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Book Review: Neighbors and Wise Men

Neighbors and Wise Men by Tony Kriz (a.k.a. Tony the Beat Poet from Blue Like Jazz) is something of an anomaly to me. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

It’s essentially a biographical sketch, laying out the struggles and doubts he went through that challenged his faith, and the unexpected (to some) people who came into his life and helped him through. From Muslims in Albania during his early downward turn, to drunks in a bar, to a man seemingly insane–though, as you find out, perhaps not completely–Tony learned a lot about how and through whom God speaks.

While there is a lot I can relate to–not the specific experiences, but the struggles, doubts, questions, unhappiness with the standard answers and knee jerk reactions to your questions–I think the tale of Tony Kriz as written here is trying to be more radical than it actually is. That’s not to denigrate the author’s experiences; not at all. But, perhaps this book isn’t as big an influence as he may want it to be.

While okay, there are several books I would recommend first. Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely is in the same sort of genre, but is far more powerful and radical.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Fictitious Conversations: On Penalties for Abortions

Fictitious Conversation Disclaimer: These conversations never happened. They are fictional. The characters do not exist in real life. If you think any character resembles a real person, then perhaps your conscience is being pricked. Or it’s just pure coincidence. These conversations are not meant to be scholarly; they are meant to mimic what a normal conversation might sound like between a couple of normal folks in a normal setting. The chats are not scripted like what you find in a movie. They bounce, go on tangents, and can even stop abruptly. The point is for you to engage them, to consider how you might respond to some of the questions asked, and to think about maybe some questions you would have asked. Have fun. Use your mind. I mean, they’re just fiction. Right?

Brady: Well, that was cool.

Florentino: What was?

Brady: Oh. Hey. Sunday School class is over?

Florentino: Yeah.

Brady: Right on. Naw; I left the service and there was a table over there in the courtyard. A guy’s there asking for signatures on that petition.

Florentino: Which one? I missed it.

Brady: Oh. The abortion one. They want to pass an amendment that makes abortions illegal.

Florentino: Okay. I think I did hear about that one. What was so cool, though?

Brady: Just that I signed it. I feel empowered.

Florentino: Ahh.

Brady: Like an activist.

Florentino: Why’d you sign it?

Brady: What? Wait… huh? Why? It’s abortion!

Florentino: I got that part.

Brady: We’re talking about abortion. The murder of unborn children. Why wouldn’t I sign it? It has to be illegal.

Florentino: And do you think making it illegal will stop abortions?

Brady: Of course it will.

Florentino: Like having murder be illegal has stopped all the murders that go on every day?

Brady: Okay. Hold on. No, it won’t put a stop to all abortions. I’ll grant you that. But, that goes for everything. There will always be people who will break the laws. Some people steal. Some people run red lights. Some people graffiti mailboxes, and some people kill other people. I know. Whether it’s illegal or not, there will be some women who get abortions, and doctors who do them.

Florentino: Sure; so what I . . .

Brady: But it will help. There will be less abortions. When it’s illegal, when it’s considered murder, then it’ll make a difference.

Florentino: How will it make a difference?

Brady: When abortion is called murder under the law, then people will notice. People will think twice, or even three times, before they consider having one. Or even performing one.

Florentino: You mean just by calling abortion illegal, or murder, it will magically make people stop?

Brady: No. Just like other laws, like stealing or killing, there’s a deterrent. There are consequences.

Florentino: Consequences? You mean . . .

Brady: Yeah, consequences. How else will people get it? There has to be consequences. There has to be punishments. Otherwise it’s just words. A police officer will say, “Sorry, ma’am. Abortions are illegal.” If there are no consequences, that lady could just tell the officer, “Or what, huh? What’re you going to do?” He’ll have to be all, “Go on about you’re business. Just…just letting you know.”

Florentino: What will they be? How do you punish people involved in abortions?

Brady: Well, it’s murder.

Florentino: Not even manslaughter. Just straight up murder. Are you talking about the death penalty?

Brady: Murder needs to be punished. There are consequences for our actions. If we break the law we pay the price. You know the Bible even talks about eye for an eye, life for a life. You’ve studied the Church Fathers. You know they considered abortion murder.

Florentino: You’re saying you want to see the death penalty for anyone involved in an abortion?

Brady: Yes. Probably.

Florentino: So a woman who has her child aborted should be executed?

Brady: She made the choice to have her child killed. So, if it’s within the state’s laws to execute her, yes. But that’s up to the states.

Florentino: And the doctor or nurse that does the abortion?

Brady: They committed the act. Yes.

Florentino: I don’t want to pull the emotional card, but you’re talking about women who got pregnant from rape also, right? I mean, they got pregnant and murdered their unborn child, so they need to be executed for murder, right?

