Boundless, self-sacrificing love of God and each other are the salt of the Jesus movement. This post looks towards restoring the flavor of that salt.
The Jesus movement is unconventional
The essence of wisdom is to understand life as best one can. Not to manipulate or control, but to flow with rather than against the current. Jesus is not a wisdom teacher.
Christianity, the Jesus movement, is a different current opposing the strength of the world creating conflicts, eddies, and whirlpools (cf. the uncomfortable passages in Matthew 10:32-42, and Luke 12:41-48). The still waters we often seek are comforting and beautiful, but they are also stagnant disease sources unfit to drink. Green pastures and still waters are an image of rest and recuperation; they are followed by walking the right path for the sake of the Lord’s name (Psalm 23:2-3).
White water is the best to drink, rich with oxygen and rid of bacteria. I believe that the turbulence of white water is the water of life of Christ Jesus (John 4:13-14). Just as Paul challenged Peter on circumcision (Acts 15:1-29) and Peter was challenged by unclean foods when sent to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-29), we accept challenges that arise. And we must change traditions as Peter did, saying “Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20 NRS)
Nearly two thousand years on, Christ Jesus’ teachings are still radical, but sometimes we can be the oppressor and not the oppressed. Sometimes our white water is the boil of piranha feeding on those upon whom we inflict judgmentalism rather than the white-water rapids of defeating oppression and taking on evil in our world. The movement must break conventional rules to do good and we must challenge ourselves to invigorate the movement with that purpose. For us, it is legal to do good on the Sabbath (Mark 3:29, Matthew 12:32, Luke 12:10).
We must learn hard lessons from our past, lessons that teach that being more interested in the control of others than in doing good is an error. We must remember that is it is not our righteousness that justifies us.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NRS)
Jesus rose from the dead and we rely on His intercession and mercy. When we passively accept oppression and bigotry, we risk much. When we actively oppress and discriminate, we risk more. (Luke 16:19-31, the rich man and Lazarus). When we are silent and do not insist on change, we incur guilt (Ezekiel 3:17-21).
Conflict is to be expected, even essential
Jesus tells us that we face conflict.
Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:31-17:1 NRS)
In the western world and today, the movement’s conflicts are mostly internal, and we persecute more than we are persecuted. At the root of these many conflicts are dogma and rules, exegesis and eisegesis, politics and power, and of course the age-old frenemy: cash. If we take Jesus at his word, none of that matters. No, what matters is love of God, love of our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:28-32, Luke 10:25-37, cp. Matthew 19:16-19), and the sacrificial love Jesus had for us (John 15:13) which we are commanded to share within the movement. This internal conflict and bickering from top to bottom of the myriad denominations changes our salt into a spice rack. All sacrifices must be offered with salt (Leviticus 2:13), not paprika. And the movement abides as living sacrifices seasoned with the salt of love.
Conflict is essential to the movement because change is essential, and change causes conflicting views. As society evolves, so does the movement, always against the flow of oppression, always abiding in steadfast sacrificial love, always taking the case of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger in a strange land, the friendless, the accused, the sick, the lambs of Christ Jesus. But we resist, we have a sense of loss, some even posit that restoration of the customs of the times of Christ will return the power of the Holy Spirit. Rest assured: that power has never left, and the path is ever forward, slowly forward, towards the Kingdom of God. The Spirit abides in us, always. (1 John 3:21-24)
I once heard a bishop say that we should be about building good Christians more than good buildings. I agree with him, but I’m not at all sure what makes a good Christian. And whatever that may be, I don’t think that I’m a good Christian, because of what I could have done and did not do. It is one thing to believe in the salvation of Christ Jesus. It is another to become a pharisee demanding performance of others, a thing that ought not be done. You see, it doesn’t matter whether we perform to the standards that we compel or not, because, if we accept Jesus, we’ve admitted that we’re sinners in need of his redemption. Compelling performance shouldn’t be our business if we embrace the movement for if we judge fairly, we’re all miserable God’s sight. This humility is the essence of the Christianity that I seek, the Christianity that is the good news of salvation, the Christianity that tells the truth that we are, every human, the apples of God’s eye.
Accordingly, the first step is to humble ourselves before God and each other. (Zephaniah 2:3, Ezekiel 17:13-14, Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 18:4, Luke 14:11, Colossians 3:12, 1 Peter 3:4, 1 Peter 5:5, James 4:10) Humility destroys arrogance. Arrogance leads to mistakes, persecution, and risks much.
We must learn that “I’ll pray for you” must never be a threat – “I’ll pray for you [to be changed into what I want you to be]”. Prayer and intercession must always yield to will of the Father, whatever that will may be (Matthew 6:10, 26:42), and must raise up the individual to be closer to Christ Jesus.
The Next Step
The truth is more important than one’s standing, even one’s freedom and life. It is the truth that sets us free. (John 8:31-32) We must turn to the truth wherever we can find it, and we must embrace the Holy Spirit in our daily lives as we seek to navigate the rapids of the movement. I believe that this is the next step, the rocky path I’m stumbling on.
