Thursday, December 18, 2008

Six Billion Monotheists?

The Unitarians tell us:

“One God, Many Names.”
The power to name is the power to control. If I call my god “Ned” after my favorite rich uncle, who gave me a Porsche when I was 16, my deity is very very different from the God of the Jews and Christians. That God is a Holy God, and loves me too much to indulge my every whim, then or now. If I'm really a monotheist, I have to decide which God is “The One.”
Perhaps the Jewish/Christian deity is a figment of our collective imagination, and the one true deity really is rightly called Ned. Or perhaps s/he has so many faces that we have no idea which if any is the real one. But that starts to look like polytheism. H_LL, it IS Polytheism! The Unitarians and their liberal Protestant fellow travelers are NOT monotheists! They think the world contains a different god for each human!
Now, each of us looks at God in a slightly different way.
Of course: each individual is unique, and uniquely loved by the Jewish/Christian God. [We'll call him YHWH since he revealed himself with those four Hebrew letters in the Jewish Scriptures. It's unpronounceable without adding some vowels, I'm told by those who know, or ought to.] This God's self revelation has brought meaning to a large proportion of those 6 billion, and to billions before them across many different cultures. But those who believe look at ONE God from many viewpoints, not an infinite number of gods from infinite viewpoints. Some see more clearly than others, just as individuals differ in other ways. We can know which viewpoints are helpful, and true, by comparing each vision to God's self revelation, and thus learn a lot about ourselves, and about the God who LOVES US ENOUGH TO REVEAL HIMSELF! Finite humans could never handle a complete self revelation, but we have a remarkably coherent library of 66 books about Him, AND we can see what He was like when He walked this earth. (Hint: think of a Palestinian Jew named Jesus. John 14:6)

So, Unitarians and theological liberals can't believe in grace, because they don't believe in sin [see post below] and they are not monotheists because that would require a specific, self-revealed God—their worst nightmare! An outta control god! Ten Commandments—soon they'll be thousands, they cry—misunderstanding the Commandments, which are actually part of God's self revelation. (Which ones are binding today requires some study of the NEW Covenant. Most Christians and Jews say “all Ten” although Jesus himself relaxed the 4th Commandment a wee bit, while tightening up the rest a lot [Lust=Adultery, Anger=Murder from Matthew 5-7].) Thank God, I believe in grace. I confess my total inability to obey any of them—I cast myself upon his mercy and—here's the good part—not only do I know this one God in a personal way, but sometimes I actually want to obey His commands! I'm still tempted, but God empowers me to resist—I'm not alone with Uncle Ned. In case you're wondering: Ned—the god, the uncle—neither exists. I didn't get a Porsche, I got a Schwinn 10-speed, for which I am very grateful. Thanks Mom, thanks Dad! And thank God.
More on self revelation: I use “He” for God because that's the pronoun exclusively used in both Jewish and Christians Scriptures. From the very beginning, God has declared that BOTH male and female reflect his image, which (I think) is why there are two genders, and why marriage is a picture of the persons in the Godhead. And I sometimes capitalize the pronouns because it's a bad habit I picked up from the King James Bible. It also helps me sort out my antecedents, but of course the Greek and Hebrew texts don't use capitals in that way—they aren't even punctuated!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