Brady: That is the emotional card, alright. As sad as it is–and the situation you’re talking about is incredibly sad no matter what happens–yes. To be consistent, and for the sake of unborn children to come, we have to do everything we can to stop abortions.

Florentino: I thought you were pro-life.

Brady: Of course I am.

Florentino: But why are you only pro-one particular individual’s life?

Brady: What are you talking about?

Florentino: You just said you were willing to execute a woman and a doctor or nurse, even if that woman got pregnant from being raped. That’s two lives dead. Gone. Sent to their eternity. And for what? To make a statement?

Brady: Yes, to make a statement! You know how many millions have been killed since Roe v. Wade? It’s gotta stop.

Florentino: And we need punishment and execution to do that? We need to kill to stop the killing?

Brady: Nothing else has worked. It’s only going to get worse.

Lincoln clarified his racism

It’s always good to be clear:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. (1858 speech during a debate with Stephen Douglas)

And I’m very thankful that Abraham Lincoln could clear up his position on the equality of blacks and whites. But, he’s the hero of blacks, right? At least that’s what my kids’s history books are going to say.

The drone attacks must stop

Since I wrote the post on remembering the fallen children back ages ago on Christmas Eve 2012, wherein drone attacks on Pakistan were at 303, we’ve now reached 306. And tack on several more in Yemen.

This needs to stop. These drone attacks dehumanize war. They dehumanize the “enemy.” It all serves to justify the killing of them and those over there; you know, those terrorists.

We Christians need to stand up, band together, and tell the President and his administration to stop this madness, this murder, this evil.

But why aren’t Christians doing so? Why aren’t servants of the Prince of Peace calling for the end of the drone attacks? Because they support the attacks? Because they support the dehumanization of those in Pakistan and Yemen?

Why are so many Christians so intensely and intentionally silent when it comes to torture, war crimes, massive “collateral damage”? And if they are not silent, they are overtly outraged when objectors raise their protests.

No, I don’t want to generalize, but where is the outcry? If there are truly so many Christians in this country, where are the massive protests and calls for the end of it all? The only option I see as viable is the Christian community is being sinful in either acceptance or promotion of these attacks, or in their silence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he called the US government the greatest doer of evil in the world. And today there has been no change. He also considered silence on evil a sinful act. Silence when injustice is being done is no different than committing the evil act yourself.

Dr. King was influential. But there are very influential Christian pastors and leaders around the country, with large congregations and listeners and supporters. But King spoke out. King walked in protest. King went to prison. Then King was shot down. (And I think many folks just pigeon-hole Dr. King as the leader of blacks; but, remember why he was in Memphis in the first place.) Who among our Christian leadership in this country is willing to set such an example? Who is willing to place love for God’s special creation–humans–above their own lives, their own political agendas?

But I recognize the realities here. Of the very few people who will read these words, not one of them will be a Christian who supports the drone attacks and openly defend it. The silence will continue. The sin will continue. The Church will keep blood on our hands. And we can’t just wash it away. There’s only One who can, and it takes repentance on our part.

We can never repent if we never cease to do the evil that we do.

Third Way Farming


One the one hand, there are large farms, which include but are not limited to the companies you find in so-called Big Ag. Typically they are characterized as extremely large operations, with a massive amount of acreage, seeking a profit. The purpose of their farming is ultimately to make money.

On the other hand, there are backyard homesteads, small home farms, and small operations. These smaller plots (which can range from 20 acres down to a quarter acre, or even an apartment patio) tend to be focused on farming for the self: self-sufficiency. They are looking to produce for themselves, their families, their friends; and whatever they have in excess they might sell at a local farmer’s market or use in some sort of CSA.

Sure, these are generalizations. No two farms are the same. No farmer is the clone of another. The reasons they farm are their own, and as diverse as fingerprints.

Let me back up a little bit before going on.

In an article written a few months back, David Sommerstein posited that there are two ways that farming businesses are portrayed: the large or mega-farms that have a global reach and use pesticides and toxins on their crops, and what he called locavore organic farms, which are small scale, focused on local distribution. For Mark Bittman, there’s another option, a third way as Sommerstein called it: “mixing crops and livestock and planting in rotation can reduce pesticide use without reducing yield.”

While I agree with Mr. Bittman’s proposal, and think it would be a great agricultural benefit in the short and long term, the ideology is still limited to, and possibly grounded in, the kingdoms of this world. It’s still embedded in the global economic system. I wouldn’t call that a third way, as Sommerstein did.

