Torture, the Constitution, and The Pirate Code


Jesus asks, “What does it profit those who gain the whole world but lose themselves?” Luke 9:25

The Torture Report summary released earlier this week lays out an argument that torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” did not work, that the intelligence gained from torture had already been obtained by other means. Former Vice-president Cheney appeared on television to argue that “enhanced interrogation” produced actionable intelligence that led to the capture of our enemies.

Because this page is about theology, ethics, and biblical interpretation, I want to raise a different question: does the quest for security trump every ethical concern? To put it another way, have we sold our nation’s soul in our quest for national security?

I use the word soul in its most inclusive sense, both spiritual and secular—our nation’s essence, her identity shaped by values and history, her ideals described in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Pledge of Allegiance. If we betray those values, that all people are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, that everyone is entitled to due process and protection from undue search and seizure, that we strive for justice for all, not just our own kind, what is left of our nation’s soul?

Recent text book wars in Texas have swirled around the question of Moses’ influence on the constitution. Perhaps the more urgent question is whether or not we will abide by our constitution’s values whether they came from Moses and Jesus or John Locke and John Stuart Mill or the Code of Hammurabi.

In arguing that the ends justify the means, the former vice-president and the FBI director imply that those of us who advocate applying the Constitution’s values in even the most extreme and difficult circumstances are unrealistic idealists. Values are all well and good, but our security must come first. If torture provides us with more security, we are obligated to use it, they argue, and we should be grateful to those who carried out their orders and those who issued the orders to administer torture.

jollyroger I laughed at the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean when the pirate captain takes a prisoner who had asked to parlay. “You can’t do that,” the prisoner argues. “It’s against the Pirate Code.” The pirate captain says, “the Code is more what you call guidelines than actual rules.”

Is the Constitution nothing more than the Pirate Code? Is it to be thrown out when it does not meet our immediate needs?

I’m not laughing now.

Among those who argue against torture on our behalf is John McCain, a hopeless idealist who has been called much worse. Having endured torture himself as a prisoner of war, and endured vicious political smears from members of his own party, McCain has had a broad range of experience in which to consider both the effectiveness and morality of torture. Here is a paragraph from his speech on the floor of the Senate this week:

[I]n the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

“We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

“Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”

What do you think? If living by our values endangers our security, should we ditch our values? Does national security trump the constitution and the human rights that it advocates? What, if anything, can or should we do to prevent our national leaders from authorizing torture in the future?

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Escape From the Advent Zombies

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Mark 13:24-37

“what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”


Escape From the Advent Zombies

 “Keep Awake?” How dare a preacher stand up here in the busiest time of the year and intone, “Keep Awake,” when students work through caffeine-induced hallucinations to finish their final papers; when managers and labor work into the night to prepare their end-of-the year reports; and when parents fight the madness of the midnight shopping crowds to buy their child a PlayStation 4, braving even pepper-spray.

“Keep awake,” indeed.

That is more the world’s requirement than the way of Christ, don’t you think?

And keep awake for what? Haven’t we heard enough from the religious fringe of this eschatology, this end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it rhetoric? And haven’t they always been wrong?

And hey, Christmas is coming—angels, shepherds, baby in a manger with animals all around—why on earth does the church’s calendar of Bible readings give us all this stuff about the end of the world?

Then again, maybe this is exactly what we need to think about now, as scientists predict catastrophic climate change, as ISIS spreads their terror and influence from Syria to Iraq and Iran, and North Korea shoots off missiles between issuing threats to destroy the world with their nuclear capability.

The problem with passages such as the little apocalypse in Mark is that they have been used and abused as weapons of mass distraction. They have been used in our own day to frighten and threaten anyone who does not fall in line with a particular theology. They have even been used as contemporary political texts to threaten the righteous destruction of other nations.

So how do we pick through the rubble of mistaken predictions, misguided interpretation, and just plain rotten theology (am I a curmudgeon yet?) to assemble a responsible Christian proclamation of gospel, of good news, for Advent—and do so with the background music of Winter Wonderland?

