Monday, April 10, 2017

Systemic Sin

Individual Sin

a teen feels lust

a cop commits a murder

a woman is raped

a pastor has an affair

a business person cheats

a prison guard abuses an inmate

a school bully threatens a child

a man sexually harasses a coworker

a slum lord evicts a poor person

a college student says a racial slur

an administrator tosses a resume with a "black name"

an uncle makes a joke about another ethnic group

a famous athlete commits domestic violence

a young woman is tricked into prostitution

a man is given an excessive prison sentence for drug use

an able bodied person makes a micro-aggression about disability they think is positive

a doctor insults a person's weight/size

a politician sleeps with prostitutes

a man emotionally abuses his wife

an elected official wants more power
Systemic/Communal Sin

women are objectified in movies and advertising

the cop is rewarded rather than penalized

the rapist goes free, media says she "asked for it"

church covers it up and sends family away

cheating is encouraged in the whole company

prison doesn't investigate

both children are punished; teacher says "I don't care who started it."

victim is told to find a job somewhere else if she can't handle it

no one else will rent to her now

his fraternity sings a song full of slurs

she was told to do so by her superior

everyone chuckles and doesn't speak up

the sports team says his personal life is "none of our business"

her religious upbringing tells her she no longer has value

he never gets help for his addiction and is labeled a convict forever

person feels pressure to inspire others by "overcoming" disability

person doesn't get treatment for her actual illness or injury- her weight gets blamed for everything

his voters justify it because they like his policies

her church tells her to submit and obey him

voting restrictions stop a citizen from voting

Required reading: "My sin is not just my own"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


I want to share two pictures of Shalom with you. The world doesn't always clearly reflect a God of Justice, but the Bible teaches about perfect justice in shalom.

Shalom means peace, but it's not just the peace of a cease fire. Author Nicholas Wolterstorff says Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight, inner and outer harmony, whole and abundant life, humans doing what we were created to do, in right relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the environment.

The first story in the Bible is about the Garden of Eden. We meet a loving God who has carefully and creatively crafted a garden. God works as a gardener, taking care of the earth and the animals. God makes people, and walks with them and talks with them like a good parents. God teaches the people how to take care of the earth and how to build a family together. (Genesis 2:8,15)

I hope you have had some relationships in your life that aren full of shalom. Maybe a family member, a friend, or a partner. You know when you have a good relationship with someone- You listen to each other. You emphasize, celebrate happiness and mourn sufferings together. Your relationship makes you stronger.

We see much of the world with broken relationships right now. Some of these are on an individual level, like having a hurtful relationship with a parent or an ex. Some of that brokenness is on a systemic level, when two people are treated in radically different ways by their society or government. Systems of authority can be used to help people flourish, or to hold them back.

Sometimes churches hurt people. If that has been your experience, I want to apologize on the church's behalf. I'm so sorry for every time a church or a person who represented Jesus acted without love. Churches and Christians have often sought power rather than serving others, or sought to exclude rather than share. That is not what shalom is about.

My second picture of Shalom is the opposite of an selfish church. At the end of time, the world is restored and redeemed. Instead of a garden, we see a city in the book of Revelation.

Rev 21:3-4, 22-26, 22:2
God is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I did not see a [church] in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its [church]. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
A river runs down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

We see a restored relationship with God, a God who lives with the people and takes away our tears. There are no church buildings to facilitate a relationship- it's as personal as family.

We see a world united in love- nations are healed, people of every race and color come together sharing their unique cultures, art, food, music, everything!

Revelation ends with a invitation- Come, let all who are thirsty come and drink from the water of life. I'm so thirsty for this- are you?

We don't live in a world that looks like Revelation yet, but we can start living in the Kingdom of God now. When Jesus began his ministry, he explained what he came to do.

Luke 4:16-21
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Shalom can be a mission, the actions of bringing justice, helping feed the hungry, making homes for refugee families, listening to and praying for your friend going through a hard time, educating people about mental illness through art, treating everyone fairly, pursuing careers in education, law, or politics to make the world a better place.

I share these pictures of encouragement for what can be, but I also believe it starts today. I'm not waiting for God's Kingdom after I die, we are working to build it now. Do you want to be part of that? Let's do it together.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mourn, Worship, Prophesy, Hope

Step one: mourning.

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"

-Psalm 42:2-3, 43:1-2

It's ok to be sad. It's ok to be mad. It's ok to yell at God.

