sense of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in any other way.  How else can we explain why it would be sinful to wear clothing made of two different kinds of material, or why a woman was considered to be unclean twice as long after bearing a girl than she was after bearing a boy(Leviticus 12)? One alternative is to believe that the God of the Universe really cared about the particular material of his people's clothing, or thought that females were twice as unacceptable to Him as males.  Another alternative is to see God as working in a particular culture, without necessarily endorsing it.

The Mosaic code gave the Israelites order and standards to live by.  While we might think many of those standards are violent or unreasonable, they were no doubt an improvement in a tribe of undisciplined people living in the desert with no stability or system to guide them. From that perspective, the Mosaic code put them on the path of attempting to live in a way that was unselfish and had pleasing God as its ultimate goal.

Yet....what does that mean for Christians now?  What are we to make of all those strange regulations in light of Matthew 5:17-20?

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

This quote is always trotted out when discussions about hot button topics whose main arguments are derived from the Old Testament are taking place. It leaves me scratching my head, because it goes against not only the way Jesus interacts with the Law, but also how Paul describes our relation to the Law.

However, right after this quote, Jesus lists a particular regulation from the Law and then reinterprets it, eschewing "an eye for an eye"--straight from the Mosaic code--in preference for "turn the other cheek".  He couldn't mean that the Law recorded by Moses wouldn't pass away, because he is in the very same breath redacting it for his audience. 

If we think of the Law as the beginning step towards faith in God, conforming our lives to a higher, purer order determined by God, then the Mosaic Law is not lost, but is only a stepping stone toward the spiritual life Christ came to bring us.  

As Christians we are past that particular stepping stone; instead, we are walking on the water itself, empowered by God's Spirit.

While Christianity is born out of Judaism and the Old Testament, it has violently broken from the way Judaism understood man's relationship to God. 

The Pharisees understood this and showed through their actions that they understood the ramifications of the principles Jesus was teaching. It wasn't only their sinfulness that blinded them to Jesus, but their understanding that believing Him would change everything they understood about God.

In questioning the man who was born blind whom Jesus healed, they reveal where their allegiance lies:

John 9:28-29
28Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow[Jesus], we don't even know where he comes from."
Their high regard for Moses prevented them from considering the possibility that God might behave in ways other than what Moses described. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Recent Search Terms

Magic phrases Google associates with my blog:
1. can I hire someone to break up my marriage?
--I'm pretty sure that will happen all on its own once your spouse reads your search history.

2. annoyingly happy people
--are you looking for specific examples?

3. fairy breasts this from a Dungeons and Dragons fan boy?  Should I post a picture of Liv Tyler from Lord of the Rings?

4. naked pictures
--I have a feeling this searcher was sorely disappointed

5. losing brain cells while naked
--I hear that happens to at least half the global population, particularly those with a Y chromosome.

6. How much does a dead or asleep body weigh?
--I couldn't help but imagine this came from a serial killer trying to decide how big of a drum he was going to need.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Birthday Bowling

We celebrated The Rationalist's 9th birthday with Cosmic Bowling, cake, and a lot of fun. 

It was a strange sensation for me. Last year's party was at the same was also the last time I saw my father alive.  He came out for The Rationalist's birthday which was also the weekend before my mastectomy.  Although I spoke to him over the summer, between my active treatment and his schedule, we never got together again.

When I was growing up, my father, who by trade was normally an auto mechanic, went through several years as a bowling alley manager.  My brother and I spent many weekend visitations with him hanging out in the bowling alley, learning how to get strikes and spares while my dad finished his shift.  Sometimes we played pool or video games in the arcade area.

I must say that the enjoyment of my childhood memories is in direct proportion to the amount of parental neglect shown towards us.  Two kids having the run of a bowling alley because their dad didn't arrange, or couldn't arrange, to have his visitation weekends off was exciting to us.

I owe my bowling skills to my dad.

I had to learn to bowl for real, unable to rely on the gutter bumpers these young whipper-snappers have to keep all of their shots from being gutter balls. I remember frequently crying out of frustration when I only scored 20 points at the end of a game. I wasn't exactly a good loser.

The Rationalist and all of his friends enjoyed themselves. Each one of them managed to get a strike every now and again, leading to a competitive game.  No one was crushed score-wise.