Those of you who have been listening to me preach for lo these many years will know by now where I’m going—back to the original context of Mark’s writing of this passage.

It takes us back to about 70 A.D., forty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, in the midst of, or in the immediate aftermath of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple. [Much of Mark may have been written earlier than that, but chapter 13 reflects the context of the siege of Jerusalem.] For the first century Jewish and Christian community, this was their 9-11 moment, their Pearl Harbor, and their Cuban Missile Crisis, all wrapped up in one event. The world as they knew it had, in fact, come to an end. As the dust of destruction billowed up and darkened the sky over Jerusalem, the words of Jesus came back to Mark, how the sun would be darkened and the moon would not give its light. The poetic language of stars falling and the powers of heaven being shaken took on a new and literal context. Their question was not when it would happen—for them, it already had. Their questions were, “What now? What next?”

In that context, the words of Mark 13 are not threats, but words of hope.

They reach back to the words of the psalm,

 God is our refuge and strength,

   a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

 In other words, God is still in charge.

No matter what happens, no matter what human failures we suffer through, God remains in charge of our ultimate destiny.

That is the apocalypse, which means, literally, an unveiling.

Mark’s apocalypse, his unveiling, or pulling back the curtain to show us what’s going on backstage, proclaims that even when it seems the world is falling apart, even when it seems life is falling apart, God is at work making a new heaven and a new earth, a place where God will wipe away every tear.

To those who feel that the burden of their family or their business, or the survival of the world is on their shoulders, the good news of apocalyptic hope is that God has not abandoned the world; God has not left us to our own devices.

There was a time, in the nineteenth century, when Protestant ministers preached these apocalyptic texts as descriptions of what human progress could accomplish. The industrial revolution and advances in science promised a new age, a day when illness could be eradicated and slavery and poverty abolished, if only we worked hard enough.

For those who harbored ultimate hope in human moral progress into the twentieth century, however, the mass destruction of WW I and WW II, along with the holocaust, and the ongoing scourge of sexual slavery destroyed any such illusion. Scientific progress, in the hands of human beings, did not and does not automatically lead us into the Kingdom of God.

Our hope, then, is not that we will create a new heaven and a new earth. It is not that you and I, through super-human effort, will bring ultimate reconciliation to all those around us in conflict, or bring about peace on earth.

Our hope, our vision, is the promise that God is leading us toward a new heaven and a new earth, and we get to be part of it. The paradox is that the work is God’s not ours, and we are relieved from the anxiety of our past failures; and yet, because the work is God’s, not ours, the work of reconciliation and generosity and peacemaking is not doomed to failure. It is meaningful.

Jesus said,

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

Staying awake, staying alert, then, is not so much suffering the sleep deprivation of this busy time of year as it is keeping our eyes open for the signs of God’s grace breaking into the world.

A few years ago, there was an advertisement in a magazine for a beaded handbag costing thousands of dollars held by a model, eyes closed, looking beautiful but comatose. The banner read, “Comfort and joy.” [Thanks to Kathleen Norris in Christian Century for this.]

Staying awake, keeping alert, in the gospel’s word of hope, is the encouragement we need if we are to escape the fate of becoming Advent zombies. Instead, we can keep our eyes and ears open for God’s presence.

In 1993, John Prine released a different kind of Christmas album. Along with a few old standards like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause,” he also explores the shadow side of Christmas with a song called “Christmas in Prison.” At the beginning of the second song on the record, he tells a live audience a story before he sings. He says, “I got a kind of unusual gift for Christmas a couple of years back, I got a divorce for Christmas, so I really didn’t know what to do; so I went out and bought myself an electric train because I never had one before. And me and this friend of mine, we nailed it to the dining room table. Just ‘cause we could.”

After that, though, he sings a song he wrote for his ex in which he pokes fun at his own bitterness and finally sings, “I wish you love/ I wish you happiness/ I guess I wish you/ all the best.”

