In God We Trust – Really?

 

     Have you ever wondered why the slogan “In God We Trust” is printed on our money?  Isn’t that oxymoronic? Maybe we should start imprinting the same slogan on our guns. That might calm our trigger-happy fears so that our aim can be more deadly. In God we trust. Really?

     The fourth stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner (written during the War of 1812) contains the phrase “And this be our motto: In God is our trust.” In 1861, Rev. M.R. Watkinson petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognizing the Almighty God in some way on our coins “to relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism.” Part of the motivation was to declare the God was on the Union side of the Civil War (Wikipedia). Of course He was.

     A nation whose Christian occupants claim it is built on Christian values prints a God-trusting slogan on its Mammon. That’s putting sheep’s clothing on a wolf.

     Then the Red Scare in the 1950’s led the conservatives in congress to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union, which promoted state atheism. In God We Trust became the official motto in 1956.

     Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” He trusted we’d use our intelligence to figure out how to do that, with money and with guns.

     I’m not unreasonable. I don’t believe Jesus would suggest you or I stand back and watch as innocent people are victimized. Nor do I think Jesus was promoting the total absence of protective weapons. There are dangerous people in the world who have never felt love nor given it. They are in it for themselves. They live in their own hell. They don’t trust in God, nor do they trust people. Here’s evidence that Jesus understood the reality of the need for reasonable protection:

35 Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” 39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him (Luke 22:35-39 NRSV).

Pirate     Jesus realized the time for confrontation had come and he was leading his disciples into a firestorm fueled by emotion. And the people with the “guns” to be feared were (as usual) the religious ones. It’s okay to be prepared because there are irrational people who operate from emotions. It’s okay to defend yourself. The Koran also says it’s okay to defend yourself. However, it agrees that aggression is wrong.

     Eleven disciples and two swords. Jesus said, “It is enough.”

     The religion of Islam is not bad. Just like swords are not bad and guns are not bad. People are just undeveloped. The meaning of Islam comes from the Arabic root “Salema” which means peace, purity, submission, and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to God’s law. The professed Islamic militants who promote aggression are not obedient to God’s law as written in their Koran, they are hypocrites…just like those Christians who promote aggression and retaliation are not obedient to the guidance of the One they call Christ.

     Christians who promote an eye for an eye retaliation are not being obedience to the teachings of Jesus, who said, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, do not resist an evil person” (Matt. 5:38-39 NKJV). Jesus wasn’t saying, don’t defend yourself. He was saying, don’t retaliate. Don’t repay evil with evil. You will only continue the cycle of sin and evil. Don’t add gasoline to the fire. Be mature. Rise above evil. Sit down with your enemy and find out what he/she fears from you. Then assure him/her that you also want him/her to be secure and happy in life. Then work to make it happen. This is loving your enemy. Show him/her what it looks like to be mature. Remove fear, don’t increase it.

     One last point:

“Do not fear those who would kill the body but cannot kill the soul…But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses (homologeō) Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies (arneomai) Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt.10:28, 30-33 NKJV).

     What is the context? It’s trusting in God. To “confess” Jesus is to agree with him and his teachings. It’s trusting his teachings are true. Here are the definitions for the two underlined words in the passage:

homologeō – to speak or say the same together with another, that is to say to speak the same language, to say the same things, that is to say to assent, accord, agree with, coincide with, grant, admit, confess.

arneomai – to deny, disown; to say no, refuse, decline, renounce, reject.

     Do you agree with Jesus and his teachings? They are one and the same thing. You decide for yourself.

     Put your faith into action. Trust in God. Trust in Jesus. Really…trust!

     But do background check first…and don’t give a sword or a gun to anyone (especially a religious leader) who has a history of acting before he thinks, like Peter, the first pope of the church. Go figure.

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Casting Out Demons

Luke 8:26-39

     One of my favorite movies was the one with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Sigourney Weaver – many of you might remember it – it came out in 1984 and was called “Ghost Busters.” I was reminded of it when I read the gospel lesson for today – the story of the man who was possessed by many demons. Hollywood has a way of planting images in our minds – and we often transfer those images to use as they are needed. So when I think of someone possessed by demons or evil spirits, I think of the giant Pillsbury Dough Boy who was the ultimate demon destroyed at the end of the movie. Demon-possessed people are just overblown marshmallows – people who are really soft and sweet on the inside. You just have to know how to work with them to get rid of those demons that haunt them and fill them with hot, angry air.

     Today’s story about the man named “Legion” must be an important one because three out of four of the Gospels tell it. It’s told right after the story of Jesus calming the winds and the waves of the storm on the Sea of Galilee…as if to say, “Not only can he calm turbulent waves, but he can calm turbulent thoughts in people, too.”

     So, do you have any demons or turbulent thoughts in your head? Some of you might say, “Yes, I do have some demons.” When people say they have demons today, they often mean the demons of guilt, fear, anxiety, inadequacy, shame, etc. Someone here might have demon that hangs around in the attic of your mind that keeps saying, “You didn’t graduate from high school or earn a 4-year college. You’re not as smart as those people. But you wouldn’t want to be like them because they think they’re better than everyone else.”

demon portrait     But the Greek word daimonion was used by writers before the New Testament to mean something similar to the divine Power or deity, to God. Maybe it was another way of saying a higher power of some kind that nobody understood. Who understands mental illness or bi-polar or schizophrenia?

