Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Belhar Confession: its many possibilites!

In Sunday's sermon, my pastor, Dr. Don Baird, explained how sometimes words are repeated to emphasize the importance of the subject. He used Jesus’ use of verily, verily, and in Isaiah the seraphims' holy, holy, holy as examples. I also am repeating myself and I do want to emphasize a statement that I have made over and over, "A Confession’s main focus must be confessing Jesus Christ."

Carmen Fowler of the Presbyterian Layman has noted in an article, linked to by CHURCHandWORLD, that several committees “support elevating Belhar to confessional status.” In her report she quotes Cynthia Holder Rich, of the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, that “Theologians have used this document to press issues other than race. The overture from Sacramento refers to sexuality issues. You may or may not know that that is part of the international conversation. … This document is about freedom. People of different sexual orientations are not free and so this document could be used to free people.”

Holder Rich gave a presentation on Belhar at the Stony Point Conference, “Confessing when empire trembles: Belhar and Accra Confessions in conversation.” Fowler writes that in referring to that conference Holder Rich stated, “I hope in the context we talk about power rather than strictly border it by the color of people’s skin. Are we able to use this document to … really effectively share power.”

Belhar was a good document meeting the needs of the Churches in South Africa in their quest for ethnic unity in their various churches. But it was and is not a good example of a true confession since it does not focus on confessing Jesus Christ. And that is why such people as Holder Rich, Witherspoon Society’s Eugene TeSelle, [1]one of the original promoters of the confession, Allan Boesak, and the Office of Theology and Worship of the General Assembly Council of the PC (U.S.A.) can so easily attempt to use the confession as a means to achieve their own particular faith goals.

The author of the PCUSA’s study guide for the Belhar Confession writes, “While the impetus for studying the Belhar Confession in the PC (U.S.A.) is racism, Belhar’s strength is that it speaks to more than one form of injustice. By focusing on the unity of the Church, it gives us theological grounding for the ministry of reconciliation amidst all the sins and disputes that divide the Church.”

The author, Eunice T. McGarrahan, goes on to place unity above all concerns, stating “The Church is fractured over ways in which justice should be done, ordination and sexuality, the nature of scripture, and its posture towards the world.” The guide insists that the Church is a poor witness if she does not maintain unity despite these problems.

But no, all Christian discipleship must come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Within the Church ethnic unity is a biblical truth under the Lordship of Christ, as is the authority of Scripture, sexuality or the Church’s “posture toward the world. Without that realization there is no ethnic unity, no obedience to Christ, no foundational truth.

Yet some have insisted that not adopting Belhar because of a few person’s different interpretations of Belhar is unreformed since it is the whole Church that will accept or reject a Confession.[2] There are at least three problems with this view.

The first problem is one I keep returning to. That is that the confession itself is wrong, it does not focus on confessing Jesus Christ. It isn’t that other people would be held higher than the Confession if we listen to their different ideas about what it means and therefore do not adopt it, but rather Belhar invites to its table many different kinds of agendas under the category racism. It asks for its confessors to confess unity grounded in human needs such as justice rather than in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, as I have shown, many of those advocating for Belhar, are, like Holder Rich, advocating for something different or something more than racial unity. If Belhar is adopted it will be adopted on grounds other than what it was intended for in South Africa. And this leads into the third problem.

As I have also shown, a great many of those pushing the denomination to adopt Belhar are both in leadership and believe it is possible to use Belhar for issues other than racism. And since there are no scriptural boundaries connected to this confession such as there are e.g. in Barmen, any issue is possible. The possibilities are, in fact, already multiplying.

One new possibility comes in the statement of Holder Rich. That is the desire that Belhar be used to confront power in the Church. While power and its use is an important concern for any Christian, confessions are not about making everything fair or democratic but about confessing Christ. On the other hand nothing will be fair if Christ is not confessed. Playing the blame game with a confession has all of the earmarks of the beginnings of totalitarianism in the Church.

Arthur Cochrane, author of The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, asks a question, that we all should be asking ourselves:

“Are we on the threshold of a day when the Church knows that its only weapon and defense will be its Confession of Faith? Are we conscious of some great heresy by which our Churches are ‘grievously imperiled’ and some great truth by which we are possessed? Are we prepared to make dogmatic and much more important, ethical decisions as a Church, and for the sake of them to lose our life in order to find it? Are we really ready for the fearful ‘either-or’ decision involved in a Confession of Faith?”

