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Reflection after confession

Yesterday I posted my confession on what the horror of the 2016 election had done to me.

Now that five days have passed since my worst fears were realized, the horror has not decreased. Every new day thus far has brought a new source of fear. For example, Mr. Trump has appointed Myron Ebell as the leader of the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency — a  person who works for Big Coal and Big Oil, and used to work for Big Tobacco. He is a man who has been recognized as one of the most dangerous enemies of efforts to protect the environment and to reduce the impact of global warming.

Early reports of hate crimes add an ominous atmosphere, which is not being dispelled by any calming remarks by the President-elect. And the sense of gathering doom is accentuated by reports that the likes of Rudolph Giuliani, Christ Christie and Newt Gingrich will be appointed to powerful cabinet positions.

I would like to be able to say unequivocally that anyone who cares about truth and justice is horrified and saddened by this turn of events. Unfortunately the problem we all face, and the reason for the “death of my naiveté”, is that the leading cause of this political earthquake is actually a valid part of the moral structure of the church and the world. (I’m well aware that there are also many racist elements, some of which are indistinguishable from the Evangelical movement) — but the largest single segment are people of legitimate high moral tone who chose to vote for Trump in spite of his obvious faults. In my essay, I stated opinions I know to be out of harmony with the Bible. I broke Jesus’ dictum of Matthew 7:1 — Judge not, that you be not judged.

I’m confident God knows and understands the righteous element in my anger — but somehow I have to move forward in a world where I cannot “refuse to call a Christian” anyone who would ignore Mr. Trump’s obvious immorality and help get him elected to the highest office in the land. I need to exercise more patience than I thought possible. I need to keep trying to “let everyone be fully persuaded in their own mind.” I need to try to stay in step with the methods I think God is using to educate destroyers of the planet, elevate the poor, and eradicate false systems while calling to his people to “come out.”

By far the biggest factor which forces me to back away from my extreme declaration is the fact that long experience with a great many of these brethren in Christ has convinced me that they are indeed authentic Christians. Jesus has touched them, listens to them, answers their prayers, comforts their affliction, guides their lives.  I can sit here and name dozens of families I know whom I love, who I’m pretty sure supported Trump, if reluctantly. These are good people — I love being with them, admire their character, love their children, laugh at their jokes, respect their judgment in other matters, and fully expect to serve and celebrate with them in the heavenlies when our toil and trouble is completed. And Jesus has shown me my own unworthiness as an arbiter of character. I knew I was wrong to express a judgment, to disfellowship fellow believers, when I wrote yesterday’s post, but I needed to put it down in writing anyway, to be truthful about how I feel.

That being said, if my friends and brethren indeed are thinking and acting wrongly, I do not need to exonerate them in order to move forward. I need to rebuke them, and I intend to do so.

I also need to make that rebuke effective, persuasive and factual. It needs to be encouraging, calm, kind and gracious.

The challenge before me, if I wish to call to account such a large swath of the Christian world, is to up my own game and pay the full price it will take to be the kind of representative of the good that I aspire to be.

Since I am obviously not equal to such a task, I must apologize for bringing the anger of man to bear against many people whom I know have good intentions, and acted in harmony with their long-held principles.

That they could accept Trump, and be willing to work with such a man, remains incomprehensible to me. But what I intend to do now is approach my long-standing friends and brethren with compassion, with open ears, with vigorous research, and with a deep commitment to get to the bottom of this perplexing set of issues.

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Confession of a watcher

Note: I wrote this confession on the eve of the election. My worst fears were realized… but this is not the last word on what I am thinking. I will write something more conciliatory and more mature after my thoughts have gestated a bit more.

Personal confession. Watching the rise of Donald Trump has drastically impacted my peace of mind … negatively. As I think about it, two things weigh heavily on my heart.