     Many people bury themselves in a tomb of guilt, regret, worry, or false expectations. And they don’t know how to get out. The man in our gospel story today said his name was “Legion.” A Roman legion consisted of six thousand soldiers. When they all walk together, listening to the same commander and having a singleness of purpose, they can accomplish mighty things and they can overcome many foes. But when they are all trying to go their own direction, pushing and pulling against each other because nobody is in command of them – that feels like your arms and legs are tied to four horses that are going in different directions.

     One major demon that haunts us is fear. Terror. Somebody wants to hurt us. So we need guns. Somebody is going to come into the country illegally and I’m going to have to pay for their healthcare. So we need a wall. Most of our fears are unrealistic or flat-out false. Fear takes away our objectivity and turns us into mad-men, making us do irrational and unloving , un-Christlike things.

     The demon-possessed man was living in a tomb like that – full of conflicting thoughts and fears. He lived in the tombs, mingling with others who were dead. You see, being dead in the Bible is a metaphor for someone living in the absence of true life – people stewing in their negativity. That’s not life, thinking about things like: My father told me I’d never amount to anything… My older brother told me I was stupid… My teacher told me I was a slow learner… my skin color is dark and I’m not as good as white people…the church tells me I’m a miserable sinner and I can’t change it…that I’ll go to hell if I don’t force myself to be attracted to the opposite sex…or maybe it’s hearing the negativity that was taught as a child…the Russians are all bad people. Arabs are all bad people. Non-Christians are all bad people. The opposing political party is evil. There are six thousand negative thoughts running through our minds every day. It can be overwhelming.

     So I’m going to give you fourteen words to stop your legion of thoughts from pulling in different directions and it will help you get them all going in the same direction so you can do great and wonderful things, and overcome many foes and discouraging voices. I want you to say these fourteen words any time one of those demons in your head says something negative to you, that makes you feel unworthy (or points to the unworthiness of others); that you are of no value, or unloved, or not respected for the beautiful person God created you to be.

     Do you have a pencil and paper? You might want to write this down. Are you ready? Alright, here they are – say this when you hear a demon speaking:

“Stop it – in Jesus’ name – because I was made in the image of God.”

     When discouraging thoughts overpower you, bring Jesus into the battle. Let him lift you up and out of the tomb of negativity. Think about what Jesus would say. Would he agree with those demons? Would he berate you? Would he berate others? Would he condemn you, or others? No. He came that you might have life and have it to the full.

     Once the negative voices have left, then sit and visit with Jesus when you are in your right mind. Have a conversation about the things that are bothering you. That’s called prayer. Let Jesus give you his peace and his strength so you can say, “Stop it” to the unhappy and discouraging thoughts when they infect your brain. And learn to be as gracious with yourself as Jesus has been with you.

     All Jesus asks is that you go home and tell everyone what God has done for you.

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The Perfume of Grace

Luke 7:36–8:3

I don’t know what version you are using to read Luke 7:36- 8:3, but here’s my translation:

36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. Therefore he entered into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 But a sinful woman in the city, having found out that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of aromatic ointment. 38 And standing over his feet she began weeping, to wet his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

39 Having seen this, the Pharisee who had invited him said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet would understand who and what kind of woman it is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 But Jesus sensing criticism said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.”

41 “Two men were in debt to a certain money-lender. One owed five hundred silver coins and the other fifty. 42 When neither was able to pay, he graciously forgave the debts for both of them. Therefore which of them will appreciate him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I assume it was the one for whom he kindly forgave the greatest amount.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged correctly.”

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume.  47 For this reason, I tell you, her failures, which were many, have been forgiven, that’s why she showed much devotion. But the one to whom a small amount is being forgiven shows little devotion.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your failures have been let go.”

49 At this those reclining at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even dismisses sins?” 50 Moreover he said to the woman, “Your certainty has restored you; go your way in peace.”

1Soon afterward, he traveled through every city and village, openly proclaiming and bringing a joyful message of the development of Oneness. Now the twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been restored from troubled lives and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven incorrigible spirits, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were providing for them from their own possessions.

     Okay, I know giving the name “Oneness” to God in 8:1 is a little New Age, but aren’t we living in a New Age? Or are you still living in an Old Age? I use Oneness because the name for God in Aramaic is Alaha which means Oneness or Unity. God (theos) was a term appropriated from pagans. Another thing, remember that Luke probably wrote this gospel twenty-plus years prior to John and almost three hundred years before there was a formally declared theology of one powerful group that Jesus was the son of God in a human form.

So why would this woman display so much devotion to Jesus? She could not have known he was God’s only Son, born of a virgin. She must have heard him teaching at some earlier time. Maybe he had convinced her that Yahweh was actually more loving than she’d been taught and not hell-bent on punishing her for her many sins. Maybe he convinced her that she was not a second or third class citizen in God’s eyes.