We may very well be-but the Belhar Confession does not qualify as the answer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Making Jesus God?

Someone in my comment section has suggested that I am making a god of Jesus![1] Or perhaps he means I am worshiping him as though he was God. Or maybe this person thinks that because I put Jesus above all other gods and lords I believe he is the only Lord. I do.

He also gave thanks that those who hold the kind of views I hold are few in the Presbyterian Church USA. He is grateful for this, I guess because he is a retired Presbyterian Pastor.

I referred him to the story of Elisha and his attendant? They were surrounded by an army, but Elisha was not frightened. He told the attendant “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” He prayed that God would open the attendant’s eyes and God did.“And the Lord opened the servants eyes and he saw and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6)”

We are in a strange time in our denomination. But it is not different than other times. It just happens to be the time and place where God has chosen to place us. And the joy of following our Lord is quite sufficient.

[1] If you are that curious and have not been following our dialogue see the comment section of Elephants and gods: writing about an article in Hungryhearts. But that is a lot of reading.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today was "International Holocaust Remembrance Day" and I am late in posting. I believe it is important for Christians to remember this horrible time.

"After that awful night of devastation and persecution of the Jews which has gone down in history as 'Crystal Night', Bonhoeffer wrote in his Bible the date, 9.11.38, beside the verse in psalm 74, 'They burned all the meeting places of God in the land.' It was a night of terror, of which every Christian must be ashamed. Not far from the border with the West, in East Berlin ... there is a derelict synagogue, left unrepaired, as a memorial to that night. What happened should have raised the voice of protest from every Christian soul. So many times, Bonhoeffer urged, and often urged in vain, 'Open your mouths for the dumb.'" (The Shame and the Sacrifice: the Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The video I have found has some pictures that will surely bother you. It should. But it is not for children.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Christianity without Jesus: writing about an article in Hungryhearts

As I began to read several articles in the Fall/Winter 2009 Hungryhearts Journal of Reformed Spirituality, published by the Office of Theology and Worship, PC (USA), I found some contradiction. This particular issue is entitled “An Elephant in the Room” and is about interfaith dialogue. But for the most part it is about more than dialogue. It is about letting go of the view that people of other faiths need Jesus.

And yet the introduction by the Editor, Tammy Wiens, is different. There is an expressed concern for the uniqueness of Jesus.

In the introduction Wiens writes about praying in Jesus’ name. She suggests that prayer in Jesus name is more than simply a formula, “there is a long tradition in the church to suggest it should be otherwise.” Quoting from the book Christian Prayer for Today she writes, “To pray in Jesus’ name is no small thing! ‘The name of Jesus is not just a required tagline,’ writes Moore-Keish, ‘but is the foundation, goal, and resting place in which we offer our prayers.’”

Wiens goes on to point to the Westminster Confession writing:

“Christians believe that apart from Christ we would have no access to God. We pray in Jesus name to gain access to the throne of God’s grace. (Heb. 4:16)"

Then after quoting Westminster (7.290) she commends the other articles as a means to strengthen our own spiritual practices. This is a contradiction that I do not understand.

Several days ago I wrote on the article,
“Blessed by an Elephant? Why Not?”. The article I am troubled with tonight is “Contemplative Interfaith” by Ben Campbell Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Columbia Theological Seminary.

Johnson writes about being called to a contemplative life and then a ministry of interfaith work between Christians and Muslims. The writings he began reading as he entered the first part of his contemplative journey were by Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and
Willigis Jäger. For those unfamiliar with Jäger (I was not) he is a Priest and a Zen Master who has been censored by the Roman Catholic Church. He advocates a global spirituality founded on the Zen of the Soto tradition.

Johnson explains that as he went further into the contemplative life he found that “Theological issues like the incarnation and the Trinity did not seem as pressing as at other times in [his] life.” Stating that he did not let go of the articles of faith he nonetheless writes “The longer I followed this passage way, the more rigid, doctrinal statements began to melt.”

Johnson moved on to the interfaith ministry, reading books on Islam for two years and then meeting a Muslim woman. After several meetings he writes:

“As she was speaking about her love for God and her devotion to God’s will, a beautiful smile covered her face and a twinkling light shone from her eyes. In that moment I realized I could no longer look upon other faiths as inferior to my own. I no longer felt that I had to convert everyone who did not possess the same truth that I held. That day Aisha became my sister.”