I am a Christian.

There have been times in my life when I thought that meant that I should always be happy, always be at peace, and focus on spiritual realities to the exclusion of physical realities. 

But that is not the definition of Christ-follower I see in scripture now.

I can mourn (Jesus wept)
I can be angry (Jesus flipped tables)
I can care about injustice and marginalized people (Jesus healed and included, and criticized the powerful)

I can, I should, and I will.

I'm afraid.

I don't want to live in fear. Actually, fearful propaganda is one of my least favorite parts of politics. I mourn how fear makes us afraid of The Other, afraid of change, afraid of losing power and privilege. People make bad decisions out of fear- preemptively harming each other rather than risking any kind of loss.

Yet, I can't ignore fears.

Like most woman, I have been sexually harassed.

I was once walking down the street, in the middle of the day, with a group, and a man walking in the opposite direction grabbed me sexually.

I didn't react. I was too shocked to respond, and no one else saw it happen. I felt so guilty for not yelling at him, for not letting him know it was unacceptable behavior. He continued on, thinking he was entitled to women's bodies, that he could get away with whatever he wanted.

I'm scared when my country says it doesn't matter. I'm scared when churches says to forgive and move on. I mourn because these are real fears and they matter.

Step two: worship

Worship is a revolutionary act.

In the book of Revelation, amidst persecution and rulers who call themselves god, worship of God keeps breaking through. Angels and saints declare their allegiance to God, not the Roman Empire.

"Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.'

"Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

'“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
-Revelation 4:8b-12

Many of us (including me) get tempted to worship our political parties or our heroes. But I must declare that God is King.

I want to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, not wait for it after I die.

We worship what is worthy. Jesus, the lamb who was slain, is worthy because love wins over power. Sacrifice wins over war and violence. Mercy wins over hatred.

"Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'”

-Revelation 5:11-13

Step three: prophesy

Prophecy is not mainly about predicting the future.

I don't know what our future holds. I hope that the worst things we fear won't come true. I hope Muslims and other religious minorities won't have to register. I hope people in power won't be able to sue journalists and comedians for criticizing them. I hope my friends with chronic diseases, with special needs children, won't lose their access to affordable health care. I hope my poor friends and their kids won't lose their food assistance.

Prophecy mainly calls out the wrongs of the present. In our world now, a minor drug offender can get a longer prison term than a rapist. Refugees are turned away to die. Families are separated by deportation. Unarmed black men are considered more scary than armed white white men.

Prophecy says, this is NOT God's will. This is not the world as it should be. Prophecy challenges the status quo, your comfort, and acceptance of wrong. Let's keep challenging.

Prophecy often describes the future in terms of consequences. If you pursue justice and obedience to God, everyone blesses each other, building up the community of heaven. If you pursue selfish gain and personal privilege, inequality breaks down the community- it becomes less like heaven.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:

Day after day Christians seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if America were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we gone to church,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on Sundays, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your actions in God's name ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot pray as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of church I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves? ...

“Is not this the kind of church I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

-Isaiah 58:2-10 (my contemporary modified version, see the original full passage at…)

Step four: hope.

We have hope that all bad rulers, all wicked kingdoms come to an end.

Oppressed people talk in code because they lack freedom of speech to criticize their wicked rulers. They don't say, "Rome is wicked!" They say, "Remember Babylon? Babylon fell..." and Rome will too.

Revelation describes the fall of Rome and likewise all earthly Kingdoms with dramatic metaphor, saying that the very injustice and luxurious self-focus will be turned against it.

With a mighty voice the angel shouted:
“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.

Give back to her as she has given;
pay her back double for what she has done.
Pour her a double portion from her own cup.

Give her as much torment and grief
as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
‘I sit enthroned as queen. I am not a widow; I will never mourn.’

Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.

-Revelation 18:2-8 excerpts

The Bible has pictures of hope, pictures of the world as it should be in God's kingdom.

Living in the Kingdom of Heaven means that we start living this way now; we live knowing these things are good and true. We may not get to see the full picture yet, but we see glimpses of the Kingdom.

We hope for a better future, we endure with patience, and we commit to the hope that our home can look more like Heaven.

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'
"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'
"He said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.'

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.

"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come! Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.'"

-Revelation 21:1-6, 22-26, 22:17

Friday, July 29, 2016

Terrible Memes about Black Lives Matter

It's hard to narrow down all the terrible memes on social media, but these stood out.