There are some potential metaphors in the story. Jesus told the Pharisee that he had not offered water to clean his feet, or greeted him with any sign of affection, or anointed his head with oil when he entered the home. These were social displays of respect or honor. The Pharisee was more concerned with his own honor than in showing respect to this roaming rabbi who was departing from tradition. To anoint someone’s feet with perfume could also suggest the woman was honoring the way Jesus walked (lived his life). Maybe she was even trying to walk the same way. In that respect, she was letting go of (forgiving, leaving behind) her own sins and not suffering negative consequences from her actions anymore.

Mary Magdalene was said to have had seven demons removed from her. Those could have been seven Guinea worms (a common parasite that crawls under this skin and looks a little like a small snake). I called them incorrigible spirits. According to a Jewish opinion which passed over to Christianity, demons were the gods of the Gentiles and the authors of idolatry. I read a fundamental Jewish magazine within the last ten years that was declaring Allah to be the Chief of Demons. Not much has changed in two thousand years for some people.

On the other hand, I wonder if incorrigible spirits could be considered like feminism, homo-philia, liberalism, anti-traditionalism, pro-choice, or pro-immigration? Or the opposite, depending on your political party. It’s just a thought.

One thing I think this story says is that you can be as religious as you have been conditioned to believe you should be, but if you aren’t doing what Jesus did or asked you to do, why would you expect anyone to let go of the injustices you yourself have committed?

It’s the cross you bear (the cross of giving grace, not vengeance, to others) that releases you from (the commission of) your unloving actions rather than the unconditional love of Someone else who paid the Deity off. When you start showing grace rather than committing unloving acts upon people you judge as sinful, you won’t suffer the negative consequences that inevitably return to you…reaping what you sow.

Pour the expensive perfume of grace on others. Grace carries a delightful odor and overwhelms the crap people have been walking in. You’ll be placing it on the feet of Jesus who is in your neighbor. You, too, will be freed from your unloving actions.

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This Is Eternal Life – John 17

John 17:1-3

     I’m currently finishing a manuscript to be sent for final edits for a new book about how the word eternal is used in the New Testament, and specifically how it has been misunderstood when connected to eternal life. It’s a game changer. When I come across a new piece of the puzzle fits together as I’m translating verses in the Bible, why should I wait to share it? So let me show you what has been confirmed for me in John 17.

     The Greek words that have been translated as eternal life are aionios zoa. The following is a traditional translation of how Jesus described aionios zoa (pay attention to the words I’ve underlined),

 “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3 NRSV)

     Does knowing God and Jesus qualify you for a blissful afterlife? This interpretation was never satisfying for me. Jesus never described aionios zoa as being like a city of gold and jewels or anything that would appeal to the human senses.

     In my book I spent a lot of time explaining how the adjective aionios refers—NOT to a never-ending period of time—but more accurately to an unspecified period of time WITHIN the age. And the noun zoa refers to the kind of life that is lived true to God’s purposes. You’ll have to trust that I’ve justified these until the book comes out.

     Translators choose words to fit their own theology. My theology is not the same as the King James translators (who have influenced all subsequent English translations). Let me show you some translating options that could explain this passage another way.

     Traditional translators converted the Greek word sarx to “people.” Sarx means “flesh,” in the physical or bodily sense. It doesn’t mean a group of people. There are two perfectly good Greek words used nineteen times by John to refer to a collective group of people—laos (3 times) and anthropos (16 times).

     This passage makes more sense when “flesh” applies to the body and human desires of Jesus himself instead of to all “people.”

     The word for “authority” can be translated as “power or control.”

     The verb for “give” can also be translated as “grant, present or show openly, bring to” and more.

     The word “know” implies an intimate or experiential knowledge to the point of understanding.

     When applying these options, another possible translation of verses 1-3 might sound like this:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you since you have granted him control over all aspects of human flesh to openly show a purpose-filled life in this age to all whom you have brought to him. For this one is a life true to God’s purposes in the age, with the end being that they may understand your nature, the only true[1] Deity; indeed, for which you sent Jesus the Christ” (John 17:1-3, my translation).

     Jesus’s description of a purpose-filled life suggests that God gave him strength to control the entirety of his body and mind so that he could demonstrate a purpose-filled life to everyone with whom he came in contact. More importantly, I propose John claims (and for me, confirms) that the purpose for which this life was shown was to convey the true nature of God. This is in contrast with the image of God in Hebrew Scriptures who required sacrifices to be appeased.

     Some might complain that only the Son of God could have this kind of control over the flesh. Yet we all are sons and daughters of the Creator able to ask and receive greater control of the bodily appetites. A purpose-filled life finds its power in knowing the goodness of God through personal experience. Even St. Paul suggested the importance of this kind of knowing: Or do you despise the riches of [God’s] kindness and tolerance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4, my translation). Jesus revealed the true nature and goodness of God.

     When you know by experience (not merely because someone told you) that God is good (caveat: except when you’ve been bad), in fact, you know it so certainly that nothing can convince you otherwise, you will have received power from on high to start living the aionios zoa (a life true to the purposes of God—love and unity) in the present age. When you see “eternal life” in the New Testament, substitute this meaning and you’ll gain some new understanding.

