What Are You So Affirmed Of?

 

Affirmations give us feedback. They tell us our status at a certain place and time. And so, we look for affirmations from those around us. 

A wife looks to her husband for affirmation of his love for her. A husband looks to his wife for affirmation of her respect for him. Children look to parents for affirmation of their boundaries.

Outside the family, the employed look for affirmation of their employment in a regular paycheck, in a regular review and in a manager’s approval. Students seek affirmation of their studies in the grade received and in the teacher’s approval. Church goers seek affirmation of their faith and atheists seek affirmation of their faith. Both faith groups do so in communities of others like themselves.

We choose friends who will affirm us in life-sustaining ways. Or, we look for friends who will affirm our unhealthy choices. We look for feedback from our friends. Our Friend the Way affirmed for us the life-sustaining way:

“Go in by the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction, you see, is nice and wide, and the road going there has plenty of room. Lots of people go that way. But the gate leading to life is narrow, and the road going there is a tight squeeze. Not many people find their way through.”

Like the roads signs I encountered on my recent trip to Memphis, affirmations can be signposts and confirmations that we are heading in the right direction. They can also tell us where paths diverge, as shown above. Affirmations guide us along.

Affirmations of relationships are writ large in the gospels. We read of God the Father’s out-of-the-heavens affirmation of His Son in Matthew 3:17 and again 17:5:

“This is my son, my beloved son,” said the voice. “I am delighted with him.”

The Lord’s affirmation of his followers is made obvious throughout the gospels. He let us know that we are of much greater value than a sparrow that the Father feeds and cares for daily. Through parables, Jesus affirmed to us our worth. He let it be known that when the lost are found and when the prodigal returns, the heavens rejoice. My last post talked about Jesus calling us his friends if we do what he asks of us.

Jesus affirms the choice his followers make in leaving all and following him. He does so by giving them the same confirmation that he received from the world: rejection. From John’s gospel account:

“If the world hates you, “Jesus went on, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were from the world, the world would be fond of its own. But the world hates you for this reason: that you are not from this world. No, I chose you out of this world.”

 

The world seeks affirmation from its own. Writ large on social media: the world is fond of its own. If the scroll of a Twitter feed is any indication, those in the world seek constant critical-free affirmation. Some, the malignantly narcissistic, insist upon “affirmation independent of all findings” per Austrian philosopher Martin Buber. These want to live in a fact-free world about their own character. They are intolerant of any examination of their character. When challenged many will quote Jesus about not judging others even though their behavior suggests that they do not care one iota about what Jesus has to say. That pretty much sums up many of the replies I receive on Twitter.

Typically, the world’s demand for affirmation is couched in the high-sounding “rights”. Legal rights as enforced affirmation is desired by the world because legal rights coerce others to affirm them. Affirmation was demanded of the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the Court’s same-sex marriage decision that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

Yet, even with “equal dignity in the eyes of the law” the world’s superficial affirmations, in the eyes of the beholder, quickly fade. And, with it satisfaction wanes. Consider receiving a participation trophy for just showing up. Or, receiving “dignity” for just showing up.

One has to wonder if the world’s narcissistic impulse to be constantly, dramatically and legally affirmed is due to popularization of self-esteem and the big business of self-love:

Self-Esteem in the Classroom is a curriculum guide for grades 1-12 contains 416 pages detailing over 220 classroom-tested activities to build self-esteem. -Jack Canfield, Maximizing Your Potential website

You can download a free About Me: Self-Esteem Sentence Completion Worksheet

Self Esteem Activities boost your self-esteem, confidence and experience of peace and happiness. Just as a muscle requires regular exercise to maintain its’ strength and flexibility your positive self-esteem brain pathways are fortified by specific self-esteem exercises and worksheets.

-15 Great Self Esteem Building Activities & Exercises For Teens and Adults

Many psychologists will spend a lot of your time (and your money) seeking out the cause of your low self-love. 

Retired psychologist Anthony Daniels, writing under his pen name Theodore Dalrymple, offered his tongue-in-cheek thoughts about self esteem in Chapter Four of his book, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality

Whatever else you must do, you must always love and esteem yourself, otherwise you are doomed to a life of sterile denigration. In dynamic psychotherapy one must uncover the roots of a lack of self-esteem …

In behavioral psychotherapy a lack of necessary self-esteem is the result of a vicious circle of thought in which reflections upon failure lead to real failure, which lead to future reflections upon failure, and so on ad infinitum. The object of the cognitive behavioral therapy is break the vicious circle, thus transforming a wretched mouselike creature who barley dares to leave his mouse hole into a go-getter who wins friends and influences people. It is not difficult to see the connection between these ideas and the modern pedagogic tendency to praise children for their efforts, however desultory …

The notion of self-love or self-esteem is in itself either ridiculous or repellent. No one ascribes his good character or successes in life to an adequate fund of self-esteem … Self-doubt, within reason, is something to be overcome; self-esteem is complacency elevated to an ontological plane.

In the world, self-importance and its kissing cousin self-affirmation are all the rage. Literally. Affirm one’s self and thereby avoid and denounce all critical examination. Allow others to generously affirm you at no cost to yourself. And, if someone gets close to the beloved self with the light of truth then release all stored-up wrath to blow out the candle.

 

What Are You So Affirmed Of?

Those who behave this way act out of fear. They do not know the affirmation of God that releases them from fear. As it is written, There is no fear in love; complete love drives out fear. Fear has to do with punishment, and anyone who is afraid has not been completed in love.

Jesus summed up his affirmation of us on the cross as he honored his own words: There is no greater affirmation than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The world sums up its affirmation in self-image participation trophies and fortune cookies.

A Friend Closer Than Memphis

 

The long drive from Chicago to Memphis, past corn fields and silos and renewable energy turbines on both horizons, gave me a chance to reflect on my friendships. As I drove alone I thought of times shared with friends. As I travel alone I wonder who my friends will be when I get where I am going. My circumstances are on the move.

From childhood I have known who I would become friends with. There was immediate symbiosis – a shared our-street language. Words of approval or disapproval about things outside the proposed friendship became our spittle handshake. And sure, there was a back and forth to test the ‘waters’: “Do you like that?”; What about this?”. But, the questions were mainly asked to see what reference points were used. And so, there was plenty of note comparing to determine the ties that bind, the ones that won’t, and the ones that don’t matter.