He does not write about his or her thoughts on Jesus, except that he now saw that aspect of his faith as not so important. But in this video they both speak of Jesus Christ.

Notice at the end she is talking about sharing the same values while he is talking about sharing prayer and worship. Aisha has far more integrity in her faith then Johnson has in his.

Oh please tell Aisha the good news:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the word might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged.; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-19)"

That is good news to those who are told and believe.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Israel in tents in Haiti

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network is now featuring a blog called GOD BLISS by Gila Svirsky.

On the blog posting Svirsky takes the time to make disparaging remarks about Israeli help in Haiti, She writes:

"Last night I watched a popular weekly TV satire called “A Wonderful Country”, reprising Israel’s good deeds in sending a field hospital and PR team to Haiti. PR team? Yes, and well worth it, with the Israeli doctors saving lives and delivering babies enough to warrant many press releases. “Good job, good job, Israelis!” gush the patients. From under the rubble, one Hatian peers out and moans, “It was almost worth having an earthquake to meet all you wonderful folks from Israel.”

Svirsky then goes on to write about the problems in Gaza and how Israeli is to blame for everything. But I was amazed at her inability to allow anything good to be said of Israel. To see what the show, 'A Wonderful Country' was making fun of here is the real thing, not the satire, a video from MSNBC and the nightly news.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

But better still is a letter written home by an Israeli soldier:

IDF Soldier's Eyewitness Account In Haiti
The Delegation to Haiti - Sent by an IDF soldier in Haiti to his parents.Translated from the

Hebrew, by Jameel @ The Muqata

In the lifesaving IDF Medical Corps Delegation to Haiti which is housed in tents, doctors prevent disabilities. They administer aid to the sick, provide warmth, love, and a human touch. They love the wounded.In the IDF Medical Corps Delegation to Haiti which is housed in tents located in the middle of a hell, every complex medical case has an ethics review board.

In the IDF Medical Corps Delegation to Haiti which is housed in tents, the chances of success are debated whether to amputate the entire leg of a child: the chances of a premature infant to survive while on a ventilator in a preemie unit in the tent.

In the IDF Medical Corps Delegation to Haiti which is housed in tents, there were no rods left to brace complex fractures. Each rod costs 5000 Euros. Money is not the problem. There simply isn't any. An emergency room nurse had an idea. She went with with Munitions NCO to take similar rods to a local metal shop where they made dozens of new rods. They continue to save lives.

In the IDF Medical Corps Delegation to Haiti which is housed in tents, there is a networked computer system for patient management and tracking. X-rays taken in the radiation tent are viewed on a digital viewing system in the orthopedic tent.

In the IDF Medical Corps Delegation which came from Israel in the Middle East to Haiti, there are American volunteer doctors. They have no other useful installation in which to work in. A doctor and nurse from Germany came. They heard this is best hospital in Haiti. An emergency room team from Colombia arrived with all their equipment and asked if they could set up next to us to be part of our hospital. England is the enlightened country in Europe, the one which has an academic boycott of Israel; twenty British doctors and nurses asked to work with us.

All these people, without exception, stand together at the morning formation at 7 AM in the flag square. The flag of Israel. The flag of a country which was established after the USA was already superpower. After the British left a land under their control. After Colombia was already an established country. After the Holocaust against the Jewish people."

The rest of this can be found at the Muoata.

Elephants and gods: writing about an article in Hungryhearts

I asked my family a question.

There were about 10 of us this evening, my husband, a daughter, granddaughters, two babies and one granddaughter’s friend. We had gathered for an impromptu evening of homemade tacos. I got the idea for the question from reading some articles in the fall/winter 2009 Hungryhearts journal published by the Office of Theology and Worship, PC (USA) under Spiritual Formation. Picture by Stephen Larson

The particular article was “Blessed by an Elephant? Why Not?” by M. Thomas Thangaraj who is Emeritus Professor of World Christianity at Candler School of Theology. The question:

If you were with a group of interfaith people visiting a Hindu temple in India and the priest took you to the elephant who in Hinduism represents a particular manifestation of god in the form of a human body with an elephant head and told you that if you offered a gift the elephant would place his truck on your head and bless you, would you give it money and allow yourself to be blessed?