Particularly in Anabaptist circles, the phrase third way feels right at home. We recognize the reference and go right back to Jesus. The Third Way isn’t middle ground. It’s not a compromise. Through his life and teachings, his death and resurrection, Jesus gave us a third way. It’s an alternative to the kingdoms of this world. It’s an intentional alternative. It’s an upside-down way of approaching relationships, politics, conflict, economics. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, instead of striking them back or running away, Jesus offered a third way, an alternative way to respond that turns the tables on the one that struck you. In that response is movement toward justice and restoration.

Third Way Farming, as I see it, is an extension of justice and restoration in the activity of farming. When applying the Way of Jesus to farming, it looks different than the world’s farming operations. There’s equality, there’s charity, there’s love, hope, giving, a lack of poverty, purpose and direction. In essence, Third Way Farming is the Jubilee that the Christ proclaimed, particularly applied to farming. What the farmer does with their land, their produce, their livestock, their home, their excess, their time, their income, their family, their workers, and how that spills out into their community shows their attempt to live out Jubilee.

I’m not talking about just handing out food to the needy. While good, it’s merely a step. The Third Way involves a restoration of status to…get this…fellow humans created in the image of God. Not them, but us.

I’m not talking about not selling produce and goods and making a profit. The Third Way involves taking the profit and investing it into the community. Or, completely getting away from kingdoms-of-this-world-based economics, and focusing on the greater value we have in our time, energy, gifts, and talents. One approach that comes to mind is the Groupee (some info here or here).

Ragan Sutterfield’s Farming as a Spiritual Discipline is something of a manifesto on Third Way Farming (see my Amazon review for my brief thoughts). I urge everyone, whether farmer or not, to read it over. Even multiple times.

While I haven’t fleshed out all my thoughts yet, I am hoping to talk about this more. Anabaptism and farming easily mesh; it’s a natural marriage. And if we continue to develop thoughts of how caring for the land is connected to caring for each other, grounding ourselves in the teachings of Jesus and the exposition of the Scriptural text, our communities will be better off.

I don’t believe I’m coining a new phrase, or inventing a revolutionary idea. The idea has always been there, though under a different name. Many community gardens are Third Way Farming operations. I’m trying to put a name to what we are trying to do with our little place, and what I’ve seen many others doing around the country (and the world) long before we ever decided to go this route.

Appendix: I know, I know. “Don’t label me, bro!” But, when used properly, labels and names can be extremely helpful. It’s why I refer to myself as an Anabaptist. As we continue down the post-Christendom and post-Christian timeline, there will be more confusion over who and what Christians are, do, and believe. Just calling myself a Christian isn’t all that helpful. Telling somebody I’m a Christian moves us nowhere in the conversation. Being an Anabaptist tends to naturally invite questions if not judgement.

Remembering the fallen children

Earlier today, Wes Howard-Brook posted some excellent and inspirational thoughts on Newtown, drones, and the unbalanced not just reporting but uproar on the part of the American people. He posted his thoughts on a Facebook page that you need access to in order to read it, so I can’t share the post and don’t have permission as of yet to repost them here. So, I’ll be giving my summary and own thoughts, bringing my own voice into the conversation.

As we (Americans, and in particular Christians who happen to be American) continue to mourn the death of 26 people in Newtown, CT, as well as the continuing deterioration of security when it comes to our kids in school, my prayer for this Christmas time is that we remember.

We need to remember that 27 people died that Friday morning. If you consider the killing of the 26 (20 of whom were dear little children) a tragedy, than the end of one life who is now so shunned, despised, and even forgotten, is just as tragic. He was not the first to do what he did, nor will he be the last. Mr. Adam Lanza lived a life that resulted in him going to that school that Friday morning at that time. And there were many people involved in his life along the way. When enraged Cain killed his own brother, God showed mercy. When the Jewish leaders and Roman Empire hung the unblemished lamb on a cross, Jesus showed mercy. But why are Christians unable to mention the 27th dead person? Why are we not asking for the prayer and support of the family and friends of the 27? If we cannot show mercy, if we cannot forgive, if we cannot shed away the anger and vengeance in our hearts that builds up in response, then we will not be shown mercy.

We’ve all heard pastors tell congregations, “God loves each one of you. He made you and thinks you’re special, and has a great plan for your life.” But, when events like this occur, does something happen to the status of the killer? Was Mr. Lanza no longer special in God’s eyes as he walked into that school? What happened to the great plan God has for his life? Or the Columbine killers? Or the Virginia Tech killer? Did God’s great plans get thwarted? Is God not great enough to ensure his plans don’t get thrown off kilter by fallible, weak creatures? Where is the consistency from the pulpit and the leaders of these congregations?

