Thursday, December 31, 2009

For the New Year-

Fun for the New Year- Barry McGuire sing Bullfrogs and Butterflies, and this is better than the "Eve of Destruction." Jesus changes everything

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Bhagavad-Gita, the Bible: grief and being human

My final religious studies class was World Religions. I have in the past written about my teacher who was a Wiccan and taught all religions from an eastern slant. She was not a religious studies teacher by profession but headed the Women’s Studies department. We did become friends as I endured her ‘blessed be’ at the end of every class and she endured my evangelical outlook. But realizing I was not going to really receive the teaching I needed on world religions I threw up my hands and spent the rest of my semester exploring, in papers, the difference between Christianity and other world religions.

One of the papers I wrote was entitled, “The Bhagavad-Gita, The New Testament: Grief and Being Human.”

Here is the paper slightly redone including a change in the title:

Both the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bible deal with grief. (1) An emotion that is common among humans. One sacred book affirms grief as an important part of being human, while the other book suggests that grief misleads and directs people away from reality. Exploring both the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bible allows the reader to understand which sacred text affirms people in their humanity.

The negative influence of grief in the Bhagavad-Gita is expressed by Arjuna who, while facing a huge battle, dialogues with Krishna, one of the manifestations of Vishnu and Arjuna’s charioteer. Arjuna expresses his desire not to fight. He is concerned that he will be killing “fathers, and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, sons, brothers, grandsons, father-in-law, dear friends, and many other familiar faces.” (31) Arjuna gives as his argument not only the pain of killing loved ones but also devastation, vice, mixing of caste, and broken families.

Krishna’s reply to him, which sets the basis for the philosophical foundations of the Bhagavad-Gita, is the Gita’s form of renunciation. The Bhagavad-Gita completely sets aside the human act of grief. Krishna says, “Your words are wise, Arjuna, but your sorrow is for nothing. The truly wise mourn neither for the living nor for the dead.” (38) And “Death is certain for the born. Rebirth [reincarnation] is certain for the dead. You should not grieve for what is unavoidable.” (38)

His statements are based on the viewpoint, “that which is non-existent can never come into being, and that which is can never cease to be. Those who have known the innermost Reality know also the nature of is and is not.” (36)Here ‘is not’ is the universe; ‘is’ is the one the only reality. The Atman is reality, the one, Brahman within the illusion of the universe including humanity.

According to the Bhagavad-Gita it doesn’t matter which path one takes to realize the Atman within; it may be the “yoga of right action” or contemplation. The important point is that the seeker understands the identity of the Atman as Brahman. Krishna emphasized the monistic world view when he stated “Who sees the separate/lives of all creatures/united in Brahman/brought forth from Brahman/Himself finds Brahman/not subject to change/Is the infinite Atman/without beginning/beyond the gunas [three material strands that define personality].” (105) In other words the Brahman is the same as the Atman, and the world that the Atman operates within is not real but illusion.

While Krishna is pictured as a personal deity, and the followers of Krishna are encouraged toward a more active devotional life (the Bhakti Marga tradition) there is still the view of the non-importance and non-reality of the material world which marks most of the variations of Eastern thought. This allows for a strong development of ethics for the sake of moksha, that is, the realization of Atman as Brahman. But it also destroys the personal emotions of the individual. If one is forgiving and contented, it is also because the individual has not been hurt by the other, nor has he hurt the other. All of that is simply an illusion.

For example, Krishna tells Arjuna, Dream not you do/ The deed of the killer/ Dream not the power/ Is yours to command it.” (37)

The New Testament letter written by Paul to the Thessalonians states, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who sleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:13-14)”

This was not a rebuke, but a word of comfort to those Paul knew had “received the word in much tribulation.” The early Christians had grief but not without hope, and that hope had a great deal to do with the resurrection of the body. In fact, Jesus wept as he stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, and then he called Lazarus from the tomb.

Paul also wrote to the Corinthian Church, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7: 10)” Because of a worldview that not only posits God as personal and loving, but also as a God who created the universe as a reality out of nothing, the material world has importance. Grief over sin and death is allowed since it is real sin and real loss. The grief only becomes useless when the person experiencing it refuses to turn toward God for gifts, that is, the gift of forgiveness and life. Humans experience grief and joy as reality.

The Bhagavad-Gita only affirms the one, Brahman. All else is illusion. It does not affirm the reality of the universe nor the relationships that promote shared emotions among people. It offers several Eastern ways of moksha, the most important being Bhaki Marga, the way of devotion. And devotion implies detachment from all human emotion. Yet, the goal of such devotion is a loss of distinction between the individual and the one. All but the one reality is erased including the individual.

On the other hand, the Bible affirms not only the personal and transcendent Lord, but the reality of the universe and the distinction of creature from creator. Grief is treated as an important human emotion and belongs not only to humanity but also to the incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ.