[1] alethinos – (true) – 1. “that which has not only the name and semblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name” (Tittmann p. 155; [“particularly applied to express that which is all that it pretends to be, for instance, pure gold as opp. to adulterated metal” Donaldson, New Crat. § 258; see, at length, Trench § viii.]), in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real and true, genuine (greattreasures.org).

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The Holy Spirit as Guide

John 16:5-15

     This past week,  I wrote a blog about why I believe Jesus would have spoken against all the religious and nonreligious people today who fear and condemn transgender people for not fitting the norm. You can scroll back and read it for yourself.

     In other places in the New Testament, Jesus spoke against the Pharisees of his day for loving the law of Moses more than they were loving people who had leprosy, or who were lame, or blind, or mentally ill, or who had birth defects, or any other condition that made them less than perfect by the standards of those who believed themselves to be favored by God.

     Yet I’m not writing today to change your mind about any one particular injustice in our society today. I’m here to remind you of the universal and spiritual law that is repeated many times in the New Testament: you will reap what you sow. If you sow judgment on any group of people, you will be judged by others. If you sow love, you will reap love. That’s your choice and I’ll let you make it for yourself.

     Instead, I want to turn the conversation to what Jesus said in the verses prior to the gospel reading for Sunday. Context is everything. So this is the context: Jesus said this to his disciples:

“I have spoken these things so that you will not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time is coming when someone who kills you will think that he’s doing God a service. And they will do these things to you because they (the ones who know the Scriptures backwards and forwards) do not know the Father nor me. But I have told you these things so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. I did not tell you these things in the beginning because I was with you. “But now I go away to the One who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ And because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, a Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you. And when he has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not place their confidence in me; 10 of righteousness because I go to my Father and you see me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:1-13).

     The Helper, according to most scholars, is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will guide you in the truth. So how is the Holy Spirit going to do that?

      I’m going to be the first in line to tell you that the Bible we have received is the most incredible witness to the wisdom of the centuries. It’s a precious book of knowledge and has led many people to love God. But I worship God, not a Book. And I’ve found that truth doesn’t always lie on paper in the black and red ink. The truth is often a hidden treasure, hidden between the letters and the lines on the paper. Martin Luther said it’s in the white spaces where the Holy Spirit teaches. And I agree.

     Yet the Holy Spirit doesn’t need a book to teach you the truth. Millions of people on our planet over two thousand years and even today were not able to read the Book because they don’t know how to read. Still, the Holy Spirit spoke to them and taught them to love God and their neighbors. Millions of Christians today never read the Book because they don’t have any time. Still, the Holy Spirit speaks to them and teaches them to love a God who cares for them and to love their neighbors. So the Holy Spirit, the Helper, doesn’t necessarily need a book to guide you in the truth.

     In the passage quoted, one of the things Jesus said was this, The Helper will convict the world of sin. The Greek word for sin, harmartia, literally means “to miss the mark.” The Holy Spirit tells me that the mark we are to hit is love. Sin isn’t as much about following rules in a book of wisdom assembled in the fourth century as it is about missing the mark of love.

     The Bible tells us that God is Love. If you believe this like I do, that means love (God) trumps rules. Jesus himself set aside the rules in the Book when love was more helpful in caring for his neighbors. He contradicted long-followed rules in the Scriptures that he didn’t agree with. And it’s the Holy Spirit that Jesus said he would send to be your guide who will teach you this. So I’m here to remind you today, that the Holy Spirit dwells in your heart. Not in your logical brain that sees ink on paper. He dwells in hearts that have been softened by love.

     I’m here to tell you to listen to the Holy Spirit who lives in your heart and not to every Bible-thumping Christian who insists that the wisdom of God is found in the black and red ink of your Bibles. It’s found in the white spaces and in the depths of your heart – where the Holy Spirit dwells and speaks to you. Let the Holy Spirit guide you to believe those who promote Love.

     May this Holy Spirit guide you toward hitting the mark of love in all the choices you must make in the world today. And may you sow love rather than judgment, and you will harvest much love in return.

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The Odds If You Are Transgender

Romans 5:1-15

     The odds if you are transgender are three hundred thirty-two to one.

     Several weeks ago, we heard on Palm Sunday that Jesus rode into Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The name Jerusalem means “city of peace.” He rode into a city of peace and started a wildfire. I want to connect this image with what the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans: 3Let us also boast in our sufferings (which also means persecutions), knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

     Our Christian calling is to follow Jesus into the world to relieve pain and hunger and suffering. You might say we are like colts carrying the mission of Jesus on our backs, even when it brings persecution to us. Paul says we should boast or speak loudly in our persecutions because ultimately, they will build us up and make us stronger people. So I want to talk about persecution and suffering. Sometimes as a Christian, you have to risk being persecuted for trying to alleviate the suffering of others. That’s following in the footsteps of Jesus. I’m going to risk it today.

     My brother is a licensed clinical psychologist in Texas. He was fifty-seven years old when his college aged daughter called and said, “Dad, I’ve fallen in love with my girlfriend.”

     He said, “Stacey, don’t worry about it. Kids in college fall in love with all kinds of things and this will pass. It’s a phase.”