First, I am experiencing the death of my own naiveté. I’ve been a guy who, when he says the Lord’s prayer, imagines a bright future that will solve the horrors and evils in our world. But I’ve always felt, deep inside, a present peace that was largely based on a positive and hopeful belief in the basic goodness of people, and the power of truth and love to conquer error and hate. The last several months have shaken that optimism in ways that leave me upset, disoriented, and deeply saddened.

It is as though my best friends, “Disarming Integrity” and “Accepting Communication”, had died a violent death while I watched. It leaves me fearful, like a Roman soldier who has lost his sword and his shield. My ENFP temperament wants to believe in 95% of the people I meet, trust their essential goodness, believe that reality will defeat their prejudices, and hope that even before that kingdom comes, we’ll all discover we are really on the same, winning team. My productivity during these months has suffered along with my sinking faith in the human race.

Second, my core belief in the essential goodness of most Christians has been even more violently assaulted. The ugliness of authoritarianism, the malaise of blindness both to the faults of one candidate and the virtues of another; the greed for increasing American exceptionalism, power, and privilege; and most important, the deplorable and in my view, utterly inexcusable tolerance of male dominance of women – including both verbal violence and physical objectification, has forced me to rethink my attitudes toward any person who dares invoke the name “Christian”.

I should be almost infinitely patient with that blind spot [unequal treatment of women] among Christians – after all, I misread the Bible for 40 years. Anyone can. But it’s one thing to mistakenly think that men have been given more power in a church or a marriage, as I did for far too long – and it is another thing entirely to ignore the actual bragging about sexual assault and the actual participation in rape culture.

For 40 years I’ve been willing to extend the olive branch of fellowship to folks who were convinced, because of things the Bible actually seems to say, that God is planning to send billions of people to hell. I have destroyed my reputation in the minds of many Christian brethren who believe as I do, because of my willingness to extend grace to those who have not yet seen a more loving and successful plan of God in the pages of the Bible. But rightly or wrongly, I confess that the rise of Trump, and his embrace by both Evangelicals who consider me a heretic, and by Bible Students who shock me with their authoritarian leanings, has forced me to reexamine my habit of tolerance.

Forgive me, but I cannot and will not call you a Christian any more if you are willing to accept Donald Trump as a spokesman or leader of anything. He doesn’t deserve to be President of your bowling league, let alone the most powerful person on the planet. And if he gets to that position on Tuesday, I guarantee you that Jesus’ permission or elevation of that charlatan to power is not because of Trump’s merit, but because of Jesus’ desire to expose the fraudulent nature of so-called Christian people. The vine of the Earth is about to be trampled by the suffering servant from Bozrah.

I have advocated the view that the differences of belief among Christians do not require us to be divided; that an honest heart and a love of Jesus is sufficient to help us gain the victorious kind of character that God calls us to. Watching Christian organizations turn themselves into moral pretzels to embrace an obviously immoral narcissist as their leader; and watching close Christian friends be, as nearly as I can see, willfully ignorant of the most obvious kinds of facts – all of this has, I confess, forced me to re-evaluate every relationship and every assumption I have ever had. It’s as though the very ground I walk on has turned to swamp, and I must pull myself out by finding vines and tree branches above the muck to propel myself forward.

I don’t care if I have known you for 50 years. I don’t know how to face this crevice as I would have done last year – tethered with you in the same ropes. If you jump for Trump, I hereby disconnect from your rope. You may pull the rest of your friends down that crack in the earth, but I’m not coming with you, and I’m sure as truth, sure as goodness NOT going to call you a Brother in Christ.*

*Again, this is not my final answer. But I’m willing to let everyone see how I felt on the eve of the election, and a few days afterward. Much as David did when he wrote Psalm 109 and 139.

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All Tears Wiped Away

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

As with many of the visions of the Bible, this one from near the end of the book of Revelation (Chapter 21) appears too good to be true — or at least too big and broad to be believed.

To make sense of it, we’ve got to find a way to limit it. First, it can’t be referring to the planet, and the known universe, because the literal statement here is that heaven and earth… that is, everything in the Universe, will cease to exist. And then, just like that, a new heaven and earth is created… except the new one doesn’t have any oceans. (Which with what we know of life on earth as we know it, simply couldn’t happen. The ocean is the key to biological life.)

