God

God, Tree Climbing and Infinite Surprise

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"It pleased him to imagine God as someone like his mother, someone beleaguered by too many responsibilities, too dog-tired to monitor an energetic boy every minute of the day, but who, out of love and fear for his safety, checked in on him whenever she could. Was this so crazy? Surely God must have other projects besides Man [sic], just as his parents had responsibilities other than raising their children? Miles liked the idea of a God who, when He at last had the opportunity to return His attention to His children, might shake His head with wonder and mutter, "Jesus. Look what they're up to now." A distractible God, perhaps, one who'd be startled to discover so many of His children way up in trees since the last time He looked. A God whose hand would go rushing to His mouth in fear in that instant of recognition that—good God!—that kid's going to hurt himself. A God who could be surprised by unanticipated pride—glory be, that boy is a climber!" (Richard Russo, Empire Falls).

I love this quote from Richard Russo. God as a distracted mother, responsible for so much, but ferociously attached to her children. I like that. Being married to a mother ferociously attached to her children, but responsible for much else, I'm partial to this image of God. Notwithstanding the questions of orthodoxy (the impassibility and omnicompetence of God), I still like to think of God as much less overbearing than we're traditionally given to believe.

I know of and agree with Karl Barth's rather imperious sounding dictum that "God is not human being said in a loud voice!" Still, a surprised and delighted God is a comforting notion in a world filled with pinch-faced people certain that God's highest vocation revolves around abstemiously policing human indiscretion and rooting out joy from among possible human achievement. Surely God must find some joy in human achievement, even (perhaps especially) at its most outrageously indiscreet.

If God had a hand in creating us, God must take some delight in us—and not just when we're wearing our Sunday best either. Human life, as messy and venal as it sometime seems, offers up moments of true grace and rapture—often squarely deposited in the midst of the messiness and venality, rather than despite it.

My delight in my children, when I can subdue my own pinch-faced abstemiousness long enough, often comes in realizing the amazing extent to which they are infinitely capable and amazingly clever at goofing up. How, for example, sophisticated electronic gadgets when in my children's hands acquire the properties of divining rods, sniffing out water (toilets, the dog's water bowl, etc.) with alarming precision, is an object of true wonderment to me. Why should God be any less amazed at my own stunning penchant for dropping delicate stuff in the toilet?

The clear temptation that accompanies an image of God as slightly harried parent is that it lets me off the hook with respect to my messes—as if to say, I can do whatever I want because God's busy minding gravity. This would, of course, constitute a singularly self-serving picture of God as undiscerning and ceaselessly approving.

But the positive thing this image of God offers, I think, is an opportunity to hold on a little less tightly to myself and to my own need to get everything exactly right—to view my own children, not so much as a project to be perfected but a gift to be enjoyed, to be wondered over, and shared with the rest of the world.

A God surprised by and unanticipatedly proud of tree climbers (and their parents)—that sounds like grace to me.

God's Table: Playing Musical Chairs and Losing

By George Rizor

I’m a pastor for a Christian denomination where communion is one of only two sacraments observed.  It’s pretty important to us.

Recently with the debate over homosexuality in the church, including membership, ordination, same-sex marriage, etc., communion has frequently defined the analogy for the debate.  It often appears in the form of ‘how do we be inclusive and welcoming of all people to the table?’

As our society has made strides in social and legal equality for those LGBTQ persons who have been historically disenfranchised, the church has lagged behind and struggled with not only a debate of basic, fundamental rights for the LGBTQ community, but also has had to deal with religious, scriptural and ecclesial questions.  It’s not just ‘is it right?’, but ‘is it right in the eyes of God and in our faith tradition?’

In our denomination, I have heard a question related to LGBTQ equality in the Christian Church expressed using the table analogy.  That question distills to something like this: ‘If we embrace the liberal perspective and make room at the table for LGBTQ persons, are we pushing away from the table the more conservative folks, who in many instances have tolerated the change at the table as we made room for those who had been disenfranchised?’

An interesting question, but one that has some assumptions and presumptions that must be addressed to honestly answer the question of including in the faith process versus excluding (and pushing some away from) the faith process.

It has to do with an economics concept: that of Nash equilibria (John Nash, the real-life subject of the movie, “A BRILLIANT MIND,” and Nobel-winning economist) and zero-sum versus non-zero sum games (or economies or life, for that matter).  Zero-sum and non-zero sum, even if you’ve never heard of them, are very important to our fundamental understanding of the nature of God and omnipotence.  A zero sum game like Monopoly assumes that if one person wins another must loose.  There are a finite set of resources and players compete for them.  A zero sum game must end in a win-lose manner.  A non-zero sum game like The Prisoner's Dilemma assumes that there are not limited resources and that players can play the game, collaborate and orchestrate a win-win ending.

I'd like to suggest - again not addressing the issues that have been debated regarding liberal/conservative and why we've had to 'make room at the table' —our society and culture tends to be 'zero sum' and to perceive life as having a fixed, finite set of resources for which we must compete. And therefore, if someone 'gets' another person must 'lose.'  Our national economies and our personal economies are generally built on zero-sum assumptions.  Negotiations, competitions for jobs, personal economic transactions, etc. all speak to a notion that we have to do better than the next person, because if we are to win, it will be at their expense and vice-versa.

Now—we run into a real puzzle when we ascribe zero-sum thinking to faith journey.  Basically, if we adhere to a conventional and scriptural understanding of God as infinite and omnipotent, it is not possible to 'push someone away from the table.'  God's table can accommodate everyone.  That means that making room for someone at the table or pushing someone away from the table must encompass two aspects that have to be examined: first, what is the nature of God's table, through Jesus Christ, exemplified by Jesus' example and teaching?  Are there limitations?  Most important, is the table in any way exclusive?  Is there anyone who cannot be accommodated at the table?  Does God set a table where mutual exclusivity can exist?  Is it possible that if one person/group/identity is permitted at the table, another person/group/identity must be denied?  Can mutual exclusivity be applied to any two persons/groups/identities within God’s creation?

Can we—in any way—assess the breadth, depth and elasticity of God’s ability to accommodate all the diverse components of creation?  Even if we were able to discern whom God, through Jesus Christ would accept/reject, is that our purview?  Basically, how do we decide if God’s love is zero-sum, or even can approximate zero-sum, with some being permitted ‘at the table’ meaning that others cannot be present?

A completely separate issue is the second aspect: If we decide, ‘yes, God’s table will accommodate some and not others,’ who fits which category?  That’s where most of the equality/inequailty debate in the church today has centered.  But the reality is: are we trying to retrofit belonging to a belonging template that doesn’t exist?  Have we rushed so haphazardly to decide who is worthy and who is not worthy that we have ignored the fact that such debate seems to limit God and to set our human, finite, limited understanding as the model for God’s table?

Is zero-sum and mutual exclusivity a function of our societal and cultural existence that has slopped over into our definition of God’s nature and how God conducts ‘business’ with humankind?  And if that’s true, is it legitimate and defensible?  Our understanding of the nature of God needs to be addressed and understood before we begin contemplation of someone being pushed away from God as a result of human perceptions and actions.

Maybe, just maybe, God’s table is larger than our ability to imagine and more accommodating than we can possibly conceive.  Here’s hoping . . . 

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

Sick and Crabby

The sun is shining brilliantly, casting playful shadows across Coyote Wall. The California Poppies, Bachelor Buttons and other wildflowers dot the ridge in startling oranges, blues, purples, and the occasional red. And the lavender is full and round and dressed in fragrant blooms. The wind is strong making robust white caps crash against the banks of the Columbia. Soon wind surfers will appear and compete with the eagles dancing on the air currents. And I want to hide under twelve inches of blanketing and wake up sometime in the distant future. F-- this.

I have been sick and that tends to skew my mood and my thinking. Don’t know if it was food poisoning or a dose of whatever people in the ED had, but my intestinal track has been in revolt. On the silver lining side, I am back down to 110 pounds, but I would not recommend this as a form of dieting. Rice and applesauce only satisfy the pallet for so long.

But it’s more than that. I would like to blame my mood and my circumstance on God. “If I was still at the State Museum I would be making about 75 grand by now.” Never mind that working for the State of New York I probably would have gone ballistic long ago and would be serving 15-life at Riker’s Island. That is all beside the point in my Sad Sack Story. Following God’s call requires sacrifices, but come on already! Oh, and I don’t want any rational interjection about possible erroneous or poor choices on my part along the way. I am having a pity party and that’s that.

Where are my pajamas?

When do we get to NOT struggle with money? I’m 52 freaking years old! I already gave away most of my stuff and I miss it. I miss my pink sweater with the hood and the mixing bowls. Actually Tim misses the mixing bowls since he is the one who cooks. So I guess I only miss one thing I gave away. That doesn’t seem to support my whole argument here. Damn. Strike the above paragraph from the record.

I have a wonderful job that pays well with decent benefits and yet . . . and yet. We were trying to remember a time when we were both making a professional wage at the same time. I think it was 1999 before I walked away from the museum for seminary.

This sucks.

Ugh. And then there’s West Virginia where Tim was not able to find a professional job no matter what. An eminently qualified educator that no one would hire because . . . because he wasn’t from around there? because he was a man and there were antiquated ideas about men in early childhood? because he was meant for another path? Blah blah blah. I know. Tim would not have heard his call to ministry if we weren’t in West Virginia. Whoop tee do. I told you, no cogent feedback, just “oh you poor dear.” Got it?

I wonder where I can get lactose-free, no sugar added chocolate that will not upset my stomach?

I am supposed to be at an age and in a place where I can help my young adult children as they are starting out. It kills me to see them struggling and not able to help. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing - helping them but I can barely help myself. They are part of this generation where college degrees don’t necessarily get you well paying jobs and school debts (for which you can no longer declare bankruptcy) keep you in poverty.

This is total crap, and I think I am going to blame God after all. Tim followed a distinct call from God to move to Portland, and what happened? We wound up in Hood River/Mosier. What up God? Trying to figure out what God is about in this place is hard and there is not one damn thing I can do help Tim. It’s between him and God. See, I knew it. It is God’s fault.

Did I mention I swear a lot when I’m in a shitty mood?

Well life marches on. Good things are happening for Jess’ school where she works. Isaac is crazy in love and together they will figure out this next phase in their lives. Tim has some ministry prospects, is writing more than ever, and cooks wonderful dinners for me.

Which reminds me, I think I’m getting hungry.

God is abundant. God is gracious. God is an extravagant lover. God is good - even if God has a warped sense of humor.

Subverting the American Creation Myth

(From Isa 61 - 5.13.12)

People who imagine history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. 

 This is the place in which it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves.  Impaled.  They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence.  This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues white Americans sometimes entertain with that black conscience, the black man in America.

The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea: Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway, it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present on the middle passage.[1]

In the so-called colorblind America of the 21st century in which we live, there is a conversation that we need to have.  And when I say “we,” I am imploring you to remove the race-less spectacles we’ve been told to wear, so that we can acknowledge the extraordinary colors of the human family, and see where a great many of us have been divided and conquered along those lines.  When I say “we,” I’m talking about American white folks.  Specifically, I’m talking about my people.  And as an upper-middle class, straight, American, white male between the ages of 18-35, I know how our collective posterior can tighten at the mention of a talk about race.  I understand the uncomfortable position to be put in where there seems to be no good answer to any question put to the white man about race in America today.  Can’t we just move past this?  Wasn’t the Civil Rights Movement victorious?  Can’t you see that we have a black man in the White House?  I understand the hot flush that runs up the back of our necks for something we can’t quite name, and the incredulous frustration over the guilt that is sure to be heaped upon us.  I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys being force-fed shame over original sins committed years before his birth.  And I certainly understand the response of good white people of every political stripe to advocate the move to colorblindness, so that the race-less virtues of merit and accomplishment, of strong families and solid faith, may overcome the social challenges of the regrettable behavior of distant ancestors.  So let me assure you that while this conversation is sure to be difficult, it is one that we must have in order to move forward along the great arc of human history bending towards God’s justice.  And while we must all accept our responsibility to do the heavy lifting of kin-dom building, I promise you that shame and guilt are not burdens we are designed to carry.

As people of faith, we have ways to engage the truth of God, of who we are and of what we are designed to do.  And while we may all agree that Biblical texts are an entry point to that engagement with the divine, careful study of how those texts have interacted and responded to the world since its original composition is crucial in order to sift the Word of God out from a desert of lies and misinformation.

As we examine the Genesis creation story handed down to us through the descendants of Abraham, let us consider the Babylonian creation myth, Enûma Eliš.  This narrative tells of gods who war with one another, who resort to violence, and who create the world out of the corpse of the defeated.  The gods who have been conquered become servants of the victorious, until it is decided that humans are to be created in order to assume the burden of labor for the gods.  This story served the dynastic kings, who were legitimized by the supreme deity, in order to preserve and maintain the Babylonian power structure.  You see, it was necessary to assure people who were forced to labor for the building of the empire that they had been created for slavery.  If the status quo must be protected, then it becomes critical to tell a narrative that asserts the righteousness of the status quo.

The Abrahamic faith narrative, however, reveals that God has a way of subverting unjust power structures the status quo.

The ancients who first heard and recorded the creation story we find in Genesis 1:1-2:4a, people who were aware the Babylonian myth, would have detected the bold and subversive claim that humans were not created for slave labor, but rather to rule over the created world and all the abundant life within it.  The Genesis story claims that human beings were not conceived at the end of a series of bickering, failures, annoyances and war among the god, but rather created intentionally good.  We see in Genesis the boundless delight of God, pleased with God’s creation of male and female, made in the very image of God.

So God created humankind in [God’s] image, in the image of God [God] created them; male and female [God] created them.  God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:27-28, NRSV).

And the climax of our creation story is not that the point of life is for toil under the oppression of the state, but for Sabbath rest.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.  And on the seventh day God finished the work that [God] had done, and [God] rested on the seventh day from all the work that [God] had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that [God] had done in creation (Gen 2:1-3, NSRV).

You see, we have a remarkable story of who we are and what we are designed to do in this grand mystery of incarnation, in this beautiful and abundant world.  But the power of this story is uniquely revealed when we consider the dominant narrative that it challenges.  The power structure says that humans were created as an afterthought for the leisure of the gods.  Genesis says that we are created in the image of the Divine.  The power structure says that humanity was created for endless toil.  Our God says that we created for empowerment and the benevolent rule of an abundant world.  The power structure says that life is a burden of work from the cradle to the grave.  God declares a holy day of Sabbath rest.  God compels us to have faith that creation is so abundant that six days of work will fill seven days of life.

So what does this have to do with the conversation that we must have about race today?

When I say that the world is abundant, that God wills us to have prosperity and leisure, upper-middle class white people like myself hardly skip a beat.  We look at our broad, green lawns and clean suburban streets and think to ourselves, “of course.  I have been blessed by God.  The abundance of God is evident in my life.”  When we excel in our private or parochial schools, graduate college, secure comfortable, air-conditioned jobs, and vacation in resorts overflowing with amusement and pleasure, we earnestly think to ourselves that the American dream has come true.  We logically associate our dedication and resourcefulness to material success and earnestly believe that anyone who perseveres with such industriousness can have the leisure and consumptive lifestyle that we enjoy.  We figure that it must be something about the determined American character of sacrifice and hard work, combined with the favor of God’s blessings on exceptional people that make the United States of America the greatest nation on earth.

But the fact of the matter is that we have been sold a lie.

We’ve been duped.

And like the Babylonian creation myth that was circulated among ancient people in order to protect an oppressive power structure as well as the elites who were privileged by it, we too have been told a story about our origin and identity that simultaneously privileges a few with power, and oppresses a great many without.  And just as the Genesis creation story subverts a narrative of social control, we too must confront the lies that have blinded us with a liberating faith that speaks truth to power and seeks to dismantle unjust social structures for the kin-dom of God.

The reality is that hard work and ingenuity are admirable values that are worth preserving.  But the truth of the matter is that the world we live in provides access and advantage to some people, so that hard work has the suitable environment to manifest itself in material prosperity, while preventing a great many people from having enough to even survive.  Extensive data reveal that inadequate schools, ethnic and racial disparities in health care, vastly disproportionate rates of employment and incarceration among our sisters and brothers of color are undeniable.  And the myth of individualism, that in order for someone to make it in our world is to pull herself up by her own bootstraps, is not only false, but dangerous.  This is the contemporary Babylonian myth sold to us by a selective telling of our American history.  It is the fiction of an egalitarian nation that earned its wealth with every drop of honest sweat.  But the creation myth of this nation leaves out the millions of Native Americans whose land was stolen and whose people were forcibly displaced.  The story fails to acknowledge that the great wealth of this nation was built on centuries of slave labor, justified by an emerging capitalist ethic and doctrine of white supremacy.  The selective history defames the bravery of impoverished folks who were conscripted to fight and die in wars abroad.  It overlooks the tremendous irony of black and brown men and women who fought overseas for rights they did not enjoy at home.

Now some may say, “sure, we are not a perfect nation.  There have been many sins committed in the past.  But we are beyond that now.  Slavery is over.  Jim Crow has been outlawed.  Haven’t we evolved?  Can’t we move forward?”  The answer is no.  So long as white folks like me benefit from an unresolved and impartial telling of history, and so long as folks of color continue to suffer disproportionately from that same past, then truly we are held captive still.  For it is not the sins of malicious people from which some of us have benefited and others have been abused.  It is the inherently unjust system by which this nation was born and operates still that enslaves us all.  And yes, we are all in bondage.  Some of us are bound by the system as the privileged, and many others are held captive under the weight of its machinery, oppressed generation after generation.  Those of us who are the privileged prisoners are duped into giving our consent to an abusive system that crushes our sisters and brothers under God.  We are taught that our possessions and good fortunes are blessings.  But the truth is that they are the bribes of the empire, paid for with the lives of the oppressed.

