I Bought a Donkey!

A Curious Donkey by Kenneth Allen, Creative Commons

A Curious Donkey by Kenneth Allen, Creative Commons

For those of you who don’t know, I love donkeys. Specifically the short-legged, fat-bellied burros folks around here keep in their horse pens to scare the coyotes away. I have been teasing Katherine that we need to buy a burro (“I will call him ‘Burrito’”) for four or five years now.

Her responses have been, to date, negative. I guess one of us has to be the responsible adult.

Well, I’ve finally done it. I went behind her back and bought a donkey! I had a decent sum of mad money[1] put together, so I went online and bought one. It was only $225.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Tim, you live in the city! It isn’t even legal for you to keep a donkey on your property.  And besides, donkeys are not known to get along well with wild dogs, and your dogs are badly-trained enough to almost qualify.”

Donkey Eating

Photo by 4028mdk09, Creative Commons

True, true, but herein lies the genius of my plan! Not only did I finally get to buy my donkey, I don’t even have to take care of it!

I don’t have to corral the donkey, feed the donkey, or clean up after the donkey. This is a 100% responsibility-free donkey!

You see, I bought this donkey through World Vision. They will deliver the donkey to a family in a  lesser-developed nation who will feed the donkey, care for the donkey, cherish the donkey, and use the donkey for meaningful work. This donkey will help a family beat cycles of poverty. It will help the parents do the work so the children can go to school.

And Katherine? She was actually quite pleased that I bought the donkey. Go figure.

Donkey grazing

Photo by 4028mdk09, Creative Commons

1) Mad money has been a great key to our marriage. We each get a certain amount per month, which accumulates. We add to this sum any birthday or Christmas gift money we receive. We make unnecessary purchases from this fund: books, music, video games, leisure-type clothes, guns, DVD’s, etc.

This is perfect if one of the couple has a hobby that includes infrequent, relatively-expensive purchases (like video game systems, musical instruments, antiques, reproduction weapons, hunting guns, artwork, etc.).

This way, that partner never has to beg for permission to buy that new ____. If s/he has the mad money, s/he can buy whatever it is. If not, s/he keeps saving until s/he does.

Our Mad Money system has kept unnecessary spending under control, and kept either of us from feeling resentful about what is and isn’t being spent. I’m not sure where we got the idea for this.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of it.

We don’t usually do our charitable giving out of Mad Money, but I had $400, and I sort of got a ‘word’ from God that I wasn’t supposed to keep it. I looked around for a high-impact local opportunity, but I didn’t find one that felt right. World Vision did.

I guess $400 isn’t a life-changing amount of money here in America, with only my contact network. But in a developing nation, a dollar goes farther, and World Vision can really stretch those donations. I encourage you to check them out, if you haven’t.

Four Types of Violence, Part Three: Holy War

Richard and Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf, the Crusades, painting by Gustave Dore, 19th century

Richard and Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf, the Crusades by Gustave Dore, 19th c.

Holy war. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, and perhaps it is. I can see no evidence that conversion by force was ever condoned in any fashion by Jesus or the apostles, ever.

I honestly see no instances of using violence to gain converts even in the Old Testament. God ordered the destruction of some cities, and ordered the conquest of certain areas, but conversion by force? Not that I recall.

In fact, Jesus orders Peter to not even raise a sword to defend Him when the Sanhedrin-led mob comes to arrest Him (“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. – Matthew 26:52, NIV).

At no point do the apostles or early church leaders violently resist persecution.  They skip town sometimes, they are rescued by angels sometimes, and other times, they submit to indignity, injury, and eventually death.

(According to church tradition, the only apostle who wasn’t murdered or executed was St. John the Divine, the writer of the Book of Revelations, and he was exiled to Patmos, essentially imprisoned.  Many notable non-apostles, like Stephen, also died for their beliefs, and they offered no violence in return).

There are, doubtless, many reasons for this.

First, opposing the military might of Rome would require a literal miracle, and Jesus had made it clear that he was not that type of Messiah.

Second, fighting back would have made the Christians and their persecutors seem like warring religious factions, little more than gangs fighting over whether or not some rabbi was divine.  It would have ripped the credibility right out of their message.

Third, for those who were apostles and full-time evangelists, there was only one focus: preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and leading people through repentance and into true discipleship.

There was no time for marriage and children, no time for personal property beyond travelling necessities, and no time for self-defense.  They were to throw their lives into God’s hands, and spend every bit of energy and time they had into spreading His message.

There is, I believe, another reason. I believe God knew that Christianity would spread, and nations would become majority Christian in time.