One of my granddaughters said that because she thought it would be cool to be close to an elephant which was not in a pen she would explain that she didn’t believe the elephant represented or manifested god but she would like it to touch her. Others said no, that as Christians they wouldn’t participate.

The author, Thangaraj, noted that his entire group thought deeply about whether they should do this. He writes, “any non-Hindu could reasonably have second thoughts about receiving a blessing from the temple elephant.”

And while he writes about a Jewish member of the group who was troubled because she did not want to worship a “strange ‘Hindu god’ and thus affirm polytheism,” he did allow the elephant to supposedly bless him.

But Thangaraj, who was brought up in a Christian village in India, which was surrounded by smaller Hindu villages, was remembering times in his childhood when the Hindu priests brought the elephant to their village and he along with other Christian children and parents took advantage of the supposedly magical properties of the elephant’s dung and saliva. As I read this I felt the author was attempting to relive memories of childhood. Something we all do.

But as I read further I was troubled. The author equates the childlike feelings he had with the verses in the New Testament that speak of having faith as a little child. (Luke 18:17; Matt. 18:3)

He at the end writes, “It is a childlike trust in the presence and manifestation of God and God’s blessing in all that is around us, including the elephant that nourishes our soul and nourishes our relationship with people of other religious traditions such as Hindus.”

But is God manifested in the elephant or any other created thing? And can those verses be explained in that manner.

I want to look at the verses first. Matthew here is not writing about the qualities of a child but instead about their station in life. That is, taking the humble place of a child, not seeking for honor or respect but accepting the lowest position for one’s self. (Matthew, Tyndale, R.T. France) Luke on the other hand sees the quality of childlikeness as a quality one must have to enter into the Kingdom of God. Leon Morris in the Tyndale series refers to “utter dependence,” “unworldliness,” “openness,” and “completeness of their trust.” But this is about entering the Kingdom of heaven and not about seeing God in creation.

So some definitions are in order.

For the Hindu a manifestation is God in some form. It is not the unique Incarnation where God takes on human flesh forever. No human flesh is forever in Hinduism. In the Hindu temple it is probably the more popular understanding of the various gods of India of which there are around 33, 000, 000. Here a manifestation is a god. (In classical monistic Hinduism the manifestation would eventually lead to the absolute oneness)

Biblically the difference is put succinctly by Paul in the book of Romans:

"For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they [humanity “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”] are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Paul goes on to call foolish those who imagine God in the form of any created creature. This of course does not mean that Christians will win the hearts of the Hindu by calling them foolish but neither will we win the Hindu to Christ by participating in the religious rites of their religion.

But even more importantly those who misunderstand the difference between Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, and the Hindu’s understanding of a manifestation of the various gods in creation will undoubtedly find it distasteful to take the good-news of Jesus Christ to those in other faiths who so desperately need his word.

I will write on several of the other articles in future postings.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Remembering January 22, 1973

We must not forget an important and sad historical event which happened in the United States, January, 22, 1973.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Ethics, in his confession written for himself and the whole Church writes: "With this confession the entire guilt of the world falls upon the Church, upon the Christians, and since this guilt is not denied here, but is confessed, there arises the possibility of forgiveness."

Part of that confession is, "She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenceless brothers [and sisters] of Jesus Christ."

A video: Made in the image of God.

It occurs to me that I should offer a Presbyterian link for those Presbyterians who wish to up-hold life Presbyterians Pro Life.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where are we at? What about Jesus Christ?

I believe that most who are advocating for the ordination of practicing homosexuals are in actuality denying the Lordship of Christ. But they are, first of all, denying orthodox Christology. To put it in the words of the Theological Declaration of Barmen, they are not listening to “Jesus Christ as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” (8:11)

On the extreme progressive side some are moving into a position of denying not only Christ but even the idea of God. An example is John Shuck , his Presbytery , who upholds his beliefs, and the Witherspoon Society, who recommends his blog postings. Shuck’s views provide most orthodox Christians with a fairly clear understanding that the issues being promoted by extreme progressives are inherently about the rejection of Christ and his word.