And here’s the thing.  This is not about guilt.  None of us built this unjust society by ourselves; it was not even built in our lifetime.  We should not feel guilty.  We should feel angry that we have been coerced into being accomplices to crimes we would never knowingly commit.  We should come to grips with the truth that our economy has been built on two lies:  that scarcity requires us to compete for limited goods, and that the aim of life is unconscious and unbounded consumption.

And here’s another thing.  We need not fall into despair.  Trust me, it’s tempting to leap into the abyss of hopelessness when we open our eyes to the extent of abuse against the most vulnerable and innocent, to the depths of injustice against all of God’s people.  We must look again to the revelation of God in the scriptures, in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the movement of the Holy Spirit among us.  But we must have this conversation of the injustice of race in this nation in order to hear what the voice of God has to say in defiance and revolution against such sin and evil.  Because as long as we do not hear the suppressed voices of the marginalized, we cannot hear the voice of God.  So long as we hear only the seductive coddling of the empire, we are deaf to hear anything else.

The Genesis creation story told an ancient people that the myth of the Babylonian Empire had sold them a lie for the sake of social control.  Today, the same truth that we are created fundamentally good in the image of God in order to rule justly in the world subverts the contemporary lie that maintains an oppressive status quo.  It is difficult to see such systemic sin in the world from the perspective of privilege, when we have been told our own selective historical myth, but that is precisely why we must not shy aware from having the difficult conversation of race in our society.  We need to see that truly we are all held captive, so that we realize that no one can be scapegoated for injustice, neither the oppressed nor the privileged.  This is a system that must be recognized and defeated, because as Christians, we believe in something greater for which we strive as the Body of Christ.  We are not guilty of the past we did not commit.  But we are responsible.  We are obligated to respond to what has happened, because we follow Jesus Christ who responded to the sins of the world with indomitable love.  First we are going to need a shift in perspective in order to dissolve our blindness, and we’re going to need the faith in a God big enough, powerful enough and compassionate enough to replace the empires of humanity with the kin-dom of God.  And to find that God, we are going to need to listen to the lived experiences of people of color who do not share our historical illusions, and to follow closely the narrative of love and liberation we find in our sacred texts.  It is the true story of where we came from.  It is the story of who we truly are and what we were created to be.  And through our faithful lives, it will be the story of how a God who is madly in love with us flows into the world to overturn dehumanizing powers to set us free.

It’s time to reclaim our identity.


[1] James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt” Ebony, August 1965

RECLAIMING EASTER

Easter is about resurrection and transformation - today. Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago. Easter is not about an 11th-century feudal theology .....of "penal substitution" or "substitutionary sacrifice." Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of "original sin." Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary God .....whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate .....that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased. Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian etherial existence. Easter is not about using the sharing the Good News as a form of conquest. Easter is not about hate.

Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples - all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being - here and now - the Kingdom of God. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News.

What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first - a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive - speaking to them and sharing meals with them - a tangible presence. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is: .....* unrestrained love and unconditional grace - .....* always present and immediately available to anyone anywhere anytime, and .....* that life does not require participation in the empire - .....* not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, .....* not its imperial civic theology, not its military conquests, and .....* not its greedy and isolating economics.

This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today.

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent 1) unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2) the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual ............................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

This is resurrection and transformation! This is the Good News! This is Easter! Alleluia!

THE SECOND COMING - RECLAIMED

Regarding the future of the church,we have made a mistake.

It is not about Reformation II (or III or IV or V or...) It is about the Second Coming of Jesus

It is not about the coming death of the church. It is about the coming transformation of the church.

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The Second Coming is an inside joke.... ...To those who do not "get it" - The Second Coming is an apocalyptic view that awaits the arrival of a militant Jesus who will violently eliminate evil from the world. It makes for best-selling religious literary fiction, great cinematic special effects, and lousy-abusive-useless theology. ...To those who do "get it" - the joke is that Jesus is already here, peacefully present. Jesus "returns" for each person as they discover and embark on the life-path that Jesus walked. The "Second Coming" is personal - it is neither an apocalyptic nor a global event. The epiphany by the women on Easter morning was that, even though Jesus was executed and buried, the path walked by Jesus still exists - and by walking that same path, the message and example of Jesus is resurrected. Many find this epiphany to be transformative, their old self dies and a new transformed person is resurrected from a dead and buried former life. By walking the path - living The Way of Jesus - they continue and extend the path and message and life of Jesus. In doing so, our lives proclaim:

Jesus is arisen! Jesus is here! Jesus appears to us! Jesus walks with us! Jesus breaks bread with us! Jesus lives! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The church must go the same way as Jesus. The church must die and be buried - and be reborn through an epiphanic resurrection and transformation. The church cannot be rescued. The church cannot be reformed. The church cannot evolve. At some point, the current church structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions must be abandoned and demolished and replaced - existing only in our memory as a history lesson of how not to be church.

Those of us who are Baby Boomers or older - and regardless of whether we participate, oppose, or sit on the sidelines - the church we know, have worked so hard to grow and maintain, has been so important to us, and indeed which we love so much - that church is about to disappear, must disappear - and there is nothing we can do about it or should be able to do about it. As a statement of objective emotionless fact - the generations that come after us will re-create church in ways that will have little to do with church as it has existed since the end of WWII and even less with church as it has existed since the early 19th-century "Great Awakening" revival that birthed the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and other denominations. Do not be surprised when the future church finds it can exist only by abandoning and demolishing the structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions of the 200-year-old American church in all its denominational and independent expressions, colors, sounds, textures, architecture, rituals, liturgies, and self-righteous self-assuredness. Do not be surprised when this abandonment and demolition is completed with no sense of sadness and no sense of loss. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has been completed just in time to be abandoned.

There is no pleasure in being the last of your kind, a breed on the verge of extinction. However, the WWII "Greatest Generation" and their "Baby Boomer" kids will not leave quietly and not without generating rippling resonating repercussions as they pass into memory. We have been faithful generous tithers and - most dangerously and in a final fit of useless spite and exasperation - we will continue to support the church after we are gone. We are wealthy generations who have retained lawyers to write wills that are specific and enforceable. The problem for future lawyers, judges, CPAs, and juries will be how to allocate funds for a church that is closed, abandoned, or demolished. They will have few or no options for diverting those funds to a living congregation or a worthwhile project. Already, we can see that the generations who follow us do not tithe to churches. They support specific projects and missions. Unlike us, they do not want their giving to be for slogans and annual reports and push pins on a map. They want projects and missions that are tangible, immediate, and - most important - participatory. Where we gave strictly of our wealth, these next generations will give of themselves - of their time, talent, labor, and presence - as well as their treasure.

At the forefront of the church demolition will be recent college graduates, college students and the high school students that will follow them. They will abandon (are abandoning) Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, and congregational events as well as mainstream campus ministries, Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, and any Christian organization that values exclusion over inclusion or has any hint of structural rigidity, hierarchical authority, membership requirements, or dogmatic rejection of or does not live the theology of universal justice and compassion infused with divine love and grace.

Expensive specific-purpose church structures will be replaced with the use of former stores, abandoned theatres, rented warehouses, and individual homes. The traditional Sunday morning worship will diminish and be replaced by conversations in food courts and bars and coffee shops, studies in quiet places inside and outdoors, meditational Taize gatherings, loud Praise concerts, other worship experiences yet to be created - all arranged through social media and sometimes occurring more as a flash mob experience than a scheduled service. Future church will occur while flowing with the stream of life, not alongside or outside of it as a stationary event.

The seminary/ordination track as well as clergy as a profession and calling will be vastly different from what it is now, if it exists at all. There is no justification for ministerial candidates having to bear the crushing burden of a 5-digit (6-digit?) school loan to earn the formal label/prefix "Rev." and to be eligible for employment in a shrinking system and a disappearing paradigm. The concept of clergy will not be reformed, it will be so revolutionized as to be re-created. Future clergy will see themselves as scholars and counselors and project/mission managers and will reject calls to be church/congregational CEOs or mega-entrepreneurs. Clergy will find that their calling includes a responsibility to freely and openly share their formal studies. Denominations that currently have multiple seminaries will collapse them into one. Some denominations will find it necessary to join together to form a cooperative organization to support a single ecumenical seminary. Many seminaries will disappear. One possibility is that ministerial candidates, from the beginning of their education, will serve a sponsoring and supportive congregation. Seminary scholars representing the various necessary ministerial disciplines will hold regional classes or, when the technology becomes inexpensively ubiquitous, hold synchronous video conferences.

A major contributing factor to the clerical revolution will be public access to church knowledge. In an age of Wiki sites, there is no justification for the Catholic church or any denomination or any church institution to have secret archives or to have historical documents or ancient biblical texts hidden from public view. Every document, every scroll, every parchment fragment must be scanned, indexed, hyperlinked, and its high-resolution digital image placed on-line within a single web site. The biblical texts, both Jewish and Christian and regardless of whether they are currently considered canonical, must be on-line and referenced to a source document or source documents as well as being referenced to differing source documents. What will be paperless is not the office, it will be knowledge.

One of the identifying marks of living The Way is fearlessness. In this context, it means not being afraid to die and not being afraid to live. This article is neither a vision nor a prediction, neither a warning nor an advocating. It is a call to the church to move confidently into the future and to fearlessly embrace and enable its coming death and resurrection and transformation and new life.

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Technology Postscript: As on-line conferencing and smart-phone/tablet technologies improve and take advantage of increasing transmission rates and bandwidth, virtual worship and gatherings will be normal, common, and expected. As the virtual world is populated and utilized, the realization will slowly sink in that while virtual connections are immediate and easy and global, virtual connections are better at enhancing human disconnectedness than creating human presence and are better at amplifying loneliness than creating community. At some point, it will be generally recognized that virtual connections are an inadequate and invalid replacement for the connections we form when we are in the presence of each other. No matter how much we tweet, text, Facebook, email, YouTube, or Skype - at some point we have to see each other in the same physical space, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. We relate best when our mutual presence is tangible and accessible. Personally and communally as well as psychologically and technologically, at some point the virtual connection will be deemed unacceptable and generally harmful and best reserved for situations that are emergencies or physically remote or both. We will have to discover that pixels and bits are always inferior to hugs and prayer circles.

...and that will be the next transformation.

RECLAIMING EDUCATION

an expanded and updated version of an article that first appeared inEncounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual. ......................................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

The Good News is about being the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News does not oppose the Empire. The Good News is constantly engaged in non-violently replacing the Empire with the Kingdom of God. To that end, having only a well-defined theology of love, grace, compassion, justice, hospitality, generosity, and service is not enough. The true measure is how that theology is lived and shared and how it imbues and informs the life of the disciple. The Good News is not about yearning for or being promised a future and distant post-mortal eternal reward as payment for a temporary existence marked by guilt-ridden culturally-acceptable behavior and tightly-held xenophobic beliefs. The Good News is about being and proclaiming and provoking the Kingdom of God here and now in all aspects of our lives. One such aspect is education, especially public K-12 education.

THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What Is Not Education? Education is not for the betterment of the local economy, the gross national product, or the global society. Education is not about transforming, unifying, or homogenizing society. Education is not a solution for the problems of society – neither problems that are persistent and universal nor problems that are uniquely contemporary. Education is not about providing competent trained workers for future employment. Education does not transform students into either an intellectual natural resource or a pool of human capital – these concepts have no basis or existence in reality. Education is not the means by which we can gain a national economic competitive edge over other nations. Education is not about preparing students for college. It is not an event in some imaginary ongoing international academic competition. Acquiring an education from a public school system is not an act of consumerism (Bracey 2008) because public education is not a product, not a business, not a manufacturing process, and not an industry. Neither competence in passing a specific test nor receiving narrowly focused training qualifies as an education (Houston 2007).

Such purposes and goals are wrong. Such purposes and goals cause a destructive mutation of the education process. Such purposes and goals subject children to treatment that must be labeled and rejected for what it is – criminally coercive and abusive.

The Six Purposes and Obligations of Education First, the most important obligation of any education system is to recognize that each child is a unique individual – there is no such thing as a standard child (Rakow 2008). Any system that has any other primary obligation is neither about nor providing education. The uniqueness of each child requires unique accommodations. Instead of forcing a child into a predetermined or standardized schedule and set of expectations, we have an obligation to adapt to each child’s unique set of capabilities, boundaries, and rate of development. To do otherwise is counter-productive, if not harmful. Children are who they uniquely are. Children are not who we want them to be or who we think they are. Children are not indistinguishable widgets on an education assembly line (Johnson 2006).

The quality of an industrial product can be measured. An industrial process begins with specified and consistent raw materials that meet the requirements of the process. Then, in accordance with a pre-designed detailed plan, the raw materials are incrementally transformed into a finished product. At each step of the transformation process, there are standards that must be met for the process to continue and, eventually, successfully produce the expected final product. The continuous process is constantly producing identical finished products. Each finished product, within very tight tolerances, must meet specifications or be rejected. A specific quantifiable result is expected and each finished product must meet all predetermined expectations with a high degree of measurable precision. The metrics and processes used in industry and business to measure and achieve and control quality cannot and must not be applied to education. Students are not a raw material. There are no rejects. There cannot be a pre-specified final product. Education is not an industrial process.

A successful education can not be measured collectively. It can be measured only individually and only independent of the results and achievements of others. The education process is not a series of assembly-line increments occurring at fixed intervals at controllable rates with repeated predictable results. Education does not yield a predetermined finished product. The success of an education is not measured by how well it matches blueprint specifications. The success of an education is not measured by how well an individual can recall and repeat what has been learned. The success of an education is measured by how well an individual extends and expands and enriches what has been learned and uses what has been learned to solve problems and create solutions, to create new knowledge and new art. The end result of education cannot be designed or mapped. Education cannot use an unchanging collective blueprint expecting to manufacture identical results. Indeed, the end results of education must not be identical or even uniform. The end result of education is controlled by the unique internal, changing and maturing qualities of the individual student and not by any external expectations, designs, or controls. Education is a process of assisting individual intellectual growth, the discovery of personal strengths and talents, and the maturation of the person as an individual and a social being – a process that does not end with graduation from high school or college. Education has no end result - there is no final product, there is no finished inventory.

Education is only a part of an ongoing life-long process. Training and regimentation and indoctrination are used to make people more nearly identical in some skill or behavior or response or thought. Education is about enriching the natural uniqueness of each person (Houston 2007). Education increases diversity, differentiation, and variability among individuals and decreases uniformity and conformity (Eisner 2001). The sole focus of an education system is the individual child – not parents, not colleges, not corporations, not government, not society, not the economy, and not the future of any other single or group entity. The future is always and inescapably unpredictable, indiscernible, and unknowable - the future does not yet exist. It is irresponsibly presumptuous for any adult to choose a future for a child or to preemptively limit the future of a child. The whole spectrum of future possibilities of each child belongs only and entirely to that child.

Second, an education system has an obligation to discover the talents and strengths of each child, then nurture each child’s confidence in and mastery of those talents and strengths, and provide the opportunities and resources necessary for each child to concentrate and focus on their talents and strengths, explore them in-depth (Eisner 2001) and nurture them to their fullest potential - as chosen and desired by the child.

Third, an education system has an obligation to allow, encourage, and protect generous amounts of unstructured time for a child to engage in child-initiated child-organized freely-chosen play, to explore, and to be creative in serious thought and fanciful imagination – both in solitude and in cooperation with other children. (Bergen & Frombert 2009) (Chmelynski 2006) (Elkind 2001 p. xvii) (Ginsburg 2007) (Jacobson 2008) (Satcher 2005) “Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” (Ginsburg 2007 p. 183)

Fourth, an education system has an obligation to promote within each child a constant self-awareness and self-knowledge and an independent personality, intellect, voice, and initiative. Education encourages a questioning spirit and stifles blind acceptance. The goal of education is to facilitate the acquisition by each child the capability for logical reasoning and evaluation, and the skills for: locating and gathering information, problem-solving, making plans and setting priorities, cooperating with a group without being subservient to the group, sharing knowledge and skills, and being able to earn respect in other cultures while being respectful toward those other cultures (Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 301).

Fifth, the purpose of an education is to provide each child with the widest exposure to the best of human knowledge in all disciplines; and the widest variety of the best artistic descriptions and expressions of humanity and the human experience; and to provide ample opportunity to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural environment and learn good stewardship of natural resources.

Sixth, a successful education assists each child in acquiring the intellectual and social tools to traverse the world, retaining at least a cautious, if not enthusiastic, curiosity and become a person who is open to, and even desires, continuous life-long learning. Education enables learning. At its best, education inspires a joy for learning (Rakow 2008). Education does not subvert learning to a test score, a hurdle, an obstacle to be conquered, or just another difficult life passage that just has to be endured (Eisner 2001).