Truth is relative, most often. Trash can also be treasure. We seek theological explanations for what the Bible tells us in vain – some of what is written is true, some is legend, some is a parable, some is wisdom literature, some is poetry, a lot is exaggerated, and, I believe, some words are put in God’s mouth to explain what happened or the customs of the time. The truth is that we seek theological explanations to predict the behavior of the Almighty. Oddly enough, Jesus came, in part, to understand our behavior. And the truth is that Jesus does understand our behavior and, through Him, so does the Father. That said, our quest to understand God is futile.
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah. 55:6-9 NRS)
Our assumptions that God values temple (or church) worship more than a relationship with us are wrong. I strongly believe that God loves the world (cf. John 3:16-21) and everyone and everything in it. Our response must be an equally ubiquitous love, not more rules and attempts to withhold the presence of God from those who, we say, don’t follow them. Every engagement in this mania of control has resulted in disaster. Jesus tells us that, if we’d only listen “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NRS). Isaiah told us that also “…cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow …” (Isaiah 1:10-31). So did Hosea in saying “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7, Hosea 6:6).
Those familiar with the Gospels know that Matthew, Luke, and Mark overlap a great deal, often with exactly the same Greek words – this is called the synoptic problem and one hypothesis is that those three Gospels are fed from an older source (German: Quelle=source) known as “Q”. The Gospel according to John does not feed from Q, and overlaps are much less common. One place all four overlap is this saying with slight variations:
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. (Mark 8:35 NRS, cp. Matthew 10:39, 16:25, Luke 9:24, 17:33, John 12:25)
We must lose control to allow the Spirit to have it.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:3-7, ‘house of prayer’ cp. Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46)
The forms of Kanly have been Obeyed
Pardon my “Dune” reference; it seemed fit for what follows.
This post started out as a letter of encouragement to a transgender friend being disrespected, ostracized, and gradually anathematized by her church. The next step in this outrage will be to separate her from the Lord’s table. Her response is humble, respectful, prayerful, thoughtful, self-questioning, and all the things that we sometimes, even often, lack in the movement.
My response would be much gruffer, and it has been gruff on several issues over time. I am presently unchurched as a result; there’s a church for me somewhere, but I’ve stopped looking. I have not been justified in some of my gruffness, and I’ve had to apologize and admit my error. On this topic, however, I am not wrong and I am convinced based on prayer and response, not just my personal convictions. God calls persons of all varieties. (Emphasis mine)
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.‘
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’
Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46 NRS)
For my friend, my advice is to move along and find another church where a transgender person can use their experiences and talents to help others. After all, the movement has long discriminated against left-handed persons because we’re on the side of the goats (Matthew 25:41).
Long research has been conducted to find the source of our defect, research which continues and is still inconclusive regarding nature and nurture of this “unnatural perversion” albeit toddlers seem about 97% fixed so the nurture must be early. And just try using your left hand in a Muslim buffet line.
Our research into nature, nurture and “perversion” of the LGBTQ community is just about the same as has been done with “the perversion” of being lefthanded over the course of centuries. Given that there is no sex in the resurrection (Matthew 20:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:36), our fascination with sexuality and gender is just another bias, another reason to hate, and to suspect sinister intent.
And I do mean sinister and quite literally. Have you ever noticed that an eyeglass prescription has one set of numbers for “OS” and another for “OD” – those stand for Oculus Sinister – literally Eye Left, and Oculus Dexter – Eye Right. Sinister is the Latin word for left, you see. Ambidextrous refers to both hands being right hands. I’m nearly so, but it should be ambisinistrous, shouldn’t it? And of course, more lefthanded people are gay or otherwise “sinister”, so say the statisticians. Then again, DaVinci and Michelangelo were lefthanded, but so was Jack the Ripper. Perhaps Caesar, Aristotle, Einstein, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Truman, Ford, Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama balance the scales. Then again, there was Garfield and Hoover and there is Tom Cruise, God bless his little pointed head. It doesn’t really matter, even though generations have been forced to write with their right hands and have been punished for being lefthanded. One could also create a list such as this for historical figures who are LGBTQ albeit most were in deep hiding.
Then again, people fear the sinister. LGBTQ humans are rejected, beaten up, murdered, and, in Africa, burned alive by putting tires filled with gasoline around them and lighting them. And we do nothing. We would be acting vigorously if it were dogs being harmed.
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.
Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go– the demon has left your daughter.”
So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7:24-30 NRS)
We are all dogs under the table. Sexual orientation and gender identity will one day cause as little a stir in the West as handedness. And, perhaps – this is a long shot – other societies will stop making it a crime to use one’s left hand, or to be LBGTQ. And so will the Jesus movement. The movement should be in the lead of stopping this oppression and brutality, but we are not. Neither did we lead in the civil rights movement. “Driving while black” can still receive capital punishment in these United States. Our salt loses its flavor, its saltiness.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
“For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:38-10:1 NRS)
Hate is stumbling, let all know we are Christians by our love. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NRS)
“I come to my garden, my sister, my bride; I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love.” (Song of Solomon 5:1 NRS)