Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed or At the Cross?


Do you prefer “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?” or “At the Cross,” which is the same song with a much happier chorus added to Isaac Watts’ s stark original:

Alas, and did my saviour bleed

And did my sovereign die?

Did he devote that sacred head

For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I had done 

He groaned upon that tree?

Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.

Saying or singing those verses out loud really makes you stop and examine yourself.

Am I living up to this great love that was and is being shown to me? Am I sharing that “love beyond degree” with others, regardless of whether I think they deserve it?

This questioning and turmoil isn’t necessarily fun, and it isn’t the stuff of a properly cheerful church social.

And so a later writer, Ralph Hudson, added a refrain that ties everything up in a neat triuphalist bow, so you can smile and move on, putting all those sharp introspective edges right out of your mind.

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light

And the burden of my heart rolled away

It was there by faith I received my sight

And now I am happy all the day

There is a time and a place for triumph: Easter, less than 2 weeks ago, was a perfect time to celebrate.

We’re celebrating Jesus’ resurrection victory over the darkness without and within us, the powers and principalities, the adversary, the corrupting power structures of this world and beyond.

Our triumph doesn’t come from candy coating everything that reminds us of that darkness, everything that pushes us to question just how much we’re still wallowing in it. 

If you’re really “happy all the day” in this world, you’re probably not paying attention. 

What Does Satisfy? Part 1: Spirit 


In honor of Easter, this Sunday, I’ll talk about God, religion, and spirit first.

No, religion does not magically make everything in life perfect and sunshiney. 

With all the suffering the world,  the only way to be perfectly sunshiney is to either be entirely ignorant and sheltered or to have such an “us vs. them” mentality that you lose all empathy for people who aren’t like you. 

Granted, there are ways to be happier,  to do all you can and trust God and other people to do the rest. I’m working on both sides of that:  really doing my best,  and really putting aside unhelpful worrying. 

Religion isn’t a magic feel good tonic (or it shouldn’t be), but connecting with a church that more closely matches my values  (and doesn’t promote things I actively think are wrong) really has helped. 

I even sang a solo in the worship service this past (Palm) Sunday, and I honestly didn’t know how much I’d missed that (The song is “Christmas had its Cradle, Easter has its Cross,” one of my all time favorites).

And spending quiet time disconnected from phones, tv and internet, focusing on and connecting with God, is also wonderful, when I keep my focus enough to actually do it. Whether this takes the form of self composed prayer, praying existing prayers (the Jesus prayer is my favorite), or simple wordless meditation,  it is always good. 

So, in a nutshell, 

Coherence and integrity between my spiritual values and my spiritual community

Reconnecting with and sharing spiritual songs that mean a lot to me (making a joyful noise unto the Lord)

Spending time away from the fragmenting distractions of the daily material world, focusing on God

Have all helped a lot. 

Happy Passover and Happy Easter. 

So This Is Christmas 

​https://youtu.be/IYDaAYymfWw

I think I post this song every year. 

I hope that whatever your faith, you find something sacred this winter season. 

And for those who are Christian, remember that the divine burst through into our imperfect,  often cruel world … arriving not in the halls of power or the temples of the religious leaders …

… but in a stable, to a pregnant teenage girl with no pedigree,  no status … and when the angels announced his birth, they came to shepherds in their fields. 

And Mary sang…

Theory Thursday: Creeds and Beliefs

 https://youtu.be/H-61MaWETiU

 I’m talking about my beliefs, my creed, so to speak. In the “re-boot” post, I talked about how my theological beliefs had settled down a bit since the last period of blog activity (2012-2013), but I didn’t go into much detail, and may have been a bit a bit vague or confusing.

First, let me get the question of orthodoxy out of the way. I affirm the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday in church, and I mean every word.

I believe that Jesus was so much more than just an example for us … but that we cannot ignore his example. And in many ways, I spent most of my life ignoring his example.

Jesus taught peace, yet I found a way to justify every single war the U.S. had ever gotten into. 

Jesus crossed social boundaries and embraced the poor, the outcasts of society, and those believed to be sinners, yet I found a way to stay safe in my own middle-class moral superiority. I let myself believe that we’d somehow all started from the same place.