What is an Educator? There is no such thing as “teaching” or a “teacher.” There is no way any “teacher” can force knowledge into the mind of a student who is not present, willing, and engaged. There is no research that demonstrates a humane teaching method that is so universally efficient, effective, and largely and continuously successful that the teacher using the method can be held accountable for the results regardless of the participation and attitude of the student (Ediger 2007). In the way the word is commonly used, there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning – a life-long, complex and multi-dimensional, internal individual process unique to each person (Crain 2008)(Driscoll 2005 p. 2)(Johnson 2006). No matter the education or years of experience, the hours of lesson preparation, the quality and intensity and creativity of the lesson presentation – nothing is learned until the student “gets it” (Driscoll 2005 p. 22) – a task and process over which the educator has no control and for which no educator and no school can be held accountable. There is no such thing as teaching that forcibly, controllably, and measurably inserts knowledge or skills into a student. There is only learning.

Well documented are the many ways in which children, starting at birth or earlier, learn on their own (Crain 2005, pp. 143-145) – for example: object permanence (even though mother is out of sight, mother still exists) (Crain 2005 pp. 120-121, 310-312), eye-hand coordination, vocabulary and grammar (Crain 2005 pp. 69-70, 349-359), walking – to name a few. There is no evidence that this internal ability to learn solitarily is ever replaced or largely supplanted by an external process. A normal healthy person never releases or loses the ability to learn. Learning is solely a capability and responsibility of the individual student. Learning is only in the internal cognitive domain of the individual student. It is the student who has to acquire, retain, and integrate new knowledge. It is the student who either assimilates the new knowledge within his or her existing knowledge set or it is the student who must accommodate the new knowledge by redefining or reorganizing his or her existing knowledge set (Crain 2005 p. 115)(Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 303). Regardless of how the new knowledge is integrated, all of it happens only within the mind of the student – and only if the student is capable – and only if the student makes it happen.

Educators who are well-qualified, caring, and dedicated are critically important and absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the purposes and obligations of education. Educators are knowledge experts and instructional presenters and trainers and facilitators and guides and mentors and motivators (Bartholomew 2007). An educator is the catalyst that makes learning easier (Merkle 2008) and “more intense and lasting” (Smyth 2005). The traditional concept that an educator can – somehow or in any way – shove knowledge into the mind of a student is false and invalid to the point of being knee-slapping gut-busting laughing-out-loud ludicrous. The true role of the educator is to be an astute observer of each student’s level of mastery, make note of what specific difficulties a student had in obtaining that level of mastery, assess the student’s preparedness and receptiveness for new knowledge, and choose the appropriate methodology for either reenforcement of knowledge currently being learned or progressing to learning new knowledge (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240)(Ediger 2007). A good educator is: a responsive coach, an enthusiastic cheerleader for student efforts and achievements, a servant-leader (Greenleaf 2008), an efficient and effective manager and provider of classroom assets, subject-knowledgeable, available, accessible, affirming, supportive, a gentle guide for the first learning step and for each transition to the next level of learning (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240), manages an age-appropriate richly-stimulating learning environment, and provides an atmosphere of joy (McReynolds 2008). It is not about teaching, it is about reaching.

Educators cannot be held accountable for what students learn. Educators can be held accountable for their professional behavior and use of best practices – just like any other licensed professional. Education is not a technical trade. As a profession, education is built upon personal expertise in concepts and rules and expertise in observing and analyzing how those concepts and rules can best be applied to each student. As a profession, education cannot be constrained to predefined sequences and timelines or inescapably bound by externally chosen tasks. As a professional, an educator must have the liberty to take advantage of new tools, new methods, spontaneous opportunities for object lessons or meaningful tangents, or to initiate a new activity – even on the spur of the moment. Professional accountability sets high standards for personal conduct and for the quality of the service delivered. As long as those standards are met, it is the personal expertise of the individual professional that determines which methods are to be used to fulfill their professional obligations. Implicit within professional accountability is trust and freedom, not blame and control. “While you can beat people into submission, you can’t beat them into greatness” (Houston, 2007, p. 747).

SUMMARY Education has an obligation to recognize at all times the unique state of developmental readiness of each individual child, the universal necessity for play, and to protect and enable the right of each child to have a life and future of their own choosing that aligns with their unique strengths, talents, and interests. The purpose of education is to enable the widest and most diverse possibilities for the future of each child. It is only the unique strengths, talents, and interests of the individual child that should limit possibilities or choose a specific path.

References Bartholomew, B. (2007 April). Why we can’t always get what we want. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(8), 593-598.

Bergen, D. & Frombert, D. P. (2009 February). Play and social interaction in middle childhood. Phi Delta Kappan, 426-430.

Berlinger, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis. New York: Basic Books.

Bracey, G. W. (2008 June). Research: Assessing NCLB. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(10),781-782.

Chmelynski, C. (2006 November). Play teaches what testing can’t touch: Humanity. The Education Digest, 10-13

Crain, W. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, 5th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Crain, W. (2008). Personal email, July 3, 2008.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction, 3rd. Ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ediger, M. (2007 September). Teacher observation to assess student achievement. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34(3), 137-139.

Eisner, E. W. (2001 January). What does it mean to say a school is doing well? Phi Delta Kappan, 82(5), 367-372.

Elkind, D. (2001). The hurried child: growing up too fast too soon, 3rd Ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Ginsburg, K. R. and the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007 January). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from www.pediatrics.org

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (2008). http://www.greenleaf.org/index.html

Houston, P. D. (2007 June). The seven deadly sins of no child left behind. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(10), 744-748.

Jacobson, L. (2008, December 3). Children’s lack of playtime seen as troubling health, school issue. Education Week, 28(14) 1-15. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from Academic Search Premier database.

Johnson, A. P. (2006 Sept/Oct). No Child Left Behind: Factory models and business paradigms. Clearing House, 80(1), 34-36.

Merkle, L. D. (2008) personal email, July 21, 2008.

McReynolds, K. (2008 Spring). Children’s happiness. Encounter: education for meaning and social justice, 21(1), 43-48.

Rakow, S. R. (2008 Winter). Standards based v. standards-embedded curriculum: Not just semantics! Gifted Child Today, 31(1), 43-49.

Satcher, D. (2005 September). Healthy and ready to learn. Educational Leadership, 26-30

Smyth, T. S. (2005 Fall). Respect, reciprocity, and reflection in the classroom. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(1), 38-41.

RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

(Blue Text is an internet link)

(The first version of RECLAIMING CHURCH was published June 3, 2010) (It was the first [D]mergent article by Doug Sloan)

(all scripture references are NRSV)

Have you seen or used the following sermon illustration?

Firmly, I place my hand on the wall of the sanctuary. Loudly, I proclaim, ......"This is not the church!" ......"The building is not the church." ......"It is the people who are the church." ......"Amen."

Do we have any idea what was really just said?

Do we have any idea what it really means?

If the building is not the church, then why do we spend so much time and effort dealing with this physical structure? If the building is not the church, then why is the building so important to us? After our hand-on-the-wall proclamation, have we ever taken a far look in the direction we just pointed? What happens when we extend that thought even further?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, ......where moth and rust consume and ......where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, ......where neither moth nor rust consumes and ......where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, ......there your heart will be also. ........................Matthew 6:19-21

No one can serve two masters; ......for a slave will either ......hate the one and love the other, or ......be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. ........................Matthew 6:24

As he was setting out on a journey, ......a man ran up and knelt before him, ......and asked him, ............Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus said to him, ......Why do you call me good? ......No one is good but God alone. ......You know the commandments: ............You shall not murder; ............You shall not commit adultery; ............You shall not steal; ............You shall not bear false witness; ............You shall not defraud; ............Honor your father and mother.

He said to him, ......Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ......You lack one thing; ............go, sell what you own, and ............give the money to the poor, and ............you will have treasure in heaven; ............then come, follow me.

When he heard this, ......he was shocked and went away grieving, ......for he had many possessions. ........................Mark 10:17-22 ........................Matthew 19:16-22 ........................Luke 18:18-23

What do capital campaigns and 6- or 7- or 8-digit mortgages (or any mortgage amount) and sanctuaries with high vaulted ceilings and proper acoustic resonance and stained glass windows and basketball courts and dining halls and fully equipped kitchens and sculpted altars and carved pulpits and custom-built communion tables and decorative carpet and imported floor tiles and comfortable color-coordinated congregational seating and vast paved parking lots and meticulously manicured lawns and lavish landscaping have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do multiple annual fund-raisers and all the accompanying effort and bother and stress and time and finding workers and managing schedules and obtaining gaming licenses and liquor permits and additional liability insurance have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do praise bands and church orchestras and bell choirs and octaves of tuned bells and multi-rank pipe organs and grand pianos and synthesizers and drum sets and adult choirs and children choirs and choir auditions and choir robes and music folders and the search and review and selection analysis and purchase of new music and multi-line PA systems and multi-screen video systems and live broadcasts and recorded broadcasts and hours of rehearsal time and church bulletins and church bulletin art work and church bulletin paper and designer fonts and newsletters and mailing lists and advertising and advertising placement and multi-media web sites and visits by unique IP addresses and the use of and the presence on new media and follow-spots and theatrical lighting and entertainment values and spectacular presentations have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do membership drives and attendance numbers and baptism numbers and tithing pledge totals and expected bequests and sustaining endowments and liturgical employees and non-liturgical employees and salaries and benefits and committees and committee meetings and committee responsibilities and church boards and church board agendas and church board votes and the consequential and unavoidable church politics have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

Much of what we call successful church and successful worship and being a successful congregation has nothing to do with living and sharing the Good News.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and ......began to drive out those who were selling and ......those who were buying in the temple, and ......he overturned the tables of the money-changers and ......the seats of those who sold doves; and ......he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

He was teaching and saying, ......Is it not written, ............My house shall be called ............a house of prayer for all the nations? ......But you have made it a den of robbers. ........................Mark 11:15-17 ........................Matthew 21:12-13 ........................Luke 19:45-46

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and ......the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, ......he drove all of them out of the temple, ......both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and ......overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ......Take these things out of here! ......Stop making my Father’s house a market-place! ........................John 2:13-16

Once we begin to think of our faith in terms of largeness instead of largess; once we begin to think of our faith in terms of measurable success or significant achievements or community stature or statistically significant gains or business models or congregational models or appropriate budget processes or cash flow direction or generally accepted accounting practices or independent audits or administrative requirements or procedural transparency or proper leadership roles or managerial responsibilities and boundaries or membership trends or effective organizational structures or current and accurate and relevant identity/purpose/vision/mission statements or strategic and tactical plans or valid and useful performance metrics – at that point, we have become money changers and temple authorities, we have deformed from a community into an industry that requires exclusionary individualism. At that point, we have lost our faith and our spiritual direction and we have wandered off the narrow path. At that point, we are colluding with and siding with the Empire instead of the Kingdom of God and we deserve to be rebelled against and driven away for we are neither living nor sharing the Good News. We have become that which the Good News opposes and seeks to replace.

But if it is by grace, ......it is no longer on the basis of works, ......otherwise grace would no longer be grace. ........................Romans 11:6

Yet we know that a person is justified ......not by the works of the law ......but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, ......so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, ......and not by doing the works of the law, ......because no one will be justified by the works of the law. ........................Galatians 2:16

But God, ......who is rich in compassion, ......out of the great love with which he loved us ......even when we were dead through our trespasses, ......made us alive together with Christ – ......by grace you have been saved – ......and raised us up with him ......and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, ......so that in the ages to come he might show ......the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness ......toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, ......and this is not your own doing; ......it is the gift of God – ......not the result of works, ......so that no one may boast. ........................Ephesians 2:4-9

Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors. ........................The Shack”, William P. Young, pp. 188-189

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual.

By living the Good News: We promote and provoke the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God. We search for and find the .....hungry .....thirsty .....naked .....ill and hurting .....lost .....oppressed and enslaved .....excluded .....imprisoned and, both immediately and permanently, they are .....fed .....quenched .....clothed .....healed .....found and rescued and restored to participatory liberty .....freed .....invited and welcomed and included .....provided justice with a life repaired through rehabilitation and restoration ..........and, it is critically important that this is always included, .....all who are served are treated as members of the Community. We define ourselves as Individuals with .....inclusive hospitality .....joyous generosity .....healthy service to others "healthy service" means we understand and engage in .....healthy rest .....healthy nourishment .....healthy education .....healthy solitude .....healthy worship .....healthy relationship with those we serve ..........which does not include suffering or participating in or enabling ...............war ...............murder ...............abuse of others ...............self-destructive behavior ...............enslavement ...............the satisfaction of useless whimsical requests. In this way, we choose, join, become, live, share, and exude the Kingdom of God here and now.

What would happen if church universal assets – every congregational and regional and national property, every seminary, every camp – was sold and the net proceeds were consolidated with church investments and church cash to establish a trust fund endowment to support the services we provide to those whom we are called to serve?

When you want a new status quo – a new status quo so different that the current status quo will be relabeled as "old" – you are asking for revolution. When you desire radical counter-cultural transformation – you are asking for revolution. When you want to end the oppressive Empire ethos of piety, war, victory, peace - you are asking for the Empire to be dismantled and replaced with the Good News, you are asking for revolution. When the church is consumed and possessed by mortgages, capital campaigns, membership numbers, qualifications for membership or deacon or elder, the variety and format of financial reports, redecorating, ordination policies, the proper delineation of committee responsibilities, the aggregation and strengthening and protection of church hierarchical authority, the preference for political associations and prominence instead of being a voice and influence for justice and compassion, seasonal vestment colors, the abandonment and refusal to acknowledge congregations who dare to be excited by their proclaiming and provoking and living and sharing the Good News, the continual choosing and preoccupation with better organization over better outreach, or what styles of worship are to be offered – then it is time for an earth-shaking, stone-rolling, curtain ripping, hurricane-strength, fiery and noisy transformational revolution that will resurrect the Good News in the body and spirit of communities and individuals.

"Doing" has to be the new sole definition of faith. A "new definition of faith" will not be statements of identity/purpose/mission/vision or offering a variety of worship styles at various times and days or hosting church fund raisers that have achieved the status of popular civic events. "Doing" our faith will not promote isolation from people in need or from the present time or from planetary stewardship by valuing hope for an escape into a future post-mortal existence instead of being the response to the divine call to be justly and compassionately involved in the present reality of life. "Doing" our faith will not be glossy advertising campaigns; bigger capital campaigns; better communication and contacts between congregations and local, regional, and national governing boards; on-line seminaries and colleges; common language licensing/ordination policies; new carpet; or more affordable baptistery maintenance contracts. It will be specific activities; specific ways of gracious and grace-full living that are the new definition. Participating in CODA or LifeLine or Habitat for Humanity or Meals on Wheels or the Mental Health Association will not be an outreach activity; it will be what we do and it will be definitive of who we are. Supporting a free health clinic or a food pantry or a shelter for the homeless or hosting a community garden will not be the focus of an annual fund-raising event; it will be part of our continuously active and visible theological and spiritual DNA. Taking a publicly visible and vocal stance of opposition against and non-participation in institutional or legislated injustice will not be an exceptional or cautious action; it will be a bold and expected response arising from a communal personality that yearns for and demands justice and compassion from all public institutions. Worship will be whenever and wherever 2 or 3 (not 200 or 300, not 2,000 or 3,000, not 20,000 or 30,000) are gathered to live, study, and contemplate the Good News - and it will be no less true and no less sacred because there are only 2 or 3 - and it will be no more true and no more sacred because there are more than 2 or 3. Indeed, "doing" will be about living and being the Good News. Worship can be and should be less of a scheduled repetitive activity and more of a community gathering to share and become better acquainted with the presence of God and to mutually seek a better understanding of the Good News.

"Doing" our faith has to be seen as a radical, counter-cultural, defiant, fearless way of living. Our faith is not to be institutionalized. Our faith is not to be measured by or expressed as largeness, cultural pervasiveness, political influence, authoritarianism, or a social or managerial hierarchy. Our faith is not to treat people with: conditional inclusion, tolerance, shame, scorn, ridicule, shunning, rejection, exclusion, or condemnation. Our faith is not to hate people. Our faith is not to ignore people or God. Instead, our faith is to value the presence of God and to value all people and to value God and people together as one community or, better yet, as one family. Our faith is to value knowledge over ignorance and value compassion over knowledge. The way we embrace and treasure and grow our faith is personal and intelligent and loving and divine. The way we "do" our faith is to be personally and intelligently and lovingly and divinely humane. Our faith is to be constantly centered in the love and grace that is the persistent presence of God. The ancient writings of our ancient faith ancestors are to be regarded as human expressions arising out of human experiences with the divine and the profane and the ordinary. Those ancient writings are to be neither considered worthless and ignored nor considered controlling and obligatory. Those ancient writings can be considered instructive and inspirational; providing examples of living either to emulate faithfully or to avoid strenuously; a foundational starting point upon which we build, reach out, move on, and grow beyond the original ancient understanding. Our faithful "doing" is to be rendered and delivered person-to-person, face-to-face, one-to-one – not by an invisible faceless remote committees or collectives. “Doing” our faith can be accomplished only with more personal involvement and presence and not with more communication technology that is newer, faster, more pervasive, more invasive, environmentally expensive, and is used to increase personal remoteness and detachment and decrease personal involvement and presence.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; ......and he had compassion for them, ......because they were like sheep without a shepherd; ......and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, ......his disciples came to him and said, ............This is a deserted place, ............and the hour is now very late; ............send them away so that they may go ............into the surrounding country and villages ............and buy something for themselves to eat.

But he answered them, ......You give them something to eat.

They said to him, ......Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, ............and give it to them to eat?

And he said to them, ......How many loaves have you? ......Go and see.

When they had found out, they said, ......Five, and two fish.

