Heaven

The Problem of Heaven

By J.C. Mitchell


    I was talking recently with someone about a novel from the 19th century that we both enjoy and felt it spoke to humanity today as it did then, which led us to say the more things change the more things stay the same.  It is both comforting and extremely frustrating, especially when it comes to stories of human drama. Why is it that we do we not learn from these stories we keep telling each other, but we are comforted by telling these stories of our human drama, and then still see them played out in the news again and again?  


If we could simply follow the ideal narrative there would be no drama, and things would be perfect.  I was asked once in all seriousness if heaven would be boring? They imagined a place of perfection (and I think harps and clouds as well), and it was a true concern for this person.  And should it not be our own concern as well?


Not that heaven would be boring, but that the idealized imagery of heaven has become something we cannot imagine on earth.  In one respect that makes perfect sense that the culture (or more traditionally “kingdom”) of God cannot be imagined in our world, as we are working to bring this reality of the Divine to Earth, but I think we need to be able to imagine  like the writer of Revelation wrote,  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)


The writer included the images of a city and of marriage, both are filled with stories and many are messy, the stuff that makes good movies and novels.  It is the stuff of life that is included in his imagery of the new heaven and earth we are all working and waiting for.  


This is important: if we truly pray as we are taught and we say, “On earth as it is in heaven” we must understand how our current imagery is a problem. 


It is less about the afterlife whenever we talk eschatology (heaven, hell, and end times), but it is about our life now, so when we think that heaven is unattainable we hear excuses for not working on solving problems for the environment, poverty, race, disability--because there isn’t anything we think we can do that will insure success.  Thus we do not work on these things because we cannot imagine heaven on earth, with all its human drama. 


Heaven must include all our stories, written and unwritten, of human drama, and most stories do uphold redemption and salvation, even if the ending is not wrapped up neatly; that is how we should imagine perfection, or in other words, heaven..  


Most miracle stories I know have been messy and full of drama, but in it God is found and God’s perfection must include our stories. In order to move beyond repeating our dramatic history, let us get to work writing the hard chapters we are terrified to start…

 

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!

REFORMATION II

REFORMATION II

The Second Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2010 on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

by Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to...

* live the sacred life - here and now - of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God... .........to be unrelenting and unlimited; .........makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; .........to be the constant inviting presence of God; and .........to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned 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 generous; .........be hospitable; .........be compassionate; .........do no harm; .........heal and rehabilitate and restore; .........forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate; .........be good stewards of all resources; .........live here and now as one family; .........live in a loving intimate relationship with God; .........be transformed through resurrection; and .........be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture... .........as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God; .........for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and .........spiritual truth and insight and illumination about .........how God is a presence and influence in my life and .........to better understand the love and grace of God and .........to discern how God is calling me forward and .........beyond my previous understanding of God .........to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and .........how God is calling me forward .........to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires... .........a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and .........the linguistic devices used in the scripture .........(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, .........poetic metaphor, etc.), .........of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written, .........and .........of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus: ......–– as the first followers of The Way; ......–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation; ......–– as the first example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation do exist and ......–– do not require death as a precedent; ......–– as example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and ......–– as example and witness that ......–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is: ......–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love ......–– and always has been;

......–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us ......–– without exception and without qualification;

......–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

......–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

......–– in healthy partnership, ......–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

......–– be generous and hospitable to all;

......–– live non-violently without vengeance and ......–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

......–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – – can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - PDF FILES - to download and print REFORMATION II - poster size --- 11" x 17", 1 page (appropriate size for posting on the doors of churches and other institutions)

REFORMATION II - letter size --- 8.5" x 11", 6 pages (appropriate size for copying and sharing)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

BIOGRAPHY 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. 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 7 articles he wrote, 5 are in the top 10 most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

STUDY RESOURCES To better understand the theology of Reformation II, please read the previous seven [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan, 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

THESIS OF MARTIN LUTHER - in English

RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

In the course of time.....Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and .....Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, .....but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

The Lord said to Cain, ..........Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? ..........If you do well, will you not be accepted? ..........And if you do not do well, ...............sin is lurking at the door; ...............its desire is for you, but you must master it.