With my growing friendships came growing elbow room. I could be silly, stupid, and sorry and still remain friends. Between the two of us there was a give and take of silly, stupid, and sorry. The balance of give and take would change from day to day and from friend to friend. Early on, because I was not worldly wise, I relied heavily on my childhood best friend. A later adult friend, who was much too worldly wise, relied on me heavily. The elbow room of friendship reminds me of God’s grace – room to be human with all its foibles and sins and room to return, ask forgiveness and receive it.

A friend means well, even when he hurts you. But when an enemy puts his hand round your shoulder – watch out! Proverbs 27:6

One who has unreliable friends soon come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

In a way, friendship is like a parable. Jesus used parables to teach his way of looking at things in his kingdom. Like the parable’s parallels, friendships alongside you draw out greater truths. For one truth there is the fact that you are not alone, and for another, there are others exposed to the same reality. Walking with my friends and they with me, through the gamut of folly to faith and sometimes back again, has taught me to see from another perspective and to care about another perspective. (Walking in the Paraclete has given me a perspective and a counselor alongside.)

An honest answer is the sign of true friendship. ~ Proverbs 24:26

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. ~ Proverbs 13:20

What I like about friendships: they do not have the urgency or contingency of sex. Rather, that energy is used to add new meaning – to add more ties that bind – to the friendship. That energy is exerted in new adventures.

I also see friendship as a type of love that is evocative of the Trinity relationship. The Father and Son and Spirit are in constant communication (except at that moment of Jesus’ death). Their sharing is intimate. Friendship’s focus roughly mirrors that of the Trinity as it is both inward directed toward the other and outward directed at the same time. And though the Godhead does not need grace from us and cannot gain experience, the Godhead, as revealed to us, desires to favor creation with grace and to gain friends who have their own experiences. It was Jesus who invited us into the dancing embrace of the Trinity when he said…

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

When the disciples heard Jesus say this they understood the term “friend”. They knew about David and Jonathon. Philip had introduced his friend Nathaniel to Jesus (John 1:43-51). The disciples could not forget about ‘Our friend Lazarus who has fallen asleep’ (John 11:11) and was raised from the dead. They had heard a parable about the ‘friend of the bridegroom…” John (3:29) They had heard Jesus being called a ‘friend of tax collectors and sinners’ (Matt. 11:19). They certainly understood the term ‘friend’ when Jesus prefaced the above words with Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. What they did not yet understand was the extent of love Jesus would go to for his friends. Closer Than a Brother

The disciples understood that a friend was not your enemy. They knew that a friend wanted what was in your best interests. A friend went along with you and did what was required of him or her to remain friends and did so without a lot of hemming and hawing. You are my friends if you do what I command.

As close friends of the Lord we become privy to the Father’s communication to the Son. We are no longer servants (those tasked with household responsibilities and no place at the table) but we are brought into the main house and given a place at the table alongside our Friend. The Lord asks his friends to eat with him, to communicate with him, to learn from him, and to share with him the adventures of life in His Kingdom on earth.

Traveling alone from there to here I know there is one Friend who sticks much closer than Memphis.

St Andrews Collierville

Any friend of Jesus is a friend of mine.

Corkeys Collierville Brisket

Friends have to eat together.

 

That’s the Way It Is

 

No, not this way…

This way…

 

15 The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
    their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
    the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.[c]
17 The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
    all the nations that forget God.
18 But God will never forget the needy;
    the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

19 Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
    let the nations be judged in your presence.
20 Strike them with terror, Lord;
    let the nations know they are only mortal.

Psalm 9

 

 

 

Dead to Rights

 

Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Many more attempt suicide. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally… There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. –Mental Health, Suicide Data, World Health Organization

 

Overdoses killed young and middle-aged Americans at a breakneck pace as the country battles a crippling opioid crisis, adding to the first two-year drop in life expectancy since JFK was President.

More than 63,600 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics found. The startling rate was 21% higher than the number of fatalities a year earlier. – Opioid overdoses kill more people in U.S. than guns or breast cancer

 

The numbers quoted above are not insignificant. These instances of mental illness are not insignificant. And, these statistics represent only a small fraction of the de-humanizing effects of mental illness. Most of the effects of mental illness are hidden from the public eye until a person’s mental illness reaches a peak. The media then reports the violence done to others or done to one’s self in the form of suicide. Mentioned briefly by the newscaster: mental illness and the need to find a way to deal with it.

Again, the numbers quoted above are not insignificant. The quotes tell us in effect that mental illness influenced a person’s choice to self-harm. The quotes (and newscasts) do not tell us the choices that led to a mental illness that in time led to an act of violence. A post about mental illness could go in many directions. Here, I will take the path less traveled. I want to talk about what I see as the genesis of most mental illness – people’s choices.

 

Certainly, there are forms of mental illness which are not based on a person’s choices. Some prominent forms of mental disorder such as Bi-Polar Disorder have been ascribed primarily to a person’s genetic make-up. Some mental disorders are related to a chemical imbalance. Either abnormality can result in abnormal brain structure and function. Much progress has been made to mitigate the effects of these disorders. Some mental disorders may have come about through a child’s early environment. Talking in therapy and building good trust relationships can bring about healing.

Beyond physiological and early childhood causes, there is a spectrum of mental illnesses due to a person’s choices, choices that have been assessed and weighed based on one’s belief system and emotions. Each of us make deliberated decisions using our free will.  We may choose to act in a mentally healthy way or in a mentally harmful way. We may choose to turn the other cheek or we may choose to imitate revenge (Copy-Cat Revenge). We may choose to endure pain or we may choose to commit copy-cat suicide (the Werther Effect). Choosing to choose to act against God, oneself and others is evil-based mental illness. Evil-based mental illness involves a person’s choices.

Adam and Eve made a choice and learned of evil through their disobedience. Their son Cain made a choice when he murdered his brother Abel. God, acknowledging Cain’s mental distress, let him know that his choice figured in his distress:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”-Genesis 4:6-

One’s choice makes all the difference for one’s mental state. And, when a person makes the wrong choice, there are public and private consequences. There are mental health consequences. A descent into madness is one of the consequences.

“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue….

Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. – Daniel 4:24-27, 33-34 (emphasis mine)

We live in a world where choice is king. And, people want to reign as king or queen of their choice. What you won’t hear these choice-driven folks say is that they are responsible for the choices they make. If their choice doesn’t work out the way they planned they blame others, including the government. Scapegoating is a characteristic of evil-based mental illness. For example, I was once accused by LGBT advocates on Twitter of likely going on to cause the depression and suicidal death of gay community members because I spoke out against homosexuality. The advocates of the LGBT will tell you that any resistance to the homosexual lifestyle equates to depression and death for the LGBT. People want choices and want to rule in them but it their choices which cause the mental breakdowns, depression and worse. Resistance to accountability is another characteristic of evil-based mental illness. The Apostle Paul insists on accountability to the Lord as he reminds the Ephesian church that there are those who by their choices have darkened their minds:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. -Ephesians 4:17-20

A darkened mind, evil-based Mental illness, starts with small concessions to evil. One acknowledges and then accepts these concessions and compartmentalizes them in part of the psyche. They are filed away from the conscious and away from public view. One goes on to absolve and protect oneself from outside reference with a half-truth: “It’s a hard life and I must do what I have to do to make it”.

One goes on to concede more ground to evil because the appetite for defiant free will choice has been whetted and there have not been any immediate consequences. The addiction to compromise has begun. The conscious is silenced. One’s mental health begins to deteriorate because thoughts are confused and growing darker; the light has been switched off. One becomes duplicitous. A public face is put on because one’s sanity is on shaky ground but others must see you as proudly self-assured and in control. And what better place to hide your self-deceit and look respectable:

Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one’s evil from oneself, as well as from others, than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture? … I do not mean to imply that the evil are anything other than a small minority among the religious or that the religious motives of most people are in any way spurious. I mean only that evil people tend to gravitate toward piety for the disguise and concealment it can offer them. – Martin Buber 

When mental illness is discussed, evil-based mental illness should also be discussed. But I believe the reason evil-based mental illness isn’t discussed is because it involves putting people’s choices under scrutiny. Twitter users become afire when I speak against homosexuality as a lifestyle acceptable for the church. They have told me that I am not like Jesus; I am judgmental. In truth, as a Follower of Jesus, I am trying to help the world around me become fully human. In the process, I’ve come to learn that Evil is defensive of its territory – humans.

Because Evil is nothing and has no substance, it must have access to human choice to act. Evil can, by human will, pervert what God created and called good. A glaring example of this hideous conversion from the good and absolute to sliding scale values and Epicureanism is the growing Christian acceptance of homosexuality as an acceptable good. In truth, it is a queering, a perversion, of the good.

It is a curious state of affairs today and a clear indication of evil’s degenerative effect: there are those today who demand rights for this and that while at the same time say they have no control of themselves or they can’t help themselves in their behavior. They want special human rights and the right to live as animals at the same time. They take Pride (Month) in this. De-humanization (e.g., giving over your free will and conscious to animal impulse) is a guaranteed effect of the choice to dwell in mental illness. Renouncing sin and turning back to the One true God will begin restoring your humanity and sanity. Just ask King Nebuchadnezzar.

 

The church should be the place for evil-based mental illness to be addressed. Sadly, many mainline churches have been comprised and now affirm evil as good, thereby increasing evil-based mental illness among its members. Read the Word and receive the Eucharist. The Word and prayer can help put you back in your right mind.

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding. -Psalm 119: 25-32

 

 

Are You a danger to yourself or to others? If so, what choices have you made to bring you to this place? You are dead to rights accountable for the wrong choices. But your life doesn’t end there. Have more fear of what you may end up doing than talking to someone. Seek out a Christian and begin talking. Ask God for wisdom and do so with no doubt of receiving it, as a matter of mental health. For, “A person who doubts is like a wave of the sea which the wind blows and tosses about. Someone like that should not suppose they will receive anything from the Lord, since they are double minded and unstable in everything they do.”

 

Interactive media has influence on your mental health, if you let it. Added 6/19/2018:

What is gaming disorder?

Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

 

Reflections on Separate and Not Equal

 

 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1: 21-23

 

How do you view God? One’s view of God is critical to one’s image-bearing reflection of God. Holding and acting on a proper pan-Scriptural view of God one can reflect the nature and glory of God in one’s humanity. Holding and acting on a low or inadequate view of God will result in a reflection of a baser, beastly, and barbarous nature. There are plenty of examples of the latter.

If a person says there is no god, then that downward blank stare is reflected back as a life devoid of the transcendent. This person’s life lacks meaning and purpose that God has provided (Col. 1:16). This person’s life is full of questions and no answers. This person’s life demands control of outcomes. This person may become suicidal.

If a person says God is a female, then what is reflected back is a person’s belief that God’s self-revelation to us as Father, Son and Spirit is male privileged and not ‘inclusive’. Therefore, God must be ‘repackaged’ as humanized, feminized, and popularized for the masses. Those with this view of God have determined that God must not be separate and must be on par with us. These Gnostics ‘know’ what’s best.

If a person says God is many, then that person reflects back a dilution of truth in the form of pluralism. Such a person is open to all kinds of error and deception to maintain their ‘inclusive’ view.

If a person says God is distant and not available for comment, then that person reflects back an ‘On the Road’ life: avoiding pain, seeking pleasure, and surrounding themselves with like-minded friends.

These few examples, of course, represent only a sample of the effects of a false image of God. A false, replaced or non-existent image of God will always result in a false, replaced and non-existent humanity. As a comprehensive study of history reveals, a people with dysfunctional views of God can result in barbaric societies. Focusing on these corrupt images means that one cannot reflect back the image of God. And, a false, replaced or non-existent image of God will always result in an egregious beastly rule over oneself and creation. Time will reveal the same truth.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. Genesis 1:26

God let it be known from the start that Idolatry and its images, whether material or projected, is perilous to one’s image bearing reflection of God. The reason: we become like that we worship. Idolatry is worship of a lie. Living out worship of a lie results in a life that is a lie. Idolatry also dehumanizes, since it is a reflection of less than God likeness. Much less. Again, there are myriad examples of this in history and surrounding us today.

Idolatry reduces God to His creation, either as a creature or to an element such as gold. For the idolater, reducing God to a creature or to an element means that God can now be controlled and molded into the image that works for him or her. But it is God who is the Image Grantor and Generator. To make an indelible impression on us, God took created elements – tables of stone – and wrote out, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image“.