1.For this I have used, Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God, Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, Intro, Aldous Huxley, paperback edition(A Mentor Book, New American Library 1972)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Islam's connection to Christianity versus Judaism's connection

He turned his eyes about him; his mouth opened and his lips curled back over his teeth. Then he seemed to make an effort towards control, and began to mutter something to himself. ‘Not much yet, lord god!’ Richardson heard. ‘Slowly, lord, slowly! I’ll make sacrifice—the blood of the sacrifice,’ and at that a sudden impatient anger caught the young man.

‘Fool,’ he cried out, ‘there’s only one sacrifice, and the God of gods makes it, not you.’ (Charles Williams The Place of the Lion)

Many years ago, when I began college, I took some classes that would give me knowledge about some of my immediate experiences. For instance my husband and I, with our six children, often made trips to an orphanage in Baja so I took a class on Mexican history. The teacher was intrigued with the history of the Aztec period so we didn’t get very far into the modern history of Mexico. We stood far too long around the bloody altars of the Aztec’s human sacrifices.

To supplement my knowledge of the Hebrew Bible I took a wonderful class on Jewish history taught by Mrs. Gabriel. That class was one of my favorite classes even though the teacher used the book The Passover Plot to teach about the beginning of Christianity. Yes, I understand that Jewish people do not believe Mary was a virgin or that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified.

So Walid Khalidi, the scholar who spoke at the UN this year (2009) on the "Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people" did not shock me when he inferred that Jewish scholars held some very poor views of Jesus and Mary.

But I was shocked while listening to the videos of Khalidi’s UN speech posted at the
Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Khalidi, who is speaking about his concern that Israel is trying to make Jerusalem a Jewish Capital, in the second video, attempts to make the case that Islam is closer to Christianity than Judaism because of the former’s high regard for Jesus and Mary.

But while Islam does hold Mary and Jesus in high regard one might ask, “Which Jesus and Mary would that be?” Or “Why is the Hebrew Bible Sacred to Christians but not the Qur’an?” And of great importance to those who love Jesus and love their brothers and sisters in Christ, “Why in light of Khalidi’s appeal to the relationship between Muslims and Christians do most Islamic countries
persecute those Christians who evangelize Muslims?”

Khalidi believes it is wonderful that the Muslim God did not allow Jesus to suffer crucifixion and instead raised him to heaven to return at the end of time. And he also sees the Islamic belief that Mary was a virgin as a sign of Islam’s strong connection to Christianity. But Islam’s connection to Christianity falls and is broken on the person of Jesus Christ as do all other attempts at redefining the biblical Jesus.

To the Muslim, Jesus is not God and so, although Mary may have been a virgin, she was not carrying God in her womb, but merely a perfect human who was to be a prophet. And if Jesus was neither God nor died on the cross, and therefore was not raised from the dead, then as Paul stated, our Christian faith is worthless and our sins are not forgiven. (The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins is the holy Trinity’s great gift.) But this worthlessness of the Christian faith is doubly certain without the Hebrew Scriptures for then Christ for us would have no meaning at all.

John Calvin was quick to remind his readers that the Jewish sacrifices and their sacraments looked forward to Jesus Christ the perfect sacrifice. And when Jesus taught his disciples, it was always from the deep riches of the Hebrew text. When Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples after his resurrection, he explained his mission, suffering and resurrection from the Hebrew Scriptures, including the law, the prophets and the writings. His words, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” It is from the Old Testament text that we know Jesus not from the Qur’an.

If Khalidi wants to prove there is a close connection between Christianity and Islam he must go to the biblical text and understand who Jesus Christ is within that text. He could then reframe his assertion offering a true understanding of who Christians believe Jesus is. Next he must understand the close connection between the Jewish and Christian community since they share the same sacred text, the Hebrew Bible. They also share the same biblical understanding about God and humanity. That is that humans are all sinful and in need of God’s forgiving grace. And God, for both peoples, is the one who provides the sacrifice:

“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided. (Genesis 22:13-14)”

Finally Khalidi must plead for his own faith leaders to stop persecuting Christian converts as well as those
Christians whose communities have existed since the first centuries of Christendom.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A merry, holy Christmas to all of us

" But as for you Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of his brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. This One will be our peace."(Micah 5:2-5a)

Monday, December 21, 2009

The goddess, Belhar & Accra at Stony Point

Two friends, who probably don’t know each other, sent me notices about a conference at Stony Point, “Confessing When Empire Trembles: Belhar and Accra Confessions in Conversation--
A Colloquium on North American & Caribbean Reformed Justice Theology.” I noticed immediately that the title of the conference does not say confessing Christ, but just confessing.

I am unfamiliar with most of the speakers, but one does stand out. That is Rebecca Todd Peters, Professor at Elon University and Editor and contributor to Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World. Peters has also written a contributing chapter to the book
Body and Soul” Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love. The chapter is entitled, “Embracing God as Goddess: Exploring Connections between Female Sexuality, Naming the Divine and Struggling for Justice.”