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 4:3-15 )

By late 1996, my older son, Chad, was living with Shirley Newsom in her trailer on the west side of Indianapolis. Chad had convinced Shirley to steal drugs from her place of employment, a pharmaceutical warehouse. $1500 worth of drugs were placed on consignment with Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger. While returning with the drugs to Jasonville, Indiana, Frank Dennis was stopped by the Indiana State Police. Unknown to any of them involved in this illegal business, the DEA was already investigating their activities. The drugs were confiscated and Frank was neither arrested nor detained. Frank and Curtis were convinced that Chad had arranged for the loss of the drugs and therefore Chad owed them money. Chad was just as convinced that they owed him money.

On the night of January 21, at about 11:30 PM, the nieces and nephews of Shirley Newsom left the trailer to go home. A little after midnight, Frank Dennis, Curtis Holsinger and Curtis’ girl friend, Jessica Lopez, knocked on the door of the trailer and were admitted. Earlier in the day, Frank had been drinking beer and vodka and smoking marijuana. When Frank realized that Chad was not going to give them any money, he pulled a gun. Chad’s hands were bound and he was taken to a back bedroom. Shirley’s hands were bound and she was left in the living room. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger went to the back bedroom. According to court testimony, Chad suffered 29 knife wounds over the entire length of his body. This included 7 stab wounds to the heart, 4 from the front, 3 from the back . Chad did not die quickly, quietly, or easily. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger returned to the living room, Frank in blood-soaked clothes. Jessica Lopez, who had been sitting with Shirley Newsom, left the trailer with Curtis. As they left, they heard Shirley Newsom say, “Just do it.” Frank Dennis pressed the gun barrel against the pillow he held to Shirley's face and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered through her right eye and lodged in her brain. Having moved to stand behind her, Frank fired a second shot into the upper-back of her head. The bullet exited through her mouth and was found on the living room floor.

All this is from God, .....who reconciled us to himself through Christ, .....and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ .....God was reconciling the world to himself, .....not counting their trespasses against them, .....and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. ............................................................................................( 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 )

I oppose capital punishment. As far back as I can remember, opposing the death penalty has been as basic to my understanding of Christian ethics as following the Golden Rule or living in answer to the wristband question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Would I be writing this article were it not for the murder of Chad? His death opens doors and I must walk through them. His murder validates my right to oppose the death penalty. Without his death, all I would ever hear is “If it happened to you, you would feel different.” It has happened to me and I do not feel different - the death penalty is wrong.

I oppose capital punishment. The practice of capital punishment puts us in conflict with the work of God in the world. The work of God in the world is reconciliation. Our work in the world, given to us by God, is reconciliation. Reconciliation is the single lesson that binds together the entire Bible. The Bible is the record of a consistent and persistent God. The Bible is the record of the work, the teaching, the successes and failures, the continuous struggle of God to reconcile each and every child of God to God. The Old Testament is the record of God teaching the children of God their need for grace. The New Testament is the record of God proving that the grace of God is freely and constantly and abundantly available and is available to all without exception and without qualification. The work of reconciliation begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become.

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 21:22-25 )

Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: .....fracture for fracture, .....eye for eye, .....tooth for tooth; .....the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. ............................................................................................( Leviticus 24:17-21 )

