Orwellian Equality

two women, one traditionally dressed, the othre in modern clothes
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/adam_jones/3774290540/">Adam Jones</a>

Acts 10:34-43

 Then Peter told them:

“Now I get it. God doesn’t count some people as if they were better than others. Wherever you come from, if you do what’s right, you’re OK with God. You know, by sending Jesus, God sent the Israelis a message of peace. But Jesus is the same message to everyone. Starting in Galilee with John’s announcement that God had sent Jesus with a different powerful spirit, it spread through Judea. Then he went all over the place doing good and healing everyone who the devil had ground down. God was with him, and we are witnesses to what he did in Judea and Jerusalem. They executed him, hung him on a tree. But three days later God raised him up, and made it obvious, certainly not to everyone, but to us, whom God had chosen to see it, and we ate and drank with him after he’d risen. He ordered us to tell everyone that he’s the one God has appointed to judge everyone, whether living or dead. All the truth-tellers say that whoever embraces him is forgiven all their wrongdoing because of him.”

The message of Jesus is, at it’s heart, peace. At the core of that peace is the kind of “doing right” that embraces a radical equality.

Peter’s speech is set at the first meeting between the Israeli contingent of Jesus followers and the first followers of other races and religions. Each of these groups considered themselves “better” than the other. Each had a long history of hostility against the other. The question is, how will they become a community together.

Peter’s answer to that question is given in retelling the Jesus story, ending with Jesus as the cosmic judge over “the living and the dead.” Already, in this retelling of the Jesus story a generation after Jesus, the emphasis has moved from Jesus’ treatment of all people as equal to Jesus enforcing the principle of equality as a divine judge. The motive has moved from emulation from inner conviction to conformity to the requirements of an external divine judge.

Furthermore, we see that the exercise of the divine judgment is becoming located more definitively in the say-so of the apostles, who claim a special, more personal connection with Jesus. Ironically, this speech attempts to enforce the practice of equality in the community by establishing a special better class of people.

The treatment of certain people as equal in God’s sight may be a new revelation to Peter, but at least as he plays it out in this speech, he still hasn’t really “got it.” He’s still stuck in the Orwellian bind of some people being more equal than others.

Traveling Light

stack of suitcases
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/malias/160044163/">Gideon</a>

Mark 6:7-13

He called on the twelve to go out in pairs. He gave them power over evil spirits. He forbid them to take any provisions for the journey, except a hiking pole. No food, no bags, no money in their pockets. He had them wear sandals, and let them take only one shirt.

“Whenever you go somewhere,” he told them, “stay in one house until you leave. If you and your message are unwelcome somewhere, just shake it off. They’re only condemning themselves.”

So off they went, telling people to turn their lives around. They threw out demons, and cared for the sick, anointing them with oil and making them better.”

I’ve had the opportunity to host a few missionaries over the years who were traveling around on the “raise money for the mission” duty. They were all fine folk. But the most amazing ones were the few that were traveling, not with a huge suitcase stuffed to the 50 lb airline weight limit and a carry-on, but the ones (I can remember two of them) who came with just smallish duffel bag.

They were the most amazing ones, not because their missions were worthier, but because instead of bringing lots of stuff, they brought great stories. Who doesn’t love a great story? They didn’t need to show you all the stuff because they could make the people they worked with in far away places come alive right there around your dining room table. They didn’t need to carry a month’s worth of clothes because they were utterly reliant on you saying, “Sure, we can just toss that in the wash.” And doing it wasn’t as much of an imposition as lugging the 50 lb suitcase up and down the stairs and out to the car.

Most of us probably have too much stuff. I know I do. Way too much. But I also know when I’m honest with myself, that just like the most amazing of the missionaries, it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the story. It’s not what I have today, but what I do today, that makes all the difference. What wrongs am I willing to confront? Whose life can I help to turn around? Who needs caring for? What can I do for someone to make them better?