     The next year she called and said, “Dad, I’m the president of my psychology club at Rice University, and I think I meet every single criteria for gender identity disorder, now known as gender dysphoria, or being depressed about your inside not matching your outside body parts.”

     He said, “Stacey, don’t worry about that. A subcommittee of psychologists somewhere made that up and this too will pass.” But it’s now been eleven years and it hasn’t passed.

     My former niece, Stacey, now identifies as a male. He changed his name to “Colt” because he is a very Christian person, and it reminds him of the image of the colt carrying Christ on his back. He went to a Catholic High School. He went to mass four days every week. He was an altar server at his church from fourth grade through senior in high school. He was voted the most religious student in his high school class three straight years and the fourth year they didn’t have the election. He received straight A’s at Rice University, received a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, works as a licensed psychologist now, and he’s starting medical school in the fall. Colt is one of the brightest, most articulate and devotedly religious lay men of any age that I know. He’s working to help people who are LGBT to learn about themselves and accept themselves and to educate the society we are in.

      One out of 333 people is transgender. The school district in NC where this discussion about bathrooms erupted last week has about 5000 students. That’s more people than live in Benton, KY. That mean about 12-15 students in the whole school system might be transgender…if there are 30 children in a class, that means about one in every ten classrooms has a transgender student. 1 in 333 means there might be 12-15 people in the whole city of Benton, KY who are transgender. And they suffer persecution from heterosexuals because we can’t understand why they aren’t like us.

     Concerning the bathroom issue in schools. Most people who are transgender are like Colt. It took him until he was in college to come to the conclusion about his identity after he’d left home. Trans kids often don’t realize why they are thinking uncommon thoughts about themselves until they reach a point in their mental and physical development. I’m hoping to provide some information today that will reduce the lack of knowledge about this small group that has been easy to bully and reject.

     First, transgender people are people whose body does not correspond to their internal perceptions of who they are as people and how they want to live their lives, including the clothes they want to wear, hair styles, the jobs they want to do, etc. Transgender status has to do with gender, what they understand about themselves, and absolutely nothing to do with what gender they are sexually attracted to or sexual perversion.

     Only one in 333 people truly understands what that would feel like. It’s got to be frustrating for them because they can’t say who they are without being called a freak of nature or something evil. All too often it has been by people who go to church and say they want to be more like Jesus.

     Let me tell you how one in 333 people suffer today.

87% of trans students are verbally harassed by other students. Sometimes they act a little different from normal boys and girls. They are easy to pick on – after all – it’s 332 against one. That’s why:

75% approximately do not feel safe at school. If they’ve been bullied, they are the ones who are afraid of going into a bathroom. That’s where they get assaulted, there’s no back door in most bathrooms for escape.

64% of trans people have been sexually assaulted.

63% have experienced a serious act of discrimination, the kind of events that would have a major impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to sustain themselves either financially or emotionally, that’s why transgender people often live in extreme poverty.

55% of trans people have lost jobs due to bias and 61% of trans people have low household incomes.

57% experienced significant family rejection.

50% missed partial or entire days due to bullying.

50% of those who endured bullying attempt suicide.

41% of trans people have attempted suicide one or more times (compared to 1.6% of the general population).

     Jesus said you will be persecuted if you follow my example. You will suffer for standing up for the poor, the mentally unstable, people in prison, those who are unable to provide for themselves, those who are rejected by society, the one in 333.

     When you and I attempt to relieve suffering brought about by the world, we are no longer of the world but we are in Christ. As we begin the work of relieving injustice, you and I will experience another kind of suffering, the suffering of the cross. The cross we bear for Christ is to fight so that all people can have food on the table, and clothes on their back, and a roof over their head, and respect as unique creations of God.

     The world will fight, tooth and nail, to continue the injustices that bring pain, and hunger, and imprisonment, and inequality because Injustice is the demon who doesn’t want to disappear. Our call in baptism is to follow Jesus into the world, and to change a world that thrives on unequal treatment of people. When we fight injustice, we should expect to suffer for it. Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for doing what is right, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:10-12).

     Those defending closing bathrooms say they are only protecting their children from pedophiles. That is being stated as the reason, but it is wrong and extremely offensive to transgender people. Many people do not understand the difference between transgender people and pedophiles. Pedophiles are most often heterosexual men who have sexual contact specifically with children. Data collected by rape crisis clinics indicate that almost all pedophiles are well known by their victims and about 95% of them are family members including stepfathers, mother’s boyfriends, brothers, uncles, and even grandfathers. Very few pedophiles find random victims in bathrooms. They find them in the bathrooms and bedrooms of their relatives’ homes.

     It’s already illegal in the US for people to commit assault against other people no matter where it occurs. The real issue is blatant ignorance of the facts and discrimination against a population that traditionally has not been defended well or supported. There are no recorded instances of transgender people entering bathrooms to do harm other people. Transgender go there to do what other people do there, and you know what that is.