Meme 1: Doesn't understand the justice system or police

The first was shared by a supposed supporter of Blue Lives, a young women without military or law enforcement background. I would like to think that the average police officer would be horrified by this meme's implications.

[image description: a greyed-out meme says, "hateful memes #1." There's a picture of a person in camouflage with their face cut out. They are holding an assault rifle. The text says- "Before you decide that amusing a cop might be a good idea, remember this, There is no shortage of armed American patriots that will gladly put firing pin to primer to put down some thug that tries to kill a cop."]
I would like to think that's an empty threat, but it goes a long way to explaining the mentality of anti-Black Lives Matter activists. First, there is a fixation with violence. It's a terrible cycle of violence begeting more violence. If the recent cop-killer based his actions on revenge for police brutality, then this meme is simply advocating for more of the same. It's wrong. It doesn't solve any problems. It does explain why this poster believes that all BLM supporters are violent- she is simply projecting the violence in her own heart. What this cop-killer did makes sense to her, and she's eager to continue the murder cycle. I wish I could say others didn't agree with her, but here's another example

The other aspect of this meme demonstrates a rejection of the American justice system. No arrest, no trial. Since police are a part of the justice system, they should be concerned about people who feel this way. It seems like a rejection of them and their hard work. However, in the way that police brutality has been exposed the last few years, it's hard to be surprised. Many police also have rejected the Justice system and prefer to be executioners.

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. -1 Thessalonians 5:15

Black Lives Matter isn't trying to "get revenge" on police for the bad things they have done. We are trying to change the system and make it better. In the long run, no one benefits from a broken, violent, vengeful system.

Meme 2: Doesn't understand freedom

[image description: a greyed-out meme says, "hateful memes #2." A photo of a large green combine harvester with large spikes pointing forward. Text: "Introducing John Deere's new multi-lane protester digester."]
How can this meme be seeking anything other than the death of American citizens exercising their rights? Protesting is part of freedom of speech- that first amendment to the constitution that conservatives claim to love.

I keep my mouth shut most of the time- I know that I can't change people's minds and there are times when arguments are profitless. But to not speak up at all- or to have my right to speak up and protest taken away- is terrifying and un-American.

But if I say, "I will not mention God's word or speak anymore in God's name," God's word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. -Jeremiah 20:9

Meme 3: Doesn't understand Jesus

The next meme changes tone dramatically and focuses on that hopeless "All Lives Matter" argument, this time with a religious overtones.

[image description: a greyed-out meme says, "hateful memes #3." Image of Jesus carrying the cross. Text: "I did this because All Lives Matter." below picture text read, "fwd: fwd: Jesus died for ALL LIVES! NOT JUST BLACK LIVES!]
Aside from the usual basic arguments against All Lives Matter (no one is saying only Black Lives Matter), the religious aspect of this meme needs to be uncovered. This isn't the sort of thing Jesus said.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Mark 2:17

In that time, a ruling religious class called the Pharisees held power. They weren't willing to listen to Jesus, and they didn't care about the poor or anyone they considered "sinners."

Jesus says, "Okay, you guys aren't 'sinners.' You've got it all together and obviously don't need me. So I'm going to spend time with the people who need me- the people who admit they are imperfect and can't do it on their own."

This made the Pharisees mad. #PhariseeLivesMatter. They thought Jesus should spend his time telling them how great they are, and telling the 'sinners' how they were to blame for everything wrong in their lives.

But that's not a good way to build a kingdom community. Jesus flips our world upside down. He valued the powerless and criticized the people in power. The Kingdom of Heaven is a community where the lowest are raised up.

Share more stories of Jesus valuing the marginalized and the oppressed in the comments!


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Racism 101: Racism Exists

I want to share my story about why I came to care about racism. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have any special qualifications. A lot of white people don’t see racism and like to debate whether or not something was racist. They may have a similar background to me, so I hope this will be insightful on how and why my perspective has changed. None of the answers I suggest here are a comprehensive solution. They are each just one step.

When I was a kid, I thought racism was over

I hope no adults were trying to teach me this, but it was often implied. Martin Luther King Jr. solved racism and that everyone was equal now. Racism stories were always set in the past. From a kid’s perspective, the far distant past. Nothing in those stories seemed similar to life today.

