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Friday, November 28, 2008

New Logo

Matt said my old logo for Chalice Christian Justice Ministries looked like Communist Propoganda and/or skin head art. What do folks think of my modification? The old version is first. [Updated to address Liam's suggestion]

The (Parable?) of the Sheeps and Goats

Unlike the first two that indicate explicitly that they are parables, this one only strongly implies it. I don't really have any doubt as to whether this is presented as a parable, it is just something like pointing out that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, the Pinocchio was swallowed by a whale.

Here's the story. Jesus returns in all his glory and separates everyone into two groups. The good group gets eternal life. They ask, "Who us? What did we do to deserve such an honor?" Jesus says they helped him when he needed it. They don't remember ever helping Jesus and he renders another famous line, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me." [That is based on another standard from JimII's VBS background, but I can't seem to find it on YouTube.]

That's the sweetness and light bit, then Jesus turns to those on his left:
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
They similarly claim never having ignored Jesus, but he points out "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

No the requirement is crystal clear, even down to a list. And the punishment is equally clear. If you don't help the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, you will go to hell. And in case you missed it, it is the one prepared for the devil--that hell.

It's been my experience that selfish people suffer. Those who hate the poor, the stranger--they suffer. They live sad lives. And like I said before, wasting your one and only life in the misery brought on by selfish, compassionless words and deeds, that's pretty much hell.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mine is definitely a cup runneth over life. I have had the blessing of a loving supportive family from my childhood to present day. Likewise, professionally I've enjoyed a variety of interesting and challenging experiences. It reminds me of when I asked three-year-old James what his favorite toy was. He said "Um, I don't know either my dinosaurs or my star wars." So, basically he had so many toys that he had to answer the question with two categories of toys. That's kind of how my life is.

I also wanted to post a happy, happy feel good message about how much better things are getting with families in America. I wanted to show the dramatically falling divorce rate since the '70s. Well, here's the graph:

So, you can see that the divorce rate, measured in divorces per 1000 people in the country, has indeed been dropping. Hurray. Saddly, the source also show marriages per 1000 people, and that rate has also been dropping. More quickly than the rate of divorces. Therefore, the reduction in the divorce rate may be entirely the result of the drop in marriages. Raw data here.

I didn't look into rates for different socio-economic groups. It's Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Parable of the Talents

The next parable is that of three servants. The story is that the Master leaves three servant in charge of huge sums of money, 10, 5 and 1 talent each. The first two invest the money, while the third hides it. When the Master returns, the first two are welcomed into his family, having doubled the amount with which he trusted them. But the last can only return what he has been given. These are the concluding lines of the story:
His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
Compare the punishment, the last parable, the foolish virgins are left outside the banquet, evidently in darkness because they needed lamps. Here the darkness has "weeping and gnashing of teeth," and the servant was thrown there. Seems to be a stronger warning.

Also, the misbehavior was more specific. From the first story, I can't really tell what "being ready" means. I took it to mean living well. But here, the misbehavior is about failing to act, failing to be productive, probably in the larger world. The foolish lazy servant might have thought he was "being ready" by keeping his master's fortune well hidden. This says, you have to do something.

Is there a penalty for not sharing the gifts God has given you? Even if you don't believe in God you understand the expression. I think you will live a happier life if you share your gifts with the world. And the consequences of failing to act, are serious business. You only get one life, if you fail to live it well, if you find you've wasted it, is that a more or less harsh punishment than being thrown in the outer darkness?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

JimII Wins

Best comment at BeliefNet. Gosh I'm so witty. Take a look here.


So, here is the headline that caught my attention, "Hate Crimes, Racist Incidents Escalate After Obama’s Election" The article is here. I started thinking, "Man, I wish people would be more careful with this stuff." I thought that because I seriously doubt whether anyone knows if hate crimes are on the rise. Sure, people have some compelling stories, but are they really on the rise, or are they just being showcased? It will be months until an credible method of monitoring such things will be available.

Then, I started reading the comments and the first person to post complained about the lack of outrage about the Prop 8 protesters attacking the Mormons. "What," I thought, "is the matter with people? It took like 10 seconds on google to find people in the GLBT community calling for an end to this. Lots of people object to this behavior"

Then I looked a little further down, and people were justifying the violence against Mormons because "they are not Christians." Uh, they are Christians, and since when is it okay for Christians to attack non-Christians.

Are you kidding me!

So, I think the deal here is that most people are decent, not crazy people. Looking at stuff on the web can be like watching local news that reports a fire everyday, even if it's a fire from another state. I may need to stop reading comments on popular blogs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Parable of the Virgins

The first parable from Matthew 25 is found in versus 1 through 13. A little Protestant cultural note, this is the bit that inspired Give Me Oil In My Lamp, a vacation bible school staple from my childhood.

Here's the story, there are 10 bridesmaids, or virgins depending on your translation, waiting for the bridegroom. But, the bridegroom arrives late, "[t]hen all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' The wise ones tell them no, and while the foolish ones are in town getting oil the doors to the marriage banquet are locked and they are left out.

First, no question about what this story is about. Jesus didn't come back right away. There was concern about people losing the faith. And this story is a warning about such conduct. You should stay true, because you do not know the day or the hour on which Jesus will return.

Let's separate the advice from the motivation. The time to live well is now, don't wait. No matter how things look right now, you should do what is right. I think that is good advice. Maybe the event is not the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but is the death of a loved one, it is an economic down turn, it is a chance to help someone in need, whatever.

Of course, this is hardly a unique teaching. What do you think, is it too much of a stretch to read this for anything other than its apocalyptic meaning?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Apocalypse again

A while ago I sort reviewed the book of Revelation, which tells an apocalyptic story. I reflected on the book and just could not find much in it for me. It seemed to me that the story belonged to an oppressed people celebrating their eventual victory over their oppressors. Not only am I not oppressed, the theme of vengeance was too distracting for me to get past it.

For the last three weeks we've read apocalyptic scriptures attributed to Jesus in the book of Matthew. Now, folks at the Jesus Seminar generally do not attribute these words to Jesus. See Robert Miller, Jesus Seminar & Its Critics at footnote 14. In Jesus, Marcus Borg challenges passages that put words of the Second Coming in Jesus' mouth by noting that the disciples seemed to have trouble understanding the present mission of Jesus, even if there was to be a Second Coming, it seems strange that Jesus would think his disciples could understand it.

All that said, I do find something valuable in the stories from Matthew 25, and I'm going to examine them this week.

A final note, the Matthew 25 network is a group of progressive Christians "inspired by the Gospel mandate to put our faith into action to care for our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable." As I've mentioned before, this group and lots of other progressive Christians who read Matthew 25, focus on Christ's call to help those in need, I'm going to be focusing on what the passage says happens to you if you don't.