One announcement about the Conference suggests that the speakers are very good, and another that the Accra Confession is “non-doctrinal” in its critique. Both of these thoughts contribute to my own perceptions of the problems looming in the Church if Belhar is adopted into our Book of Confessions. The
Accra Confession is about economics with a rather hazy socialist point of view. While it makes some good points about the needs of the marginalized and needy it gives economic definitions and interpretations that many in the Reformed churches would not agree with.

Probably Accra’s biggest problem is not the stance it is coming from, socialism versus capitalism, but rather the idea that a confession for the Church could be a confession about economics no matter from which position. A Confession must first confess Christ and then allow all Church problems to fall under his Lordship.

But that Peters is one of the speakers for this conference is telling. She has been very much involved in goddess theology as well as the Re-Imagining movement. Peters' contention is that we need a changing god for our changing times. She sees the idea of an unchanging God being in contradiction to the evil in the world. In Body and Soul Peters is also looking for an image of God that would allow for gay sex and sex without the boundaries of marriage. Beyond sexual issues Peters sees the idea of an unchanging God as obstructive towards the world’s poor.

She writes:

“Given that tragedy and pain are part of the human experience, a theology of an immovable God is woefully inadequate to help the majority of the world’s people make sense of their lives. For people who experience lives of relative comfort and privilege, this theological construct may sometimes suffice. For those with a steady paycheck, a healthy family, a decent education, and the comfort and power to secure a First World existence, the image of God as all good, all powerful, and unchangeable can contribute to a personal sense of ‘blessedness’ or well-being. It enables an interpretation of life circumstances as ‘blessings’ that God has bestowed. As long as one remains inside that world, this theology may remain adequate.”(164)

Peters sets up a straw person since most orthodox Christians find their comfort in Jesus Christ and his redemption. On the other hand if the Christian finds their comfort in material things they have failed to consider the unchanging God of the Bible who demands total discipleship. A changing god or goddess or even a changing universal force is no answer.

Peters goes on to suggest that women’s life changes make a good model for how God could be perceived. Stating that “If God is imaged as a divine being ‘in control,’ then control itself becomes a desirable moral norm,” Peters sees a model of non-control in such sexual reactions as orgasm and erection. She states:

“A God/ess open to change, vulnerability, and partnership exercises a nontraditional form of power rooted in relationality and reciprocity. These, then, can become the moral ground for ethical behavior in the world, including sexual behavior.” (168)

Notice in all of this there is no mention of Jesus Christ. And yet all of the problems Peters is grappling with are wrapped up in him. As the Christian faces evil in the world, including their own sinful nature, Jesus Christ is the Father’s answer. How can a Christian leave that out of the equation? And how can orthodox believers trust a conference about confessions when at least one of its speakers desires to change God’s revelation of himself. And how can we, in the midst of a denomination that allows leadership among those who reject biblical authority and in many cases the Lordship of Christ, trust these confessions when they do not have a strong focus on confessing Jesus Christ as Lord of the Church.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent: The suffering servant King, who came and is coming

“Surely our grief’s He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquities of us all to fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:4-6)”

“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like the Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)”

Does that all sound like Easter rather than Advent and Christmas? And how is that all reconciled; how is the suffering reconciled with the ruling king? That is the Christmas/Advent story complete, that the Incarnate One, Jesus, fully God, fully human, took on our flesh and suffered for our sinfulness. But also that He is the King and his dominion is everlasting.

Before the text in Daniel speaks of the Son of Man it speaks of the Ancient of Days.(Daniel 7:9-10) John Calvin in his commentary speaks of the Ancient of Days ascending to sit on his throne writing that the meaning has to do with the whole Incarnation. Now at the birth of Christ the Glory of God is revealed in his person. And although Calvin does not say it, the Messiah Jesus reveals God as much in his compassionate suffering as in his power over all powers of evil. His death for our sins speaks to the graciousness of our God.

But Calvin goes on to write of the importance of Daniel's vision for the Church. The Church in her trouble and weakness must look to the suffering servant who now has the final right of dominion. Calvin writes:

“For by these words he teaches familiarly and openly, why Christ is the Supreme King, namely, for the perpetual government of his Church in this world. We ought to look up to heaven in very deed whenever the state of the Church is under consideration, since its happiness is neither earthly, nor perishable, nor temporary, though nothing sublunary is either firm or perpetual. But when the Prophet says Christ’s dominion is eternal, he doubtless signifies the constant endurance of his monarchy, even to the end of the world, when he shall gather his people together to a happy life and an eternal inheritance. Although, therefore, celestial immortality is comprehended under these words, yet in a former passage the Prophet pointed out the perpetual existence of the Church in this world, because Christ will defend it, although daily subject to numberless causes of destruction. And who would not assert the almost daily perishing of the Church, if God did not wonderfully preserve it by the hand of his only begotten Son? Hence it is correct to understand the phrase, His kingdom shall be the kingdom of an age. And thus we receive no common consolation, when we see the Church tossed about amidst various fluctuations, and almost buried and devoured by continual shipwrecks, yet Christ is ever stretching forth his hand to preserve it, and to save it from every sorrowful and horrible species of destruction.”