Kings and nobles would convert, and bring a new danger into the soul of Christianity: an unholy union with government, and the specter of holy wars, religious persecution by Christians, and inquisitions in which even Christians were not safe from church-sponsored violence.

Had these leaders read and prayed and paid attention (and actually cared), they could have seen that Jesus and the apostles never condoned these sorts of things, and in fact eschewed them.  But they did not: they were dominant rulers, accustomed to enforcing their will through force and fear, and their new-found Christianity did not sink deep enough to change that.

Granted, this has probably been the least controversial of the series. Honestly, though, I’m not sure that it’s because we’ve evolved past it. After all, we’re still a very warlike species, even in the post-industrial nations. Just because we kill with drones and cruise missiles doesn’t mean we’re not still killers.

I choose not to believe that our rejection of holy war comes from not taking our religion seriously enough.  I choose to believe that it comes from actually caring about the examples of Jesus and the Apostles. I choose to believe that it represents progress.

We know that war is not a holy thing. We may still support our secular national government’s wars, but at least we don’t want the Church involved.  And that, to borrow a phrase from Martha Stewart, is a good thing.

–A Note on Context–

I’ve been thinking about violence, justification, and the “kingdom of heaven” a lot lately. I’ve written a lot, too, but nothing I’d be comfortable publishing. But I’ve also been reading some things I wrote previously. I wrote this four-part look at violence back in 2011, and I’ve done only a little editing since.

Think of this as a time capsule as I struggle with the larger implications of the issue.

The four categories are completely of, for, and by me. They are not the product of theologians or biblical historians. They don’t have roots in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. They’re just something I noticed, and felt the need to work out.

Four Types of Violence, Part Two: Revenge

Simeon and Levi Slay the Sichemites to avenge Dinah, painted by Gerard Hoet 1728 AD

Sons of Jacob slay the Shechemites to Avenge Dinah, by Gerard Hoet, 1728 AD

I’ve been thinking a lot about violence, Jesus, and the strange fact that American Christians are among the most pro-war, pro-gun and pro-death-penalty of Americans (I even count myself in that second category, though not in the others).

In thinking about violence, I noticed four types of violence in the Bible, and I thought I’d talk briefly about each.

Retributive – violence committed in response to a wrong or perceived wrong.  In ancient days, an incident could start a war between tribes. Such vendettas could continue until one or both tribes were extinct.

The rule of proportional retribution (“an eye for an eye,”) did not promote revenge, but limited it. “An eye for an eye” ended these feuds and put the responsibility for retribution and punishment in the hands of the society’s legal system, whether that is an official court system or a council of elders.

The apostle Paul reaffirmed this in the Christian era in his letter to the church at Rome [Romans 12:17-21, Romans 13:1-7] Rome was no paragon of justice and righteousness, but even so, retributive violence was to be left to its courts.

Sometimes, God used nations to bring retribution on other nations, including using violent, polytheistic nations to deliver judgment to Israel when its people fell away from His ways, when they worshiped other gods and exploited the poor, rather than caring for the widowed, fatherless, and those stranded far from home.

If you read the major and minor prophets, this happens so much that there’s really no point in referencing specific verses.  The list would be too long.

However, the nations that were used to scourge Israel were often, themselves, broken in retribution for the harm they caused. Babylon was a prime example, especially King Nebuchadnezzar, who ended up eating grass and braying like a mule [Daniel 4].

Again, there is no reason to believe, short of an angelic visit, that any of us as individuals, or the nations of which we are a part, have been chosen as instruments of God’s judgment. 

Even those nations that were described as being such in the books of the prophets were generally not aware of their role. From their perspective, they were waging wars of conquest.

In theory, revenge should be a no-brainer. In Romans 12:19, God specifically forbids it. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (NASB).

And most of us don’t actually ‘grab a gat or a baseball bat’ and go take revenge on our enemies.  But… we get social revenge, always seeking to bring someone else down for the ways they’ve offended us.

And we love revenge movies, from The Outlaw Josey Wales  to The Crow to I Spit on Your Grave to the aptly named TV series Revenge. We read and write and watch and hear revenge. It’s a huge part of our cultural narrative.

And it makes sense. A people who love revenge, even fictional revenge, will be far more willing to support a war that’s framed in those terms. Or an execution. Or the torture of suspected terrorists.

Rome has a big reason for us to love revenge. But I don’t think our hearts can love revenge and Jesus at the same time. I think every heartbeat we spend uncritically entertaining thoughts of revenge – even fictional revenge –  is a heartbeat we don’t spend on our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.