We need to remember that our children are not the only children on the Earth killed en masse. We’re all aware of the US use of drones to attack political and military targets. But, don’t be misled: those targets are people. In Pakistan alone, from June 2004 through December 2012, there have been 355 drone attacks (303 of which come under Pres. Obama himself). 3,404 people have been killed (you’ll see numbers vary based on who is reporting the number dead). Of those killed, 889 were civilians. The number of children: 176. But those numbers haven’t caused the societal uproar that Newtown has. Those numbers haven’t raised the calls for drone-control legislation. Or, are we to believe, as some have argued with the gun issue here in the US, that the children and civilians in these Pakistani towns should have more guns or even drones of their own as that would put a stop to the violent attacks being done to them?

We need to remember to include in our prayers the children killed by these drone attacks. While any number of people killed in violent attacks gets our attention–it should get our attention–and causes change in a community even if only slightly, the killing of children can be especially embedded in our lives. But while we pray for the families and friends of Newtown, we should extend those prayers to the families, friends, and communities of those children killed by our drone attacks.

Do you remember 30 October 2006? That’s the day one drone attack at a school resulted in the killing of 69 children. 69! But were they not as precious or important or special as our children?

Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind. When he spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church on 30 April 1967, he was defiant and prophetic (as he tended to be):

There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, “Be non-violent toward Jim Clark,” but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children.” There’s something wrong with that press!

There is no difference here. When we call for the protection of our own children, we must call for the protection of their children as well. Why? Because that evil segregation of ours and theirs created by sinful man has no place in kingdom of God. Nor do the people perpetrate that segregation.

We need to remember that just saying we want to help children around the world is no substitute for doing so. From Wes Howard-Brook’s original post, he asked,

Why is it so much easier to respond to visible violence like this than the more hidden violence against children that is involved in producing so many of our daily consumer products?

His response:

But lest we put this off on politicians, let’s consider the basic ingredients of our holiday cheer: chocolate and sugar. Unless you choose to buy from ethical providers like Mama Ganache Chocolates, each Hershey “kiss” or other such treat is a direct contribution to the enslavement and suffering of innocent children. Why not a national boycott of sugar and chocolate, if we actually are disturbed by the deaths of children?

Having followed and been involved in some of the modern abolitionist movements today (seen mostly in the anti-human trafficking pushes going on around the globe), I can understand the dilemma he’s pointing out. People are willing to voice their rage against slavery, but tend to be unwilling to change their economic and consumer habits. Whether they know it or not, what they buy has a greater impact on slavery worldwide than what they say. Many people know buying Hershey’s or Nestle chocolates supports the enslavement, impoverishment, and even death of children around the world, but they still buy Hershey’s and Nestle chocolate because they like it so much. They actively make the choice to put their likes over the lives of children.

Is it because those children are not ours? Slaving away, dying, here in the United States? Is there another reason?

This is the time we celebrate Christmas. It’s a celebration of the incarnation, when God took on flesh, coming to release captives. He came to abolish injustice. He came to eradicate racism. He came to give sight to the blind. He came to set the oppressed free. He came to proclaim good news to the poor. And then he would die.

We need to remember this is a time of hope. Not just for those who call themselves Christians and are saved. There is hope for the poor Pakistani child whose already impoverished town was destroyed by a couple of drone missiles. There is hope for the family struggling with their first Christmas morning without their beautiful young kindergartener.

But Jesus brings that hope. And we display that hope not when we hate and kill; only when we love.

Fictitious Conversations: Gertrude and Joadson

Drawn 4 people convo

Gertrude: “Hey, Joadson. Whoa! Looks like you joined the Army. The uniform fits well.”

Joadson: “Thanks. Sure did.”

Gerturde: “I thought you were going to seminary, go into missions work. Didn’t you want to work with Muslims? Was it Muslims?”

Joadson: “Uhh. Yeah. Yeah. Muslims. No, I still want to get into missions; be a missionary, you know. I really feel like God’s taking me that direction. But, right now, I believe he wants me to do this. With the world the way it is, all the war going on, I need to do my part. I need to help out. I want to support this country, you know.”

Gertrude: “Oh. Do you know where you’re going yet?”

Joadson: “Plus I’ll get to learn some Arabic while I’m there. Oh! Sorry. Yeah, I’m going to Afghanistan.”

Gertrude: “Afghanistan? We will probably still be there for a while, right? Well, I guess you will still be working with Muslims, though, right?

Joadson: “That’s right. In a way, I am going to the mission field.”

Gertrude: “Kind of funny how things work out, eh?”

Joadson: “Yeah. Kind of funny.”

Gertrude: “You’ll be a soldier, then, right? What do you think about that?”

Joadson: “What do you mean?”