In the Old Testament are the Commandments and the Law. The law of “eye for eye” was a radical legal reform - punishment would be limited to being proportional to the severity of the crime and limited to the person who committed the crime. Prior justice had been that for a murder or violent assault, the entire family of the murderer or assailant could be slain ( Genesis 34 ). Within this radical reform of the law, we find the roots of individual responsibility and individual rights. Even among these most demanding of laws, forgiveness is offered. Forgiveness is available for sins committed through ignorance ( Leviticus 4; 5:14-19 ); for sins of failure to testify or of uncleanliness ( Leviticus 5:1-13 ); for sins of deception, fraud, robbery, conversion or false testimony ( Leviticus 6:1-7 ); and for sins of impurity ( Leviticus 19:19-22 ). These sins and others like them are sins of trespass. Often, as part of the offense, the offender incurs a debt to the person against whom they committed the offense. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say: .....forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors or we say: .....forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us or we say: .....forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us ............................................................................................( Matthew 6:9-13 )

Regardless of which words are used, the phrase has a much deeper, wider and richer meaning than any we attach to it today. Though the law of the Old Testament is one of the earliest recorded legal reforms, the reform of the law does not stop there. God continued and continues to call us forward to the heart of the law. The law is still here and will always be here while no longer serving as a code of judgment. THE LAW is now only the law. Because of the grace of God, the law is not the metric by which we define and measure and judge our relationship with God. Arising from the heart and essence of the law and transcending the law is the superior and controlling commandments of Love of God and Love of Neighbor as lived and preached by Jesus. The law only defines, measures, judges and spotlights our imperfections, our separation from God, our mortality. The Love of God and Love of Neighbor Commandments, through the life and the Good News message of Jesus, calls us forward from the confines and shackles of the law and onward towards the perfect sinlessness and immortality of God. We are called to be the Kingdom of God - starting here and starting now - and unrestricted by empire or culture or time or place. From a finite journey of inescapable sin and judgment and death, we are called to an infinite journey of love and forgiveness and reconciliation and community - to be the Kingdom of God.

Then Peter came and said to him, .....Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, ..........how often should I forgive? .....As many as seven times?

Jesus said to him, .....Not seven times, ..........but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king .....who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, .....one who owed him ten thousand talents .....was brought to him; and, .....as he could not pay, .....his lord ordered him to be sold, ..........together with his wife ..........and children ..........and all his possessions, ..........and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, .....Have patience with me, ..........and I will pay you everything. And out of pity for him, .....the lord of that slave .....released him and .....forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, .....as he went out, .....came upon one of his fellow slaves .....who owed him a hundred denarii; .....and seizing him by the throat, .....he said, ..........Pay what you owe.

Then his fellow slave fell down .....and pleaded with him, ..........Have patience with me, ...............and I will pay you. But he refused; .....then he went .....and threw him into prison .....until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, .....they were greatly distressed, .....and they went and reported to their lord .....all that had taken place.

Then his lord summoned him .....and said to him, ..........You wicked slave! ..........I forgave you all that debt ...............because you pleaded with me. ..........Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, ...............as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger .....his lord handed him over to be tortured .....until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, .....if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. ............................................................................................( Matthew 18:21-35 )

Peter’s question might have been prompted by this passage from Leviticus:

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 19:15-18 )

Here, in the Law of the Old Testament – preceded by laws about how to worship and how to treat people with honesty and followed by laws about purity and atonement for sin - is a holy admonition for justice, righteous judgement, truth and reason. A holy admonition against vengeance and against even holding a grudge. A holy admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Never is this tested more harshly than when a loved one is murdered and the prosecutor is demonizing the murderer and demanding the death penalty. The survivors and family are told repeatedly that only the death penalty can provide closure. The death penalty is not closure because closure is not an event. Closure is a process – a process of transformation. Closure is a long, difficult, even tortuous process and journey. As such, closure can neither be granted nor initiated with a single event. Closure is a process that is never finished and so, no single event can complete closure. Embracing death and violence is never part of the closure process. Closure grows with an increasing personal dissociation and increasing distance away from death and violence. Closure comes from moving away from hate and vengeance, moving away from rage and retribution. And, at some point, closure can continue only with forgiveness and, if possible, reconciliation. With that comes the realization that we – who have been grievously hurt – also pay a price when the murderer is put to death. The closure journey, with enough time, always reaches the steep slope of forgiveness. Forgiveness itself is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become. The top of the steep slope of forgiveness is best reached with the face-to-face declaration, “I forgive you.” Capital punishment prevents us from being able to reach that goal. Bud Welch lost his daughter at Oklahoma City and he opposes the death penalty. Because of the execution of Timothy McVeigh, Bud Welch will never be able to have his healing and growth reach fruition. Bud Welch will never be able to face Timothy McVeigh and say, “I forgive you.” That moment would not have been for Timothy McVeigh, it would have been for Bud Welch. Abolishing the death penalty is not for the guilty, it is for the innocent who want to heal and need to reclaim their life and future.