–A Note on Context–

I’ve been thinking about violence, justification, and the “kingdom of heaven” a lot lately. I’ve written a lot, too, but nothing I’d be comfortable publishing. But I’ve also been reading some things I wrote previously. I wrote this four-part look at violence back in 2011, and I’ve done only a little editing since.

Think of this as a time capsule as I struggle with the larger implications of the issue.

The four categories are completely of, for, and by me. They are not the product of theologians or biblical historians. They don’t have roots in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. They’re just something I noticed, and felt the need to work out.

Four Types of Violence, Part One: Conquest

David slaying Goliath, painting by Peter Paul Rubens circa 1616 AD

David Slaying Goliath by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1616 AD

I’ve been thinking a lot about violence, Jesus, and the strange fact that American Christians are among the most pro-war, pro-gun and pro-death-penalty of Americans (I even count myself in that second category, though not in the others).

In thinking about violence, I noticed four types of violence in the Bible, and I thought I’d talk briefly about each.

Conquest, or Selfish Violence – violence committed for personal gain, self-aggrandizement, or to satisfy an appetite, urge, or emotion (such as hatred).  This is the typical robbery and murder that is prohibited by all civilizations and most pre-civilization human societies.

We’ve known this was wrong since before God chose Abraham, but Christ did add something new to even this obvious, black-and-white case: we are not righteous if we only avoid committing the act of violence.  We must also resist the contemplation, the fantasizing, the hate itself that underlies the act [Matthew 5:21-22].

That said, there was one exception in the Old Testament: the Hebrews’ conquest of the Promised Land, which was specifically ordered by God.

Soren Kierkegaard had a term for such things: “the teleological suspension of the ethical.”  That is, the “Knight of Faith” may be asked by God to do things that would not, under other circumstances, be right, like wage a war of conquest or take his only son to the top of Mount Moriah to be sacrificed.

There is no reason to believe that, short of a divine revelation of the sort Moses received, that any later wars of conquest can be justified from a Christian perspective.

This seems so obvious to say, but the thing is, whatever war we’re currently contemplating always sounds like the “exception,” whether it involves a full-scale invasion or just bombing a technologically inferior enemy back to the stone age.

I’ve spent too much time talking politics lately, so I’ll just say this. As Christians, we must have some kind of belief that limits violence. We can make an argument for total pacifism. We can make an argument for just war theory. But we cannot, as Christians, argue for Clauswitz’s idea that war is, essentially, just another form of diplomacy. We cannot promote war for “national interests” alone.

We can’t say that whatever country we’re living in deserves our support for all its wars, uncritically. We cannot say, “my country, right or wrong.” We have to be willing to be considered “bad Americans,” “bad British subjects,” or “bad Russians” if that is required of us by Christ.

And if our theory of war never seems to find an “unjust war,” if it justifies every war that our nation desires, then we have a problem.

–A Note on Context–

I’ve been thinking about violence, justification, and the “kingdom of heaven” a lot lately. I’ve written a lot, too, but nothing I’d be comfortable publishing. But I’ve also been reading some things I wrote previously. I wrote this four-part look at violence back in 2011, and I’ve done only a little editing since.

Think of this as a time capsule as I struggle with the larger implications of the issue.

The four categories are completely of, for, and by me. They are not the product of theologians or biblical historians. They don’t have roots in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. They’re just something I noticed, and felt the need to work out.

On Black Friday, I’m Thankful For…

Thank You

Photo by VistaMommy, Creative Commons

The things that money can’t buy:

* The love of my wife

* The daughter we have “on the way”

* The freedom to NOT get up at 5 am and rush the sales

* Friends I can rely on, including my church family

* Parents I love dearly, who love me dearly, and who raised me well

* In-laws that I love, not hate!

* A wonderful extended family

* Most of all, for the love and grace of our Triune God: a Heavenly Father, a Messiah Son, and a Holy Spirit

I’m also thankful for the things money can buy, things so many in the world don’t have:

* Clean water

* A steady supply of food (more than I need, by far)

* A house that’s safe and sanitary

* Indoor plumbing

* A nation that’s not a war zone, torture state, or dictatorship

* Vaccinations and modern health care

I’m thankful that my daughter won’t face a tooth-and-claw struggle to survive her first year. I’m thankful that U.S. infant mortality rates are low, instead of 25-50%, like some people face.

I’m thankful that organizations like World Vision and Kiva give me a chance to help people who don’t have what we have.