Some days I live the story better than others. Some days I am more receptive than others. I suspect you are, too. Either way, I am a witness, whether for or against, myself.

But here’s the glorious thing: on the bad days, you get to shake it off and move on.

Confession: More than Just a Sacrement

girl in mirror
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/helga/3646442474/">Helga Weber</a>

1 John 1:5-10

Here’s the message we got from Jesus and pass on to you:

God is light. There is nothing whatsoever dark about God.

If we say we’re with God while hiding our conduct in the dark, we’re lying. Our actions are false. But if we conduct ourselves in the light full disclosure, we’re together, and Jesus’ blood will take care of whatever’s wrong.

If we say nothing’s wrong, we’re fooling ourselves. We’re lying. If we admit to what is wrong, Jesus’ commitment to fairness will forgive us and make us right again.

If we say there’s nothing wrong, though, we make Jesus out to be a liar. We’ve missed the point.

‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions.

Lots of people don’t bother with them, of course. They’re too easy to break by the end of the day January 2. But who doesn’t want to do better?

The first step to doing better, to making things right, is to admit that there’s something wrong.

It’s in nearly every 12-step program: “Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Confession, real no holds barred confession, is good not just for the soul, but for the body, the mind, and even for the people around you (who probably know something’s up anyway).

I’m not saying you have to go through some formal procedure. Or that you should tell your pastor or priest, or whoever is officially in charge in your faith tradition. Or that you should tell-all indiscriminately. But really, honestly, you know when you’re hiding something. And you know who you’re hiding it from. Possibly, though, you’re really hiding it mostly from yourself.

So go ahead, make some New Year’s resolutions. Start with this one:

“I will not hide anything from myself.”

And a second is like unto it:

“I will conduct myself in the light of full disclosure.”

The Unbearable “Borgness” of Jude

The Borg
The Borg. Image credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankula/5824384458/">Frankula</a>

Jude 17-25

But, dear friends, you must remember the predictions of Jesus’ representatives who told you:

In the end there will be scoffers indulging their own lust.

These worldly spiritless people are the ones causing divisions. But you, dear friends, get pumped up on holy faith. Pray in the holy spirit. Stay in God’s love. Look forward to Jesus’ relief and eternal life. Relieve those who are on the fence. Save the ones who are in the fire by grabbing them out. And relieve others by hating even the clothing they wear.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, who is able to bring you in purity and joy to God’s glory, to the one and only God, our savior, through Jesus, our leader, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before time, now, and forever. Amen.

The advice Jude gives is entirely impossible. In fact, it’s antithetical to the gospel. Not to mention divisive. Christians should remember this before accusing people of other faiths of having hateful things in their scriptures. And maybe consider expunging a few things from their own canon.

It is impossible to stay in God’s love and at the same time hate your enemy even to the point of hating the clothes they wear. (And, no, Jude is not talking about plaid polyester pants.) At least it’s impossible so far as the Jesus who said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” is concerned.

The kind of faith Jude is recommending is the kind that gets pumped up on emotion, fear and seething self-righteous anger and results in the very divisions it claims are being caused by “those other people.” Divisions that can only be resolved from their point of view by assimilation or destruction of the other. Jude is like Star Trek’s Borg: “Assimilate or be destroyed.”

Unfortunately, this is the theological position of far too many churches who consider their own cult to be the uniquely pure expression of God’s will for humanity. And paradoxically, the only way to overcome the kind of blindness it creates in its adherents is to love them back in spite of their hating you.

Love them the way Jesus loved and forgave those who called for his crucifixion. They said he was worldly, a defiling spirit, causing divisions. Jesus said that’s what they will do to you if you follow his lead in refusing to assimilate. Hard to do. And people pumped up on hate-filled faith are dangerous. Even murderous. But extending human love in the face of “divine” hatred is the only way to tell who’s really who when all the world around is asking, “Will the real Christians please stand up.”