Friday, May 22, 2009

God's Goodness, Part 1

Imagine that an alien from another galaxy came to Earth. He/She/It had technology and powers far beyond our comprehension. It would be able to create and manipulate life, able to heal all sicknesses. It could manipulate time, space and matter. Because it was telepathic, it could read minds and essentially be all-knowing.

To us primitive humans, it would be God-like.

My question is, would we accept such a creature as God, or as a god? If it began to give us commands to enslave part of the population, or to serve it without resistance, would we do so because of our fear of being destroyed by such a powerful being?

It's a simple thought exercise.

After thinking about this for a few minutes the other day, I came to the conclusion that we wouldn't label such a being as God. No matter how powerful and all-knowing the creature might be, no matter how God-like it might seem, if it failed the basic test of goodness, we would revile it. 

At its most basic, the concept of God conveys the idea that God is somehow outside of the Universe; He is its cause and designer, not a physical creature flitting about trying to achieve an earthly goal such as the subjugation of primitive peoples. Even more integral is the idea that God is good...not just good, but the ultimate form of the most high version of goodness that exists. He is benevolent, wanting the highest goodness for Creation. 

If God isn't good, then there is no point in trying to appease Him. He can do whatever He wants and there's nothing we can do about it. That's actually a simplistic picture of Calvinism, in which it is not God's goodness which serves as His ultimate definer, but God's Power and Glory. 

In one sense, it is God's power which makes Him God, "might makes right" and all that. However, any image of God which has at its core God's own self-interest in being glorified causes difficulties, because a God who is only interested in Himself owes no allegiance of any kind to humanity. (I can hear the hyper-Calvinists singing the amen chorus on that one.)

The overall theme of Christ's redemption of humanity finds its source, not in God's self-interested navel-gazing, but in His goodness and love towards humanity and creation, the desire to set things right and bless all nations through Christ.

Threads of the importance of believing in God's goodness can be found  in various Scriptures. Doubting God's loving and pure character is one of the first steps towards original sin in the story of the Garden of Eden. In order to tempt Eve, the serpent initially attacks Eve's vision of God as trustworthy and good. He tells Eve that God is trying to keep something from her, trying to limit her in some way. God is selfish and wants to hoard all the power for himself, not wanting to share it with humans. 

Genesis 2:4-5
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Believing the serpent's spin sets Eve on the path to self-destruction.

If Eve had considered God's innate goodness might the story have a different ending?  

When reading Jesus' teaching of the parable of the talents, we often focus on the good and faithful servants who took what their master had given them and multiplied it through their diligence. 

Matthew 25:14-30
14"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

 19"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'

 21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

 22"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'

 23"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

 24"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'

 26"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

 28" 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

It's clear that Jesus is teaching responsibility and action in the parable, but there's a secondary lesson in the parable, the wicked servant's misunderstanding of the master's character. He feared the master. He thought him unfair and demanding. Consumed with the idea that he might fail and incur the master's wrath, he did nothing with the resource he possessed. He buried it.

After reading through the parable recently, I was left wondering, was the master upset because his talent had not been multiplied, or because of the insulting characterization of the wicked servant? The master doesn't admit to the servant's characterization, but declares that if fear motivated the reasoning behind the servant's inaction, he should have at least earned interest on the talent. It's another example of poor choices motivated by fear or suspicion. 

If the servant had thought of the master as good and fair, and not harsh and unfair, would he have made different decisions? Would he have thrown himself into his task trusting that his master would be pleased with his efforts?

The Pharisees were continually upset with Jesus' healings and exorcisms. When faced with his kind and generous acts towards the people, they responded with shouts of, "Blasphemy!" They even went so far as to attribute his miracles to demonic forces.

Matthew 12:24-32

24But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

 25Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

 29"Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.

 30"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.32Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Jesus expected people to recognize the goodness in his actions. He is scathing towards the Pharisees because an obvious good work has been performed and they are unwilling to accept that goodness as evidence of God's work in and through Jesus. Attributing evil as the source of obviously good miracles is an insult to God's Spirit.

It's awfully similar to Eve's mistake, and the attitude of the wicked servant.

Jesus appears to expect people to have a fundamental understanding of good and evil as a way to assess his ministry and understand God's tricks involved. 

James exhorts believers to have faith when they pray, not on the basis of their perfection, but on the basis of God's goodness.