Ignace Yan Paderewski was a Russian composer-pianist who died in 1941. One evening he was scheduled to perform at a great concert hall. In the audience of black tuxedos and long evening gowns was a mother with her fidgety nine-year old son. His mother brought him in hopes her boy would be encouraged to practice the piano if he could just hear the immortal Paderewski. So, against his own wishes, he had come.

As the mother turned to talk with her friends before the concert began, the boy slipped from her side, and without much notice from the audience, he sat down at the stool, staring wide-eyed at the black and white keys, and he put his fingers on the keyboard. He began to play “Chopsticks.”  The roar of the crowd was hushed by hundreds of frowning faces turned in his direction. An angered audience began jeering at the boy, booing and hissing for him to be taken from the stage.

Backstage, Paderewski overheard the sounds out front and put together what was happening. He grabbed his coat and rushed toward the stage. Without one word of announcement, he stooped over the boy, reached around both sides and began to improvise a counter melody to harmonize and enhance the tune. As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy’s ear:  “Keep going. Don’t quit son. Keep on playing. Don’t quit. I’m right here…don’t quit!” [Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson on Day 1 for this story].

Though our efforts to live out the grace and love and generosity of a crucified and risen Lord may be as “Chopsticks” next to the soaring music of Handel’s “Messiah,” yet we have this word of encouragement constantly in our ear. God is the composer, whispering in our ear, “Don’t quit, I’m right here, keep on, keep on, keep on.”

Thanks be to God.

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David LaMotte Is A Dangerous Man


Worldchanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness, by David LaMotte

David LaMotte is a dangerous man. His demeanor is gentle. His acoustic guitar and singing voice depend on a microphone to be heard in a crowded room. His speaking voice has a velvet quality that you will hear through his writing whether or not you have ever heard him speak.

That’s what makes him so dangerous. Continue reading

Shocking, Scandalous, and Offensive, Just Like the Grace Of Jesus

91XD1k9kjoL._SL1500_Translating the Gospel into the language of one’s parishioners, whatever the context, presents the parish pastor with a daunting daily challenge. In Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber tells the story of her struggle to find not just words, but just the right emotional tone to convey the shocking, scandalous, offensive, and wondrous grace of Jesus to a congregation of saints and sinners deeply aware of their brokenness.

Middle-class suburban mainline Protestants might mistake her theological reflection for the profane exclamations of the captain of a pirate ship, but within the context of her congregation, the House for All Sinners and Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ in bold and clear translation.

Were I to lead a study of this book with the over-eighty church ladies, I would be sure to come equipped with a supply of smelling salts in my communion kit for those few whose impaired sense of humor or heightened sense of decorum would lead them to faint on the floor should they hear their pastor read aloud one of his favorite passages, such as:

You hear a lot of nonsense in hospitals and funeral homes. God had a plan, we just don’t know what it is. Maybe God took your daughter because He needs another angel in heaven. But when I’ve experienced loss and felt so much pain that it feels like nothing else ever existed, the last thing I need is a well-meaning but vapid person saying that when God closes a door he opens a window. It makes me want to ask where exactly that window is so I can push him the fuck out of it. (Bolz-Weber, Nadia (2013-09-10). Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (p. 111). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.)

Once the eyebrows have been untangled from wigs, and the faint of heart have revived, even the shocked may also be awed by a starkly honest tale of grace and redemption—a prodigal daughter who returns to Jesus with a congregation of sinners and ragtag saints she picked up along the highways and byways at brothels, gay bars, dens of iniquity, and a pig sty, trailing behind.

A pastor with Nadia Bolz-Weber’s larger-than-life presence (if you only read one book this year by a six-foot-tall woman recovering from addiction, fundamentalism, and Grave’s disease, former Church of Christ now Lutheran pastor with a tattoo of Mary Magdalene, well . . .) has to struggle with the challenge to become transparent that others may see Jesus more clearly. She is an operatic figure turned loose on the world, and yet, somehow, she pulls the rug out from under her own grand personality to show us the radical grace of Jesus Christ.