Then he ordered them to get all the people ......to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, ......he looked up to heaven, ......and blessed and broke the loaves, ......and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; ......and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; ......and they took up twelve baskets ......full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. ........................Mark 6:34-44 ........................Matthew 14:14-21 ........................Luke 9:12-17 ........................John 6:4-13

In those days ......when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, ......he called his disciples and said to them, ...........I have compassion for the crowd, .................because they have been with me now for three days .................and have nothing to eat. ...........If I send them away hungry to their homes, .................they will faint on the way— .................and some of them have come from a great distance.

His disciples replied, ......How can one feed these people with bread ............here in the desert?

He asked them, ......How many loaves do you have?

They said, ......Seven.

Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; ......and he took the seven loaves, ......and after giving thanks ......he broke them ......and gave them to his disciples to distribute; ......and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; ......and after blessing them, ......he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; ......and they took up the broken pieces left over, ......seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. ........................Mark 8:1-9 ........................Matthew 15:32-39

They devoted themselves ......to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, ......to the breaking of bread and the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; ......they would sell their possessions and goods and ......distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, ......they broke bread at home and ......ate their food with glad and generous hearts, ......praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. ........................Acts 2:42, 44-47

Now the whole group of those who believed ......were of one heart and soul, and ......no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, ......but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony ......to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and ......great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, ......for as many as owned lands or houses ......sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, ......and it was distributed to each as any had need. ........................Acts 4:32-36

This way of living as a community of mutual sufficiency and support did not originate with the early church. It was a very old idea - first described in the written Torah.

There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. ........................Exodus 12:49

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; ........................Exodus 22:21-23

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate. ........................Exodus 22:25-27

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. ........................Exodus 23:1-11

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ........................Leviticus 19:9-18

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land. If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. But if there is not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned. If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall forever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites—houses sold in a city belonging to them—shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time. If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. ........................Leviticus 25:23-38

Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there. ........................Numbers 35:10-15

“I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” ........................Deuteronomy 1:16-17

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ........................Deuteronomy 10:17-19

As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ........................Deuteronomy 14:27-29, 15:1-11

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ........................Deuteronomy 15:7-11

You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ........................Deuteronomy 16:18-20

When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God. You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. ........................Deuteronomy 24:10-22

These are only some of the verses from the written Torah that are concerned with and advocate and demand and require inclusion, justice, forgiveness, and compassion. These are not the only verses – the entire scriptural collection, the Jewish Bible and the Christian Testament, repeatedly speaks of the same concerns, avocations, demands, and requirements. In this light, the scriptures are constantly calling us forward to a better and enlarging and more inclusive and maturing understanding of the will of God for us and for this world. God is always calling us from Exodus to the Promised Land. God is always calling us from Exile to return home.

The “will of God” – what God wants for us – is for us to: ......Be Free and Independent ......Think ......Be Curious ......Be Intelligent and Wise ......Value Knowledge over Ignorance and Compassion over Knowledge ......Be Creative ......Grow and Mature ......Live Long Healthy Satisfying Lives ......Live Non-Violently Without Vengeance ......Be Hospitable ......Be Generous ......Do No Harm ......Provide Justice as Healing and Rehabilitation and Restoration ......Be Forgiving ......Promote and Provide and Protect Reconciliation ......Be Good Stewards of all Resources ......Live Here as One Family ......Live in Loving Relationship with Grace-full God ......Be Transformed through Resurrection ......Be the Kingdom of God here and now

So how do we reclaim the Good News as the sole purpose for church? How do we reclaim the church for and as the Good News? How do we reclaim the church as a community and not as a scheduled activity with secondary social consequences? How do we reclaim the church as a community and not as an Empire organization based on and filled with hubris, sloth, and idolatry? How do we reclaim church as a place where people expect to grow and thrive emotionally, intellectually, theologically, and spiritually? How do we reclaim church as a community with a culture of love, grace, justice, compassion, affirmation, and encouragement for each individual?

There was a time when our choir, after singing the anthem, would leave their seats at the front of the sanctuary, move out into the congregation to be with their family, remove their full-length choir vestments, and sit down. A common tongue-in-cheek observation was that we were the only church in town (county? state?) where you could go to a worship service and watch people disrobe in public.

One way that the church can reclaim the Good News is to strip down to the bare necessities (deliberate song cue) - to start again with only God, Community, and Individuals. Remove burdensome structure - both administrative and physical. Remove all ecclesiastical hierarchy and all religious institutions. Remove all authoritarianism. If only for a month or two, meet for worship as a small group in the home of a member - and each week meet in the home of a different member. Collect offerings only for outreach. Eliminate the church governing board and board meetings. As detailed by Derek Penwell in Killing Church Committees and Other Reflections on Church Organization, eliminate committees and committee meetings. It is time to seriously consider eliminating: musical groups and instruments and rehearsals, fund-raisers, capital campaigns, financial systems, buildings, properties, employees, clergy, and membership rolls. This is not a denial of their "practical" benefits - it is an acknowledgement of how they too easily, even inescapably, become worldly consumptive replacements for the fulfilling and regenerative divine Good News - of how they too easily, even inescapably, become fatal distractions to our living and being the Kingdom of God.

Regardless of the physical and organizational implementation of church reformed and redefined...

Always Imagine Church as worship, studying, sharing in word and service to each other and to the world.

Always Imagine Church as always living and being the Good News as individuals and as community.

Always Imagine Church as the Kingdom of God in this world here and now.

Amen

OCCUPY ROME

The great crime against the Roman Empire by the early churchwas neither political opposition nor armed insurrection – it was much worse.

The great crime of the early church was to ignore and sidestep the Empire proving that The Way of the Empire was not absolute making The Way of the Empire irrelevant.

The Way of the Empire is piety, war, victory, peace the Emperor is Lord relational complexity relations as conquests and politics.

The Way of the Empire is, for the individual, success or failure failure as poverty, hunger, nakedness, powerlessness, servitude, slavery, early death success as wealth, well-fed, fine clothing, political influence, military command, long life.

The Way of the Empire is inevitable, inescapable, singular, myopic – there is no other way.

The Way of the Good News is the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God and the feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community and the inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual.

The Way of the Good News is an earthly life of divine wisdom centered in the perpetual presence of God requiring no piety, no war, no conquests requiring no militant victories, no war-won war-worn peace requiring no Empire ignoring Empire responses, dismissing Empire demands making Empire expectations, attitudes, values, requirements irrelevant negating Empire culture, dismantling Empire government displacing The Way of the Empire with The Way of the Good News living fearlessly and simply and together as a sharing Community and a loving Family and a grace-full Kingdom of God.

I am invited to commit the same great crime. The Way I choose is...?

RECLAIMING QUEERS

Here is the fourth in our series of “best of” articles for 2011, which first appeared on October 7.  It was written by Doug Sloan.  Enjoy!

a resource document of support

RECLAIMING HOMOSEXUALS GAYS, LESBIANS, BISEXUALS, TRANSGENDEREDS and ALL PERSONS WITH ANY TYPE or ANY LEVEL OF QUEERNESS

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Bible verses are NRSV

As a self-proclaimed act of obedience to the laws found in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible / the written Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), there are those who supported the military policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) and Proposition 8 (PROP 8) in California and who continue to support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and restrictive state legislation such as the proposed marriage-definition amendment  to the Indiana Constitution. Such support generally includes actual or approved legal and cultural discrimination against and exclusion of those with a non-heterosexual orientation. The specific justification is that such support is an act of obedience to a specific unambiguous prohibition found in the Torah.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. ..........Leviticus 18:22

Yet, in spite of the professed obedience, usually there is neither mention of nor advocacy for the specific unambiguous penalty found in the Torah for men who have sex with each other.

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:13

The following extended quote is excerpted from an article by Richard Elliot Friedman and Shawna Dolansky, authors of The Bible Now:

We are scholars, not politicians. Our job isn't to score points for a side, push an agenda or to re-size the Bible to fit our personal views.

So here's the text and a summary of the evidence:

"You shall not lay a male the layings of a woman; it is a to'ebah" (offensive thing) ..........Leviticus 18:22.

"And a man who will lay a male the layings of a woman: the two of them have done a to'ebah (offensive thing). They shall be put to death. Their blood is on them" ..........Leviticus 20:13.

We acknowledged that many people have recognized that these two texts pretty clearly do prohibit at least some kinds of male-male sex ... The law really means what pretty much everyone has taken it to mean for centuries. Whatever view one takes, one must address the law fairly in terms of what it says.

So we sought to contribute another perspective that we believe can be helpful on this subject. The text identifies male homosexual acts by the technical term to'ebah, translated in English here as "an offensive thing" or in older translations as "an abomination." This is important because most things that are forbidden in biblical law are not identified with this word. In both of the contexts in Leviticus (chapters 18 and 20), male homosexuality is the only act to be called this. (Other acts are included broadly in a line at the end of chapter 18.) So this term, which is an important one in the Bible in general, is particularly important with regard to the law about male homosexual acts.

The question is: Is this term to'ebah an absolute, meaning that an act that is a to'ebah is wrong in itself and can never be otherwise? Or is the term relative -- meaning that something that is a to'ebah to one person may not be offensive to another, or something that is a to'ebah in one culture may not be offensive in another, or something that is a to'ebah in one generation or time period may not be offensive in another -- in which case the law may change as people's perceptions change?

When one examines all the occurrences of this technical term in the Hebrew Bible, one finds that elsewhere the term is in fact relative. For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that, if the Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is, they should say that they're cowherds. They must not say that they are shepherds. Why? Because, Joseph explains, all shepherds are an offensive thing (to'ebah) to the Egyptians. But shepherds are not an offensive thing to the Israelites or Moabites or many other cultures. In another passage in that story, we read that Egyptians don't eat with Israelites because that would be an offensive thing (to'ebah) to them. But Arameans and Canaanites eat with Israelites and don't find it offensive. See also the story of the Exodus from Egypt, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the things that Israelites sacrifice would be an offensive thing (to'ebah) to the Egyptians. But these things are certainly not an offensive thing to the Israelites.

...

Now, one might respond that the law here is different because it concerns an offensive thing to God -- and is therefore not subject to the relativity of human values. But that is actually not the case here. The Bible specifically identifies such laws about things that are divine offenses with the phrase "an offensive thing to the LORD" (to'ebat yhwh). That phrase is not used here in the law about male homosexual acts. It is not one of the laws that are identified as a to'ebah to God!

If this is right, then it is an amazing irony. Calling male homosexual acts a to'ebah was precisely what made the biblical text seem so absolutely anti-homosexual and without the possibility of change. But it is precisely the fact of to'ebah that opens the possibility of the law's change. So, (1) whatever position one takes on this matter, left or right, conservative or liberal, one should acknowledge that the law really does forbid homosexual sex between males but not between females. And (2) one should recognize that the biblical prohibition is not one that is eternal and unchanging. The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive. This could involve arguments and evidence from specialists in biology, psychology and culture. They are beyond our range of expertise as Bible scholars. Our task here has been to make the biblical evidence known.

..........Are Biblical Laws About Homosexuality Eternal? ..........Richard Elliot Friedman, Shawna Dolansky ....................(authors of "The Bible Now") ..........Huffington Post ....................posted 8/1/2011 04:52 PM ET ....................retrieved 9/16/2011

Using this understanding of the text; people who are offended by homosexuality, as an act of obedience to the Leviticus texts, should demand their state legislature classify the act of men having sex with each other as a capital offense. Of course, to be fully compliant with the Torah, the prosecution of this crime would require at least two (2) witnesses of the illegal act.

If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. ..........Numbers 35:30

On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. ..........Deuteronomy 17:6

A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. ..........Deuteronomy 19:15

The execution has to be by stoning because the penalty must be imposed by the community and the witnesses.

The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 17:7

To be perfectly obedient to the Torah, such legislation would prohibit only sex between men. In the Torah, there is no legal prohibition of sex between women - lesbians are allowed. This lack of attention to women having sex with each other is understandable because in that ancient time it was thought that only men initiated new life, only men carried the seed for new life. To the people of that ancient time, a woman only provided a womb which is a "nest" or "fertile ground" or "incubator" - a place where the seed of a man could grow. Women carried life and nurtured life, but they contributed nothing to its inception. The understanding was that the seed of a man, once "planted" in the woman, only grew (not developed) until the woman was "delivered of her burden." If a woman could not have a baby, it was never a problem with the man's seed. Always, it was because her "nest" was "barren" - unsuitable for the growth of new life. In an extension of the same self-serving logic, if a woman did not give birth to sons, it was her fault and never the fault of the man even though he was the only source of "seed", the only source of new life. Such a hegemonic understanding contributed to and sustained the self-serving patriarchal importance and power that any man could lord over any woman.

***....................***....................***

One of the hallmarks of the seriousness and importance of this prohibition of sex between men is that the punishment is death - a public execution - a punishment that the Torah requires only in 19 other situations.

1. MURDER Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution. ..........Exodus 21:12-32

2. KIDNAPPING Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:16

If someone is caught kidnapping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnapper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 24:7-8

MISTREATMENT OF A PARENT BY A CHILD -- 3. Physical abuse Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:15

-- 4. Verbal abuse Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:17

All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:9

TROUBLESOME CHILDREN -- 5. Prostitution by a daughter of a priest When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. ..........Leviticus 21:9

-- 6. Stubborn, rebellious, disobedient son If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ..........Deuteronomy 21:18-21

ASSAULT -- 7. Assault with a weapon or intent But anyone who strikes another with an iron object, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a stone in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a weapon of wood in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood is the one who shall put the murderer to death; when they meet, the avenger of blood shall execute the sentence. Likewise, if someone pushes another from hatred, or hurls something at another, lying in wait, and death ensues, or in enmity strikes another with the hand, and death ensues, then the one who struck the blow shall be put to death; that person is a murderer; the avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death, when they meet. But if someone pushes another suddenly without enmity, or hurls any object without lying in wait, or, while handling any stone that could cause death, unintentionally drops it on another and death ensues, though they were not enemies, and no harm was intended, then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances; and the congregation shall rescue the slayer from the avenger of blood. Then the congregation shall send the slayer back to the original city of refuge. The slayer shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no bloodguilt shall be incurred. For the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer may return home. These things shall be a statute and ordinance for you throughout your generations wherever you live. ..........Numbers 35:16-29

-- 8. Assault of a pregnant woman When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. ..........Exodus 21:22-24

MAGICIANS -- 9. Female sorcerer You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live. ..........Exodus 22:18

-- 10. Medium or wizard A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:27

11. DEATH BY OX GORING When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. ..........Exodus 21:28-32

12. ADULTERY If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. ..........Leviticus 20:10

If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. ..........Deuteronomy 22:22

If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her. ..........Deuteronomy 22:23-27

13. MARITAL FRAUD BY A WOMAN Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 22:13-19

14. INCEST The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. ... If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you. ..........Leviticus 20:11-12, 14

15. BESTIALITY Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 22:19

If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and has sexual relations with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:15-16

16. WORK ON THE SABBATH The LORD said to Moses: You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” ..........Exodus 31:12-17

17. GIVING OFFSPRING TO MOLECH Say further to the people of Israel: Any of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone them to death. I myself will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people, because they have given of their offspring to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech, and do not put them to death, I myself will set my face against them and against their family, and will cut them off from among their people, them and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech. ..........Leviticus 20:2-5

18. WORSHIPING OTHER GODS If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, and transgresses his covenant by going to serve other gods and worshiping them—whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden—and if it is reported to you or you hear of it, and you make a thorough inquiry, and the charge is proved true that such an abhorrent thing has occurred in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or that woman who has committed this crime and you shall stone the man or woman to death. On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 17:2-9

19. DISOBEYING A PRIEST If a judicial decision is too difficult for you to make between one kind of bloodshed and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another—any such matters of dispute in your towns—then you shall immediately go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose, where you shall consult with the levitical priests and the judge who is in office in those days; they shall announce to you the decision in the case. Carry out exactly the decision that they announce to you from the place that the LORD will choose, diligently observing everything they instruct you. You must carry out fully the law that they interpret for you or the ruling that they announce to you; do not turn aside from the decision that they announce to you, either to the right or to the left. As for anyone who presumes to disobey the priest appointed to minister there to the LORD your God, or the judge, that person shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again. ..........Deuteronomy 17:8-13

By the metric of the punishment required, the other capital crimes should be taken as seriously as the prohibition of men having sex with each other. Of the two executions recorded in the Torah (Leviticus 24:10-23, Numbers 15:32-36), the first was a man who "blasphemed the Name in a curse" and the second was for working on the Sabbath. To be consistently and continually obedient to the Torah, we must demand legislation that will prohibit work on the Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) with the penalty being death by stoning. This applies to all people regardless of their religion or citizenship.

Sabbath is from sunset on Friday to Saturday nightfall when three stars are visible, approximately 40 minutes after sunset. Preparation for the Sabbath usually begins by 3 PM on Friday afternoon. On the Sabbath, there must be no driving, no shopping, no professional or amateur or personal sports, no using the Internet, no activity that causes the closing or the use of an electrical circuit, and no moving of any object outside the home.

The Torah does not prohibit "work" in the 20th century English sense of the word. The Torah prohibits "melachah" (Mem-Lamed-Alef-Kaf-Hei), which is usually translated as "work," but does not mean precisely the same thing as the English word.

Melachah generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment. The quintessential example of melachah is the work of creating the universe, which G-d ceased from on the seventh day. Note that G-d's work did not require a great physical effort: he spoke, and it was done.

