Archive for August, 2007

Accountable to What?

August 30, 2007

So what does this mean?  What do these people want, exactly?  His resignation?  Money?  What?

How many of us modify our daily routines when we hear that the national terror alert has been elevated?  Even if the alert is specifically oriented towards our city? 

This was a terrible tragedy.  It will always remain a terrible tragedy.  But the issue of accountability makes it sound as though this one man, or some group of administrators, could have reacted in a way to avoid this situation.  It’s another example of our insistence that we be safe.  Always.  And if we aren’t, somebody is going to pay.  Somehow.  Some way. 

It ignores the fact that a lone person who goes off the deep end is pretty much impossible to stop from beginning to carry out their plans unless they happen to carry them out in a police station.  Crimes occur every day.  In virtually every place.  Should a major university shut down every time a crime is committed on it’s campus?  What sorts of crimes does it shut down for?  Theft?  Rape?  Assault?

Let’s assume that it only shuts down for a killing.  Should it shut down only if the killing occurs on campus?  What if it occurs across the street?  Down the block?  Where is the line of demarcation?  Where does the accountability end? 

In reality, what the heck did the president literally know about this situation?  It’s easy to point out blame in retrospect.  Sometimes that’s appropriate.  Most times, it’s just pointless.  It doesn’t help anyone.  It doesn’t bring anyone back from the dead.  And ultimately, it doesn’t stop the next whacko from going off the deep end and going on a killing spree.  And, according to other excerpts from the report which the parents are conveniently ignoring, even if things had been done differently, (, it probably wouldn’t have made a lot of difference in this particular shooting.

Tragedy happens.  Every day.  Sometimes it happens to us.  And it’s tragic.  But we have to stop living in our fairy tale world where tragedy can be avoided, mitigated, stopped.  We need to stop living in a fantasy-land where terror on an individual or global level can be weeded out, destroyed, defused.  It ain’t gonna happen.  No matter how much money we spend.  No matter how much freedom we surrender.  No matter what trade-offs we make. 

I feel for the families of the students who died.  I can’t imagine their grief and their horror.  But I hope that they better channel those feelings, that loss.  Honor the dead, but adding to the body count doesn’t bring anybody back.  Nobody can bring anybody back from the dead.

Only Christ can do that.  That’s what I’d like to say to these parents.  They can’t bring back their children.  They can’t prevent other parents from experiencing the same loss.  All they can do is trust in the savior that promises to restore all such losses.  Teach your children about being safe.  But teach them about Jesus as well. 

Need to wrap up…

August 29, 2007

I need to wrap up my commentary on Velvet Elvis,  but I’ve run out of steam somewhat.    I’ve been reading Bell’s latest book, Sex God.  Its’ quite disappointing compared to Velvet Elvis, even though I think the subject is a crucial one and an endlessly fascinating one.  It’s not that what he says isn’t valid, he just doesn’t seem to have a cohesive sense of direction.  Part of this is endearing.  Part of this is just annoying. 

You Never Know…

August 29, 2007

You never know where and when God is going to hit you.  I bought a commentary from an e-bay seller the other night.  In the vendor’s confirmation e-mail to me, they invited me to check out their blog.  It was cool.  What they’re doing is cool.

Buy something.  Buy everything.  But make sure that you really need it.  Make sure that the money you’re spending on a book or whatever is not money that you could also send to World Vision, or any other of a myriad of good institutions dedicated to changing the lives of the marginalized both here in the US as well as around the world.

You may not need the book.  But those people could sure use the $10 or $20 that you would have spent on the book. 

Roland S. Martin Editorial

August 21, 2007

I just finished reading an editorial (if you could call it that – rather a brief meandering) by Roland S. Martin.  I’ll say up front that I have no beef or problem with Roland, or even what he says, per se.  Prior to reading this little piece of his, I’d never heard of him.

That being said, Martin misses a couple of key issues with greed and lust and why they’re such major issues in the three major monotheistic faith traditions.  And I’ll add the disclaimer up front that at least Christianity, and I’m fairly certain Judaism and Islam, have gone overboard at times trying to deal with these two issues.