Bolz-Weber’s confessional honesty, along with her self-described “misanthropic personality” provide a deep well of illustrative material for her theological proclamation of grace for all. Her prose dances with the rhythms of her former life as a stand-up comic, but her days of using comedy to distract herself and others from the darkness have passed. Her comedy now serves as a vehicle of the grace to which she, and all of us, cling. Her raw accounts of failure in every attempt to chart her own path of salvation will lead honest parish pastors to recognize ourselves, our self-deceiving fantasies of self-reliance and success through sheer competence, hard work, and charisma, and follow her into deep darkness where she points to the light of resurrection that no darkness can overcome.

This review was published originally in Seminary Ridge Review, the journal of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Thanks to Poetry and Theology Editor Katy Giebenhain for the invitation to write it and permission to post here after publication.

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The Church Is Like A Family. Your Family.

“When I became an adult, I put away childish ways . . .” 1 Corinthians 13:11

Presbyterian Disaster Relief volunteers get playful.

If the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. breaks out of the doldrums and thrives for generations to come, she will do so because our generation answered God’s call to lead her members to a higher level of self-differentiation.

What is self-differentiation? It is the ability to think and act calmly and clearly according to one’s deepest values and principles even in the midst of a highly anxious emotional system. People who are highly differentiated can disagree with others over significant issues and still maintain a good relationship with them.

Years ago, I helped two different couples prepare for their marriages. One couple (The Stones) agreed with each other about all the major issues they could identify from religion and politics to child-rearing philosophy and money management. The other couple (The Golds) did not. She was raised Catholic, he was raised Jewish. She was Republican, he was a Democrat. She came of age in rural California, he came of age in urban Atlanta, the deep South.

Conventional pre-marriage counseling would have predicted that the Stones, having everything in common, had a far greater chance of staying married than the Golds. However, the Stones have divorced and the Golds continue to enjoy a very happy marriage. The missing question in conventional pre-marriage counseling is the level of self-differentiation of the couple. The predictive factor I did not include in the brief description of the couples above was how playful the Golds were around their disagreements and differences and how serious the Stones were about everything. The Golds continue to live comfortably with their disagreements and enjoy engaging and teasing one another about canceling out each others’ votes on election day. The Stones divorced because they could not accept each other’s differing views over the very small issues that inevitably showed up. Mr. Stone’s absent-minded habit of leaving the toilet lid up escalated into accusations of disrespect, a spiral of passive-aggressive behavior from both of them, followed by a yelling match that sent Mrs. Stone to the divorce lawyer.

In a counter-intuitive paradox, the playful people are the grown-ups.

What does this have to do with the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., or any other denomination?

I predict that after our disagreements over gay ordination, gay marriage and the Middle East calm down, we will find different divisive issues in the future (which is as risky a prediction as foretelling market volatility at some point in the future). The pendulum may swing back and forth between conservative and liberal, but we will never go to a General Assembly in which all the votes are unanimous. (How boring would that be?)

Our future health as a denomination does not depend so much on whether we can assume God-like power over the minds of others so that they agree with us and start acting and thinking right. It depends on our ability to love one another in the midst of our disagreements. It depends on our ability to win graciously and lose without resentment. It depends on our ability to speak, not in the tongues of mortals or of angels, but in the language of grown-ups who love each other.

When have you seen church leaders or members of your family acting in a highly self-differentiated way? How has that affected you and your family and/or church?

For All the Saints, Martyrs, and Liars

If you are preaching or listening to a sermon this Sunday from the All Saints Day lectionary, you may encounter 1 John 3:1-7. It’s a strange paragraph, pulling us back and forth between the assurance that we are children of God to the warning not to be deceived about lawlessness. My article today addresses the context of 1 John as a whole rather than a verse-by-verse analysis, but I thought you all might find it helpful.

My thinking about the whole New Testament has been greatly influenced by Amy Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew and, of course, Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s Generation to Generation. Though neither of them address this particular passage, they address the larger issues. Levine reminds us of the Jewish origin of the New Testament and Friedman writes of emotional reactivity and family cut-off as if he were addressing the situation of first century members of the Christian community as their relationship to the synagogue disintegrated.