James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
He also makes it clear that God is not in the business of tempting people, or advancing evil in any way, but only gives what is pure and perfect: 

James 1:13-16 

13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

 16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

This post is really just an attempt to lay the groundwork for what I truly want to address in another post, reconciling God's goodness with certain theological attitudes.  I'm hoping to get to that one in the next week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wanted: Presenter Worthy of Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus

Oh, how this movie needs a Son of Svengoolie to present it.

or an Elvira (warning: double entendre overload)

or a Mystery Science Theater 3,000

It's the only thing that might make it bearable.

New Addition to the I-Pod

I have been obsessed with this song ever since I heard it on the Lincoln MKZ commercial.

It's a remake of an eighties New Wave song, Major Tom.

This version is by a group called Shiny Toy Guns.

Perfect for working out on the treadmill!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who Needs the Internet for Naked Pictures?

I can not tell you how horrifying this is to me.

If I want people to see naked pictures of me, that's what I have the Internet for.....not that I want people to see naked pictures of real....never mind about that one time in college.

just kidding...

or am I?

Anyway, this seems like an incredibly bad idea to me. Performing cyber strip searches of airline passengers is not the solution for making our airlines secure. 

Besides the ick factor involved, it is a very real threat to our reasonable right to privacy.

"Ha!" you might say, "There is no such thing as a right to privacy!"

"Ha!" I would say,"You're wrong!"

Take, for instance, yours truly.  I have a right to privacy with regards to any medical conditions I have.  I know this because I am forever filling out forms at every doctor's office I visit with regards to federal laws about my right to privacy.

"Well, that's different," you might say.

Again, I would say,"Wrong!"

You see, I wear/use a silicon based prosthesis.  Under normal security measures this would arouse no attention.  It is beneath my clothing and looks perfectly convincing.  I have no fears of being pulled aside in a security line and being questioned about whether my body is authentically me.

However, consider the possibility that I had to walk through one of these machines.   All of sudden security workers might be wondering exactly what this strange formation under my clothing is.  Is it a bomb?  Tear gas?  A sack full of cocaine?

Suddenly I'm pulled out of line, forced to remove my clothing to satisfy the questioning of security officers, who no doubt might feel badly about assuming the worst, but who would also be privy to information about medical conditions I have had in the past.  

We assume that as long as no one has anything to hide, then there is no reason to object.  When everyone is clothed it is very easy to forget that there are all sorts of things under our clothing which are none of the government's business.

Think of people who may have ostomy bags because of having had part of their colon removed. Think of people who may wear Depends because they are suffering from incontinence.  Think of men who may have had testicular cancer and had one or both of their testicles removed.

I'm not trying to gross people out, but these are very real, possibly embarrassing issues which private citizens shouldn't have to worry about simply so they can board a plane.

Bob, in security, doesn't have the right to probe into my, or anybody else's, personal issues or conditions.

Let's keep it that way!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Marriage As A Contract

Assistant Village Idiot has a post up about same-sex marriage which is pretty good at trying to tease out arguments for, or against it. While commenting there, I was reminded that our concept of marriage is frequently out of sync with the bare bones of what marriage is--a legal and financial contract.

While we frequently think of marriage as the beginning of a relationship between two people who love each other, it is hard to deny to cold reality that marriage is an agreement to be contractually bound to one another. Love, honor and cherish sound romantic and sweet, but there's a reason in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part is in the vows. We are committing ourselves to an obligation that cannot be overruled by changing circumstances.

I think it's fair to say that divorce rates have sky-rocketed over the last few decades, not because people are less faithful than they were in the past, but because marriage has been understood as an arrangement purely for the sake of love. When those loving feelings disappear, then why continue to be married?

You can see this in the way popular culture portrays the weight of entering marriage. The doubts we hear voiced concern themselves with whether a person can love someone forever, or be sexually faithful to one person exclusively. Emotionally, that's important. Yet, that's not the real point of marriage.

The core of marriage is strengthened by the fact that a couple has legal and financial rights which are upheld by the legal system of a particular society. The protections not only guard the rights of the couple as a unit, but obligate the spouses to one another in the case of shared assets, inheritance rights, providing for future children and providing care for a spouse who has become disabled or ill.

In the past 40 years, divorce has become an economic luxury.  Because women have gained more access to legal rights and economic opportunities, it has become easier for them to divorce without the fear of poverty or destitution.  In the past, divorce was a huge financial risk for women. They had few options, especially if they had children.  

The recent decline in divorces as the economy has soured backs up the notion of divorce as an economic luxury.  People have been sticking it out, unable to divorce because of the financial strain.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the people who aren't divorcing are happy.