They’re big issues because unlike a lot of other negative or destructive behavior, they directly impact other people.  Obsession with either sex or money drives behavior that not only destroys the one obsessed, but contributes to the destruction of those who fulfill or block the person’s obsession.

Multiple sex partners is destructive in that it dehumanizes both people involved.  It sets a patter for both people (assuming they both engage in multiple sexual partners, or serial monogamy) that eventually prevents them from forming intimate, exclusive relationships that can last. 

Greed is destructive not only in that it consumes the greedy person, but also in that it damages those that contribute to or prevent the person from their hunger for more money, more power, more prestige.  No, it doesn’t matter if you make $100,000 or $1,000,000 – strictly speaking.  But it does matter what making any sum of money great or small does to you in the process, and causes you to do to others in the process.  Does it cause you to neglect your family?  Not good.  To neglect friends, faith, health, etc.?  Not good.  Does it lead you to view others in terms of what they can procure for you or provide to you?  Do you begin viewing people’s value by their income or job title?  Not healthy.

You can tithe on any amount of money you make and still have a problem with greed.  Tithing is not a response to the issue of greed – it’s intended as a reminder of the source of all we receive – regardless of how much or how little that may be.  People that tithe thinking that should ease their conscience about their behavior, or make the church or anyone else allow them free reign in their greed or other indiscretions is sorely misled. 

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are not simply a collection of random belief statements.  Extracting two issues – greed and lust in this case – from any of these faith systems and thinking that you can speak coherently about how the issues are treated is misguided.  These faiths are not guides to behavior, per se.  The behavioral guidelines are meant to reinforce a larger picture understanding not only of the individual, but the universe as a whole.  Sex and greed – just like any other behavior taken to extreme or excess – are problematic less in that inappropriate behavior violates commandments or precepts, but in that it leads people away from the larger view of themselves, others, and the universe. 

Velvet Elvis pgs. 150-152, “T’Shuva”

August 17, 2007


Velvet Elvis pgs. 147-150, “Two Realms”

August 17, 2007

This is one of the areas where I tend to think Bell is somewhat off base.  Not entirely, but in part.  It’s his concept of our bringing heaven and hell here to earth.

He makes the statement on page 147 that “For Jesus, the question wasn’t how do I get into heaven? but how do I bring heaven here?  The question wasn’t, how do I get in there? but how do I get there, here?”

While in a certain fashion, he’s right, it’s also important to recognize that Jesus did indeed talk about heaven and hell in ‘there’ kinds of terms.  It’s not simply a matter of what we do with our lives that defines heaven or hell.  It seems clear from Jesus’ words that heaven and hell are objective realities aside from our individual choices and decisions.  While we may create a heaven or hell in our lives here on earth, there is also a heaven or hell that exists independently of our individual decisions and lives. 

Matthew 5 contains some of these objective references.  Hell is discussed in verse 22 as a place of fire, and verse 29 indicates hell as a locale that a person can be ‘thrown into’.  Verse 30 continues this theme.  Matthew 10:28 provides another such reference, as does Matthew 18:9, Mark 9 verses 43, 45, 47, and Luke 12:5, to name a few. 

On the heavenly side, we have references in Matthew 5:12, Matthew 5:45, Matthew 6:20, Matthew 8:11.  Matthew 11:25 indicates heaven and earth as distinct places, where God the Father is Lord of both.  John 14:2 seems to be a very geographic, material description of heaven, as opposed to a metaphysical personal reality.

Heaven are clearly referred to as distinct places or realities aside from our individual lives, though our lives determine which location or reality we are ultimately relegated to.  I believe that Bell believes this as well.  He is undoubtedly pointing out that these realities can enter into our personal lives as well – we can experience heaven or hell to a limited extent right here or now in our lives. 