     The proposed laws (i.e. revealing your chest or private parts to prove “who you are”) in many states are making transgender people feel even more unsafe and at risk for harm. You might as well paint a target on a child’s back to make him or her go into “the bathroom” everyone knows is for freaks. 332 to 1 are terrible odds. I think I’d ask my mother to homeschool me if those were the odds against me. Unfortunately, many children dealing with these feelings have parents who do not understand or support them. And that’s why four out of ten try to kill themselves. What is an opinion on a hot-button news issue by those who are uninformed is the difference between life and death for this marginalized population.

     I have a smart phone. I have very little understanding how or why it works the way it does. But I value it highly. I’m not sure what I’d do without it. It’s time true followers of Jesus begin valuing and standing up for this marginalized group of people even though it’s hard to understand how or why they work the way they do. Has God’s love been poured into your heart? These are children of God, created by God for special purposes in the world, beautiful and talented people…and they need to be protected, not singled out. I hope you’ll join me in standing up for them, even when it feels a bit risky, and thereby, reduce the odds against them.

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Metanoia and Forgiveness in Luke 24

Luke 24:44-53

    There are several things to note in a re-translation of Luke 24:44-53. This is what people call the Great Commission in Luke’s Gospel. The key words I’ve changed are noted in the footnotes and explained. They include in his name, repentance, forgiveness, and more. I feel like I get stuck in a particular word’s theological groove (or rut) that makes assumptions beyond the words. That’s why I like to use synonymous options that are viable. It tends to open my mind to further exploration of meanings.

    Then Jesus said to them, “I spoke these words to you while I was still with you, that all the things which were written concerning me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be accomplished.” At that time, he opened up their minds to fully grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.

    He also told them it had been written that the Christ would suffer in this way and rise from among the dead the third day. Moreover, acting in his behalfa, a change of thinkingb that brings the release of unloving actionsc should be preached to all the people,d beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things. Now behold. I send forth the messagee of my Father with you. Nevertheless, remain in the city until you put on strength beyond measure.”f

    Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Now when he began to bless them, he stood apart from them and was taken up into the air. So after kneeling in profound reverence,g they returned to Jerusalem with great joyfulness. Indeed they were constantly in the temple speaking well ofh God.

a in his name, on the basis of his name. When you do something in one’s name, you are acting as if you are taking his place or doing it in his behalf.

b metanoia means a change of mind, and the result of changing the way you think should be an amendment of life (metanoia does NOT mean “repentance” as in being sorry and we should stop using an inaccurate definition!)

c  forgiveness of sins, forgive means to release, let go.  There’s no reference here that the release or letting go of sins has anything to do with God’s forgiveness. People are to stop sinning and hurting each other.

d  nations.

e  promise, what promise was placed on them? No promise is identified earlier one must invent it from what someone else told you it means based on their learned theology. The message Jesus and John proclaimed was the kingdom of heaven, or as my book about it suggests, the development of harmony/unity. Another message each proclaimed was the letting go of sins.

f from on high, could also be a metaphor for the upper levels of consciousness, the higher processes of the mind. They needed to build up their confidence after the devastation they’d experienced over the weekend.

g bowing down, prostrating themselves, an act of obeisance, respect — but I doubt they were “worshipping” Jesus in the sense of equating him with God at that point.

h praising is the usual translation.

     My soapbox today is about metanoia needing to be correctly translated as “change your mind, change the way you think, amend your life” for the purpose of living together in harmony and love. How does a person change their thinking? Stop living for yourself alone which leads to actions without consideration of others, i.e., sinning. Let go of your unloving actions. Forgiveness can be connected with “God” or “Father” or anything alluding to the Creator when that Person is mentioned in the text, but it’s a mistake to automatically assume this is about God’s forgiveness – what if God didn’t need Jesus’s blood in order to release us from our sins? What if the cross means something other than that? What if the theology that God needed “justice” because everyone that is born offends God’s honor is no better theology than homage paid to all the earlier deities that needed human sacrifice? Haven’t we matured any further than that way of thinking? Metanoia.

     What do you think?

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Another translation of John 14:22-31

 

     When it comes to translation and interpretation, numbers of verses and chapters get in the way. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they disrupt the continuity of thought. Therefore, I tend to eliminate the numbers. After all, when you read any other story from antiquity, how many of the original authors included chapters and verses? In the reading of John 14:23-31, I’ve eliminated the numbers. And I’ve added the previous verse (22) so you have a hint about what preceded it.

      Judas (not Iscariot) asked him, “Master, why is it that you will make yourself known in us, and not in the harmonious order of creation?”g

    Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone is fully committed to me,h he will closely follow my teachings; and the Nourisher/Protector/Creator* (see below) of me will have a preference forh him. Indeed, we will come to him and make our home with him. The one who is not committedh to me does not closely follow my teachings. Truly, the message that you are hearing is not mine but of the Provider/Nourisher/Creator who sent me. I have told you these things while being present with you. 26 Nevertheless, an intercessor, a reverenti spirit, whom the Creator will send in my name,j that one will teach you all things and will remind you about everything I told you. In peace, I am leaving you.  My serenity I offer to you; not in the manner the harmoniously ordered world brings forth. I supply it to you. Do not let your sensibilitiesk be stirred up, nor shrink in fear. You heard how I told you, ‘I am going away’ and ‘I am coming to you.’ If you were concerned for my well-being,h you would be pleased that I am going on my way to the Creator,’ because the Creator of me is exceedingly wonderful.