There is no justice in listening to those in so much pain that in an effort to escape their pain they are willing to yank the trapdoor lever, pull the gun trigger, throw the electric switch, or push the syringe. Justice does not come from pain and anger. Justice is not about condemnation. Justice is about restoration. Justice comes from placing more value on life than on death, placing more value on rehabilitation than on retribution. Justice comes from placing more value on the lives of our loved ones than on their deaths. Justice comes from defiantly turning the other cheek in a demand to be treated as an equal. Justice comes from investing in the restoration of the lives of those who have hurt us. There is justice in a successful rehabilitation. Strangely enough, a successful rehabilitation means that the criminal personality has died and in its place is resurrected a new person - healed, restored, made whole and transformed. There is justice in a failed rehabilitation. A failed rehabilitation means that we have better protected the rights of the innocent by protecting the rights of the guilty. A failed rehabilitation means that we have found a better way than the evil and destruction of the crime, that instead of retribution and death, we have chosen rehabilitation and life. A failed rehabilitation means that we have been faithful to the call and grace of God and lived the Good News as the Kingdom of God.

You have heard that it was said, .....An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, .....turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, .....give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, .....go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, .....and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, .....You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and .....pray for those who persecute you, .....so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; .....for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, .....and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, .....what reward do you have? .....Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, .....what more are you doing than others? .....Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ............................................................................................( Matthew 5:38-48 )

To some, that scripture from Matthew is a call for a passivity that will lead only to the suffering and death of a martyr.

We forget that martyr does not mean “sufferer.” It really means “witness.” Jesus did not suffer because he wanted to or because he could not help it. He suffered because he deliberately provoked the religious authorities to show their true selves. He succeeded. He forced them to reveal the truth about themselves, about their self-serving and limited conception of their holy task. In the process, he died. But in dying, he witnessed to the love and forgiveness of God even for those who killed him. For our sakes, he would not compromise that ultimate truth.

When suffering is the only possible means of witnessing effectively, we accept it as Christians. By the grace of God, it has proved very powerful over the ages. But for most of us most of the time, the best way to witness to the truth is not by suffering. The best way to witness is by standing up, holding up your head, telling what really happened, making a fuss, leaving an abusive situation, calling for justice.

Christian faith does have a commitment to martyrdom – martyrdom in its true meaning as “witnessing” to the love and truth of God. Martyrdom does not mean living like a doormat. There is nothing in the behavior or teaching of Jesus that encourages a life of complete passivity, a life that invites people to step on us. The life of forgiveness would be a strange and harmful kindness if it meant encouraging people in actions that are not good for themselves or for the people they harm.

Forgiveness is not about the past, it is about the future. Forgiveness is about the people doing the forgiving – who we are and who we are becoming. Forgiveness is about turning loose of the past so that we can live fully in the present while we build a new and surprising future with God and with one another. Forgiveness is about closing the door on the past and keeping open a door for future reconciliation and rebuilding. Forgiveness is more about being direct than being diplomatic. Forgiveness calls things by their true names. Forgiveness is not timid, it is fearless. Forgiveness is neither mealy-mouthed nor abusive, it is straightforward. Forgiveness does not seek to harm others by telling the truth. Neither does it refrain from telling the truth just because someone might be inconvenienced or their wrongs brought to light. Forgiveness is not a retreat from reality. To the contrary, it always looks outward. Forgiveness assumes a bold and engaged way of living. ..( excerpted from Forgiven and Forgiving, L. William Countryman, pp.70-71, 76-77 )