Over and over again in Scripture we read that God made it very clear that all focus was to be on Him the Creator. To remove that focus was to bring down His wrath. God is a jealous God.

for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Deuteronomy 6:15

Exodus tells the story of Israel’s God removing His people from the false Egyptian gods. And in the desert God lays down the law to tell His people how to be image bearers. As noted above, the Lord God is to be their focus and not idols. And throughout the history of Israel, the Lord reminds His people of the consequences when they change their focus. Later, Israel asked God for a king because their focus was set on other nations. Their first king, Saul, was an ego-centric control freak who turned mad.

Much later, the prophet Isaiah spoke the rebuking words of the Lord to those who took the focus off of Him and focused on themselves:

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9

We become what we worship. I see examples of it every day at the fitness club. Often at the club, two Kim clones work their bodies to create a Kim-sized booty. To paraphrase a bumper sticker, “You can’t take your booty with you”.

Since we are created in God’s image and likeness to have dominion over creation, it is easy for us to assume a self-important stance before God. We are prone to see ourselves as the center of life itself and the Son revolving around us. And, as shown over and over again in the history of mankind, some men and women will convert their ego-centrism into a form of self-divination. These will expect and perhaps demand that others recognize them and even worship them as transcendent or divine. I am talking about those who see themselves as exalted based on power or status or one’s physical appearance. Examples would include Pharaohs, Assyrian Kings, Roman emperors, rulers of nations, heads of state, celebrities, politicians, and superheroes (you worship them with your time and dollars).

What image of God did three exiles have to be able to say “No” to a powerful King? (And, who taught them about a sovereign unseen God who is able to deliver? Who taught them that no other God shall be worshipped?)

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. …the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” …you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.

But…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3

By their continued resistance (The exiles had already made their stance known to the king and to his men), the three exiles made it very clear to king Nebuchadnezzar that their focus was always going to be on the one true God and not on their fate tied to idol worship. What the three exiles said next would have made the King very hot under the collar. The NIV does not translate their words in the Daniel 3:17 text well, especially as it pertains to the King’s earlier glowing acceptance of Daniel’s god after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream (Daniel 2:24). The revised text is in italics:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God whom we serve exists he is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and from your hand he will but if not then be it known to you we will not serve your gods anyway. Daniel 3:16-18

The three exiles were not doubting God’s existence. Just the opposite. They were adding fuel to the fire. They made sure that there would be no shadow of doubt in their reflection of the existence of the One True God. Their words turned up the heat. And once their God-reflecting humanity was miraculously delivered unsinged from the beastly hot furnace, the King was left without excuse and with plenty to think about. He could easily imagine his giant golden image melting like wax before the separate and not equal God.

 

 

And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.  They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” 2 Kings 19 (emphasis mine)

Copy-cat Revenge

 