Advent is a promise to creation, but it is first a promise to the Church, to the Sons and Daughters of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:18-25)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Music and Jenny

My middle daughter Jenny McHenry, the one who has six children like I do, is graduating with a BA in geography this Saturday. A BIG party is happening Sunday afternoon at my house. So I will be very busy. So for Friday and Saturday here is some great music that will hopefully bring back memories to some and just give others pleasure.

The first is Rye Cooder with, as usual some other great musicians and singers.

The other is John Renbourn on the guitar. Every so often he sings a few lines that are wonderful words; so listen carefully.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent, a Christmas sermon by Dietrich Bonheoffer and the battle for orthodoxy

Christmas in Nazi Germany, for the Confessing Church members and pastors, must have been a time when Advent took on a deeper sense of reality, not only the birth of Christ but the second coming had significant meaning. The promises, one fulfilled the other coming, were full of hope, the only hope. picture by Stephen Larson

Simple parish political battles, in the midst of the ideological confusion of the era, were overlaid with deep theological rifts. The battle was between members of the Confessing Churches and the German Christians whose members ranged from pagan to moderate. When a church lost a pastor the battle was between church authorities who were often German Christians and church members and other pastors who belonged to the Confessing Church.

Kyle Jantzen in his book Faith and the Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany writes of the Nauen Parish and the need for a pastor there. The new candidate, Gustav Gille, preached a rather political sermon but included “the Trinitarian version of the invocation and the Apostle’s Creed.” Later it was found that he did not accept all of the Apostles Creed and in his past church made use of syncretistic services. It turned out that Gille was a German Christian activist.

There were many protests against him most from those who had some connection to the Confessing Church. Some of the protest consisted of concern that he neglected to preach about Jesus, that he taught that Jesus was only a model teacher rather than the one who saved by his life and death. After four years of battle this particular parish won and they were appointed a pastor who would simply preach that salvation was in Jesus.

The parish conflicts were not consistent across Nazi Germany, but many of the concerns were the same. Many church leaders were aligned with the Nazi political system. Their ideology which above all else defined “racial superiority” in an extremely “narrow sense” was inconsistent with Christian orthodoxy. As Jantzen puts it:

“… Nazi Ideology violated many core Christian doctrines, such as the common sinfulness of all humanity, the universal judgment of God, the salvation of all humanity through the sacrificial death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and the mission of the church to live as a unified body of Christ on earth.”

Looking at the sermons of some Confessing Church members is helpful in understanding that this was a battle between basic Christian doctrine and an imposed ideology which was partly right wing (nationalism) partly liberal and partly pagan. I was thinking as I began this post of Advent and an Advent sermon by Dietrich Bonheoffer given sometime between 1938-1940.
My intention was to copy out some of the sermon. It has four parts; I will copy the first two. It is on the second coming of Jesus and uses the text, Luke 21:25-36.

“Johann Christoph Blumhardt (nineteenth-century Pietist in Wurttemberg) relates how he kept a new carriage in his parish grounds, which would be used for the first time by the Lord Christ when he comes, ‘then I will drive him in it.’ How certain the waiting Blumhardt was about the coming of Christ! How he planned his daily life so that he would be ready for that moment! His mind was fixed upon how he would fare at that moment when he stood before the Lord Jesus. Such certainty is something unknown to us. There is nothing certain, not even our death is certain. Only the second coming of Christ is certain. This faith of Blumhardt is great, but it is too small for the second coming of Christ. For when it happens, the world will not appear as it now appears. The whole creation will be shaken and changed. Sun, moon, and stars will be displaced in their orbits. When God comes to earth, the stars must lose their light before him. The earth itself will be shattered. Creation reaches out towards him. It feels itself dissolving before him. The sea roars and tosses in anguish and joy. And if the universe knows him, how much more will human beings whose Savior and Judge he is. They will in the same manner be aroused when he comes, fearful of the things that are about to happen. Judgment will be over the whole of humankind when he comes to bring the old world to an end.

Only on one place in the earth will it be quite different. There will not be anguish at that place, but joy, not fear, but heads will be held high: that place is the congregation of Christ’s people. They know he comes to redeem them. They are like miners who have been trapped in the depths of the mine, who have suffered, long shut up in the dark, who hear the knocking and the breaking down of walls coming closer. Is it the final caving-in of the mine or the rescuer coming? ‘Lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.’ For Christians this world is like a fetter, it is too narrow for them. ‘Dearest Lord Jesus, why do you wait so long? Come, Lord! Here on earth, I am so frightened.’ The earth, its suffering and temptation makes us anxious, but Christ makes us glad, he brings redemption.[1]”

Come Lord Jesus.