The word melachah is rarely used in scripture outside of the context of Shabbat and holiday restrictions. The only other repeated use of the word is in the discussion of the building of the sanctuary and its vessels in the wilderness. Exodus Ch. 31, 35-38. Notably, the Shabbat restrictions are reiterated during this discussion (Ex. 31:13), thus we can infer that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped for Shabbat. From this, the rabbis concluded that the work prohibited on Shabbat is the same as the work of creating the sanctuary. They found 39 categories of forbidden acts, all of which are types of work that were needed to build the sanctuary:

01. Sowing 02. Plowing 03. Reaping 04. Binding sheaves 05. Threshing 06. Winnowing 07. Selecting 08. Grinding 09. Sifting 10. Kneading 11. Baking 12. Shearing wool 13. Washing wool 14. Beating wool 15. Dyeing wool 16. Spinning 17. Weaving 18. Making two loops 19. Weaving two threads 20. Separating two threads 21. Tying 22. Untying 23. Sewing two stitches 24. Tearing 25. Trapping 26. Slaughtering 27. Flaying 28. Salting meat 29. Curing hide 30. Scraping hide 31. Cutting hide up 32. Writing two letters 33. Erasing two letters 34. Building 35. Tearing a building down 36. Extinguishing a fire 37. Kindling a fire 38. Hitting with a hammer 39. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain. ..........Mishnah Shabbat, 7:2

All of these tasks are prohibited, as well as any task that operates by the same principle or has the same purpose. In addition, the rabbis have prohibited handling any implement that is intended to perform one of the above purposes (for example, a hammer, a pencil or a match) unless the tool is needed for a permitted purpose (using a hammer to crack nuts when nothing else is available) or needs to be moved to do something permitted (moving a pencil that is sitting on a prayer book), or in certain other limited circumstances. Objects that may not be handled on Shabbat are referred to as "muktzeh," which means, "that which is set aside," because you set it aside (and don't use it unnecessarily) on Shabbat.

The rabbis have also prohibited travel, buying and selling, and other weekday tasks that would interfere with the spirit of Shabbat. The use of electricity is prohibited because it serves the same function as fire or some of the other prohibitions, or because it is technically considered to be "fire."

The issue of the use of an automobile on Shabbat, so often argued by non-observant Jews, is not really an issue at all for observant Jews. The automobile is powered by an internal combustion engine, which operates by burning gasoline and oil, a clear violation of the Torah prohibition against kindling a fire. In addition, the movement of the car would constitute transporting an object in the public domain, another violation of a Torah prohibition, and in all likelihood the car would be used to travel a distance greater than that permitted by rabbinical prohibitions. For all these reasons, and many more, the use of an automobile on Shabbat is clearly not permitted.

As with almost all of the commandments, all of these Shabbat restrictions can be violated if necessary to save a life. ..........Judaism 101 - Shabbat ..........also see: English!nfo - Shabbat

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. ..........Exodus 20:8-10

The LORD said to Moses: You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 31:12-17

You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day. ..........Exodus 35:3

It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves; it is a statute forever. ..........Leviticus 16:31

But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. ..........Deuteronomy 5:14

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to the whole congregation. They put him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.” The whole congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. ..........Numbers 15:32-36

The biblical concept of work melakha [work] applies to work involving the production, creation, or transformation of an object. ..........Rabbi Abraham Chill, The Mitzvot, p. 37 ..........as quoted by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, p. 599

In the defense of modern Sabbath practices, we are directed to the Gospels telling of Jesus "working" on the Sabbath.

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. ..........Mark 2 :23-28; 3:1-5

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. ..........Matthew 12:1-13

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. ..........Luke 6:1-10

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. ..........Luke 13:10-17

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this. ..........Luke 14:1-6

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. ..........John 5:1-16

“Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” ..........John 7:19-24

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. ..........John 9:1-14

So, with the simplest of methods for gathering the simplest of nourishment and with a few acts of healing, we have justification for abandoning: one of the ten commandments, a substantial body of religious law, a defining cultural activity and for setting aside all the spiritual and secular reasoning for honoring and holding sacred a day of rest and reflection - and replace it with professional sports, athletic competitions for children, travel and recreation, cultural activities and being open for business 24/7. If it is so easy to ignore a major and substantial religious practice repeatedly uplifted, enshrined and required by the Torah and by all the scripture that follows, why is it so hard to let go of two verses that have substantially less biblical mention and support and no contemporary justification?

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To be obedient to the Torah, we must demand that death penalty sentencing laws be amended to allow for the execution of any child who is rebellious, violent with a parent or verbally abusive to a parent, or a church leader’s daughter who becomes a prostitute or any daughter who is not a virgin when she marries the first time.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ..........Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:15

Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:17

When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. ..........Leviticus 21:9

Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 22:13-19

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To be obedient to the Torah and in compliance with the rest of the Bible, the legalization of slavery must be reinstated. The Bible has neither a prohibition nor a condemnation of slavery. In the Bible, slavery is an unquestioned and normal part of life as reflected in the 279 mentions - from Genesis to Revelation - in the history, narrative, poetry, psalms, proverbs, prophecies, parables and letters of the Bible:

Genesis 9:25-27; 12:16; 15:3; 16:1-8; 17:9-13; 20:14-17; 21:10-13; 24:35; 25:12; 30:43; 32:5; 43:18; 44:9-10, 16-17, 33; 47:19-25; 49:15; 50:18 Exodus 2:23; 6:5-9; 9:20-21; 11:5; 12:44; 13:3, 14; 20:2, 10, 17; 21:5, 7, 20-21, 26-27, 32; 23:12 Leviticus 19:20; 25:6, 39, 42, 44, 46; 26:13 Deuteronomy 5:6, 14-15, 21; 6:12, 21; 7:8, 8:14, 12:12, 18; 13:5, 10, 13, 15, 17; 16:11-12, 14; 21:14; 23:15; 24:18, 22; 28:68 Joshua 9:23; 24:17 Judges 9:18 1 Samuel 2:27; 4:9; 8:16-17; 25:41 1 Kings 2:39-40; 9:21-22 2 Kings 4:1; 5:26 1 Chronicles 2:34-35 2 Chronicles 8:9; 28:10 Ezra 9:8-9 Nehemiah 5:5; 7:67; 9:17, 36; Esther 7:4 Job 3:19; 7:2; 31:13 Psalm 105:17 Proverbs 17:2; 19:10; 22:7; 29:21; 30:22 Ecclesiastes 2:7; 10:7 Isaiah 14:2; 24:2; 49:7 Jeremiah 2:14; 25:14; 27:7; 34:9-16 Lamentations 5:8 Ezekiel 34:27 Joel 2:29 Micah 6:4 Nahum 2:7; 3:4 Zechariah 2:9 Matthew 6:24; 8:9; 10:24-25; 13:27-28; 18:23-33; 20:27; 21:34-36; 22:3-10; 24:45-50; 25:14-30; 26:51 Mark 10:44; 12:2-4; 13:34; 14:47 Luke 7:2-10; 12:37-47; 14:17-23; 15:22-29; 16:13; 17:7-10: 19:13-22; 20:10-11; 22:50 John 4:51; 8:33-35; 18:10, 18, 26 Acts 2:18; 7:6; 10:7; 16:16-17 Romans 6:6, 16-22; 7:6, 14, 25; 8:15 1 Corinthians 7:21-23; 9:19, 27; 12:13 2 Corinthians 4:5, 11:20 Galatians 3:28; 4:1, 3, 7-9, 22-25, 30-31; 5:1, 13; 6:5-6, 8 Philippians 2:7 Colossians 3:11, 22; 4:1 1 Timothy 6:1 Titus 2:3, 9; 3:3 Philemon 1:16 Hebrews 2:15 1 Peter 2:18 2 Peter 2:19 Revelation 6:15; 13:16; 18:13; 19:18

The importance and acceptance of ancient slavery is demonstrated by the laws of the Torah that govern or prohibit certain types of slavery as well as how slaves are to be acquired and treated.

If someone is caught kidnaping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnapper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 24:7

When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. ..........Exodus 21:20-21

When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth. ... If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. ..........Exodus 21:26-27,32

These are the ordinances that you shall set before them: When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. ..........Exodus 21:1-7

If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. If resident aliens among you prosper, and if any of your kin fall into difficulty with one of them and sell themselves to an alien, or to a branch of the alien’s family, after they have sold themselves they shall have the right of redemption; one of their brothers may redeem them, or their uncle or their uncle’s son may redeem them, or anyone of their family who is of their own flesh may redeem them; or if they prosper they may redeem themselves. They shall compute with the purchaser the total from the year when they sold themselves to the alien until the jubilee year; the price of the sale shall be applied to the number of years: the time they were with the owner shall be rated as the time of a hired laborer. If many years remain, they shall pay for their redemption in proportion to the purchase price; and if few years remain until the jubilee year, they shall compute thus: according to the years involved they shall make payment for their redemption. As a laborer hired by the year they shall be under the alien’s authority, who shall not, however, rule with harshness over them in your sight. And if they have not been redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children with them shall go free in the jubilee year. For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 25:39-55

If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. But if he says to you, “I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. You shall do the same with regard to your female slave. Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do. ..........Deuteronomy 15:12-18

When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her. ..........Deuteronomy 21:10-14

Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them. ..........Deuteronomy 23:15-16

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Yet, with this unambiguous scriptural support for a ban on work on Sunday and for the execution of troublesome children and for the death penalty as punishment for incest and adultery and non-virgin first-time brides and for the reinstatement of slavery, there are no national movements, no referendums, no court challenges, no legislation and not even one proponent on FOX news.

Why is the biblical concern for honoring the Sabbath and maintaining the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship so unimportant and inconsequential? Why is the biblical acceptance of slavery not embraced? Why are we so squeamish about executing children when the Torah has no such reluctance? Why are the two verses prohibiting sex between men so important that it justifies huge expenditures of money, time, effort, emotion, creative energy and political capital to maintain a last-ditch tangential enforcement of those two verses in a way that will inevitably be deemed unconstitutional? Whatever caused the deathly fear of sorcerers and wizards and mediums and Molech either does not exist or we have replaced the irrational fear with understanding and knowledge. It is not that we have realized only for ourselves that slavery is wrong; it is that we have realized that slavery has always been wrong. It is not that we have realized only for ourselves that infanticide and the execution of children is wrong; it is that we have realized that such killings have always been wrong. As well-illustrated by these two immoral situations – slavery and the killing of children – our understanding of right and wrong and worship and faithfulness has matured and moved beyond the understanding held by our faith ancestors. As the scripture encourages us to do, we are moving from the tribal justice of Genesis 34 through the individual responsibility legalism of the written Torah to the Good News of love and grace, hospitality and generosity, compassion and service, and forgiveness and justice as taught by Jesus.

We are not citizens of the ancient nation of Israel or any ancient nation; we are not members of an ancient culture or people – and it is impossible for us to be them – it is impossible for us to live like them, to think like them, to believe like them and to perceive like them. And it was impossible for them to be us, a people of their unseen and unforeseeable future – thus it was impossible for them to live like us, to think like us, to believe like us and to perceive like us. Since that ancient time, we have discovered and constantly live with: Chaos Theory – and Quantum Theory – and the Theory of Relativity with its E=mc2 and time as a pliable dimension – and the accelerating expansion of a universe of dark matter and dark energy and black holes and trillions of stars and trillions of light-years – and nano-technology – and nascent space travel – and solid state programmable devices – and electricity – and mass communication via print, wire and electro-magnetic radiation – and global travel by land, water and air. We calculate and catalogue and understand ourselves and the world and the universe using DNA-based and cellular-based medical science that includes detailed macro- and micro-knowledge of our anatomy and biological functions – and the physics of the Newtonian laws concerning motion and gravity – and calculus – and parallel-processing super-computers – and the Internet and the Web – and decimal and binary and hexadecimal and octal numbering systems that include a zero digit and use positional notation – – all of which are knowledge and methods that so pervasively inform our existence and are so intrinsically woven into the fabric of each individual paradigm – it imbues us with an inescapable world view and an inescapable sense of perception and an inescapable way of thinking. It is a world view and way of perceiving and way of thinking that was unknown and incomprehensible to our ancient ancestors – and the lack of such knowledge and technologies and methods and processes gave our ancient ancestors a world view and a way of perceiving and a way of thinking that, in too many important indiscernible ways, is unknowable and unverifiable. To a large extent, ancient people and contemporary people are mutually incomprehensible.

Wizards and sorcerers and witches and warlocks and mediums and magic and Molech and other gods do not exist - and so it is that many ancient feared intangibles do not exist. In December 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted the APA position and all AMA professional policies include a prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the well-researched and well-considered professional opinion of American psychiatrists and physicians, in and of itself, homosexuality is neither pathological nor abnormal. This means that, in and of itself, as a sexual orientation, homosexuality is both normal and healthy. Every AMA psychiatrist and physician has a professional and ethical obligation to conduct their practice in accordance with this policy. While a layperson may hold a differing personal opinion, that opinion does not qualify as either a valid or rational argument – that would require a mountain of contrary peer-reviewed published research. Minus such evidence, no argument can be made against the normalcy and healthiness of homosexuality as a sexual orientation.

In its June 26, 2003 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Lawrence v. Texas made several important decisions.

1) Because it was a violation of the Due Process Clause, the Court overturned the Texas statue that made it a crime for two people “to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct”.

2) It overturned the Supreme Court decision made and the legal reasoning used in the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case that had upheld state sodomy laws.

3) “The Bowers Court was, of course, making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral, but this Court's obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code.”

4) It is unconstitutional to ban or restrict the rights of homosexuals because they are homosexual. The Court affirmed “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons.”

In the suit to have Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional (Perry v. Schwarzenegger transcripts) (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision), the defendants faced and did not meet their difficult legal challenge. The defense did not provide a rational basis for Proposition 8 and did not provide any evidence that Proposition 8 would harm opposite-sex marriages. “Instead the evidence shows beyond debate that allowing same-sex couples to marry has at least a neutral, if not a positive, effect on the institution of marriage and that same-sex couples’ marriages would benefit the state. Moreover the evidence shows that the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or same-sex couples will remain unaffected if the state ceases to enforce Proposition 8” (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision, pp. 125-126). “But proponents, amici and the court, despite ample opportunity and a full trial, have failed to identify any rational basis Proposition 8 could advance. Proponents, represented by able and energetic counsel, developed a full trial record in support of Proposition 8. The resulting evidence shows that Proposition 8 simply conflicts with the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. Many of the purported interests identified by proponents are nothing more than a fear of unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples” (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision, pp. 131-132).

Opponents of homosexuals freely exercising their constitutional rights sometimes choose to remove themselves from organizations that will not support or embrace their opposition. Opponents do so to avoid associating with homosexuals fully participating in the roles and opportunities of the organization. What the opponents do not realize is – it is too late, it is already unavoidable. It is not that homosexuals have appeared or arrived. Homosexuals have always been here and always participated. It is not that homosexuals are more visible on television and in movies and plays and musicals. It is that homosexuals are unavoidably visible in everyday life and many organizations allow or accommodate, if not encourage, their participation and contributions. Every doctor – every general physician, obstetrician, pediatrician, urologist, gynecologist, oncologist, ophthalmologist, every medical specialist you can think of – has a professional responsibility and obligation to accept homosexual patients and to extend professional courtesies and cooperation to homosexual physicians and medical technicians and to treat their homosexual orientation as healthy and normal. Businesses need people with productive and problem-solving skills as well as people who are creative and innovative. Businesses have found that it is an unacceptable, even counter-productive, expense in terms of monetary and talent cost and in terms of the potential contributions to a competitor to discriminate against potential valuable employees because of their race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. Trying to avoid association with homosexuals or organizations who welcome homosexuals is a guaranteed losing strategy. It is choosing to be left behind.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. ..........Matthew 18:1-6

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. ..........Matthew 19:13-15

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. ..........Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” ..........Luke 18:15-17

Jesus loves the little children All the children of the world Black and yellow, red and white They're all precious in His sight Jesus loves the little children of the world Music: George Frederick Root (1820-1895) Lyrics: Clare Herbert Woolston (1856-1927)

The song came to the forefront of popularity in 1970 as the opening lyrics for “Everything is Beautiful” composed and performed by Ray Stevens. The song was a #1 hit single in the United States, Canada and Australia. Either or both songs became staples of children’s music in many Sunday Schools. Guess what – our children got it. Our children accepted it and ran with it and extended it. Inter-racial couples? No problem, no big deal, it is a normal part of life. Same-sex couples? No problem, no big deal, it is a normal part of life. Our children know and live the truth of “Jesus loves the little children of the world.” As our children gain their maturity and independence – at school, in college, on the job, in relationships – they will see for themselves that love has no boundaries. Love is not restrained by abilities or appearance or race or sex. Homosexuals are a normal healthy 1% - 2% of the population. That is 1% - 2% of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – and the children of our cousins, friends, neighbors, co-workers and fellow church members. It will be a sad day for opponents of homosexual participation when they realize that their children have chosen inclusion over exclusion and that in this area of life, they – the opponents of homosexual participation – have been, as were the opponents of racial integration, left behind by their own children.