“How many children around the globe, we continue to ask, are growing up with “jihad,” “war,” “crusade,” “revenge,” “hatred” not only inscribed in their names but woven into the very fabric of their lives! For reconciliation to take place, the inscriptions of hatred must be carefully erased and the threads of violence gently removed. This, I think, is one important lesson of Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God”.  – from Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

~~~

“Here Comes Revenge”

Little grave I’m grieving, I will mend you
Sweet revenge I’m dreaming, I will end you

I’ve been here since dawn of time
Countless hatreds built my shrine
I was born in anger’s flame
He was Abel, I was Cain
I am here
I’m hell unbound
Burn your kingdom to the ground
To the ground

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

I return this nightmare, I will find you
Sleepless, cloaked in despair, I’m behind you

Man has made me oh so strong
Blurring lines of right and wrong
Far too late for frail amends
Now it’s come to sweet revenge
Desperate hands
That lose control
Have no mercy on your soul
On your soul

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, just set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

Sweet revenge

 -Metallica, Here Comes Revenge

 

Revenge has media backing. Entertainment media is suffused with violent images of revenge. Is not most of what is called action and drama cable programing and movies about taking revenge? Gladiator and Kill Bill come to mind but there are hundreds of revenge programs and movies. Tough guys and gals go settle scores via jihads, wars, crusades, etc., and pander to the basest of emotions for entertainment dollars. Revenge is valorized. 

Revenge is shown as what the character (and the viewer vicariously) must do to obtain closure. So, the ‘victim’ becomes the avenger. After killing the perpetrator, the avenger walks off mollified that he or she has justifiably killed another. Yet, in reality, taking revenge is never the end of the story. Revenge never brings the curtain down. How is this impulse for revenge, as depicted so often on the screen of black box, inscribed into our lives?

On Twitter a while back I engaged a woman in a conversation. As the thread became about control gun around a school shooting, I jumped in with a reply and stated that the media and those who consume those things are also blameworthy. I said that what is shown on TV and in movies and video games reinforces the idea that violent revenge is the answer to injustice.

In her replies to me, the woman was adamant that the media was benign. She replied with several of her Google search findings which she felt supported her position. I could tell from her responses that she also had a vested interest in saying the media was harmless. I learned that the kids she was caring for played video games. I ended the conversation with her mentioning that the sheer volume of programing that depicts violent revenge as the answer to a wrong must influence a person’s behavior subconsciously. She was resistant to the notion.

What I wanted to add: commercials are made to influence consumer behavior. The hourly and daily repetition of the same commercial will soon have a person, in Pavlovian response, finishing its jingle or its phone number or reciting the words of its comical product sketch at the office. Clearly, those who want to influence behavior use the media. The nightly newscasts that talk about “gun violence” are meant to stir up emotions against guns and their owners. Consider what the volumes of violent revenge images in the media do to the viewer, especially to the lone viewer and to the viewer with unresolved anger at some perceived offense? The scenarios do not depict reconciliation. The scenarios depict anger and rage fulfilled.

Consider also the effects of the news media’s attention to mass killers.

Most copycats have their private agenda in a rampage killing but seek to tie it in to other events that received a lot of publicity. In this way, they bask in the reflected publicity, so to speak. In many cases, the rampage killer wants to commit suicide but opts to take others with him…it is difficult to escape the conclusion that copycat killings are partly inspired by the publicity surrounding the original. Quote from Copycat Killings: Making sense of the senseless

 

As I thought about revenge and the incessant revenge depictions, the image that came to my mind was the one invoked by Jesus:

You heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil! Instead, when someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one toward him.  Matthew 5: 8-39

As I try to wrap my mind around those words, I come to some conclusions:

A slap of my face would be a stinging rebuke. A slap of my face means someone is in my face about some matter and it is personal.  A slap of my face is a challenge prodding me to answer back with equal force or to walk away in shame. A slap in my face is a show of power.

A person acting out ‘An eye for an eye’ revenge says to himself, “There is no God who will hold the other accountable and therefore I must avenge myself.” Or, “There is a God but he is off somewhere. I will have my vengeance.” A person acting out revenge says to himself, “I am not responsible for what happens next.”  A person acting out revenge says to himself, “I will not stop the cycle of violence until I have conquered the other and have brought them to their knees.”

A person acting out revenge rejects the words of Scripture…

Don’t take revenge, my dear people, but allow God’s anger room to work. The Bible says, after all, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will replay, say the Lord.” Romans 12: 19

 

I am told by Jesus to turn my other cheek into the line of fire. Doing so is the real show of power – restraint with the knowledge that God sees the offense. My Father in heaven, who also sees me when I pray in secret, will make things right. How can I be sure? Jesus, with servant-restraint, made it clear as he stood before Pilate that there is a Kingdom not of this world where he reigns as king. Jesus let Pilate know that there was a new power in town and with it comes a new justice system based in truth.

How can I be sure? Jesus endured whipping and slapping and mocking – evil’s stinging rebukes – and yet Jesus did not retaliate. Jesus did not call down angels to annihilate his accusers and torturers. Revenge would not reconcile the world to himself.

This is how it came about: God was reconciling the world to himself in the Messiah, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting us with the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19

 

Turning the other cheek is about the ministry of reconciliation. To take revenge is to reject reconciliation. To not forgive as a means of revenge is to reject reconciliation. To copy-cat violence back onto another is to reject reconciliation. To take revenge with words is to reject reconciliation.

The message of reconciliation will be offered out of red swollen cheeks. Keep that image in mind and reject the images of revenge. The inscriptions of hatred must be fully erased and the threads of violence yanked from the media. End “sweet revenge”.

 

Interactive media has influence over you if you let it. Added 6/19/2018:

What is gaming disorder?

Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

 

You Keep the Stub

 

You Keep the Stub

a short story

The Anderson family decided to go to a movie after an early supper. Dad, mom, Katie and Kevin got into the family’s van and headed over to the Markhem multiplex on the other side of Markhem River. They hoped that a 6:30 showing they wanted to attend wouldn’t be too crowded. To their surprise, the parking lot was empty except for one car. They were even more surprised to be the only ones standing in line for tickets. They knew from the promos that the movie was “box-office smash hit”. Dad told mom that it was probably just a quirk that no one was there at that time.

At the concession counter each asked for a tub of popcorn, a soda and some candy.  The guy from the ticket booth was now behind the counter. Now Dad noticed that the guy’s arms were covered in black thorny vine tattoos. The jagged vines went up under his short sleeves and then appeared again on his neck and into his hairline.

“Wow, for such a big place I don’t see many employees.” Dad spoke trying not to stare at the guy’s arms.

The guy answered, “Many of my friends left to work somewhere else. Something about feeling claustrophobic.”

“I’m glad you’re here!” dad pointed at the concession guy and then opened his hand. “But where are all the customers?”

“You don’t see them?!”

Katie looked around and scrunched her nose. “Daaaad?”

“Don’t worry, Katie, he’s just joking. We’re in a movie theater. We’re here to be entertained.

When the concession guy heard that he broke a half smile. He then directed the family over to the velvet rope cordon. The Andersons followed.

“We meet again!” dad joked.

The concession guy now turned usher tore off the tickets and handed them the stubs. He told them to keep their stubs. He pointed them to theater 2 where the movie, A Future Worth Fighting For, was playing.

 

The movie was the topic of discussion the night before. As the Andersons sat around the dinner table, a promotional commercial came on TV. Kevin pointed to the screen. Katie left her chair, headed over by the TV and told her parents, “That’s the movie everyone in my class has seen. I have to see it.”

Dad and mom learned from the promo that the movie was another in the Clash of Eco-SuperBeings series. Kevin and Katie filled in the movie details after dad had them turn off the TV and come back to the dinner table.