Gertrude: “Well, the last time I saw you, you were going to be a missionary among the Muslims. Now, you’ll be among Muslims but with orders that might result in you killing some of them.”

Joadson: “I know what you’re saying.”

Gertrude: “Do you? Let me ask you something: are you willing to die for the US?”

Joadson: “Yes, I am. It’s scary, but I’m willing to sacrifice myself so we can stay free. Any soldier has to be willing to do that. But, we have to fight for freedom. We need to be safe.”

Gertrude: “And, are you willing to die for Jesus.”

Joadson: “Of course. I love Jesus. If someone’s got a gun to my head, saying, ‘Convert or die,’ I will hold on to Jesus. You know that.”

Gertrude: “Are you willing to kill Muslims for the US?”

Joadson: “Well, yes. I don’t want to. And I’ll try not to. But if I have to defend myself, if they don’t put their weapons down, I’ll do what I have to to live. If I kill some of them, it’s okay. It’s justified. And, yes, I do think Jesus is okay with that. He said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ and I need to make sure I’m loving my family, friends, and the folks in my community. I have to defend them. Wouldn’t be too loving if I didn’t, right? If I just let the terrorists run us all over?”

Gertrude: “So, are you willing to kill Muslims for Jesus?”

Joadson: “No! No way. I mean, Jesus isn’t going to ask me to kill Muslims. He won’t ask me to kill anyone.”

Gertrude: “Oh. I’m getting confused now. You said you would kill Muslims for the US. But not for Jesus? Who do you take orders from?”

Joadson: “Well, you have to understand something. My main allegiance is to Jesus. I love God and will do what he wants me to do. But, under that, he made me an American, and I have my duty to take care of my country. My allegiance to the country is secondary. I will do what I’m told to do in the Army unless it goes against God. If it breaks one of God’s commandments, or . . . what did you always say, ‘Violates the teachings of Jesus,’ . . . then I can’t do it. I have to obey God. I will obey God.”

Gertrude: “But, am I right in thinking that you believe Jesus will never ask you to kill someone, but would be okay if you happened to kill someone, like during a military mission?”

Joadson: “Well, yeah. It’s in the act of defense.”

Gertrude: “Don’t you think you’re being torn in two? Trying to serve two masters?”

Joadson: “No. Not really. I serve Jesus first, and the country second. I’ll do what my country needs me to do, unless it goes against God and the Bible.”

Gertrude: “Alright, then, how many Muslims will you reach for Jesus while you’re in the US military in Afghanistan?”

Joadson: “Whoa. That was a quick jump.”

Gertrude: “Not really. I’ve been ready to ask you that since we first started talking. So, how many?”

Joadson: “I don’t know.”

Gertrude: “Come on. Just give me a number. An estimate. I’m not writing anything down here.”

Joadson: “I don’t know. Hopefully some, I think. I mean, I’ll try. I just think I’ll be either in my camp or on orders to search for militants in the villages.”

Gertrude: “Come on, Joadsy! Give us a number.”

Joadson: “Alright. Well, how about 2. I’ve heard a lot about it being tough to really break through in Muslim populations. It can take years and years of just being there, ministering, loving people, working with them, before you see fruits. But, let’s go with 2.”

Gertrude: “I’ve heard that also. That you can be working in the community for years before you see anything happen.”

Joadson: “Totally. When I was prepping to go to seminary, talking with missionaries working in different Middle Eastern countries, that’s what they kept saying. I was getting ready for the long haul.”

Gertrude: “Okay, then. 2 during your stint in Afghanistan while in the military. Now, how many will you reach–again, just throw a wild estimate out there–if you became a missionary in Afghanistan?”

Joadson: “Hmm.”

Gertrude: “Let’s say you were there 8 or 10 years.”

Joadson: “Okay. Let’s say 10.”

Gertrude: “Nice.”

Joadson: “A big family or something.”

Gertrude: “As a missionary, how many Muslims would you kill?”

Joadson: “None! Are you crazy?”

Gertrude: “In the Army, in Afghanistan, how many Muslims will you kill?”

Joadson: “That’s not fair! It’s not the same.”

Gertrude: “Not the same? Same as what?”

Joadson: “It’s war. It’s the military. We have missions. We have to be safe. We have to defend ourselves. We have to fight for our country to be free. We have to keep America safe.”

Gertrude: “Is that more important than the 10 Muslims you could have saved?”

Joadson: “Look: I know what I have to do.”

Gertrude: “What’s that?”

Joadson: “My duty.”

Gertrude: “Like I asked before, who do you take your orders from?”