[1] Edwin Robertson, Editor, Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Christmas Sermons

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus Christ the only Way, Truth and Life

Is there a ‘Perennial Philosophy’ which is “embodied in Jesus and other sages of the ages” so that Jesus’ words from Scripture “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me,” is merely an overarching new age outlook that sees the true reality of humanity as a single divine consciousness? That is the thought of retired Presbyterian Pastor John Wilde on the comment section of my blog posting Jesus, the coming King. Picture by Stephen Larson

Is that really what the Scripture is saying in John, chapter 14 the sixth verse, or is it something else far more profound? Isn’t it rather that Jesus is proclaiming that the God who is beyond us, yet personal, loves us so much that here He is in a unique person, prepared to live with us, to die for us.

And isn’t he saying that the God who cares that much for us knows us so well that He knows we can’t get our lives together by ourselves. No reaching some kind of ecstatic awareness or consciousness since we are not god. No connections to a universal goodness is possible without Jesus Christ the eternal Son of the Father. It is that born again part that is so hard for some to bear.

As Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:3)

John Calvin makes an interesting observation on the ‘truly, truly’ of this verse. He writes, “Christ repeats the word ‘truly’ (‘amen’) to catch his attention. For when he was going to speak about the most important and weighty of all subjects, he needed to make Nicodemus more attentive; otherwise he might have passed over this whole discourse carelessly and lightly.” So this is a very important subject.

Calvin goes on for several pages explaining that ‘born again’ implies a complete renewal of a person and that this was the work of the Holy Spirit. He also insists we are not united to the universal church nor can we be called children of God without a second birth.

So the classical Hindu, a great many branches of Buddhism, perhaps the pantheistic Sufis and many westerners involved in New Age ideology will accept the idea of a perennial philosophy which sees all of reality as one. And those adherents will seek in various ways to realize their true Self which they see as the unity of all. But the Christian belongs to a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the resurrected one, and we, his adopted brothers and sisters are united to Him.

The work, whether meditation, dharma (duty as in Hinduism) or bhatki (devotion), of the various Eastern religions supposedly brings about the state of consciousness where one becomes one with god, the universe, the true self, etc. This is not what Jesus does; this is not what he means. We are not ignorant of our true self; we are ignorant of our sinfulness. The Holy Spirit convicts us and takes the word and makes Christ’s gift of life clear to us. The Father receives us into the Kingdom as sons and daughters because of Jesus.

As Professor Andrew Purves puts it, Christ takes us like the mother cat who takes the baby kitten by the scruff of their neck. He overpowers us and gives us his righteousness bought by his death on the cross. Jesus turns us around and causes us to walk as renewed people.

Interestingly enough, the conversation about Jesus as the only way and perennial philosophy began when I quoted from the Barmen Declaration both John 14:6 but also this:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (8.10–8.12)"

The idea of a perennial philosophy would be another revelation and a syncretism of other gods alongside the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.

The Confessing Church of Germany during the Nazi era saw Hitler, Nazism and the ideology of the German Christians as other figures, truths and powers they must deny. They weren’t claiming the I Am for themselves.

But they also looked down that long road of the future and worried that the Church might be deceived by other ideologies. They named, “historical events or reason, culture, aesthetic feelings, progress, or other power and figures,” as that which should not have a claim beside the Holy Scripture on the Church. For the Christian there is no perennial philosophy but only Jesus Christ and his word the Old and New Testament.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The hardened heart, the joyful heart

Perhaps redundant?

I once stood outside my favorite theatre, Tower, handing out papers with a quote from C.S. Lewis and talking to people attending the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” I was with the group Apologetics Resource Center. I was the director at the time. We actually had some wonderful experiences until another group, who were attempting to boycott the theatre, saw that we were enjoying ourselves and that a lot of people were talking to us. They came and stood by us. Because we just wanted to talk about the real Jesus not boycott Tower we went home. Picture of Shasta by Stephen Larson

I have been thinking a lot lately about C.S. Lewis and his books such as The Great Divorce, my favorite That Hideous Strength and one some friends reminded me of today, from the Narnia books The Silver Chair.

Lewis had a lot to say about what it was to be a Christian. He had a mind that was able to grab your heart with his wonderful stories while at the same time grabbing your mind with logical argument. He had his adversaries; that is those he was always contending against. He was a Christian Romantic and he despised the ideas of the logical positivists, that is, those philosophers who believed that nothing could be known but what could be supposedly proved empirically.

For some of the logical positivist such things as ethics were not provable and therefore not valid. There could be no-such branch of philosophy as ethics, or religion or aesthetics, etc. Lewis once allowed his readers to watch a man so taken in by such ideas that he falls into hell with hardly a whimper.

In That Hideous Strength at the end with all evil falling apart while those on the side of angels and mythical gods mostly watch and plan for a banquet the departure happens. No, not the rapture that some Christians believe in, but instead, the breakup and departure of evil and the final corruption of awful plans.

Sometimes I think that Lewis understood what that verse “Wherever the corpse is there the vultures will gather” meant more than anyone. (I don’t understand it at all.) In the Hideous Strength the scientists who are evil, they tear down cottages and experiment on people and animals, have cut off a man’s head and have it connected to something they think gives it life. They are planning on making others worship their experiment .