Katie began by telling mom and dad about the main characters, Vinica Tru and Wither.

“They’re Eco-SuperBeings. Vinica Tru has the power to create beautiful gardens and forests with lots of color. She directs light to make things grow. Wither also uses her power to control the environment, but in a bad way. Wither hates color. Wither wants to control light. Whiter wants to control how people see things. The web site says she’s an anti-chromatic fiend, whatever that means.”

Kevin jumped in.

“I think anti-chromatic means that Wither absorbs light and won’t reflect it back. She wears all black and a black hood. Black absorbs light and becomes heat. I learned that in physics class.”

Now dad jumped in.

“That’s my boy! Go on Kevin.”

Kevin told his parents about the super powers of Vinica Tru and Wither.

“Vinica Tru has two green thumbs. She uses the power in her thumbs to cause things to grow, like fields of flowers and prairie grasses and crops. She has the power to create over a thousand shades of green. She can shoot emerald rainbows into the sky out from between her thumbs! The rainbow falls to earth and things grow!

When Vinica Tru and Wither are not fighting, they said Vinica Tru is a watercolorist. Bill’s mom told me that Vinica Tru is an artist who paints with watercolors.

Wither is the opposite of Vinica Tru. Wither has the power to suck color out of anything. After she sucks in color she can spray a hot black fog out of her mouth. She says that the world must be colorless, that nothing should have color. Nothing should stand out. It should all be black.

Wither can also cast weeds and thorns out from her black thumbs. She destroys beautiful things like flowers and sunsets and …”

Katie interrupted.

“Wither hates rainbows. A rainbow in the sky means that beautiful things can grow. Wither will spray her black fog at rainbows in the sky to stop things from growing. But Wither is OK with rainbows that are not in the sky or are like the ones I see in puddles. Wither is OK with rainbows that don’t make things grow. I don’t have to take biology to know all that. Katie stuck her tongue out at Kevin.

Mom jumped in.

“That’s my girl? Go on Katie.”

“Like I said. If Wither sees a sky rainbow she sucks in their colors and sprays out a black rainbow to replace it.”

Now Kevin spoke.

“Wither wants to control the environment. She calls herself an environmental activist.”

 

The movie was everything Kevin and Katie had said. And more. Dad and mom weren’t used to the earsplitting sound effects. Dad wondered why the only lights in the otherwise dark theater, the red “Exit” lights, would flash whenever Wither appeared on the screen. Mom wondered why Katie was fidgeting so much. Both mom and dad noticed that whenever Vinica Tru used her green thumbs the theater became cool and energized, like a breath of fresh air. And whenever Wither breathed out the black fog, the air in the room became stuffy, stale and suffocating, like they had been placed inside a tomb.

 

After about an hour into the movie, Katie could not sit still. Mom asked her if she had to go to the bathroom. Katie said no but then changed her mind ten minutes later. What felt like prickly heat on Katie’s arms had become unbearable. Both her arms now felt like they were sunburned. How could that be? She hadn’t been out in the sun much at all.

“Mom! I’m going to the bathroom.” Katie whispered as she headed for the aisle.

“OK, honey. Come right back.”

In the bathroom Katie looked in the mirror. Both of her arms were lobster red and they burned.

“Whaaa?! What is going on?!

Katie returned to her seat and quickly forgot about her arms. The movie had more effect on her.

 

When the movie ended they walked out of the movie theater into the main hallway. Dad and mom couldn’t account for why all four of them had the chills and why they all felt so exhausted. Mom said, “I hope there wasn’t something in the air.” The thought of that had them head straight for the parking lot. On their way out, they noticed that the theater hallways were empty again. Outside they looked at each other and saw what looked like sunburn on each of their arms. Dad said, Wow! That VirtualMax gets under your skin!” Mom didn’t smile.

Once in the car they headed home without talking. Their minds were in a fog. The hot glow on their arms was all that concerned them.

The next morning Katie was the first out of bed. She headed to the bathroom and turned on the light. She looked at her arms. What she saw made her jaw drop. Her arms were covered with jagged black vines!

“Mom! Daaaad!” Katie cried.

Mom and dad rushed into the bathroom. When they saw Katie they both jumped back. Then, they looked at their own arms and saw the same black jagged vines. Looking in the mirror, the vines appeared to be growing up into their hair.

After several minutes in front of a mirror where he was trying to rub off the black, dad tried to make light of what he couldn’t understand. He said, “Wow! That VirtualMax gets under your skin!” But nobody smiled.

Dad, ever the optimist, was now dealing with a situation of seeming Biblical proportions beyond his control. He began looking for a positive outcome.

“Remember last night? They showed the promo of the sequel, The Abiding Battle where Vinica Tru battles Wither to restore color once and for all? The promo said, ‘In the final showdown, Vinica Tru uncovers the source of Wither’s colorlessness. Wither was once green but will never be green again.”

Dad rubbed his arm again. This time with a rag soaked with rubbing alcohol.

“This is not coming off. I guess we’re going to have to wait for the sequel. I’ll buy the tickets as soon as they come on sale next year.

Mom, looking at her horrified self in the mirror said, “I’m not waiting! I am going to start a garden!”

The next morning the Anderson family began their garden. After digging up and turning the black soil they tossed their ticket stubs into a hole and buried them. What the Anderson’s later learned was that certain ticket stubs have a way of growing into thorn bushes. But, to their great relief, as those thorn bushes grew, the black jagged vines on their arms began to fade away. But the black jagged vines left their mark, as if a tattoo had been removed.

Seeing no further improvement in the coloring of their arms, Dad decided it was time to cut down the thorn bushes and dig up the thorn bush stubs and be done with them. As he did he placed the prickly branches and the jagged stubs in a pile. He then doused them with gasoline and stood back. The burning heap crackled and hissed and gave off Sulphur fumes. A gathering column of blackness billowed from the screeching blaze, its only course toward the blue sky to meet its eco-fate – Vinica Tru.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2018, All Rights Reserved

Only One Thing Matters

 

Three scenarios, two Marys, and only one thing matters:

Jesus’s parents used to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up as usual…

After the festival, Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem for their home in Galilee. They went on for a day’s journey thinking the boy was with the traveling party. But Jesus had remained in Jerusalem. When it as discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found, Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem. There, they found the boy in the temple courts sitting among the teachers. He was listening to them and asking questions. Those who heard him were astonished at his understanding and his answers. And the teachers were not the only ones who were taken aback. When Joseph and Mary saw the boy they were quit overwhelmed.

“Child,” said his mother, “why did you do this to us?” Look—your father and I have been in a terrible state looking for you!”

“Why were you looking for me?” he replied. “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?”

 

It appears from Luke’s Gospel text that Joseph and Mary assumed that the boy Jesus was mature enough to make his way home within the traveling party and without oversight. Maybe at that time Mary was caring for or carrying another child. Chasing a twelve-year-old boy around would have been too much.

What we do know is that Mary did keep track in her heart of what the angel had said to her before her pregnancy. No doubt she also remembered that she and Joseph had escaped the rage of a king. And, she must have told Luke after the resurrection and ascension that the boy Jesus was “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.” (Luke 2: 40). Yet, with such unique events (including wise men appearing) surrounding the child, I wonder why a closer eye wasn’t kept on the boy. It appears that Mary did not comprehend Jesus.

One observation, based on this early account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own parents in this case, feel OK about him. His parent’s assumptions, in fact, had them carry on thinking all was well. But the harsh reality had them turn around and look for Jesus.

 

It is said that Saint Teresa of Avila once remarked to the Lord, regarding not being OK with how he treated her, that, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

Now, let’s turn to a wedding. (No, not that wedding.)

 

Roughly eighteen years after Joseph and Mary catch up to Jesus, Jesus and Mary attend a wedding in Cana. Mary invokes mother privilege when the wine runs out. What prompted her to think Jesus should do something about empty wine glasses? Did she remember boy Jesus asking, “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?” Had she seen Jesus perform other such miracles? Was she simply trying to get him involved in procuring more wine for the wedding feast? I assume that Mary, like most mothers, was concerned about guests being taken care of. The wedding invite likely meant that she was close to the wedding family. In any case, mother gets involved…

 