Along with this false knowledge, I was poorly prepared to see or understand racism in my life. 

The first problem was the definition of racism. I knew three examples: Slavery is racist. Segregation is racist. Saying racial slurs is racist. End of list. This was a very pleasant definition, because it meant that I could never be racist. 

The main tool I was given for dealing with racism was colorblindness.  Don’t notice race. Don’t talk about race. Focus on common ground. 

While I grew up in my very nice, small Wyoming town, I believed in a post-racial world. I was unable to see any racism around me. The first thing that helped open my eyes was relocating.

I went to college in Texas, and I saw something new. Almost every student and teacher was white, but everyone who served me food was black, and everyone who cleaned up after me was Latino.  

I had a conflict. Colorblindness told me I shouldn’t see it. But my definition of racism said it was segregation. I knew that no one was forcing others into those jobs or forbidding them from attending school. Yet, equal opportunity could not yield such color-coded results. I knew something was unfair, but I was too uncomfortable to ask about it.

My next challenge came from an inability to speak up. When I heard people say racist things, I didn’t argue. The words would be too subtle, maybe I misunderstood, or maybe I was being too sensitive. If someone said, “It makes me so mad seeing Spanish on all the billboards in town.” I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t have a conversation about it.

When my campus ministry tried to teach me about racial reconciliation, I resisted. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship often has separate campus chapters for black, Latino, Asian,  Native, or International students. I thought that was horrible. Segregation! It seemed wrong to use labels. My old color-blindness training from childhood kicked in. .Isn’t it better to pretend that everyone is the same, and have everyone get along? 

When our new staff had a heart for Latino students,” subtlykept trying to hide it. I was in charge of the club webpage, and I couldn’t bear to advertise that we’d started a Latino Bible Study. The only way I could justify the existence of such a thing was to say that it was a Bible study “in Spanish and English.” 

But then our all-white Christian Club started to have Latino students involved. In fact, that year our chapter grew more diverse across several ethnicities. The simplest explanation from my staff worker that I could half-way understand was this: 

Some Latino students would actually like to hang out with other Latino students, someone who understood their culture, family dynamics, and way of approaching faith. They’re surrounded by white culture all day long; having some time away can be nice. White people have a problem that when we invite a minority person to a group, we don’t invite them to bring their culture along. We just expect them to join white culture. We think white culture is “normal.” 

This was both confusing and enlightening. There’s a white culture? There’s a white way of doing things? I had always thought the way I did things was normal. Other races have “culture.” Culture means dressing up in special outfits, eating strange food, speaking a different language. Again, my education had failed me. I could not look at my own culture from an outside view. 

Still, this ministry encouraged me to displace myself and my heart, and within a year of that insight, I was leading a Bible study for international students. It was a good first step for me.

Next, I moved to Rhode Island. It was a good time to think about culture, because New England and Texas have many differences. Plus, we were losing college for career culture. A lot of changes challenged what I saw as normal. We joined a multi-ethnic church and got a taste of black culture. (This church did not have a vision for verbally educating us about racial issues, but I deeply appreciate them for including us and giving us opportunities for cross-cultural interaction.) 

I worked for a few years as a substitute teacher in a low socio-economic school district. It had a large minority population. I’d never realized how lucky I’d been to have the education I did with advanced classes, enthusiastic teachers, and after school clubs.

Teachers at this school were burned out, frustrated, and spent their lunch breaks complaining about the students and the parents. Many of the students were rude, noisy, and talked back over every detail. They weren’t excited about school or planning for college. No one attending this school could have anything like an “equal opportunity” compared to what I had. 

I joined InterVarsity again, this time as staff. It was the only place in my life where people talked about race, rather than viewing it as a hopeless and taboo subject. I was challenged, like when a black InterVarsity staff ask us, “Have you ever been inside a black person’s house?” I hadn’t. It wasn’t intentional. But it was a blind spot in my life.

On campus, I tried to seek out minority students for the first time. The chapter there was already diverse and had some good intentions about including all people. What helped the most wasto bring minority students into leadership positions. They couldreach other minority students better than I could, and could help change the culture of the whole group. A church body looks different when all ethnicities are a part of it. Not just in a photograph, but it worship, in conversation, and revelation. The white church is missing something when it stands alone. 