Then again, marriage isn't about any married couple can tell you.(cover your ears DH!)

I'm kidding...but only partly.  Marriage isn't about "happiness".  It's about choosing to build a life together. It's a partnership. It's having shared goals and using the commitment given to one another to reach those goals.  

I have often wondered why people choose to live together for years, and yet never marry. They will share income, have kids, stay sexually faithful to their partners, but never quite pull the trigger on marriage. They'll say things like "it's just a piece of paper" when questioned, which gives the impression that they view themselves as being "married" in an emotional, love-oriented way.

But...they're not married.  What's the difference?  They haven't obligated themselves financially to one another. They can at any moment leave their partners with very few financial repercussions. A man or woman can decide after ten years to break up with their partner and sell a house which is solely in their name, leaving no recourse for their partner.  They can take any assets they choose, unless the partner can prove they have some claim to the assets, a difficult thing to do when you have co-mingled your finances without being married.

When a couple is married, almost all assets are considered marital assets.  Even a home in the name a single partner must be distributed equally, unless it can be proven that the home was owned free and clear before the marriage.

Marriage is much more than a piece of's a piece of paper with enormous power.

I wonder if we counseled more young couples on the economic commitments of marriage if we would do any better at preserving the seriousness of marriage.  If we really want to see marriage strengthened, we would increase the benefits of being married, and lessen benefits extended to domestic, heterosexual partnerships.  

If you want the government to bless your love union, then you should be expected to financially obligate yourself to preserving it. If marriage has a high cost associated with it, chances are that those entering into it will think twice before doing so recklessly, or divorcing so easily.

In some ways, granting Same-Sex Marriage may help turn the tide on divorce and co-habitation because all legal rights would be available to anyone who chooses to marry.  Anyone choosing to simply co-habitate would have no case for claiming discrimination by health insurance companies or the government. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Motivation by Fear

This video has made the rounds on several sites I have encountered, most recently at internetmonk's. His post covered it pretty well.

During the past week, I have been struck by how frequently fear has undergirded some of the conversations and opinions I have come across. Whether it's the swine flu, questions about torture, or the economy, I think it's safe to say that the general atmosphere is a fearful one.

We become used to fear in our daily lives. The news relies on it almost exclusively to draw in viewers. If there isn't something spectacularly frightening happening, then they'll do a story on freak accidents, or one-in-a-million syndromes that you...yes, you...could be suffering from.

A little bit of fear can be a good thing. It keeps us from taking dangerous risks. It makes us think twice about our actions and the likely consequences. It reminds us to wear our seat belts and put smoke detectors in our house.

In one sense, a smidgen of fear is our friend.

Yet, have we moved past a smidgen? Are we swimming in a cultural ocean of fear?

From my perspective, it appears as if we are.

In some circles, the fear is palpable. Between Obama being elected, causing some conservatives to quake with fear, the threat of terrorism, and the general uncertainty of the very near future, people are worried. The video at the top of the post is a good example of the doomsday-ish feeling which can so easily seep in.

Even I had to mentally fight against the fear after watching it. Do I want my children to grow up in a radical, Muslim-populated future? No!  I need to start popping out more children and making sure everyone else does too!

If we stop and take a breath for a minute and try to logically assess what the video communicates, we can start to pull out a few threads and see the argument begin to fray. 

It is likely that growing Muslim populations in Western countries will begin to have lower fertility rates as they assimilate into their respective cultures. It is just as likely that Western Muslims will not be willing to relinquish the freedoms they have. People who become used to having human and legal rights are not usually prone to surrendering them.

That doesn't mean that some of the bad things we fear won't transpire.

Has bravery lost its place of honor among us?

There are all kinds of bravery. Heading into combat, knowing that you might not make it out is brave, and we respect those who do we should. It's the definition which springs to mind when words like bravery and courage are mentioned.

Though we respect the virtues of courage and bravery in our soldiers, we seldom practice it in our individual lives or in our communities.

Instead, we frequently make choices as a reaction to fearful events or concepts.  Sometimes those choices don't have any negative impact on us. They don't matter one way or another. At other times, it leads us down a path of confining choices and suffocating attitudes. We don't do the things we want to because we're afraid that we'll fail. We don't speak up for ourselves or others because we're afraid of the social implications at school or work. 

For those of us who believe in Christ's message, it is to our shame that we let fear make our choices for us. We should feel secure, shouldn't we? Death has no permanent hold on us. God has declared peace with us.  Everything else in life should be a cake walk.

