Today was Chesterfield Pride and as with the last couple of years The Order of the Black Sheep had a service to celebrate pride before going to join in. The service was based on the following reading from Matthew 15.
The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”And her daughter was healed at that moment.
This is a difficult reading and one that I would usually shy away from. It’s really difficult for us to hear of Jesus turning someone away – never mind calling her a dog. However maybe there is a reading that offers some redemption to this passage.
I really love that it is a woman that has the audacity to challenge Jesus in this way. A woman who dares to say this isn’t right, I have value.
There are two things that I dislike about this interaction the first is that it is said to have happened at all, but maybe there is a reason that this is recorded for us. The second is that when she challenges Jesus she asks for the crumbs from the floor – rather than to be included in the feast. Maybe the remark was more cutting than we are inclined to read it, maybe the whole interaction isn’t recorded and this is all that got captured, or maybe she was just so desperate that all she could find herself doing was to beg – even for the crumbs. In challenging Jesus she changes him and is given her right to be included, he tells her that she has great faith.
And what great faith LGBT+ people who are still part of a church that so often has denied us even the crumbs from the floor must have. A church that we have to challenge in order to change it and be included in the feast. These changes are slowly happening but we cannot stop challenging the Church in this way until we have full inclusion.
Likewise society does not just give LGBT+ people our rights but we have to challenge it so that it will change – starting at Stonewall. And Pride should continue in this tradition of challenging society, demanding not just for the scraps from the floor but for our place at the feast, where all belong.
This week will mark the 50th anniversary since the first step of decriminalising homosexuality in the UK, but we still have further to go both here and throughout the world. Pride should be a celebration of everything that we have achieved but it should also be a protests that continues to challenge society until all have been given thier rightful place at the table.
Today’s reading is Jesus healing the blind man in John chapter 9.
There is this interesting moment at the end where Jesus declares that he has come to make the blind see and those that see blind (to the astonishment of the Pharisees, who ask if he is is suggesting that they are blind).
The Pharisees believe that they see, that they know the truth and that this makes them pure. As Emily put it during The Order of the Black Sheep’s service today “know the truth and the truth will make you smug”.
Jesus said “know the truth and the truth will set you free” but, especially in this post-truth #altfacts world that we now find ourselves in, we need to ask which truth it is that will set us free.
It is usually taken to mean the one universal truth that, once you know it, will set you free.
Not only can we not agree on what the one universal truth is but all too often this doesn’t set people free, it can be a burden instead.
However, psychoanalytically there is a different, internal, truth that will set you free. Rather than being like the pharisees in this story who think they know and understand the one universal truth we can look inwardly and find the truth about ourselves.
It’s all too easy to think that knowing (our) universal truth makes us clean and holy – better than the others who are on the outside. But the internal truth makes us reflect on who we really are. To examine and be honest about our flaws; to accept ourselves and, therefore, also others. To realise that we are all human and incapable of being perfect. This truth will set you free. Free from the burden of perfection, free from shame, free from hiding from ourselves. It’s only once we have been honest about and accepted these imperfections within ourselves that we can start the process of healing from them.
By thinking that we have cracked the one universal truth and know it fully we become blinded to the deeper, internal truth that can truly set us free.
May the blind to the internal truth come to see it, and those that believe they see the one universal truth become blind to it that we may all heal in community together.
Creed, Pádraig Ó Tuama
Radicalisation and faith, when put together, are terms that probably make you think of hate preachers and terrorist attacks. They are terms used in the media all the time “British youth being radicalised by hate preacher” etc. So, some, may find it odd that I would call for a radicalisation of Christians. It probably isn’t the sort of thing that you ought to have as a blog title (can’t help but wonder if I’m going to get my blog checked over after it comes up in a search for key words). But radicalisation is exactly what I think Christianity needs.
“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
For a while I took part in a blogging for books program where I would get a free copy of a book in return for blogging about it. The service that I was signed up to exclusively had Christian books and one had caught my eye about Christianity and business which I thought might be interesting. It turned out to be my worst nightmare in book form. Completely on the opposition end of the political scale to me and not at all in tune with how I think about the world and my faith and how this may effect my approach to business. But it was a part of the deal to blog about it and to review it on a website such as Amazon. As part of my review I explained that I had just finished reading “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical” by Shane Claiborne saying that this perhaps shows why I wouldn’t have gotten on with the book that I was reviewing. I got a comment on my review suggesting that I be wary of anything with radical in the title as it tends to depart from the gospel. I politely pointed out that Claibrone and his community seem to live out the gospel far more than most Christian groups that I have read about and suggested that, perhaps, Christ would have been considered a radical in his own time.