On page 148 he states that Jesus orders us to oppose  “Poverty, injustice, suffering” with “all our energies”.  I’m not sure which particular phrase or verse Bell is referring to.  Most likely, he’s simply trying to summarize the overall gist of what Jesus taught.  But I believe he’s mistaken.  We are not simply to oppose these temporal forms of hell.  Rather, we are to infiltrate them and oppose them with the Gospel.  The order that Jesus *did* give his disciples is to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching and baptizing them.  We call Matthew 28:18-20 the Great Commission.  It is his order to his followers.  In the course of that, we will be brought into conflict against a great many spiritual and temporal powers and authorities that seek to enslave people to things other than the Gospel.  We are called to care for others as Christ would, which will call us to minister to the poor, the marginalized, the suffering.  But the goal is always the sharing of the Gospel message as well as the alleviation of temporal suffering.  We have to keep the cart behind the horse.  Many churches err either in putting the cart too far behind the horse – so that the cart is essentially left behind – or putting it in front of the horse, making the Gospel merely an means to the end of ending poverty or hunger or injustice.

As such, heaven is both a destination beyond this world, as well as a reality that we can embrace in a limited sense within this world.  Heaven  and hell do not need us to ‘bring’ them.  We are rather brought to them. 

I also disagree strongly with Bell’s interpretation on page 149 of the Luke 12 parable of the rich fool.  Jesus is *not* speaking judgment on this person.  There is nothing that indicates a cause and effect – the man’s greed prompted his death.  Rather, it is indicative of the lack of control that we really have.  We make our plans, and our plans can eclipse God’s will in our lives.  In the end, we are not capable of bringing any plan to fruition.  All is done at the good pleasure of God.  Reading this parable in light of Ecclesiastes is something I strongly recommend.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 138-147, intro & “Who We Are Now”

August 9, 2007

The intro section makes a great point.  I think that for many people, converting to Christianity can be a bit of a letdown initially, as they recognize all that is expected of them.  They may have this joyous, wondrous experience of revelation and come to Christ in joy, and then get hit upside the head by all of the lifers telling them what they have to do and not do now.  It can be a quick buzz-kill.  Whether or not these things need to be done or avoided is not the issue.  The issue is timing, and the matter of how people are introduced to the new set of values that is Christianity. 

The next section is very good as well, and much of what he says here points back to comments I made on earlier sections, about how it isn’t us that is so great in and of ourselves, but rather Christ in us that makes us great and enables us to be more than we could on our own.  I think this is what Bell really believes, but at times, he seems to drift in terminology (in earlier sections – not here) into more modern anthropologies of man. 

I *LOVE* the paragraph on 144 where he talks about the fact that if more people accepted and believed who they are (declared to be in Christ), then people wouldn’t have to be pushed and prodded and told what to do – they’d do it naturally.  He’s dead on.  It isn’t sin management.  It is totally about learning who we really are, whose we really are, and then living that way. 

On the other hand, by the end of the section, on page 147, he’s moving into an area that I’m less comfortable with – and that is the idea of us ushering in the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of hell.  He elaborates on this in the next sections, and it makes me uncomfortable.  More on that later, though.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 124-134, “Torah”, “Disciples” & “I Chose You”

August 6, 2007

Most of this is good, basic cultural background on early Judaism.  But I disagree with his interpretation on 134. 

Agreed – Jesus called the not-good-enough, and he continues to do this today.  But it’s not so much a matter of demonstrating how the not-good-enough are really, deep down inside good enough.  Jesus isn’t in the business of confidence building, per se.  Rather, Jesus understands that in our weakness, his “power is made perfect” (2Corinthians 12:9).  In other words, when people see Jesus’ followers doing amazing things, causing cures, speaking boldly with little or no formal education, travelling over the world and giving their lives for the sake of their beliefs, it’s obvious that these folks aren’t equipped to do this on their own volition.  They aren’t smart enough.  They aren’t wise enough.  They aren’t savvy enough.  They aren’t skilled enough.  What people should see through our weakness is the strength of Christ within us.