In the end, they all show up somehow before this severed head. That is they show up before the bear, who was very hungry, ate it. It is here in the midst of the confusion that the logical positivist departs. As Lewis writes:

“…he knew everything was lost.

It is incredible how little this knowledge moved him. It could not, because he had long ceased to believe in knowledge itself. What had been in his far-off youth a mere aesthetic repugnance to realities that were crude or vulgar, had deepened and darkened year after year, into a fixed refusal of everything that was in any degree other them himself. He had passed from Hegel to Hume, thence through Pragmatism, and thence through Logical Positivism, and out at last into the complete void. The indicative mood now corresponded to no thought his mind could entertain. He had willed with his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him. The last scene of Dr. Faustus where the man raves and implores on the edge of Hell is, perhaps stage fire. The last moments before damnation are not often so dramatic. Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him at that moment more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. With eyes wide open, seeing the endless terror is just about to begin and yet (for the moment) unable to feel terrified, he watches passively, not moving a finger for his own rescue while the last links with joy and reason are severed , and drowsily sees the trap close over his soul.”

While taking philosophy, a subject I love, and writing poetry I put the two together and wrote this.


(With apologies or Apologetics to A.J.Ayer and Wittgenstein)

Children deserting the mixture of string pulled,
wheel driven, color massed meld of toys,
grab for brown ordinary boxes.
Boxes with four sides, square, sure of borders.
Boxes closed or open are split through
by the utter fullness of children's play,
yet, the play is held within the box.

Poets need boxes, boundaries, borders,
for transcendent visions which split through
space/time, night and day.
But, men who create boxes need poets and God and children who play.

The box was very small.
It had no openings.
The logical positivist crouched
dismally, certain of his confinement.
Some attempted to climb out,
knocking against the thin brown sides.
Unable to make statements about the outside they made
circles within.

The Creator of stories demolished the box.
His story protruding and heavy
fell through the bottom
and pushed through the top.

The children, playing in the box,
romped in colorful riot.
They rolled in laughter,
over-spilling the edges,
bursting through
the opened top and bottom,
delighting in eternal play.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Third Sunday in Advent: Jesus who is Wonderful

Third Sunday in Advent: Jesus who is Wonderful

“For a child shall be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The Zeal of the Lord of host will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

One of the funny yet beautiful passages in the Bible that I have written about is the way in which God gave instructions to the mother of Samson about his birth and how she was to take care of him. You can read about the funniness of it in this posting. But the important part is that it is the “angel of the Lord” that brings instructions to Samson’s mother. In those final scenes as the couple make a sacrifice to the angel of the Lord who has refused to give them his name, he says, “Why do you ask my name seeing it is wonderful?” (Judges 13:18)

The next thing that happens is that the angel of the Lord goes up in the flame from the sacrifice, and Manoah, Samson’s father, and his mother realize they have been instructed by God. The Tyndale Commentary on Ruth and Judges notes that “The angel of the Lord is regularly used in the Old Testament to denote the manifestation of the Lord Himself in a theophany.”

The Lord whose name is wonderful is given to us in the Incarnation. Samson was to deliver God’s people from the Philistines; Jesus delivers us from our sins and gives us everlasting life. In his gift of life to us he forever unites us to himself. His kingdom is the true utopia.

Friday, December 11, 2009

C.S. Lewis moving from theism to Christianity

This is a wonderful discussion and portrayal Of C.S. Lewis moving from atheism to theism to Christianity. Enjoy ....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shlomo Sand's book "The Invention of the Jews" from a Christian perspective

I have not finished reading Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People. But I have made a good beginning and have some thoughts that could be placed beside the videos of an interview of Sand’s that is on the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

My first impression has to do with the theologian Paul Tillich. His idea of symbols and whether they can be broken were helpful in looking at Nazi and other totalitarian ideologies and their symbols. Tillich felt that what he saw as the great symbol of Christianity, the cross, was important because the cross as a symbol could be so easily broken. Here I believe he ran up against both a reality and an absolute. The cross is more than a symbol and the whole world is changed if it can be broken.

Sand’s ideas about nations and history are also meant to deal with Nazi ideology and totalitarian nations. With empathy I see him attempting to make sense out of his past. That is, as a Jewish man who is the child of those who suffered under Nazi rule he must be looking through the lens of the question which shape all survivors, “why.”

He is also a historian who knows that it was an idea of essentialism which invaded the thought processes of nations and created the climate for Nazism to rise. And he sees the word ethnos operating in the same manner. As Sand puts it:

”The murderous first half of the twentieth century having caused the concept of race to be categorically rejected, various historians and other scholars enlisted the more respectable concept of ethnos in order to preserve the intimate contact with the distant past. Ethnos, meaning ‘people’ in ancient Greek, had served even before the Second World War as a useful alternative to, or a verbal intermediary between ‘race’ and ‘people.’ But its common ‘scientific’ use began only in the 1950s, after which it spread widely. Its main attraction lies in its blending of cultural background and blood ties, of a linguistic past and biological origin in other words, its combining of a historical product with a fact that demands respect as a natural phenomenon.” (28)

So how does a Christian use Sand’s book? Hopefully, to understand that it was essentialism on the whole that helped to create a totalitarian nation; that it is perhaps ethnos that might lead to the same problems anywhere. A people who see themselves as superior to others because of their past, their culture or their particular strengths tend to look down on others. But still there is a problem with Sand’s book. And this is where Tillich enters the picture for me.