But even those with Evangelical views, such as Mark Achtemeier, who have held to a high Christology, who now advocate for the ordination of practicing homosexuals, are, as I see it, moving away from their original orthodox view. Sometimes that is done by avoiding the full exegesis of biblical texts. That is, one only looks at part of the passage rather than the whole. This is generally done without the intent of changing the words of Jesus but nonetheless it does allow for deaf ears when one encounters the whole word of God. It therefore gives the Church permission to disobey the Christological content of scripture especially as it relates to Christian leadership and Christian marriage.

Recently in the rationale of several overtures passed by Hudson River Presbytery one sees the move away from a proper Christology. (see 100114_hrp_minutes.doc(43 kb) [1]The overture changes “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship,”(W-4.9001) to “Marriage is a covenant between two people (“the couple”) and according to the laws of the state also constitutes a civil contract. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which the couple are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship.” Part of the rationale is:

“Marriage is beyond gender. It refers to the commitment of two people to live beside each other with a love expressed as tenderness and justice. It refers to the deep promise to live together through the thick and thin of their journey together through the years. It refers to the mystery in which the love of God meets, is joined to and made manifest in the love of two people whose hearts are a home place to each.”

Two things are happening in both the change and the rationale that are an attack on biblical Christology. The first is that in an attempt to “move the Church away from fear and reprisal” of “ecclesiastical charges” by adopting this overture its advocates are listening to both State and culture over against the words of Jesus Christ who defines marriage as between a man and a woman. (see Matthew 19:4-6) The outcome of this policy: the Church rejects the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The second way Christology is being attacked is by the inference that the love relationship of two people is a place where God’s love meets, joins (the homosexual or heterosexual love) and is made manifest. This is not even true of marriage between a man and a woman. If one looks at the most basic biblical text that intertwines Christian marriage with Christ there is not even a hint that such coupling is that place where God’s love is revealed. (See Eph 5:22-33)

Instead the relationship between a husband and wife is pictured as that between Christ and his Church. Instead of the knowledge and experience of God’s love being found in marriage, knowledge about marriage is founded on God’s love already revealed in the love of God as known in the Incarnation. We meet God’s love in Christ and Christ alone. Nothing else stands beside him, Jesus Christ as found in Holy Scripture is God’s revelation. The outcome of this theology: the Church rejects God’s revelation, Jesus Christ.

So I ask again the questions I have titled this posting: Where are we at? What about Jesus Christ?

[1] I cannot find the overtures on their web page but I do have a copy.

Friday, January 15, 2010

It's about Jesus!

My last words on the comment section of my last posting were it’s ‘about Jesus’. And it is. If we are Christians what we believe about Jesus Christ, our love and obedience to him, and our faithfulness to him are all important. But something more, without his righteousness we are nothing, we are lost, we cannot stand before a holy God. Picture by Stephen Larson

Through his life, death and resurrection we are brought into the presence of the Father. United to Jesus Christ, loved by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we stand in the midst of a sinful world, which includes our own sin, and know he is there transforming us into his image. He matters, his cross matters, his goodness is our only goodness.

Last night I was rereading one of my favorite books; one I have mentioned before on my blog, High King of Heaven: Aspects of Early English Spirituality by Benedicta Ward. In several chapters Ward writes about the devastation English and Irish Christianity experienced under the invasion of the Danes who raped, murdered and burnt churches and monasteries. She also writes about the importance of the cross to those particular Christians.

Ward, breaking out of her historical period, offers the reader an analogy from the modern period. She writes:

“This apprehension of the Cross as the central point of union with Christ and therefore not something to be avoided or confused with any kind of comfortableness was brought out starkly in a radio programme when the interviewer asked Lord Hailsham if, when he lost his wife by a tragically early death, he found consolation in his strong religious belief; he replied ‘none whatsoever; the cross was applied without palliative.’ That is exactly what the first missionaries hoped would be the Anglo-Saxon Christian stance: the Cross was not something that made them feel better, nicer, more comfortable, more victorious, more reconciled to tragedy, better to cope with life and death; it was rather the centre of the fire in which they were to be changed.”

I believe the rejection of Jesus Christ often, despite words to the contrary, has to do with the terror of embracing that cross. Perhaps because it is forgotten that Jesus embraced it first, and overcame.

There is a beautiful Irish song with several names. Most Presbyterians know it simply as St. Patrick’s Breastplate. But in a more complete form it is called “The Deer’s Cry.” In this video the singer, Angelina, sings more of the words, although not all.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Questions about violence?