And to complicate the picture, we have a description of a city arriving on planet earth from some distant place in the cosmos. But how could this be, because the cosmos just ceased to exist. Also, verse 3 says that God is now going to live with mankind…. but how could this be? Didn’t we just lose the earth? Where are the people now?  Is this why they’re crying… because the earth ended?

So let’s try viewing this as metaphorical. Let’s think of heaven as the spiritual or religious realm of human society. Turns out if we do this it can help dozens of places in Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible seem more reasonable.

A new heaven would then mean a new way of thinking about religious things, and therefore new people in charge, new rules, new values, new perspectives. The old religious scene is simply gone. “Imagine there’s no heaven.” John Lennon could picture this, and I can too.

And a different earth … the physical part of human society. That’s gone, too. No republicans and democrats arguing about who is right. No supreme court justices needed to interpret laws, because … well Jeremiah and Isaiah saw the picture with all the laws written in people’s hearts. No courts are needed to explain or enforce obedience among reluctant citizens. And thus no angry youth afraid of police, and no police harassing them.

Now, a major change in this new imaginary scene is where God is. In the old picture, the one we’ve grown up with, God is basically nowhere to be found. He “hides himself”, as Isaiah puts it. And those who claim to have found him have trouble convincing others that they really have. Is it because the ones who seem to know about God aren’t very good examples of what we would logically expect a spokesman for God to be — or is it because the people who they are preaching to are just plain bad … and don’t want to know about God, no matter how nice the preachers are? Or maybe could it be a mixture of both?

So now we have this new picture, and in it God isn’t hiding somewhere or speaking through ancient Jews or weird people who show up on TV or surrounded by stained glass, dress funny, ask for donations, smile too much, and generally just irritate us. All those folks are gone, but God is living with us. Right next door. Maybe even in our spare bedroom.

Now who are the people of God? Is it still the church folks… a small percentage of the population? No, the way John seems to see this picture, all the people are now God’s people.

We know this because they’ve been crying, they’ve been dying, they’ve been in pain… but God is suddenly standing there next to them, wiping their tears. He’s removing their pain. He’s ending death.

How many of the tears are being dealt with in this way? All of them.

How much of the pain is being eradicated? All of it.

How much death is being thwarted? All of it.

Now, here’s where the picture makes us furrow our brows and clench our fists.

Wait a minute! I understand the picture that is being painted. But why is this artwork being created? What does it mean to me? Is this really a true picture of the way things are going to be, or is this some kind of cruel joke? Is this really just saying that the ones who are already setting them up to be the God-people are going to have THEIR pain and tears wiped away, but the rest of us are just going to see them off in the distance, wishing we could be there … and suffering on forever and ever while the lucky few get to live in their own paradise?

The Hope Diamond.

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Well, the guy who painted this picture thought of this… so he put the Jesus followers into the picture too. He put them in there as the “holy city”, which comes out of heaven — the religious world … and comes down to earth. It’s a city with some features like Jerusalem, with its protective walls and its government buildings and its houses and its festivals where lambs die to restore people to God — and its temple where priests mediate between God and man … restoring everyday people to full fellowship and access to God, by making payment for their sins.

And this picture doesn’t only refer to the truly good guys as Jerusalem… he also compares them to a bride who is married to the Lamb… Jesus. How is this bride pictured? Well, she is dressed in white, and she’s beautiful, and the Lamb really, really loves her. What does this bride do? She is attractive to her husband … and that leads her to become like a mother to the rest of the human race. It might even be thought of as the new mother of humanity, in the same way that the Lamb is the new father.

The human race in this picture was orphaned when their first father messed up, and left them outside of paradise, living under curses that mom and dad are to blame for. Now there’s a new father and mother … Jesus and his bride. And all the people who were related to the original father … every human who has ever lived … are released from their curses and welcomed back into this expanded, updated Garden. A garden with no Serpent. A garden with no weeds. And with no Angel of Death to keep people from living there forever.