I think the problem is that we often want a Christianity that fits in with the world, doesn’t disrupt it too much and doesn’t call us into question. We can go on a Sunday and feel good about ourselves. Sing songs about how amazing Jesus is and allow it to have very little affect on how we live our lives Monday – Saturday (unless of course attending further Church meetings on these days). We may try to be a bit more pure, change things that affect ourselves slightly but don’t really make any difference in the world. But as Bonhoeffer points out perhaps we should be shocking the world more then we do. Perhaps we should be a stronger voice for the voiceless, stand in solidarity with the oppressed, feed the hungry and find shelter for those without it. Perhaps we should be standing against inequality, discrimination and the unjust, petitioning and speaking out. People should know that when there is something wrong in society Christians are going to be there to speak out and help put it right. We should be known as radicals of love, grace and justice.
We need to remember that thinking of Jesus only as gentle, meek and mild is heresy. Yes he was those things but he didn’t shy away from speaking out against those who were oppressing people and causing injustice. He turned over the tables in temple. It is about his love for us and our love for him but if it’s only that, then I suggest it may as well be nothing at all. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and help home the homeless, as what we do for them we do for him. And maybe once we start to get this right we will be seen as the radicals we ought to be.
We need to be radicalised by love preachers.
Two Friars and a Fool is a blog aimed at stimulating the kind of theological discussion you may have with friend over a pint in the pub. A while ago they announced their #95tweets project which, over the weekend, was finally released on the Twitter public. Mirroring Luther’s 95 theses the friars aimed at stimulating discussion whilst demonstrating why they don’t think that belief in Hell is valid or fits with the Christian world view. They tweeted 95 Biblical, Theological or Ethical reasons to reject the belief in Eternal Conscious Torment, and I think they did a good job. Below are the tweets that I “favourited” over the weekend. Click here to see the whole list on the Two Friars and a Fool website, why not get involved in the discussion on their blog, using the #95tweets hash tag or @TwoFriars. I would also love to know people’s thoughts on this.
My 16 favourite tweets (with an explanation of the tweeting format from @TwoFriars):
These arguments are in 3 categories: Ethical (E), Theological (T) and Biblical (B) plus a number
So, for example, the first tweet will be Tweet E1, or tweet 1 in the Ethical category
#95Tweets#T3: Eternal Hell does nothing whatsoever to glorify God, unless the powerful torturing the weak is glorious
#95Tweets#T5: Eternal Hell renders God’s love meaningless – no definition of love could include allowing infinite torture
#95Tweets#B1: The overwhelming majority of Bible verses support some form of annihilation; more support universalism than eternal Hell
#95Tweets#B2: Gen 3:19: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, not dust to eternal conscious torment. Death, not eternity, is our default end
#95Tweets#B7: Hades, translated as “Hell”, is imported from Greek mythology, and is simply the realm of the dead, or the god of death
#95Tweets#B8: Hades, while still not Hell, is thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed at the climax of the book of Revelations
#95Tweets#E11: Fear of (eternal) punishment is the most brutal, crass and callous way to seek to encourage good
95Tweets#E12: Fear of punishment is not effective in encouraging good, it only prevents overt misdeeds while being watched
#95Tweets#T9: Eternal Hell renders God’s power meaningless, since God’s plan to restore all creation can be foiled by human sin
#95Tweets#E15: It is morally untenable to expect any person of conscience to enjoy Heaven knowing that others are in Hell
#95Tweets#T17: Eternal Hell is far beyond even the most evil we could visit upon our children – and are we not God’s children?
#95Tweets#T20: Eternal Hell ascribes infinitude, eternity and finality to pain, horror, despair and terror
#95Tweets#B26: Romans 6:23 Paul says the wages of sin is “death”, not “eternal conscious torment” – an important distinction
#95Tweets#B28: Galatians 6:7-8 – Paul is pretty clear that there is destruction or eternal life, not eternal conscious torment
#95Tweets#B29: Phil. 2:9-11 says every knee will bend and tongue confess, not that most knees and tongues will be tortured forever
#95Tweets#B30: Col 1:18-20 – God reconciles with all creation through Christ…or fails miserably to do so if eternal Hell exists
So what do you think?