Jesus’s mother came over to him.

“They haven’t got any wine!” she said.

“Oh, Mother!”, replied Jesus. What’s that got to do with you and me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

 

The apostle John records (Chapter 2) Jesus’s act of transubstantiation — turning water into wine — as the first sign of Jesus’s public ministry. The One who is involved with his Father’s work knew that once the signs of his kingdom had begun publicly, that everything would change. It would be the end of a quiet family life. The public ministry would involve throngs of people around him. It would involve choosing disciples from the locals. It would involve facing down all the powers in heaven and on earth. It would involve the ultimate sacrifice, his death on a cross.

Mary did not see this coming. She only saw in Jesus what most Jews had hoped for – a promise come true, a covenant kept, a prophet, a teacher and, a triumphant Messiah — one who came and conquered. The Jews of the first century believed a Messiah would come to save God’s people. Going up to the Passover festival every year would reinforce that thinking. Their Deliverer was coming. It was Mary who said, [God] “has rescued his servant, Israel, his child, because he remembered his mercy of old…”.

The Jews assumed that this Messiah would be a special human, a “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him” human. They assumed wrong. And, when the wine ran out, did Mary assume that she could force Jesus to deliver the goods and reveal himself to the world? Others would later demand a sign from Jesus (Matthew 12:38).

Jesus counters Mary’s assumption on that “Oh, Mother!”’s Day: “My time hasn’t come yet.”

One observation, based on this account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own mother in this case, feel OK about things. Mary’s assumption, in fact, likely had her thinking all will be well if Jesus just does what she asked of him. Wine glasses were empty and more wine was needed immediately for the celebration to continue. An honest need. But, more wine depended on the Father. Listening to the Father was the only thing that mattered to Jesus.

 

Now, let’s turn to a third scenario found in Luke’s Gospel account 10: 38-42.

 

On their journey, Jesus came into a village. There was a woman there named Martha, who welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the master’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen.

“Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!”

“Martha, Martha,” he replied, “you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.”

 

A Proverbs 31 woman/host has major setbacks when that woman is determined to lord her peace of mind over another. That was what Martha sought to do to Mary. Martha assumed that her demands would be met. She assumed that the Lord would put Mary in her place – the woman’s space. I think it is safe to assume that Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to Jesus as he talked to Mary’s brother Lazarus, as they sat together in the men’s space.

We are told in John’s gospel account chapter 11: 2 that this Mary was the same Mary who would anoint the feet of Jesus with myrrh and then wipe them with her hair. Listening to Jesus and then responding to him with extravagant love defines the ultimate woman and more so than Proverbs 31 could ever do. 

 

Assumptions about Jesus can make us frantic, as when Joseph and Mary, after thinking that Jesus was under control, had to turn around and look for their missing child. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fret, as when the wine runs out at a wedding feast. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fussy when we make a demand for satisfaction. Discard assumptions about Jesus. Turn off social media. Turn off noise.

There is only one thing that matters and we see it restated in the three scenarios above. First, Mary and Joseph find the missing boy Jesus instructing the teachers in the temple. Those who heard the boy Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers. Second, Mary tells the servants at the wedding to listen to Jesus. And finally, Jesus honors Mary because she is listening to him.

If you think you know what Jesus would do, you don’t. You begin to know him as you listen to him and not to your assumptions about him. To listen to him means to be at his feet without your Smartphone assumptions. Choose “the best part” and not frantic fussy fretting. Choose the one thing that matters and you won’t lose it, empty it and, it’s not going to be taken away from you.

Slippery Slopes are Not Defensible Positions

The following Tweet appeared in my Twitter feed. As one can see, the Tweet is not a response to a particular person. Rather it is a scourging of the topics discussed in a Tennessee Sunday School, as noted in the article posted. It is also obvious that the Tweet was meant for Janet Mefferd’s followers. My response was to the content of the Tweet and its implications for those who call Jesus “Lord”.

There were several responses to my reply, including, “Total capitulation. So sad professing Christians think they need to do this.” It was if I had succumbed to the world and had become a carnal Christian in accepting a scientific understanding of creation.

One woman had a most vehement disagreement with me regarding my use of science. She has since blocked me.

Her arguments against my positing evolutionary creation were not arguments at all. Rather, she quoted Scripture verses denouncing me as promoting false doctrine and 1 Cor. 1:27:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

And in keeping with Mefferd, she also posted slippery slope warning diatribes denouncing evolutionary creation as the road to outer Darwinism.

This woman’s responses implied that since I held to a science-explained creation that I did not know Scripture and that I was not a Rock-solid Fundamentalist and therefore already on a slippery slope. She would only accept a literal 6-day (24 hour/day) creation reading of Genesis. Here is one of my responses to her:

To allay misunderstanding, I was not trying to win an argument when I posted my replies. I did state my position in my initial response. I did try to further discussion of the science versus Scripture and Faith issue that seems so prevalent in Christian circles. I did try to jump start a conversation about evolutionary creation. And, in so doing I implied that it is appropriate to discuss science in church. I also felt that I had to stand up for scientific study, as nature is God’s revelation to us along with Scripture.

But, the minds of those who replied were in lock-down mode. They would not hear of such a thing. They became defensive. And, that is the implication and force of Tweets like the above: to shut down any thinking that comes from outside the narrative and to reinforce the closely held narrative. I am reminded of Plato’s cave allegory (see below). The mind-shackled use the shadows – illusions- on a cave wall as their shared narrative.

As anyone can observe today, groups on both Right and Left have their hard-drive narratives and fire-walls set up against any knowledge that would corrupt their narrative. Offensively, ultraconservative Fundamentalists use dictatorial piety with a formatted Sola Scriptura narrative to counter-spam the ultraliberal dictatorial piety of Progressives and their formatted Sola Pretium Affectionis (Values) narratives. And, vice versa.

Both groups use virtue signaling in social media to reinforce their narrative to their followers and to ward off criticism of and debate about their narrative. Both groups use slippery slope scenarios to buttress their narratives against challenges. Both group’s narrative reinforcements are those whose personal version of God is one created in their own image. As such, both group’s absolutist narratives allow one to presume to know all there is about an issue. Both group’s narratives are for the simple-minded: the narratives make no demands of you; the narratives require no effort or thought; the narrative only requires that you repeat its words over and over. But, as someone also observed, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” (Chaucer, 1374).

 

You can go to a church week after week and have your narrative reinforced. Or, you can go to church and have your narrative brought out into the open and challenged. Jesus challenged hard-wired fire-wall protected absolutist dictatorial narratives. Disciples followed to hear more. Others walked away and back to their safe space narrative cave.

In the world where a Christian’s replies instantly equate my inquiry and debate to heresy and to precipitous slippery slope scenarios or to Fundamentalism, nothing is ventured and nothing is gained. Fear of the unknown is what is being defended against with such rebuffing Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. The Gospel was NOT being defended or upheld for all to see with such dismissive Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. And that’s because the Gospel is not cave-ridden. Those who embrace the Gospel walk in the light. But for some, tweeting from the safe space narrative cave about slippery slopes outside somewhere is all that matters.

 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,

for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

 

 As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

 