IS THERE GRACE WITHOUT SIN? Thoughts on Modernism and Sojourners Magazine

Kudos to Brian McLaren for his prediction of an Obama win and difficulties among his friends in holding the new President accountable. Here's one reason why this will be nearly impossible: it actually goes back to the Modernist controversy of the 1920's in American Protestantism (rather than the more recent Postmodernist debate). Let me define modernists as Secularists, plus their counterparts within the Catholic and Protestant traditions. But it's the same conflict as Martin Luther faced in the Middle Ages: Grace v. Works. The works of the priest, the transubstantiation of the Mass were religious works, at least as the Reformers understood them, and probably as many if not most practitioners did. Today's liberals, whether secular or “Christian” are also legalists! What? They are anti-Ten Commandments, so they are anti-legalism, right? NO! There is NO GRACE without sin. Modernists do not believe in sin, so they CANNOT believe in grace. Grace , though entirely opposed to legalism, is not its mirrored opposite. Grace is not “no laws” as opposed to “lots of laws.” Grace is God's gift to those who heed His call to repentance from SIN. Through the Law we become conscious of sin. But if we deny the law, that is, IGNORE it, there is no consciousness of sin. Modernists fervently believe, like good legalists, that sin is “what those bad, bad guys do.” George Bush, Jim Dobson and the waterboarding crowd are BAD because of what they do. They are judged by modernists, both secular and religious, using a different, "up-to-date" law. This “New Law” is nothing like grace. Its function is identical to Old Testament law even if most or every law is radically different. It differentiates the good guys from the bad guys, us versus them. The Modernists are the new Pharisees. Now, I am painfully aware that a conservative Protestant such as myself is sorely temped by legalism and Phariseeism. I acknowledge this temptation and my frequent failures. But that doesn't mean that my theological opposites have an opposite temptation—you have the SAME temptation, and your failure is to judge by your new, more “Reason”able standard. Many times, the Wallis/MacLaren crowd is simply judging by a new law. They cannot be recipients or advocates of grace because they do not acknowledge sin as an offense against a Holy God. In liberalism's eye, God's standards are outmoded, and God has been reduced to their favorite uncle in a tweed jacket. (Or some feminist hero for the more radical crowd). This judging is ANYTHING but Grace. “God is dead” proclaimed the most honest liberals of the 1960's. The sentiment was never contradicted by the mainline liberals; only the words were changed. IF this is indeed what you have done, you have created a god in your own image, violating the first and second commandments. While a kinder word would be to describe some of this would be “modernist/Christian syncretists,” it would also be accurate to describe those who believe this way as idolaters. Now, there are many good people posting at SojoNet; I only offer these thoughts as a warning, and as a “If the shoe fits” challenge. Some of these thoughts are from J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism” He acknowledged that Christianity and Modernism would've also been an accurate title, and today it would be much more accurate since this is only vaguely related to politics. It's
Grace v. works. Some of the Confessions have embarrassing condemnations of Catholicism, necessitating explanations and qualifications in the Introductions that the PC(USA) uses to annotate their consititution. This sort of updating is good, because practicing Catholics (as opposed to “We Are the Church” de-facto protestants) have more in common with biblical religion than do modernists. Modernists include Secularists, and their counterparts within the Catholic and Protestant traditions. But it's the same conflict: Grace v. Works. The works of the priest, the transubstantiation of the Mass were religious works, at least as the Reformers understood them, and probably as many if not most practitioners

Sunday, September 14, 2008

If only real elections were this good

Here's a feel good book just in time for the election season. But it's more than just that. Perkins weaves together an exquisite cultural sensitivity into her Presidential election drama, drawing on personal experience and what I can only describe as a really big heart. The characters: An adopted South Asian teen. A flower child mom who is a church-going political liberal! Her husband: the kindest, most tolerant Republican Presidential candidate (since Abe Lincoln), but not a church goer. The opponent: Hill sans Bill, with a handsome son to boot. But the best character of all is Uncle Mohamed. I can't wait for him to reappear in the sequel.
And yes, there are "bad guys"--an over-the-hill (at 30!) media know-it-all, and the usual paparazzi.
While marketed as a teen novel, ADULTS WILL REALLY WANT TO READ THIS as an antidote to the evening news. Perkins is clearly anchored in reality, even as she tries to bring out the best in (nearly all) of her characters.
First Daughter, Extreme American Makeover, by Mitali Perkins

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sweet sixteen, an American folktale