      “Therefore I have told you now, prior to it happening, in order that when it occurs, you may think it to be true.I shall no longer speak much with you because the ruler of the ordered world is coming, but he can’t do anything to me. Nevertheless, in order that the ordered world may know that I am fully committedh to the Creator, I am fulfilling the instructionm the Creator delivered to me. Arise, let us leave this place.

 world – The intent of the Greek work kosmos was to signify the way in which the creation was a perfect work, in perfect and beautiful order, not chaos as is usually conceived. Christianity tends to define ‘the world’ in negative terms — as humanity that is separate and fallen away from God rather than as an image of the intricate harmony and perfection of God.

     Maybe Judas (not Iscariot) was asking Jesus why the Christ would be made known in his disciples (including his current day disciples) rather than simply in the beauty and wonder of nature and the created world. I think nature can show us so much of God as love, forgiveness, and guidance. Nature is constantly recovering from the abuses of mankind. It continues to give its of its beauty and benefit to everyone, unconditionally. The children of the lion and the lamb teach us that they have to be taught to act “naturally” as killer and victim. If untaught by their parents, they play together and become friends.

*(see below) my Father, in Greek pater refers to the generator of life; at that time, it was understood that the male was the solitary generator of life giving substance. The female was simply an incubator for that life to grow. Apart from the gender identification as male, Jesus may have been referring to the One who generated him into human form, a claim we can make for ourselves.

love, the Greek word agape has numerous ways of being translated (as you’ll see in the various ways in this short story – it’s much broader in meaning and scope than the emotional affection or attachment to others.

holy, other options are pure, reverent, saint.

     Remember, I am translating this without the fourth century Trinitarian doctrine, which allows me to use any potential word replacement – and not capitalize it to enforce a later interpretation as one of the three Persons of the Trinity.

j a pure spirit sent in my name, could this be the apostle Paul?

     Who came after Jesus was gone to shed light on the purpose of Jesus’s life and death? The Gospels were written after all the letters of Paul.

I supply it to you. The peace Christ supplies is deeper than what the ordered world can provide us. (Although the ordered world has shown us it has existed and will continue to exist long after our mortal bodies will exist.) Christ’s peace is eternal, a peace that passes understanding, one that assures us of our immortality with him and the Father/Creator.

k heart, the seat of the sensibilities, the mind, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions.

l  believe, be persuaded.

     Christianity has infused the idea that Jesus meant we should believe everything the fourth century councils (and decisions of the multiplicity of institutional and denominational churches to the present day) decided by majority vote of a few people. In context, one must identify about what Jesus wanted the disciples to be persuaded.

commandment, order, charge, injunction, instruction, direction, command.

     I assume Jesus heard this “commandment” as a word of the Lord spoken to him, either in meditation when he went into the mountains to pray or even as he was meditating upon the Scriptures. The Holy One within us is the one helping us interpret and receive new insights from the Scriptures.

     Since God dwells within our hearts, you and I often hear a word of the Lord given to guide us. “My sheep hear my voice.” Maybe that’s why I “hear” different things as I translate it. Have you learned how to listen for the word of the Lord?

(Disclaimer: This is probably not a “final” translation for the simple reason that I had to make interpretive choices beginning at verse 22. The very real possibility exists that if I started from verse 1, I may have seen things that would cause me to make an adjustment in these verses. One day, I’ll begin from John 1:1 and try to make it consistent from beginning to end of the Gospel of John.)

     That’s it for today. Do you see anything in this interpretation of John 14 that helps you to understand it a little differently?

 

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Another translation of John 13:31-35

 

My translations remove words and theologies that won the battle of correct theology in the fourth century and were carried over when translated into English in the sixteenth century. Please recognize why I’m doing this: translation is a subjective art that depends upon the perspective and theology of the person who is translating. Even my translations are subject to my personal theologies and experience of God.

I approach interpretation from the starting point that God was, is, and will always be good – all the time. God always was, is, and will continue to be love – all the time. The perception of God by Old Testament writers seems to be from a starting point of God as requiring the obedience of subjects, exhibiting retaliatory justice, and needing sacrifice to be calmed down for failures.

In addition, biblical understanding in the 21st century is bogged down with theological words that have developed singular meanings. Many words are like deep ruts in a dirt road. They lead you in a predetermined direction and give little room for the multiple depths of meanings of many words.

Martin Luther said humanity “blinked” when people moved away from the oral tradition and started putting the words on paper. A teaching can apply at multiple levels of body, mind, and spirit. If you put only one of them on paper, then people unfamiliar with translation will think there’s only one meaning. This highlights the importance of meditating upon scriptures, giving the Holy Spirit time to speak from the white spaces on the page and open up the other levels of meaning that are more personal and unique to one’s experience.

Something as simple as using a different preposition can make a difference in meaning. And that goes back to the subjective perspective of the person making the choice.  I’ve replaced words in today’s text like glorify, love, new commandment, and disciples with other options found in the Greek lexicon. My translation doesn’t change any theology, but hearing it in different words might add some clarity of meaning.