Powers and Principalities

Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun by William Blake

Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun by William Blake

I’ve been reading Tony Campolo and Brian McLauren’s Adventures in Missing the Point, and a line from Campolo’s part of chapter one really got my attention:

“The Bible makes it clear that he [Satan] is a seductive beast that raises havok in our personal lives as well as being incarnated in the principalities and powers (i.e., the political and economic systems, the educational and familial systems, and the media), with which we must wrestle every day.” (Emphasis added).

Campolo is referencing Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (NASB)

And that hit me like a rocket. You see, I’ve been forcibly denying the degree of unhealth and corruption inherent in our systems for a long time. Mostly because I didn’t want to give in to cynicism and despair.

But the problem is, these systems are far too big for any one person to change … even the President of the United States. These systems, however well-meant they were in the beginning, have become instruments for the powerful to consolidate, protect, and expand their power and privilege.

Government “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” (thanks, President Lincoln) can bail out the banks and corporations that created this mess, sure. But bail out a family that lost their jobs, and is in danger of losing their home? We don’t have enough money for that.

Education can provide six-figure salaries (in Mississippi, that’s a lot of money) for superintendents and consultants, but the kids and the teachers? Expendable. We’ve got test scores to game.

Soldiers struggle to support their families, but big defense contractors get $154 million per jet fighter, plus tens of billions for research.  Taxi cab drivers in New York work long hours, but can’t afford a half-million dollar license to go into business for themselves. Why is the license so expensive? It benefits the powerful.

I could go on, but I’d only get angry. You see, it’s not the people that are the problem, per se. It’s the systems. The labyrinths of written and unwritten rules that govern their interactions. It’s invisible, and bigger than any one of us.

But this passage, and Campolo’s response to it, got me thinking. There are plenty of pieces of the puzzle that are small enough for one person, or one congregation, to affect.

Financially, I can make a difference, especially in the lives of people in lesser developed nations, where even $25 goes a long way.

Physically, I can volunteer. I can get my hands dirty in my local community.

Socially, I can talk to people and try to find ways to help.

Authorially, I can write here, journaling my own efforts and drawing attention to other worthy causes.

Spiritually, I can pray, I can study, and I can step out bravely in faith. And given my default level of social anxiety, there’s going to have to be a lot of stepping out in faith if I’m going to do anything at all.

The greater structures, the systems, the powers and principalities are beyond our reach, true. But there is a lot within our reach, a lot that can be done to create a more just and merciful world.

We just have to have the guts to do it.

Amputations, Spiritual and Marital (an Analogy)

Prosthetic Arm

I think I may not have written clearly enough in my last post, and some of my point may have been lost. So let me try again.

Too often in the church today we focus on condemning “sin,” which in large part means condemning people after things go off the rails. But we need to be more open, sensitive, and helpful to each other so we can keep each other from getting into desperate situations.

I’ll address divorce again, using C.S. Lewis’s metaphor of amputation. Though I’ve never gone through a divorce, the thought of separating from Katherine is  horrible –  I’d rather lose an arm.

The thought of things getting so bad between us that severing our lives seems like an improvement? That’s horrifying.

Malachi 2:16 flat-out says that God hates divorce. That makes sense. He’s the Great Physician, and what doctor likes to perform amputations? Amputations are only indicated when injury or infection is so terrible that it threatens the life of the body.

Shouldn’t we, as a church, be washing each others’ wounds? Shouldn’t we be installing guard rails on the dangerous machinery? Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to prevent these amputations, instead of preaching condemnation at one-armed men and women?

I think so. But during my married life, I’ve never been a member of, or even a regular attender of, a church that provided active support for married couples.

One church, First Baptist Byram, did at least offer Financial Peace University. Though it wasn’t specifically aimed at “marriage support,” it does help people (or couples) come to terms with their finances, which are one of the top (if not the #1) causes of conflict and divorce.

But as much emphasis as the church puts on families and marriage, I just haven’t seen much on actually working to strengthen existing marriages.

But if we hate divorce as God does, shouldn’t we be working to prevent it?

Shouldn’t those of us who’ve been happily married for many years offer ourselves (without being pushy) as willing listeners to those who are newly married, or who are having troubles?

Shouldn’t we offer classes that focus on issues that come up? Or if the church is too small for that, shouldn’t we at least suggest books (like The Total Money Makeover and The Five Love Languages) and resources on the community or association/diocese level?

Shouldn’t we try to be proactive?

Of course, that would require us to be more honest with each other, and to create an environment in which people feel comfortable talking about their hard times and shortfalls, without fearing condemnation.

But that’s a problem for another post.