*** S P O I L E R *** *** A L E R T ***

This section reveals critical plot details and events of The Shack

If you have not read The Shack, then you might want to skip this section.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

GOD: (speaking to Mack about forgiving the man who kidnapped and murdered Mack's 6-year-old daughter and youngest child, Missy) This is not about shaming you. I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation. They don’t produce one speck of wholeness or righteousness. ... Today we are on a healing trail to bring closure to this part of your journey - not just for you, but for others as well. Today, we are throwing a big rock into the lake, and the resulting ripples will reach places you would not expect. ... Son, you need to speak it, to name it. MACK: Papa, how can I ever forgive that son of a bitch who killed my Missy? If he were here today, I don't know what I would do. I know it isn't right, but I want him to hurt like he hurt me... If I can't get justice, I still want revenge. GOD: Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him. MACK: Redeem him? I don't want you to redeem him! I want you to hurt him, to punish him, to put him in hell... GOD: (Papa waited patiently for the emotions to ease.) MACK: I'm stuck, Papa. I can't just forget what he did, can I? GOD: Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat. MACK: But I thought you forgot our sins. GOD: Mack, I am God. I forgot nothing. I know everything. ... There is no law demanding that I bring your sins to mind. They are gone when it comes to you and me, and they run no interference in our relationship. MACK: But this man... GOD: But he too is my son. I want to redeem him. MACK: So what then? I just forgive him and everything is okay, and we become buddies? GOD: Forgiveness does not establish relationship. I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. Forgiveness is an incredible power – a power you share with [me], a power [I give] to all [I indwell] so that reconciliation can grow. MACK: I don't think I can do this. GOD: Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don't you want to cut that off? And in doing so, you'll release him from a burden that he carries whether he knows it or not - acknowledges it or not. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well. MACK: I do not love him. GOD: Not today, you don’t. But I do, not for what he’s become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on the nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate. ... Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their minds and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release him from judgement, but without true change, no real relationship can be established. MACK: So forgiveness does not require me to pretend what he did never happened? GOD: How can you? But you can love him in the face of it. Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should he finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes – and this may seem incomprehensible to you right now – that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Believe me, the last thing this man is, is free. And you have no duty to justice in this. I will handle that. MACK: Help me, Papa. Help me! What do I do? How do I forgive him? GOD: Tell him. Just say it out loud. There is power in what my children declare. MACK: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. GOD: Mackenzie, you are such a joy. MACK: So is it all right if I’m still angry? GOD: Absolutely! What he did was terrible. He caused incredible pain to many. It was wrong, and anger is the right response to something that is so wrong. But don’t let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving him and removing your hands from around his neck. ...................................( excerpted from: The Shack, William Paul Young, pp. 225-229 )

Jesus does more than answer with words from the strict law of the Old Testament. Jesus lifts those words of love and forgiveness from the midst of the law and very plainly reveals to all of us that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – these words are the very heart and essence of the law, these words are what the purpose of the law has always been.

God has a purpose for each one of us. The purpose of God for each one of us is reconciliation – reconciliation between each other and reconciliation between ourselves and God. God is engaged in a relentless search for the wayward children of God. God is the loving parent who never stops watching for the prodigal child ( Luke 15:11-32 ). God is the cleaning woman who never, never gives up searching for the one lost coin ( Luke 15:8-10 ). God is the good shepherd who never, never, never gives up searching for the one lost sheep ( Luke 15:3-7, Matthew 18:10-14 ). If God does not give up on us, then who are we to give up on each other?

In the play “All My Sons” by Tennessee Williams, a father, Joe Keller, is finally made to realize that he sold defective engines to the United States Air Force during World War II. The defective engines were responsible for several fatal plane crashes including the one that killed his own son. Late in the play, Joe Keller faces the hard reality of the conviction and condemnation of his own conscience and then tragically accepts through suicide that all the men who died in the place crashes for which he was directly responsible were indeed “all my sons.”