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall SEE GOD"
This is a fairy tale about Kirsten. Not the doll, but a real, live girl, now grown into a young woman.
When she was little, all sorts of things were said about how cute and special she was. "Could she be any cuter…" was a typical comment. When she was a little older, people started saying:
"Oh, you have your mommy’s BIG Beautiful eyes." Older still: "Oh, you’re going to be skinny like your daddy." But there was one really strange thing about this otherwise perfectly normal girl. She had never seen a mirror! All she knew about her appearance was what people said about her. Her mommy and daddy told everyone: "Keep Kirsten away from mirrors, and shiny things where she might see herself." So, everyone did.
One day Kirsten was taking a walk in the woods, all by herself. The trees formed a great, dark canopy overhead, but she felt perfectly safe, as if in the most beautiful cathedral in the world. She came to a small pool, mysteriously still. There was a large flat rock along one edge. Kirsten thought. "Oh, if I stood on the rock and looked straight down, I could see myself! My beautiful, blonde hair. My big eyes. And how trim and healthy I look. Dare I? DARE I DO IT? I shall!"
So, looking all around her to make sure no one would see what she was doing, she stepped onto the rock, curled her toes carefully over its edge, and looked down. She saw something in the pool. "It must be my reflection, from head to toe!" But…..
There was no blonde hair, but a billowing cloud of very dark hair. Eyes, but not at all like her mother’s. A large, boldly shaped nose. The figure was very broad, and very very tall. "Is that what I look like???" She asked aloud in surprise. To her utter amazement, a deep, soft, kind voice answered. "Yes, it is, because YOU look like ME!"
"And WHO are you??" she shot back.
"I’m the One who made you, and I made you in My Image"
"But you’re a man! And I’m not! ‘Cause, well, I just had my period, you know …."
"I know everything about you"
"You do?? Well, you’re a man and I’m not. Tell me about THAT"
"Thank you for asking. I’ll try to tell you as much as you can understand in this life. First, I’m NOT a male of the human species. No testosterone, and, trust me, none of the relevant anatomy."
"I trust you, I trust you! But go on…"
"Well, I’m not the ‘way up there, won’t touch the earth’ kind of God that other religions talk about. So I had to allow you to imagine me in human form. Androgynous would NEVER do; too different, too impersonal."
"So, why aren’t you a woman! What’s wrong with us!"
"I thought about that for a long, long time. But if I was a big, powerful woman, people just wouldn’t get it. Especially the guys. Trust me, please. But you do resemble me, really, in all the ways that are important…."
"Oh." (Pauses) "But….there’s still one thing…""Yes, my child?""Wait, I figured it out"
"You were going to say that I’m holding a shining sword in my left hand, and you’re not left handed?""Yep…..until I remembered—you’re a reflection."
"Actually, you are reflecting ME, but that’s a story for another time…."
…..suddenly there was a brief, intense flash of light. Kirsten blinked, looked down into the pool, and straight into the big, dark eyes of the most beautiful, blonde 16 year old in all the world. A pure, white rose rested gently in her hand.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The above appeared the Boston Metro Tue., Feb. 26, 2008 with title and emphasis added by the paper:
Thanks for Thomas Keown's column on Christians who care deeply about poverty. Our faith is not the property of the Republicans or the Democrats. As Jim Wallis puts it, in his usual thought-provoking style,"the religious right is being replaced by Jesus." What is sometimes forgotten, though, is that left wing Christians need Jesus, too. Many liberal clergy have turned words about Jesus into a code, so that right and wrong become malleable, and where Jesus' resurrection and even his existence become secondary. Instead of remembering that Jesus said "not the smallest letter, or even a dot" will pass away from God's good laws, they substitute the relaxed morality of the secular world for the timeless safety of the Ten Commandments. If caring for the poor ever becomes as unfashionable as sexual morality already is, the religious left will have no more use for Jesus.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Damn the Presbyterians!

or, what if C.S.Lewis had been Presbyterian instead of Anglican?