So it’s not that Jesus is disappointed that his disciples haven’t discovered their inner strength and capabilities and started utilizing them.  Rather, he’s disappointed that they don’t trust *his* strength and *his* resources to see them through anything – whether it’s walking on water or speaking to Roman officials. 

Jesus knew these guys, these simple men that he called to be his disciples.  And he did firmly believe that they could do what he did.  But he believed it because he knew what he could do through them when they allowed him.  He wasn’t uncovering diamonds in the rough, so that people could admire these diamonds and wonder how they never saw what was right under their noses all this time.  Rather, Jesus deliberately calls the ordinary – jars of clay (2Corinthians 4:7)- to demonstrate the extraordinary power of God.

Jesus believes that we can do what he did, but only because he is *in* us. 

Velvet Elvis pgs. 117-120, “Healing”

August 1, 2007

I think that the portion where he muses about the Sabbath is much of the heart of this section, though I doubt that’s what he intended.  I wish that it *had* been his intention, because I would have loved to see him keep going with it.

Sabbath has come to mean the day we go to church.  But this isn’t how God set it up.  Exodus 16 and Exodus 20 both talk about the Sabbath, and Exodus 20 is where it really gets set out in decent order.  And nowhere does it say anything about going to church.  It’s a day of rest.  It’s a day to remember that even God himself rested from the work of creation.  It has nothing to do with going to church, but it has everything to do with remember that we are God’s children.

This is a huge topic and issue, the Sabbath.  God’s rebuttal to the Egyptian emphasis on production and enslavement for the sake of production.  He had just brought his people out of that environment, and wanted to try and set the stage for them to have a different view of the world and their place in it.  Their value did not lie in what they produced.  Their value rested in their identity as children of God.  This is where our identity lies, but our culture has insisted on returning back to the Egyptian enslavement model – wage-slaves if not truly slaves.  It’s not who we are, it’s what we wear.  What we drive.  Where we live.  Whether we have an office or a cube.  How nice our cell phone is.  If you need to work 7 days a week in order to have all the right stuff, then buckle down and do it. 

If this isn’t slavery, I’m not sure what else to call it. 

The Sabbath flies in the face of all that, and says to rest and not worry about what you do or produce or consume.  Focus on who you are, and therefore on the God that made you and saved you.  This is where your value stems from.  We have so much to learn as the church about the Sabbath, about the importance of being instead of doing.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 110-116, “My Soul”

August 1, 2007

I don’t care for this particular section, as it delves into issues of personal mental/spiritual/emotional health that, while tangential to the overall systematics of the book, are still, ultimately, only tangential.  Is he right?  Sure.  But the focus shifts back to me, me, me. 

Yes, salvation is wholistic.  It should permeate every aspect of our lives, not just the slice of pie we have set aside from our week as Sunday morning.  Too many Christians can’t handle this concept.  It implies that we aren’t perfect.  That we have some serious flaws.  That we need help.  And tragically, churches are more often than not, not the places to get help.  Churches become the place where weaknesses are discussed and gossiped over instead of prayed over.  If everyone else has a smiley-face mask on all the time, how can I dare to reveal how hurt and confused and panicked I am.  I pull on my smiley-face and fake it with everybody else.

There could be more focus in this section, more tie-in to the fact that it isn’t us who kill our superpastor, or whatever that entity may be called in ourselves.  WE can’t do it.  We don’t have the guts.  We don’t have the resolve. And at a certain level, we don’t want to do it.  We still believe the lies he tells us.  We still believe that we could do it all, be it all, if we just worked a little harder. 

But we can’t.  Only the Holy Spirit can kill that entity within us, can silence his lies.  We have to allow it, but only the Spirit can accomplish it.  So, for God’s sake, please allow the Spirit to kill it.  And then the Spirit will move on and want to kill something else in you that you hadn’t expected.  And you’re going to need to let him do that as well.  And when he’s done there, he’ll point out another aspect that needs to go.  The process never ends.  So best to get started with it now.