Jesus cleansed the Temple without violence

Got involved in (what I thought was) a quality Facebook discussion on the teachings and example of Jesus with respect to whether or not Christians can defend themselves with violence against an intruder, someone breaking into their house. Well, as good a quality discussion as one can have on Facebook that is. So many stinkin’ limitations.

One person inferred that pacifists believe Christians should be doormats, and that we won’t defend ourselves or others against killers and rapists. Even just my very existence (as an ‘Acquiescent pacifist Christian’ man) made him nauseous and gag. True story.

But, one still very important issue that came up was the idea that Jesus used violence to cleanse the Temple. That he did harm to people while clearing them out. That is a myth, plain and simple. But it lingers. And what gets me is that you don’t have to be a pacifist to see through the myth. In my experience, all you have to do is read the text again.

Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. (Mt. xxi.12)

Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. (Mk. xi.15-16)

Then Jesus entered the temple courts and began to drive out those who were selling things there (Lk. xix.45)

He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” (Jo. ii.14-16)

Among the four descriptions of the event, only John’s telling could even remotely be considered an act of violence. And that’s very remote. But, that’s where the myth shows up. So that’s what we need to deal with.

The NET reads as above: “So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen.” Notice the text never said he actually hit anyone, only that he drove them out and had a whip of cords. The text as it stands needs a certain leap, a certain set of assumptions to be true, if this passage could be used to argue in favor of Christians using violent force on people.

One of my new best friends (via his great book), Antonio Gonzalez, clears the issue up in great summary:

It is important to observe that the Greek construction used in the passage (“all” followed by tekai) does not indicate addition (all, along with sheep and oxen), but simply makes explicit the content of “all” (all, both sheep and oxen). Accordingly, when the Gospel says that Jesus expelled “all” with the whip, it means both the sheep and the oxen, but not the people. (Gonzalez, 132)

While the NET translated the portion as addition, the NIV read it properly: “and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle.” It’s a non-violent situation. It’s an act by Jesus that may be forceful, but there was never any act of force or violence against people.

I find it kind of odd that the NET does not even supply a translation note (reason they chose a particular reading over other possible or disputed readings) for this portion.

Many times we (and I include myself here) will recite a passage from memory, or at least our interpretation of a passage, so much without actually going back into the text and reading it, that we believe what we’re saying even though it’s unverified. We can convince ourselves, unwittingly, that there is no need to open the Bible to that passage again. We’ve got it down. It’s cases like this that should remind us that no matter how much we think we know our Bible, no matter how simple we might think it is having studied it before, maybe even read it in the Hebrew or Greek, we need to stay grounded and humble and return to the text itself.

We just might be surprised at what we find. Or what we don’t find.


Referenced: Antonio Gonzalez, God’s Reign & the End of Empires.

Job hunting and the sad reality

In an odd twist to our lives, I just spent the past couple of hours tonight job hunting online, wherein I submitted my resume and filled out applications for three graphic design positions: one in Irvine, CA; one in Knoxville, TN; the last in Boston, MA.

Was I looking for those places specifically? Nope. They just happen to be where the positions were available, and the positions were ones I am qualified for. The pay would be excellent.

Is that good? Heck no.

I don’t want to move. We have some great plans for this house and property we’ve only lived in for just over a year.

But, the reality is, as of Jan 1, 2013, it will cost us too much to work & live here. My job at The Californian is very low wage. With the raise freezes and the 5% pay cut that have been in place for 3 years, my pay has been stagnant. There have been reassurances that the pay cuts will not end, & there will be no raises up coming. There are no other positions at the paper that I can move into with better pay.

There are no design positions available in Bakersfield at the moment. And I can’t just go it alone via freelance because that well of client base is tapped out by the few and successful agencies in town. It’s still a small town; not much work to go around.

In January, our health insurance rates will almost double, which will suck an extra large chunk out of each paycheck. There is simply nowhere for us to cut in our own budgets. Well…that’s not totally true. We spend a lot on gas, like everyone. If I just don’t drive into work, we’ll be fine. Of course that would mean not having a job at all anymore.

What a viscous cycle.

So I’ve opened up my range: anywhere. I don’t want to move. My wife doesn’t want to move. My kids don’t want to move. But do we have a choice? So far God has done nothing to really bind us here. There’s been nothing but closed door after closed door, struggle after struggle. I don’t want to give up this farm and this dream (though the dream can go on elsewhere, I know).

Can I just get another job? No. My wife’s health is so shoddy I have to be here when I can. We can’t afford to hire help. There is no community of people around us, supporting us with helping hands in that way.

Plus: should I have to get another job? Is that what the people of God are supposed to be doing, working away from home more than they spend time at home with their families? Why is it that I can’t have or find a job, a source of income, that will cover our needs and expenses?