We studied diversity in scripture, and I began to appreciate other cultures by design. Why should everyone be the same? Differences are wonderful, beautiful, and a source of strength. A team where everyone has the same background and perspective is limited. A diverse team sees beyond the status quo. This broke apart another bad piece of my education, the idea that everything can be earned by “merit” or good test scores

This helped interpret another piece of racism from my youth, the objection to affirmative action. Three of my high school friends had made a humorous video listing their grievances with affirmative action. Although their logic made sense to me at the time, I was confused about their passion for the subject, considering that all three were accepted at their first choice universities. Now, I saw greater merit in a college that was trying to correct its monochrome history. Affirmative action didn’t hurt any of my friends. Instead, I hope it helped them, that they were later grateful to study alongside students from other races and cultures, and that diversity enriched their college experience.

During those years, I read Living in Color. It was difficult to read in some ways, because it brought up a people group whose oppression I had long ignored: American Indians. The author, Randy Woodley is a Keetowah Cherokee. His book was the first time I read about the “Kill the Indian, Save the Child” policy by which native children were stolen from their parents to be raised in boarding schools or with white families. The people in power saw no value in Indian culture. The goal of colonization was to replace it. In my education, the wounds of this and many other assaults on native people are glossed over. I was told it was far in the past. Indians should get over it. Move on. Become normal

Today, Native people in my home state endure the same stereotyping as minorities in the larger American public sphere. Lazy. Addicted to drugs. Hopeless. And past violence against them was washed away by saying, “Indians massacred people too!” My friend who works in retail in Montana is skeptical that black people are treated differently in stores. Yet she admits, “When someone comes in from the Reservation, the staff keep an eye on them.” 

What did I learn? What challenged me?
• Racism is more than segregation, slavery and slurs
• Colorblindness hinders rather than helps
• It’s good to have space for people of color to celebrate their culture
• It’s good to displace yourself to learn about other’s culture
• Diversity is a strength
• White culture isn’t “normal” or standard

I still didn’t have a good definition for racism, or a good understanding of how it was still influencing my country. All this gave me some preparation for Fall 2014, when Ferguson brought racism back into the national spotlight. Stay tuned for Racism 102: Systemic Racism.

Final thought: Being unaware of racism is a privilege many people don’t have. If white people want, we can ignore racism, and it will probably have no impact on our lives. But many other people are hurt by racism every day. They don’t have the option to ignore it or go on an entertaining journey of “discovering” racism like I did.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Divorce and Forgiveness

Some Christians believe divorce is only permitted in the case of adultery, and that remarriage is a sin because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:
It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)
This seems a harsh interpretation given the context directly before, which states that lustful thoughts count as adultery.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)
Some historical context is helpful. In ancient times (and, frankly, recent and present times), a women was unable to get a divorce. Only husbands had rights. So this passage is not speaking to wives, it is speaking to husbands, the people with power. They could legally divorce their wives for any reason, such as finding someone new or having an argument. This was really hard on the wife. She may have no family or community support networks after her marriage ended.

I think Jesus is valuing women here. He says, stop throwing away your wives like trash! Don’t pass her around from husband to husband like an object, or leave her alone and without family. If you get a divorce, it had better be for a good reason, not just because you don’t like her cooking. Adultery is a good example, however I don’t see that it should be the only reason.

Adultery was a serious double standard at this time. Wives were expected to be faithful and husbands were not. This is another reason why this set of scriptures is targeted primarily toward men. Jesus expects a higher standard of behavior men them than their society expects.

Therefore, I do not think this passage applies to the situation of an abused wife. But because it is a strongly-held belief that divorce is only permitted by adultery, I am also interested in looking deeper into the definition of adultery.

The third chapter of Jeremiah is useful (though a difficult and shaming read). Adultery and prostitution are used as the metaphors by which the prophet Jeremiah describes the unfaithfulness of God’s people, Israel.
…Look up to the barren heights and see. Is there any place where you [Israel] have not been ravished? By the roadside you sat waiting for lovers, sat like a nomad in the desert. You have defiled the land with your prostitution and wickedness. …you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame…. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood… (Jeremiah 3:2-3,9)
Idolatry and adultery overlap. The people “cheated” on God with other gods.

Note how bad these false gods were. God wasn’t just possessive and needy. These religions were actually hurtful to the people practicing them, temple prostitution, child sacrifice, etc. These are not gods that loved and cared for people. They are capricious gods who demand sacrifices to eke out good crops and fertility.

