08 June 2024

gocekBlogGary: In the footsteps of Paul in Corinth, Greece

gocekBlogGary: In the footsteps of Paul in Corinth, Greece: Thursday, June 6 - CORINTH!  Today provided me with a meaningful historical and spiritual experience. Susan and I visited Corinth, just west...

Please see my personal blog in which I recount a visit to ancient Corinth, where I stepped on the bema used by Roman tribunals. Paul came before the tribunal in Acts 18:12.

16 May 2024

My letter to the Wall Street Journal

My letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal was published today, 16 May 2024. This was in response to an opinion essay entitled, "Methodists Keep Up With the Times". In that essay, the author's opinion was that Protestant churches give too much credit to current cultural trends and not enough to Christian tradition. For copyright reasons, I cannot post the original essay, but here is a link:

May 10 essay about Methodist church policy changes

My letter disagreed with the essay, and was published with another letter that was in general agreement.

May 16 letters to the WSJ

Here is my letter as published. Since I wrote it, I am taking the liberty of reposting it here. The WSJ wrote the headline of the letters. I do not repost the other letter here, see the link above for that.

__________

As published:
TRADITION AND CHANGE: A CHRISTIAN QUARREL

In “Methodists Keep Up With the Times” (Houses of Worship, May 10), Carl Trueman risks implying that theology is immutable and any deviation from tradition and orthodoxy is secular and wrong. He encourages us to “hold to a historic form of Christian faith that doesn’t affirm the predilections of the surrounding culture,” as if today’s Christians could somehow separate themselves from that culture.

Mr. Trueman suggests that “sacred” has no meaning outside traditional theology and fixates on the issue of nontraditional couples. My salvation, however, isn’t dependent on my national church’s budget, or what my church says about my gender identity or the sexual preferences of the couple in the pew behind me.

__________

My original submission to the WSJ was slightly edited. Here is my original letter:

The op-ed "Methodists Keep Up With the Times" (May 10) implies that theology is immutable and that any deviation from tradition and orthodoxy is secular and wrong. The essay encourages us to "hold to a historic form of Christian faith that doesn't affirm the predilections of the surrounding culture," as if today's Christians could somehow separate themselves from that culture. The essay quotes a reference that groups non-traditional couples with criminals, and suggests "sacred" has no meaning outside traditional theology. However, the likelihood and quality of my salvation is not dependent on my national church's budget, or what my church says about my gender identity or the sexual preferences of the couple in the pew behind me.

__________

My commentary:

There were some slight modifications by the Journal. My submission did not mention the essay's author's name, but the WSJ inserted that. The WSJ changed "implies" to "risks implying", which seems stupid; I used the passive "implies", and the WSJ made it even more passive. There is no doubt the essay states that the author's theology is the only correct theology; I could have been more insistent (see below). The essay equates same-sex couples with (criminal) pederasts, but I am OK with the modifications. The WSJ strengthened my comment about my salvation.

In my opinion now, the original essay and the Journal's headline in capital letters above are not part of a polite quarrel. The essay believes I need to get in line with Christian orthodoxy and tradition because the writer believes I will otherwise go to hell (whatever that is), and the Journal published the essay because the editor believes it is hell that we Christians argue about. It's a stupid, offensive argument, but I would not have had the letter published if I been that scathing.

Theology changes because we change. I could believe "God" (not defined here) does not change, but I change, and my relationship with God changes. My salvation is safe, and the essay's author is stuck in the 18th century. The author's salvation is up to the author and God, and the essay did not help anyone else.

Bottom line?

There is no hope for Christian unification between the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant denominations and Eastern (orthodox) denominations because the RC Church believes the others are not actually Christian. As far as the RCs are concerned, only RCs can call themselves Christian. Everyone else is not simply "non-Christian" (who might actually receive some mercy from God in the end), they (the non-RC Christians) are liars who must either repent (become RC) or be damned for eternity for committing the sin of falsely claiming to be Christian. Yes, that's what it's like when discussing Christianity with an RC.

As a result, an RC won't discuss Scripture with a Protestant because the Protestant is not Christian, which is the basis for how the original essay was written. The essay author wants everyone to accept traditional Christian theology because that would make us all RC.

14 May 2024

What does the Good News sound like?

What does the Good News sound like?

Luke 2 verses 13-14:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

But let us also listen to our hearts.