When we remember that the dividing line between Christian and Jew did not exist in the first century the way it does now as a religious and ethnic designation, it influences the way we read all of the New Testament. In the first century, Christians were a subset of Jews. Even those Gentiles who joined the first century church saw themselves as becoming Jews. The whole circumcision controversy would not have arisen if the church did not think of itself as a Jewish institution. It wasn’t until the second century (decades after the writing of 1 John) that Christians embraced an identity separate from Judaism.

The community of John (I’m convinced that the Johannine pastoral letters and the Gospel grew out of the same community) thought of themselves as Jews who believed Jesus was the Jewish messiah. The expression John uses in the gospels that is translated “the Jews” refers to some group of Jewish leaders, not the whole ethnic group or all the members of the synagogue. It’s probably more complicated than that, but the main thing to remember is that Jesus and all his disciples and almost everyone mentioned in the Gospel according to John were Jews except for the Samaritan woman at the well and her friends in chapter 4. So, whoever it is John refers to when he uses that Greek expression “hoi judaioi,” (translated “the Jews” in the NRSV) it’s clear that he uses it in a very different context than our own. We use it to distinguish between Jew and Gentile. He uses it to distinguish between one group of Jewish people and another.

The next thing to remember is how emotionally devastating it was for them to be cut off by their synagogue and many family members. (Emotional cut-off is the essence of the word translated “hate.”) It was so devastating that many members of the Christian community left to return to their families and the synagogue, renouncing their claim that Jesus was raised from the dead because they were unable to withstand the emotional pressure of the cut-off. (Here’s a bit of polemic John uses against them in 1 John 2:18, “many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us.”)

The claim that Jesus is the Messiah, and that his resurrection is the evidence, is the central claim of the Christian community and the claim that the leaders of the synagogue would not allow people to teach in the synagogue. It was, they said, a lie, and those who proclaimed it were liars. John joins in the name-calling. He turns this claim around with his polemic against “liars” who say they have not sinned and “liars” who say they love God but hate (cut off) a member of their own family or community. While we ordinarily read his proclamation that “God is love” (4:8) as a gentle description of our Creator, it is, in context, part of a screed against those whom John feels have betrayed him and his community by cutting them off or leaving to return to the synagogue.

Another issue the letter addresses is the accusation from some synagogue leaders that Christians were libertines. The fine line John walks between those who say they have not sinned, whom he calls “liars,” and those who abide in Jesus and therefore do not sin (3:6) makes sense only as part of that larger controversy between Christian Jews and synagogue leaders over the definition of sin. To the synagogue leaders, sin was breaking the commandments, but to John it was breaking this one commandment with two parts, “that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as he has commanded us.” (3:23)

The letter of 1 John, then, sends encouragement to a community of disciples of Jesus who had been cut off from (hated by) their families and their synagogue. John tells them that they are the truly faithful ones, that those who hate them (cut them off) are the liars and the sinners, and that the only way to stem the hemorrhaging of members is by loving one another as brothers and sisters.

Here’s my own reflection on this. The Johannine correspondence records for us John’s struggle to make theological sense out of the rejection of Jesus and his resurrection by the leaders of the synagogue and the tearing apart of family and community relationships. His polemical tone, using labels such as “liars” and “antichrists” indicates that the emotional reactivity had reached such intensity that those Jews on opposite sides of the resurrection claim could no longer hear each other. This emotionally charged letter records a sad failure of the church and synagogue to maintain their relationship in the face of disagreement. Certainly, the synagogue had withstood disagreements before, but this one led to the tearing apart of families and communities, and that’s hard to make sense of in the context of a loving God who calls us to love one another. Often, John presents his explanation in terms that fan the flames of division: God loves us because we love Jesus, but those who don’t love Jesus are liars who only say they love God, but they really hate God because they hate us, their brothers and sisters. While John’s rhetoric soars in places, he is at his worst when he claims the victim badge for himself and his community.