Sand like Tillich believes that by eliminating an absolute, the nation as essential, the nation which arises out of an eternal people and their culture; there can be a prevention of totalitarianism. But he has run into an absolute that cannot be broken on his rock.

The Jewish people are God’s people, his beloved. They are a people with roots in antiquity and this is Sand’s particular anti-theme. Sand sees Israel as he sees other nations. There is no Israel but what belongs to myth and modern history. In other words Israel is an invented nation with myth for its history. For Sand there is no Israelite tribes, no Abraham, no Moses, no Kingdom of David, no exiles.

Sand looks at the Jewish historians based in the Zionist outlook and attempts to show that they were intent on providing a mythological foundation for Israel. He quotes Yitzhak Baer, after writing about his criticism of another Jewish historian who failed to write Jewish history from an ‘organic’ beginning. As Sand puts it the historian had “detached Jewish monotheism from its homeland in the first stage of its appearance, and then erroneously depicted an idealized and fairly comfortable exile. There was no description in his work of the longing for a natural existence in the homeland or the aspiration for sovereignty that had accompanied and defined Jews throughout their wanderings in history.” (101)

But one must disregard the Hebrew Bible as well as such Jewish historians in order to follow Sand. And for the Christian there is no faith without the truthfulness of the Hebrew Bible. When Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two disciples after his resurrection he taught them about himself by reference to the whole Hebrew Bible. “Then beginning with Moses and with all the Prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24: 27)

Also: “Now he said to them. ‘These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24: 44)

Added to Sand’s rejection of the ancient history of the Jews is his rejection of the Jews of Europe and the Middle East as those who are descended from any ancient Hebrew peoples. While this kind of thought has been used by various anti-Semitics, Sand does not intend it that way. But those Christians who use it will eventually fall into such categories if they pick up and use other exaggerated views about the Jewish people.

With empathy and care for the author, still one must not accept the main idea in Sand’s book about the history of the Jews. To use his book or his ideas and interviews as a means of discounting a Jewish State is from a Christian point of view an unfaithful exercise. The idea that Sand’s ideas are helpful can only mean an endorsement of secularism and in many cases anti-Semitism.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Jesus, the coming King

If we listen and agree we shall be deceived, and if we follow we shall fall into hell. As we sat around the tables at our Presbytery meeting talking about what might be a center that the whole Presbytery could agree to, I could only think of our great divide. And in words placed on the Witherspoon Society’s site by their web master I know that the chasm is a spiritual one as wide as eternal death is from everlasting life. It can only be healed if God reaches out in redemption. Picture by Penny Juncker

The words I saw were written by John Shuck a Presbyterian (U.S.A.) pastor in Tennessee. The words are a part of an advent meditation that Doug King saw as “thoughtful” and so posted them on the Witherspoon site. The words:

“What might it mean for Jesus to return? The return of Jesus is a powerful symbol of finding rest, peace, justice, and balance in our personal lives and in our interconnectedness with earth. To sing, ‘come thou long expected Jesus’ is to sing with the expectation of fulfillment for balance and peace.”

The writer of those words, Shuck, goes on to suggest that the kind of return he is writing about will happen if we are willing to give birth, if we we are open to the creativity of “the universe.” Furthermore the kind of anticipation we are to have is “an anticipation” of “an expansion of our consciousness or awareness.”

I am writing about this because I do not understand the outlook of those who search for a central focus which ignores the very heart of the gospel, that is, that Jesus died for sinners. Why are some holding on to an expectation that our center as a denomination or a Presbytery will hold around the building of clothes closests or homeless shelters, while they fail to hold dear the Lord Jesus Christ and the hope of his personal coming.

It seems that for some, such new age theology, equates with the same theology that insists on the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals. And such an impersonal understanding of Jesus just might very well be the only proper way of connecting him to those who wish to allow sin free reign. With such meaning we can throw away the transforming power of Jesus. We can forget to look for him. Forget advent.

As Yeats wrote, the center does not hold. And surely “some rough beast” moves among our shadowed churches wishing to be born in place of the King of Kings.

The truth is the Lord Jesus Christ is returning. He was King, he is King and he will be King forever. We celebrate now the Incarnation, the birth of the eternal Son into our world. That is the Christmas story. But it is so much more. He is the God who lived with us and died for us. He is the God who rose to give us new life.