However, we don't walk in that knowledge. Churches can unwittingly promote a culture of fear when they continuously hammer messages of the decaying culture of society, or the schemes of the devil in people's lives. After enough of those references, we can lose our sense of peace and begin worrying about all the terrible things waiting to ensnare us.

It's easy to slip into.

When it happens..when we feel the fear closing in around us and making us anxious of the future..we must resist it. We must counteract it. We must make choices fueled by hope and faith.

Someone will say,"You can't just stick your head in the sand!  Bad things will happen. Be practical!"

Being practical is not the same as being brave. Practicality can eventually drain the value  out of the things we cherish most. 

Jesus was not practical. Think of all the people he could have ministered to if he had never faced the cross. It's not practical to be led into your enemy's den and offer yourself up willingly to those who want to kill you. Practicality would have sent him running the other way when he saw Judas approaching. the face of his fears...he made a most impractical, courageous choice.

May we do the same.

Mother's Day, the good part

I am now the proud owner of a Snuggie.

I have the smurf blue color...and I am totally rockin' the look.  I can't decide whether I look more like a monk from the year 2234, or an extra from a B, sci-fi movie...I guess the two choices don't need to be mutually exclusive.

The boys each had things they had made and written for me at school.

The Rationalist completed a little booklet of writing prompts: 

My mother looks prettiest when...she goes to church.

My favorite thing about my mother is...she loves me.

If I could give my mother something special just from me it would be nice. (gee, I wonder where he got that from?! exasperated pleas to "just be nice" when he's tormenting his younger brother?)

My favorite time together is when we..hug together. (no mention of playing Wii with!)

I know my mother loves me because...she says so

The Intuitive had something similar from his class in a letter form:

Dear Mom, 

You are the best!!  You are better than everything. Thank you for my allowance and choosing a great church.  Have a stupendous Mother's Day.  I love you.

I asked him if he really thought I was better than everything and he said,"Yeah!...except for God." 

I'm not sure I'm worthy of such high esteem, but it was very sweet.

Motherhood has been a source of great joy and extreme despair for me at times.  There are days when I doubt everything I do and wonder if I'm royally screwing up the whole thing.

Will I be the mother whose grown children cringe when she calls?  I'm hoping not.

I love these two boys and am grateful that I have had the chance to be their mother.

Mom Update

Things are smoothed over and back to normal(?).

Sorry for the public complaining.  It's easier to do it anonymously on the net than to let it consume me in real life.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day to You, Too!

There are times when life is too ironic for me to handle. 

Take today, for instance. Being a good, dutiful daughter, I called my mom to wish her a Happy Mother's Day. After a few minutes and some questions about her health, we proceeded to have an argument, wherein she said that she would never be able to live with us.

Somehow the fabric of space/time had warped and we had jumped from, 

"Hi. How are you doing?" 


"I never feel welcome in your home."

all in the span of three minutes.

Yeah...well...Happy Mother's Day to you, too!

Don't feel too sorry for me.  I'm used to this kind of emotional irrationality when it comes to navigating the relationship with my mother.  It's highly frustrating.  It's annoying.  It can come from left field......but it's not personal.

She does it to everyone.

An overdeveloped sense of victimization and easily hurt feelings combines with a passive aggressive tendency to not let people know how deeply she's offended, while simultaneously holding on to petty grudges with no basis in reality.

It's a perfect storm of  you-just-can't-win.

It turns out that she was upset about something my husband said 9 years ago.  NINE....YEARS!

What was the awful, horrible thing he did?

Well, after I passed out in an emergency room, having a seizure in my 7th month of pregnancy leading to an emergency c-section and The Rationalist being in the NICU for three weeks after being born at the low weight of 3.5 husband suggested that she not go up to say good night to me that first night because I needed my rest.

Horror of horrors! What an unfeeling brute!

Never mind the fact that I was completely unconscious for the first day and half after that experience and have absolutely no memory of those first couple of days.  Never mind the fact that my husband just watched his wife go through a life-threatening episode and had seen his son shipped off to a hospital thirty miles away after being born 7 weeks premature.  Never mind that it was a life or death situation.

No. The most important thing my husband was supposed to do was to worry about my mother's feelings and whether or not she had taken something he had said as a slight. Right?!

From my mother's perspective, DH should have known how it would make her feel.. He should have stopped to think about what she(!?) was going through. 