English philosopher R.G. Collingwood wrote, "Artists must prophesy not in the sense that they foretell things to come, but in the sense that they tell their audiences, at the risk of their displeasure, the secrets of their hearts."

Psalm 44 verses 20-21 have something to say about these secrets:
If we had forgotten the name of our God,
or spread out our hands to a strange god,
would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Jesus said to his disciples who would find themselves in the midst of wolves, Matthew 10 verse 26: "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known."

Let us pray to the Lord then, that our faith and work may plant marvelous seeds in our hearts, at first secret! Then, we can pray that the glorious artwork that is God's creation will cause those secrets to burst forth into the world, because again, what does the Good News sound like? It is the sound of all hearts bursting forth together with love for God and each other.

25 April 2024

Interpret according to modern perspectives

Probers 5:3-5: "For the lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol."

If you're reading a theological blog post, you probably know that women are marginalized throughout the Hebrew Bible, aka the Old Testament. This quote refers to a loose woman, but rest assured there are no loose men in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, women can be loose, but men cannot. Men can be weak and be unable to resist those feminine wiles, but men are typically not held accountable. The great King David sent a soldier to his death so he could take Bathsheba, and David's infant child died for that, but David's horrific selfishness is ignored afterwards.

At worst, in the Hebrew Bible, men punish women for their tempting ways. Men who lose battles are insulted by being compared to women. Men inherit land, women do not (with a few exceptions that are notable because they are exceptions).

Before I go on, I must agree that the Hebrews valued the institution of marriage highly. The husband was in charge, but adultery was bad. Jesus was able to stop the crowd from stoning the adulterous woman because the men in the crowd were just as bad. Nevertheless, ancient Israeli society was patriarchal, sometimes to the point of misogyny.

In 2024, it is simply wrong to treat these verses as explicit wisdom for the ages. The Bible doesn't tell us that God wants men to rule over women even to the point of violence. Men seduce and men lie, as they always have, just like women and queers and every other homo sapiens. Act righteously, and justly toward other demographics.

11 April 2024

And we wonder why church attendance is lower...

 

The Atlantic reported in 2023 that church attendance in the US is declining because that's "just how American life works in the 21st century." It's true Americans like to be seen as individualists responsible for their own destinies, but that has always been the case. Contrast that with the belief that after WWII, we Americans came to be believe our system is exceptional and we owe the world our leadership, although that has been tempered by recent isolationism. Still, I don't think isolationism is what is impacting church attendance. Covid had a catastrophic effect on attendance, so we must keep trying to get back to where we were back in 2019.

We churchgoing Christians certainly need to look inwardly, as well. Just as Christmas has taken on a materialistic life of its own regardless of its religious origins, churches have allowed the commandment to love our neighbors to be eroded by the desire for secular accomplishment. The kids participate in multiple activities and the adults are in constant contact with their work lives. Partisan politics infects all levels of community involvement. IT's hard to make time for church.

Adults have failed to instill a sense of mature moderation in our kids. I believe I am supportive of diverse gender identities and lifestyles, but we should push back a little when a person's only objective seems to be to support a fluid sequence of lifestyle choices. OK, so let's say a person spends a couple years, 24/7, proving it's OK to be queer ... now what? The person still has gifts that can be used to meet meets needs the person discerns. No one can fix everything, but it's always possible to find something that can be fixed.

Some people don't feel accepted at church, and that's painful. Churches need to start from a position of inclusiveness and acceptance. There is little Scriptural support for the notion that Jesus taught we should hate trans people in 2024. Individual members of churches need to get on board with the communal starting point of inclusiveness, and there is Scriptural support for that.

Sometimes, an individual encounters, at church, political and social perspectives that can't be reconciled. Churches need to do the best they can to publicize their positions so frustrated Christians can find a new church home rather than to stop attending.

Christians need to evangelize, not by Bible-thumping, but by doing God's work in the world. If I hide in my pew and don't use my gifts to help others, then that makes for a pretty boring religion.

If my clergy and hierarchical leadership have acted sinfully but are accountable only to civil courts, then I need to push for more accountability. If my church supports excommunication and the invalidation of baptisms, then I need to vocalize the lack of Scriptural support. Certainly, some people commit evils that are hard to redeem in civilized society, but there is no commandment that says, "Love my neighbor unless I decide the neighbor doesn't deserve my love." If my church assigns a different value to a fetus, the mother and the father, I have to realize those value judgments will push people away.

