Is God dead or simply AWOL?

One of the running themes in the TV show Supernatural is that God got tired of us and wandered off to another part of the universe. While this is certainly more postmodern than Nietzsche’s “God is dead,” the idea still upsets a lot of people. Mainly Christians.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize the idea isn’t inconceivable, especially to someone who spent his life immersed in Christian faith and traditions. I don’t believe God did abandon us, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did.

Think about it. The central theme of Christianity is that the divine presence dwelled in human form and allowed himself 1 to be killed unjustly so that we could escape our own guilt. Not only does more than half the world say, “No thank you,” but many of us who don’t have become so unpleasant or noncommittal that the rest of the world can’t help but believe our faith is a fraud.

How many Christians obey Jesus’ injunctions? And I include those who profess that obedience is the first requirement of salvation. Let’s take Jesus’ injunction to not judge others or to criticize the blemishes of others while ignoring the gross deformities of our own, for example. Whenever any of us reads or hears that (including me) the first thing we say is, “That’s right. Those other guys should stop judging people.”

Christianity also teaches that grace replaces judgment for believers. We cling to that promise. Isn’t it unfortunate that our own behavior is so negligent and ungraceful that we convince the rest of the world our faith is little more than sound and fury?

In spite of our protestations to the contrary, if the world doesn’t feel the presence of God in our presence, but instead feels put off by the thought of us, we only have ourselves to blame. Not the devil, liberals, Hollywood, atheists, secular humanists, school system, mass media, advertisers or internet pornographers.

1I say “himself” because gender free language such as “itself” undermines God’s personality. Some would say “herself,” and that would immediately bother others. I could say “themselves” because technically God is a they in modern protestant and catholic theology, but that seems even odder. Of course, the fact that I feel it necessary to even qualify my choice of pronouns in many ways lends credence my thoughts on the matter. back


The pope proves he has the right manly stuff

This evening Carol showed me one of those cyber posters with a painting of Adam and Eve and a punchline wondering why artists always paint them with navels. Actually, the punchline wondered why they always had belly buttons, but as long as we’re being picky (as that particular poster seemed to have been) bellies don’t have buttons. There is nothing on the belly we can fasten pants, shirts, vests or other bellies to. They have navels.

To be honest, I’m surprised Carol didn’t know this gag. It was a classic brain teaser when we were kids. “An archeologist walks into a cave and sees two dead bodies. He immediately knows they’re Adam and Eve. How?”

Please don’t tell me you don’t know the answer. If you intend to, then you need to put your phone down and reread the lede paragraph (and, although the spelling is pretentious, in this context it’s correct).

That being said, I’m not sold on this whole “no navel” business. Why do we assume that just because Adam and Eve weren’t born, but created from dust, mud and ribs, they wouldn’t have navels? Sure, a navel wouldn’t be necessary, but does that mean they wouldn’t have been there?

Don’t fundamentalists get upset with scientists for saying essentially the same thing? If the theory of evolution is correct, then God isn’t necessary to human life. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t out there. And the Bible does say God created Adam and Eve in his image. How do we know God doesn’t have a navel?

If I seem to be picking at gnats, I feel I’m in good company with Pope Benedict this week. He took control of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (read “nuns” in the common vernacular) and handed the reins to a male Bishop. And we all know that unmarried men who run around in robes are completely equipped to discern the spiritual needs of women in the twenty-first century.

Ostensibly the move was because of the conference’s professed stand on same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion, except that the conference has no official position on any of those issues. And that, it turns out, is the problem. The conference takes no official position. It seems they should have.

Here’s what I don’t get. The conference is an organized arm of the Catholic church. By default their official position is identical to the church’s unless they say otherwise. But that’s not good enough for women. They actually have to come out and say, “Whatever the men say, we’re for it.”

But that’s church teaching too. Men make the decisions, women go along. Because Christ is head of the church and men represent Christ in families.

Ironically, this follows almost by two weeks, my Easter blog on the need to give believers the space to find the truth. I guess the Pope doesn’t read my blog.

This kind of lock-step dictation of personal faith was exactly the kind of church policy that caused evangelicals and fundamentalists to hold the church in suspicion when I was a kid. I was raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) and BPKs believed in free will. The church, any church, didn’t get to dictate our conscience.

After all, Jesus said Christians will be known by our love for one another. Not by our doctrinal purity. These days it seems that the religious right, encouraged by the Corporate Christian Complex (CCC) marches in lock step with the Pope. Only this Pope seems determined to roll back two centuries worth of Papal revelation.

As a BPK I learned that there was a deep divide between Catholic and Baptist practice. The church enforced one mind and one doctrine through theological inquisition. We embraced our right to free belief by breaking up into smaller and smaller congregations aligned around pure doctrine. Even if there was only one person in our congregation, at least it was pure. Same result, smaller assemblies.

Jesus would be so proud.

Mom’s don’t need no stinking benefits

Poor Hillary Rosen. She forgot Jesus’ injunction to judge not lest you be judged. She has not only been judged, but so has every Democrat in America. It’s official, Democrats hate stay at home moms. You can’t get more cynical about that.