Too good to be true? No, redemption is the plan. A redeemed and restored earth is precisely what we must learn to expect, to hope for, and to pray for. And whether we pray or not, believe or not, even whether we survive until it arrives or not … it’s a gonna happen.

When friends die

When friends die it always comes too soon. At least, that’s been my observation. There was a next conversation that didn’t happen. A hoped-for connection that was short-circuited by the insistence of a selfish, demanding Enemy.

This week, one of my friends died. Ryan came into my life through his friendship with my kids. His picture was on their refrigerator. I met him at their house. He was engaged to Kristen, both beautiful, both outdoors people, both literate and talented and a gift to the human race. On their wedding night Ryan was struck with headaches. They spent the night in a hospital, and received a diagnosis of brain tumor, most likely terminal.

For me it was hard to imagine a more diabolical life script. Yet amidst the sadness, and the lonely weeks of desperation, multiple graces emerged. True friends and sensitive strangers brought food and companionship without the intrusion of well-meaning dietary fixes or insulting pleas to bargain with God. Ryan fought hand-to-hand with his anger and regrets … until in the end he had astounded all of us with his warmth, hospitality, transparency, and gratitude for daily blessings. When a man has no discernible future, it forces him to find comforts in his past and appreciate his present. Ryan did that better than I could imagine myself doing, if our situations were exchanged.

Ryan was embarrassed about what steroids did to his body. He shouldn’t have been. Ryan was self-effacing about his comments at the recent Health Summit — he shouldn’t have been. His comments were earnest, relevant and incisive. Ryan was apologetic when I asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m thinking about death. It’s very macabre.” I assured him it was not, and told him about my experience with the death of my best friend David in 10th grade, after a 4-year battle with lymphoma. I shared with him how angry I had been at God — angry that such a bright soul was lost. Angry that David had died and not me. And transformed by the experience … I told Ryan how radically it shaped my life. He seemed grateful that we could actually talk about those emotions. I wanted to continue the conversation but other friends arrived and it was time to move on. I asked if I could return in a few days to read him some poetry. He said that would be lovely. I kissed him on the forehead and told him that I loved him. He told me he loved me.

But I didn’t love him all that much… my work week fell apart and the time I thought I would have off disappeared… and with it our next conversation.

Here is one of the poems I wanted to read to Ryan last Thursday or Friday.

Antidote to fear of death

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.
And sometimes it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

–Rebecca Elson — a promising young astronomer whose life was cut short by cancer while in her 30s.

Ryan died Sunday morning. I missed our next conversation… and hope for another one, sometime, someplace.

 

 

 

 

The Agony of Climate Scientists

One of the blogs I follow is “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”.

This weekend’s post talks about the fear and frustration of climate scientists. It discusses articles which have recently appeared in Esquire and Slate, documenting the angst and even despair of scientists who every day are looking at evidence that, to them, points toward environmental apocalypse. The article says,

Ultimately, what scientists are after is truth, even if that truth is personally devastating. For that reason, being a climate scientist is probably one of the most psychologically challenging jobs of the 21st century. As the Esquire article asks: How do you keep going when the end of human civilization is your day job?”

“The end of human civilization.” Have you noticed this specter lurking lately, in places other than science fiction? According to Wikipedia preppers seem to be multiplying, and global warming has added a whole new level of fear — with its mechanism of disruption that appears both adequately powerful and apparently unavoidable.