Some say, “At least you still have a job.” Technically true. In the real world, though, it’s an absolute hell of a situation. The reality is that people who are underemployed by wage (not hours worked but by rate of pay), especially at a full time position, are unable to rectify that problem so easily. We can’t just go find another job. We have to work. And because it’s full time during the day, I have to wait until the wee hours of midnight to do serious job hunting.

So now I need to go to bed, so that I can wake up, get ready, and get to work, to do a job I am very good at. I will smile and I will love my Jesus. And I will come home and send more resumes and fill out more applications.

Just not here in Bakersfield.

Wisdom: Wendell Berry

“Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.” ― Wendell Berry

Farmers aren’t just good for food. They can feed you in so many ways.

Thoughts on the Reign of God

Contrary to what is frequently believed, the reign of God does not consist in a state or in some institutionalized social system. The reign of God is not even a “state of affairs.” Rather, it is a dynamic reality: it is the sheer fact that God reigns.. . . The whole purpose of the Law of Moses was to show that where God reigns, a totally new society appears, a social order in which the injustices suffered in Egypt are not to be repeated. The alternative to empire is the reign of God. – A. Gonzalez

An absolutely incredible statement when understood. The Church, under the reign of God, is a new, alternative society. If the Church looks and acts like the kingdoms of this world–including the US–then it is not God’s society at all. As God did with the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, pulling them out and establishing a new society under his reign, he has done so with the Church with Jesus as our King, our Pharoah, or Emperor.

But if we cannot separate ourselves from the kingdoms of this world–if we cannot let go of our lives under the reign of human kings and earthly empires, if we cannot survive without the vestiges of a man-made Republic or a human-fashioned socialism, if we have to reform the Church to look and act like a kingdom-of-the-world democracy–then all we do is cry out, “We have no king but Caesar,” and send Jesus off to be crucified.

Election Day: Choosing to Remember

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s (του κυριου) death until he comes. (1 Cor. xi.23-26)

To proclaim the Lord’s death, our Lord Jesus’s death, is to proclaim his reign over the true Kingdom. Jesus solidified his place on the throne when he took his place on the cross.

Tomorrow, when Americans will cast their votes for which king (President) and council (congress) they want to have reign over this particular earthly kingdom for the next number of years, Christians around the country will be joining together, in extended community, and sharing in the body and blood of the true, eternal King, Jesus.

Together we will remember the Church, our Lord, our sin, our mission in the world, and the One Who is the only true hope for the world.

Whether you vote or not, regardless of who you vote for or what propositions you’re in favor of, we should all meet at the Lord’s table and remember that we’re all in the struggle together. Congregations all over will be hosting a special service. Groups will be gathering together, taking time out of the night.

We will not be able to join with any larger congregation tomorrow night. But I’d like to try and have a little communion service with the family. If anyone would like to get together, we’d be more than happy. I want our kids to know that the Kingdom of God, the true kingdom, the only Christian nation, is always more important than earthly kingdoms.

If you can’t gather with a larger body, or if your church isn’t either participating in Election Day Communion or hosting their own special services, do something special at home. You won’t be alone even if you happen to be the only one physically there at the time. The Lord’s Table is where Christians everywhere can and do unite, in spite of our differences.

Homesteader’s right of passage

I feel as if I’ve gone through the homesteader’s right of passage.

Yesterday, with the help of some good friends just down the street, I successfully processed two of our chickens.

Processing, if you’re not up on the lingo, refers to the killing, defeathering, and prepping (a.k.a. gutting) of a chicken.

I had never done it. Our friends had done it once, a couple weeks ago. I was going to go then to watch and learn and try my hand at it, but things kept getting in the way. So, this weekend, it all worked out. They did their second rooster, then I handled our two Rhode Island Reds that, honestly, needed to go. They were something of rescue chickens, that were not treated well before. We tried to help them, but the nastiness took them over. They pecked anyone. They pecked the ducks and geese and asked for fights. We decided it was time.

The actual process of processing was not as gruesome or messy as I thought. It was actually far less than expected. And it really doesn’t take that long.

In order for us to do it again, though, I know I’ll need to get a hold of some extra tools and necessaries.

But, I’m certain I could do it again.

Many thanks to our friends down the street. I’m glad they went first.

Now, it’s real.

I am thankful: Day 2 (and 1)

I missed Day 1, so this will be a two-fer.

Day 1
I am extremely thankful for my wife, who has stood by me and helped me for over 10 years through my insanity, selfishness, and bad decision making. Also for our 5 (soon to be 6) little boys who are a joy and a blessing, not a burden and a curse. Sure it can be tough financially, but the Kingdom of God isn’t run by money. Even if it doesn’t look like it by the world’s standards, we are blessed.