The question for us I think is this: To what extent has this emotional process of cut-off, victim-thinking, and name-calling of our adversaries repeated itself within the church? To what extent was it replicated in the Reformation? What would happen if we refused to engage in the cut-off, victim-thinking, and name-calling? What if we could embrace John’s soaring rhetoric on love without using it as a weapon against our adversaries? What if we never tired of reaching across theological, denominational, and ethnic boundaries in love? What would it look like to reach across to our Jewish brothers and sisters? Our Muslim brothers and sisters? Our Roman Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant fellow Christians? What if we simply rejected the divisions that evolved from the emotional process of the first century Christians’ failure to negotiate a peaceful coexistence with, or amicable divorce from, the synagogue?

On a more positive note, the Johannine community clearly survived because they took up John’s challenge to love one another as brothers and sisters. They provided one another with the love and strength it takes to withstand the rejection of their own families. What would it look like for us to provide one another with such love to withstand every rejection of the world outside (or other churches) while still reaching beyond our boundaries to those outside our own community?

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Five Things Many Mainline Christians Believe about the Bible that their Pastors Don’t

Throughout 30 years of ministry, I have seen little change in the gap between the beliefs of seminary-educated clergy and our parishioners. While a very small minority of people make it through a Masters degree program at an accredited mainline seminary still clinging to the fundamentalist approach of numbers 1-4 below, and fewer than half number 5, I continue to hear many parishioners in mainline churches assume that all 5 are orthodoxy.

  1. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible.

    Leningrad Codex, thought to be the oldest existing Hebrew text of the Bible.
  2. Paul wrote all the books with his name on them.
  3. Revelation was written to predict the future.
  4. The Gospels quote Jesus accurately.
  5. The Bible condemns homosexuality.
  1. Clergy who paid attention during their Old Testament class know that the expression the “Book of Moses” refers to 5 books written about Moses, not by Moses. They arose over generations of oral composers who were edited during and shortly after the Babylonian exile, many centuries after Moses died.

Continue reading

Sabotaging Stewardship

This time of year, church leaders sharpen their pencils and write budgets, and preachers turn to the most inspirational sermon material we can find to motivate people to pledge and give enough to support those budgets. We do our best to talk about stewardship more inclusively than making a budget, and some of my friends do that very well. We preacher-types have become very skilled at laying out the benefits and joys of stepping up to a higher level of stewardship of our gifts, whether that means giving away more money or time, becoming a better friend, spouse, or parent, or taking better care of this earthly tent in which we live. What we almost always fail to tell anyone about is the dark side of stepping up:

If you become a better steward of your gifts, you will be sabotaged.

If you step up your leadership of an organization to the next level, and maintain a new sense of vision and clarity for more than a week, you will be sabotaged.

If you raise your fitness regimen, or your practice of spiritual discipline and ethics to a higher plane, you will be sabotaged.

Sabotage may come from others, especially Continue reading

Watcha Gonna Wear?

Exodus 32:1-14

Aaron . . took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

Philippians 4:1-9

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Matthew 22:1-14

‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.

Watcha Gonna Wear?

The story of the golden calf and Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet stand together in today’s readings as a gift to that part of ourselves that feels wise, intelligent, and more worthy when we focus on those who really mess things up.

I like to think that if I had been in Aaron’s place, I would have counseled patience to the people who waited for Moses to return from the mountaintop. Maybe pull out the guitar, sing “Here I Am, Lord,” while we wait. Not that silly Aaron. No, he starts fundraising to diminish his anxiety. “Give me the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters,” Which, of course, were plundered Continue reading

Matthew 22:15-22

The Worship of Happiness

[Jesus] said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The Pharisees and Herodians make an unlikely coalition. The Pharisees defend the Torah, the law of God, with a radical fervor that makes it uncomfortable for them to live under the rule of the Roman government. A dictatorship is bad enough, but when a dictator mints coins with his image imprinted on it and the inscription, “The Divine Emperor,” every good Pharisee squirms a bit having to use such a coin – You shall have no other gods before me and you shall not make any graven images are, after all, number one and number two of the big ten of the Torah. Just handling a coin like that presents the faithful Pharisee with a big problem, much less using it to pay taxes to support that dictator who claims to be a god. Continue reading