Not Rosen or the Democrats. I mean cynical Republicans who beat her into submission with a straw man of gigantic proportions. We’re talking a straw man the size of a Goodyear blimp powered by the inflating gas of Republican rhetoric. Yes, in classic fashion the Republicans took an off-the-cuff remark and transformed it into an attack on motherhood.

“Straw man” is a term used when two people are arguing (usually in public forum or debate) and one substitutes a cuckoo argument for their opponent’s real argument. By “cuckoo” I don’t mean crazy; I’m referring to the real cuckoo who replaces another bird’s eggs with her own. The hatched bird then takes over the nest much the way the republicans substituted “stay at home mothers don’t work” for “Ann Ramsey doesn’t have a clue about the needs of working women and mothers since she never held a job.”

Other examples of straw men might be replacing the suggestion, “we should turn the other cheek” with “they advocate giving the terrorists free reign blow us up at will,” or “Richard Nixon lied about his execution of his oath of office” with “they’re accusing all Republicans of treason.” Or my suggesting that we give Christians room to come to terms with the elements of faith with “he’s denying the resurrection.”

So let’s review what Rosen actually said. Hillary Rosen, who is a commentator and lobbyist, tossed off the comment that Ann Perry has never actually worked a day in her life. I saw the video and it was a tossed off rather than a scripted comment. She was doing an interview with Anderson Cooper at the time. I might point out that Cooper promotes a casual atmosphere with his interviews and does not ask his guests to speak with absolute clarity and precision.

By the days end Rosen had been promoted to a top Democratic strategist who said that women who stay at home to raise children don’t actually do any work.

In Rosen’s defense, her comment did not strike me as an attack on lazy moms lounging around the house while their children ran amok unattended. I heard “Ann Romney never had to work for an employer to earn the money to pay the rent and feed the kids like working mothers do.”

Readers might answer that my hearing was filtered by a liberal agenda. I thought of that, so I looked up the verb “work” in the American Heritage dictionary. 1 The first two definitions read as follows:

  1. To exert oneself physically or mentally in order to do, make or accomplish something.
  2. To be employed; have a job.

Stay at home mom is no doubt included under the first definition, but having a job is the second definition. So when Rosen says Ann Romney never worked a day in her life and we know she raised five kids, it seems clear Rosen was using “work” in the sense of definition two. In fact, you would really have to twist her words to assert Rosen was speaking of Romney’s motherhood.

This reminds me of another verse, in Luke, where Jesus warns people not to point out the mote in other’s eyes when we have a beam in ours. Rosen’s bigger point was that Ann Romney is out of touch with the economic realities of American women. Not only did she never hold a job, she probably had a nanny to help her raise her children, not to mention a maid, social planner and chauffeur.

In fact, one woman has already claimed to have been Romney’s nanny and said her duties even included caring for their horse. This has yet to be verified, but we can hardly imagine Ann Romney understands what is is to raise two or three kids while riding the bus to her cleaning job in order to pay rent on a two room apartment.

More than anything else, Jesus hated hypocrisy. And there is nothing more hypocritical than claiming sympathy for working mothers (not to mention working women in general) when your party’s policies place them in the line of fire.

The apostle James addressed the hypocrisy of holding onto wealth while telling the poor to “be warm and filled.” (2:16) This sounds to me awfully like Ann Romney’s connection to American women. When Hillary Rosen dared to point that out, she found herself judged, sentenced and executed in the partisan frenzy that followed.

1I used the American Heritage rather than my beloved Oxford Dictionary of the American Language because I didn’t want to be accused of using a reference with an Anglican monarchical agenda.back

He is risen but how

It was Friday before Mitt Romney’s staff finally informed him that “He is risen” did not refer to his lead in the race.

I wanted to avoid a political discussion on Easter but then the Republicans had to do something like passing the Women as Livestock act in Georgia. Think of it as Georgia’s gift to Jesus on the anniversary of the resurrection to remind us that in him there is neither man nor woman, slave nor master, nor even pig nor cow nor woman.

But today is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This was the day Mary Magdeline came to his tomb and the Republicans told them that, following the tradition of the Augusta Club, women were no longer allowed. In fact, they would have to pay for their own contraception even if it was a medical necessity. The women left in great sorrow and when Jesus came from the tomb and saw them walking away, he asked, “What did they want? Why did you send them away?”

And yeah, the Republican guard answered, “Don’t worry. Ann Romney’s going to tell them all the reasons why they should feel good about us.”

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I believed that you couldn’t be Christian if you didn’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead. Then my first wife Robin decided we should become Presbyterian and my best wife, Carol, decided we should be Episcopalian. Between marriages I took Catholic lessons because after our divorce Robin became Catholic and wanted me to follow suit. It seems my becoming Catholic had something to do with whether or not she was really married her first time and would our son Bryan be a bastard in the eyes of the church.