Day 2
I am extremely thankful for the van we were able to purchase yesterday. Not for the material possession. Ultimately it’s just a van. But what it means right now is that we have a vehicle that we can all fit in. Our van died six weeks ago or so, and we’ve only been able to borrow a truck that can’t fit us all. We haven’t been able to gather with fellow Christians in over 6 weeks. Of course, the week we decided to check out a new church nearby (living out in the country, nearby is relative; it’s a 12 minute trip, as the Nazgul flies), our van died. So, was it God telling us we weren’t supposed to go to that church, or was it the demonic forces trying to keep us away from where we were supposed to go? We haven’t been able to go places as a family. We’ve spent a lot of extra money making extra trips. But now, we’ve been extremely blessed with a vehicle that can help us be a family, and help us do what we need and want to do.

Martin Luther King Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”

May my living not be in vain.

A sermon so powerful and so relevant. How easy it would be to imagine listening to this sermon this coming Lord’s Day.

Martin Luther King Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct” Sermon – YouTube.

Mormonism, Racism and Romney: Part 4

Continued from part 3

LDS members today need to be honest about the racist history of the church. But who is responsible?

If it is God who is solely responsible for the prolonged suppression of blacks, and the superiority of whites, only ending when God decided it was time, then the LDS God himself and the LDS church itself is racist at its core. If God is the one responsible, then the teachings and history of how and why black people look the way they do and were inferior to whites, cannot be expunged and must be embraced by all Mormons, Mitt Romney included, like it or lump it.

If the LDS leadership is responsible then there needs to be more discussions on why and what next. Why didn’t they pray and urge God more to end the ban? Why did they merely leave it up to God? Why did they continue to suppress blacks even when they thought or knew it was wrong?

But what about LDS members who were not in the upper echelons of leadership? Are their hands washed clean of their church’s racist history? Of course not. They decided every day whether or not to stand up to the leaders, or even to God himself, and be a voice for their black brothers and sisters. The whites chose to either be superior, or fight for equality. Today Mormons need to decide how they will talk about the racist history. Will they embrace it in honesty and work through it, or will they cast it aside and say, “That was in the past. We are all equal?”

Today, during this last week of the Presidential election push, many Christians around the country will be voting for Gov. Mitt Romney. Obama is a Christian.7 Romney is a Mormon. And one of the biggest farces when it comes to politics is that religion doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. Consider how many people keep calling Obama a Muslim. If it didn’t matter, than why bring up the opinion, as ignorant as it may be? Are you not going to vote for a Muslim? Why not? Is it unconstitutional? If it doesn’t matter, then why was there all the hype about Jeremiah Wright’s church and black liberation theology?

Whether you’re okay with it or not, religion matters. For the most part, focus on Mormonism has been on polygamy. But all the while, and lasting much longer than the practice of polygamy ever did, the core of the religion has embraced racism, has taught racism, and there has been no repentance or repudiation of it. Even if Mitt Romney did not like or directly teach it, he has not stated that the suppression of black Americans in the LDS church was in any way wrong. And from his interview with Tim Russert, it’s obvious he is not willing to call his church wrong, to say a negative word against its history, or to even address the issue directly.

What will he do as President? How will he speak to issues of racism? Will he be a trailblazer and a leader, or another politician? Will he do what’s right for the country, or whatever isn’t negative toward his church? How can he be a champion for civil rights when he supported the suppression of black Americans within his own church? Is it difficult to see the hypocrisy when you say, “The color of your skin doesn’t matter when you’re trying to get a job,” but then say, “The color of your skin proves you are not worthy of blessings in our church?”

And Christians by the millions will go support him to be the face and voice of the country. I hope they do so being informed of the facts, and have come to terms with Romney’s response to the issue. I hope they approach their support with honest questions and expecting honest answers. May none of us ever be so tied to our partisan affiliation that we are able to make our decisions in good conscience.

The history and theology behind the LDS church and black Americans is complex. You read LDS writings on the issue and there is a lot going on. But what is clear is that they have not considered the suppression of blacks within the church as wrong, and likely never will. There is no apology. There is no repentance. And Mitt Romney is towing the line. He had a great chance to clear the air. He had a great opportunity to support all people above the evil of racism. He didn’t. Why not?

He had opportunities before the 1978 declaration to take a real stand for black Americans. He didn’t. Why not?


7Whether you agree with his particular choices of doctrine or practice is irrelevant to that issue. My guess is you don’t agree completely with everyone in your church, even the pastors, yet you still consider them Christians. Many will be even quick to judge the faith of someone based on their partisan political choices, without even knowing them personally, and that’s just sad.

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