In the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” the victim is described only as “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” ( Luke 10:25-37 ). Because of the location of his trip, we assume that he is Judean. Nothing is said about his race or marital status or family, his political or occupational or educational achievements, his economic status, his sexual preference, whether he has a criminal record, whether he is HIV or STD positive, whether he is a substance abuser - we know nothing about his goodness or badness or blandness. We know nothing of his character or history. His rescuer is a Samaritan and we are as ignorant of the Samaritan as we are of the Judean who was robbed and beaten. It is important to remember that at the time of the telling of this parable, Judah and Samaria were as cordial as present day Israel and Palestine. All we know is what happened to the Judean and how the Samaritan responded and that the response of the Samaritan was right and good and holy. The response of the Samaritan illustrates the Good News in action. In this parable, the response of the Samaritan portrays how we are to be the Kingdom of God - here and now - regardless of personal safety or blind assumptions, regardless of cultural expectations or dissuasions, regardless of empire requirements or restrictions.

Contrast these two views of the family of humanity. Tennessee Williams presents a narrow Old Testament view. We are bonded together through guilt and sin under the spiritual parentage of a wrathful God. The parable of the Good Samaritan presents a view that says each one of us is a child of God, resurrected by the grace of God, transformed by the love of God, and as children of God, we are reconciled and united by and for hospitality, generosity, justice and service.

Our mortal journey moves from life to death. Our faith journey moves from death to life. Our witness moves from retribution to rehabilitation, from vengeance to forgiveness. We will be free of the evil of the crime, the paralysis of the grief, the blindness of vengeance when we decide it is more important to celebrate with our lives the light of the lives of our lost loved ones instead of memorializing their loss by dwelling in the darkness of their death. We will be healed when we can say to the face of the wrong-doers, “Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez, you are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven.” We will be reconciled and will have traveled well the forgiveness road when we can say that Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez are children of God, the same as us, and we - the children of God - do not need abandonment or destruction or death. We, the children of God, need justice as a source of restoration. We, the children of God, need rehabilitation and forgiveness and reconciliation. We, the children of God, need grace and resurrection and transformation.

Justice is a righteous act. Justice is an act of righteousness, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconciliation. Justice can never be served or achieved with a wrongful act or with an act that makes justice impossible.

God does not call us to a life of war, violence, justice as condemnation and retribution, or hate - or to a nebulous life yet to be lived at some undefinable place at some unknowable time in an unpredictable future that is perpetually and uselessly beyond our grasp and existence.

God does call us to live - here and now - a  life of peace, a life of non-violence without vengeance, a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, a life of justice as rehabilitation and restoration, a life of hospitality, generosity, service and love. God does call us to live - here and now - the Good News. God does call us to be - here and now - the Kingdom of God.

Amen

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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. 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. 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.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

in sequence, the previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan: RECLAIMING CHURCH........still the #1 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and ...........................the lead article in a series calling for a radical Second Reformation ..................in Christian theology and in the structure of the institutional church and ..............in the family of faith - all to be considered as a way of living here and now. GOD IS......................................the #6 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. ....................More of an on-going participatory meditation than a finished definition. RECLAIMING GOD................a continuation of and response to GOD IS... RECLAIMING MIRACLES ...Miracles are prohibitively expensive. RECLAIMING NOT................now the #3 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and RECLAIMING NOT...................the controversial list of what is not the Good News. RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ...what is the Good News.

...with great love and appreciation, this article is dedicated to: Jason Sloan, my younger son, who continues to love me and has never given up on his imperfect earthly father, and Carol Sloan, my wife, whose steadfast love and loyalty is a blessing and a treasure beyond measure, worth, and words.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It will be a few months before another article can be posted. It is time for me to return to the classroom as a member of the Ivy Tech CIS Adjunct Faculty. Speaking engagements can be arranged at: dcsloan128@msn.com.