Related post: Hell is a Selfish Motivator
The Parable of the Good Mormon:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Mormon, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
Whoever is not against us is for us? Can a man who offers food to the poor in Jesus’ name (even if their understanding is different to ours) loose their reward? Whoever is not against us if for us.
I don’t even find it frustrating* anymore that people don’t want to be involved in something amazing, building the kingdom, feeding the poor (which seems to be pretty central to the Gospel) because a certain group are involved, I just find it really, really sad; I’ve been walking round with a heavy heart as I’ve thought about this today. *(Ok, maybe I do… just a bit)
The stupid thing is that I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid if non-believers were invited to help out at the food bank. I don’t think it would have been as controversial to have Muslims involved in the food bank, but involve Mormons and you’ve got issues.
Let us remember to love our neighbour (including those who we are told we should be separated from, like the Jews and the Samaritains) as ourselves. And let’s not say to the hungry or the poor “sorry I can’t be involved in helping you because a Samaritain (whoever that looks like for us) is.
I offered some thoughts on this in my last post. I had intended to follow it up before now but being a uni student + working + church + the trails of life + trying to have down time = that not happening.
“My Jesus, My Saviour”
As these words were sung around me, I couldn’t help but once again question what we were singing. At which point did I gain personal ownership of God? Now don’t get me wrong, I know that isn’t the intention of the writer who penned these lyrics but put in the context of the landscape of modern worship I think this is actually what gets communicated in a sub-conscious kind of way. Christianity has become about what we can get, what is promised to me, what benefits I will find. It’s not like we even sing “Our Jesus, Our Saviour” making us aware of those around us, that Christ and Christianity isn’t all about ME. Or how about we start to sing more songs that drive us to action, to live a Christian life. I’m not saying that it isn’t important that we recognise and proclaim our personal relationship with God but the problem is that this is the mode that we have defaulted to, it is out of balance. Christians in this sense are not counter-cultural but have assimilated modern culture as we have become more and more individualistic, it’s about what we can get. Nadia Bolz-weber offers some thoughts on this:
How the glorification of the individual can perhaps best be seen in that new title Americans have given to Jesus in the last 100 years… “Personal Lord and Savior”. As though in your contact list between your Personal Assistant and your Personal Trainer can be found Jesus, your personal savior. And he can be YOUR personal Lord and Savior too if you just choose him. Like a magical puppy in the pound. If you choose him he’ll be yours. And with your personal magical puppy will come all the warm feelings and love and blessings you can imagine.” From here.
This trend affects our theology which in turn affects our actions and our mission. But I believe that Christianity is counter-cultural, I dont believe that we should view church and worship in this way.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
We are called not to serve the self but to deny it. It is not supposed to be all about me. It is supposed to be all about God and all about our neighbour. We are called to take up our cross and follow him, to put others before ourself. Again Nadia offers some thoughts on denying self here.
This is a challenge for us all, one that which we are hindered by in our worship, even those of use aware of the issues surrounding this are still someway affected by this in thought and action. I think we need to change our worship away from self indulgence, which will change our theology and, therefore, our actions. Hopefully we will lay down our idolatry and learn to deny the self to take up our cross and follow Christ.
A related post can be found here: Bought to you by the letter I for me
Two men went into the church to pray, one a fundamentalist pastor and the other a homosexual man. The pastor stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this homosexual. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the homosexual man stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner*.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
*This parable works on many levels but I will discuss two of them. For those who believe that homosexuality is a sin this parable works in the same way as Jesus’ original version. Although the homosexual man is a sinner (from this perspective) he is the one that goes home justified before God, rather then the pastor.
For those who no longer see homosexuality as necessarily being a sin the parable has, perhaps, a deeper level. Perhaps the true sin lies in the homosexual man being made to believe that his sexual orientation automatically makes him a sinner in God’s eyes. He was right to be humble before God and ask for mercy but for different reasons.
Which ever stance you take, looking at substituting our modern-day equivalents in there (homosexuals are, by many in the church, seen in a similar light to how the tax collectors would have been seen by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day) calls things into a new light.