(Reading this again I know it sounds like I may be whipped when it comes to faith, but I can assure you I wasn’t. I just figured that wherever you worshipped, Jesus would hang out. I know this doesn’t sound very BPK, but two wives and a kid can knock the Baptist shellac off fairly quickly. Two wives, a kid and just about every deacon, preacher and evangelist I ever met.)

Unfortunately for Jesus, or me, I discovered that some Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Unitarian/Universalists among others don’t really believe Jesus showed up on the first Easter Sunday. And not just because the sabbath was really Saturday. They think that Jesus stayed dead and the resurrection is a metaphor, or myth. Or, in a compromise, that his resurrection was spiritual.

I’d heard such people existed when I was a budding young Baptist, but meeting them and reading their books was an eye opener. They believe the spirit of Christ was raised from the dead, but not his body. Bishop John Spong, for instance, had no problem admitting he’s uncomfortable with the resurrection thing. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been accused of rejecting the resurrection, although I’m not sure he ever admitted it. The problem was that, except for the resurrection thing, guys like Spong and Bonhoeffer seemed pretty Christian to me.

Oh, sure, a lot of those guys think its okay for women to be bishops and that gays should not only be married, they can worship and take the Eucharist. The problem is, I agree with them. And those guys don’t seem quite so determined to deny others access to heaven, or charity or a semblance of respect the way people who insist on a physical resurrection do.

Jesus said you will know his followers by their fruit, not their words. In the famous John 3:16 he said that those who believe in him will have everlasting life. He never broke down what it meant to follow him into a specific creed and that includes the belief that he was physically raised from the dead.

Peter denied him three times on the evening before his death, but he was still allowed into the kingdom. Thomas had to touch Jesus before he would believe (a luxury none of us would have). Nor is it clear to me that every one who was a follower of the Way believed in the resurrection.

Paul says to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12) I could discuss the entire defense of the resurrection but I don’t intend to persuade anyone as to whether Jesus’ resurrection was physical or spiritual.

What I find most interesting is that Paul isn’t writing to unbelievers, he’s writing to the church. These are people who profess to believe in Christ and who take communion. And yet some of them do not accept the resurrection of the dead. Nor is Paul suggesting they be thrown out of the church or that they aren’t really Christian. He merely reminds them that the resurrection is a central tenet of the faith.

When I was a BPK, Baptists would tolerate drunks, addicts and smokers, the three worst kinds of sinners. Baptists gave them time to work through their problems. But you couldn’t be Baptist if you didn’t buy into Easter. You couldn’t even be Christian. We would put up with sin but we wouldn’t tolerate doctrinal impurity. Baptists seemed to think your beliefs must follow the checklist but sin could take its time.

Many Christians assume you have to accept the whole package before you’re bona fide but I don’t see it. There are simply too many whole packages. Paul and Peter argued frequently over the requirements for faith. If we give believers time to bring their actions in line with expectations, why not give them time to work out the elements of faith as well?

When we talk of a personal relationship with Jesus we can’t forget the key word “personal.” The relationship is about you and no one else. Your responsibility is for your growth and to make sure you don’t interfere with anyone else’s.

When someone professes the faith then, we should give them the benefit of the doubt rather than demanding they pass a JQ test.1 It isn’t for us to decide who truly has faith, regardless of whether they were baptized or believe in a spiritual resurrection, vote Republican or welcome Obama as a member of the faith. That is a question that can only be answered by the believer and Jesus.

Whether your JQ is 1 or 18o, if you seriously want to follow Jesus, I believe he will give you time to find your way.

1Do I really need to explain something as simple as a believer’s Jesus Quotient?back

WWJD? Stand his ground

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Florida’s stand your ground law has come under fire by liberals and secular humanists across America. What better time to ask WWJD?

Before readers get all weepy eyed, like they did for Bambi, let us remember that Florida is the second most Christian state in the world after Texas. For four short years they were actually the most Christian state, but they lost that honor when the Buccaneers failed to draft Tim Tebow.

I hate to segue, but what were they thinking? By failing to trade for the right to draft Tebow, they set off a chain of circumstances that sent Tim to that cesspit of iniquity, New York. Sure, Tim could singlehandedly bring the city to Jesus, but why throw him into all that temptation when he’s so young?

Back to Florida and what Jesus would do.

I’m not going to come out and tell you what to believe, but I think it’s safe to ask a few questions.

First of all, every Christian knows the right to bear arms is the second commandment. So wouldn’t we expect Jesus to defend his ground?

Jesus said to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Anyone from Texas knows that if we were aggressive with others we would expect them to shoot us. It’s what we would do in return. So would Jesus do any less?

The Book of Revelations, as interpreted by the Left Behind series, makes it clear that Jesus intends to come back and kick the ass of sinners world wide. Shouldn’t we do our part to clear the road before he comes?

More power to you Florida. Just because you fumbled the Teball doesn’t mean you’ve given up the rush to the BCS championship of holiness. WWJD? He’d say, “Give us more good Christians, like George Zimmerman. (Bleep)ing A.”