Opponents of homosexual participation, in attempting to segregate themselves from homosexuals and those who associate with homosexuals, ignore the diversity and creativity it takes to make professions and businesses succeed. The following incomplete list names and links to corporations that have diversity policies that explicitly forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or support GLBT employee resource groups or have earned awards for supporting GLBT inclusion:

AFLAC Alcoa American Electric Power Anheuser-Busch AT&T Caterpillar Chrysler CISCO ConAgra Foods Disney DOW Duke Energy Dupont ESPN Ford Gannett General Electric General Mills General Motors Google Harley-Davidson Hersheys Hewlitt Packard Honeywell IBM John Deere JP Morgan Chase Lilly Mahle Marriott Microsoft MillerCoors NBA Oracle Progressive Prudential Sears Holdings (Sears / Kmart / Craftsman / Kenmore / Lands End) Shell Sprint State Farm SuperValu (Jewel-OSCO) 3M US Steel WellPoint

There has been a drive to ask presidential candidates to sign a pledge that they will oppose legal recognition of Sharia law. The problem with the pledge is that it is inadequate; it is neither strong enough nor wide enough. There is no room and no justification for the civil recognition of the law of any religion or to give the law of any religion any legislative or enforcement weight or influence or power regardless of whether that religion be Islam, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Why? There are two reasons? 1) Those ancient religious laws were not written by us, for us, to us or about us. Those ancient laws neither compel us not control us and do not and should not have any legal standing. Specifically, in regards to the Torah, we are not citizens of the ancient nation of Israel – a nation which is long gone and will never return to exist as it did in the Hebrew Bible. 2) It is neither the age nor the irrelevance that nulls the "clobber" verses, it is the hypocrisy by which they are proclaimed and honored. To lift up those two verses – above all others – is to commit idolatry and trivialize the Good News message and the entire Bible.

The time has come, when we are confronted with the clobber verses, to reply, "SO WHAT?!"

The time has come, when we are confronted with the clobber verses, to ask:

“If the law of Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 is the word of God, what about the other 600 laws?”

"Why are these two verses so much more important than all the other laws and all the other scripture?"

"Why are these two verses so authoritative and powerful that they can be used to exclude and control and limit other people in a way that is illegal, unconstitutional and has no medical basis?”

"The scripture about love and grace and compassion and service and hospitality and generosity and forgiveness of sins and debts and justice as restoration – why are these laws and verses of lesser or no importance?"

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"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." ..........Matthew 5:17-19

"But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped." ..........Luke 16:17

When Jesus proclaims that not a letter of the law will be dropped, he is not talking about the punitive legalism of the Torah, he is talking about the justice of the Torah – justice as compassion and restoration and forgiveness and love – and administered by judges who are fair and even-handed and independent – and due process is administered with integrity and truth – and available to all and applied to all without exception. (in the following verses, red emphasis has been added)

Then God spoke all these words: I. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

III. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

IV. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

V. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

VI. You shall not murder.

VII. You shall not commit adultery.

VIII. You shall not steal.

IX. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

X. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. ..........Exodus 20:1-17

I. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

III. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

IV. Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

V. Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

VI. You shall not murder.

VII. Neither shall you commit adultery.

VIII. Neither shall you steal.

IX. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

X. Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. ..........Deuteronomy 5:1-21

There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. ..........Exodus 12:49

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; ..........Exodus 22:21-23

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate. ..........Exodus 22:25-27

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. ..........Exodus 23:1-11

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ..........Exodus 34:6-7a

He shall do with the bull just as is done with the bull of sin offering; he shall do the same with this. The priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. … All its fat he shall turn into smoke on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of well-being. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven. … He shall remove all its fat, as the fat is removed from the offering of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar for a pleasing odor to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf, and you shall be forgiven. … You shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the sheep is removed from the sacrifice of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, with the offerings by fire to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. … And the second he shall offer for a burnt offering according to the regulation. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. … Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for whichever of these sins you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. Like the grain offering, the rest shall be for the priest. … And you shall make restitution for the holy thing in which you were remiss, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest. The priest shall make atonement on your behalf with the ram of the guilt offering, and you shall be forgiven. … You shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, or the equivalent, as a guilt offering; and the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the error that you committed unintentionally, and you shall be forgiven. … The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the Lord, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby. … And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he committed; and the sin he committed shall be forgiven him. … ..........Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7, 22

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ..........Leviticus 19:9-18

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin : I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. ..........Leviticus 19:33-36

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 23:22

You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 24:22

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land. If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. But if there is not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned. If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall forever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites — houses sold in a city belonging to them — shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time. If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. ..........Leviticus 25:23-38

Any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the passover and according to its regulation; you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native. ..........Numbers 9:14

“ ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression’ ” ..........Numbers 14:18a

Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.” Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked” ..........Numbers 14:19-20

An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance. ..........Numbers 15:14-16

The priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the Israelites, and they shall be forgiven; it was unintentional, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their error. All the congregation of the Israelites shall be forgiven, as well as the aliens residing among them, because the whole people was involved in the error. … And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them – you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. ..........Numbers 15:25-26, 28-29

This shall be a perpetual statute for the Israelites and for the alien residing among them. ..........Numbers 19:10b

Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there. ..........Numbers 35:10-15

But if someone pushes another suddenly without enmity, or hurls any object without lying in wait, or, while handling any stone that could cause death, unintentionally drops it on another and death ensues, though they were not enemies, and no harm was intended, then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances; and the congregation shall rescue the slayer from the avenger of blood. Then the congregation shall send the slayer back to the original city of refuge. The slayer shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no bloodguilt shall be incurred. For the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer may return home. … Nor shall you accept ransom for one who has fled to a city of refuge, enabling the fugitive to return to live in the land before the death of the high priest. ..........Numbers 35:22-28, 32

“I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” ..........Deuteronomy 1:16-17

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ..........Deuteronomy 10:17-19

You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to aliens residing in your towns for them to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. ..........Deuteronomy 14:21a

As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ..........Deuteronomy 14:27-29, 15:1-11

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ..........Deuteronomy 15:7-11

You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ..........Deuteronomy 16:18-20

You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. ..........Deuteronomy 23:7

When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God. You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. ..........Deuteronomy 24:10-22

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments” ..........Deuteronomy 26:10-13

“Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” ..........Deuteronomy 27:18-19

These are the verses concerning and advocating and demanding and requiring inclusion, justice, forgiveness and compassion – just from the Torah. These are not the only verses – the entire Bible speaks of the same concerns, avocations, demands and requirements.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” … Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years; and he died. ..........Genesis 2:16-17; 5:5

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. ..........Genesis 4:8-15

For the needy shall not always be forgotten, .....nor the hope of the poor perish forever. ..........Psalm 9:18

In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor.....let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, .....those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. Their mouths are filled .....with cursing and deceit and oppression; .....under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. They sit in ambush in the villages; .....in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; .....they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; .....they lurk that they may seize the poor; .....they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. They stoop, they crouch, .....and the helpless fall by their might. They think in their heart, .....“God has forgotten, .....he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; .....you will strengthen their heart, .....you will incline your ear to do justice .....for the orphan and the oppressed, .....so that those from earth may strike terror no more. ..........Psalm 10:2-3, 7-11, 17-18

“Because the poor are despoiled, .....because the needy groan, .....I will now rise up,” says the Lord; .....“I will place them in the safety for which they long.” ..........Psalm 12:5

You would confound the plans of the poor, .....but the Lord is their refuge ..........Psalm 14:6

But the meek shall inherit the land, .....and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows .....to bring down the poor and needy, .....to kill those who walk uprightly; ..........Psalm 37:11, 14

Happy are those who consider the poor; .....the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. ..........Psalm 41:1

Father of orphans and protector of widows .....is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in; .....he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, .....but the rebellious live in a parched land. ..........Psalm 68:5-6

May he judge your people with righteousness, .....and your poor with justice. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, .....give deliverance to the needy, .....and crush the oppressor. For he delivers the needy when they call, .....the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, .....and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; .....and precious is their blood in his sight. ..........Psalm 72:2, 4, 12-14

Give justice to the weak and the orphan; .....maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; .....deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” ..........Psalm 82:3-4

O Lord, .....how long shall the wicked, .....how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; .....all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O Lord, .....and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the stranger, .....they murder the orphan ..........Psalm 94:3-6

Bless the Lord, O my soul, .....and all that is within me, .....bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, .....and do not forget all his benefits – The Lord works vindication and justice .....for all who are oppressed. The Lord is merciful and gracious, .....slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with us according to our sins, .....nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, .....so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; ..........Psalm 103:1-2, 6, 8, 10-11

They have distributed freely, .....they have given to the poor; .....their righteousness endures forever; .....their horn is exalted in honor. ..........Psalm 112:9

He raises the poor from the dust, .....and lifts the needy from the ash heap, .....to make them sit with princes, .....with the princes of his people. ..........Psalm 113:7-8

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, .....and executes justice for the poor. ..........Psalm 140:12

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, .....in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth; .....on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, .....whose hope is in the Lord their God, .....who made heaven and earth, the sea .....and all that is in them; .....who keeps faith forever; .....who executes justice for the oppressed; .....who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; .....the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; .....the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the strangers; .....he upholds the orphan and the widow, .....but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever, .....your God, O Zion, .....for all generations. Praise the Lord! ..........Psalm 146

The field of the poor may yield much food, .....but it is swept away through injustice. ..........Proverbs 13:23

Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, .....but happy are those who are kind to the poor. A truthful witness saves lives, .....but one who utters lies is a betrayer. Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, .....but those who are kind to the needy honor him. ..........Proverbs 14:21, 25, 31

The Lord tears down the house of the proud, .....but maintains the widow’s boundaries. Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord, .....but gracious words are pure. Those who are greedy for unjust gain .....make trouble for their households, .....but those who hate bribes will live. The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, .....but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil. ..........Proverbs 15:25-28

Better is a little with righteousness .....than large income with injustice. Honest balances and scales are the Lord’s; .....all the weights in the bag are his work. ..........Proverbs 16:8, 11

Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; .....those who are glad at calamity will not go unpunished. One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, .....but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend. The wicked accept a concealed bribe .....to pervert the ways of justice. To impose a fine on the innocent is not right, .....or to flog the noble for their integrity. ..........Proverbs 17:5, 9, 23, 26

A false witness will not go unpunished, .....and a liar will not escape. A false witness will not go unpunished, .....and the liar will perish. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, .....and will be repaid in full. What is desirable in a person is loyalty, .....and it is better to be poor than a liar. A worthless witness mocks at justice, .....and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity. ..........Proverbs 19:5, 9, 17, 22

To do righteousness and justice .....is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, .....you will cry out and not be heard. When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, .....but dismay to evildoers. Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness .....will find life and honor. All day long the wicked covet, .....but the righteous give and do not hold back. A false witness will perish, .....but a good listener will testify successfully. ..........Proverbs 21:3, 13, 15, 21, 26, 28

The rich and the poor have this in common: .....the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, .....and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, .....for they share their bread with the poor. Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, .....and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, .....or crush the afflicted at the gate; .....for the Lord pleads their cause .....and despoils of life those who despoil them. ..........Proverbs 22:2, 8-9, 16, 22-23

A ruler who oppresses the poor .....is a beating rain that leaves no food. Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, .....but those who keep the law struggle against them. The evil do not understand justice, .....but those who seek the Lord understand it completely. Better to be poor and walk in integrity .....than to be crooked in one’s ways even though rich. One who augments wealth by exorbitant interest .....gathers it for another who is kind to the poor. The rich is wise in self-esteem, .....but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose. When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, .....but when the wicked prevail, people go into hiding Like a roaring lion or a charging bear .....is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor; .....but one who hates unjust gain will enjoy a long life. Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, .....but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse. ..........Proverbs 28:3-6, 11-12, 15-16, 27

The poor and the oppressor have this in common: .....the Lord gives light to the eyes of both. If a king judges the poor with equity, .....his throne will be established forever. ..........Proverbs 29:13-14

There are those whose teeth are swords, .....whose teeth are knives, .....to devour the poor from off the earth, .....the needy from among mortals. ..........Proverbs 30:14

Speak out for those who cannot speak, .....for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, .....defend the rights of the poor and needy. ..........Proverbs 31:8-9

Wash yourselves; .....make yourselves clean; .....remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; .....cease to do evil, .....learn to do good; .....seek justice, .....rescue the oppressed, .....defend the orphan, .....plead for the widow. ..........Isaiah 1:16-17

Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, .....and the widow’s cause does not come before them. ..........Isaiah 1:23

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, .....who write oppressive statutes, .....to turn aside the needy from justice .....and to rob the poor of my people of their right, .....that widows may be your spoil, .....and that you may make the orphans your prey! ..........Isaiah 10:1-2

For you have been a refuge to the poor, .....a refuge to the needy in their distress, .....a shelter from the rainstorm .....and a shade from the heat. ..........Isaiah 25:4a

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, .....and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the tyrant shall be no more, .....and the scoffer shall cease to be; .....all those alert to do evil shall be cut off – those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, .....who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, .....and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right. ..........Isaiah 29:19-21

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; .....therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; .....blessed are all those who wait for him. ..........Isaiah 30:18

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, .....my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; .....he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, .....or make it heard in the street; .....a bruised reed he will not break, .....and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; .....he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed .....until he has established justice in the earth; .....and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, .....who created the heavens .....and stretched them out, .....who spread out the earth and what comes from it, .....who gives breath to the people upon it .....and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, .....a light to the nations, .....to open the eyes that are blind, .....to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, .....from the prison those who sit in darkness. ..........Isaiah 42:1-7

Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, .....and do what is right, .....for soon my salvation will come, .....and my deliverance be revealed. ..........Isaiah 56:1

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, .....to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me .....and delight to know my ways, .....as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness .....and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgements, .....they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, .....and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel .....and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today .....will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, .....and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: .....to loose the bonds of injustice, .....to undo the thongs of the yoke, .....to let the oppressed go free, .....and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, .....and bring the homeless poor into your house; .....when you see the naked, to cover them, .....and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, .....and your healing shall spring up quickly; .....your vindicator shall go before you, .....the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; .....you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, .....the pointing of the finger, .....the speaking of evil, .....if you offer your food to the hungry .....and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, .....then your light shall rise in the darkness .....and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, .....and satisfy your needs in parched places, .....and make your bones strong; .....and you shall be like a watered garden, .....like a spring of water, .....whose waters never fail. ..........Isaiah 58:1-12

For I the Lord love justice, .....I hate robbery and wrongdoing ..........Isaiah 61:8

But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; .....they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, .....who gives the rain in its season, .....the autumn rain and the spring rain, .....and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, .....and your sins have deprived you of good. For scoundrels are found among my people; .....they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; .....they catch human beings. Like a cage full of birds, .....their houses are full of treachery; .....therefore they have become great and rich, .....they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; .....they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, .....to make it prosper, .....and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, .....and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this? ..........Jeremiah 5.23-29

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, .....if you truly act justly one with another, .....if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, .....or shed innocent blood in this place, .....and if you do not .....go after other gods to your own hurt, .....then I will dwell with you in this place, .....in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors .....forever and ever. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, .....make offerings to Baal, .....and go after other gods that you have not known, .....and then come and stand before me in this house, .....which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!” – .....only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, .....become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. ..........Jeremiah 7:5-11

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people .....not been restored? ..........Jeremiah 8:21-22

Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, .....do not let the mighty boast in their might, .....do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, .....that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, .....and righteousness in the earth, .....for in these things I delight, says the Lord. ..........Jeremiah 9:23-24

To the house of the king of Judah say: Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord: Execute justice in the morning, .....and deliver from the hand of the oppressor .....anyone who has been robbed, .....or else my wrath will go forth like fire, .....and burn, with no one to quench it, .....because of your evil doings.

Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, .....and speak there this word, and say: Hear the word of the Lord, .....O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David – .....you, and your servants, .....and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, .....and deliver from the hand of the oppressor .....anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence .....to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, .....nor shed innocent blood in this place. ..........Jeremiah 21:8; 22:1-3

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, .....and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, .....and does not give them their wages; ..........Jeremiah 22:13

Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink .....and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; .....then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord. But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, .....for shedding innocent blood, .....and for practicing oppression and violence. ..........Jeremiah 22:15-17

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, .....when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, .....and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, .....and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ..........Jeremiah 23:5

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; .....and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ..........Jeremiah 33:15

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: .....she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, .....and prosperous ease, .....but did not aid the poor and needy. ..........Ezekiel 16:49

If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right – … .....does not oppress anyone, .....but restores to the debtor his pledge, .....commits no robbery, .....gives his bread to the hungry .....and covers the naked with a garment, .....does not take advance or accrued interest, .....withholds his hand from iniquity, .....executes true justice between contending parties, .....follows my statutes, .....and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully — .....such a one is righteous; .....he shall surely live, says the Lord God. ..........Ezekiel 18:5, 7-9

The princes of Israel in you, .....everyone according to his power, .....have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; .....the alien residing within you suffers extortion; .....the orphan and the widow are wronged in you. … In you, they take bribes to shed blood; .....you take both advance interest and accrued interest, .....and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; .....and you have forgotten me, says the Lord God. … The people of the land .....have practiced extortion and committed robbery; .....they have oppressed the poor and needy, .....and have extorted from the alien without redress. ..........Ezekiel 22:6, 12, 29

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, .....and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, .....and I will bring back the strayed, .....and I will bind up the injured, .....and I will strengthen the weak, .....but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. ..........Ezekiel 34:15-16

Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, .....and bring righteousness to the ground! … Therefore because you trample on the poor .....and take from them levies of grain, .....you have built houses of hewn stone, .....but you shall not live in them; .....you have planted pleasant vineyards, .....but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, .....and how great are your sins – .....you who afflict the righteous, .....who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. … Seek good and not evil, that you may live; .....and so the Lord, the God of hosts, .....will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, .....and establish justice in the gate; .....it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, .....will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. … I hate, I despise your festivals, .....and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me .....your burnt offerings and grain offerings, .....I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals .....I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; .....I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, .....and righteousness like an everflowing stream. ..........Amos 5:7, 11-12, 14-15, 21-24

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, .....and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; .....and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, .....and practice deceit with false balances, .....buying the poor for silver .....and the needy for a pair of sandals, .....and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” ..........Amos 8:4-6

With what shall I come before the Lord, .....and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, .....with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, .....with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, .....the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; .....and what does the Lord require of you .....but to do justice, .....and to love kindness, .....and to walk humbly with your God? ..........Micah 6:6-8

The faithful have disappeared from the land, .....and there is no one left who is upright; they all lie in wait for blood, .....and they hunt each other with nets. Their hands are skilled to do evil; .....the official and the judge ask for a bribe, .....and the powerful dictate what they desire; .....thus they pervert justice. The best of them is like a brier, .....the most upright of them a thorn hedge. ..........Micah 7:2-4

So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous – .....therefore judgment comes forth perverted. ..........Habakkuk 1:4

The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, .....show kindness and mercy to one another; .....do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; .....and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. ..........Zechariah 7:8-10

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness .....against the sorcerers, .....against the adulterers, .....against those who swear falsely, .....against those .....who oppress the hired workers in their wages, .....the widow and the orphan, .....against those who thrust aside the alien, .....and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. ..........Malachi 3:5

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; .....and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, .....for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, .....for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, .....for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, .....for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, .....for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, .....for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, .....for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those .....who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, .....for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you .....when people revile you .....and persecute you .....and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. ..........Matthew 5:1-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” ..........Matthew 11:2-6

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” ..........Matthew 19:12

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” ..........Matthew 19:16-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ..........Matthew 23:23-28

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. ..........Mark 10:17-22

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” ..........Luke 4:16-21

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, .....for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, .....for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, .....for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, .....and when they exclude you, revile you, .....and defame you on account of the Son of Man. ..........Luke 6:20-22

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” ..........Luke 7:18-23

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.” While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. ..........Luke 11:33-42

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” ..........Luke 14:12-14

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. ..........Luke 18:1-8a

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. ..........Luke 18:18-23

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” ..........Luke 19:1-10

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. … If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? ..........James 2:1-9, 15-16

It is important to remember that the purpose of the law is not itself. The law is not the final response or the final answer or the final act or the final word of justice and compassion. The law is not the last stop in the development of our morals or our relationship with God. The law is only a single step in our faith journey – a journey that extends beyond and away from the law.

The first purpose of the law was to serve as a call to ancient Israel to leave behind the tribal justice practices of that ancient time.

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl to be my wife.” Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came.

And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall live with us; and the land shall be open to you; live and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.” The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.”

Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his family. So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These people are friendly with us; let them live in the land and trade in it, for the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters in marriage, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will they agree to live among us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will live among us.” And all who went out of the city gate heeded Hamor and his son Shechem; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” ..........Genesis 34

The law of the Torah is a radical response to and a revocation of tribal justice and calls Israel away from those practices and points to a different way of living and to a future of justice and compassion. The law is less about how and when to be punitive and more about how to live with each other, at least as mutually respectful citizens and preferably as members of a compassionate God-loving community. Through the entire law, there is a consistent and repeated admonition that the law is to be used to provide fair and even-handed justice through the inclusion of aliens and strangers and widows and orphans, through due process imbued with integrity and truth as administered by fair even-handed independent judges, through forgiveness of sins and debts, and through compassion for those without property or food or self-sufficiency. This is the law that Jesus wanted upheld. This is the law that Jesus did not want to go away. Providing universal justice and compassion is true faithfulness to the law. Used in this way, the law can still inform, inspire and guide us.

What if prisons were places of refuge and restoration and life instead of places of vengeance and retribution and death?

What if shelters for the homeless, food banks, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity and mission trips to disaster areas were sacred inward and outward journeys, the means by which we become the hands and arms and legs and sweat and exertion of the body and presence of Christ, an outward manifestation of an inner truth and light, the bringing and building and living the Kingdom of God here and now instead of an actionless worthless meaningless hope for a future occurrence and existence, instead of being a burden or being an obligatory but pious sacrifice of our time and resources?

Clearly, there is more to the written law of the Torah than two verses about men having sex with each other. There is more to Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 than their literal prohibition. The immediate context is that they are a very small part of a collection of over 600 laws that governed an ancient nation that existed 2000 years ago and those laws do not and should not govern us. The next larger context is: how do we live in relationship with each other as a natural extension of our loving relationship with God? The largest context is: what is the nature of God?

We criminalize murder and assault and kidnapping because we have determined for ourselves in our time that it is wrong – and not because it says so in the Bible. We choose to criminalize adult prostitution as a health and abuse issue – and not as a religious or moral issue. We have determined that infanticide and the execution of children and the use of children for sex is immoral – an immorality that is universal and timeless. We have determined that slavery is immoral – an immorality that is universal and timeless. We have determined that witches and warlocks and sorcerers and wizards and magicians and magic do not exist and never did. We have determined that as a sexual orientation, homosexuality is healthy and normal. We have determined that any two consenting people, regardless of race or sex, have the right to a private intimate relationship. It would be a good and faithful small step to determine that any two consenting people, regardless of race or sex, have the right to establish a legal monogamous family relationship. There is no rational or medical or legal or biblical reason to discriminate against non-heterosexual people or to deny them any of their constitutional rights. Recognition and affirmation of those constitutional rights would be true obedience to the law of the Torah – true obedience to the spirit and direction and purpose and message of the law – true obedience to all the covenants with God – and true obedience to the intent and will and passion of God.

For a PDF of this article: RECLAIMING QUEERS Size = 217 KB

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The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan are listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal ..........REFORMATION II ..........GOD IS - an update ..........RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE ..........RECLAIMING EXODUS ..........RECLAIMING EDEN ..........RECLAIMING THE ISSUES

Vocabulary & Grammar Is Important for "Grace"

"Hopefully" in Irish is “le cuidiú Dé;” directly translated it reads, "with the help of God."   I do not speak Irish fluently, but I do have some sayings, and there are some I say regularly to my son.  For instance, when I put him to bed I say “Oíche mhaith, codladh sámh,” which means “good night, sleep well.”  He has heard it often in his three years.  I am confident he knows it as a blessing for sleep, but honestly, as he is delayed in communication and has autism, we truly do not know when he understands English, Irish, or Choctaw (he attends Choctaw Headstart). We concentrate on his English, but it is wonderful that he is exposed to the language of our ancestors and the language of people native to this area (well, the “relocated” area).  I know he is delayed in communication, but vocabulary is not his issue.   He can certainly learn words in multiple languages and transfer between them, why should the primary colors be only known as “red, yellow, & blue,” they can also be known as  “dearg, buí, & gorm” or “humma, lvkna, & okchvko.”   Communication is not simply vocabulary, and that is what my son’s teacher, aids, speech therapists, and parents are teaching him.

The church, on the other hand, needs vocabulary and grammar lessons.  We use some very religious words, but we use them incorrectly (I am talking to pastors here).  Atonement, justification, faith, and sanctification are four words that come to mind.  Across the theological spectrum I hear pastors use words in such a way that undermines the meaning of the great word “grace.”  When that word, “grace,” is used everyone seems to know it is the love of God that we receive even though we do not deserve such a gift.  That is good news; that is the Gospel.  However,  when we (and I am certainly not immune) use other religious words such as justification or faith, we are not always clear what we mean, and we fail our vocabulary quiz.

We preach that God is the only one that saves us; God’s grace justifies us.  Simple, but then I hear someone point to actions one may do to be right with God; however, that is not as common a culprit, for they will make it clear that the good acts are in response to God’s Grace.  The most common culprit I hear is, “justified by faith.”  No longer does the word grace have any meaning.  If justification is determined by one’s faith, it is determined by human action, not the free gift of grace.  This may seem subtle, and I know that most who say “justified by faith,” preach grace and God as the only source, and thus will call this issue semantics.  That is the point--we must be aware of our vocabulary, our grammar, and our semantics when we talk, and especially, preach.

I believe that Joe Jones offers an important alternative, “I prefer to avoid the expression ‘justification by faith’ and use instead ‘justification by grace through faith.’ It is the grace of God that justifies, and it is through faith that we say ‘yes’ to that prior justification and begin to live on the basis of that justifying grace.”[i]  Hear the difference?  We maintain the meaning of grace, justification, and faith.

My son may need to learn to communicate, but as church we need to remember our grammar and vocabulary and how they work together. Once we get our vocabulary and grammar straight, I hope we can join my son and work on our communication.  Hopefully (le cuidiú Dé ) we will  remember that it is all done with the help of God especially our justification and salvation by grace, through faith.

[i] Jones, Joe.  A Grammar of Christian Faith; Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine. Volume II Rowman & Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.  2002.  p. 518.

The Ministry of Presence

On Monday afternoons, I go to the local hospital to be a volunteer chaplain for the afternoon. I hate going.

Every Monday, there is a bit of dread that hits my stomach as I step into my professional clothes, clip on my official badge and drive to park in my official spot.  With my hands still on the steering wheel, I pray the prayer a mentor taught me when I was doing Clinical Pastoral Education at a hospital in Boston: “Lord, help me not to run.”

I enter the hospital through the main doors and greet the volunteers at the front desk.  I bypass the public elevators and head for the staff elevators.  Turning the corner from the second floor desk, I enter the chapel.  Usually it is quiet and empty.  Occasionally there are staff members on their phones that I have to politely remind that it is a chapel, not their lounge.  I log on to the system, check the main census, and attempt to memorize the names of the ICU patients.  I check the census by religion which is never complete.  While some staff members are great at intake in asking spiritual preference, when they are in a hurry it’s often the first question that is skipped.  Usually I only know the spiritual preference of about half of the ICU folks.

I log off.  I sit in a pew and stare at the stained-glass window.  I take a deep breath.  I pray again.  “Lord, use me, however you need me.”  Sometimes I have been known to pray “Lord, please don’t let me be needed today.”

Then I walk out that door, around the corner and down the hall to ICU.

And somehow, miraculously, every time I pass through those doors, the switch is turned on.

I’m the Chaplain.  I’m here for you.  Whether you be a patient, a visitor, a nurse or therapist or business representative or doctor or housekeeping or internal services, I am here for you to be your chaplain.

At that point, I forget that I ever wanted to run or wanted to not be needed.  I’m actually disappointed if everyone is asleep or being bathed or whatever.  I’m ready.

I visit the sick and the elderly, the dying, the post-suicidal, the recovering addict, the mother or daughter, the brother or ex-husband.  I go in, introduce myself, invite them to introduce themselves.  If the environment of the conversation is open, I pull up a chair.  I sit and listen, and sometimes pray.  Sometimes it’s just a minute.  At times it has been an hour.

I don’t have a lot of time to give.  Unlike the other volunteer chaplains at our hospital, I rarely take the emergency calls because I am the one primarily home with our child.  I rarely hit the main floors, but I always make a point to go to the ICU, the ER, and the Women’s Center.  While the other chaplains may get to the floors, I try to get to the new mothers, mothers-to-be, and those who have been mothers for all too short a time.  Most of the time, it is a temporary crisis.  A baby was born too soon and had to be flown to a larger hospital, but mother was not discharged yet.  It is so very hard to be separated from your baby like that.  But it will be well.  In the meantime, in that limbo between birth and being reunited, I offer prayer, comfort, and an ear to listen.  More importantly, I offer myself, to be there, for the father and/or other family members may have gone on to be with the new baby.

At times the news is not as good.  A child has been lost in miscarriage or stillbirth.  A child has been born with a birth defect that the child will live the rest of their life with.  I offer prayer, an ear to listen, and space for grief.  At times I contact the patient’s minister with their permission for continued support after they leave.

I don’t get to see everyone.  I probably don’t even see a quarter of the people on Monday alone who are in the hospital.  Some days I wonder if it’s even worth my time.  Then there will be that nurse in the elevator who says, “I’m so glad you’re here, I need to talk to someone.”  Or the doctor in ER who, in between running to patients says, “Pray for all of us here, we need it today.”  Or the worker whose daughter is dying of cancer and she is in the chapel, weeping, where her coworkers can’t find her.

In the midst of the chaos, in the midst of insurance paperwork and cost-efficiency and healing and treatments and general life of the hospital, I am there, even if for an hour on Mondays.  But more importantly, the presence of God is made known to people.  There are wonderful nurses who have called me in to pray with patients.  There are doctors who have listened to the spiritual concerns of their patients.  God is already known, but yet, when I and the other chaplains are there, we are there for everyone.  We are there for you.  We aren’t going to stick you with a needle or make you do physical therapy.  We are simply there to represent the presence of God, which has been there all along.

And I realize that my fears when I arrived were my own; but when that “switch” turned on, it was no longer me, but God in me, God with me, God through me.

And when I leave, this is my prayer:

“Thank you, God, for today, and for having me be here.”

I love being there.

"The Broken Mirror"

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="JESUS MAFA. The Pharisee and the Publican, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48268 retrieved September 29, 2011."][/caption] (sermon delivered 10/2/11; originally posted to Isa 61)

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust.  “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven.  Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’  I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee.  All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up" (Luke 18:9-14, CEB).

We’ve all heard the parables before of tax collectors and Pharisees.  Again and again, Jesus is saying things that the Pharisees don’t like.  The Pharisees are enraged and storm off in their funny hats and long robes.  We can close our eyes and see them, these stuffy old men with long white beards and beady eyes, frothing at the mouth.  They argue and condemn.  They bicker and judge.  For those of us who saw Mel Gibson’s movie years ago about the gory last day of Jesus, the Pharisees don’t exactly warm your heart.  They are portrayed as ruthless and evil.  After all, they plot against the very Son of God.

Not very flattering, is it?  Who in their right mind would want to be a Pharisee?

And then we got the tax collector.  Oh, poor tax collector, shunned by society.  Little Zaccheus up in a tree, called down by Jesus.  Nobody likes the tax collectors.  But Jesus does.  Jesus eats with them and preaches to them and tells them that God has a place in the Kingdom for them too.  The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  And since we hear again and again how cruel society places the poor ole tax collector last, then we know that if we could only be like the tax collector, if only we could get rid of our shame and take the hand of Christ we could walk hand in hand in the lovely Kingdom of God, forever and ever.

I mean, you get the impression that the tax collector can’t be that bad.  A rough character maybe, but after all, the disciple Matthew, was a tax collector, right?  So it can’t be that bad.

I have a question:  Who has ever seen a real live Pharisee or tax collector?  I don’t mean someone who we call a Pharisee or a tax collector, I mean a real live one?  I know I haven’t.  The answer is no one, because they haven’t existed for hundreds of years.  In fact, there hasn’t been a Pharisee for almost 2000 years.

You see, when Jesus was telling the parable in Luke 18, everyone in ancient Judea knew what he was talking about when he said “Pharisee” and “tax collector.”  Today, nobody knows who he’s talking about, not really.  We only have these stereotyped impressions of who these characters were.  And what we take away is the bottom line, “okay, I get it, Pharisees are bad, they killed Jesus, tax collectors are misunderstood diamonds in the rough, who Jesus hangs around with.  Got it.  Tax collectors are not so bad, Pharisees are really bad.”

Let me tell you a little bit about the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were very good people.  They were very faithful people.  The Pharisees kept the Law, which means they didn’t murder, or steal or defraud.  They gave 10% of all their earnings to the Temple.  They observed the Sabbath and helped people maintain order.  They dedicated their entire lives to the worship of God.  Who else has that kind of dedication?  Now, none of them were perfect, of course, but for 1st Century Palestine, the Pharisees were the good guys.  They may have understood the Law different than Jesus understands the Law, but to vilify them doesn’t score us any points.  They were good, ethical, faithful, religious people.  Society would have been far more peaceful if there were more people living like Pharisees than like tax collectors.  I assure you that.  I don’t care what Mel Gibson says.

And on the flip side, the tax collector was the worst of the worst.  They were the most ruthless kind of cheat and criminal.  In the ancient Roman Empire, each province and territory owed a certain debt of taxes to Rome.  Now instead of Roman soldiers coming to collect the money from each house, they contracted out the work.  So an individual from a town would agree to pay the amount that that town owed, and then it was up to him, the tax collector, to go get the money from the people.  And the Roman Empire didn’t care what means he used to get the money, and the Roman Empire didn’t care how much the tax collector actually collected, so long as they got their due.  Everything extra that he got, he kept for himself.  So instead of growing food or raising livestock or producing a good that contributed to a community in order to make a living, the tax collector supported himself by taking, by extorting, from society.  They took advantage of the weak, who could not defend themselves.  It was literally like the mob.  The tax collectors were the bad guys.

Are you all with me?

I tell you, I think we need to hear this parable fresh.  We need new characters, so that we get a better idea of what the heck Jesus is talking about.

If we were to tell this same parable today, I think a better person suited for the role of the tax collector would maybe be the drug dealer.  Not just any old drug dealer, but the arrogant, aggressive drug dealer that hangs outside our kids’ high school.  The one who doesn’t just sell drugs to our children, but cuts it with poisons to increase it’s volume and make more money, all at the expense of someone else’s health or life.  Not so glamorous.