~~~

Some things to ponder:

Allegory of the Cave

 

“Despite the efforts of a few evangelical intellectuals like B. B. Warfield and James Orr, to work patiently through the mid-level science literature of the day, evangelicalism as a whole relied more on popular argumentation aimed at democratic audiences, rather than on discriminating advanced learning, to counter the anti -Christian uses of modern science.  Powerful social forces fueled this populist approach.”

-Mark Noll, Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview

“The fact that the human and chimpanzee genomes exhibit striking synteny with only subtle differences in genomic organization has been known for some time, based on chromosome staining and molecular hybridization techniques.The main differences between human and chimpanzee chromosome sets are nine intrachromosomal inversions and one chromosome fusion. These observations have now been confirmed at the molecular level by whole-genome sequencing of humans and chimpanzees.”

-Dennis R. Venema, Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes

“Now we Reformed Christians are wholly in earnest about the Bible. We are people of the Word; Sola Scriptura is our cry; we take Scripture to be a special revelation from God himself, demanding our absolute trust and allegiance. But we are equally enthusiastic about reason, a God-given power by virtue of which we have knowledge of ourselves, our world, our past, logic and mathematics, right and wrong, and God himself; reason is one of the chief features of the image of God in us. And if we are enthusiastic about reason, we must also be enthusiastic about contemporary natural science, which is a powerful and vastly impressive manifestation of reason. So this is my question: given our Reformed proclivities and this apparent conflict, what are we to do? How shall we think about this matter?”

-Alvin Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” [1 Timothy 1.7]

-Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) (emphasis mine)

From Rage to Rage or Age to Age the Same

 

It seems that for much of the Evangelical Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns getting people saved from hell and then setting them on the path of a fundamentalist political narrative. The right people must be elected by the right people to protect the rights of the right people. For heaven’s sake.

It also seems that for the Progressive Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns saving folks from material concerns and then discipling them to be a fellow traveler in the Long March toward cultural hegemony where individuated rights reign supreme. For social justice’s sake.

Are the two narratives ascribed above oversimplifications? Judging by their social media content I would say they are not. And though there are narrative differences, both groups do let their narrative identify them politically. Both groups wrangle for power over the other to gain narrative advantage. Both group’s worldview is refracted by their narrative window. Both groups tend toward stream of consciousness narratives: reacting to events as they go along and providing their own context. And yet, as I read Scripture, I find that the Christian world has already been defined by the all-encompassing Kingdom of God narrative handed down to us.

As there is one God, there is one narrative. From the beginning Word (John 1), God gave His people the storyline. His people, for the most part, were and still are the characters in that storyline. His people have and still must walk in that narrative because they and us are held accountable for what we do with that imperishable narrative. So that there was no doubt as to what narrative eclipses all others, Jesus told his disciples, “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never, ever disappear”. The Kingdom of God people narrative was not going away with a vote or a change in government or with new laws passed.

 

What is that narrative handed down to the Kingdom of God people to walk in? The account was written down by several of God’s chosen people. Israel was to be the personification of the narrative, as the creation and covenant people, a people holy and separated unto God and for His glory. What characterizes the Kingdom of God people and their narrative? There are several aspects.

They are monotheistic. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and usually the first scripture a Jewish child learns: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” Israel was strictly warned by God to not make idols of false gods or to make any image of God.

The Kingdom of God people come to understand that God is both personal and transcendent. The narrative they pass onto to their children is that not only is God the Creator but that He is also personally involved with his creation. The Kingdom of God narrative does not include deism.

God’s Kingdom people are temple-centered people. The temple is where the personal-infinite God dwells with man. The temple is where heaven and earth come together.

God’s people rely on God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s righteousness. God made promises to Abraham and to David. His people expect those promises to be fulfilled within the same narrative.

God’s Kingdom people are Exodus people. They know what God had done for their ancestors. They expect God to take them out from under the rulers of this world.

God’s Kingdom people are the Messiah people. They expect a Savior to take his place over the rulers of this world and bring ultimate justice. The Messiah – God’s faithfulness to His covenant or God’s righteousness – is their hope (Gal. 5:5).

God’s Kingdom people are eschatological people. They believe that God would ultimately put the world right and restore His creation, and dwell with man in His temple forever.

God’s Kingdom people are Holy God people. They were given the Commandments and Laws of a Holy God. And though Wisdom tells us (Eccl. 1:9) that “there is nothing new under the sun”, ‘Enlightened’ Post-modernist Progressives seek to rewrite God’s moral laws to fit an Epicurean culture. But, the Kingdom of God narrative of a holy God has never changed.

 

In previous posts I have given you accounts of how the Kingdom of God people narrative has played out in some character’s lives. The accounts of Joseph, Esther and Daniel provide us, the Kingdom of God people, with an understanding of how to live in this world but not like this world. In other words, how to live out the Kingdom of God narrative. Their stories relate confrontations between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. 

Because Joseph and Esther and Daniel embraced the Kingdom of God narrative as their own, they held fast to their separate-from-the-world ways. Each character knew that God was not off somewhere and uninvolved in their situation. From the accounts of their ancestors, each understood God to be a personal and yet transcendent God. Their desire for God’s dwelling place with man is at the center of their lives, even in exile. And, each knew that God would ultimately put things right. As such, none of the three wavered into other narratives to secure power or a safe space or to receive praise from men.

Esther points out the evil.

Their accounts relate how the Kingdom of God people can live in the most adverse circumstances and yet live out the Kingdom of God people narrative. Each faced life and death choices. Each came through the fire to be found faithful. So, they were rewarded in a way that gave God the glory.

In each of their stories, Joseph, Esther and Daniel, were chosen out from their lowly and displaced estate and placed into exalted positions. They were chosen based on their wisdom, insight and character qualities in line with the Kingdom of God people narrative. 

 

The only narrative that matters is the Kingdom of God narrative. All other narratives will pass away. Those who call Jesus “Lord” will walk in the Kingdom of God narrative. It is their storyline. If they don’t, they will likely receive a written message from the First and Last Narrator:

 

“Now write what you see, both the things that already are, and also the things that are going to happen afterward.” The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:19

Joseph, Esther and Daniel:

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) Meet the Hangman, Part One

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Two

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Three

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Four, Conclusion

All the Difference in the World