Jesus always spoke up to the powerful for the sake of those who were weaker, poorer, considered sinners, or socially ‘underneath.’

Yet time and again, I’d side with the powerful, the privileged,  because I’m one of them … white,  male,  heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied Christian.

America wss quite literally made for my kind. 

And I know I won’t ever understand how it is to be black or gay or trans or  female … But at least I can be aware of that. At least I can listen. 

At least I can try to follow the Jesus of the Gospels.

The Good Samaritan and GSM (LGBT+)

Let me state by saying that I do not believe that we can truly love somebody while considering that person to be fundamentally broken, flawed, bent, abominable, while comparing that person’s very existence to something like adultery or demanding that the person be celibate because of their very nature.

In short, you cannot love somebody while declaring their nature to be evil and classifying any love or intimacy they may feel as an evil on the level of infidelity or thievery or perversion.

In short, you cannot love someone who is a gender or sexual minority in the way that Jesus calls his people to love unless you accept that person as they are, and accept that person’s love and relationships.

I have seen the damage that this approach has gone, especially to people who were raised in the church. The damage that is done to a child by being told again and again that they are fundamentally broken, that any romantic relationship that they may have feel is a simple abomination – that the image is incalculable, and can and does lead to suicide again and again.

Time and again, Jesus said that we must judge a tree by its fruit. Suicide, pain, alienation, and depression are not good fruit. They are a bitter, bloody harvest that we bear responsibility for.

Any doctrine that leads to death of children and teens cannot be of God.

I don’t want to sound as if I’m condemning Christians who try to love people while maintaining their sincerely held moral objections, because that is often a step on the path. I know I had to get there before I could get here. But I don’t want to give the impression that I think that this is anywhere to end up. This is a baby step. This is milk, and we Christians are called upon to grow up, eat adult food, and put aside childish things.

Rachel Held Evans gave a good illustration of this by pointing out that in Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan, it was not the Samaritan who needed help, who needed somebody to be God’s hands to him. Instead, the Samaritan, who was a member of a group that good observing Jews of the time would consider heretical and immoral, this Samaritan was the one who acted as a good neighbor to the injured man, who was in this context Jewish. It was the outsider, the one who was looked down upon, who was the hands of God to the man after the priest and the Levites passed by and did nothing.

This is a revolutionary concept, but I wanted to publicly put my name on this belief because I don’t want there to be any confusion among anyone who may have read anything else I’ve written as to where I stand. As believers, we don’t need to welcome anyone in just so we can change them. We don’t even need to welcome them just so that we can love them and be Jesus to them. We need to recognize that they may be the hands of God to us, that we may learn from them, grow because of them, or be rescued through them.

 

The Kingdom of God Is Like a Pirate?


Richard Beck,  Professor of Experimental Psychology at Abilene Christian University​, has one off the most interesting and insightful blogs out there,  Experimental Theology 

And last week he had one of his most head-shakingly brilliant series yet: Jesus and the Jolly Roger. As you can tell by the intro video, it was inspired by Kestin Brewer’s book  Mutiny: why we love pirates and how they can save us.

Brewer’s main thesis is that piracy arises when the common goods have been taken over by the wealthy and powerful. 

17th & 18th century sailors were basically slaves, having often been pressganged into service, and treated horribly,  and used up until they died. Remember the great traditions of the British Navy, “rum, sodomy, and the lash.

Turning pirate was a way to escape and fight back against a violent,  exploitative, and utterly wicked empire  (several of them, actually).

For that matter, popular music and media used to be more free, with 28 year copyrights, not life of the author plus 70. People used to play their own music, they just owned the culture a bit more.

But the big entertainment companies got the laws changed, and now basically nothing will ever become public domain again. 

So the pirates set sail again, less violently, against a much lesser evil. 

Dr. Beck extends the metaphor into the spiritual domain.  In Jesus’s time,  the religious elites in the temple (in Greco-Roman and, more applicably, Jewish life) systems had become gatekeepers of religion, faith, and salvation … gatekeepers of God. 

Jesus bypassed the gatekeepers of empire and temple to bring good news to the outcasts,  the lower classes, the excluded.

Early Christianity was a religion of women, slaves, and the lower classes. 

Dr. Beck gives a much more in depth analysis. You should check it out.