Yesterday on, Presbyweb it was announced that Jin S Kim was the second person to enter their name in the race for Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Hans Cornelder, General Editor of CHURCHandWORLD, linked to the Outlook which carried the announcement. He also linked to Kim’s bio on his Church page, Church of All Nations. Always happy to read other people’s blogs I went exploring Kim’s blog, New Church Rising.

I was stunned to say the least. And yes it was the violence that stunned me. To be clearer, it was Kim’s statement that I was violent that stunned me. Oh, he didn’t use my name. But he did say, after defaming the left, that “On the hard Right, they intimidate the church with the threat of withholding money, use character assassination among their own ranks for anyone not “in line”, and endlessly threaten schism if they don’t get there (sic)way. Some may call this politics as usual. I call this violence.”

Well, no I haven’t used character assassination against anybody involved in the renewal groups. But then I don’t know anyone else who has either. They may disagree with each other every so often, or even point out what they think is wrong, but character assassination? No.

And then the withholding money part, I guess he is writing about per-capita. Well that isn’t a poll tax. My church withholds per-capita. And I agree with their decision. That must make me violent, not that I carry around a gun or anything like that. I just disagree with some of the recent actions taken by several General Assemblies.

And it seems to me that the right to withhold per-capita is one of the good things about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I have in the past worked with members of abusive churches. Such churches, called sociological cults, tell their members what to do in all areas of their private life. And they practice all kinds of manipulative tactics. One of the biggest problems in such churches is the attempt at making members feel guilty about their actions when they criticize leadership. Presbyterians are allowed such freedom. I praise God for such freedom.

And then that thought that the ‘hard right’ or the renewal groups or orthodox/ evangelical churches, ‘endlessly threaten schism if they don’t get their way’? Really, who is Kim writing about? Some churches have left because they believe they must in order to be faithful. Many are staying because they believe God has called them to faithfulness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). And here is something else that socially cultic churches do; it’s called the double bind. That is, they tell their members that they most do something but when they do it criticize them in someway for doing it.

Well isn’t it a double bind to insist that churches must stay in the denomination and then criticize them when they stay and as faithful member’s of Christ’s body speak their mind on issues relating to the Church?

Kim attempts to use Jesus’ statement that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life to criticize both the left and the right. He says that the left believes that the truth lies in a grace so great it allows the ordination of practicing homosexuals. And that the right believes “that the truth lies in the Bible and its seemingly plain teaching that homosexual practice is beyond scriptural bounds.” He goes on to say that both are welling to crush each other in order to gain their truth.

I can’t speak for the left. In fact I can’t speak for the right; I can only speak as one who wants to be faithful to Jesus Christ. This is something I believe is true for all of my brothers and sisters who consider themselves orthodox. It’s about faithfulness to Jesus Christ not crushing anyone. He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). In Jesus we know truth because we know him. In Jesus we have life because we have him. In Jesus we have access to the Father because he is the way to the Father. If faithfulness to our Lord means others, even those who are our sisters and brothers call us violent; still, with his help we will be faithful.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Late Christmas pictures

Some late Christmas pictures, but not of our tree which was very big. But this conversation was about the tree. "It looks artifical!" Me, "Not in this house!." Another, "But its leaning toward the left." Someone else, "That is a strange direction for it to lean in this house!" It looks like a small group but we had 23 for dinner this Christmas. But not many pictures.

Katie praying the trumpet.

Spencer and Ethan. That's a beginning bagpipe. I hope it grows: )

Molly dreaming of angels

Jenny learning the guitar.

Emma being thoughtful and Luna in her Christmas dress.

The wonderful daughter-in-law Michelle who took these pictures forgot to take pictures of her family. So something more later.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Two cute Great Grandbabies

I'm taking a break for a while. I have some lemons to take care of; some of them are meyers. In the mean time here are two wonderful Great Grandchildren who are cousins. Molly is playing her Great Grandpa's piano at Christmas. Don't you just love those curls? Luna is being held by Daddy Frankie. What great smiles!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jesus and the Gurus

I am posting, with his permission, a guest article by Steve Scott a staff member of Warehouse Ministries. A musician and artist, Scott is also the author of several books including, Like a House on Fire: Renewal of the Arts in a Postmodern Culture and Crying for a Vision and Other Essays: The Collected Steve Scott Vol. One. I intend this article as an answer to some of the questions asked in the comment section of my posting The Bhagavad-Gita, the Bible: grief and being human. This is a long posting but should be read as a whole piece. Please read and enjoy.