But it is still more. He is the eternal Son forever fully God and fully human. We are united to him in his resurrection. We are fed and nourished by the Lord of heaven. Nothing can ever separate us from him. He is the coming King who has set up his everlasting Kingdom.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. “ (John 1:14)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sacramento Presbytery passes overture on Belhar Confession

Yesterday,December 5th, the Sacramento Presbytery passed an “Overture on Belhar” to be sent to the 219th General Assembly. The overture motion was brought by Fremont Presbyterian Church, my church. I am very grateful it passed; its words are just right for dealing with the issues revolving around the attempt at adopting Belhar. Originally adopted by the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa to deal with their horrific racism there are those in several North American reformed denominations attempting to misuse the confession. There are advocates wanting to use Belhar to promote gay ordination, for rebuke of Israel and even pluralism.

You can read about those problems here and here and here.

The Overture begins with commendation of all anti-discrimination policies in the Presbyterian Book of Order. It also offers sections from the “Brief Statement of Faith,” and the “Confession of 1967” which clearly and practically speak about and against racial discrimination. Then it asks the General Assembly to discontinue attempting to adopt the Belhar Confession as another confession in the PCUA Book of Confessions.

But it does this with a comment about its link with the Barmen Declaration and a section from Barmen which allows understanding about the boundary that is missing in Belhar which is a proper confession of Christ:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6), “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.... I am the door; of anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (8.10–8.12)"

The rationale for this overture speaks to how confusing Belhar is and offers a quote about what a confession should be written by Dr. Arthur C. Cochrane who spent time with the early Confessing Church in Germany and was a Barth specialist. That quote is:

"A Confession is therefore not the publication of the opinions, convictions, ideals, and value judgments of men. It does not set forth a program or system of theology or ethics. It is not a set of principles or constitution for a fraternal order, social service club, or a religious society. It is not a political or ethical, religious platform. It does not bear witness to certain events, powers, figures, and truths in nature and history that may be championed by certain groups in society.

It confesses Jesus Christ as the one Lord, the one justification and sanctification of men, the one revelation, and the one Word of God which we have to hear, trust and obey in life and in death.

Until it is placed on the 219th GA site, it can be read on the Presbyterian Coalition site under Draft Overture. Look both here and here. I am guiding you to these pages because you may be interested in using some of the other resources found there.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Second Sunday in Advent-Coming to Him in obedience

Second Sunday in Advent.

The savior of our souls, Jesus , was born in a small town in the Middle East. He is the King past, the King who came, lived and died for his people and he is the coming King whose appearance we wait for with anticipation and great joy.

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and to him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 40:10)

The Tyndale Commentary on Genesis points out that some scholars connect this verse to Ezekiel 21:26f. "In words addressed to the last king of Judah: 'Remove the mitre, and take off the crown ... until he comes whose right it is: and I will give it to him.' Here is the best support for the Messianic content which Jewish and Christian exegesis has found in the saying from earliest times."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Praying for faithful Commissioners -up-date

Praying for faithful Commissioners

"...I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for the condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1: 3b-4)

Sacramento Presbytery needs a lot of prayer. Of course we all do but this is for a particular reason. We will be voting for commissioners to General Assembly this Saturday and we have a problem. So far we only have two Elder Commissioner candidates. But that’s not the problem. I am sure others will be nominated from the floor.

But to backtrack, as many people know the former pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church resigned after an Administrative Commission was placed over his Church by our Presbytery. In fact he eventually renounced Jurisdiction of the PCUSA. There have been a lot of rumors and half truths in the papers over the last six months. It always amazes me how wrong news reporters can be on some issues nonetheless something in one of the papers I just read really surprised me.

I had heard, right after PUP was passed by the General Assembly, that the past pastor of Westminster, David Thompson, had ordained two practicing homosexuals. Now I have read an article in the Bay Area Reporter, a gay online paper in the bay area, that he ordained three practicing homosexuals. I think that number is not true but the important part is that one of those ordained is one of the person’s running for commissioner.

As the paper quotes Daniel Roth, "One of his [Thompson] first acts was to speak out for Muslims in our community, and since the war began he's called upon the congregation to pray for the occupied people of Iraq," said Daniel Roth, one of the gay men ordained as a church elder by Thompson. "He's a very popular and beloved pastor."

That ordination should have been challenged when it first happened, now we just need prayer and steadfastness.

In the book of Revelation Jesus gives John instructions to seven churches in Asia Minor. In reading these we see that God knows all about the churches and what is happening in them.To most of the churches he says, I know your deeds. To one church he says I know your tribulation. To another I know where you dwell. These last two are where Christian faithfulness-taking a stand for the Lordship of Christ has brought death. Christians in leadership must stand for the truth of God's word. (Revelation chapter 2 & 3)


Since I asked for prayer I should write about the day. The commissioner was voted in because there was no one else-he loves the Presbyterian Church because we can believe in our own version of God he said- But still he is going. He is a very young man and needs a lot of prayer. That is our next job, praying for him that he might find the true God who can transform and redeem. There was one particular good thing that happened today. I will write about it after Sunday's posting.