Churches communities are a rare sort of environment in which the successful can sit next to the up-and-coming, and help each other out.

29 March 2024

Aunt Marie will be shown the way

 

My Aunt Marie passed away two days ago. Because that was the Wednesday of Holy Week, Marie must wait until Tuesday for her funeral. Of course, this is a path we will all travel.

But it occurs to me that Marie has received an amazing gift. In between her passing and her funeral, we will commemorate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

As I write this, I have just returned from a Good Friday service at which we remembered the death of Jesus as the apostles and disciples looked on. They followers of Jesus then locked their doors with only faith and hope in something almost beyond belief.

Now in 2024, on Sunday we will be reminded of how the faith and hope of Jesus' followers was rewarded. Of course, in these crazy modern times, a lot can happen in two days. Come next Tuesday, will the Holy Spirit assure me that the risen Jesus found the path and showed Marie the way? Do my faith and hope really satisfy me today?

But wait, I have more than faith and hope. 1 Corinthians 13 tells me I also have the surpassing love of God (and the love of Aunt Marie, for that matter). "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." I believe Marie is gonna make it!

Risen, indeed.

18 March 2024

Anointing, theophany and fulfillment, oh my!

 

God privately told Samuel, the revered nazirite priest, that David is the one to anoint as the future king. "The Lord said, 'Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.' (1 Sam 16:12). Admittedly, this is not a glorious theophany, but it is presented as a direct communication from God. David had been tending to the sheep (in the wilderness). Samuel then anointed David. "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward." (1 Sam 16:13). David is revered as the greatest king, with whom God makes a covenant to continue David's line. This "Davidic covenant" is the beginning of the hope for a messiah. "Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever." (2 Sam 7:16).

Isaiah refers back to this anointing and life of David. "A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." (Is 40.3).

At the beginning of Jesus' ministry on earth, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and a theophany occurred. "Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'" (Mt 13-17).

Many New Testament verses point back to prior Scripture. The Jesus story in general is a Creation story, and Jesus fulfilled the messianic, Davidic covenant. So, when something really important happens, I wonder what old pattern is being repeated, or as we Christians like to say, "fulfilled".

After Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday, as we call it today), Jewish leaders were hatching plots against Jesus, and Jesus' followers were nervous. As Jesus spoke to his followers, a theophany occurred, "'Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to him.'" (Jn 20:28-29).

A theophany occurred, unaccompanied by an anointing by a human. When God promised to glorify God's name, the glorification would occur by exposing the divine nature of Jesus through the upcoming resurrection. Episcopalians accept two two dogmas: "the doctrine of the Holy Triadic Unity as the proper doctrine of God, and the doctrine of two natures in one hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ." [Education for Ministry, Reading and Reflection Guide, 2023-24, p.121]. Therefore, I am looking for the anointing of the divine nature of Jesus. John the B anointed the human nature of Jesus. While one could argue that God is monotheistic and John's one anointing is enough, I argue that the Holy Triadic Unity is pretty mysterious, and that it's reasonable to look for a second anointing.

My opinion is that this anointing happened at the empty tomb and immediately afterwards. Consider that it is well accepted that the ascension of Jesus after the resurrection is a fulfillment of, "The Lord says to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.' (Ps 110:1).

I argue that Mary Magdalene fulfilled the following Scripture verses by encountering Jesus and announcing this to the others:

Ps 40:1-3
"I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord."

Ps 40:9
"I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord."

Ps 110:3
"Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces in holy splendor. From the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will come to you."

Here are the relevant Gospel verses:

Mt 28:1,10
"After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'"

Mk 16:1-2,7
"When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb." They are told, "'But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.'"

Lk 23:55-56, Luke 24:1,8
"The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest."

Jn 20:1-2
"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.'"

No human could physically anoint the divine Jesus, but Mary Magdalene came so close that Jesus denied her. "Jesus said to her, 'Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.'" (Jn 20:17).

As an aside, Jesus later invited Thomas to touch him. I wonder what Mary M would have felt if she had been in that room, having been denied the opportunity to hold Jesus at the tomb, regardless of whatever Jesus meant by ascension.

gocekBlogGary: In the footsteps of Paul in Corinth, Greece

gocekBlogGary: In the footsteps of Paul in Corinth, Greece : Thursday, June 6 - CORINTH!  Today provided me with a meaningful historical and...