Jesus and the Gurus

While recently traveling in India, I had an opportunity to begin studying some of the religious and philosophical systems prevalent there. I was able to participate in discussions with many Indians, Hindu, Buddhists and Christians. As a result I had to face climbing down from many of my “Western” presuppositions about Eastern religions. The Indian Christians were fond of reminding me that Christianity itself was an Eastern religion and, furthermore, that Christianity had been in India far longer than it had been in the USA.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I set about trying to understand both the similarities and differences between Christianity and other Eastern religions. I began my study in the area of the “guru” or “living master.” As I examined the concept of the guru and the guru tradition, my eyes were opened to some of the mistakes that we in the West are prone to make. We tend to regard the guru as merely a teacher or a channel of a particular spiritual tradition, whereas my studies reveal that the guru properly understood is seen as an embodiment of the very tradition he teaches. (I'll provide some quotes from their own literature that suggests this a little later on.) We also make the mistake of assuming that the guru merely teaches us the way of getting free from our accumulated sin (karma) or free from inordinate attachment to this realm of illusion (maya) and free from such pain such attachment produces (samsara). Deeper study, however, reveals that it is the guru himself who frees us from this threefold bondage. If we devote ourselves totally and wholeheartedly to guru bhakti, or devotion, then he will free us through instruction and possibly through the administration of a massive jolt of spiritual power known in the guru tradition as “shaktipat.”

As I learned more and more of the central role that the guru plays in this tradition, I saw its similarity to the Christian message. Jesus died and rose again to free us from the effects and power of sin. When we are truly following Christ, then we are no longer “bound” by the world. As I studied, I began to see that Jesus and the gurus were both claiming to fulfill almost identical functions. I wanted to see how far the comparison could be taken, so I began to make comparisons between some Indian literature on the guru (notably The Guru Tattwa of Swami Sivananda)* and some of the stories and sayings about Jesus recorded in the literature of the Early Church.

The “Guru Gita” contained in Silananda's text leaves little doubt as to who the guru is and what he claims to be:

Guru is Brahma. Guru is Vishnu. Guru is Siva. Guru is the Supreme Brahman itself. Prostration to that Guru. (v:4)

The guru alone is the whole world, including Brahman Vishnu and Siva. Nothing greater than Guru exists. Therefore Guru is to be worshiped. (v:18)

The form of Guru is the root of meditation. The feet of Guru are the root of worship. The teaching of the Guru is the root of all mantras. The grace of Guru is the root of salvation. (v:12)

By identifying the Guru as being identical to the Hindu trinity and also the source of salvation, the image of the guru as both the embodiment and even the source of the spiritual tradition he espouses become clear. The Christian tradition has some similar ideas about Jesus.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:15-18)

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him and without Him was not made anything that was made. (John 1:1-4)

In this the love of God was made manifest among us that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. (1 John 4:9)

Here we can see that the Christians thought of Jesus much in the same way, although their use of a term like “only begotten” is a little alarming. Perhaps they had never heard of the gurus. The absolute necessity of the guru for salvation is also stressed in the Gita.

Prostration to that Guru, due to whose existence the world exists, due to whose effulgence the world is illumined, due to whose bliss all are happy. (v:10)

There is no reality beyond Guru. There is no penance beyond Guru. There is no knowledge beyond Guru. Prostration to that Guru. (v:11)

When God is angry, Guru is the savior. When Guru gets angry, none is the savior. (v:21)

“Gu” is darkness. “Ru” is its remover. Because one removes darkness, he is called a “Guru.” (v:40)

Similarly the Christians stressed the necessity and centrality of Jesus in establishing salvation.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to Himself. (11 Cor. 5:18)

That is God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. (11 Cor. 5:19)

Here some differences start to emerge. The cited guru texts seem to place the guru almost at a higher level than God when it comes to forgiving the disciple, whereas Jesus worked “in concert” with God, as it were, to achieve the purposes of reconciliation and redemption. There is no hint of some kind of competitive rivalry between God the Father and God the Son. And again there is the disturbing use of “only begotten” by the early Christian writers. It will be interesting to see if Jesus Himself was as “exclusive” in His statements as His followers. One certainly cannot fault their enthusiasm and devotion.The Guru Gita also counsels wholehearted devotion to the guru as being of spiritual benefit.