Me: "So did you talk to DH about why you wanted to say good-bye?  That you were worried about me?"

Mom: "No. He told me to go."

Me:"Whoa...before you said that he told you it might not be a good idea because I needed to rest."

Mom: "Well..I knew what he meant."

Me: "Did it ever occur to you that this was a crisis situation? Did it ever occur to you that maybe if you had taken a moment to explain that you were worried I wouldn't make it and wanted to be sure to see me..that he would have re-considered his suggestion that you wait until the next day to see me?"

Mom: "NO.  He should have known."

This is the point where my head explodes into a million pieces.

What makes all of this even more exasperating is the fact that my mother's health is declining. I have had a very bad feeling the last few months when I have spoken to her. My intuition is telling me that something is very wrong with her and she is in complete denial.  Having lost her insurance about 6 months ago, she won't go to get an ultrasound she needs because she can't afford it.

I know that there are probably ways to get the care she needs at a discounted cost, or maybe even free considering her financial situation, but I am 1,000 miles away.  She needs someone to go with her and be an advocate for her.  

My brothers, while not uncaring, aren't understanding the full scope of the situation she's in. I'm not sure if she is sharing everything with them, or when she does, if they are putting 2 and 2 together.

I'm in the position of being the one who knows my mother best, and seeing through all her charades, and yet being unable to help her because of distance...and now apparently because of some twisted up reaction that she's held onto for a long time.

In the same conversation she goes on about how she couldn't live with one of my brothers because of reason X, and she couldn't live with one of my other brothers for reason Y.  She is building a wall around herself and setting her feet on a path of self-destruction...all based on feelings which are disproportionate to reality.  Situations call for a reaction level of 3 and she responds with a 9.

After an hour of me trying to get her to be reasonable and give people the benefit of the doubt, after a marathon of reassurances that we love her and want to help her, and after a reminder of how many times she has offended people and been granted forgiveness and understanding(many, many times)...we left the conversation on good terms.

I told her I loved her and that we are here to help, when and if she needs it.

Why do things have to be so complicated?

It would have been so nice to call and have a happy chat and some good wishes.


I really wasn't planning on testing the limits of my unconditional, Christian love today.

God must think I need to work on it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Planned Outage for Maintenance

Wheat Among Tares is scheduled for a 3 day outage.

During this time the fun hard drive will be replaced with a newer up-to-date version, the processors will be shut down in order to conserve energy, and miscellaneous internal work will be performed.

If you have any questions or concerns...please feel free to e-mail customer

If you have complaints......feel free to write a long, ranting comment raging against Wheat Among Tares, and people in general, that will make me think you're the Unabomber.  

If you are interested in scheduling your own 3 day upgrade to Real Life...immediately shut down your computer and begin installation of Reality 4.7.

Have a pleasant weekend.



Last night I realized how much most of what I do, I do subconsciously...without even thinking about it.

After having cooked Mexican rice, which has to be in the oven for 20 minutes after starting off on the stove top, I burned my hand before I even realized what I was doing.

I reached out and grabbed the handle of the pan...the one which I had just taken out of a 350 degree oven..because I needed to move it slightly.

I didn't even realize I was trying to move it until searing pain shot through my hand.

Ouch!!  Giant blister on my palm.

It made me realize how frequently I am not present in my life.  I'm just running on auto-pilot while my brain is a thousand miles away from what I am actually doing.

Painful object lesson.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Lazarus and the Rich Man

Assistant Village Idiot has a post about Lazarus and The Rich Man which reminded me that I never addressed the case against annihilation.(You'll have to scroll down to find it.  He went on a posting spree a few days ago...and his post titles are not set up for direct links)

Out of all the obstacles standing in the way of annihilation/conditional immortality, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is probably the most difficult passage to surmount.  I've dealt with the passages using the term "hell". I've dealt with the affirmative side of what Scripture says about what happens after death. I've made a pretty strong case for my views.

However...there are 2 major passages which complicate things--Lazarus and the Rich Man, and some verses in Revelation which specifically mention everlasting torment. Revelation, I'm not too worried about. It's full of dramatic, apocalyptic language, and images which people don't fully agree on how to interpret or understand. Just as I don't really expect a literal seven-headed dragon to rise out of the sea to start the ball rolling on Armageddon, I don't think we can base an entire doctrine of the after-life on a couple of verses from a book filled with purposely provocative language.