Location: A dungeon somewhere in Eastern Massachusetts
Time: November 19, 2007

First Voice: Damn those Presbyterians!
Second Voice: Will you stop saying that!
First Voice: What, now you're a prude.
Second Voice: No, it's just that...well...we are!
First Voice: Prudes?
Second Voice: No, damned. For all eternity.
First Voice: Eternity's a long way off, mate.
Second Voice: In The Enemy's time, it's already here.
First Voice: Gee, thanks, "Mr. KNOW IT ALL, the Pit's most theologically correct demon," come all the way from Pennsylvania to lecture me.
Second Voice: Don't say that name!
First Voice: Huh? "Gee?" C'mon, it's not his name, it's a misspelling of the first initial.
Second Voice: Whatever, I've still got the creeps from his last visit.
First Voice(embarrassed): Don't remind me. I was taking a Pit Stop myself. Rehab assignment, you know.
Second Voice: How could I forget? Demoted because for three successive Sabbaths you failed to get a Pharisee to count his cumin.
First Voice: I was trying to get him to peek down Martha's veil.
Second Voice: Did it work?
First Voice: No, she would always pray when she walked past him, and he knew it.
Second Voice: Great, you ended up making him pious.
First Voice: I figured he would be proud of his piety.
Second Voice: So that's why they assigned you to the skinny guy in Newton?
First Voice(grunts agreement): He has a great pedigree.
Second Voice: What? His dad???? Sure, he's a Republican, but real Pharisees don't pray like he does. They just can't.
First Voice: What makes you an expert?
Second Voice: I have a choice assignment myself.
First Voice: (sarcastically) Seine Namen?
Second Voice: The skinny guy's big brother!
First Voice: (snorts) Like how hard is it to keep him down?
Second Voice: Harder than it looks. The guy lives at the poverty level so he can be around books. Books about the Enemy. There's even a shrine to Machen, eight feet below his desk at the library!
First Voice: That makes it even easier
Second Voice: Like Hell it does
First Voice: Now who's swearing?
Second Voice: Shut up. Machen stayed with the Presbyterians til they kicked him out. Even mixed with pride and human weakness, the truth in all those Reformed theological tomes is straight from the Enemy. Years ago, the big brother even turned the little skinny one on to social justice!
First Voice(with a derisive laugh): You mean Sojourners? I love it! Too timid to stand up to the liberals, they spend their time smugly pretending conservatives are all materialistic despoilers of the Enemy's creation… But who am I kidding? Yesterday those Presbyterians at Fern Street had a sermon preached by a Jew about the Trinity in Isaiah 11. He went on to say the Enemy’s minions can work for social justice WITHOUT being motivated by guilt. That evening the girl that got away from Cluny's host told her story. We had to put out an emergency call for all the demons in town. Caused a traffic jam on The Pike.
Second Voice: Jews? Preaching at Fern Street? The pretty Unitarian Church? I love the Unitarians--great place to catch a nap.
First Voice: Hello, it was sold to the Presbyterians in 1946.
Second Voice: Unitarian, Presbyterian, most of our guys don't exactly bother to memorize either of their addresses. So, what happened?
First Voice: Well, the skinny guy is easy to distract--any pretty girl will do-- but another militant was hiding in the corner. She saw us swooping down, tapped the skinny guy's shoulder and BOOM! Next thing I knew, I was writhing in pain on that stupid linoleum, listening to a sermon.
Second Voice: Sermon? I thought it was, like, a community event
First Voice: Hah! They’ve been reading the Enemy's instruction booklet. And we lost 'cause of a couple of skinny elders, plus that lady whose teeth we knocked out last year.
Second Voice: Don't you dare mention the lady with the teeth again. How were we to know the Enemy had agents at a Dental School? It’s well known that we own every high school and University on the East Coast... But back to last night: it must've taken more than three of them to hold up Moses’ arms.
First Voice: For once, you're right: We forgot to sweep the basement. Turns out a militant named John was down there, on his knees, all evening. Like I said,
Damn those Presbyterians!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Even better than Dilbert's amazing mission statement generator

Mission Statement:
Our company seeks to glorify God by providing surgeons and endoscopists with innovative tools for the human side of healing


Diversity: We will employ a diverse and talented group of people and ideas to a common purpose.
We will encourage "thinking outside the box" Yes, it’s a cliché, yet it manages to capture much of our approach. Our products will be orthogonal when that is efficient, and also spiral, random or anything else that works!
Integrity: We will not lie, cheat, or steal.
We are whole individuals, with lives outside of work.
Trust: We will be open and honest with one another, allowing differences to contribute to our creativity.
We will hold the above in creative tension with valuing each individual’s privacy
Results: We will deliver value to our shareholders
We will deliver useful tools to the medical community

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What’s YOUR favorite body part?

(No, I didn’t say "favorite part of your body")
We just had TWO sermons on Unity and Community. Last week, a new staff member preached from the Psalms, and I loved her description of the shining beauty of the oil that covered the high priest from HEAD TO TOE[note double foreshadowing, you literary types]
This week was the familiar Pauline passage on the unity and necessity of the diverse body: No part is less important than any other.
So, what about the Head? Seems everyone wants to be the Head, but that job is taken by the One Slain from the Foundation of the World. So even though I must take up my own cross, that doesn’t make me "The Brain"
How about Heart—warm, vital, life giving? A nice thought, but no, not really.
Eye? A little closer—I see things many don’t see, and I often see things differently.
How about………….
A Toenail! I’m a little rough around the edges, and sadly, I accumulate a lot of odd-looking stuff that others think is junk. (In fact, some of it is)
WHERE IS THIS GUY’S SELF IMAGE? Please, don’t give up on me yet; I didn’t say I was a hangnail. That doesn’t count as a body part since, technically, I think only a tiny part of a hangnail is even alive. They are mostly dead tissue attached to living tissue with VERY functional nerve endings. And, yes, as necessary as toenails are, I don’t think most of the nail is "alive," either. The best part of me is what’s beneath the surface, and behind the visible part! All you see of me is what’s been pushed out from under the skin! And, far from having a low self image, consider this about me: when The Body is walking at a normal pace, not leaning or swinging the arms, what part crosses the finish line first??
You might even, gasp, call me a Leader! But please don’t.