And today’s Pharisee is the young woman who goes to youth group and church camp, stays abstinent until marriage, never uses drugs, takes a great job teaching our children inside the building that the drug dealer is standing outside of, a job that doesn’t pay her what she’s worth, but she does it anyway.  She takes her family to church on the weekends, gives the first 10% of her earnings, not of what’s left over, but 10% right off the top to the church.  She feeds the homeless at Christmas and forgoes extravagant vacations to Disney so she can pay for her kids’ education, instilling them with good, Christian values.  If Jesus were telling us this parable today, he would be telling the story of a person that we would all call a saint.

Why?  Why would he do that?

Well, it’s because Jesus preached the Kingdom of God.  Jesus preached the boundless love of God and the extravagant grace that is available to those in the Kingdom.

And here’s the deal.   The Kingdom flips everything upside down.

What Jesus is not saying is that it is better to be a tax collector than a Pharisee.  It is not better to be a drug dealer than a schoolteacher and mother.  If people walked away from Jesus thinking that they all needed to quit their jobs and become ruthless thugs who extort money from the weak, he would slap his forehead in frustration.

What Jesus is saying is that God’s grace and love is so incredible, that even a drug dealer who looks to God and says, “save me, God.  Save me because I am broken and hopeless and I can’t take even another step on my own.  Save me,” even that broken, sinful person will be justified.  And at the same time, the power of narcissistic pride is so great -so be warned- that it can keep even a saintly schoolteacher from recognizing and accepting that grace.  The Pharisee is not a bad guy.  But it is so tempting and so easy to look in the mirror and see how great our deeds are and say to God, “you have to save me.  Anything less is unfair.  You can’t bless this scoundrel who abuses your people and not bless me with all that I have done.  God, you owe me.” You see, those are the competitive, survival-of-the-fittest rules of the empire, the salvation to the pious rules of the Temple.  Those are not the values of the Kingdom.  The only way that grace works is to accept it completely as grace.  It appears before us like the invisible Kingdom of God already all around us.  Anything less, and it vanishes.

I wonder what this Kingdom message of Jesus tells us today about who our neighbor is?

Let’s think about that.

Suppose we have the story of a man like our tax collector.  Say we have a drug dealer who comes to the altar and falls to his knees and says, “save me, God.  I am unworthy and hopeless and broken.  I have done many rotten things that I can never take back and I can’t walk another step on my own.  Save me.”  What will happen to this man?  Well, I think he will be transformed.  I think that by looking past the mirror, by looking past the distorted reflection of himself, towards the great holiness of God, he will for once see how great and merciful God really is and in so doing, he will see who he really is.  I mean who he really is.  Not that made up character of thoughts, feelings and deeds, good or bad.  You see, we are not the things we’ve thought, felt, believed or done.  Who we are -in our essence- are the very children of God, created good in none other than God’s likeness.  We must look past the distorted reflection of ourselves to see the image of God within us.

And this man, our old tax collector, will clean up his act and straighten out his life and make amends for the wrongs that he’s done and start to contribute.  He’ll start to help people and become a role model and mentor for other misguided folks.  He may do a lot of good.  One day, he may look in the mirror and see no resemblance whatsoever of the old scoundrel he used to be.

And…  And one day, after some time, he may look in the mirror, and like what he sees.  He might think to himself, “not bad.”  And he might even start taking credit for that good life that God has given to him.  He will slowly stop seeing what God has transformed him from, and only see what God has transformed him to.  You all know what I’m getting at?  And not realizing it, he starts taking credit for that too.  And without even knowing it, he’ll start ending his prayers with “…because you owe me.”  And so long as he keeps looking in the mirror at himself, he’ll be blind to see that he has become like the Pharisee.  Some of us are like that.  We recognized that we were tax collectors and cleaned up our act and we hear parables like this and we say, “not me.  Doesn’t apply to me.  Thank God I’m not like these other people.”

The problem of thinking of the Pharisee as a villain is that we are never going to think that we could be like the Pharisee, and we’re not going to see it when it actually happens.

You see, none of us can see ourselves or each other, unless we look to God.  Our mirrors are broken.  God is the lens through which we look to see things as they are.

So again, what does this parable tell us about who our neighbors are?

Well, I think it tells you that we’ll never know, so long as we stare into the broken mirror.  We must allow God to open our eyes when we give ourselves to God in Christ.  And when we see the world through God’s eyes, we will see the image of God in everyone else.

It’s easy for us to draw lines around ourselves and say who’s in and who’s out.  I can easily draw lines in a congregation with one question about politics.  I can do it with college basketball, I could just say red or blue?  (No one outside of Louisville, Kentucky knows what I'm talking about.)  And immediately, we draw a line around those who follow the right team and those fools who follow the other.  It’s easy for us to do.  We look at ourselves and draw the lines around that and anyone who looks like me, believes what I believe, and does what I do is in and everyone else is out.

But that’s not where Jesus draws the lines.  His lines are so encompassing that it includes the tax collectors and the Pharisees.  He’s including the drug dealer and the schoolteacher.  That’s nuts!  But if we could just see the Kingdom like Jesus describes, we’d see that’s it’s not nuts, it’s called Amazing Grace.  And we can only see this Kingdom of God when we stop looking in our distorted, funhouse mirrors, where’s it me against you and us against them, and start looking to God in Heaven.  God will open our eyes.  And when that happens, we’ll look into the eyes of the lost and broken, we’ll look into the eyes of thieves and thugs and we’ll say, “that’s me!  That’s not just a person like me, or a person like what I used to be like, that’s me, today, now!  Me looking back at me!” And we see that we are all the children of God.  We’ll have a chance to draw new lines, lines that include our lost brothers and sisters.

So instead of me telling you who your neighbor is, let me invite you to look past the mirror towards God, to see who you really are.  Because when your eyes are opened to that, when you catch a glimpse of the goodness and love that God put into you, I assure you, you’ll see it everywhere you look.

My response to an anti-emergent manifesto

If there’s one thing emergent Christians can’t stand, it’s being categorized, or worse, stereotyped. It kinda goes against the whole idea that the emergent movement can’t be nailed down or quantified. The funny thing is, most folks who are emergent would deny it if asked, not out of shame, but rather out of principle. It’s kind of like the old saying, “If you meet The Buddha along the road, kill him.” If it’s distilled down to a handful of component parts, it loses something…maybe everything.

Anyway, my wife, Amy, sent along a passage which pretty much describes me with about ninety-percent accuracy, which is impressive. And given that it’s from a guy who is down on emergents, it does lend him a little bit of credibility to offer a critique.

Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) notes that, “After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement.”

Aside from the fact that he seems to use “emerging church” and “emergent Christian” synonymously, he does have a good sense of what I’m about, if no one else. Following are some excerpts from his list, of signs you might be an emergent:

  • if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;
  • if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;
  • if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;
  • if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;
  • if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;
  • if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;
  • if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus;
  • if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;
  • if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;
  • if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us…

Yeah, color me busted. I’m a lot of that stuff.

I’m not sure why exactly he compiled this list, other than to help promote his anti-emergent book. But DeYoung’s criticisms of emergents raised a lot of thoughts for me. Here are what I see as a handful of his central problems with emergent Christianity, followed by my responses.

Emergents throw away doctrine, and thus don’t stand for anything.

Agreed, we tend to reject doctrinal statements and systems of authority that impose them on others, but to say we don’t stand for anything is simply wrong. At the risk of generalizing, I would argue that ALL EMERGENTS are unified by the Greatest Commandment, which was offered by Jesus himself as the perfection of the sum total of all law and doctrine:

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (from The Message, an interpretation of scripture)

Good enough for Jesus; good enough for me.

Emergents criticize atonement theology because it’s not easy to stomach, or not cool.

From my perspective, hanging your theology on the idea that “Jesus died for your sins” seems like the easy out, rather than the other way around. I understand where the whole “blood atonement” theology, and Paul proposes it a few times in his New Testament letters. But if we look at where he’s coming from, he’s surrounded by sacrificial cultures, including Judaism. But as far back as the story of God stopping Abraham from nearly sacrificing Isaac, it seems to me that the message throughout scripture is “Enough. No more blood.” And if, indeed God can’t tolerate sin without a blood sacrifice in the form of Jesus, then all the forgiveness of sin that Jesus offered in his lifetime didn’t count. And if we want to get slippery and argue that his death retro-actively took care of the sins of the past, then why did he bother forgiving sin throughout his ministry in the first place?

And frankly, I don’t find this easy, convenient or cool to say in a nation where evangelical theocratic values still prevail, but if God felt the need to kill his own child to make things right, I’m not sure I’m interested in modeling my life after such a God.

Emergents focus on “easy” issues to get behind like poverty and diversity, while downplaying the tough stuff, like abortion and homosexuality.

I will agree that some of the more prominent voices in emergent circles have yet to take explicit, strong stands on issues below the belt. And I agree that just not saying anything is not good enough. Hey, it’s not a perfect movement! That said, there are many of us who take issues of sex and sexuality on directly. In fact, I’ve written, edited and contributed to several books that deal directly and explicitly with pornography, sexual addiction, abortion, homosexuality and a host of other uncomfortable topics.

Maybe that’s why I don’t sell many books. Anyway…

Yes, emergents don’t take “a stand” on abortion, because we’re all over the map with what we believe about it. And one of the beautiful things I appreciate about emergents is that we don’t agree on lots of things. We believe that there is a love that is the connective tissue, holding us together regardless of our differences. It’s an ongoing discussion, for sure. And as for homosexuality, most emergents are pretty clear that saying it’s a non-issue isn’t acceptable. Namely, there’s a growing consensus that GLBTQ folks are denied equality, both in the church and elsewhere, because of who they love and how they identify with regard to gender. Even for those emergents who may still not be sure how they feel about the moral implications of homosexuality, I expect most – if not all – of us can agree that we’re called to advocate for all people to have equal standing in the eyes of the church, government and one another.

Emergents reduce the Bible to just another good book by not upholding its perfect inerrancy.

This whole argument about the divinity and perfection of scripture is so tired, I almost didn’t even respond to this. We’ve all heard the debate. But suffice it to say that God doesn’t need a Bible. God didn’t have an ego issue to be worked out in a 66-chapter memoir. and if the Bible was intended to be perfect, it stands to reason we would have been inborn with such understanding, rather than depending on sometimes-contradictory stories, passed down orally through generations, then written, rewritten (and so on), translated and interpreted. I’m sorry, but if the Bible was perfect, there wouldn’t be more than one version and one interpretation. And for anyone says they don’t interpret scripture, you’re kidding yourself.

Just because I may not deem everything factually, historically accurate in the Bible doesn’t mean that I don’t find divinely inspired Truth in its pages. If that’s not good enough, once again, I’ll just go ahead and tap out now.

Emergents don’t like to talk about things like judgment and hell because it’s not attractive.

Actually, we talk about hell quite a bit, but it’s usually helping de-program the deep fear, guilt and paranoia drilled into folks at a younger age about why they HAD to believe and do “XYZ” or else. Again, not all emergents will share a common theology on hell, judgment, etc, but for me it’s clear that the modern notion of hell came from the Greek myths about Hades. Even Jews didn’t have a theology of hell; they believe in Sheol, which was a place of rest for the dead, not of fire and eternal suffering.

Rob Bell’s argument in his book, Love Wins, is salient. He notes that most who embrace a theology that leans on hell also believe there’s an “age of accountability” for children, before which they are not held responsible for their own actions in God’s eyes. Bell says then that the compassionate thing to do is to kill off all of our children before the age of accountability to ensure they will live forever in Paradise. What’s a few lost decades on earth, after all, compared with the possibility of eternal damnation?

There are few who would suggest that God’s love doesn’t exceed that of human beings. So let’s see a show of hands of those who would kill their own child out of love for someone else? And yes, I’ve heard the argument that it shows God loves us more than his own son, but keep in mind, Jesus is supposedly “one of us,” in that he was fully human. And Jesus said that whatever is done to the “least of these” is done to him, and therefore, to God. So who could argue that Jesus wasn’t among the “least of these” while being crucified? Totally vulnerable, betrayed, poor, humiliated. Sounds pretty “least of these” to me.

Finally, who is this sacrifice for? Supposedly for us, but actually it’s to satisfy God’s intolerance of sin. Do we see God as so weak or intolerant that God can’t handle us just as we are? Are we really so powerful in our sin? This seems like hubris to me, to even suggest that we can do ANYTHING that can’t be handled, forgiven or tolerated by the One who made us.

One thing I think the author was spot-on about was his criticism of the emergent movement largely holding up white, straight middle class males, while also praising the idea of diversity. This is very true, and we have a long way to go if we’re not going to end up looking like a bunch of hypocrites or opportunists. If we value diversity in all its forms, we have to be much more aggressive about helping this movement more accurately reflect the makeup of those in our midst.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Un-American in the Name of Jesus?

Un-American in the name of Jesus? By Christian Piatt (Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.

YES!

Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

RECLAIMING EDEN

(a continuation and extension of)(RECLAIMING EXODUS)

The story of the Garden of Eden is an Exodus story. It is the first Exodus story and the story that arches over and encompasses and undergirds the rest of the Bible. Like any Exodus story, it is a story of God providing deliverance from bondage and the ensuing roundabout journey into the freedom of the wilderness where we have a continuous opportunity to discover God and to experience God and to learn how to be in relationship with God and through that relationship be resurrected and transformed into the here-and-now Kingdom of God.

God created this chaotic universe because God wanted free-willed life. Without the power to say "no", there is no free-will. Within the confines of the Garden of Eden story; if Adam and Eve do not defy God, if they do not say "no" to the limitations imposed by God, they will not have free-will and the Garden of Eden will not be a utopia, it will become a zoo, a gilded cage - a life without freedom, a life without hope, a life without a future - a place of bondage. Instead, by defying God, the Garden of Eden becomes an incubator and a proving ground. Being driven from the Garden of Eden into a stark wilderness is not a punishment, it is an Exodus. Like any Exodus, it is a roundabout journey away from bondage (and a place to which God never wants us to return) into the freedom of the wilderness where Adam and Eve and all the people of the Bible and all of us are to discover God and learn how to be in relationship with God and, ultimately, how to be - here and now - a community of love and grace, of equality and inclusion, of healing and justice as restoration - how to be the Kingdom of God. The story of the Garden of Eden is not a story of failure, it is a story of success for God and us; it is not a story of condemnation, it is a story of affirmation. Free-will would be meaningless if God did not expect to be surprised by us.

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. For 2011-2012, Doug is an at-large member of the Indiana Disciples of Christ Regional Board. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 11 articles he has written, 5 are in the top 10 all-time most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master's degree and licensure in Special Education.

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The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan are listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal ..........REFORMATION II ..........GOD IS - an update ..........RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE ..........RECLAIMING EXODUS

RECLAIMING EXODUS

Exodus is not punishment. Exodus is deliverance from bondage and slavery. Exodus is a journey during which we have a direct experience of God providing deliverance. Exodus is a journey by the roundabout way to wilderness. Through Exodus, we leave behind a life of domination and enslavement, a life without freedom, a life without hope, a life without a future. Exodus is a journey from one desert to a very different desert - from a civilized and even opulent desert of slavery, ignorance, tight limitations and empire ruled by a dominating exclusive elite to a stark desert wilderness of freedom, learning, choice and community ruled by equality and inclusion. By taking only the bare essentials into the wilderness, we leave behind that which held us in bondage. Exodus takes the roundabout path to avoid conflicts for which we are not ready, conflicts which we would unavoidably lose, conflicts which would yield despair and drive us back into bondage. The least important purpose of Exodus is escape. The most important purpose of Exodus is learning to live in constant relationship with God and through that relationship be resurrected and transformed and become - here and now - the kingdom of God. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. For 2011-2012, Doug is an At-Large member of the Indiana Disciples of Christ Regional Board. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 9 articles he has written, 5 are in the top 10 all-time most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master's degree and licensure in Special Education.

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The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan are listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal ..........REFORMATION II ..........GOD IS - an update ..........RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE

Love Wins: A God of grace for all

Love Wins: A God of grace for all by Christian Piatt

I was psyched when Jarrod McKenna, one of the contributors to the forthcoming BANNED QUESTIONS book series, told me her had an interview of Rob Bell appearing on ABC Australia's news site about Rob's new book, LOVE WINS: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived.

My initial excitement had to do with Jarrod's citation of a passage from BANNED QUESTIONS toward the end of the piece, but the central message of the interview, and apparently of the book, is far more significant than I expected.

Rather than paraphrase what Jarrod and Rob have already said so well, I'll just quote Rob from his book:

"Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith - the afterlife - arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic - eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins."

Did you hear that? It's the sound of thousands of conservative evangelicals closing their mental doors on Rob Bell in unison.

For some within mainline Christian circles, the prospect of "universal salvation," or the idea that God ultimately reconciles all of us into God's presence, regardless of our worthiness of such grace, may not be a real shock. But even the suggestion of what I consider "Christian Universalism" within evangelical circles is sure to send seismic ripples throughout the church.

And his claim has done just that.

Neo-Calvinist John Piper led the charge, bidding farewell en masse to Bell and his message of non-exclusive salvation. What, after all, do many Christians have to offer the world if not the key to unlock the gates of hell from the inside?

While Jonathan Edwards showed us, with his "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon, that fear can galvanize a congregation, Bell's message is that love - and more specifically God's love - is bigger than the sum total of our fears, sins, and other shortcomings is a call in a growing chorus. This, in the truest sense of the word, is Gospel: Good News!

Chalice Press is offering a special promotion through ABC Australia of 40% off pre-orders of BANNED QUESTIONS books. Order in March through the Chalice Press site and enter the code "BANNEDQ1" at checkout.