The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is not necessarily evidence against the idea of annihilation. Annihilation only has as its main idea that, at some point, those who don't have eternal life are destroyed; they don't continue on for all eternity. It's feasible to believe in an indeterminate location or duration of the "soul" before that happens. Conditional Immortality, on the other hand, precludes any consciousness outside of the consciousness of the body. It would be incompatible with an interim place of conscious existence before the Resurrection.

So what to do with that parable? Honestly, I'm not sure. I think that the point of the parable is its ending line, delivered by the patriarch Abraham to the Rich Man after the Rich Man has begged him to send someone back from the dead to warn his family:

Luke 16:31
31"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
Jesus is not giving a teaching on the after-life so much as he is teaching that people who refuse to believe what they already have will not believe even in the face of the miraculous.

I'm not sure we should read the parable as a literal story any more than we would read Jesus' parables about shrewd managers and vineyard owners as "true" stories. The point is not the story, but the truth which it is trying to communicate. In the same way that there doesn't have to be an actual Good Samaritan in order for the lesson to hit its mark, Lazarus and the Rich Man may simply be a vehicle leading Jesus' listeners to the place where he wants them to go.

Not coincidentally, Luke continues the theme of immediate Paradise or Punishment and relays the conversation between Jesus and the good thief on the cross. Luke records the conversation between them and quotes Jesus as saying:

Luke 23:43

43Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

In a recent blog conversation elsewhere, one commenter noted that the gospels have no punctuation. The statement could just as easily read,"I tell you the truth will be with me in paradise." I thought that was an interesting idea and would easily clean up the whole matter....but that doesn't necessarily mean it's true.

The main problem with relying on the conversation between Jesus and the "good thief" is that Mark and Matthew do not record this conversation. Not only do they not record it, but they declare that both of the robbers were insulting Jesus.

Mark 15:32b

Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Matthew 27:44

44In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

It's a contradiction. If you believe in an inerrant view of Scripture, you're going to have to explain this. If you don't, then you can rule out either Luke's version or Matthew and Mark's version as being either an embellishment (in the case of Luke), or mistaken information(in the case of Matthew and Mark). The gospel of John doesn't relate anything that the robbers said, so it remains silent on the issue. 

If the story of the good thief in Luke is an embellishment, it does shed some light on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It is self-consistent with what Luke is trying to communicate about the afterlife, though none of the other gospels give such explicit references to an after-life immediately after death. Luke stands alone in his portrayal.

Taken as a whole, that leads me to give less credence to the parable as anything more than a teaching illustration.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Voluntary Death Penalty

My post on torture reminded me of the stereotypical Christian split over the death penalty in which usually more progressive Christians are against it and more conservative Christians are for it.

Which is more have the death penalty, or to have someone confined to prison for 60 + years?

I'm guessing it probably depends on the prison and what life would be like there.

I could see some people opting for death.

Would American society accept the idea of convicted criminals choosing one, or the other?

Would any criminals actually choose death over life in prison?

Would it be condoning suicide if we had voluntary death penalties?


Christian Torture?

Last week, the Pew Forum released a poll which showed white evangelical protestants as believing that torture can sometimes be justified.  Sixty two percent of white evangelicals believe torture is often, or sometimes, justified; 18% often, 44% sometimes.

That figure outstrips the general US demographic by 10% and other Christian demographics by anywhere from 19%-12%. That a significant difference. We're talking double digits, here.

The question is...why?

An easy answer would be to say that evangelical Christians are violent, war-hungry people. While I am sure Richard Dawkins is probably all over that answer, I think it's too facile. Evangelical Christianity comes in a wide variety of flavors and is not so easily pinned down.

From a religious perspective, I can offer some thoughts about the difference. The general pathos of evangelical Christianity is consumed with what is perceived as a great battle between good and evil. Preachers pounding the drum beats for culture wars tend to use emotional, dramatic illustrations which can feed the sense of conflict between Christians and "the world". Throw in a few End Times seminars and you have the interesting dynamics of concerned urgency and desensitization to violence.

Evangelicals are used to thematic violence. They live with the concept of Hell hovering in the background. They have a Bible full of violent stories. Violence, in and of itself, is not necessarily counter-intuitive to evangelicals. This doesn't mean they beat their kids, or get into fist-fights with their neighbors. It doesn't mean they view violence as the solution in normal circumstances. It does mean that they can see the use of violence to forestall some greater tragedy as justifiable.