While it’s still possible to ignore these storms and even joke about them, I’d like to go on record with some pretty outlandish claims:

  1. The nature of the catastrophes has been unambiguously predicted.
  2. The extent of the catastrophes, and their impact on the various sectors of society have been predicted.
  3. The time of these catastrophes has been predicted, and while our collective ability to interpret the message of timing has been spotty, remarkable logic, evidence and insights have been emerging and gaining clarity for the last three centuries. I find the total evidence which anchors recent past and near-future data points of Bible prophecy now to be quite compelling.
  4. Most importantly, the ultimate goals and outcomes of the troubles that are daily more difficult to ignore have been predicted in surprising detail. Though the fairy-tale ending that is actually outlined in the Bible is veiled by some of its own symbolic language — and disregarded by most authentic Christians (not without good reasons) — I feel compelled to try and spread a little hope. If you care what the Bible says — and my main intended audience is those who do — try to let “all” mean “all” as you review the promises that the Bible contains. I find it really delightful to be able to take comfort in Biblical promises like all in the graves shall come forth” … “God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.” … “God is the savior of all men” … or that there will be “a feast of fat things for all people.”

“Love Wins” is how Rob Bell put it in the title of his widely-ridiculed but worth-reading book. “The Times of Restitution of All Things” was Peter’s phrase as recorded by Luke. Personally, I am convinced that “they all lived happily ever after” is the best phrase the languages of the world give us to describe what is coming.

Hopefully I’ll be able to expand and defend the above list of claims in coming posts.

Cosmic web

I stumbled upon this lovely video today. It is called The Millennium Simulation, an animation run in 2005 by the Virgo Consortium, “an international group of astrophysicists from Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and the U.S. A virtual cube of 2 billion light years on a side was “filled” with 10 billion “particles” whose evolution was computed using the physical laws expected to hold in the currently known cosmologies”.

Turn up your sound to enjoy Jon Anderson’s Vangelis, “Heaven and Hell, Part 1”

How to love yourself

My quora answers sometimes seem like they may have value on their own.

Last week I answered a person who seemed genuinely to be struggling with feelings of worthlessness. She asked, “How can I overcome the feeling that life is unnecessary?”

I answered:

If you begin to love yourself, which the Bible encourages, you will at least recognize that you have an important role to play as a member of the human race and, one day, a joint participant in the noble obligation of protecting a world and contributing to a community. Your unique perspective, including the sense of failure you are feeling now, is valuable and necessary to the balance that will one day characterize the human race.

And if you begin to love your neighbors as much as yourself, as the Bible also encourages, you will find that many, many of your neighbors near and far desperately need significant contributions that you can make… And that would be lost without your help.

She wrote back: “How do we love ourselves? Help me!!!”

This is my reply. I hope she found it helpful:

Read psalm 139. There it talks about each human being in the womb. How each of us is made in secret so to speak. The truth is that you are a miracle. If your creator loves you, why shouldn’t you love yourself?

You should love yourself for what you mean to your family. Most likely, there are family members who dearly love you.

You should love yourself for who and what you are. The way you contribute to your world. You make more contributions than you are aware of. Allow others to tell you what these contributions are… and don’t dismiss them.

You should love yourself for what you can do or become — your talent, nascent character, aspirations. If you begin to do one thing, every day, for 15 minutes… to help another, or to make the world better … such as learn to whistle or play a song, become well-informed on a topic and teach it to others, work an extra hour and give it to someone who needs it, read to a child, paint an abandoned fence or clean up a dirty section of the roadside. Write a story or a movie; join Big Brothers/Big Sisters and mentor a kid. There is no end to the possibilities. By far the most useful investment of time, if you feel drawn to it by God, is to study the Bible, obey the correction it gives to your heart, and share what it teaches you … in a way that does not condemn people, but builds their hope and goodness.
And you should, even on your worst days, love yourself for what God, your creator has invested in you. As Martin Luther put it, if you want to know how big your sins are, look at the price God used to atone for them. He applied the most precious substance in the world — the blood of Christ. That makes you incredibly valuable. And God will get his investment in you. God is a patient investor in the human race and planet earth. He’s been working toward his goals for almost 14 billion years, and a little human depression is not a roadblock to him.
Your current ambivalence will not be used against you. God — who holds and protects your destiny — is smiling and happy, knowing that in the fulness of time your sins will be blotted out, and your value will grow like the lily, the cedar, or the pearl.