 John 13:31-35

31 Now after Judas left, Jesus said, “Under these circumstances, the son of manp is honored, and Godq is recognizedr through him. 32 Moreover, God will be recognized within him. God will also honor him with himself, and will honor him soon. 33 Dear children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will search for me; but like I told the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you are not ables to come.’ Therefore at this time I say to you: 34 I am giving you an innovativet directive that you deliberately exhibit good willu to one another. Accordingly, I deliberately exhibited good will to you so that you might deliberately exhibit good will to one another. 35 By this all people will come to know that you are my students,v whether you have deliberate expressions of good will to one another.”

     The use of four words in place of one (love) feels unwieldy since it is said four times in two verses, but I left it that way to emphasize the choice to act with good will toward others for whom you may not have warm feelings is sometimes required. Case in point is found in the story preceding this section, where Jesus didn’t publicly berate Judas for the betrayal he was about to commit.

There are several places in the New Testament that have led me to understand Jesus as the revelation of God’s true nature as love. That’s why I replaced the word glorified with “recognized.” And the word commandment is more demanding than instructive for choosing a better way of life. Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. What are yours?

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son of man, another Greek explanation for ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho 3588 huios tou anthrōpou) the son of (the) man, signifies humanity itself; not what merely resembles, but what essentially belongs to man.

q  God: Aramaic name for God = Oneness, Unity. Contemporary name = Love.

glorified: recognized, honored, praised. (Note that two of these meanings are used in verses 31-32).

cannot from dunamis: can, could -st, cannot (with a negative) to be able, capable, strong enough. It denotes moral power (while ischuō 2480 denotes physical ability). It is from δύνος (dunos), which is equivalent to divine, good; and the idea is I make myself good, am strong enough, equal, able.

new, from kainos: that is to say newly made; not merely recent, but different from that which had been formerly; new, as coming in the place of a thing that was formerly, and as not yet used.

love, from agape: to be full of good-will and exhibit the same: with acc. of the person, to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of. Agape love is often a deliberate choice one makes to act in a certain way rather than a response to a feeling,

v disciples: students, pupils, followers.

Greek explanations from http://greattreasures.org/gnt/main.do

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New Translation of John 10:22-30

John 10:22-30

          Interpretation and translation are based on subjective opinion. Opinion is based on limited knowledge and understanding. We all are witnessing how some people interpret teachings from the Bible in rigid and limited ways through the decisions state legislators are making in North Carolina and Mississippi. They are using scripture in a way that hurts and discriminates against isolated groups of people. But that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I have my own translation of John 10:22-30 based on the limited knowledge I possess.

          I have substituted English terms for what might be more modern language and suggest what I think the writer intended to be heard. Sometimes the simple act of using a synonym or definition of a word that is not the traditional word can expand the meaning of a passage. The goal of my translation is to help anyone who reads it to become more kind, loving, and generous. Isn’t that one of the goals of the Bible?

          In my last post I explained that I am also removing fourth century theology and trying to hear this writing the way a first century person might have heard it. I have also included some brief footnotes below to explain substitutions of words. Tell me what you think.

     Now the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter. Jesus was walking in the temple, in the area of Solomon’s colonnades. Therefore some Jews surrounded him and asked him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, but you are not persuaded. The good deeds that I am doing in the name of the One who createda me, they confirm it of me. But you are not persuaded because you are not amongst those who walkb with me. My followers pay attention to what I say, I even observe them, and they conform to my example. Indeed, I provide a purpose-filled lifec to them, that they might not be drawn down into the desires of the world; nor shall anyone steal them from my protective management.d The One who created me, who has provided the same (purpose-filled life) to me, is the most wonderful of all things; and no one is able to steal them from my Creator’s protective management. Both I and the Creator are united in will and in spirit.”e

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a pater, most often translated into English as “father” but ancient Greek also used it as a metaphor, from the Greek definition, as in (a) the originator and transmitter of anything: πατὴρ περιτομῆς, Ro. iv. 12; the author of a family or society of persons animated by the same spirit as himself: so π. πάντων τῶν πιστευόντων, Ro. iv. 11, cf. 12, 16, (1 Macc. ii. 54); one who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds, Jn. viii. 38, 41 sq. 44; the phrase ἐκ πατρός τινος εἶναι is used of one who shows himself as like another in spirit and purpose as though he had inherited his nature from him, ibid. 44. And (c) a title of honor [cf. Sophocles, Lex. s. v.], applied to teachers, as those to whom pupils trace back the knowledge and training they have received.

b sheep: as a metaphor, used of the followers of any master.

c eternal life: my revised definition for the Greek term aionios zoa that I explain and justify in my upcoming book about eternal life.

d hand: as a metaphor, under someone’s positive influence.

e one: From Greek definition: In opposition to a division into parts, and in ethical matters to dissensions: ἕν σῶμα, πολλὰ μέλη, Ro. xii. 4 sq.; 1 Co. xii. 12, 20; ἓν εἶναι, to be united most closely (in will, spirit).

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          Compare this to your version of the Bible and see how this might provide another perspective of what John was trying to share. And what difference could it make in how you interpret the passage for yourself?

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