The example most of them would use would be of a terrorist with knowledge about an imminent attack capable of killing thousands of people.  In such a situation, one man's pain and discomfort is a small price to pay for saving thousands--a single act of violence to save many.

That's the general theme of Christ's it's not too foreign of an idea to be co-opted for some other "higher purpose".

The irony is that it was Jesus' enemies who declared that "it was better for one man to perish, than for the nation to perish.(John 11:50)" While Jesus ultimately fulfilled that prophecy, in a spiritual way Caiphas couldn't understand, the earthly sentiment was hardly born out of pure motives or courage. Instead, it was motivated by fear of the Romans taking away the place of the priesthood and the nation.

Another reason why evangelical protestants scored so much higher is probably related to the balance of power they hold. I would venture to say that most white, evangelical protestants have never been on the opposite side of a power imbalance. They have never been oppressed or had relatives who were systematically discriminated against, or been the victim of real, physical persecution. 

For most of them, the question of torture is an intellectual exercise that has no connection with reality. They don't know how horribly torture might feel. They are not thinking about the lasting damage the torture may cause. They are not considering the fact that the torturee might not have the information the authorities need. They are not the ones who will ultimately be doing the torturing, having to face the humanity of the recipient. It would be interesting to see if the numbers would stay the same if some of us had to do more than simply have opinions about it.

I'd guess those numbers would drop significantly. Evangelicals might theoretically support the use of torture, but would they be willing to administer it....or to have their grown children administer it? No, I think it would be more likely that most evangelicals would go the way of Pilate, washing their hands of the responsibility, while assigning someone else to the task.

When viewed from that perspective, I'm not sure how true the numbers are, or at least how strongly the percentages represent a firm conviction about torture that wouldn't collapse in on itself in the face of reality.

In addition, I wonder how the sample of evangelical Christians was broken down.  If, for instance, most of the respondents came from a particular region, such as the South, it is possible that their cultural views, outside of specific evangelical views, could have skewed the numbers.

I think it would be unfair to say that evangelicals are more violent than other people.  To play devil's advocate, I could imagine evangelicals proposing that liberals are more violent because they believe women have the right to kill their unborn children. If you concede that a fetus is a living human being, yet believe that there are justifiable reasons to allow a woman to end its life....I'm not sure that there can be much finger-pointing about the response to this poll.

It's all in how you spin it.

Should evangelicals support the use of torture?  No, they shouldn't.  It's a murky area in which grave mistakes could be made. 

We shouldn't weaken our moral convictions in the face of fear.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Chilling Out

What is that deafening sound I hear?

Oh's the sound of silence! How else could the house sound when emptied of its two noisiest occupants?

DH and I have enjoyed having a kid-free weekend. On Friday, I joyfully dropped the kids with my mother-in-law who will no doubt spoil them silly until we see them tonight. They'll come back exhausted from all their fun--swimming at the retirement community pool, playing shuffleboard, eating out, and going to watch Monsters Vs. Aliens at the movie theater. They probably have had more fun than we have.

DH and I slept in all weekend and enjoyed slowly drinking our coffee in our pajamas until about 10 am each day. We went couch shopping. Having just purchased a couch, which arrived on Tuesday, we didn't think we would be back out looking for one quite this soon. However, once our new couch arrived, it took all of about 10 minutes to realize we had purchased a very stylish, beautiful, extremely uncomfortable couch.

Perhaps it was unfair to compare the new couch to our 12 year old, broken in, conforms to our bodies like a glove couch. Try as we might we just could not get comfortable in the new couch. The very next day we called to have it returned.

The lesson here---It doesn't matter how good something looks if you can't stand to sit in it--stand to sit in it....that's a funny way to put things. Now we are looking for a couch based solely on its nap-inducing qualities. If it turns out to be hideous but comfortable, we'll live with the hideousness.

Last night we were lucky enough to get discounted tickets to see Topol in his farewell tour of Fiddler on the Roof, which happens to be one of my favorite movies. I wasn't sure how good the production would be. After all, Topol is in his seventies.  
He was great. The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center was packed.  I don't think there was a single open seat. The crowd roared when he came on stage, applauding for several minutes before he could even begin his opening lines. Even in his seventies, he is still a force to be reckoned with. I was happy to see he could still pull it off. I was afraid that maybe his age would show and he wouldn't be able to do it...but I was wrong.

All in all...we had a fun weekend. 

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mmmm, Mmmm, Good

I'm just wondering who had the bad luck of signing up for this taste test?