The water with which the feet of the Guru are washed is the sacred drink. The remains after Guru's meal are the proper food. Right meditation is on the form of Guru. Constant Japa [repetition] is of Guru's name. For the purpose of acquiring knowledge and dispassion, one should drink the water with which Guru's feet are washed, which cuts at the root of ignorance, which overcomes birth and the bondage of Karma. (v:13-14)

Without any feeling of shame one should fall in full prostration before the Guru and adore the Guru through action, mind and speech at all times. The baths taken in pilgrimages to the seven oceans bring only a thousandth part of the effect produced by drinking a drop of the water that is used for washing Guru's feet. (v.19-20)

The statements of Jesus Himself reveals what He expected from His followers.

And He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life shall lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:38-39)

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, if anyone thirst let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel. Then He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (John 13:3-5)

This is where some of the real differences start to show. Jesus calls His disciples to carry a cross in their devotion to Him. He also points out that all who are thirsty should come to Him to drink the “living water” that He can provide. He says nothing about washing His feet in it first. In fact, in order to set an example of the kind of spiritual devotion he wants his followers to participate in, He knelt and washed the feet of His followers. Also, one can see in the fellowship of the last supper in which Jesus shares a common cup and a common loaf, a far different picture than the one painted by the Guru Gita which insists that eating the guru's leftovers will somehow enhance your spirituality. The most disturbing aspect of Jesus' statements deals with His own claims concerning the exclusivity of salvation through Him.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:7-11)

When I asked a current “perfect master” about this in Beas, India, he told me that Jesus was the only way for his particular age and people. I was, of course, confused by this - surely the concept behind the guru and the master hadn't changed so radically as seemed to be indicated in the stark differences between what Jesus said and did and some of the things contained in the Guru Gita. Also, Jesus seemed to be unaware that any had come before Him or would come after Him who could achieve the spiritual results that He had achieved. The Gurus, of course, would point back to their gurus, (i.e., the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi would point to Guru Dev, etc.) and the guru tradition. Jesus did no such thing. He didn't seem to think His message was limited by its historical location or only applicable to a certain period of history.

A final difference I noticed is this: some of the gurus were prone to establish their credentials by talking about their austerities - prolonged isolation in (for example) the Himalayas where after extensive yogic exercise and bodily mortification they realized their divine nature: that they were identical with the divine principle of the universe. It struck me that in order to establish Jesus' credentials as a spiritual master that it would be strategically viable to include a similar “testimony” concerning His prolonged meditation and “God realization.” I searched the New Testament in vain. I did, however, find this in Philippians 2:5-11:

Christ Jesus, who through He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

*Guru Tattwa. Sri Swami Sivananda. The Divine Life Society, Himalayas, India (1976)

All Bible quotes are from the Revised Standard Version.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The living coming One-a poem

If I could walk beside the dead
And take their hand imparting You,
the Holy Thrice transcendent One.
But in what a minor world they roam,
seeking hope beneath, within, among
the still dead places
untouched by spring’s bright promise. Picture by Derek McHenry

“Jesus is dead”

If I could open eyes,
the eyes shut by some fairytale like witch,
who traded her poor bought candy for the chance
to eat the fat of lambs
and children.
If I could shine that light of You
until blindness opens to the risen Lord.

“He ain't coming back.”

If I could help him/her look down lonely
halls, highways and rough flights
until they catch the song that rises from the shadows.
Tears to be gathered in a bottle, laughter falling, broken
yet gathered back
to the one possessed and owned by God.
The coming One, the King of kings.

“If civilization or even humanity will survive the next few decades it will be up to some incredibly good fortune AND human beings making wise choices.”

It is His sovereignty that grips;
His love that reaches for the dead one;
His power that touches the tortured eyes
of those who now peer into darkness.
It is His promise that holds the world together
His promise that brings our spring.
His promise that prepares good works

This is a poem written by me with a little help from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and an unintentional (he didn't mean to help) Presbyterian pastor, John Shuck. See also Psalm 56:8, Malachi 3:17-18 and Eph 2:10.