Cheating on God wasn’t about sex. It was about unfaithfulness to the one good Father who wanted to give good gifts.

So, can adultery have more than one meaning? Perhaps an abusive husband has not been sexually unfaithful to his wife, but a man who hurts, deceives, and manipulates his wife has not been faithful to her. He has committed adultery.

A husband may claim to be a follower of God, but Jesus warns against liars and deceivers.  
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:15-17)
What is the fruit of this man? Abuse, prison, lies, rebellion, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, deceit, manipulation, homelessness, law-breaking, children taken away. He is not listening to God. He is not following God. 
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23) 
Words alone are meaningless without the fruits of the Spirit.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:19-23)
It may sound holy to stay bound to an unfaithful husband. But this can also be a form of idolatry.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”  (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. (Psalm 22:24-25)
Don’t make an idol out of your marriage or family.
 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
This is not what God wants for you! God wants good for you, not bad.

It’s hard to let someone go when Jesus is so forgiving and loving. Yet cutting ties can be a form of brotherly love.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5) 
I don’t normally agree with kicking people out of church, but this sounds like a rape and abuse situation to me. It can’t be tolerated. People are being harmed. The woman in this story has value. God cares about her. Perhaps the wicked man will come to repent at some point in the future, but it’s not the community’s job to “save” an abuser. It’s necessary to care for the victims and prevent future harm.

It’s okay to forgive an abuser as part of the healing process, but it’s not okay to let the abuser back in your life. The Lord’s Prayer speaks of forgiveness in terms of letting go of a debt.
This, then, is how you should pray:Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

An abusive husband has run up a terrible debt, as long list of hurts and sins. He will never be able to repay it. He can never make up for the wrong that has been done.

You can forgive the debt. Let go. It’s not worth holding onto. (It just keeps you tied to that person.) But it’s also time to cut off the line of credit. Don’t trust an abuser not to take advantage of his 23rd chance. God’s will is not being done when an abuser is allowed to hurt you. God’s kingdom is not on earth when an abuser has power over the weak.

Yes, there are passages in the Bible that call for obedience, submission, forbearance and patience. Good discernment is needed for applying these to personal situations. Some people misuse the Bible to hurt others, asking them to keep carrying a burden instead of giving it to Jesus. Matthew 5 has good guidance, but it can be misused. It is okay to let go of a bad interpretation of scripture when you can see that it is causing harm and bearing bad fruit. Taking one verse and applying it to every situation is a way to avoid listening to God. Reading the Bible must be paired with prayerfully considering decisions and seeking wise counsel.

The Bible has many stories of people who broke “the rules” and were honored by God. Abigail was disobedient to her wicked husband 1 Samuel 25.
“Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. [Your husband] is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”
Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys.  Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. (1 Samuel 25:17-19).
You can let go of a bad decision you made in your youth. God wants to give you freedom from a bad relationship, not to burden you.
 They [the Pharisees] tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) 
The gospel message is not a message of obligation and punishment; it is a message of freedom and forgiveness. Look at Galatians 5 again:
 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:1, 4-6, 13-14, 22-23)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Incomplete Systemic Racism List

I use the word systemic because it’s widespread. Our racist history is still present in laws, practices, attitudes and beliefs. Here are a few examples. The list includes more stories about black people because of recent conversations about Mike Brown, but I'm trying to expand it.

Racism in Laws

  • Stand your ground / Castle Laws used as defense to murder
“In Florida alone, 26 children and teens were killed in Stand Your Ground cases.” “White-on-black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justified than white-on-white.”

  • Stop and Frisk Laws focus on minorities

  • voting laws

  • Immigration laws
SB-1070 racial profiling

  • Segregation in schools

  • healthcare

Racism in Police treatment
  • Murder of black men

  • Murder of black women

  • Murder of Native men

  • murder of white men leads to jail time for officer
The life of a murderous neo-nazi had value.

  • other physical abuse

  • Innocent black people detained for nonsense reasons

  • In consequences for officers

  • Police being suspicious of black people
New Jerseyman afraid to get out of the car

Racism in Courts and Prison
  • Harsher sentences for black defendants

  • Disproportionate numbers of black people in prison

  • White defendants “innocent” after murdering black people

  • Drugs

Racism in News Media regarding legal issues
  • White people are encouraged to fear black people

  • Victim-blaming and excuses for why a black person was murdered
Mike Brown “no angel” New York Times